Jerusalem “It has been six months since Elisheva, long-time wife of Zacharias, conceived. News of a miracle child has left Zacharias speechless. Using ink and ostraca, Zacharias is telling an unbelievable story. ‘An angel appeared to me while I was ministering to the LORD in the Holy Place. Fearful that I had done something wrong and was about to die, the angel identified himself as Gabriel, God’s messenger. ‘You have no reason to fear,’ the angel said. The elderly priest reports that he and his wife are expecting a son. Amid many ‘Mazel Tov’s’, family and friends are taking bets on who will be the boy’s namesake. On that subject, Zacharaias is also mute!”
“‘I haven’t seen Elisheva for five months’, reported good neighbor Noemi. Many rumors concerning Elisheva have circulated among the folks of Ein Kerem, the bedroom community of Jerusalem where the couple resides. Noemi continued, ‘Then one day just a few weeks ago, there she was, and sure enough she had a little bundle. She was simply glowing.’”
“Meanwhile, a proclamation even more incredible has been made up north. A young woman from the Galilee has announced that she has been visited by Gabriel in Nazareth, of all places. The woman’s name is Miriam. Currently betrothed to a fine young man with a godly reputarion, it is reported that Gabriel informed young Mariam that she would conceive and bear a child, as a virgin! That is sure to cause a stir in the small village where many of David’s descendants make their home. A tight-knit community, the good folks of Nazareth are sure to have much to say in the months ahead concerning this clearly fabricated story.”
Recent archaeological finds have demonstrated that a sizable city existed prior to the eighth century B.C. on the site now known as Nazareth. Some have estimated that the older city may have had as many as 40,000 inhabitants. As no artifacts from Assyria, Babylonia, or even Greece have been found on the current site, it is assumed that it ceased to exist prior to that tumultuous period of Israel’s history. Sometime during the second century B.C., Jewish settlers returned to the area. Who were they? It has been speculated that the new occupants were returnees from Babylonian and that their family name was “Natsara” indicating that the family line ran through King David.
There is a Hebrew root word in the name “Nazareth.” It is “netzer”, meaning “shoot”. All of the mountains around Nazareth are covered with olive groves. Many of the trees are very old. They are virtually indestructible. Even after being cut down to the ground, it will not be long before a small shoot will emerge from the apparently dead stump. The olive tree is symbolic of Israel itself. While many have attempted to cut Israel down, the Jews will never cease to exist. Israel always grows back. Jesus is the “shoot from the branch of Jesse.” I guess you could say He was born in Shootville. At the time of Yeshua’s birth, Nazareth was a village with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. Everybody knew everybody. And they were all in one another’s business.
Today, Nazareth has a mostly Arab population of over 80,000 people. The people of Nazareth are Israeli citizens, with freedom to participate fully in Israeli society. Demographically, the population has shifted radically in recent years. An October 2013 report filed by the Times of Israel shines light on the current situation. “Like its Christian twin, Bethlehem in the West Bank, Nazareth’s demographic makeup has dramatically changed over the past six decades, a fact some residents tie to the deteriorating sense of security and general “low quality of life.” From being a city with a large Christian majority before 1948, today 70 percent of Nazareth’s 80,000 residents are Muslim. The change dates back to Israel’s War of Independence, when an influx of internally displaced villagers from the surrounding area relocated to Nazareth. Researchers also point to a significantly higher Muslim birth rate.”
Not far from the heart of current day Nazareth is the YMCA, home of Nazareth Village. On our tours of Israel, this is one of the all-time favorite stops. A two-thousand year old wine press was discovered on the grounds along with ancient terraces and a tomb. Around these finds, a recreated village representing the Nazareth Yeshua might have known has been built. Much like visitors to colonial Williamsburg meet Thomas Jefferson and other patriots of the War of Independence, visitors at Nazareth village meet Isaac the shepherd and Hannah the weaver. Of course, no visit to Nazareth would be complete without making a stop in the carpentry shop of Joseph.