Earliest traces of habitation under and around modern Nazareth, the largest city in Galilee, mainly populated today by Arab Muslims and a smaller number of Arab Christians, date to the Bronze and early Iron Age. Several springs in the Nazareth basin (Mary’s Well, Apostles Fountain, the Sisters of Nazareth spring) and Ein Zippori to the north offer ample water for agriculture. Until late Hellenistic times, archaeological data remain very scant, only to increase in the early Roman (1st cent. BCE and CE), and peak in the Byzantine and Crusader periods. Much of our data depend on often ill-published 19th-century discoveries and modern chance finds from a now profoundly changing, very densely built-up urban area. A rare exception are the intensive Franciscan excavations at the Church of the Annunciation (Bagatti et al.). Systematic exploration of Nazareth’s surroundings has only begun very recently (Dark 2008; 2019).
It is undisputed that ancient Nazareth lies buried under the modern city in the narrow valleys at the southern end of lower Galilee, separated by a sharp drop (Nazareth Ridge) from the Jezreel valley to the south. To the north, a wider, more gentle valley opened (Nahal Zippori) with fertile alluvial soil and ample, perennial water supply. Like elsewhere in lower Galilee, main crops were barley, wheat, olives and vegetables grown on patties and fields and in orchards. Woodlands were used as pasture for cattle and sheep and provided wood for fuel and construction. The soft, easily workable limestone close to Nazareth offered good building material.
Clearer contours of habitation begin to emerge during the 1st century BCE and CE when clusters of houses “congealed” into an intensively used agricultural region dotted with installations, farmsteads, and villages (Dark 2019). At that time, the area prospered and population rose, partly due to the foundation and systematic expansion of Judaeo-Hellenistic Sepphoris just 6 km to the north. Nazareth belonged to Sepphoris’s “green belt” (chora), was juridically, socially, and economically dependent from the city and provided it with food, specialized products, and labour. Material culture in the rural hinterland appeared less diverse and more traditional than in the urban center, indicating less participation in trade and wealth, but not necessarily deliberate disassociation from provincial Roman culture (Dark 2013: 168). Nazareth’s clear rural character, its topographical closeness to and complex social relation with Sepphoris deeply influenced the recent debate about Jesus as “Galilean Jewish peasant” (Crossan/Reed: 15–50; Strange).
Direct evidence of 1st-century BCE/CE Nazareth above all comes from the area under the Church of the Annunciation (see fig. 28), the Sisters of Nazareth convent, the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation (Freund) and the International Marian Center. Here, reused or robbed-out walls from courtyard houses of the 1st to 4th century CE were found, as well as rock-cut caves for storage, animals or work, as well as bell-shaped cisterns and underground storage pits to keep provisions cool. All this nicely documents everyday life of rural nuclear families. Traditional kokhim burials were found hewn into the hill-slopes around the village, delineating an inhabited area of max. 600 m east-west and 200 m north-south, providing room for ca. 200–400 people (Crossan/Reed: 34; Strange). Outside the village, terraces, irrigation channels, olive and wine presses, and watch/tool towers indicate various communal activities related to producing and processing vegetables, fruit, grain, olives and wine and practising small-animal husbandry (Alexandre; Dark 2008; 2013). Modern “Nazareth Village” (www.nazarethvillage.com) gives a good impression of these structures, though the synagogue shown here is based on finds from Gamla etc., since no traces of a synagogue have so far been found in Nazareth. Nazareth’s unspectacular character and its relatively late 1st-century origin are confirmed by the fact that the village is neither mentioned in the OT nor in Josephus (see also John 1:46).
The village continued to flourish during the Roman period. Hideouts in underground caves below St. Joseph indicate that the inhabitants prepared to protect themselves during the First and Second Revolt. A bath house under a shop close to St. Mary’s Well is often dated to the Roman period, but firm archaeological evidence is lacking. 3rd-century CE Jewish sources mention priests in Nazareth (mishmarot course 18, frg. A, line 2 in Avi-Yonah) and early Christian polymath Julius Africanus attests members of “the family of the Lord … who spread out from the Jewish villages of Nazareth and Kokhaba” (in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 1.7.14; Taylor: 224–26). The connection of the so-called “Nazareth Decree” with the city is very doubtful (Tsalampouni).
Franciscan excavations confirmed the continuous use of houses until the late Roman and Byzantine periods and also identified traces of Nazareth’s earliest Christian appropriation as nutricula Domini (Jerome, Epist. 108.13) during the 4th and 5th century (Tzaferis/Bagatti; Taylor: 221–67). During the Crusader period, Nazareth became the seat of an archbishop and one of the most important pilgrimage centers in the Holy Land, some of whose artistic decoration shows remarkable Western influence (e.g., 12th cent. capitals in the Church of Annunciation).
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II New Testament
In the early 1st century, Nazareth was a small and relatively obscure agricultural village located in central Galilee. It is unclear whether the references in the Babylonian Talmud to “Jesus the Nazarene” were intended to denote the location Nazareth. The first references to Nazareth are found in the NT in the Gospels and the Book of Acts: Ναζαρέτ (Matt 2:23; Mark 1:9; John 1:45, 46); Ναζαρέθ (Matt 21:11; Luke 1:26; 2:4, 39, 51; Acts 10:38); Ναζαρά (Matt 4:13; Luke 4:16); and similar variants such as Ναζαράθ and Ναζαράτ. Jesus is repeatedly described in the Gospels and in Acts as a “Nazarene” (adj. Ναζαρηνός; noun Ναζωραῖος) to indicate that he had been a resident of the town of Nazareth.
The Lukan account identifies Nazareth as the residence of Joseph and Mary during their betrothal and as the scene of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary concerning the coming birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:26). After fleeing to Egypt to avoid Herod the Great’s plot to kill Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Galilee and raised him in Nazareth (Matt 2:19–23; Luke 2:39–40, 51–52; 4:16). According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus moved from Nazareth following his baptism and temptation in the wilderness to base his ministry out of Capernaum (4:12–17). All three Synoptic Gospels describe the rejection of Jesus’s preached message in the synagogue in Nazareth which is called “his hometown” in Matthew and Mark (Matt 13:53–58; Mark 6:1–6) and simply “Nazareth” in Luke (4:16–30). The Lukan account includes the additional details of Jesus’s near death and escape from the hands of the inhabitants of Nazareth as they attempt to throw him off the cliff upon which the city was built (Luke 4:28–30). The Matthean conclusion that Jesus’s return to Nazareth from Egypt was accomplished “so that what was spoken by the prophets may be fulfilled, that he would be called a ‘Nazarene’” (Matt 2:23, Ναζωραῖος) has been the source of much debate.
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Archaeological excavations have suggested the presence of a Judeo-Christian community in the village of Nazareth, which passed down the memory of Jesus and the holy family (Testa; Bagatti). The rejection of this conclusion by Joan Taylor (222–67) notwithstanding, both literary sources and material remains indicate that the sanctification of space in Nazareth began in the late 4th century. Egeria, who visited the Holy Land between 381 and 384, was first to refer to Nazareth as a sacred destination. She describes a garden frequented by Jesus as a child, the grotto where Mary lived, and the church built over the synagogue where Jesus read from the book of Isaiah (Wilkinson 1981: 193–94). The synagogue is also mentioned by the Piacenza pilgrim (ca. 570), who describes a beam, which could not be moved by Jews, on which Jesus sat and studied with the rest of Nazareth’s children. Pilgrims were also shown the book in which Jesus wrote the alphabet (Wilkinson 1977: 79).
The Jewishness of Nazareth is evident in the Piacenza pilgrim’s description of “the Jewesses of the city” whom he says “are better looking than any other Jewesses in the whole country. Their beauty is a gift from Mary for she was a relation of theirs” (ibid.: 79–80). The Jewish presence in Nazareth seems to have been a kind of demonstratio evangelica, creating an authentic ambience for pilgrims (Jacobs: 127–29). The Piacenza pilgrim also mentions the basilica that stood over Mary’s house, probably referring to the 5th-century Church of the Annunciation, which was attached to a monastery (Aviam/Ashkenazi: 563), or to another church whose remains are still visible in the Sisters of Nazareth’s convent nearby (Dark).
Near the grotto, there is an additional chapel with a mosaic floor, bearing an inscription mentioning the donation of a certain Konon, a deacon from Jerusalem (Bagatti: 100–102; Taylor: 235–43). A martyr by this name was executed in Pamphylia during the persecution under Emperor Decius in the mid 3rd century. According to Konon’s martyrology, when he was asked about his origin and ancestry, he replied: “I am from the city of Nazareth in Galilee and my relationship is with Christ, whose worship I inherited from my forefathers; him I recognize as the god above all” (Musurillo: 188). From the inscription, Konon may have been a native of Nazareth, named after the local martyr who donated to the church in his hometown. This could indicate the presence of a small Christian community in Nazareth alongside the Jewish majority, which developed a local identity based on traditions emphasizing family ties to Jesus, while enjoying the prosperity brought by the increasing number of pilgrims visiting the loca sancta in Galilee (Ashkenazi forthcoming).
Under Muslim rule, Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land diminished, although, in the late 7th century, Arculf, a bishop from Gaul, visited Nazareth and described two large churches (Wilkinson 1977: 169). However, when the crusaders came to Nazareth, no Christian edifice was standing. They rebuilt the Church of Annunciation and, for a few years, Nazareth renewed not only its status as a holy destination but also became an archbishopric (Prawer: 165–66). After the destruction of the Basilica of the Annunciation by Baibars in 1263, a small group of Franciscan monks were allowed to guard the holy sites, but only in the 20th century, when the Church of the Annunciation was rebuilt, restoring the monumental dimensions of the Crusaders’ basilica, did Nazareth regain its unique status in Christendom (Segal et al.).
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The city of Nazareth (Arab. al-Nāṣira) is rather insignificant in the history of Islam. In contrast to its importance for Christians – with the Church of Annunciation as the city’s most sacred place, making Nazareth the third most important city for Christianity – it is not mentioned once in the Qurʾān, either as geographical location, or even as a nominal reference in relation to Jesus as part of his name or the place of his birth. The name of the city is significant in Islam insofar as it is known in relation to the Arabic term Nasrānī, derived from the Syriac for “Nazarenes”; it is used as a term to refer to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, generically referencing Christians and by extension also foreigners in general (De Blois).
The city of Nazareth remained inconsequential throughout Muslim history (Buhl/Bosworth). Following its Muslim rule in 638 CE, Nazareth waned due to disasters, forays, and wars. The only reference made to it by the Arab historian Masūdī (d. 956) is that it is the birthplace of Jesus and that Christians are accordingly named al-Nasrāniyya (Le Strange). Nazareth was subject to a fierce battle in 1099 before being conquered by the Norman-Sicilian crusader Tranced, after which Salāḥ al-Dīn (Saladin) vanquished the crusaders during the battle of Hattin in 1187 and ruled over the city; however, he made a treaty with Richard I, the Lionheart, which still allowed Christians to visit their sacred sites.
When the Mamluks gained control over the city in 1263, Baybars (d. 1277) initially only destroyed its churches and killed those Christian inhabitants who resisted conversion. After Prince Edward retook Nazareth in 1271, the Mameluke armies regained control, destroyed the city, and killed all its Christian inhabitants in 1291 (Emmett). It is referenced with a local legend regarding Virgin Mary in the work of the early 13th-century Arab geographer Yāqūt al-Hamawī (d. 1229) and was mentioned as a Jewish town by the late-14th-century Arab geographer al-Dimashqī (d. 1327; Le Strange), Nazareth remained a poor and deteriorated town until the 17th century when the Druze emir Fakhr al-Din (d. 1635) became ruler of Galilee, allowing Christians to rebuild their sacred sites.
The first mosque in Nazareth was inaugurated during the early 19th century. Despite recurring hostilities, there is a record that Muslims and Christians mutually participated in each other’s religious traditions until the mid-20th century (Emmett). However, Muslim-Christian relations deteriorated toward the turn of the 21st century (Rabinowitz), culminating in the conflict over a mosque project to be built in commemoration of Shihab al-Din, a 12th-century martyr and native of Nazareth; this mosque project, however, remained unsuccessful because it coincided with the Nazareth 2000 Project, spearheaded by Pope John Paul II, which included the city in the celebrations commemorating the birth of Jesus (Tsimhoni). This affair irreversibly divided the Muslim and Christian segments of the city, further diminishing the significance of historical sites as they are part of the city’s Muslim heritage (Khamaisi).
De Blois, F., “Naṣrānī (Nαζωραῖος) and ḥanīf (ἐθνικός): Studies on the Religious Vocabulary of Christianity and of Islam,” BSOAS 65.1 (2002) 1–30.Search in Google Scholar
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As a qualifier, the phrase “of Nazareth” firmly locates the Jesus of the gospels in history, especially in the wake of the 19th-century quest of the historical Jesus (see “Quest of the Historical Jesus”). Ernest Renan in his Vie de Jésus (1863, Life of Jesus) flatly contradicted the traditional gospel account of Jesus’s birth at Bethlehem:
One of the great difficulties presented itself, his birth at Nazareth, which was of public notoriety. We do not know whether Jesus strove against this objection. Perhaps it did not present itself in Galilee, where the idea that the son of David should be Bethlehemite was less spread. (Renan: 131)
In England the impact of the higher criticism (see “Higher Criticism”) was to invite a number of speculative accounts of the life of Jesus. George Barlow’s verse drama with the title Jesus of Nazareth (1896) possibly teased the legal prohibition against biblical plays on stage with its sensational plot details, which included Mary Magdalene “stabbing to death the chief rabbi and Judas in quick succession, before instigating a fraudulent resurrection and making off to a distant land with Jesus as her husband” (Stevens: 230). More serious and scholarly was the Polish-born Yiddish writer Sholem Asch’s masterpiece, The Nazarene (Der man fun natseres, 1939), which provided a sympathetic view of the life of Jesus from a Jewish perspective.
Of modern novels about Jesus, Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation (O Teleftéos Pirasmós, 1955) contains probably the greatest number of scenes located in Nazareth. Nino Ricci’s novel Testament (2002), in keeping with its vividly defamiliarizing technique of using fictively authentic nomenclature, refers to Nazareth as “the town of Notzerah” and to Jesus (in the first three parts) as “Yeshua” of Notzerah.
The letters of Charles Langdon recounting his tour through the Holy Land in 1867 describe the prospect of the town of Nazareth as deeply disappointing, even leading him and his companions to enlist Nathaniel’s question of John 1:46, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Langdon: 74). In this it is typical of the collision between idealized imaginings of biblical sites and the humdrum reality of an actual visit.
The Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos’s poem “Nazareth” (1957) records another pilgrimage, in this case to the cave where the archangel Gabriel gave his message to Mary and this time by someone more moved by the experience:
Descending to the cave where the Archangel
made his announcement I think
of Mary, chosen vase.
Like any cup, easily broken;
like all vessels, too small
for the destiny she must contain. (Castellanos: 10)
Castellanos, R., “Nazareth,” in The Gospels in Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts (ed. D. Curzon; trans. M. Bogin; New York 1995).Search in Google Scholar
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Renan, E., The Life of Jesus (trans. C. E. Wilbour; London 1935).Search in Google Scholar
Stevens, J., The Historical Jesus and the Literary Imagination 1860–1920 (Liverpool 2010).Search in Google Scholar
VI Visual Arts
The city of Nazareth is represented in visual arts in various media. Especially frequent are depictions of the city as backdrop to the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–28). Late medieval and Renaissance images often show Mary’s house as the locus of the event, but the Annunciation is also depicted outdoors, with a symbolic representation of the city. This imagery is found in the Ottonian codex Egberti, a lectionary from Reichenau at the Stadtbibliothek in Trier from ca. 977. Nazareth, identified by a caption, dominates a third of the composition. A 10th-century Sacramentary from Fulda (now in the Biblioteca capitolare in Udine/Italy, MS 76,V/1, fol. 25v), shows the Virgin Mary in the center, pointing to an open book on a lectern, with the angel Gabriel and a two-storied building to the right. On the left, Nazareth is depicted as a round, walled city with a domed gate and five towers around a green enclosure. Two buildings are seen within the city, one longitudinal and the other circular. A similar depiction is found in a Sacramentary at Göttingen from 975 CE (originally also from Fulda/Germany, MS Theol. 231, fol. 30r). A round city seemingly floats between the angel and Mary. The walls feature towers and a domed gate, enclosing a basilica and a rotunda. These urban depictions of Nazareth could also allude to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where some legendary accounts place the Annunciation. The Orthodox tradition follows the infancy gospel of James in situating the Annunciation by a spring in Nazareth, marked by a small domed structure at a depiction of the scene at the Coptic Church of St. Paul in Deir Anba Bula (Egypt) from 1200–99.
Nazareth appears as backdrop to other NT scenes, predominantly Mary’s return to Nazareth (Luke 2:39) and Jesus’s rejection there (Luke 4:29). In the Bulgarian gospels of Ivan Alexander from 1356 (London/UK, British Library, Add MS 39627), Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are shown upon their return to Nazareth from Egypt (fol. 11v). A personification of Nazareth kneels at the gate, before the walls of the cylinder-shaped city. Opposite, a second walled city is recognized as Hermopolis. A representation of Nazareth by a single building in the scene of the return from Egypt is also found in a gospel book from 1000–99 at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, gr. 74, fol. 108r), originally from Constantinople. Here, too, Nazareth is depicted as a cylinder-shaped enclosure with a closed gate and small images of houses at the summit under miniature towers. The same scene features an elaborate urban representation of Nazareth in a Picture Bible in the Morgan Library (New York/US) from 1380–99 (originally from Swabia, MS M. 268, fol. 25v). Here within polygonal city walls Mary and the infant Jesus ride an ass led by Joseph. To either side men stand within towered gates and in the background a rich array of houses, roofs, and windows disclose a busy urban setting (see fig. 29).
The rejection of Jesus (Luke 4:28–29) likewise features views of Nazareth, for example in a Meditationes Vitae Christi from 1340–50 (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS ital. 115, fol. 104v). The scene here expands upon the biblical narrative by depicting Jesus hiding in a crevice within a rock that made room for him to avert an angry crowd. A 14th-century mosaic panel in the Church of St. Savior in Chora (Kariye Djami) in Istanbul shows Mary and Joseph enrolling for taxation and, in the western wall Mary and the infant Jesus on Joseph’s shoulders walking towards the walled city of Nazareth. An inscription ties the scene to Scripture with a quote from Matt 2:22–23.
Transported earth from Nazareth was kept at St. Michael’s Church at Fulda (820–822), venerated along with a rock from Mount Sinai and relics from Jerusalem. In the Holy Mountain of Varallo, Sesia (founded 1486, Nazareth featured by 1514) Nazareth was represented by a chapel, completing topographical markings for Bethlehem and Jerusalem. At the village of Walsingham in England pilgrims visit “England’s Nazareth” at least since the 15th century. One of England’s foremost pilgrimage centers, Walsingham’s priory contained a replica of the Holy House of the Annunciation from Nazareth, revealed to a local widow, Richelde in a vision. The shrine received two modern reconstructions, one Catholic and one Church of England. Walsingham’s modern Catholic reconstruction, begun at the end of the 19th century, was modeled after the Holy House in Loreto, Italy, reputed to contain the actual house from Nazareth, miraculously transported to there by angels.
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In music of every era and genre, the place name Nazareth, where it is included, refers to the home of Jesus for thirty years, and that of his parents Mary and Joseph, and later, to the name that linked Jesus to his home-place – Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus the Nazarene – by which he was widely known during his ministry.
In music based on the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38), Nazareth features as the place where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the good news of the coming birth of Christ in Advent carols such as Nova, Nova: Ave Fit Ex Eva, “Noel, Noel,” and “The Salutation Carol,” the latter which was set to the tune “Old English” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The place name also features in 15th-century motets, for example, Missus est Angelus for five voices (1565) by Orlande de Lassus, a quadripartite motet for Chrismastide or for the feast of the Assumption, first published in Perornatae sacrae cantiones liber secundus; in hymns such as Stars of the Morning with lyrics by John Mason Neale set to music by Henry Thomas Smart; and in chorales, most notably, Als der gütige Gott (BWV 264) by J. S. Bach.
Works devoted to the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and then on to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus highlight the role of Joseph, most notably in the Gregorian antiphon, Ascendit autem Ioseph (based on Luke 2:4–14) from the late medieval office in honor of Joseph, Officium Parvum de Sancto Ioseph; in various settings of this chant as a motet, for example, by Melchior Vulpius for SSATTB (1610) and Tomas Luis de Victoria; and in hymns and carols, such as the Christmas carol, Upon the Snowclad Earth (1876), which was set for SATB by Arthur Sullivan.
While many Christmas carols and songs emphasize Bethlehem as the place name of Jesus’s birth, the sacred song, Nazareth, which was set to music (for contralto or baritone voice and piano) by Charles Gounod to a text by A. Porte and translated from the original French into English by Henry F. Chorley, focuses on the city of Nazareth in its title. It is also known as Jésus de Nazareth.
References to Nazareth in music based on the return journey to Nazareth from Egypt are few, and include the Gregorian antiphon for Nones, from the Officium Parvum de Sancto Ioseph: Et consurgens ex Aegypto (Matt 2:23), and the Christmas hymn “Flight into Egypt” (1997) by Vincent Uher based on Plainchant mode V. The Gregorian antiphon, Descendit Jesus cum eis et venit Nazareth, based on Luke 2:51, and its setting as a motet for SATB voices by Nobuaki Izawa, recounts the departure of the holy family to Nazareth after Jesus, who aged twelve was found in the temple by Mary and Joseph, having been lost for three days. The rejection of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth (Mark 6:1–6) is recounted by Sir Arthur Sullivan in the oratorio, The Light of the World in no. 14, for baritone solo and chorus. After Jesus reads from Isaiah, the chorus interjects with questions: “Is not this Joseph’s son? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? Whence hath this man these things?”
The many references to the name Jesus of Nazareth in the books of the NT are also reflected in music from earliest centuries to the present day in numerous settings of the passion and death of Jesus, including the Benedictus antiphon for Matins of Good Friday, Posuerunt super caput ejus causum ipsius scriptam Jesus Nazarenus rex Judaeorum (They put over his head his charge in writing: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews), based on Matt 27:37 and John 19:19. Wagner also left prose sketches for an opera entitled Jesus of Nazareth, the idea for which arose out of “his study of the Graeco-Roman world and the New Testament together with some knowledge of biblical criticism” (Bell: 260). In popular culture, the soundtrack to the film Jesus of Nazareth (1977, UK/IT) directed by Franco Zeffirelli is a well-known work composed by Maurice Jarre. Other references to Jesus of Nazareth are contained in settings of the medieval plays, subsumed under the title Visitatio sepulchri (see “Liturgical Drama and Mystery Plays” and “Drama VI. Music B. Liturgical Drama”) in which the Quem quaeritis (Whom do you seek?) trope was chanted and later set to music by composers such as James MacMillian (1992–93). Lastly, the conversion of Paul in which Christ calls himself Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene, based on Acts 22:7–8, has enjoyed numerous settings in classical and popular music, including settings by Schütz (Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?), Mendelssohn (Paulus, Op. 36, no. 14, 1833–36), and Z. Randall Stroope’s (born 1953) a cappella choral composition The Conversion of Saul.
Popular hymns that link Jesus to Nazareth in their title include Jesus of Nazareth Look Down by Charles Wesley, Jesus of Nazareth, O What a Name by D. W. Whittle to the tune “DENVER,” and the gospel hymn Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By, with words by Emma F. R. Campell, inspired by the story of the healing of the blind man from Mark 10:47 and Luke 18:37.
