Nazareth: The Reason For The Name And Its Suspicious Location
'It is very doubtful whether the beautiful mountain village of Nazareth was really the dwelling-place of Jesus. No such town as Nazareth is mentioned in the OT, in Josephus, or in the Talmud.' -Thomas Kelly Cheyne - and an English divine and Biblical critic. (Oxford Encyclopedia Biblica, "Nazareth," page 362, column 3360. 1899).
Also from the same column:
'At this point, however, the warning of Dean Stanley (an English Anglican priest, ecclesiastical historian, and a Dean of Westminster) not to build our faith on symbols and sacred sites may well be referred to.'
'Was Nazareth originally the name of a town (or village) at all? There are two NT passages which may well suggest a doubt. One is Mt. 223, 'And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.' The passage has been much discussed, but without sure result. Most commentators have seen in it an allusion to the prophecy of the 'shoot' neser in Isaiah 11:1 so; eruditi Hebrai (instructed Hebrew) in Jerome's time.'
I discuss St. Jerome here.
'The other passage in John 1:45, where Philip tells Nathanael that he and others have found the Great One spoken of in the scriptures, and Nathanael returns answer, 'Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?' In passing, we cannot avoid correcting the text of v. 46. It is plain, both from the context and from the parallel passage John 7:41, that Nathanael means, not to put a slight on the moral character of the Nazarenes, but to affirm as the result of his study of the scriptures, that the Messiah cannot proceed from Galilee. Therefore, τι ἀγαθόν ('what good') must have taken the place of some title of the Messiah. The right reading must be ὁ ἅγιος ('the Holy One'), which is a title of the Messiah in Acts 3:14, Rev. 3:7.'
Why did the Gospel authors write that Jesus came from Nazareth? It is a common element in all four canonical gospels that Jesus came from Nazareth. But it appears it was awkward that Jesus came from Nazareth in regards to the gospel writers' claim he was the Messiah. The Jewish faith was only looking for a descendant of David, not a supernatural birth, so what followed was a claim the father of Jesus must be a descendant of David and Jesus must have been born in Bethlehem. The existence of the place Jesus grew up in the first century is very much debated, but the fact is we have archaeological evidence in the area of Nazareth, so a town/village there did exist.
The question regarding Nazareth, I feel, is more to do with the name. Why would the Gospel writers write that Jesus actually came from a place called Nazareth, thereby creating a seemingly unnecessary location problem, if he did not come from there and the town was not called that? The logical conclusion to come to, if we put aside any ideology for the moment and go with the current understanding of Christian history, is that the Gospel writers felt Jesus was the Messiah, but wanted to both honor where came from and convince the Jews he was born in the right place of Bethlehem, correct? perhaps not...
A marble fragment discovered in Caesarea, a town on Israel's Mediterranean coast, appeared to provide proof of the existence of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.
On 14 August 1962, during an excavation, an archaeological discovery happened at a place called Caesarea Maritima, also known as Caesarea Palestinae. The discovery was of three fragments of a Hebrew inscription concerning the twenty-four priestly families or "courses" (1 Chronicles 24:7-18), naming the villages in Galilee where each family migrated to, probably after the Bar Kochba Revolt, and after the dispersion of the Hebrew people.
Caesarea was described in detail by the man known as 'Josephus' (Antiquities XV. 331 ff; War I, 408 ff), and according to 'Josephus', the violence that began at Caesarea in 66 CE was provoked by Greeks of a certain merchant house sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue. This is the place where a riot incited the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, we also read that the great early 'Christian' scholar and apologist, known as Origen, visited Caesarea in 231 CE and turned the city into a center of Christian learning.
One of the fragments contained the word "Nazareth", a name unknown to non-Christian sources. This small marble fragment that contained a dozen letters, seemed to prove, at least from the second century, the name of the childhood home of Jesus.
Marble fragment with the word Nazareth shown in the second line.
According to paleographic analysis (the study of historic writing systems), the fragments were dated to the third or fourth centuries CE, by Prof. Nahman Avigad, and Dr. Michael Avi Yonah, professor of archaeology at the University of Jerusalem and director of the excavation in Caesarea, agreed. This appeared to show the existence of Nazareth in the pre-Byzantine period. However, Professor Uzi Leibner, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has argued that the actual dating of these fragments is closer to the fourth and the seventh centuries, stating -
"The inscription was dated by Avi Yonah to the third-fourth centuries on the basis of paleographic considerations. These parameters, however, are of doubtful value when it comes to stone engraving”.
An investigation took place into the discovered fragments and the background of the discovery itself. What was discovered is that none of the three fragments had a verifiable spot regarding where they were found. One fragment was lost, and one appeared to have been tampered with. The three fragments also did not match one another in either the size of the lettering, line spacing, or colour.
The scholar who found the 'Nazareth' fragment was the late Dr. Jerry Vardaman, a well-known Biblical scholar and the pseudo-forger of micro letters (more information here) on ancient stones and coins. His involvement with the discovery of the fragment containing the word Nazareth drew suspicion. No evidence could be found that a synagogue had been in the vicinity where these fragments were allegedly recovered. Inscriptions such as these only existed in ancient synagogues, so without a synagogue, there would be no reason for these fragments to be in that location.
