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Modern-day Nazareth

Nazareth (how to say: /ˈnæzərəθ/) (Hebrew: נָצְרַת‎‎ Natz'rat or Natzeret; Arabic: الناصرة an-Nāṣira or an-Naseriyye) is the capital city of the north district of Israel. Most of the people in this city are Arabs (who are either Muslim or Christian). There are also some Jewish people. The city is very old and is also famous for being the city where it is believed Jesus grew up.

History

Ancient times

Archaeological research has revealed that a funerary and cult center at Kfar HaHoresh, about two miles (3.2 km) from current Nazareth, dates back roughly 9000 years to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B era. The remains of some 65 individuals were found, buried under huge horizontal headstone structures, some of which consisted of up to 3 tons of locally produced white plaster. Decorated human skulls uncovered there have led archaeologists to identify Kfar HaHoresh as a major cult centre in that era.

In 1620 the Catholic Church purchased an area in the Nazareth basin measuring approximately 100 m × 150 m (328.08 ft × 492.13 ft) on the side of the hill known as the Nebi Sa'in. The Franciscan priest Bellarmino Bagatti, "Director of Christian Archaeology", carried out extensive excavation of this "Venerated Area" from 1955 to 1965. Fr. Bagatti uncovered pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1500 BC) and ceramics, silos and grinding mills from the Iron Age (1500 to 586 BC) which indicated substantial settlement in the Nazareth basin at that time. However, lack of archaeological evidence for Nazareth from Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic or Early Roman times, at least in the major excavations between 1955 and 1990, shows that the settlement apparently came to an abrupt end about 720 BC, when the Assyrians destroyed many towns in the area.

Early Christian era

Nazarene Fountain Reputed to be Mary & Jesus'
Historic photo of Mary's Well

According to the religious text Gospel of Luke, Nazareth was the home village of Mary and also the site of the Annunciation (when Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would have Jesus as her son). In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph and Mary resettled in Nazareth after returning from the flight from Bethlehem to Egypt. The differences and possible contradictions between these two accounts of the nativity of Jesus are part of the Synoptic Problem. According to the Bible, Nazareth was also where Jesus grew up from some point in his childhood. However, some modern scholars argue that Nazareth was also the birthplace of Jesus.

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The Basilica of the Annunciation

James F. Strange, an American archaeologist, notes: “Nazareth is not mentioned in ancient Jewish sources earlier than the third century AD. This likely reflects its lack of prominence both in Galilee and in Judaea.” Strange originally calculated the population of Nazareth at the time of Christ to be "roughly 1,600 to 2,000 people" but, in a subsequent publication, revised this figure down to “a maximum of about 480.” In 2009 Israeli archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre excavated archaeological remains in Nazareth that might date to the time of Jesus in the early Roman period. Alexandre told reporters, "The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth."

From the following verse in the Gospel of Luke:

[And they led Jesus] to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.[Lk. 4:29]

The Gospel of Luke suggests that ancient Nazareth was built on the hillside. Historic Nazareth was essentially constructed in the valley; the windy hilltops in the vicinity have only been occupied since the construction of Nazareth Illit in 1957. From the ninth century CE tradition associated Christ's evasion of the attempt on his life to the 'Hill of the Leap' (Jabal al-Qafza) overlooking the Jezreel Plain, some 3 km (2 mi) south of Nazareth.

Matthew 2:19-23 reads:

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

In the Gospel of John, Nathaniel asks, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"[1:46] The meaning of this cryptic question is debated. Some commentators and scholars suggest that it means Nazareth was very small and unimportant, but the question does not speak of Nazareth’s size but of its goodness. In fact, Nazareth was described negatively by the evangelists; the Gospel of Mark argues that Nazareth did not believe in Jesus and therefore he could "do no mighty work there";[Mk 6:5] in the Gospel of Luke, the Nazarenes are portrayed as attempting to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff;[Lk 4:29] in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, and in all four canonical gospels, we read the famous saying that "a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. "

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Crusader-era carving in Nazareth

A tablet at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, dating to 50 AD, was sent from Nazareth to Paris in 1878. It contains an inscription known as the "Ordinance of Caesar" that outlines the penalty of death for those who violate tombs or graves. However, it is suspected that this inscription came to Nazareth from somewhere else (possibly Sepphoris). Bagatti writes: “we are not certain that it was found in Nazareth, even though it came from Nazareth to Paris. At Nazareth there lived various vendors of antiquities who got ancient material from several places.” C. Kopp is more definite: "It must be accepted with certainty that [the Ordinance of Caesar]… was brought to the Nazareth market by outside merchants." Princeton University archaeologist Jack Finnegan describes additional archaeological evidence related to settlement in the Nazareth basin during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and states that "Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.".

