IS THIS THE NAZARETH HOME OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH ?
Historically churches have always been built on sacred sites to commemorate oral traditions, enabling archeologists to tie buildings to the events which shape history. A 14 year archaeological investigation, the largest ever carried out into Roman period Nazareth – has unearthed a house, complete with pottery fragments commonly used by Jewish families of the era, dating to the time in which Jesus lived. The house is located beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent where nuns lived from the 1st century AD. Ken Dark, professor of archaeology and history at Reading University said Fieldwork has suggested that a cave church built directly adjacent to the house in the 4th century, corresponds to the time Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine.
Further excavation unearthed a 5th century church built over both the house and the cave church. This would have been the largest church in Nazareth, an elaborately decorated cathedral with marble and mosaics matching a 7th century description of the large Byzantine church that was said to have stood on the site of Jesus’ home. Nazareth was previously believed to have been a small hamlet but is now considered to have had a population of around a thousand.
In the time of Jesus, Nazareth was religiously very conservative and politically anti-Roman. Religious values and practice differed greatly from the neighbouring town of Sepphoris. Jesus has long been identified with the Essene spiritual community of Nazareth who rejected the Jewish priesthood of the day as hypocrites.
This is the second time archeologists have announced significant findings prior to Christmas. On December 22nd 2009, Israeli archeologists announced that they had unearthed for the first time, the remains of a 1st century dwelling from the Jewish village of Nazareth, officially confirming the previously disputed existence of the hamlet of Nazareth to the era in which Jesus lived. This excavation site is adjacent to the Church of the Annunciation seen in the background, built to commemorate the place where, according to tradition, the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would conceive a son by divine intervention. Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary when she was going to collect water from the well. The site has uncovered a two roomed house with a courtyard in which there is ‘a rock hewn cistern into which rainwater was conveyed’ providing support for the historical account.
Each Christmas the words are read throughout the world: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary…..”
“Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you” (The words of the angel were later translated in the opening words of the Rosary prayer: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” in Latin: Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum) “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I know not a man?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
A BELIEF IN ANGELS REQUIRES A LEAP OF FAITH AND A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TIME IN QUESTION WHEN DIVINE INTERCESSION WAS NOT CONSIDERED UNCOMMON.
The biblical gospels are those approved by mainstream Christianity throughout the centuries, they represent a remnant of numerous earlier accounts which were ruled unacceptable to the church hierarchy. The Protevangelium of James, believed to be written by James, a brother of Jesus, was disputed but describes the lineage of Mary as the daughter of Ann and Joachim, a wealthy man. The couple who were childless lived in Nazareth and Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee some 6 kilometres away. They went to the Temple of Jerusalem on a Feast Day to give offerings but were publicly humiliated by the priest for their infertility which was considered a reproach from God. Bereft, they prayed and promised that any child born to them would be dedicated to God. An angel appeared to each of them separately, announcing the birth of a child “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.”
A daughter, Mary, was born to them in Sepphoris and at the age of three they gave her into the keeping of the women of the Temple of Jerusalem who raised the daughters of those assigned as Temple Virgins. Eight years later, Joachim died, Ann died one year later, both are buried in The Valley of Josaphat not far from the Garden of Gethsemane.
At the age of puberty, Temple virgins were returned to their homes as cultural laws prohibited menstruating women from entering the temple complex. They remained in service to the Temple however and the text describes how, as part of her temple duties, Mary was called upon to help weave the curtain for the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem. Mary, one of seven virgins from the line of David, was working on this task in her Nazareth home when she went out to fetch some water from a well positioned over an underground spring. It was then, according to legend, that the Archangel Gabriel appeared with the message:
Following her return to Nazareth as a young girl of marriageable age, Mary was betrothed (promised in marriage). In ancient Israel ‘betrothal’ was considered a sacred institution, young girls could be betrothed from the age of 12 but couples continued to live with their parents until the marriage took place two or three years later, at which time the young woman went to live with her husband and the marriage was consummated. Betrothal was more important than the marriage itself, the couple having agreed to the marriage contract which defined and protected tribal marriage rights and the rights of future children. During the period of betrothal, couples remained separated, forbidden from seeing one another, the punishment for adultery was therefore severe and included banishment or stoning.
The elders selected Joseph, an ageing widower with grown up sons, to be Mary’s betrothed. He initially objected saying “I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl” but accepted their ruling when a sign was received. When, following the visitation of the angel, Mary became pregnant and hid herself away and visited her cousin Elizabeth’s home in Aim Keram, south west of Jerusalem. Elizabeth confirmed that she too was pregnant, her son would become John the Baptist. Mary returned to Nazareth but Joseph finding her now heavily pregnant believed she had been unfaithful and decided to divorce her privately to break the betrothal contract. This only required two witnesses and no grounds were needed to be given, rather than publicly going through the Jewish courts. An angel then appeared to Joseph in a dream saying: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph accepted the message but their marriage was delayed by the need to travel to Bethlehem to register for the Roman Census.
The belief in the birth of Jesus by divine intercession has provoked heated debate for centuries. Historians and linguists have argued whether the Hebrew term ‘almah’ was interpreted accurately as ‘virgin’, many stating that ‘almah’ could mean ‘a maiden’ or ‘a young unmarried woman’. Biblical texts were repeatedly mistranslated over centuries and a Hebrew to Greek translation by Jewish scholars translated ‘almah’ as ‘pathenos’ meaning ‘a young woman’, this began the centuries old argument suggesting that ‘virgin’ was a mistranslation. Today there is academic agreement that the word ‘almah’ means virgin in the true sense. ‘Almah’ the term for virgin means “the concealed one” or “the veiled one.” referring to the custom of betrothed girls wearing veils over their faces as a sign of seclusion, or concealment, during the time of betrothal.
- Robert Dick Wilson a celebrated Hebrew scholar, proficient in 45 biblically related languages declared that ‘almah” never meant ‘young married woman’ and that the presumption of common law is that every ‘almah’ is virtuous unless she can be proved not to be.
- Professor William Beck a theologian who translated the Old Testament stated: ‘I have searched exhaustively for instances where ‘almah’ might mean a non virgin or a married woman. There is no passage where ‘almah” is not a virgin, nowhere in the bible or elsewhere does ‘almah” mean anything but a virgin.’
- Cyrus Gordon a scholar of enormous range in linguistics and social history including Aramaic-Syriac-Mandaic and art and archeology of the near East, Assyriology, Egypto-Semitic studies and Hebrew inscriptions stated that ‘recent archeological evidence confirms that ‘almah’ means virgin.’
The Church of St. Gabriel built over “Mary’s Spring” has been rebuilt many times over the centuries. The spring feeds the well where villagers once congregated to share news and fill their pitchers (pictured 1891). William Rae Wilson describes “a well of the Virgin, which supplied the inhabitants of Nazareth with water” in his book, Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land.
The historical record details the life and times of the family into which Jesus was born. If untrue this is a compendium of lies and to what purpose? While divine intervention remains an impossible explanation for many, we cannot dismiss the fact that the birth of Jesus Christ resulted in a global network of faithful followers to the present time. In addition to Christians millions more, including Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics and New Age followers see his life as an exemplary pattern for their own. Jesus Christ is persistently ranked as the most influential person who ever lived.