The name “Nazareth” as a small town, a living space, is not found in any of the Old Testament writings. And in archaeological findings, this name appears only in the 3rd century CE.
We will first explore the Galilean identity of Jesus according to the gospels and then deal with the name of Nazareth and the city.
Finally, we will look at the tribe of Zebulon where Nazareth is located.
We will see that most of Jesus’s life was spent in Galilee. He went up to Jerusalem in order to suffer his passion, die and rise from the dead.
He will send his disciples with the women back to Galilee to mission them to the world.
1) The Galilean identity of Jesus of Nazareth
The Gospel according to Matthew
Mt 2:21-23 : And Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there; and being warned by God in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. They came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that might be fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet: He will be called a Nazorean. .
It seems important for the Gospel writer to make sure that the prophecy is fulfilled. Question: What does Nazorean mean? This quotation does not appear anywhere in the Bible.
Mt 3:1 John the Baptist appears in the Judean desert preaching to the people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the surroundings of the Jordan. And Jesus comes from Galilee in order to be baptized by John (“baptized”, in Hebrew “tebila” meaning to be emerged in water): Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
Mt 4:12-16: After hearing of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus withdraws to Galilee, leaves Nazareth to settle at Capernaum. Then he begins his ministry: The gospel quotes Isaiah in order to root the importance of this beginning in Galilee in Holy Scripture. Land of Zebulon and Nephtali, on the road by the sea, across the Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light and for those who sat in the shadow of death light has dawned.
“Galilee” (in Hebrew “galil”: גליל ) means a “round” district.
Because of the proximity of invaders from the north, Galilee had a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles. This quotation then says something about the openness of Jesus’s mission to Jews as well as to Gentiles.
Mt 16: In this chapter, Jesus announces to his disciples for the first time that he will go up to Jerusalem in order to suffer and rise from the dead. This is after he revealed to Peter his identity as Messiah, Son of the living God, and it occurs at Caesarea Philippi, an ancient Greek and Roman city situated in the north of Galilee at the Jordan springs.
Mt 22:41: Jesus seems to question his being “the son of David”, quoting Psalm 110, because even if he is of the lineage of David, he is first of all the Lord (cf. Mk 12:35). But Jesus prefers to call himself “the Son of Man”.
Mt 20:29: Jesus leaves Jericho and journeys toward Jerusalem.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus never goes up to Jerusalem nor does he leave Galilee until his journey to Jerusalem for his passion (Mt 16:21).
Mt 28:6. After his death and resurrection, Jesus sends the disciples with the women back to Galilee: Go and tell the disciples. He precedes you into Galilee….There you will see him. And v.16: As for the disciples, they went to Galilee. This is where they receive the call to go to all peoples even to the ends of the earth.
The Gospel according to Mark
Mk 1:9: Jesus comes to John from Nazareth and is emerged in the Jordan. Then, after being tempted in the desert for 40 days, he goes to Galilee to begin his mission: In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Mk 10:32.46: They were on the road going up to Jerusalem and Jesus was ahead of them:….They came to Jericho. On the way, Jesus heals a blind man. It is said: When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he cried out: Son of David, have mercy on me.
Again, Jesus of Nazareth is recognized as the son of David.
In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus never returned to Galilee. The mission to the disciples to go and announce to all peoples the Gospel (the good news) seems to take place in Jerusalem.
The Gospel according to Luke
Lk 1:26: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth According to Luke, Jesus was conceived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Both Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before and after Jesus’s conception.
…to a young woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
For Luke, like for Matthew, it is important that Joseph comes from the lineage of David, and this is why they later describe the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
Which Bethlehem? In Judea or in Galilee? Do Matthew and Luke speak of the census in order to place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem?
When the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, some from David’s lineage settled in Galilee. Did all the citizens have to go to the Bethlehem for the census? Was it not also possible to register in their present cities?
Luke does not know anything about going down to Egypt and then returning and settling in Nazareth. From the beginning, Mary and Joseph are citizens of Nazareth. So did they go to Bethlehem in Judea to be registered or did they go to Bethlehem in Galilee, about 15 km from Nazareth?
Lk 2:22: As faithful Jews, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to redeem the first- born and for Mary’s purification: When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem
Did all the Jews have to go up to the Temple for those rites? Given the length of the journey, how would this be possible?
Luke mentions that after accomplishing these rites, they returned to Nazareth: When they had finished everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
Lk 2:41: When Jesus was 12 years old, we again see the family going up to Jerusalem for the feast of Pesah: Now every year his parents went up for the Festival of Pesah.