A letter was written by the widely respected Biblical Scholar, G. Ernest Wright, a leading Old Testament scholar and biblical archaeologist, known for his work in the study and dating of pottery. In the letter, Wright spoke against Vardaman's character and abilities. He accused Vardaman of bribery, gross incompetence, and a complete lack of moral fibre.
In response to this, William E. Hull, Director of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Vardaman taught, stated that:
'Vardaman had been relieved of his post at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)'.
An investigation into the activities of Jerry Vardaman during the Caesarea excavation took place. It was discovered that he -
was absent from the excavations for long stretches of time and it was unknown where he was.
he was in Jerusalem at least once.
he left the excavation one week early, on the very day that the "Nazareth" fragment was found.
It was concluded that he must have used a forger in Jerusalem to produce the Nazareth fragment.
In the letter by G. Ernest Wright, mentioned above, he states that:
"[Vardaman's] attempt to dig at Caesarea some years ago was quietly stopped when the word was passed to the appropriate Israeli authorities."
The above information tells us the reason Vardaman left the excavation early, the very day of discovery of the “Nazareth” fragment, was because the Israeli authorities quietly intervened. An individual in a position of influence must have been suspicious and alerted the authorities, perhaps they knew of Vardaman's history of bribery and of entanglement with the Jordanian police.
All the evidence points to Jerry Vardaman arranging the forgery of the "Nazareth" fragment in Jerusalem during the weeks prior to August 14, 1962, a find important enough to influence the history of early Christianity.
Back To The Name Issue
The 'city of Galilee' seems to have been considered the residence of Joseph and Mary, and known as Jesus' 'own country' (πατρις/Patris), as he stayed there until his baptism. Logically we could say that Jesus derived his Talmudic name of 'Jesus the Nazarene' from the name Nazareth. In Acts Jesus is called 'Jesus of Nazareth,' and in Acts 24, 'Tertullus' calls the Christians 'Nazarenes'. From what we are told, by the time of 'Epiphanius' there were Christians in Nazareth, however, we do not read that pilgrims visited it much; some may consider the reason being because of the attempt on the life of Jesus by the people there (again, if we believe what we are told).
In the Gospels he was rejected as the Messiah because he was from the wrong town; according to Luke 4:23, Jesus preached the sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth, which led to his rejection by his fellow townsmen. A passage from Micah 5:2 is interpreted by Christians as a prophecy that Bethlehem, a small village just south of Jerusalem, would be where the Messiah came from because it was the town King David was from; Micah was a prophet according to the Hebrew Bible, and the author of the Book of Micah.
So the people in the Gospel of John are depicted as objecting to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah because he came from the wrong town. But the Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain some stories, which I consider complicated, that try and explain how Jesus happened to be born in the right town of Bethlehem, even though he was from Nazareth.
In Luke's version, Mary and Joseph had to go there because of the census, known from the Christmas story (Nativity). They go to Bethlehem because of the census, and while they were there, Jesus was born. So in Luke, he was born in the right place according to the prophecy, and then they went home to Nazareth. The census, according to this Gospel, was ordered by Augustus and carried out by Quirinius, governor of Syria, but this appears doubtful. It is possible that a census took place in Palestine in 8 BCE or 6 CE, and if the Gospels had agreed on the circumstances of Jesus' birth, then we could argue for a popular tradition, but because of the discrepancies, we cannot; for example, the birth in the Gospel of Matthew takes place within the reign of Herod the Great, who had died 9 years earlier.
No single census was done of the entire empire under Augustus, and no evidence suggests people had to travel from their homes to those of their ancestors. Furthermore, according to Raymon E. Brown, who was an American Catholic priest and prominent biblical scholar, the census of Judea would not have affected Joseph and his family, who, as we are told, were living in Galilee. Ref - 'An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories - Matthew 2 and Luke 2 .' According to the Gospel, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, with his wife, for the census, because he was a member of the house of David. But the Gospel of John does not talk about the supernatural birth and sets Jesus' home as Galilee, instead of the birthplace of Bethlehem
The Gospel of Matthew tells a different story because in this Gospel they start in Bethlehem. Jesus is born in Mary and Joseph's house in Bethlehem, but they have to leave because King Herod wants to kill the Messiah. So they go to Egypt and when they come
back they settle in Nazareth.
Although in Greek both Gospels say -
Matthew 4:13 : 'And leaving Nazara (τὴν Ναζαρὰ), he (Jesus) came and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali.
Luke 4:16: 'And he came to of Nazara (Ναζαρὰ), where he was raised...' Καὶἦλθεν εἰς Ναζαρά,οὗἦν τεθραμμένος
In Matthew 4.13 and Luke 4.16, it seems that Nazara was a variant of Nazareth, which is plausible when certain other Hebrew place names ending in -t(h) can lose the ending, especially in Greek or Latin transcriptions.
