A great mystery surround the origin of one of the most important cities of Christianity, Nazareth. The New Testament reports that the city of origin of Jesus was (according to the original Text in Greek) the “polis Natzoree“, which was translated as “City of Nazareth”:
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.
(Gospel of Luke 1, 26-27)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the CITY of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David:
(Gospel of Luke 2, 3-4)
But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of GOD in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a CITY called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
(Gospel of Matthew 2, 22-23)
And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own CITY Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of GOD was upon him.
(Gospel of Luke 2, 39-40)
But the new Testament tells almost nothing about this city. It is reported to have had a synagogue, which was inhabited by a group of people hostile to the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua (during the episode narrated in Luke 4, 16-30) and who had a precipice from which they wanted to push it, but the notions in this regard they remain deficient. Still more far-fetched is the fact that this city has never been mentioned in the Old Testament (in more than 40 Books) or in the complete geographical maps drawn up by the historians of the time. Some doubts have therefore inevitably been raised by scholars the existence of Nazareth during the time when Jesus was alive, and objectively there are several reasons to doubt the historicity of Nazareth.
1. The absence in the geographical maps of the time
First of all, Nazareth has never been mentioned in the writings of Josephus, nor in any other writing of the first century. Josephus Flavius in his works (to be seen in the first place “Jewish Antiquities“) speaks a lot, and very extensively of the territories of Galilee, this small area of just 1500Km square. During the First Jewish War, in the 60s AD, the Roman historian and soldier, led a military campaign crossing back and forth the small province of Galilee, there is talk of 45 cities and villages, and yet there is no trace of Nazareth.
However, he has something to say about Japha (Yafa, Japhia), a village about 4 miles south-west away from Nazareth, where he lived for a while (see Life, 52). A look at a topographical map of the region shows that Nazareth is located at the end of a valley, bordered on three sides by hills, with natural access to this valley from the southwest. Before the first Jewish war, Japha was of reasonable size, and we know that he had an ancient synagogue, destroyed by the Romans in 67 AD. (Revue Biblique 1921, 434f). In that war, the inhabitants were massacred (Wars 3, 7.31), Joseph reports that 15,000 were killed by Trajan’s troops and the survivors, 2,130 women and children, were taken away in captivity. The inhabitants of the 1st century Japha buried their dead (as was the custom of the time) in the necropolises, the tombs that were higher than the valley. With the complete destruction of Japha, the use of the “tombs of the Nazarenes” would be terminated, so that the nameless necropolis would now be located just below the modern city of Nazareth. Only later (as indicated by ceramics and other archaeological finds) the site of Nazaret was reoccupied. This was after the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 AD and the Jewish general exodus from Judea to Galilee. The new village was based on subsistence agriculture and was probably completely unrelated to the previous use as a necropolis by the people of Japha.
2. The absence in the Bible’s old Testament
Nazareth is not mentioned once in the entire old Testament. The Book of Joshua (19, 10-16), in which the process of settling the Zebulon tribe in the area of the current Nazareth is reported, records twelve cities and six villages and yet omits any “Nazareth” from its list as complete.
But also we have to keep record of the theories that explains that the absence from the maps of this city was due to its “insignificance” mentioned in one of the Gospels. Josephus Flavius may not have had a real reason to mention it, given its negligible importance reported in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, when Nathanael asks:
“Nazareth, can anything good come from there?”
(John 1, 45-46)
It can be assumed that this town, could have been left out by the contemporary writers of Jesus, because the village would have been small and not relevant, but then it would not explain the mention of other places by the texts, even smaller and less incisive villages on the cultural/political history of the area.
So how is it fair to report that the statement that there is no evidence of the first century of the existence of this city is not entirely correct. Indeed, it was until a few years ago, in 1962, in fact in this year an inscription was discovered in Caesarea Maritima that documents about priests of the order of Elkalir came to live in Nazareth (in 70 AD at the end of the war Jewish with the Romans, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and this led the Roman government to redistribute the priests and their families in other cities of Judea, and in this case in Caesarea). In 2009 the alleged first Nazarene house dating back to the era of Jesus was discovered, the house brought to light by archaeologists, was a simple structure, composed of two small rooms and a courtyard, but modern archeology still seems to give us no certain answers these recent discoveries. So if on the one hand the statement that there is no historical evidence of the existence of the city of Nazareth in the first century can be disproved by some archaeological data, many among the most informed critics, suggest caution in using this controversy as a real proof in favor of the existence of the city.
3. Absence in the Rabbinic literature
The Hebrews were extremely methodological in censing peoples and cities, from the smallest cluster of “houses”, to the larger cities, or the fortified ones (mentioned in the Bible). Even the complete tradition of the Babylonian Talmud, although it brings us back 63 cities of Galilee, does not mention Nazareth at all, nor is it reported in any text of the first rabbinic literature.