It was an obligation for the Jews to go to Jerusalem for the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals. If they lived far from Jerusalem and could not go for each feast, they chose one of the three to fulfill the commandment.
Lk 3:23 After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan at the age of 30, Luke presents his genealogy from Joseph to Adam, a sign of his insertion in humankind. Jesus is son of David: a sign if his insertion in a specific people, a specific lineage. This is another way for Luke to affirm the particular mission of Jesus to Israel as well as the universal aspect of his mission to all humankind.
And like in Matthew, Jesus begins his mission in Galilee after being tempted in the desert.
Lk 4:14-16 : Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns to Galilee and arrives in the city of Nazareth where he grew up. This city had a synagogue and enough people for a service to be held: Then Jesus, with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…He came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, entered the synagogue on the Shabbat day as was his custom.
Surprised by his words, people ask:”Is that not Joseph’s son”. Lk 4:22
We can see that he also preached in the synagogues of Judea (v.44).
Lk 9:51: Then Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem towards his passion. When the days grew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem The wording is very strong and shows how determined Jesus was to go towards his passion, death and resurrection. It is important that his “pass-over” will be accomplished in Jerusalem.
Does the ministry in Galilee end with this?
Lk 9:51- 13:22: Luke does not mention where the following teaching took place. In Lk 13:31, some Pharisees warn Jesus not to go to Jerusalem as Herod wants to kill him, and in Lk 17:11 we see him going to Jerusalem from Galilee and Samaria, then to Jericho (19:1). He goes from Jericho to Jerusalem via Bethpage and Bethany, down the Mount of Olives, and enters the Temple.
After his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus calls the disciples to announce the good news to all peoples beginning from Jerusalem. Jesus ascends into heaven and neither he nor his disciples ever returned to Galilee.
The Gospel according to John
Jn 1:19-51: The encounter with John the Baptist and the call of the first disciples seem to occur by the banks of the Jordan.
Jn 1:45: We have found him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth. Here is clearly affirmed that Jesus is from Nazareth.
Jn 2: The wedding of Cana takes place in Galilee.
He meets John the Baptist on the other side of the Jordan near Bethany. On the way back to Galilee, Jesus calls his disciples.
Jn 4,5,6,7 Jesus goes back and forth from Galilee via Samaria and towards Judea – Jerusalem.
Jn 10:40: His journeying ends when he goes back to the place where John had baptised him, and there he stays and goes up to Jerusalem when he hears that his friend Lazarus is sick (chapter 11).
Jn 21: After his death and resurrection, the disciples go back to Galilee, and there Jesus appears to them by the Sea of Galilee and cooks fish for them after they had been fishing. Simon Peter becomes the leader of the group and the gospel ends with the call: “Follow me.”
Conclusion: All the gospels speak of the place where Jesus lived in Galilee, and Nazareth is said to be his home town. He is of David’s lineage.
Most of his ministry occurs in Galilee. He goes to Jerusalem specifically in order to accomplish his passion, death and resurrection.
We can note that Jesus never went to Bethlehem.
The gospels do not tell us much about this ‘city’.
As we said before, there is no mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament.
In Lk 1:26 and 2:3, it is called a “city” (polis: πολις), like Bethlehem.
According to Jn 1:46, it does not look very important. Or was this city despised? Why?
We learn that there was a synagogue that was spacious enough to gather a crowd (Lk 4:16).
The name “ Nazareth “
The word could come from the Hebrew “netzer” which means “shoot” (נצר ) and could refer to Is 11:1: A twig will come out of the stump of Jesse and a shoot from its roots. This verse is applied to the Messiah in Rom 15:19. And in a hymn of Qumran, the founder of the community is the “netzer” planted by God.
Nazorean (in Greek: Nazoraios, Ναζωραιος (cf. Mt 2:23: He will be called a Nazorean) cannot refer to the sect of the Nazarenes which did not yet exist. Thus it could be understood as someone from Nazareth. This name designated the followers of Jesus (cf. Acts 24:5; 26:9): For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans (translated by Nazarenes).
An ambiguity comes from the fact that the English spelling is a transliteration of the Greek word Ναζαρέτ (nazaret), which is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew word נצרת (natzeret). The Greek alphabet does not have the letter corresponding to the Hebrew Tzade (צ); instead they used the Zeta (ζ).
Another ambiguity comes from the fact that Nazorean is sometimes translated in English by Nazarene.
