Where Jesus Grew Up
As told by a staff writer
AT THE bus depot in Tiberias there are benches for passengers where the buses pull in. Finding where the buses for Nazareth arrive, my wife and I sat down. We were excited at the prospect of visiting the place where Jesus Christ grew up over 1,900 years ago. To our inquiry about tickets, the young woman next to us replied: “You pay after you board.”
In a few minutes a bus pulled in, and by then there was quite a crowd waiting to get on. After boarding, we checked our map again, noting that Nazareth is about 20 miles* away, and that we would pass by Cana en route. What meaningful places to Christians! Often, over the years, we had talked about going to Israel. Then, this past spring, the opportunity opened to us, and now we were here!
There were no tours arranged that day by the charter bus group with which we were traveling. We knew that the following day the group would pass through Nazareth, but we wanted to spend more time there—which explains our catching this local morning bus here near the Sea of Galilee. We had often wondered: What was the area like where Jesus grew up and spent most of his earthly life?
ON THE ROAD TO NAZARETH
As we headed out of Tiberias, the bus stopped often to take on passengers. Soon there was standing room only. The Sea of Galilee is nearly 700 feet* below sea level. Nazareth, on the other hand, is some 1,200 feet above sea level. So we had a steep climb for the first few miles, as the Sea of Galilee dropped behind us. Surely not an easy trip, we thought, if one had to walk as did Jesus and his apostles. How strange after a long ascent to reach a sign announcing “SEA LEVEL”!
We enjoyed observing the people. There were Arab men in long white headdresses, farm workers in work clothes, and Israeli soldiers in uniform, many of whom were women. Soon our route leveled out into a fertile valley. As we came to the road junction to Tabor, we could see this famous mountain about six miles to the south. We knew that Jesus must have been very familiar with it, and perhaps climbed it. Tabor is only about five miles southeast of Nazareth and dominates the eastern end of the spacious and beautiful Jezreel Valley (also called Plain of Esdraelon).
We continued, however, in a southwesterly direction, the more direct route to Nazareth. When the bus stopped at Cana to let off and take on passengers, we were tempted to get off and look around the village, but our eagerness to get to Nazareth prevented us. The bus was now climbing up through more mountainous terrain. About four miles past Cana, we came first to Nazareth Elit (Upper Nazareth), a modern all-Jewish city. Finally we descended to old Nazareth.
It was surprising to us to find two distinct cities, and each of such size! Old Nazareth, we learned, is the largest all-Arab city in Israel, with a population of some 40,000—quite a growth from former times. In fact, Nazareth formerly must have been very insignificant.
The city is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Talmud, or by the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who tells about 45 other Galilean towns in his writings. And that it was looked down on, even by people of Galilee, is indicated by the comment of Nathanael, who became one of Jesus’ apostles: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) A 19th-century visitor put Nazareth’s population at around 3,000, and asserted: “It is now larger and more prosperous than in any former period in its history, and is still enlarging.”
The greatest growth has come in recent years. Since 1950 Nazareth has doubled in size. But now there is also Nazareth Elit in the hills that we had just passed to the east. The new Jewish city of Nazareth Elit, which began to be built in 1957, has a population of some 20,000. It is obviously the more prosperous of the two cities.
Getting off the bus, we made our way up toward the oldest part of Nazareth. We came to what is called “Mary’s Well.” A church is located here now. But since it is apparently the only well in Nazareth, it is perhaps the very one from which Jesus’ mother Mary drew water for the family.
As we were continuing along, a barber, about to open his shop, hailed us. (We had found that many people in Israel spoke fluent English.) Stopping to talk, we were somewhat surprised that he was Christian; all Arabs we had met in Israel up to that time were Moslem. “Half the Arabs in Nazareth are Christian,” he explained, “and half are Moslem.” Nodding toward the shop next door, he said: “He is Moslem, but we get along well together.” The barber urged us to come in out of the heat and have some tea, but since we were eager to see more of the area we persistently, yet reluctantly, declined.
In a few minutes we were in a labyrinth of narrow winding streets, with a gutter down their center for donkeys to walk. On either side of the street were open shops where everything imaginable was sold—clothes for sale hung outside some shops, and in front of another were recently slaughtered lambs dangling from hooks! Watching a heavily laden donkey coming down the street, we sensed that scenes like this were similar to those of nearly 2,000 years ago when Jesus lived here.
Wanting to buy something for a snack, we stopped at a shop where gunnysacks were filled with all kinds of attractive nuts and dried fruit. With characteristic hospitality, the shopkeeper invited us to sit down for a cup of Arab coffee. Over coffee, we learned something about life in modern-day Nazareth. Noting our interest in the Bible, an 18-year-old Christian Arab who was present kindly offered to show us around the area.
A REWARDING BIBLE DISCUSSION
We were interested in locating the setting for a particular Bible account. Angered by Jesus’ teaching, the Bible says that the people of Nazareth “hurried him outside the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain upon which their city had been built, in order to throw him down headlong. But he went through the midst of them and continued on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30) Julian, our guide, led us out to the south of town toward the place where this was supposed to have occurred.
We were pleased at Julian’s interest in the Scriptures. He had a copy of the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) and said that he enjoyed reading it. As we walked along, he mentioned that a priest in Nazareth taught that Jesus, on the occasion mentioned above, was thrown over the cliff, but that he was miraculously carried back up. I opened the Bible I had brought, and we read this passage, which, of course, says nothing about such a thing’s happening.
Julian now had a question for us. “I’ve asked it of many persons,” he said, “but have never received a satisfactory answer. Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?”