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Nazareth, 1842

Epiphanius in his Panarion (c. 375 AD) numbers Nazareth among the cities devoid of a non-Jewish population. Epiphanius, writing of Joseph of Tiberias, a wealthy Roman Jew who converted to Christianity in the time of Constantine, says he claimed to have received an imperial rescript to build Christian churches in Jewish towns and villages where no gentiles or Samaritans dwell, naming Tiberias, Diocaesarea, Sepphoris, Nazareth and Capernaum. From this scarce notice, it has been concluded that a small church which encompassed a cave complex might have been located in Nazareth in the early 4th century," although the town was Jewish until the 7th century AD.

Although mentioned in the New Testament gospels, there are no extant non-biblical references to Nazareth until around 200 AD, when Sextus Julius Africanus, cited by Eusebius (Church History 1.7.14), speaks of “Nazara” as a village in "Judea" and locates it near an as-yet unidentified “Cochaba.” In the same passage Africanus writes of desposunoi - relatives of Jesus - who he claims kept the records of their descent with great care. A few authors have argued that the absence of 1st and 2nd century AD textual references to Nazareth suggest the town may not have been inhabited in Jesus' day. Proponents of this hypothesis have buttressed their case with linguistic, literary and archaeological interpretations, though one writer called that view "archaeologically unsupportable".

Middle Roman to Byzantine periods

A Hebrew inscription found in Caesarea dating to the late 3rd or early 4th century mentions Nazareth as the home of the priestly Hapizzez family after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD). From the three fragments that have been found, the inscription seems to be a list of the twenty-four priestly courses (cf. 1 Chronicles 24:7-19; Nehemiah 11;12), with each course (or family) assigned its proper order and the name of each town or village in Galilee where it settled. Nazareth is not spelled with the "z" sound but with the Hebrew tsade (thus "Nasareth" or "Natsareth"). Eleazar Kalir (a Hebrew Galilean poet variously dated from the 6th to 10th century) mentions a locality clearly in the Nazareth region bearing the name Nazareth נצרת (in this case vocalized "Nitzrat"), which was home to the descendants of the 18th Kohen family Happitzetz (הפצץ), for at least several centuries after the Bar Kochva revolt.

In the 6th century, religious narrations from local Christians about the Virgin Mary began to spark interest in the site among pilgrims, who founded the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation at the site of a freshwater spring, today known as Mary's Well. Around 570, the Anonymous of Piacenza reports travelling from Sepphoris to Nazareth. There he records seeing at the Jewish synagogue the books where Jesus learnt his letters, and a bench where he sat. According to him, Christians could lift it, but Jews could not, since it disallowed them from dragging it outside. Writing of the beauty of the Hebrew women there, he records them saying St. Mary was a relative of theirs, and notes that, "The house of St. Mary is a basilica."

The Catholic writer Jerome, writing in the 5th century, says Nazareth was a viculus or mere village. The Jewish town profited from the Christian pilgrim trade which began in the 4th century, but latent anti-Christian hostility broke out in 614 AD when the Persians invaded Palestine. The Christian Byzantine author Eutychius claimed that the Jews of Nazareth helped the Persians carry out their slaughter of the Christians. When the Byzantine or Eastern Roman emperor Heraclius ejected the Persians in 630 AD, he expelled the city's Jews.

Islamic era

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Makam al-Nabi Sain Mosque of Nazareth

In 1099, the Crusader Tancred captured Galilee and established his capital in Nazareth. The ancient diocese of Scythopolis was also relocated under the Archbishop of Nazareth, one of the four archdioceses in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The town returned to Muslim control in 1187 following the victory of Saladin in the Battle of Hattin. The remaining Crusaders and European clergy were forced to leave town. Frederick II managed to negotiate safe passage for pilgrims from Acre in 1229, and in 1251, Louis IX, the king of France, attended mass in the grotto, accompanied by his wife.

In 1263, Baybars, the Mamluk Sultan, destroyed the Christian buildings in Nazareth and declared the site off-limits to Latin clergy, as part of his bid to drive out the remaining Crusaders from Palestine. While Arab Christian families continued to live in Nazareth, its status was reduced to that of a poor village. Pilgrims who visited the site in 1294 reported only a small church protecting the grotto.

