Nazareth in the New Testament
1. Notice Confined to the New Testament:
Nazareth was a town in Galilee, the home of Joseph. and the Virgin Mary, and for about 30 years the scene of the Saviour's life (Mt 2:23; Mk 1:9; Lk 2:39,51; 4:16, etc.).
He was therefore called Jesus of Nazareth, although His birthplace was Bethlehem; and those who became His disciples were known as Nazarenes. This is the name, with slight modification, used to this day by Moslems for Christians, Heb: Nacara--the singular being Heb: Nacrany.
The town is not named in the Old Testament, although the presence of a spring and the convenience of the site make it probable that the place was occupied in old times. Quaresimus learned that the ancient name was Medina Abiat, in which we may recognize the Arabic el-Medinat el-baidtah, "the white town."
Built of the white stone supplied by the limestone rocks around, the description is quite accurate. There is a reference in Mishna (Menachoth viii.6) to the "white house of the hill" whence wine for the drink offering was brought. An elegy for the 9th of Abib speaks of a "course" of priests settled in Nazareth. This, however, is based upon an ancient midhrash now lost (Neubauer, Geogr. du Talmud, 82, 85, 190; Delitzsch, Ein Tag in Capernaum, 142). But all this leaves us still in a state of uncertainty.
2. Position and Physical Features:
The ancient town is represented by the modern en-Nacirah, which is built mainly on the western and northwestern slopes of a hollow among the lower hills of Galilee, just before they sink into the plain of Esdraelon. It lies about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean at Haifa.
The road to the plain and the coast goes over the southwestern lip of the hollow; that to Tiberias and Damascus over the heights to the Northeast. A rocky gorge breaks down southward, issuing on the plain between two craggy hills. That to the West is the traditional Hill of Precipitation (Lk 4:29). This, however, is too far from the city as it must have been in the days of Christ. It is probable that the present town occupies pretty nearly the ancient site; and the scene of that attempt on Jesus' life may have been the cliff, many feet in height, not far from the old synagogue, traces of which are still seen in the western part of the town.
There is a good spring under the Greek Orthodox church at the foot of the hill on the North. The water is led in a conduit to the fountain, whither the women and their children go as in old times, to carry home in their jars supplies for domestic use. There is also a tiny spring in the face of the western hill. To the Northwest rises the height on which stands the sanctuary, now in ruins, of Neby Sa`in.
From this point a most beautiful and extensive view is obtained, ranging on a clear day from the Mediterranean on the West to the Mountain of Bashan on the East; from Upper Galilee and Mt. Hermon on the North to the uplands of Gilead and Samaria on the South The whole extent of Esdraelon is seen, that great battlefield, associated with so many heroic exploits in Israel's history, from Carmel and Megiddo to Tabor and Mt. Gilboa.
3. Present Inhabitants:
There are now some 7,000 inhabitants, mainly Christian, of whom the Greek Orthodox church claims about 3,000. Moslems number about 1,600. There are no Jews. It is the chief market town for the pastoral and agricultural district that lies around it.
4. Labors of Jesus:
In Nazareth, Jesus preached His first recorded sermon (Lk 4:16 ff), when His plainness of speech aroused the homicidal fury of His hearers. "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Mt 13:58). Finding no rest or security in Nazareth, He made His home in Capernaum. The reproach implied in Nathanael's question, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1:46), has led to much speculation.
By ingenious emendation of the text Cheyne would read, "Can the Holy One proceed from Nazareth?" (EB, under the word). Perhaps, however, we should see no more in this than the acquiescence of Nathanael's humble spirit in the lowly estimate of his native province entertained by the leaders of his people in Judea.
5. Later History:
Christians are said to have first settled here in the time of Constantine (Epiphanius), whose mother Helena built the Church of the Annunciation. In crusading times it was the seat of the bishop of Bethscan. It passed into Moslem hands after the disaster to the Crusaders at Chattin (1183). It was destroyed by Sultan Bibars in 1263. In 1620 the Franciscans rebuilt the Church of the Annunciation, and the town rose again from its ruins. Here in 1799 the French general Junot was assailed by the Turks. After his brilliant victory over the Turks at Tabor, Napoleon visited Nazareth. The place suffered some damage in the earthquake of 1837.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.