Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nazareth - Where Jesus Grew Up

Mary lived in Nazareth at the time of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel visited her and told her she would conceive and give birth to a son, that the son would be called Jesus, and that Jesus would later be given the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob in a kingdom with no end. (Luke 1). However, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as recorded in both Luke and Matthew, in order to fulfill prophecy. But some time shortly after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. There Jesus lived, learned, worked and worshiped until he began his public ministry at about the age of 30. 

We know little about Jesus growing up, other than that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luke 2:52)

His father Joseph was a "teckton" in Greek, which is a builder. We typically think of him as a carpenter, but he may have been a stonemason. Buildings of that era were constructed of stone. Jewish father's began to teach their sons their trade at age 12, so Joseph probably taught Jesus his trade if he lived long enough to. We don't know how long Joseph lived: the last reference to Joseph in the Bible was when Jesus was 12. Some traditions believe Joseph was an older man when he married Mary. This is particularly so among the Catholics and the Orthodox, who believe that Mary was not only a virgin at the birth of Jesus, but remained a virgin throughout the remainder of her life. The siblings of Jesus are portrayed as children of Joseph from a prior marriage. My tradition generally assumes Joseph was a man nearer to Mary's age and that Mary had children with Joseph. Most, if not all traditions, assume that Joseph was not alive when Jesus began his public ministry. So there are a lot of blanks on the canvas of Jesus' early life. 

Little is written of Nazareth in the Bible, but the majority of the life of Jesus was spent there. So I found it personally very moving when we drove through Nazareth and went up on a beautiful hill and surveyed the area and had some time to contemplate. Unlike the Nazareth of my thoughts, the Nazareth of Jesus is very mountainous and rocky. Archaeologists have estimated the Nazareth was very small, about 400 or 500 people at the time Jesus lived there. I imagined Jesus as a boy roaming those hills, much like the hills I roamed when I was a boy. 
Nazareth as viewed from Mount Kedumim, also known as Mount Precipice. The next picture is a closer view of Nazareth above and just slightly right of center.  
The Basilica of the Annunciation, just a little left and up from center, where the Catholics believe the Annunciation took place. 
A much closer view of the Basilica of the Annunciation. I would have liked to visit, but it was not on our tour agenda.
More of modern Nazareth, to the left of the Basilica, likely just open space at the time of Jesus.
And more of modern Nazareth as the view goes even more left and towards the Jezreel Valley.
It is easy to envision herds of sheep and goats roaming the mountains and valleys, and Jesus watching the shepherds, perhaps even taking a turn. We saw other instances of shepherds watching sheep on hilly terrain. After our visit, it is now easier for me to think of Jesus as a stonemason than a carpenter. We saw so much stonework and so many stones. Nazareth is a relatively short distance from the very flat Jezreel Valley and from Mount Tabor where many believe the Transfiguration took place. Nazareth and nazarite, as in nazarite vow, are derived from the same word. The nazarite vow required the person making the vow to abstain from wine, refrain from cutting his hair and not to become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves. Samson and Samuel were nazarites and John the Baptist probably was. Was there more than a word connection of nazarite and Nazareth?  Could that vow have originated in that vicinity? Something interesting to contemplate.  

At about age 30, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River and spent 40 days in the Judean wilderness. Then he returned to Galilee and "went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down...[Then Jesus said to them], Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Some asked, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" Then Jesus went on: "[N]o prophet is accepted in his hometown." Neither Elijah or Elisha were accepted by their own people.  (Luke 4:14-27)

The "people in the synagogue were furious when they heard [Jesus say] this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But Jesus "walked right through the crowed and went on his way." (Luke 4:28-30)

We visited the hill where tradition holds that the Nazareans attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff. It was impressive, beautiful, scenic, a stiff breeze at times. For me, this was one of those little unexpected surprises of our trip. A place of personal significance that I did not anticipate.

From Mount Precipice, looking beyond the hills containing Nazareth into the Jezreel Valley.
Panning to the left, the Jezreel Valley opens up wide.
Panning further to the left.
Panning even further left, Mt. Tabor comes into view, the mountain in the top center. 


  1. Visiting the Mount of Precipice was a significant experience for me as well. The wind made it somehow more isolated, carrying off our voices into the valley and creating its own kind of silence up on the cliffs.

  2. There were an amazing amount of rocks everywhere. I can definitely picture Joseph being a stonemason. The Mount of Precipice was a moving experience.

  3. Think about Jesus' parables and metaphors -- lots of "stone". The only wood I can think of is the beam/mote and the yoke. But Jesus is the stone of Israel, the chief cornerstone, the stone that the builders rejected ...
    Near Nazareth was Sepphoris, a huge Roman building project, and there were various stone quarries in the vicinity. But there were no forests. Stone mason makes sense, carpenter does not.

    I've also seen "tekton" translated as "artisan".

  4. Can someone plz help me out, I am nearing the end of a course on luke's Gospel and the presenter said " LUKE 4:28-30 ", is a fable,as he was in Nazareth and there is no cliff there,( HIS EXACT WORDS ).He said " GOING OUTSIDE THE CITY SUGGESTS LUKE CHANGED IT FROM JERUSALEM " wHAT CAN I PRINT OUT TO SHOW OTHERWISE, AS SOME PEOPLE ON THIS COURSE ARE JUST LEARNING THE FAITH AND ITS UNFAIR ON THEM TO HAVE PERSONAL OPINIONS CLOUD THEIR VIEW OF SCRIPTURE, Tnx and God Bless, Bobby