In the 14th century, Franciscan monks were permitted to return and live within the ruins of the Basilica, but they were evicted again in 1584. In 1620, Fakhr-al-Din II, a Druze emir who controlled this part of Ottoman Syria rule, permitted them to build a small church at the Grotto of the Annunciation. Pilgrimage tours to surrounding sacred sites were organized by the Franciscans, but the monks suffered harassment from surrounding Bedouin tribes who often kidnapped them for ransom. Stability returned with the rule of Daher el-Omar, a powerful Bedouin sheikh who ruled over much of the Galilee and who authorized the Franciscans to build a church in 1730. That structure stood until 1955, when it was demolished to make way for a larger building completed in 1967.

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Nazareth, postcard by Fadil Saba

Nazareth was captured by the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, during his Syrian campaign. Napoleon visited the holy sites and considered appointing his general Junot as the duke of Nazareth. During the rule of Ibrahim Pasha (1830–1840), the Egyptian general, over much of Ottoman Syria, Nazareth was open to European missionaries and traders. After the Ottomans regained control, European money continued to flow into Nazareth and new institutions were established. The Christians of Nazareth were protected during the pogroms of 1860s by Aghil Agha, the Bedouin leader who exercised control over the Galilee between 1845 and 1870.

Kaloost Vartan, an Armenian from Istanbul, arrived in 1864 and established the first medical missionary in Nazareth, the Scottish "hospital on the hill", or the Nazareth Hospital as it is known today, with sponsorship from the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society. The Ottoman Sultan, who favored the French, allowed them to establish an orphanage, the Society of Saint Francis de Sale. By the late 19th century, Nazareth was a town with a strong Arab Christian presence and a growing European community, where a number of communal projects were undertaken and new religious buildings were erected. In 1871 Christ Church, the city's only Anglican church, was completed under the leadership of the Rev John Zeller and consecrated by Bp Samuel Gobat.

British Mandate

Fountain of the Virgin, Nazareth, 1891
Fountain of the Virgin, 1891

In 1918, Nazareth had a population of 8,000, two-thirds Christian. Over the next thirty years, the population rose to 18,000. Nazareth was slow to modernize. While other towns already had wired electricity, Nazareth delayed its electrification till the 1930s and invested instead in improving its water supply system

State of Israel

Moshe Sharett - Amin Gargurah
Amin Gargurah (left), Mayor of Nazareth, with Israeli prime minister Moshe Sharett, 1955

Nazareth was in the territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The town was not a field of battle during 1948 Arab-Israeli War before the first truce on 11 June, although some of the villagers had joined the loosely organized peasant military and paramilitary forces, and troops from the Arab Liberation Army had entered Nazareth. During the ten days of fighting which occurred between the first and second truce, Nazareth capitulated to Israeli troops during Operation Dekel on 16 July, after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written agreement, where the town leaders agreed to cease hostilities in return for promises from the Israeli officers, including brigade commander Ben Dunkelman (the leader of the operation), that no harm would come to the civilians of the town.

The town remained under Martial Law until 1966.

The Israeli government has designated a Nazareth metropolitan area that includes the local councils of Yafa an-Naseriyye to the south, Reineh, Mashhad and Kafr Kanna to the north, Iksal and Nazareth Illit to the east and Migdal HaEmek to the west.

Preparations for the Pope's visit to Nazareth in 2000 triggered highly publicized tensions related to the Basilica of the Annunciation. In 1997, permission was granted to construct a paved plaza to handle the thousands of Christian pilgrims expected to arrive. The Muslims protested and occupied the site, where a nephew of Saladin is believed to be buried. A school, al-Harbyeh, had been built on the site by the Ottomans, and the Shihab-Eddin shrine, along with several shops owned by the waqf, were located there. Government approval of plans for a large mosque on the property triggered protests from Christian leaders around the world. In 2002, a special government commission permanently halted construction of the mosque.

Geography

Saraya nazareth inside
Nazareth sayara

Two locations for Nazareth are cited in ancient texts: the Galilean (northern) location in the Christian gospels and a southern (Judean) location mentioned in several early noncanonical texts.