So both Gospels are telling a story about how a man from Nazareth happened to be born in
Bethlehem, but they contradict each other. When thinking in terms of the current understanding of early Christian history, it seems the birth stories are being created to explain the awkward fact that an individual considered the Messiah by the Gospel writers, did fulfill the Jewish prophecies, despite being from Nazareth. The logical answer then, so far, is that the Jesus individual was from a town called Nazareth, and there would seem to be no logical reason, or indeed anything to gain, by creating a fictitious name.
Archaeological evidence was found for, presumably, a courtyard house in the location of Nazareth dating to the early Roman period, and, according to archaeologist Ken Dark, of the University of Reading, UK, probably from some time in the first century; although Dark also states -
“none of this, of course, has any explicit connection with Jesus.”
The find was covered by the Guardian Newspaper, however, finding a house from the time of Jesus is one thing, proving it is the one that Jesus lived in is quite another. The Guardian article from 2009 also mentions 'The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres.' But further discoveries have now been published in Professor Dark's book 'Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland'. His findings, in his view, suggest the area of Nazareth was considerably bigger than has been presumed. Thus far no credible evidence prior to the name being presented in the Gospels exists for the area adjacent to Yafia being called Nazareth and no credible archaeological evidence showing that that particular area was known by that name nor inhabited at the turn of the era; the finding of the Nazareth fragment attributed to the late Dr.Jerry Vardaman, Biblical scholar and the pseudo-forger of micro letters on ancient stones and coins cannot be considered credible.
Professor Ken Dark is of the opinion that the location was considerably bigger than the size of a hamlet as previously assumed, the size being comparable to Japha/Jaffa/Joppa/Japho/Yafia, approximately half hour away. (see Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland.) What excavated findings have been uncovered are associated with burials from earlier and later periods, approximately Iron Age and Middle-Late Roman periods. Professor Ken Dark ( Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland) appears to hypothesise that a structure under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent is a ‘courtyard house’ (evidence supports Middle-Late Roman agricultural installations as more likely), dating to before the existence of kokh-type tombs under the structure; he hypothesises this for other tombs excavated in the area. No ‘under inhabited building’ tomb custom of this kind is known in ancient or modern Judaism.
On page 18, Dark does mention that the tombs under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent are part of an ‘extensive cemetery’; the tombs are likely Middle-Late Roman. Dark offers an un-realistic scenario - from the beginning of the first-century C.E.a residence existed at the Sisters of Nazareth location. The residence was abandoned by the middle of the first century C.E. and then a kokh-type tomb was created under the abandoned site. The kokh-type tomb was then abandoned before the end of the first century C.E.; Dark appears to be using dates for kokh tomb usage in Jerusalem two centuries earlier for his tomb usage hypothesis in Galilee. Hans-Peter Kuhnen and Morechai Aviam have found no pre-C.E. 50-100 Jewish kokh tombs in the Nazareth area. (ref - Aviam 2004: First Century Jewish Galilee: an archaeological perspective – in D.R. Edwards (ed.), Religion and Society in Roman Palestine. Old Questions, New Approaches. New York and London, 7-27; Jews, Pagans and Christians in the Galilee: 25 Years of Archaeological Excavations and Surveys – Hellenistic to Byzantine Periods.)
According to Kuhnen (Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit. (Handbuch der Archäologie. Vorderasien II,2.) München: C. H. Beck. 1990:254-55) the kokh tombs were used long after C.E. 100; Dark appears to be of the view that kokh tomb usage ended in the Galilee around C.E. 100. The people in the area look to have rejected Roman culture and revolted when King Herod died, as well as revolting around C.E. 67. In Dark’s publication (pages 169-170) he feels there are no grounds for believing that the Yafia area was the biblical Nazareth. However, we look to be dealing here with literary fraud. Essentially we have no idea where in the Galilee this ‘Nazareth’ would have been. It is also suspicious that Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine is said to have discovered the location of ‘Nazareth’ by proclaiming that the area was the location of 'Mary's Well'.
Constantine is stated as building a church next to the ancient Judean town of Japha and calling it ‘Nazareth’. Further, we have the individual known as Eusebius who describes the pilgrimage of Helena to the Holy Land (ref - Life of Constantine, III, 42-43), but does not mention her visit to ‘Nazareth’. I find it incredibly intriguing that when examining the name Naz-ara or Naz-aret, what is presented is 1. The root or branch, that is, Nazareth or Nazarene is a Greek form of the Hebrew word netzer/netser, meaning ‘branch’, again, that is, the root and branch of messianic lineage, and 2. The word aret, meaning excellence or moral virtue, a term used to define the aristocracy, that is, as exemplary of aret, a model of excellence.
Further, the root of the word aret is the same as the word aristo or aristos, used pluraly to indicate the nobility. The word aristo links to the NewTestament, for example, in Matthew 26:26 we read take eat my body, in Matthew 22:4 we read behold my dinner, which is aristo. This word also ties in with the Greek and Roman god Apollo, whose son was Aristaios. Apollo appears in a virgin birth story similar to Jesus’s, where he impregnates a woman whose husband is called Ariston, or aristo. Essentially, what is presented with Naz-aret is the phrase ‘Jesus from [the] root [of the] aristocracy/nobility’ (Mark 1:9; Matt 21:11). An issue which deserves more attention, then, is if the above meaning behind the name is not the case and if the data shows only the nobility/elite could have written the New Testament literature, why use the name of a supposed obscure unattested hamlet, creating an unnecessary location problem?
