BibleArcheology 12/19/10

Five Things You Didn't Know About Nazareth

In a season where Bethlehem gets all the Christmas carol shout-outs and Nativity scenes, I thought I'd focus on Nazareth, the place where the Archangel Gabriel first announced the news of Jesus' birth to his mother Mary.

So here are five things you may not know about Jesus' hometown:

1. Nazareth was the original small town.

Archaeological research suggests that in Jesus' day, only 120-150 people lived in Nazareth. In John 1:46, Nathanael asked the famous question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" This tiny farming village, high on a hill and far from the main trade routes, was the last place anyone would look for the Messiah of Israel. Unless they were smart enough to figure out the following prophecy....

2. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Nazareth about 600 years before the village existed.

In the 8th century before Christ's birth, Isaiah prophesied that "a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit" (Isaiah 11:1). The word "branch" in Hebrew is
netzer, the same root word from which the name "Nazareth" comes. Some historians have suggested that Nazareth was named as "the town of the branch," meaning "the place where the Branch of David lives." In the New Testament, Matthew connects Nazareth with the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1: "And came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’" (Matthew 2:23).

So we have some very brilliantly inspired biblical writers here. Isaiah's prophecy contains a double entendre that would remain hidden for more than 700 years... until Matthew the tax collector, under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, solved the puzzle and uncovered another layer of the intricate messianic prophecy.

3. Most of the Nazarenes were royalty.

In 538 BC, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the Jews exiled in Babylon should be allowed to return to Judea, a process that continued for the next 400-500 years. Around 100 BC, one clan from the line of David returned to Israel and established the town of Nazareth. But here's a question: if they were from the tribe of Judah, from the line of David, why didn't they return to Jerusalem and claim the throne? Or why didn't they return to Bethlehem, David's hometown? The answer is that they were afraid for their lives.

A new non-Davidic dynasty, the Hasmoneans, had assumed the Jewish throne, later to be replaced by Herod the Great. Herod, who was not Jewish, was so paranoid about his questionable parentage that he burned all the public genealogies of the Jews, thinking that he would appear more legitimate if no one else could trace their roots. He was especially afraid of those who were descendants of the royal Davidic line.
Matthew 2 confirms historical records of Herod's paranoia by describing the slaughter in Bethlehem to eliminate any future king, as well as the angel's warning to Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt for protection. So building a town so far away from Jerusalem was a good idea for David's descendants.

4. Most of the Nazarenes were probably related.

Despite Herod's pyromaniacal rampage, many private genealogies survived, being secretly recorded and hidden by families. These records indicate that Nazareth was home to one large clan or branch (there's that word again) of David's line. The whole town was literally one big family. So when Jesus stood in the synagogue and announced that he was the Messiah of whom Isaiah spoke, the people who were angry were Jesus' family members: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and siblings. Imagine your brother proclaiming himself God's answer to human salvation. Jesus' relatives and neighbors had a strong reaction to that announcement, to say the least: they tried to push Jesus off a cliff, a fate he miraculously escaped.

5. Nazareth may have been the inspiration for many of Jesus' parables.

Archaeological digs in Nazareth have revealed an ancient wine press, terraced hillsides used as vineyards, an irrigation system for the fields, and three watchtowers in the fields, all of which date to Jesus' day. Jesus may have been thinking of his hometown when he described the parables of the sower, the wheat and the tares, the laborers in the vineyard, and the wicked husbandmen.

For more about Jesus' hometown, visit Nazareth Village on the web.

For more about the Old Testament prophecies surrounding Jesus' birth, take a look at these two stories from The 700 Club:

Jewish Jesus: Son of David:

Jewish Jesus: Star of Jacob

I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!