Bell, R. H., “Richard Wagner’s Prose Sketches for Jesus of Nazareth,” JSHJ 155 (2017) 260–90.Search in Google Scholar
Dowling Long, S./J. F. A. Sawyer, The Bible in Music (Lanham, MD 2015).Search in Google Scholar
Virtually any movie focused on the life of Jesus and those around him is likely to reference Nazareth and usually includes it as an aspect of its setting; the question is whether the town is actually shown and whether the narrative follows the Gospel according to Matthew or Luke, since these are the only biblical texts in which Nazareth distinctly figures. Matthew 2:23 refers to the town as the place to which Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus return after their flight into Egypt, and Matt 4:13 designates it as the place from which Jesus set forth to begin gathering his disciples. Luke 1:26–27 refers to Nazareth as the town in which Mary was living at the time of the Annunciation.
Among the more interesting movie accounts is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s iconic black-and-white 1964 Italian film, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo). Shot in his signature neorealist style, the film relies entirely on verses from Matthew for its minimalist verbal component and includes the Nazarene landscape, but not the town itself.
Differently, Franco Zeffirelli’s full-color 1977 epic, Jesus of Nazareth, made as a miniseries for Italian and British television, follows Luke at the outset, setting all of the early action that leads to the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, as well as the Annunciation, in Nazareth.
Two years later, a production simply called Jesus, produced by the Campus Crusade for Christ (1979, USA) and directed by Peter Sykes, offered the narrative also largely based on Luke, but with Matthew’s final lines added in at the end, followed by a proselytic epilogue. An extended HB prelude, emphasizing anticipations of the Christ’s advent, from Adam to Abraham to Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah, leads to the narrative, which begins with Luke 1:27, referencing and briefly showing us the young Virgin Mary making her way along the byways of Nazareth.
By contrast, the 1995 Visual Bible International (USA) production of The Visual Bible: Matthew, directed by Regardt Van Den Bergh and starring Richard Kiley as Matthew (who narrates both on- and off-screen), presents the text of Matthew’s Gospel (after a brief prelude in which Matthew introduces himself off-camera) verse-by-verse, and thus mentions Nazareth twice by name. Yet Nazareth is never actually seen; at those moments in the story, Matthew is on-camera speaking to his listeners (including two young men writing down his story).
Nazareth is, on the other hand, a dominant visual feature of a very affecting 2012 Italian-German-Spanish movie made for television, Mary of Nazareth, produced by Ignatius Press Films. Written and directed by Giacomo Campiotti, and featuring Alissa Jung as Mary, this mini-epic (which may be the only film focusing on the Gospel narrative that correctly refers to “Judeans” rather than “Jews” as protagonists) spends much of the early part of the story – beginning with an extra-biblical event, in which the small child Mary evades soldiers searching for her at the orders of Herod’s wife (an event clearly intended as a less egregious forerunner of the later slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem) – in and around the Tunisian hill town that represents Nazareth.
Like the diverse modes taken by these and other films – from George Stevens’s flawed but iconic 1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told (US) to the clever 2000 claymation The Miracle Maker, directed by Stanislaw Sokolov and Derek Hayes (RU/UK), to Christopher Spencer’s 2014 made-for-TV Son of God (US) – Nazareth offers a diversity of “appearances,” from mere mention in referencing Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth” to fanciful or actual visuals of the city as an important early link in the chain of the salvational narrative.
Burgess, A., Man of Nazareth (New York 1979).Search in Google Scholar
“Dal Vangelo al piccolo schermo, a Pasqua Maria di Nazaret su Rai 1,” Adnkronos (March 31, 2012; www.www.adnkronos.com).Search in Google Scholar
Martellini, L., Pier Paolo Pasolini: retrato de un Intellectual (Valencia 2006). [Esp. 117–20]Search in Google Scholar
Sawyer, J. F. A., The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture (Hoboken, NJ 2012).Search in Google Scholar
“Three Epics Based on Christ,” Variety (November 25, 1958) 20.Search in Google Scholar
Turner, J. G., Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (Chapel Hill, NC 2008).Search in Google Scholar
Zeffirelli, F., Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus: A Spiritual Diary (New York 1984).Search in Google Scholar
- Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception
- Mouse, Mice – Nefesh
- Herausgegeben vonEdited by
- Constance M. Furey; Joel LeMon; Brian Matz; Steven L. McKenzie; Thomas Römer; Jens Schröter; Barry Dov Walfish; Eric J. Ziolkowski
- De Gruyter | 2022
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