In theory, in order for any archeological or scriptural evidence to support the gospel accounts, it needs to show:
1) the area of Nazareth already inhabited in the first century BCE, which it does; the area now called Nazareth has been occupied for about 9000 years, with a city located there since the neolithic/early bronze age.
2) the word/name Nazareth present on something, ideally before the first century BCE, which we don't have. I say ideally because we cannot use an effective 'argument from silence' or 'absence of evidence' here, as we do have mentions of Nazareth, the question is, can we trust the sources?
The mentions come from writers who were not who they claimed to be, which is a statement backed up by evidence of how literate, or indeed illiterate, the people of Judea were (you can read about that here). That evidence points to the conclusion that the elite class in control of that area at that time (the Roman and Jewish aristocracy) were the only ones educated and able to write and publish this material, following the Roman-Jewish War.
The Controversial Bit
There is a common view that Emperor Constantine the Great's mother, Helena, claimed to have discovered the location of "Nazareth" by proclaiming that the area was the location of 'Mary's Well', where the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to the son of God; according to the apocryphal Protoevangelium of 'James', that states this event happened whilst Mary was drawing water from a local spring in Nazareth. But this location has been and continues to be, a mystery to scholars. Christian tradition holds that in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine had a church built next to the ancient Judean town of Japha, at this site, and the site was named "Nazareth".
The individual known as 'Eusebius', writing in the fourth century, and regarded as one of the most learned Christians of his time, describes Helena's pilgrimage to the Holy Land in his 'Life of Constantine', Book III, Verses 42, and 43. Unfortunately, he does not say anything about her visiting Nazareth, finding a house, well, or being told by locals that their town/village was called that.
'St. Epiphanius', (circa 310-320 CE) who wrote of Joseph of Tiberias, a wealthy Roman Jew who supposedly converted to Christianity in the time of Emperor Constantine, says he received an imperial rescript (an official edict or announcement) to build Christian churches in Jewish towns and villages where no gentiles or Samaritans dwell. The names of these towns were Tiberias, Diocaesarea, Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Capernaum. (ref - Frank Williams, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book I (Sects 1–46) E. J. Brill (1897), rev. ed. 2009, p.140.) He says that Jesus was called a Nazarene because of his education in the town of Nazareth, in the house of Joseph, but neglects to explain the origin of the term 'Nazarene'.
J. L. Lynch, OSF, in 'The Irish Ecclesiastical Record' of June 1890, states: 'Nazareth lies about eighty miles to the north of Jerusalem. Tradition points out two sanctuaries in the city: the site of the Annunciation, and that where the Holy Family is said to have resided during the thirty years of Christ's life previous to the commencement of His mission.'
'St. Irenaeus speaks of the tradition pointing out these places, but he adds that then no Christian was allowed to “dwell” in Nazareth.'
The problem here is that I can find no reference for this comment or evidence for Nazareth by 'St. Irenaeus'.
Also in the above statement is:
'This, however, in nowise weakens the authenticity of the tradition. The Christians in the neighboring districts evidently regarded it as a hardship that they could not “dwell” near the sites they so deeply cherished. However, St. Jerome gives his unhesitating assent to the traditions concerning those two shrines. Here likewise Helena erected a magnificent church. This church is spoken of by Areulf, by Willibald, and other pilgrims who visited Palestine after the invasion thereof by the Turks. It was, however, destroyed, in 1263, by the troops of the Sultan of Egypt, Bibars Benduchar.'
I cannot find the reference for Helena erecting a church in Nazareth, or references to St. Jerome's "unhesitating assent to the traditions concerning those two shrines."
There seemed to be a desire, hundreds of years later, to find holy sites in Israel that matched what was contained in the Bible. The first reference we actually seem to have, that I can find, regarding Helena's supposed identification of Nazareth, comes from a report in approximately 1320 by the Greek ecclesiastical historian Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos (Latin - Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus) in his 23-volume 'Ecclesiasticae Historiae' (Church History). In that work, in which he draws on the work of the church writers before him, he describes the supposed visit of Helena to Nazareth. The passage of that work is recorded in 'Loreto the New Nazareth and its Centenary Jubilee, page 94, 1895' by William Garratt, which states:
'When Constantine the Great proclaimed Christianity the religion of the empire, his holy mother, Helena Augusta, came to Nazareth, and "found the House of the Angelic Salutation - Ref - Niceph. Callist. Hist. lib. viii. cap 30.'
Note - Loreto is the location in Italy where the supposed house of the 'Blessed Virgin Mary' is found, after getting there by being transported by "angels" across the sea...
Although Ethelred Luke Taunton, who was an English Roman Catholic priest and historical writer, states in the work 'The Fortnightly Review', Volume 86, 1906, page 701 that:
'The legend that Helena built at Nazareth a church at the place of the Salutation comes from the Byzantine Nicephorus who, in the fourteenth century, contradicts the contemporary statement of Eusebius of Cesarea. There is no real evidence that she was ever at Nazareth at all, still less that she built a church there. The first mention of a church at Nazareth is in the sixth century.'