4. The absence in the Pauline Writings
We even St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, an observant Jew and considered the true founder of Christianity, does not seem to know anything about Nazareth. In all of his writings, his epistles mention Jesus 221 times, but not even a single quotation for the presumed city of his Master Jesus. The only quotations of Paul we find in the Acts of the Apostles concern the word נזיר transliterated in Nazirite (or sometimes Nazirean or Nazorean), always referring to Jesus the Nazir or the Nazarene, and never to the city. (Acts: 18, 18 – 21, 23 – 23, 12 – 23, 14 – 23, 21 – 26, 10)
However, no historian or ancient geographer mentions Nazareth, only at the beginning of the 4th century a first written testimony of the place
5. Erroneous comparison of the topography of the Galilee territory of Nazareth
In the episode cited in the Gospel of Luke in Chapter 4 (vv-16-30), the text of the New Testament would be in error. The geography described in the Gospels is not found with the reality of the territory of Upper Judea as there is no precipice near the synagogue in which Jesus was heard and, because of his sermons, driven out of the city (Gospel according to Luke 4, 16 -30). The closest cliff to Nazareth to which Jesus may have been taken is almost 5Km away from the synagogue, indeed far-fetched to travel with “a prisoner” all this way before an execution, and then easily fade away. However, some believe that there would not have been a certain reason why Jesus would not have been brought so far before he could escape.
The genesis of Nazareth
The expression often reported by the Gospels and translated as “Jesus of Nazareth” is in reality a wrong translation of the original Greek “Jesous or Nazoraios”. More precisely, we should speak of “Jesus the Nazarene” in which the Nazarene or Nazir, has a meaning quite alien to the name of a place. The highly equivocal Hebrew root of the name is NZR (in Aramaic and in Hebrew there are no vowels, but only consonants), and to help us understand what the term נזיר (transliterated in ntzir) means the Gnostic text, the Gospel according to Philip, can offer today’s scholars one of the plausible explanations:
47. The first Apostles called Him thus: Jesus Nazarene Messiah, that is, Jesus Nazarene Christ. The last word is Christ, the first is Jesus, in the middle —Nazarene. The word Messiah has two meanings: Christ and King. Jesus in Hebrew means Savior. Nazara is the Truth. Nazarene is the One Who came from the Truth. So, Christ is King. Thus, Nazarene is King and Jesus is also King
What we know is that the “Nazir” (or “Nazorean”) was originally the one who, after pronouncing a vote to GOD, became part of a community (first Jewish and then Jewish-Christian) of religious. Like the Essenes, or for the present times we can consider them as the monks from the origins, (the etymology of the word derives from monos or alone/isolated and in Hebrew they are still called נזיר or nazir) that isolated themselves from the society because they repudiated many customs and customs that did not conform to the Law of GOD. They had no particular relationship with a city that took their name from them, but they themselves took their name from the first vow that the Bible testifies to us (Book of Numbers, Chapters 6, 1-21 and in the Book of Judges, Chap. , 1-14 to the Chapter). The root of the name NZR (נזר or נזיר) means “consecrated or separated/elected”, but these consonants could also induce the reader to the Hebrew name “netser” (“netzor”), which means “branch” or “flower”. The plural of “Netzor” becomes “Netzoreem.” There is no mention of the Nazarenes in any of Paul’s writings, although, ironically, Paul himself was a Nazorean according to the testimony given in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18, 18). The reference certainly does not mean that Paul was a resident of Nazareth, in fact we all know that the Holy Man came from Tarsus, a city of current Turkey).
5 We have discovered that this man is a pest, foment disorder among all the Jews that are in the world and is a leader of the sect of the Nazoreans.
(Acts 24, 5)
The Nazorim emerged towards the end of the first century, after a curse was placed on heretics in Jewish daily prayer:
“Three times a day they say: May GOD curse the Nazares”
(Epiphanius, Panarion 29.9.2)
The Nazarenes may have seen themselves as a “branch from the root of Jesse”, father of King David, and most likely had their first version of the Gospel of Matthew, the only Gospel found in us in the Aramaic language, and thus the clearest revelation of the Message of the Messiah. Even the lost and apocryphal text, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, shows us the logic to be followed. Hardly the “Gospel of the Nazares” could have been the “Gospel of the inhabitants of Nazareth”, but the text used by the members of the Community to evengelize the peoples.
It was the late Gospel of Matthew who began the deception that the title “Jesus the Nazarene” “he had somehow to concern Nazareth, citing a given prophecy:
23 and, as soon as he arrived, he went to live in a city called Nazareth, so that what was said by the prophets was fulfilled:” It will be called the Nazarene.”
(Gospel according to Matthew 2, 23)
With this verse, Matthew closes the story of Jesus’ early years. But the evangelist is not incorrectly quoting the Holy Scriptures, he knows very well that nowhere in the Jewish prophetic literature is there any reference to a Nazarene But what is “predicted”, however, is the appearance of this figure in the Scriptures of the Old Testament:
5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to GOD from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
(Book of Judges 13, 5)
The Nazirean term (“the vow who promises to grow long hair and serve GOD”) may have been replaced, thus appearing to refer to” being resident there “, and this argument is able to build a link between the hometown and the consecrated person to GOD.