Modern-day Nazareth is nestled in a natural bowl which reaches from 1,050 feet (320 m) above sea level to the crest of the hills about 1,600 feet (490 m). Nazareth is about 25 kilometres (16 mi) from the Sea of Galilee (17 km (11 mi) as the crow flies) and about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) west from Mount Tabor. The major cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are situated approximately 91 mi (146 km) and 67 mi (108 km) respectively, away from Nazareth. The Nazareth Range, in which the town lies, is the southernmost of several parallel east-west hill ranges that characterize the elevated tableau of Lower Galilee.

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Nazareth Cityscape
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View Of the City of Nazareth

Demography

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Old postcard of Nazareth women based on photo by Félix Bonfils

Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. Until the beginning of the British Mandate in Palestine (1922–1948), the population was predominantly Arab Christian (majority Orthodox Christians), with an Arab Muslim minority. Nazareth today still has a significant Christian population, made up of Maronites, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals and Copts, among others. The Muslim population has grown, for a number of historical factors, that include the city having served as administrative center under British rule, and the influx of internally displaced Palestinians absorbed into the city from neighbouring towns during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Economy

In 2011, Nazareth had over 20 Arab high-tech companies, mostly in the field of software development. According to Haaretz newspaper the city has been called the "Silicon Valley of the Arab community" in view of its potential in this sphere.

Religious shrines

Church in Nazareth, built on supposed site of Joseph's workshop, 1891
Church in Nazareth on the supposed site of Joseph's workshop, 1891
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Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

Christian

Nazareth is home to dozens of monasteries and churches, many of them in the Old City.

  • The Church of the Annunciation is the largest Catholic church in the Middle East. In Roman Catholic tradition, it marks the site where the Archangel Gabriel announced the future birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-31).
Christmas in The City of Nazareth
Christmas Eve In Nazareth
  • The Church of St. Gabriel is an alternative Eastern Orthodox site for the Annunciation.
  • The Synagogue Church is a Melkite Greek Catholic Church at the traditional site of the synagogue where Jesus preached (Luke 4)
  • The St. Joseph's Church marks the traditional location for the workshop of Saint Joseph
  • The Mensa Christi Church, run by the Franciscan religious order, commemorates the traditional location where Jesus dined with the Apostles after his Resurrection
  • The Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent, run by the Salesian religious order, occupies a hill overlooking the city.
  • The Church of Christ is an Anglican church in Nazareth.
  • The Church of Our Lady of the Fright marks the spot where Mary is said to have seen Jesus being taken to a cliff by the congregation of the synagogue
  • The Jesus Trail pilgrimage route connects many of the religious sites in Nazareth on a 60 km (37 mi) walking trail which ends in Capernaum.

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Muslim

Muslim holy sites in Nazareth include the White Mosque (al-Abiad), the Peace Mosque (al-Salam), the Shrine of al-Sheikh Amer, the Shrine of Nabi Sa’in, and the Shrine of Shihab e-Din. The oldest is the White Mosque, located in Harat Alghama ("Mosque Quarter") in the center of Nazareth's Old Market.

Archaeology

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The artifacts recovered from inside the building were few and mostly included fragments of pottery vessels from the Early Roman period (the first and second centuries AD)... Another hewn pit, whose entrance was apparently camouflaged, was excavated and a few pottery sherds from the Early Roman period were found inside it." Alexandre adds that "based on other excavations that I conducted in other villages in the region, this pit was probably hewn as part of the preparations by the Jews to protect themselves during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 67 AD". Noteworthy is that all the post-Iron Age tombs in the Nazareth basin (approximately two dozen) are of the kokh (plural kokhim) or later types; this type probably first appeared in Galilee in the middle of the 1st century AD. Kokh tombs in the Nazareth area have been excavated by B. Bagatti, N. Feig, Z. Yavor, and noted by Z. Gal.

Excavations conducted prior to 1931 in the Franciscan venerated area revealed no trace of a Greek or Roman settlement there, Fr. Bagatti, who acted as the principal archaeologist for the venerated sites in Nazareth, unearthed quantities of later Roman and Byzantine artifacts, attesting to unambiguous human presence there from the 2nd century AD onward. John Dominic Crossan, a noted New Testament scholar, remarked that Bagatti's archaeological drawings indicate just how small the village actually was, suggesting that it was little more than an insignificant hamlet.

In the mid-1990s, a shopkeeper discovered tunnels under his shop near Mary's Well in Nazareth. The tunnels were identified as the hypocaust of a bathhouse. Excavations in 1997-98 revealed remains dating from the Roman, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods.

Twin towns — sister cities

Nazareth is twinned with:


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