Note - The account of the 'Pilgrim of Piacenza', a sixth-century Christian pilgrim from Piacenza in northern Italy, is what is being referred to above. This individual wrote a narrative of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the height of Byzantine rule in the 570s.
Unfortunately, Nicephorus makes an error in his writings. He states of St. Helena's pilgrimage, which is shown in 'The Christian Remembrancer,' Volume 27, page 347 (1854):
'Having come down eastwards from thence, i.e. from Mount Tabor, arrived at Nazareth: and when she found the house where the angelic salutation took place, built a beautiful church in honor of the Mother of God'
The error here is that the location of Nazareth is to the northwest and not the southeast of Mount Tabor.
Other dubious mentions of Nazareth, including mentions of the buildings there, come from:
St. Adamnan, who died in 704, states there are two very large churches in Nazareth and two houses of interest. He says he gets his info from Arculfus, later seventh-century Frankish Bishop. So he can be considered the first authority to mention large buildings in Nazareth in his time.
St. Bede, an English Benedictine monk, and contemporary of Adamnan implies in his history, which he quotes from Adamnan, that the two houses did not exist anymore: 'One house,' saith he, 'is in the midst of the city'... 'where had formerly been the house in which our Lord was brought up...' 'The other church is where the house was in which the angel came to the blessed Mary'
John Phocas, a Greek monk writing after his 1185 pilgrimage, says a church was rebuilt from its foundations.
The above info is detailed in 'The Catholic Layman', Vol. 4, No. 41, page 50. In there it states:
'It is clear, therefore, that whereas, in the days of Arculfus, there were two separate churches built over spots once occupied by two distinct houses; in the time of Phocas, three centuries later, one church had been rebuilt upon one of the sites, and a cave near the high altar contained what claimed to be those two very houses. Now, among all these descriptions of eyewitnesses of the scene of the Annunciation, what trace do we find of the existence of such a house as that which now stands at Loreto?'
The above statement concludes that because the Santa Casa building in Loretto that houses the "Virgin Mary's House" is thirty-six feet long, by seventeen feet wide, a house that big would not have gone unnoticed by a pilgrim such as 'St. Jerome'. The Catholic Layman also concluded that, and I quote, 'no remains of a house could possibly have been standing at the time when Arculfus informed Adamnan that, as Bede says, a church was standing on the spot where the house had once been. No such house could have been standing at the time when the church described by Phocus was rebuilt from its foundations.'
Pope Benedict XIV also apparently could not reconcile the statements of the above individuals, with The Catholic Layman stating:
'If the house which was the scene of the Annunciation was no longer standing in the time of St. Bede, in the eighth century, how could it possibly be transported to Italy in the thirteenth century? '
What we have then is contradictory information. None of the writings above states or provides uncontradictory evidence that Helena was told by the people of the so-called town/village of Nazareth, that it was actually Nazareth, or even visited there. Historians stating that as being the case, from what I can tell, must be basing that view on what they think must have happened. I personally find it extremely odd that of all the writers we should expect to mention Helena "finding" Nazareth, 'Eusebius' does not mention it.
What Other Texts Do Not Name Nazareth?
Argument from silence is tricky to say the least, however it is worth noting that Nazareth is not mentioned in -
• the entire Old Testament. The Book of Joshua (19.10,16) – describes the process of settlement by the tribe of Zebulon in the area and records twelve towns and six villages, but 'Nazareth' is not on the list. Regarding the messianic prophecy, Matthew 2:23 states: 'He will be called a Nazarene.' But this prophecy is not found in the Old Testament or other extant sources. • The Talmud, although it names 63 Galilean towns, does not mention Nazareth, and neither does early rabbinic literature. • "St Paul" knows nothing of 'Nazareth'; although the man known to us as 'Paul' does not mention many biographical details of Jesus, so we could argue why he should mention it? • No ancient historian or geographer mentions Nazareth.
Also, 'Origen' appears not to know of any manuscript spelling the location as Nazareth, and the Shem-Tob Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, 3:13, the oldest surviving Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, speaks of Nazarel, which is close to Nazara. 'Sextus Julius Africanus', a supposedly second-century Christian writer, records that Jesus' family apparently still lived in the area at a much later date. Of Jesus genealogy, Sextus states, as quoted by 'Eusebius' in his Historia Ecclesiae, 1.7.11, 13-14:
'A few of the careful, however, having obtained private records of their own, either by remembering the names or by getting them in some other way from the registers, pride themselves on preserving the memory of their noble extraction. Among these are those already mentioned, called Desposyni, on account of their connection with the family of the Saviour. Coming from Nazara and Cochaba, villages of Judea, into other parts of the world, they drew the aforesaid genealogy from memory and from the book of daily records as faithfully as possible.'
Africanus seems to be the son of 'Christian' parents and the descendant of a noble family, assumed by the fact that he took part in the expedition of Septimius Severus against Osrhoene in 195 CE. He must have been highly educated, as he knew Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic. It is very possible, based on the wealth of other evidence on this site, and previous examples, that he was a member of royalty, as sometimes we can see ancient royals using names like 'Africanus'. Africa had been ruled by royalty since the earliest times, for example, the kings of Ethiopia and the dynasties of Egypt. And individual royals would sometimes use names indicating where their family ruled.
