What do we know about Nazareth in year zero?

The basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, seen from the church of the Salesians; source: wikimedia

With its population of about 60,000 inhabitants of which 30 to 35% are Christian, Nazareth is today the most important Arab city in Israel. But it only acquired world-wide fame after being first mentioned in the Gospel episode of the Annunciation, where the Archangel Gabriel comes to Mary.

Archeological Excavations

Archeological findings show that Nazareth was an agricultural town of only two hundred inhabitants. This explains why there are no previous references to it and why this village is not cited among the forty-five towns listed by Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian at the time, nor mentioned in the Talmud among the sixty-three towns in Galilee.

Revealing the Existence of Families of a High Lineage

In fact, however modest the village of Nazareth may have been, there were still some families of noble descent among the residents there, as two of its following special features show:

  • To be found there is the “tomb of a just man” in the style of noble families at the time. This proves that Nazareth was not only a village of simple farmers
  • The foundations of what is assumed to be Mary’s house were discovered. In fact, the preserved house in Loretto – which corresponds to the foundations in Nazareth – is constructed out of well-made stones, the like of which would not have been used by simple village-folk

To whom could this home and this tomb belong if not to people of genteel standing?

In Aramean, the term “nazor” or “nazir” means “prince” or “crown” or “tonsure”; the Nazoreans were either people from a royal house or consecrated to God (tonsured means keeping a “crown” of hair). The descendants of the Northern branch of the illustrious family of king David - among them Joseph and Mary - lived in Nazareth. This Northern line of David’s house, which had reigned over Israel during centuries past, had been pushed to the side during the time of the Maccabees, when the leaders of the Hebraic nation were no longer chosen from this branch of the royal family. And the place where the heirs of this ousted princely family retired was called… Nazareth.

Nathanael’s Famous Comment

Therefore, it is not because the village is small that Nathanael replies famously to the apostle Philip in the Gospels:

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46)

This comment does not refer to the insignificance of the village, but to the failure of the illustrious descendants of this disgraced line of David who lived a retired life in Nazareth. So “what good can come from Nazareth… ?”

 The list of the articles in this section:

-       The history of the people of Israel

-       Israel at the time of Jesus

-       Our current knowledge about Nazareth

-       Our sources of knowledge       

See also :

About the basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth

About Jesus’ childhood home in Galilee