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"And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.... And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call   his name Jesus".

(Luke, 1st 26-30)

A town in southern Galilee about 15 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee (kineret) and twenty miles from the Mediterranean westward in the basin of the hills of the lower Galilee.

In Biblical time Nazareth was a small agricultural town settled by few dozen families. The town is not mentioned once in the Old Testament, an insignificant village, too small to be noted in the list of settlements of the tribe of Zebulon (Joshua 19:10-16). Nazareth is not included in the 45 cities of the Galilee that mentioned by Josephus the historian and its name is missing from the 63 towns of Galilee mentioned in the Talmud. It was not expected to have a prophet, a king, or priest to ever come out of Nazareth. This prompted the response of Nathaniel in John 1:46 "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nazareth was isolated in ancient times because no trade routes ran through the city therefore had no economical value.

The origin of the name Nazareth is still puzzling. In Hebrew the word "Nazir" - (Nazarite - Monk) A person who was dedicated to special sacred service through a vow made by the person or by his parents, which could last a lifetime or for a limited period. The early name "Nazarenes" given to early Christians, might have been a derogatory nickname that the people of Judea gave to the followers of Jesus (Matthew 26:71, Acts 6:38). Or as many scholars today think that the name Nazareth comes from the Hebrew word "Netzer" (Branch) as prophesied by Isaiah that Savior will come from the branches (roots) of King David.

Either way, Nazareth became the cradle of Christianity.

At 20-33 AD the beginning Ministry of Jesus of Nazareth mark of the start of the Common Era. Excavations conducted in the region and remains of pottery prove a continuous settlement
during the period 900-600 BCE of Jewish villages and Hellenized Syrians towns. Tzippori, the capital of the Galilee, the largest of these towns was settled until the year 18 BCE. After those years, there was a break in settlement until the year 200 BCE.

Nazareth city is Holy to Christians. Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus. This was the town that inspired Jesus during the early years of his life until the beginning of his ministry. The main events in Jesus' life, concerning Nazareth are the annunciation of his birth (Luke 1:26-38), His childhood and early manhood and the collision with his fellow citizens (Matthew 13:54-58, Luke 4:17-30). From the very first events relating to the life of Jesus in Nazareth, we learn that the people of his village did not approve of his thinking and behavior. To them he was Jesus, one of the sons of Joseph the carpenter.

Persecution of Christians in Nazareth and in general who were jealous in keeping alive the memory of their ancestors was constant from the 1st century. They gathered the oral traditions of the first Church about Jesus' family, His childhood years and His Disciple's life.

Persecutions of Christians continued through late second century until the 4th Century.

Throughout the history of Christianity there was a Christian presence in Nazareth. Remains found by archeologists reveal that Christians had constructed a place of worship In Nazareth and in the site of the Annunciation. The town of Nazareth was already a pilgrimage site by the end of the 4th century. Franciscan archaeologists discovered coins and remains of architectural structures pointing to construction of a "public" building, which they identify with a church-synagogue with the sanctity and the remains of the ancient village of Nazareth pointing to first century.

In 313 - 636 AD The Byzantine built a church on the site on the west-east arbor. This building remained in use from the 6th to the 12th century, though it was damaged and repaired several times it finally disappeared when the Crusaders replaced it with another structure after the Arabs occupation of 638 AD.

In 636-1099 under Arab Rule, restrictions against non-Muslims (717) affected the Christians and Jews' public behavior as well as their religious observances and legal status and imposition of heavy taxes.

With The arrival of the Crusaders in 1099-1291, an era of glory arrived to Nazareth. The crusaders rebuilt a magnificent church in Roman style. For the next 200 years, the Crusaders, who came from Europe to recover the Holy Land, dominated the country. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land became popular.

After the overthrow of the Crusaders by Muslim army under Saladin in 1187, Nazareth was taken, its population killed or imprisoned, and its sanctuary profaned. The Crusaders regained a foothold in the country after Saladin's death in 1193; their presence was limited to a network of fortified castles. Crusader authority in the Land ended after a final defeat in 1291 by the Mamluks, a Muslim military class that had come to power from Egypt. Nazareth became a ghost town and only few adventurous pilgrims arrived there.

Ottoman Rule in 1517-1917 brought further decline in the quality of life through out the country.
The great forests of Galilee were bare of trees; Neglect, swamp and ill covered the land.

The Franciscans acquired the site of Annunciation in 1620. A small group was brought into there to keep guard over the ancient ruins and it became a place of continuous struggle and heroic sacrifices.

To avoid all the difficulties that Friars and Christians in Nazareth were submitted to, the friars decided, in 1697, to take over the juridical responsibility of Nazareth and in 1730 they were permitted to build a church over the Grotto.

In 1877 it was enlarged and in 1954 it was completely demolished to open the way for a complete archaeological examination of the site and the building of a deserving commemorative.

Since 1948, with the revival of the state of Israel and the establishment of Israeli government, Nazareth is a growing town, a center to the agricultural communities of southern Galilee. There are churches and religious institutions representing almost every Christian denomination. Including the Basilica of the Annunciation (Roman Catholic) built over the traditional place of the house of Mary. There are also Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches as well as Muslim and Jewish communities.

By Lena Mor - Jerusalem-Gifts.

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