In 2008, the Atheist Press of America put out a book The Myth of Nazareth – the invented town of Jesus, written by amateur archaeologist, René Salm.
If René had taken a little more care he might have discovered that the modern-day town of Nazareth was, in all probability a satellite hamlet of the main town of Nazareth that existed in Jesus’ time. This main town (now known as Tel Yafia) would have been 2.4 kilometres southwest of the hamlet of Nazareth where Mary lived. According to the amateur archaeologist, Trevor Harris, her hamlet was probably one of five contained within the town’s borders. *
It is reasonable to assume that Joseph had his workshop in the main town of Nazareth.
It is reasonable to assume that Joseph had his workshop in the main town of Nazareth. Why? – because that’s where the population centre was. The city would also have been the place where the synagogue existed, later made famous by Jesus when he went there and read from the book of Isaiah at the start of his ministry (Luke 4:14-21). The little hamlet of Nazareth (where modern Nazareth now stands) was too small to have a synagogue, as archaeology has confirmed.
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The town of Nazareth (and its satellite hamlets) was situated about half way between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean in the northern province of Galilee – an area noted for its good agriculture and its rebellions. The town had a pleasant climate, as it was located in the hills 1,300 feet above sea level.
It’s worth dwelling, for a moment, on how the town of Nazareth, (a town not mentioned in the Old Testament) came to exist, and how Joseph, a native of Bethlehem 160 kilometres to the south, came to be living there. History gives us some intriguing clues.
For much of the period between the time of the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Seleucid Empire occupied Galilee and Judea. The Seleucids imposed Greek culture on the region. However, the Jewish Maccabean revolution (167 – 160 BC) freed the Jews from the Seleucids and allowed Jewish colonists to move north into Galilee. Some of these colonists developed a city that they named ‘Nazareth’ in celebration of their Davidic ancestry. The Hebrew word nazara means “of Davidic ancestry”. The root of the word nazara literally means “branch”. This was because King David was the ‘branch’ (i.e. descendant of) his father, Jesse (1 Sam 16:1-13). In other words, nazara signalled that the town was a Davidic town, and was therefore thoroughly Jewish. Joseph, a native of Bethlehem (David’s city), would therefore have been at home in Nazareth, as he was a descendant of king David.
It is likely that the distinctive Jewish culture of Nazareth city was stamped out in 68 AD when Vespasian’s Roman army invaded the region. The city was then Romanized, and continued on through the centuries until it was obliterated by the Muslim invasion.
No serious scholar doubts the existence of Nazareth. The town is mentioned repeatedly in all four gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. The early church fathers, Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) and Origen (185 – 254 AD) spoke of Nazareth, and both would have had contact with the Desposyni (people of the blood line of Jesus).
Conclusive proof of Nazareth’s existence came from a fragment of stonework found by archaeologists in 1962 at an ancient synagogue in Caesarea Maritima. (The Department of Archaeology of Hebrew University, Jerusalem conducted this research with the assistance of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.) The fragment of stone tablet they found contained a list of places where priests were sent to perform their duties. One of the places it mentions is Nazareth. The inscription read: ‘The eighteenth priestly course, Hapizzez, [at] Nazareth’ (line 18). We therefore know that the city of Nazareth existed and that it was big enough to warrant the services of priests who were rostered on to minister there.
Can I just pause here and vent a little exasperation? Do atheists seriously think that those writing the biographies of Jesus would have invented a mythical town such as Atlantis, and written about it to people who had, or could have had access to, those with a living memory of Jesus, and expect it to go unchallenged?
* See Trevor Harris, Proving Biblical Nazareth: Evidence for the Key Sites of Jesus, (Norwood, South Australia: Key-line Christian Research, 2017) for more.
Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.
Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.
He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net
Nick told his life story to Eternity here: Deadly storms, heroin addicts, cancer and my faith.