The story of a lost city
It seems that, together with the Nazirei or Nozerim , a Jewish/Christian faction related to them, the Evyonim – “the poor” (called the Ebionites), emerged at about the same time. According to Epiphanius (bishop of Salamis on the island of Cyprus, around 370 AD) arose from within the Nazarenes, but differed doctrinally from the original group in rejecting the Writings of Paul as a Bible, and they would be Jews who honored Christ [ Messiah] as a right man [prophet]. A name that these sectarians attributed was “The Custodians of the Covenant”, in Hebrew Nozrei haBrit (the custodians of the Alliance/Consecration), derived from Nosrim or Nazarene. When the crisis came to an end, the original Nazarenes split into two: those who tried to reposition themselves within the general principles of Judaism (‘Evyonim’-Nosrim); and those who rejected Judaism (“Christian” -Nosrim). This is confirmed by the fact that to this day, in the Semitic languages (Hebrew and Arabic) the Christian people are called נוצרי ,notsri (see current doctionary).
Now we know that a group of “priestly” families has re-established an area in the Nazareth valley. after their defeat in the Bar Kochbar War of 135 AD It seems very likely that they were Evyonim-Nosrim and called their village “Nazareth” or the village of the “poor” because of the rejection of material goods associated with sin, self-pity, or because they had their poverty as a virtue.
3 “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, because of them is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
(Matthew 5, 13)
The writer of the Gospel of Matthew was therefore aware of the” priestly “families who moved to this place of Galilee inhabited by monks (נזיר which we remember also means monk in Hebrew) and for this reason it refers to “Nazareth”, and not meaning a real city, but a place inhabited by these monastic communities (Essenes) of the time.
The city built by theology
In the III century the doctrine of the Father of the Church Origen knew very well the evangelical history of the city of Nazareth, yet did not have the precise idea of where he was, although he lived in Caesarea (only about 60 km from the city). During the time when Origen lived, as the Church became more institutionalized, an intense rivalry developed between the patriarchs of Caesarea and those of Jerusalem. This rivalry was resolved (in favor of Jerusalem) in Chalcedon in 451. Part of the rivalry was centered precisely on the control of the “holy places”. Therefore, “finding” the lost city of Nazareth was a matter of great importance.
This task was assigned to a very important female figure in Roman and early Christian history, the widow eighty-year-old Empress of Rome Helen, mother of the future Christian leader and great religious reformer Constantine. Preparing the way for an imminent meeting with the CREATOR with a program of “Works”, the great religious Elena, made a conscientious pilgrimage to Palestine. In the area of Nazareth she could not find anything but an ancient well (in fact the only source of water in the area). Undoubtedly encouraged by the locals, Elena promptly labeled the cistern with the “Well of Mary” and had a small basilica built there. Conveniently, the Gospels had not been able to clarify exactly where Mary had been when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her, so the well site acquired local support for the divine visit of the Archangel, and the first church was founded in Nazareth. Elena began therefore the activity of the pilgrimage that has never ceased to date, had finally established the precise position for the “Nazara” (Nazareth) of the Gospels.
The Peutinger Tabula
The so-called Peutinger map or “tavola” (tabula Peutingeriana), with west facing upwards, is a complete map (about 14feet wide) and so named after the antiquarian Conrad Peutinger, 16th century German and currently kept in Vienna. The map is actually a medieval copy (XII or XIII century) of a Roman original of the fourth century (exhibition Constantinople, or today’s Istanbul founded in the year 328). The whole world known by the Romans is represented, from Spain in the west to India in the east, and in the section shown above (below the city of Aelia Capitolina in the center-left), the map shows a site that at this stage entered in the conception of the Christian dream, the Mount of Olives (in red). The cartographer of this archival document, has listened to more than 3000 places, and of Nazareth still no trace.
Versa the end of the fourth century, when the Church had now the control of world theological correctness, Nazareth was correctly described by Jerome as “a little village in Galilee “(Onom 141: 3). He should know: he had fled the scandal in Italy to organize an ecclesiastical retreat in the area for wealthy Romans. The village owed its very existence to the imperial itinerary half a century before.
From the V century the presumed site of Nazareth, marked by its pair of churches, had become a key destination for devoted pilgrims. We know of a visit of Piacenza in 570, of a visiting Arculf in 638, a Wilhebald in 724, an Al Mas’udi in 943. Sewulf in 1102, as previous visitors, reported that only the church of the Annunciation had to be seen.
In 636 the Arab armies invaded the Byzantine possessions in Palestine, including Nazareth. A Christian presence continued in the area, although it was subject to heavy restrictions and taxes. Almost five centuries later, the crusaders occupied the valley and built a fort. On the foundations of the former Byzantine church the “cave” built something more grandiose, more suited to their resident bishop. Today more than one million visitors (fifty percent of tourists visiting Israel) travel to Nazareth, especially on the site of the Annunciation.
Evidence for the existence of the first-century city of Nazareth does not exist, not in literature, not in archeology, and not in history, it is a built city. May GOD help His people reaching Knowledge and finding the Truth.
René Salm, The Myth of Nazareth (Kevalin, 2007)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Jonathan Reed, Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence (Trinity, 2002)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (Harper Collins, 1999)
Jonathan N. Tubb, Canaanites (British Museum Press, 1998)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain – A History of the Jews (Harper Collins, 1994)