Here is a letter of Jerome to Pammachius, quoting Isaiah from the Septuagint and translating Netzer by Nazarene:
“ 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.” (Matthew 2:23) Let these word fanciers and nice critics of all composition tell us where they have read the words; and if they cannot, let me tell them that they are in Isaiah. (Isaiah 11:1) For in the place where we read and translate, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a shoot shall grow out of his roots,” in the Hebrew idiom it is written thus, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Nazarene shall grow from his roots.” How can the Septuagint leave out the word ‘Nazarene,’ if it is unlawful to substitute one word for another? It is sacrilege either to conceal or to set at naught a mystery.”
Tertullus (second part of 1st c. – beginning of the 2nd c.) calls Jesus a Nazarene (Against Marcion IV 8).
“The Christ of the Creator had to be called a Nazarene according to prophecy; whence the Jews also designate us, on that very account, Nazerenes after Him. For we are they of whom it is written, “Her Nazarites were whiter than snow;” (Lamentations 4:7 ) even they who were once defiled with the stains of sin, and darkened with the clouds of ignorance. But to Christ the title Nazarene was destined to become a suitable one, from the hiding-place of His infancy, for which He went down and dwelt at Nazareth, to escape from Archelaus the son of Herod.”
In the Talmud (San. 43/a), one of the followers of Jesus is called netzer, and the Talmud quotes Isa 11:1.
Those followers of Jesus were cursed by the Jews as belonging to a sect.
“Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Netzer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought before the court.[…..] When Netzer was brought in, he said: Shall Netzer be executed? Is it not written, A Netzer [a shoot] shall grow forth out of his roots (cf. Isa 11:1). Yes, they said, Netzer shall be executed, since it is written, But thou art cast forth away from thy grave like a Netzer (an abhorred offshoot) Isa 14:19.
If the word Nazoreans (translated sometimes in English by “Nazarenes”) was applied to Christians (cf. Acts 24:5), referring to Jesus and his followers, in Antioch people began to call them Christians ( χριστανος: belonging to Christ, meaning Messiah). And modern Hebrew uses the word notzrim (נוצרים), a standard Hebrew term for “Christians”, referring them to Jesus of Natzeret. Notzrim refers to Jesus of Natzeret, as also in the Quran نصارى nasara (plural of نصراني nasrani “Christians”). In modern Arabic the Christians are called مسيحي or plural form المسيحيين, the ones who follow the Messiah.
In the 4th century, Jerome also refers to Nazarenes as those “who accept the Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.” In his Epistle 75 to Augustine, he wrote:
“What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? Today there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minoans, and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called ‘Nazarenes’; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither”.
In the 4th century there was a sect called the Nazarenes.
The name of a city called Nazareth remains an enigma.
Nazareth is not mentioned at all in biblical sources. The first sources come from the New Testament.
Archaeology found ancient remains (pottery, ceramics) from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. Nothing from the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, or Hellenistic periods.
After this long gap, houses, baths, tombs were found from the Roman period. In 2009, Israeli archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre excavated remains in Nazareth that date to the time of Jesus in the early Roman period. Alexandre told reporters, “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth.”
We know that the Assyrian empire destroyed many cities. We can then presume that later the settlement was reoccupied by Davidic clans coming from Babylon and going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They named the settlement Natzeret, referring to the netzer (the shoot of Isa 11:10) and indicating that the Messiah would come from their lineage
First non-Christian source naming Nazareth
Professor Michael Avi Yonah discovered in the middle of the 20th century an ancient synagogue dating from the time of Herod the Great. This synagogue was destroyed during the Bar Kokhba revolt, then rebuilt in the 3rd century, to be re-destroyed in the middle of the 4th century. During the different excavations, three fragments of a marble grey stone were found on which were engraved the different classes of priests ensuring the service in the Temple (mishmeret) and their location. The 18th class was from Nazareth. It is the first non-Christian reference to Nazareth.
Even if since the year 70 CE there was no more Temple, the distinction of classes was kept.
Professor Avi Yonah, inspired by preceding work, tried to reconstruct the 24 classes mentioned in the Book of Chronicles. He based his research on a poem of lamentation composed by the Galilean poet Eleazar ha- Kalir (6th century?) for Tisha beAv and comparing this to an inscription in Caesarea. In this poem, Natzeret also appears as the place of the 18th class.