Note - Sextus Julius Africanus' genealogy is investigated here
A map called the Tabula Peutingeriana, ("The Peutinger Map") which is believed to be a 13th-century copy of a Roman original from the fourth century, names 3000 places in Europe, including the Middle East. In a section of the map, the city of 'Aelia Capitolina' (Jerusalem renamed) can be seen, just above the little red shape representing the 'Mount of Olives' on the left, unfortunately though, no Nazareth.
'Josephus' has a lot to say about Galilee, and during the first Roman-Jewish war, in the 60s CE, we read that this man led a military campaign back and forth across the tiny province. He mentions there were 204 small towns in Galilee but only mentions 45 by their name, and modern scholars feel 204 small towns may be an exaggeration. He does talk about Japha (Yafa, Japhia) where he himself lived for a time (Life 52) a village just one mile to the southwest of the location of Nazareth. Before the First Roman-Jewish War, Japha had an early synagogue, but that was destroyed by the Romans in 67 CE (Revue Biblique 1921, 434f).
In that war, Josephus reports that 15,000 people were killed by the troops of Ulpius Traianus, father of the future Emperor Trajan. The survivors, 2,130 women, and children were carried away into captivity.
A list of names mentioned in scripture can be found here
Significance Of The Name
If there is no uncontradictory proof that Helena visited Nazareth, and no evidence locals there told her the village/town was called that, so why do the Gospel writers mention it, and what is significant about the name? or is there any significant meaning behind this name?
There are a few possibilities. One is mentioned above, regarding the meaning behind the word 'Aret' and the Hebrew word nêtser, meaning 'a branch or shoot', 'descendants', it also means 'truth', as in 'I am the way, the truth, and the life', according to the New Testament.
The branch meaning is a reference to Isaiah 11:1 and the 'Root' and 'Branch' system of the Judaic messianic lineage, a vast literary device running through the Gospels and three of Josephus' books. There are distinct passages in those books that connect one character with another, by the use of parallel actions or locations, and through similar language (including the meanings of certain words).
The final passage in the book of Malachi predicts a coming disaster for the "wicked", one that will leave them destroyed by fire and with neither 'root' nor 'branch' –
'For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of Host, and will leave them neither root nor branch' - Malachi 3:19
However, the Encyclopedia Biblica, column 3360, points out that it is unlikely, in terms of the current understanding of Christian history, that the synonymous word 'semah', which was a long-standing Messianic title, would be replaced by the word neser (netser).
'It is rather an allusion to Isaiah 9:1, 'the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali - (two of the twelve sons of Jacob, according to Genesis) -,...Galilee of the Gentiles, which is quoted in Matthew 4:13-16 with reference to Jesus' dwelling in Capernaum, but which was surely applied by the first Christians to his early ministry by the Sea of Galilee-not to his residence at Capernaum, nor to his earlier dwelling at Nazareth, but to his Galilaean ministry as a whole. In a word, Nazareth ought to mean 'Galilee', and Nazarene ought to mean 'Galilaean.'
'Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.'- Isaiah 9:1
Another reason may be that the word 'preserve', (or preserver) from the Hebrew root 'natsar', is another word for Saviour. According to 'St. Epiphanius' ('Panarion' 29 1, 3-9; 4,9) the first title of 'Christians' was Ιεσσαῖοι, Jessaeans, because of the name Jesus (Yeshua), which in the Christian religion means Saviour; the name Yeshua is derived from the name Yehoshua (Joshua), which means 'Yahweh (YHWH) is Salvation', Yahweh being the Israelite's God. But the Hebrew words ישו (Yeshu/Jesus) and יִשַׁי (Yishai/Jesse) can both create the Greek title Ιεσσαῖοι (Jessaeans), and some feel that the title Jessaeans may have come from the name Jesse, the father of David. However, there is more evidence that it is seen as coming from the name Jesus/Yeshua. 'Eusebius', who in his 'Ecclesiastical History', 2.17.16-18; 2.17.21-22, cites a work attributed to Philo of Alexandria, called 'The Contemplative Life', as does Epiphanius.
Philo appears to speak of the Christians under the title of Jesseans, which he considers to be Christians in Egypt. 'Eusebius' writes that he feels it is a description of the Christians in Egypt, although Eusebius calls them Therapeutae (meaning one who is attendant to the gods or attending to heal, or treating in a spiritual or medical sense.); Eusebius' interpretation of the text of Philo looks to now be rejected by modern scholarship. Ref - 'Eusebius of Caesarea's Interpretatio Christiana of Philo's De vita contemplativa', Sabrina Inowlocki, Harvard Theological Review, page 306. Further reference - Joseph Bingham, 'Antiquities of the Christian Church', Book. 1, Chapter. 1, Page 1, (regarding the term Jesseans, and 'The Bible Cyclopaedia, Or, Illustrations of the Civil and Natural History of the Sacred Writings', by William Goodhugh, page. 918.
