Tuesday 25 December 2012

Nazareth - what was it really like?

This isn't meant to be a controversial post or to tread on anyone's beliefs, but simply to put the years a young Jesus Christ spent in Nazareth into a historical - rather than purely Biblical - context. It's all too easy to assume his childhood was one of living in a Galilean town far from foreign spheres of influence, but this is just not the case. For a start - Judea had already been 'Helenised' through two hundred years of rule by the Greek Seleucid and Ptolemaic Kingdoms. Roman backed Jewish 'Traditionalists' wrested back control of their state in the middle of the 2nd-Century BC, but to cut a long story short, these 'Hasmoneans' eventually supported the wrong side in Rome's civil war after the murder of Julius Caesar and were replaced by Herod in 37BC - who had been backed both by Mark Antony and Octavian.

Yep, you might be yawning by now and saying so what? How did this impact on Nazareth? Well, in a big way, actually - because throughout Christ's life (approximately 8BC-25AD give or take a few years) the 'town' of Nazareth was a small village on the edge of the large Hasmonean-Roman city of Sepphoris. And in fact, Sepphoris may have even been the reason Joseph and Mary settled their family in Nazareth.

A mosaic from Roman Sepphoris -
just 3-miles from Nazareth 

Here's some more dull facts - coinciding with Herod's death in 4BC, the Traditionalist citizens of Sepphoris had revolted against Roman rule. The resulting attack by Syrian based Roman legions completely destroyed the city - with most of its anti-Roman inhabitants sold into slavery. Herod's son, Herod Antipas was immediately made Governor of the region and, as such, he set about rebuilding Sepphoris - all around the same time Joseph moved his family to the area. As a carpenter, it's almost certain that Joseph and his sons then spent the next two decades working on various building projects in this new Roman city. What all this appears to mean, then, is that Christ and his family grew up on the outskirts of an increasingly Romanised city, and in an area where traditional Jews had largely been supplanted by pro-Roman or Greek leaning factions. Just how might this have shaped his childhood? I guess that'll have to be another post.

Find out if Calvus ever visited the near east

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