Christianity is the world's most popular religion, with an estimate of 2.2 billion adherents. This religion has followers in virtually every country in the world, and its strongest growth is in developing nations. I live in Israel and love visiting the holy sites of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Nazareth is particularly inspiring to me as an Israeli. It is a city that combines the history and cultures of the three major faiths in a peaceful and harmonious community. It was of course the home of Jesus and a special shrine to Christianity.
Christianity started about 2,000 years ago in the country of Judea, which is presently known as Israel. Israel had become a melting pot of various cultures, with many cities and farms. During that period, Rome had control over Israel and the Jewish people were subjugated and felt the need to seek freedom and independence. The Jews refused to accept the pagan ways of the Roman Empire. Many Jews believed the coming of the Messiah was their best hope for deliverance from Roman oppression and for spiritual salvation. Jesus of Nazareth was born during this tempestuous time of Jewish history. He was a Jew and observed all aspects of Judaism. He also knew Jewish law very well. When Jesus was in his early thirties, he began going to various villages, teaching and healing people along the way. The world was literally revolutionized by his teachings. Jesus taught a far more universal form of Judaism thatÂ prevaled in the era of his life. People began to question their leaders and the Judean community sought change.Â Jesus promoted the concept of "The Golden Rule."I believe that people of all faiths and backgrounds have benefited from this basic tenet of the teachings of Jesus.
(In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them."In this passage, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that he didn't intend to abolish the old Jewish religious laws, such as the Ten Commandments and the various regulations on marriage, inheritance, property rights, diet, and similar matters.)
Nazareth (Arabic ??????? an-N?zirah; Hebrew ???????) is a town of about 60,000 people in northern Israel, about 88 miles north of Jerusalem. It is the capital of the northern region of the country and the largest Arab city in Israel. Jesus grew up in Nazareth with his mother Mary, making the city one of several Christian pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land.
In Jesus' time, Nazareth would have had a population of about 500. Indeed, in the New Testament, Nazareth is depicted as an obscure backwater. In the Gospel of John, people who hear of Jesus of Nazareth ask themselves, "What good could come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46)
Nevertheless, the New Testament reports that Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:26), the site of the Annunciation (announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior) and the town in which Jesus grew up (Matthew 2:23, 13:54; Luke 2:4, 2:51, 4:16). Nazareth is mentioned 17 times in the New Testament. Jesus eventually left the village for a wider ministry although he was always known to some as a "prophet from Nazareth in Galilee" (Matt 21:11).
The two most famous churches in Nazareth are the Church of the Annunciation and St. Gabriel's Greek Orthodox Church. The two churches are connected by a spring and well, while the spring supplies the water to the well. It is believed to be the spot where Mary got the Annunciation of the upcoming birth of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox Church is the site of the spring, and the Church of the Annunciation is the site of the well.
The Jesus Trail begins in Nazareth. It is a 65 km walking trail which connects many of the sites where Jesus did his ancient ministry. One of the important sites of the trail is Tabgha which is believed to be the location of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish. In this location there is an ancient Christian site- the Church of the Multiplication.
Christians inhabited Nazareth by the 4th century, if not earlier, but pilgrims were not much interested in the site initially. It was not until the 6th century, when legends about Mary's life in Nazareth began to circulate, that Nazareth became a Christian pilgrim destination.
Modern Nazareth is situated among the southern ridges of the Lebanon Mountains, on the steep slope of a hill, about 14 miles from the Sea of Galilee and about 6 miles west from Mount Tabor.Â IÂ used to do the annual jog to the top ofÂ Mount Tabor. I won't lie, it's anÂ exhausting treck- but the scenery was well worth the effort.Â The modern city lies at the bottom of the hill which views the ancient city. The weather is hot and humid, especiallyÂ in the summer. I therefore prefer to visit NazarethÂ in the fall.
Nazareth has a population of 60,000. The majority of Nazarenes are Israeli Arabs, about 35-40% of which are Christians and the rest are Muslims.Â The historical sites bring Nazareth a wide array of tourists from all over the world.Â I find it exciting to meet visitors to Nazareth from virtually every nation on earth. Nazareth is a warm and welcoming place, and one of my favorites in Israel.
It is located in a valley surrounded by greenery and fertile farmland.Â Nazareth is a town that combines ancient history with a modern society. It is always exciting to visit the holy sites and yet enjoy a robust and modern city. Nazareth has my favorite pizza joint in Israel- New York style pizza served withÂ American beer. Near the central bus station is my prefered shoestore in Israel- they have a wide variety of American brand shoes. Nazaret, of course, maintains its tradition of wonderful Arabic cuisine- always a treat.