This is a picture of the city of Nazareth, population 81,000. (By contrast, the rock band Nazareth has had less than 12 members). It is called the Arab capital of Israel, since almost the entire population is Arabic, 2/3 of whom are Muslims and the rest are Christian. Travel websites say that you can walk the same streets that Jesus walked, and shop in the very same marketplace where Mary bought supplies for the Holy Family. Various churches and mosques are built on the locations of biblical events. (If you still go to a church that says Muslims don’t believe in Jesus, you should change. Who knows what other lies they are telling you?) You can visit the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary, or go down the street to the Eastern Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel, where they say the event happened.
The most miraculous thing about Nazareth is that it did not exist in biblical times.
There is no mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament or the Talmud. It is not mentioned in any census or tax records. Josephus, a Jewish scholar who fought the Romans in the Jewish War (66-73 AD) gives a detailed account of his activities in the region of Galilee, but never mentions Nazareth, even though he would have been able to see the present location from the walls of his capital of Jotapata where he was captured. St. Paul mentions Jesus over 200 times in his writings, but never Nazareth. Early church writers stated they had no idea where it was located.
So, where did it come from? In the oldest Gospel, that of Mark, Jesus is only described as THE Nazarene, probably from the Hebrew root word ne·tser, which can mean “Truth” or more probably “Branch”, as in a new direction for Judaism or a new philosophy. Or perhaps a Nazirite, someone consecrated to God since birth, like Samson or Samuel. The later Gospel writers changed this to OF Nazareth, and made it into a physical location.
In the 4th century AD, the imperial mother St. Helena went on a quest to the Holy Land, to collect relics, visit holy sites, and establish churches. (See my previous writing on facebook regarding St, Helena.) In the area where the city stands today was nothing other than a well. Locals told her that that was the site where the Holy Family drew water. St. Helena declared it to be the rediscovered Nazareth, and a church was built. Egeria of Spain made a pilgrimage to the same area in 381-384 AD. Locals showed her a cave where the Holy Family was said to have lived, and she had another church erected. From the two churches a community was developed that was still little more than a village 100 years later. The streets, churches and mosques were added much much later.
Archeology has shown that there had been a settlement in the region, but it was destroyed in the 8th century BC by the Assyrians, and not rebuilt for over 1100 years.
As a comparison, the village of my grandparents, Hindolveston, is mentioned in the Doomsday Book commissioned in 1085 by William the Conqueror. It is said to be in the ownership of the Bishop William. The survey also notes a church, twenty cattle, two beehives and forty goats. Pretty detailed for the time. It has 550 people today.
A similar thing happens if you look into other locations in the area. The Sea of Galilee is not a sea at all, but a freshwater lake. It is much larger today than the 1st century; it is currently 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and 33 miles in circumference. At its deepest point, the water is 141 feet. As a comparison, the lake at my mother’s house is much larger, and the water a few yards from her boat dock is deeper.
The Sea of Galilee is first mentioned anywhere in the Gospel of Mark. To the Romans it was Lake Tiberias and to the Jews the Sea of Kinneret. The four largest urban centers surrounding the lake in the 1st century were the towns of Tiberias, Tarichaea, Julias, and Hippos. You will notice the ponderousness of Roman/Greek names. The Romans had been in charge for decades, and there was a large Greek community in the area. None of these locations gets a mention in the Gospels. Galilee became important in the 2nd century AD after the Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem, and the refugees settled there. They were only allowed to visit the city one day a year, and did not return until invading Islamic armies helped them to recapture Jerusalem from the Byzantine Christians hundreds of years later. (This again puts the lie to those who say that the Arabs and Jews have been forever fighting each other. For the most of the last 2000 years, they fought together against Christians, or were sheltered within Muslim countries, with rare instances of violence.)
Most of the villages mentioned in the Gospels have never been located in any recorded text or are located up to 30 miles away, as in the story of the herd of swine. There are too many to go into detail here.
The one major exception was Capernaum, a village with a Greek/Roman name. A Christian archeologist said it had 1200 people in the 1st century AD, but this is highly disputed because of the dating of ruins. A synagogue was discovered dating earliest from the 4th or 5th century AD. A ruined house was declared to be St. Peter’s House, because of a hole in the roof. Though, why the later inhabitants of the house would not have fixed the roof to keep out the elements has never been explained.
Today, you can travel the Jesus Trail from Nazareth for 40 miles to various biblical sites, including the Mount of the Beatitudes. Or any number of other such trails. You can even get baptized at the same site as Jesus at Yardenit, which was established in 1981 by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, after the traditional site of Qasr el Yahud on the Jordanian border was closed due to war troubles. Qasr el Yahud was reopened in 2010, so take your pick.
But, how is this possible? Perhaps an illustration first will help.
In 1491, Pope Sixtus IV declared a house in Loreto, Italy to be the house where the Holy Family had lived in Nazareth. The house at Nazareth in which Mary had been born and brought up, received the Annunciation, and had lived during the Childhood of Christ and after his Ascension, was converted into a church by the Twelve Apostles. 200 years earlier, as the Muslims recaptured the Holy Land, four angels had rescued the house and flown it overnight to Italy, and the pope was apparently just now getting around to discovering this fact. To prove its authenticity, a team was sent to Nazareth to confirm there there was no holy house to be discovered there; and therefore this one HAD to be the correct one. It became a very wealthy tourist/pilgrimage site, and even Pope Francis has visited it.
In St. Helena’s time and ever since then, large numbers of sites were simply declared to be the location of this or that various biblical event. Names of villages were changed and churches added. Or entirely new villages sprang up with the correct name. Sometimes, up to four sites all claim to the the one and only true site, and you can often visit them all of them on the same day by bus.
Still don’t think this happens? I live a few miles away from the Cedars of Lebanon, but I am not in the middle east.
As the Church was formalizing its control in the 4th century, it was not only establishing doctrines and creeds. It was transforming local hero legends into saints stories, inserting tales of Christian persecution into older histories, inventing relics, and fabricating sites to show the believers that the events truly occurred. It was all an illusion, and is still a very lucrative business even to this day. Big Brother of 1984 fame could not have done a better job of reinvention.
Any truth is lost, buried under the centuries of zeal to force the stories to be true. Historical and geographical errors and contradictions in the New Testament detract from the message that is hidden in plan sight; in order to obtain power and the coins of pilgrims, the words were drown out in the noise.
One day, I hope to visit all of the sites, scattered across Europe and the Near East. I enjoy religious art and architecture. I want to visit the churches, explore the same saints buried in five or six different places, see the 30-40 nails of the Crucifixion, and stand on the Mount of the Beatitudes and recite the speech.
I will marvel at the pilgrims at prayer, and know in my heart that these sites are all a fabrication. And now you do as well.