With a population of about 60,000, 30-35% Christian, Nazareth is the most important Arab city in Israel today.
Every place on earth has heard of this city because of the story where it appears for the first time: the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary in this small town of Galilee.
Archaeological finds indicate that it was then a farming village of only 200 inhabitants. This explains why there are no previous references, and why Nazareth is not among the 45 cities of Galilee mentioned by a Jewish historian of the time, Flavius Josephus, or among the 63 towns of Galilee listed in the Talmud.
Yet it was not because of its insignificant size or status that Nathanael of Cana asked the now-famous question to the apostle Philip: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1: 46): However modest it may have been, we can tell that this village probably had a few families of noble lineage because of these two peculiarities:
- the presence of a noble "tomb of the righteous" indicating a person of importance;
- the presence of artifacts that are believed to belong to "Mary’s house". In fact, the house preserved in Loreto, Italy, which seems to correspond with that of Nazareth, is a stone house of good workmanship that a common villager would not have owned.
Who then were the owners of this house and this tomb, if not persons of reputable lineage?
We must keep mind that in Aramaic, the term "nazor" or "nazir" means "prince" or "crown" or "tonsure", and that the Nazoreans were either people of royal descent lineage, or people devoted to God (tonsured, and who only kept a "crown" of hair). The descendants of the northern branch of the illustrious family of King David, including Joseph and Mary, lived in Nazareth. We also know that this northern branch, which had reigned over Israel in past centuries, had been swept aside during the Maccabean period, when the leaders of the Hebrew nation were no longer chosen in this royal family. The place where the heirs of this deposed princely family modestly retired was named Nazareth.
Nathanael's remark about Nazareth (Jn 1: 46) makes more sense now: it does not concern the insignificance of the village, but the condition of failure of its illustrious inhabitants, members of a "fallen" Davidic line, who lived there away from the corridors of power. Therefore, what good could come out of Nazareth?