Day Five: Jesus’ Early life in Nazareth

Dear friends,

Today we went to the Galilee. This region, where the Bible says Jesus grew up, is about 2 1/2 hours north of Jerusalem. To get there, we drove down the Jericho road and through the West Bank again, turned left (north) along the Jordan River valley, then exited the West Bank and entered Israel as we continued to drive north to Nazareth. The ride itself was a great overview of the landscape of this part of the world. We noticed a very stark contrast between the desert land of the West Bank, with only a few green oasis like Jericho, and the lush farmland of Israel. It’s not a gradual change but a quick one as you pass the border. The Galilee is very lovely and green — it sort of reminded me of Lancaster PA with many cornfields and farms, but with the addition of palm trees and pretty hills.

Nazareth today is a Palestinian town in Israel — which is to say the citizens are about 65% Muslim and 35% Christian, and are Israeli citizens.

I was interested to learn that in Jesus’ time, Nazareth was a very small village with only 200 or 300 inhabitants. It was also a fairly newly settled place. The archeological remains of this village are now under the Church of the Annunciation (where Roman Catholics believe the Annunciation of the angel to Mary happened — Greek Orthodox believe it happened a few blocks up the street, but the Catholic church has a longer history of pilgrimage).

I have to say the architecture of the Church of the Annunciation, which was built in the 1960’s, reminded me a lot of the architecture of Alewife Station. Lots of concrete. However, they did do a nice job of preserving the grotto which is commemorated as the house where Mary lived when the angel appeared to her (people lived in caves in those days, so this apparently is a likely cave). It’s connected to the archeological dig, but inside the church walls in the lower level of the church. It was moving to be there and imagine Mary about her household chores as the angel appeared.

After lunch, Connie and I used some free time to visit the “other” Annunciation site, Mary’s Well in the Greek Orthodox church. The Orthodox tradition is that the angel appeared when Mary was getting water at the local well. Connie and I figured that, since this actually was the location of the well used in the 1st century, that Mary had to have been there at some point, so we wanted to be there, too.

In the afternoon, we were supposed to go to Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle, but unfortunately  some local issues caused the road to be closed. I’m not sure what they were but it seems it might have been a demonstration related to recent tensions around a police shooting.

So, we went instead to the archaeological dig at Sepphora. I remain sad for the people here who have to live with this tension and violence all the time.  It’s hard to see a place so divided.  But, for us it was not a bad thing to miss Cana as we Sepphora was wonderful. I have always wanted to see Sepphora (or Zippori — things get spelled different ways in English here) since I studied it in seminary. It was a Roman town, about an hour’s walk away from Nazareth, that existed when Jesus lived here. Herod Antipas (the one who cut off John the Baptist’s head) made it into his capitol city when Jesus was a baby (Later, when Jesus was an adult,  he moved his capital to Tiberias which we are going to later this week.) We often think of Joseph as a carpenter, but the truth is that the word we translate as carpenter means builder. So Joseph could have been in any of the building trades (stonemason, etc.). And the town of Sepphora, very close to Nazareth, was being build when Joseph was raising his family there. So many scholars speculate that Joseph may actually have worked in Sepphora. If so, Jesus may have accompanied him as his apprentice.

The old Roman town is quite visible beneath the archeological dig – folks in our group who had been to Pompeii said it looked a lot like that. It was great to see a site that looked like it might have looked at Jesus’ time instead of yet another modern church built over a site. I especially enjoyed walking on the Roman road in the Agora area and the beautiful mosaics in what must have been some of the wealthier homes. I’m looking forward to returning to the Galilee when we spend 3 days here this coming weekend ( I won’t be able to blog then as we’ll be at a monestary with no internet, but will update when back in Jerusalem. But that’s not until Friday.) Tomorrow we are going to Jacob’s Well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman.



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