It is also worth noting that the probability that the words Jessaioi and Nasaraioi were considered identical by these writers is high, as the current meanings behind the names Jesus and Nazaraios are pretty much the same.
The professors of The Encyclopedia Biblica also had trouble defining the title 'Nazarenes', as it states in volume III, column 3358:
'Nazarene- the 'sect' whose 'ringleader', according to 'Tertullius', was Paul (Acts 24). 'Nazarenes' at once suggests 'Nazareth'; Blass (Friedrich Blass) thinks that there is an implication of contempt. But was 'Jesus of Nazareth' a contemptuous (showing contempt) title? All that we can say is that 'Nazarenes' is specifically Jewish, as 'Christians' or 'Chrestians' is specifically Gentile. It seems originally to have meant 'Galilaeans' and to have expressed the same historical fact as the accusation formulated in Luke 23 (Acts 10) 'He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judaea, and beginning from Galilee unto this place.' A Jewish-Christian sect afterwards appropriated the term.'
This column continues to state:
'At the time of Epiphanius the sect was to be found in Coele-Syria, Decapolis (Pella), and Basanitis (Cocabe). According to that authority (Panarion 29.7) they were Jews pure and simple, but recognised the new covenant as well as the old, and believed in the resurrection, and in the one God and his Son Jesus Christ. Tertullus, however, is made to use the term Nazarenes in the broad sense of 'followers of Jesus'; it is associated no doubt with disparaging terms, but is not in itself disparaging (of little worth).'
The professors of Oxford came to the conclusion, in column 3361, that 'Bethlehem noseryyah', as in the Talmud, means 'the Galilaean Bethlehem', like the southern Bethlehem, however, was sometimes called 'Bethlehem (of) Judah', (described as the 'City of David' in the New Testament). So the northern Bethlehem was called ביתלחם נצר, 'Bethlehem (of) Nazar (or Nesar)' - i.e., Bethlehem of Galilee.' In Joshua 19:15, Bethlehem is mentioned as one of the twelve cities belonging to the tribe of Zabulon, which is a little less than seven miles southwest of Sapphoris (Saffurieh) and seven miles northwest of the area of Nazareth.
The scholars of the Talmud appear to have not accepted Jesus' birth as being in Bethlehem of Juda, and, therefore, did not accept the Jesus character as the Messiah, as these scholars placed the Nativity in Bethlehem of Zabulon (Talmud, (Megilla, 70, a), seen there as 'Bethlehem seriyyah', regarded as equivalent to 'noseryyah', i.e. Bethlehem of Nazareth (of Galilee).
Of course, the conclusions of the professors of Oxford came long before the recent investigations concerning the royal authorship of the creation of a new law (Testament), and the overwhelming proof that has emerged from those investigations. Proof such as who did and did not have the ability, and means, to write scriptures, and the situation in which they emerged.
The issue here is that the place chosen for Nazareth, supposedly by Helena, is suspiciously close to the town/village of Yaffa/Japha, which is the location of Emperor Titus' first battle and the beginning of his military campaign in Judea. Given that the data here shows that the Constantines were descendants of the Flavian family, it is logical to assume they knew that the area of Japha is where Titus, Emperor Vespasian's son, began his campaign. The authors who wrote the Gospels after the war, mention the name Nazareth as the starting point of Jesus' ministry, but neglect to say where it was. Titus Flavius was given credit for the victory at Japha but was only there at the end, where he chased the enemy to Galilee. The battle at Japha was part of the siege of Yodfat/Jotapata in 67 CE, just North of Jaffa, and was the second bloodiest battle, the bloodiest being the Siege of Jerusalem, as described by "Josephus" in his Wars of the Jews. Nazareth, then, is apparently situated, or indeed 'parallel' to the area of Japha.
Based on a plethora of information to do with this subject, it is clear that although the gospels were written in the first century, and mention 'Nazareth', the supposed correct location was apparently only known after Helena's apparent visit to the area. Did Helena visit that area? and was she told it was Nazareth by locals? maybe, but no evidence is available for that conclusion.
Jaffa/Japha/Yaffa also features in the exploits of the Roman Governor of Syria, known as 'Cestius Gallus'. Setting out from Antioch (Turkey) with the Twelfth Legion and other troops to put an end to the uprising in Judea, this individual destroyed Jaffa, the villages in the district of Narbatene (Hurvat Migdal), and Lydda. In Galilee, the rebels who were defeated, and driven out of Galilee, rebuilt Joppa (Jaffa), but Cestius' policy of burning villages and of indiscriminately killing the inhabitants led even moderates to join the rebel ranks. But Cestius Gallus was an alias name for the individual who wrote as 'Flavius Josephus', this information is covered in my book.
As mentioned above, the findings by Professor Ken Dark appear to be flawed. He states that:
'The scale, chronology and cultural identity of Roman-period Nazareth are considered, showing that it was a large Jewish village or, in the terminology of Roman archaeology, a ‘small town’, perhaps analogous to nearby Yafi’a. The settlement at Nazareth was in existence from at least the early first century and then occupied continuously until the end of the Byzantine period and beyond.'