In reply, I opened the Bible to Matthew 13:54-56. There it mentions by name Jesus’ “brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas.” Then it says: “And his sisters, are they not all with us?” Furthermore, we noted that the Bible clearly says that Joseph did not have relations with Mary “till she brought forth her first-born son.”—Matt. 1:25, Douay Version.
Julian agreed that the Catholic teaching about Mary’s remaining ever virgin is not found in the Bible. “And there are other Church teachings that are not supported by the Bible,” I added. “For example, limbo, purgatory, and the teaching that the wicked will be tormented forever in a hellfire.” Julian could see the difference between these Church teachings and what the Bible says. It pleased us when he said that he believes only what he reads in the Scriptures.
By now we had reached the edge of town. Here there is indeed the brow of a mountain. It could well have been the place over which the men of the city tried to throw Jesus. Julian obviously believed in Jesus as a person who lived in Nazareth nearly 2,000 years ago. “But do you believe that Jesus is alive and can benefit us now?” I asked. “Do you believe that he will do anything to change the unpleasant world situation in which hate and prejudice are so prevalent?”
Without hesitation he answered, “Yes.” Then he referred to a scripture about the coming king who would judge the poor ones fairly and rule the people with justice. Excitedly, I turned to Isaiah chapter 11 in the Bible and, asking whether this was the passage he had in mind, began reading: “And with righteousness he must judge the lowly ones, and with uprightness he must give reproof in behalf of the meek ones of the earth. And he must strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the spirit of his lips he will put the wicked one to death. And righteousness must prove to be the belt of his hips, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”—Isa 11 Vss. 4, 5.
Even as I was reading, Julian interrupted to say this was the scripture he meant. I noted that this is a prophecy about the Messiah, Jesus. Then I directed his attention to the rest of the passage, which speaks of the peace that will be enjoyed under Christ’s rule. In part it says: “And the wolf will actually reside for a while with the male lamb, and with the kid the leopard itself will lie down, and the calf and the maned young lion and the well-fed animal all together; and a mere little boy will be leader over them. And the cow and the bear themselves will feed; together their young ones will lie down. And even the lion will eat straw just like the bull. . . . They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isa 11 Vss. 6-9.
Julian was familiar with this. “It is my favorite scripture,” he said. I told him that it had long been a favorite of mine as well. “We believe that it will eventually have a literal fulfillment,” I said. “And the miracles that Jesus performed long ago here in Galilee of healing the sick and even raising the dead are only a preview of what Jesus will do on an earth-wide scale under his Kingdom rule.”
PLACES JESUS VISITED
By now we had started back into Nazareth. As an example of one of Jesus’ miracles, I mentioned the city of Nain, saying: “There Jesus resurrected a widow’s son.” (Luke 7:11-17) Pointing down to the southeast in the direction of the Valley of Jezreel, I noted: “A village called Nain still exists about five or six miles over there. It is evidently at the same location as the village mentioned in the Bible.”
Julian had not been there, but he said that he and his friends walked down to Mt. Tabor, which isn’t far away from Nain. This interested us, because we thought that, as a youngster, Jesus, too, must have walked to such places near Nazareth. Nazareth is perched in the hills just above the Valley of Jezreel, so it is not far down into the valley. Julian said that one morning he and some friends left Nazareth early, walked down into the Valley of Jezreel, past Mt. Tabor, away down to near the Sea of Galilee, and back home—all in the same day! “We were finished that night!” he admitted.
This experience illuminated an aspect of the above Bible account regarding Nain. How so? Well, Luke 7:1 says that after Jesus finished his famous Sermon on the Mount, he “entered into Capernaum.” While in that city on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, he healed the slave of an army officer. (Luke 7:1-10) Then verse 11 says, “Closely following this,” or as some ancient manuscripts say, “On the following day, he traveled to a city called Nain.” (Luke 7:11, New World Translation footnote, large-print edition) That was indeed a long distance—well over 20 miles—for Jesus and those with him to cover in one day over such hilly terrain. Therefore, that persons today walking over the same difficult terrain can cover even a greater distance was significant to us.
We expressed a desire to visit the Arab village of Cana on our way back to Tiberias. Julian offered to take us, and even insisted on paying our bus fare. It was in Cana that Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding feast that he attended there. (John 2:1-11) But it is open to question that this Cana on the main road between Tiberias and Nazareth is the actual location of the village mentioned in the Bible. There is evidence that favors a site about nine miles north of Nazareth as the Biblical Cana. At any rate, we found it interesting to walk through this old village—the traditional site of Jesus’ first miracle.
As we came back to the main road, Julian hailed a taxi that was heading toward Tiberias. The driver was taking a priest to a church at the Mount of Beatitudes to say a Mass. We said good-bye to Julian and hopped in the back seat. The driver invited us to accompany him to this traditional site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is indeed a beautiful location overlooking the Sea of Galilee. While the priest went to the church, we and the driver walked around the area and talked.
How fine it was to meet another person from Nazareth who enjoyed discussing the Bible! He said that he had met Jehovah’s Witnesses before, and he had attended one of their meetings in Haifa, the nearest congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After about an hour of reviewing features of Biblical, first-century Christianity, the man volunteered: “I would be glad to distribute literature that would explain these truths to people.” And he added: “I believe many people in Nazareth would be glad to learn these things.”
The priest returned, and in a few minutes we were being dropped off in front of our hotel in Tiberias. What a full, rewarding day it had been! Not only were we glad to have seen the area where Jesus grew up, but especially were we grateful to have had a share in the same activity for which He came to earth—speaking to others about the good news of God’s kingdom.—Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43.
1 mile = 1.6 kilometers.
100 feet = 30 meters.
[Picture on page 29]
It may have been from this mountain that the men of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus