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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Nazareth

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a little city in the tribe of Zebulun, in Lower Galilee, to the west of Tabor, and to the east of Ptolemais. This city is much celebrated in the Scriptures for having been the usual place of the residence of Jesus Christ, during the first thirty years of his life, Luke 2:51 . It was here he lived in obedience to Joseph and Mary, and hence he took the name of Nazarene. After he had begun to execute his mission he preached here sometimes in the synagogue, Luke 4:16 . But because his countrymen had no faith in him, and were offended at the meanness of his original, he did not many miracles here, Matthew 13:54 ; Matthew 13:58 , nor would he dwell in the city. So he fixed his habitation at Capernaum for the latter part of his life, Matthew 4:13 . The city of Nazareth was situated upon an eminence, and on one side was a precipice, from whence the Nazarenes designed, at one time, to cast Christ down headlong, because he upbraided them for their incredulity, Luke 4:29 .

The present state of this celebrated place is thus described by modern travellers:—Nassara, or Naszera, is one of the principal towns in the pashalic of Acre. Its inhabitants are industrious, because they are treated with less severity than those of the country towns in general. The population is estimated at three thousand, of whom five hundred are Turks; the remainder are Christians. There are about ninety Latin families, according to Burckhardt; but Mr. Connor reports the Greeks to be the most numerous: there is, besides, a congregation of Greek Catholics, and another of Maronites. The Latin convent is a very spacious and commodious building, which was thoroughly repaired and considerably enlarged in 1730. The remains of the more ancient edifice, ascribed to the mother of Constantine, may be observed in the form of subverted columns, with fragments of capitals and bases of pillars, lying near the modern building. Pococke noticed, over a door, an old alto-relief of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes. Within the convent is the church of the annunciation, containing the house of Joseph and Mary, the length of which is not quite the breadth of the church; but it forms the principal part of it. The columns and all the interior or the church are hung round with damask silk, which gives it a warm and rich appearance. Behind the great altar is a subterranean cavern, divided into small grottoes, where the virgin is said to have lived. Her kitchen, parlour, and bed room, are shown, and also a narrow hole in the rock, in which the child Jesus once hid himself from his persecutors. The pilgrims who visit these holy spots are in the habit of knocking off small pieces of stone from the walls, which are thus considerably enlarging. In the church a miracle is still exhibited to the faithful. In front of the altar are two granite columns, each two feet one inch in diameter, and about three feet apart. They are supposed to occupy the very places where the angel and the virgin stood at the precise moment of the annunciation. The innermost of these, that of the virgin, has been broken away, some say by the Turks, in expectation of finding treasure under it; "so that," as Maundrell states, "eighteen inches' length of it is clean gone between the pillar and the pedestal." Nevertheless, it remains erect, suspended from the roof, as if attracted by a loadstone. It has evidently no support below; and, though it touches the roof, the hierophant protests that it has none above. "All the Christians of Nazareth," says Burckhardt, "with the friars, of course, at their head, affect to believe in this miracle; though it is perfectly evident that the upper part of the column is connected with the roof." "The fact is," says Dr. E. D. Clarke, "that the capital and a piece of the shaft of a pillar of gray granite have been fastened on to the roof of the cave; and so clumsily is the rest of the hocus pocus contrived, that what is shown for the lower fragment of the same pillar resting upon the earth, is not of the same substance, but of Cipolino marble. About this pillar, a different story has been related by almost every traveller since the trick was devised. Maundrell, and Egmont and Heyman, were told that it was broken, in search of hidden treasure, by a pasha, who was struck with blindness for his impiety. We were assured that it was separated in this manner when the angel announced to the virgin the tidings of her conception. The monks had placed a rail, to prevent persons infected with the plague from coming to rub against these pillars: this had been, for many years, their constant practice, whenever afflicted with any sickness. The reputation of the broken pillar, for healing every kind of disease, prevails all over Galilee."

Burckhardt says that this church, next to that of the holy sepulchre, is the finest in Syria, and contains two tolerably good organs. Within the walls of the convent are two gardens, and a small burying ground: the walls are very thick, and serve occasionally as a fortress to all the Christians in the town. There are, at present, eleven friars in the convent: they are chiefly Spaniards. The yearly expenses of the establishment are stated to amount to upward of nine hundred pounds; a small part of which is defrayed by the rent of a few houses in the town, and by the produce of some acres of corn land: the rest is remitted from Jerusalem. The whole annual expenses of the Terra Santa convents are about fifteen thousand pounds; of which the pasha of Damascus receives about twelve thousand pounds. The Greek convent of Jerusalem, according to Burckhardt's authority, pays much more, as well to maintain its own privileges, as with a view to encroach upon those of the Latins. To the north-west of the convent is a small church, built over Joseph's work shop. Both Maundrell and Pococke describe it as in ruins; but Dr. E. D. Clarke says, "This is now a small chapel, perfectly modern, and neatly whitewashed." To the west of this is a small arched building, which, they say, is the synagogue where Christ exasperated the Jews, by applying the language of Isaiah to himself. It once belonged to the Greeks; but, Hasselquist says, was taken from them by the Arabs, who intended to convert it into a mosque, but afterward sold it to the Latins. This was then so late a transaction that they had not had time to embellish it. The "Mountain of the Precipitation" is at least two miles off; so that, according to this authentic tradition, the Jews must have led our Lord a marvellous way. But the said precipice is shown as that which the Messiah leaped down to escape from the Jews; and as the monks could not pitch upon any other place frightful enough for the miracle, they contend that Nazareth formerly stood eastward of its present situation, upon a more elevated spot. Dr. E. D. Clarke, however, remarks that the situation of the modern town answers exactly to the description of St. Luke. "Induced, by the words of the Gospel, to examine the place more attentively than we should otherwise have done, we went, as it is written, out of the city, ‘to the brow of the hill whereon the city is built,' and came to a precipice corresponding to the words of the evangelist. It is above the Maronite church, and, probably, the precise spot alluded to by the text."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Nazareth'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/n/nazareth.html. 1831-2.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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