On Finding Jesus (Season 2) “Can Any Good Thing Come From Nazareth? The Childhood Home of Jesus?”

By Paul N. Anderson
George Fox University
Newberg, Oregon
March 2017

The third episode of CNN’s second season on Finding Jesus focuses on Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. Similar to the previous subjects treated, this episode begins with references to places and persons in the Gospels, followed by the latest archaeological findings and comments by articulate scholars and religious leaders. Following on the PBS series, From Jesus to Christ nearly two decades ago, ABC’s The Search for Jesus, and the Discovery Channel’s Who Was Jesus?, the present series operates by taking biblical presentations at face value and seeking to corroborate or challenge such reports on the basis of archaeological and literary evidence. Skeptics may find fault with such an approach, but until a traditional view is overturned by conclusive evidence, it still demands critical consideration. The result in the present series is a featuring of historical realism with relation to the life and ministry of Jesus, despite the fact that much of the evidence is suggestive rather than conclusive.

Reported in all four Gospels and Acts, Jesus is hailed as coming from Nazareth, but this connection is not something to be bragged about. For one thing, Nazareth was a small village during the days of Jesus, perhaps boasting a population of only a few hundred. For another, Nazareth did not have the greatest of reputations politically. Following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC, the Roman armory in Sepphoris (four miles from Nazareth) was robbed, and the Romans retaliated by crucifying 2,000 Jews as a disincentive to such revolts. Sepphoris was burned to the ground, and its inhabitants were sold into slavery. Maybe that’s where Joseph and Jesus did some of their construction work. Less than a decade later, when Jesus was just a boy, Judas the Galilean instituted a tax revolt, evoking another crackdown by the Romans in which many were also crucified. Therefore, one can appreciate the jaded words of Nathanael in John 1:46: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?”

The promise of this particular episode focuses on a recently discovered first-century house located within a stone’s throw from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. While it cannot be confirmed that this house was the very home in which Jesus grew up, the discovery nonetheless gives us a sense of a setting typical of places Jesus knew and in which he might have grown up. Just a few blocks away is also the Nazareth Village, which actually offers a fuller sense of places Jesus might have known. Less than two decades ago, a stone-carved wine press was discovered on that site, near a terraced plot of land—a likely place for a vineyard back in the day. On this site a typical house and a synagogue were built within the last decade or so, giving visitors a fuller sense of first-century village life—even more so than the archaeological historic site.

Within that reconstructed village, olive and grain presses elucidate the ways people cared for the common ventures of life. The spinning of yarn and the tending of livestock by village actors give one an even fuller appreciation of what life might have been like during the days of Jesus’s childhood. Imagining Jesus hearing scriptures read and debated within the local synagogue, including Jesus’s delivery of his inaugural sermon according to Luke 4, these places help the life of Jesus come alive in the imaginations of viewers. The episode could have done more with the Nazareth Village, but a sense of realism regarding first-century life in Nazareth emerges when considered alongside archaeological findings regarding its first-century settings.

Given that Jesus hailed from Nazareth, several features of his ministry are thus elucidated by this focus on his hometown. First, one can imagine Jesus’s being aware of Roman persecutions of Jewish insurrectionists as a child, and this may have contributed to his teachings regarding loving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek (Luke 6:27-36). Jesus of Nazareth sought to put an end to spirals of violence; he was teaching peaceful nonviolence, not doormat passivity. Second, as Nazareth was a long way from Jerusalem, one can appreciate the way Jesus might have gotten away from his parents as a 12-year-old when they traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41-51). Third, if Jesus was indeed preaching recovery of sight to the blind, release of the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor (Jubilee) where debts were to be forgiven (Luke 4:16-30), one can understand why he was rejected in Nazareth and nearly thrown off a cliff. Jesus was threatening to the economic and social status quo. Form that time on, Jesus performed his ministry outside of Nazareth, and while he was rejected in his hometown—where a prophet is without honor—others accepted him in both Samaria and Galilee according to the John 4.

While the third episode in the second season of CNN’s Finding Jesus series is neither profound nor controversial, it gives the viewer a graphic sense of the sort of setting Jesus grew up in and where his prophetic ministry began. In that sense, as Father James Martin reminds us, a grounded view of Jesus and his childhood helps us appreciate the fact that he was genuinely a child, growing up in a village with family and friends, and having a sense of strong Jewish values in the presence of Roman occupation. Jesus was also a craftsman and a laborer, and between the ages of 12 and 30, his life was filled with a broad set of experiences that gave him a sense of what is worthy and true. One can also appreciate how a northern and rural perspective on Jerusalem and its compromises with Rome might have led to intensifying the mission of John the Baptizer, who called for Israel’s leaders to repent and for people to change their ways, not just their clothes. In answer to Nathanael’s question, at least one thing did: the prophetic message of Jesus of Nazareth, and its relevance continues to this day.

Comments (4)

I think if I had to sum up Jesus' personality in one word, it would be "dedicated." As Jesus sums up the Jewish scriptures, he believed the essence of life was loving God with all his heart, and loving his neighbor as himself. In fact, Jesus was so "dedicated" to God that he was willing to die to fulfill God's plan, even though Jesus fundamentally didn't want to die (as the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrated).

Given this, it would be odd to have a high Christology for Jesus. After all, one of the main commandments in Hebrew scripture is to have "no other Gods beside Yahweh." Given Jewish monotheism, if Jesus was supposed to be worshipped on the same level as God, there should be a very direct instruction in the New Testament (possibly from God) explaining that, and why, this is.

#1 - John MacDonald - 03/22/2017 - 18:09

For amateurs like me the question of Nazareth is very confusing. I note that 'Galilee in the Late 2nd Temple Period' ed. Fiensy et al. 2015 (i.e. as far as I can see after all relevant archaeology was to hand) claims (Vol.2 p. 177) that no first century synagogue has been identified at Nazareth. But highly confident statements to the contrary occur.
However, it does seem to be agreed that the nearest cliff is more than 2 miles away and it does seem to me an unnatural reading of the relevant passage in Luke to think that the cliff over which it was proposed to throw Jesus was not near at hand. The review suggests that the CNN programme avoided controversy, whereas I would think that the Nazareth sceptics, strident and somewhat rash as they may be, would deserve a moment for their controversial opinions to be refuted.
I cannot see any suggestion in Josephus that the armouries plundered by the rebels after Herod's death were Roman, rather than the property of the Herodian armed forces who appear in that context and whose loyalties were split after the
death of the Boss. Roman forces took time to arrive - that is surely what kept on giving insurrectionists their chance.
The language of the review suggests that the 2,000 cricifixions were primarily a response to what had happened at Sepphoris and that they might be specially etched on the local consciousness of someone growing up in the area. But they were primarily, it seems, in response to terrorism at Emmaus and to an extremely dangerous episode at Jerusalem which the citizens blamed on outside agitators. No reason to think that even one crucifixion victim was connected with Sepphoris, where the rebels had been dealt with otherwise. It should be mentioned - perhaps should have been mentioned by CNN if they were trying to give a balanced view of the area's history - that it has been very difficult to confirm Josephus' claim that S was burned to or near to the ground.
It seems overconfident to think of Jesus in proletarian terms - 'a labourer' - in the development of S into the jewel of Galilee. It is surely just as likely that Jesus' family was one of the richest in the area, owners of the major construction firm, and perhaps more likely when one considers the report that he came to the admiring attention of the wife of Herod's principal minister.

#2 - Martin Hughes - 03/22/2017 - 22:13

The disciples were expecting the Messiah to come from Bethlehem or at least Jerusalem - they were ignorant of the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They just meant that it was not possible for the Messiah to come from Nazareth. It had nothing to do with the town being a bad place to live.

#3 - Elizabeth Rodgers - 01/11/2019 - 14:02

Good read.More research required on why Nazareth was was loathed so much as expressed in Nathaniel's question

#4 - MUKALO KWAYERA - 12/18/2019 - 18:42

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