I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head…
The Weight by The Band
We now embark on a more detailed look at each of the holy sites we recently visited starting with Nazareth. It was here that the Virgin Mary was betrothed to Joseph and the Angel Gabriel came to say “Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favour with God and will bear a son and his name shall be called Jesus.”
At the time of Jesus, Nazareth was a tiny Galilean village of no more than 300 people. Today it is a small city of 80,000 as seen in the photo above. It consists of Upper Nazareth where the majority of Israeli Jews reside and Lower Nazareth where Israeli Christians and Muslims live. Our modern hotel was in the upper part overlooking the older town.
The first highlight we saw was the Nazareth Village, an outdoor museum that depicts Nazareth daily life in Jesus time. It consists of houses, fields, vineyards, stables and olive press complete with actors dressed for the part. We learned a lot about the different trades such as carpenter, weaver, wine maker and shepherd. The structures and talks were very well done giving one a good idea of what daily life was like there and then. We were given a small ceramic lamp with wick as a departing gift.
The real highlight here was visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation. It is a new church built over the Byzantium and Crusader ruins in the lower part of the church. It was here where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing that she was to be the “Mother of Jesus”. There are at least three levels: the parish church, the Grotto of the Annunciation on the ground floor and a deeper section where an ancient well is visible. Apparently, Nazareth also had a synagogue where Jesus unrolled the scrolls and read from Isaaih “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…(LK 4:16-20). There is a Christian church there now I think but I don’t recall seeing it.
The last local highlight was visiting an ancient town 6 km NW of Nazareth called Sepphoris. It was a large active town in Jesus day and Joseph his father, would likely have worked there. Strangely, this town is not mentioned in the Bible. Some pious accounts have Mary being born here to her parents Joachim and Anne, although most believe she was born in Nazareth. Notable structures here include a Roman theatre, two early Christian churches, a crusader fort and many beautiful mosaics. We walked around the ancient ruins which were made more dreary by the light drizzle that day. The mosaics were indeed amazing.
One thing that we were starting to notice is how hilly, rocky and dry the land is here and so how difficult it would have been walking from place to place in Jesus time. We were getting tired but we had a tour bus and daily water bottles!
Jesus was raised and then rejected here. “Can anything good come of Nazareth?” asked the Apostle Nathaniel. When Jesus read from the scrolls that day the people became infuriated and took him out to the cliff to push him off. But Jesus stared them down and walked through them and away, LK 4:29-30. This rejection was for us the start of a profound sadness which was to engulf us during this pilgrimage.