He also states, in the introduction of his book:
'Any attempt to use archaeology to disprove the existence of the biblical place called Nazareth is inevitably flawed because one would need to conclusively identify the place called Nazareth in the Gospels, and then show beyond archaeological doubt that it was unoccupied in the early first century. Whether the Nazareth of the Gospels is beneath modern Nazareth is a matter of interpretation rather than certainty. If it could be proved that there was no early first-century occupation anywhere in modern Nazareth, which is theoretically impossible in a built-up modern city, it might just mean that the place called Nazareth in the Gospels may be somewhere other than modern Nazareth, a suggestion which goes back to at least the tenth century.'
The problem is not the archaeological evidence, we have that, or how big or small the area now appears to be, the problem is the origin of the name. One conclusion is that the title 'Bethlehem-Nazareth' was mis-understood by those spreading the story. So, while some said 'Jesus was born at Bethlehem,' others may have said, 'Jesus was born at Nazareth,' and without an explanation of which Nazareth, the conclusion was southern Bethlehem, because the Messiah was meant to come from there. This would be an acceptable reason for the confusion, if the claim of 'illiterate labourer authorship', and the current understanding of how the story was spread was still valid, however, it is not.
Even the Oxford professors state: '... we cannot perhaps venture to assert positively that there was a 'city called Nazareth' in Jesus' time. The Oxford professors did not feel that the explanation of Nazareth coming from the root meaning 'guard', 'branch', 'flower' was strong enough. They felt the above explanation, 'Bethlehem-Nazareth', was stronger, agreeing with the work of Heinrich Graetz, (found in the 'Monthly magazine for science and history of Judaism', Volume 29, pages 481-484, 1880 - abbreviated to MGWJ.) Graetz was one of the first historians to write a comprehensive history of the Jewish people from a Jewish perspective.
I feel the answer lies in the information pointing towards an elite authorship of the Gospels, which has been dismissed by current Biblical scholars; although one book called 'The Origins of Early Christian Literature', by University of Miami Assistant Professor, Robyn Faith Walsh, supports the evidence of an elite authorship of the Gospels. Part of the description of the book is as follows: 'Comparing a range of ancient literature, her ground-breaking study demonstrates that the gospels are creative works produced by educated elites interested in Judean teachings, practices, and paradoxographical subjects in the aftermath of the Jewish War and in dialogue with the literature of their age. Walsh's study thus bridges the artificial divide between research on the Synoptic gospels and Classics.'
Using an argument that Nazareth was mentioned by 'Mark' or 'Luke' is very flawed at this point, even though I agree with the argument in terms of the current understanding of the history of early Christianity, but now, as I have stated before, there is a plethora of credible evidence that the authors were not who they claimed to be.
The elite authors of the Gospels used various words which had different meanings to point to their authorship.
For instance we have netser which can mean a 'shoot', 'branch', or 'descendants' - natsar which can mean 'preserve', 'preserves' (Saviour), 'root'; the individual known as "Josephus" (see geneaology link above) writes that he was called 'Saviour':
'Many others of the multitude also out of the village ran along with me. But as soon as I had taken my place, and begun to speak to them, they all made an acclamation, and called me the benefactor and saviour of the countrey.' (Whiston's Josephus, Vita, page 13, verses 47 and 50)
The man who wrote as 'Josephus' also 'played the part' of 'Jesus'.
- nazir which can mean 'untrimmed' (vine - 'I am the true vine'), 'consecrated' (as prince - 'Prince of Peace') - nazar which means 'evil eye' and can be in reference to the 'Sermon on the Mount', in which the Jesus character seems to refer to the "evil eye", which suggests that a person with an evil eye possesses twisted priorities, valuing wealth and power over devotion to God (the elites).
I final point to make is the fact that this scripture was read to the people, not by the people, so, therefore, the people at that time may not have even been told that the Jesus character came from Nazareth. But, of course, the man known as 'Julius Africanus', whose identity I will write about, apparently mentioned Nazara, according to the "ever reliable" Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical history, book 1, chapter 7, verse 14. And the man known as Origen, whose identity I have written about, writes Nazara and Nazaret.
Regarding the root of the word aret as being the same as the word aristo or aristos, which was used pluraly to indicate the nobility, we read of a Titus Claudius Ariston, which looks to be another name for the man called Arrius Calpurnius Piso, who was the leading citizen of Ephesus, in Bithynia, where the Pisos governed and is the location of one of the early churches.
That answer then to the specific location of 'Nazareth' today must be in regards to the parallel events between Jesus and Titus in the Gospels and The Wars of the Jews. The starting location/area of the Roman military campaign in Judea and Jesus' Ministry is the same, the location looks to be on the outskirts of Japha (Yafi'a). Japha was a large Jewish city in Early Roman times, which would include outlying hamlets and a cemetery. The authors must have wanted to take advantage of name usage, as the name Nazareth and Jesus, and the 'root and branch' prophecy and the title 'Saviour' can all be linked, as demonstrated. My thoughts are that any finds that appear to be from "Nazareth" in the time of Jesus are actually from an area that was part of Japha originally, but is now called 'Nazareth'.
To learn more, please read my book