Ancient Nazareth

Mentioned for the first time in the Synoptic Gospels (the Gospel of Mark, which is the oldest, can be placed immediately before or after 70 A.D.), Nazareth is missing from the list of the cities of the Zebulon clan recorded in the book of Joshua (19,10-15). The small village is not even cited by Flavius Josephus who ruled the rebels of Galilee during the first revolt against Rome (66-74 A.D).

In 1962 a fragment of inscription in Jewish square capitals was recovered from the excavations of the Cesarea Maritima synagogue. The text lists the sacerdotal families which include that of Happizzez, resident of Nazaretin; the epigraph is therefore testimony to the existence of the village from the 2nd century A.D.

The Gospels hold two important pieces of information about the village: Nazareth had a big enough population to be able to boast the presence of a synagogue in which Jesus, one Saturday – the Jewish “Shabbat” – entered and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, read and commented on the prophecy that concerned it (Luke 4,16-27). The other piece of information, of topographical character, is provided by the same passage of Luke, who remembers the cliff located in the village, where the furious crowd wanted to throw Jesus off after preaching in the synagogue (Luke 4, 28-30).

The first extra-evangelical but indirect mention of Nazareth is contained in a few Jewish sources from the end of the 1st Century A.D. with reference to the Jewish-Christian community who believed in "Jeshua‘ Hannozrî" (Jesus of Nazareth), the "nozrím" – nazarene – who together with the "miním" –heretics- were part of the twelfth oration of the prayer "Shemonè Esrè", a note inserted during the so-called "Council of Jamnia-Yavne."

However, archaeology offers another type of testimony. The excavations identified the area where the ancient village stood and which Medieval and modern town planning incorporated into the current large Nazareth. The ancient village extended from north to south on the hilltop where the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Franciscan convent and the church of Saint Joseph now stand. The archaeological finds show that the first signs of life in the area date back to the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.).

The excavations conducted in the last century by the Franciscan Friars in the area of the sanctuaries, highlighted the remains of an agricultural village inhabited during the Iron Age (900-600 B.C.), that was gradually structured with simple dwellings constructed around caves used for their domestic work and for the recovery of animals. It was in this simple environment that Joseph and Mary went about their domestic lives and Jesus spent his childhood.

Nazareth was not far from Tzippori, the administrative and trading capital of Galilee, that Herod Antipater rebuilt between the 10th and 20th A.D. It should be noted that the inhabitants of Nazareth contributed to this reconstruction by lending their workforce.

It has been suggested that already in the first century, in Nazareth a group of Jews began to be distinguished who gave witness of their faith in Christ; Jesus’ relatives were part of these, of whom Hegessipus (2nd century), Julius Africanus (ca. 250) and Eusebius of Caesarea (4th century) spoke frequently. These texts bring Jude and his sons Zocer and James to memory. However, the Deacon Conon was also probably part of it: made a martyr in Asia Minor during the reign of Decius (249-251 A.D.) he in fact swore in court to being from Nazareth in Galilee and descending directly from the family of the Messiah.

In the third century, Eusebius of Caesarea in his "Onomasticon", that consist in a list of biblical place names, soon translated into Latin and completed by Saint Jerome, confirms that the "Nazareth" that gave the name “"nazarenes" to the first Christians was located in Galilee, 15 km from Legio, the ancient Megiddo and close to Mount Tabor.

The story of Nazareth
The Byzantine Era
The Crusader Period
The Mamluks
The Ottoman Age
The last century