The eighteenth priestly course [called] Hapizzez, [resettled at] Natzeret
From the three fragments that have been found, the inscription seems to be a list of the twenty-four priestly courses (cf. the Book of Chronicles, 1 Chronicles 24:7–19, and the Book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 11:12), with each course (or family) assigned its proper order and the name of the respective town or village in Galilee where it settled. Nazareth is not spelled with the “z” sound but with the Hebrew tsade (“Natzereth”), and a locality is mentioned that is clearly in the Nazareth region and that bears the name Nazareth נצרת (in this case vocalized “Nitzrat”), which was home to the descendants of the 18th Cohen family Happitzet (פצץ) for at least several centuries after the Bar Kokhba revolt.
Here is part of the reconstruction of Avi Yonah:
The 17th course Hezir MA]MLIAH
The 18th course Hapizzez NAZARETH
The 19th course Pethahia AKHLAH Arab
The 20th course Ezekiel MIJGDAL Nunaiya
Probably these classes of priests fled Jerusalem after being expelled by the Romans after the Bar Kokhba revolt (135 CE) and resettled in Galilee.
Here is a Christian source naming Natzeret, calling it Nazara:
Julius Africanus, a respected layman, wrote a letter to Aristides about 200 CE. He quoted the historian Eusebius, who deals with the genealogy in Matthew and Luke. Eus.Eccl Hist.1,7,14 PG 94,97\99
“Few in antiquities have thought it is worthwhile leaving personal memories, in that they had reckoned or drew the names from memory from some or other archives material in order to preserve the memory of their noble birth. But among them were already mentioned “desposynoi” (Lord’s people), so called because of their relationship with the Savior`s family. Originating from the Jewish village of Nazara and Cochaba, they spread over the rest of the country. They have drawn the above mentioned genealogy from the Book of the Days, as they could.”
We can learn from this document that, even if the genealogies are built with a theological purpose, there were chronicles kept in memories and sometimes written as documents like “the book of the days”.
We learn too that Natzeret, called here Nazara, was a Jewish village linked with Jesus and his family.
Had the city begun to exist with this proper name Natzeret only with the beginning of Christianity (Jesus being recognized as the “netzer” mentioned in Isaiah 11)? In this case, the New Testament would be the first historical mention, the oldest text being the Acts of the Apostles (10:38-42).
Was the city named by Davidic clans that settled there during the Roman period?
We can conclude while maintaining the enigma. An important fact is that this name became the name of a Jewish village or city in Roman times and has remained ever since until now. It has been recognized and adopted by all humankind as the city of the family of Jesus of Nazareth
Nazareth is situated in the territory of Zebulon.
It is mentioned in Mt 4:12-17, quoting Isaiah:
When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has dawned ( Isa 9:1-2).”
From then on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In Gen 30:19, we see that Zebulon is the 10th son of Jacob, his 6th son from Leah:
Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said: God has endowed me with a good dowry. I have borne him six sons. So she named him Zebulon.
Here is the blessing of Jacob upon Zebulon (Gen 49:13): Zebulon shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships; and his border shall be upon Sidon.
In Numbers 1:31, Zebulon is mentioned among the tribes, with the numbers of people involved in the conquest of the Land. He is named again among the spies chosen by Moses to explore the Land (Num 13:10). He was Gaddiel, son of Sodi.
Joshua 19:10-16: Here is described with precisions the territory attributed to Zebulon. It is difficult to identify whether the city which became Nazareth was part of it. We can note that Bethlehem of Galilee is mentioned. This ancient city is in fact 15 km from Zebulon, which belonged to the district of Galilee.
Judges 5:18: In her praise of the Lord which also mentions other clans and tribes, Deborah says of Zebulon that he was ready to risk his life, despising death.
When David was established king in Hebron, Zebulon was among the tribes who came with “divisions of troops who came to David in Hebron to turn over the kingdom of Saul to David, according to the words of the Lord” (1 Chr 12:23.33), and he contributed food for the celebration: Zebulon and Naphtali came bringing food with donkeys, camels, mules and oxen, abundant provisions of meal, cake, figs….( v.40-41).
When Hezekiah made reparation for the abominations of his father Ahaz, he invited all Israel to keep the Passover in the house of the Lord. The reformer’s emissaries were met with mockery and ridicule; yet some were true to the religion of their fathers, and even from far away, Zebulon went up to Jerusalem, destroyed the idols, and kept the feast of the unleavened bread (2 Chronicles 30:10-23).
If there is not much to say about Zebulon, at least these quotations show us the tribe’s fidelity, its goodness…It was part of the Galilee of the Nations.
 There is probably a play on words in Isaiah between “Nabukadnezar, the Babylonian invader, and Netzer.