“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Although he was born in Bethlehem in the south, Jesus’s home was in the north and he was raised in Nazareth which is in the region of Galilee. This was not a well regarded area, and had a mixed history. Originally the home of some of the Northern Tribes of Israel, the region had been conquered by the Assyrians in 722BC who were led by the marvellously named Tiglath-Pileser III. The Assyrian policy was to resettle their conquered regions, so the Israelites were moved to other parts of the Assyrian Empire and gentiles were settled in Galilee and the surrounding areas. For centuries Galilee was gentile country, until Aristobulus (High Priest and King of Judea from 104-103BC) adopted a policy of forced conversion to Judaism. However, the question lingered: how Jewish is Galilee? To make things worse, about ten miles north of Nazareth the landscape deteriorates and was home to bandits and groups of anti-Roman rebels.
Nazareth itself was a small town on a ridge overlooking the Jezreel Valley. The valley was fertile, and contained one of the main highways through Israel which thronged with military and trade traffic. This was also the site of many famous battles in the Old Testament, as well as the contest between the prophets of Baal and Elijah (1 Kings 17-18). A young Jesus would have looked over that valley and no doubt pondered all this rich history.
We read in Luke 4 of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, but far from fondly listening to this local man they rushed him out and attempted to stone him. No wonder Jesus lamented: “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown”. (Luke 4:24). In fact, soon after he moved to Capernaum which was the base of much of his early ministry.
This was the region which produced the Son of God. A rebellious backwater with deep gentile roots. A place of battles against the surrounding nations, and a place which eventually rejected Jesus. A place he left as he moved to Capernaum, and we will join him there next week.