Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7

We visited Nazareth, the place where Jesus was raised, on the first day of our Gate1 tour. That day dawned and stayed cold and wet! What an interesting start to my very first ever international tour!

Viewing Nazareth from atop Mount Precipice. (As you may be able to tell from the picture, it was very foggy and cold the day we visited.)

Nazareth lies in the center of Galilee in Northern Israel. It is a picturesque, hilly setting. The current city was built on top of the old village. Only a few archaeological remains from the time of Jesus have been discovered.

As of 2017, the population of Nazareth, known as the “Arab capital of Israel,” was over 75,000 people. Nearly 70% of those living in lower Nazareth today are Muslim; about 30% are Christian. The Jewish population lives in Upper Nazareth, known as Natzeret-Illitl.

In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was much smaller. The strongly Jewish population was estimated by American archaeologist James F. Strange as less than 500.

Nazareth is home to a number of Arab-owned high-tech companies, mostly in the field of software development. It is sometimes called the “Silicon Valley of the Arab community.” Another large employer is Israel Military Industries. About 300 people work there manufacturing munitions.

Christmas in Nazareth
Tourist info here. We didn’t stop in.
Souvenir shop. We didn’t take time to shop.
There are a lot of McDonald’s restaurants in Israel. Some are kosher, some are not.
There were times when I wasn’t sure I had ever really left America! McDonalds and Microsoft seemed much the same as here.
Shops like this lined the streets of Nazareth. Vendors called out to tourists, hawking everything from umbrellas to olive wood.

In Biblical Days

Mary, the young virgin betrothed to marry Joseph, of the House of David, lived in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, bringing her the news that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son. Can you imagine her shock?

The Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel

Luke 1: 26-33

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

King Herod was very jealous when he heard that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. He sought to kill Jesus, but God had directed Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plan.

The little family resided in Egypt until it was safe to return home to Nazareth. While not a lot was written about Jesus’ childhood, we know that He spent most of His childhood in the town of Nazareth.

Matthew 2:19-23

The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Basilica of the Annunciation

While we were in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, aka Church of the Annunciation. It was quite remarkable.

I apparently didn’t get a picture of the main doors through which you enter the church. They are worth a look. I did get some close-ups of some of the door.

The Church of the Annunciation has an interesting history. It was first built by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in the mid 4th century. It might interest you to know that Helena also built the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The original church was destroyed during an Arab invasion in 638 AD. In 1109, Crusaders arrive in Nazareth. They built the second church to honor the hometown of Jesus. Sometime between 1229 and 1263 AD, the church was destroyed again, this time by Mamluks (Azzahir Baibars).

In 1620 AD, the Franciscans purchased the ruins of the Basilica of the Annunciation and built the third church.  In 1730, the church was rebuilt for the fourth time. In 1877, the church was enlarged.

Finally, the church that stands today was built during 1955-1969. Designed by Giovanni Muzio, it is a beautiful structure that features two levels, the Upper Church, which is decorated with mosaics and artwork gifted to the church by nations across the world, and the Lower Church.

The Lower Church enshrines a sunken grotto that contains what is believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary. It is said that it was here that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Upper Church

Rainy day at the Basilica of the Annunciation. The concrete dome stands 55 meters high. It is in the shape of a Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
Magnificent upper church. This is the parish church for the Catholic community of Nazareth.
The walls are covered with mosaics given to the church by nations from around the world. At the center is one of the largest murals in the world, depicting the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.

 

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Spiral staircase leading to the Lower Church

Lower Church

Lower Church
View of the Lower Church
In the background is the home (cave) where it is believed that Mary lived and where Gabriel is said to have announced that she would be the mother of Jesus. The grotto is found on the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation. Flanking the cave are remains from the earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. The altar inside the cave is inscribed, “Here the Word was made flesh,” in Latin.
Simple altar in front of the cave home of Mary. Tiers of seats surround it on three sides.
The small altar in the Lower Church is situated directly under the Madonna lily-shaped cupola of the church.
Statue of Mary as the young girl to whom the angel Gabriel appeared and announced to her that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.

 

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel

 

Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6

Our Gate1 tour of Israel took us to Shepherds’ Field, one of three spots believed to be where shepherds learned about the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, Christians have chosen one spot – Shepherds’ Field, while Greek Orthodox believe the shepherds learned of the Savior’s birth in the eastern part of Beit Sahour and Catholics think the Christ child was announced about 400 meters north of the Greek Orthodox site, on the north ridge of Beit Sahour.

While the significance of the Lamb can’t be denied, young and old stood near Shepherds’ Field holding lambs. The hope was that you would stop and speak and maybe pet the lamb or ask for a picture with the lamb for a donation.

My opinion is that it doesn’t really matter which of the three spots is the one where the shepherds got the word that Jesus had been born. What is important is that He was born!

The cave where the Shepherds were keeping their sheep the night the angel told them of Jesus’ birth

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  Luke 2:6-15

Shepherds’ Field

Shepherds’ Field is east of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic sites. It is also in Beit Sahour, a community southeast of Bethlehem, originally known as the Village of the Shepherds.

The Field of Boaz is visible to the east of Shepherds’ Field. This is where Ruth, grandmother of King David, met and married Boaz.

Field of Boaz, aka Field of Ruth. The plains where Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, the forefather of Jesus, met and married Boaz. Ruth 2, 3

 

It was a cold, wet day in January when we visited Shepherd’s Field. It was amazing how warm and cozy it was when we entered the cave where Christians believe shepherds were tending their sheep the night they learned that the Christ child had been born.

The cave was fairly large, bigger than I would have guessed it would be. The ceiling was black from the fires that kept the shepherds and their flocks warm.

In the Bible study, the ROCK, the ROAD, and the RABBI, with Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel, we learn that it is probable that the shepherds weren’t just your run of the mill sheep tenders. Instead, they were likely Levitical shepherds whose job it was to raise the blemish-free lambs to be sacrificed at the Temple in nearby Jerusalem.

The caves where the shepherds took their ewes before they gave birth to new lambs were necessarily kept in a state of purity since Jewish law required the lambs to be pure. So, the cave where Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born was almost certainly one used by the Levitical shepherds, one that had been purified.

The cave at Shepherd’s Field where Christians believe shepherds were tending their sheep when they learned Jesus was born.
Notice the size of the cave and the black, soot-covered ceilings.
The church at Shepherds’ Field. We were not able to visit the church.
Statue of a Shepherd and his flock outside of the Shepherds’ Field church

Archaeological Ruins of Five Churches Found at Shepherds’ Field

Excavations uncover multiple churches from early centuries

The beautiful Shepherds’ Field church is new. In 1972, the Archimadrite Seraphim, the leader of the Monastery of Saint Savva, decided to build the full-sized church over the cave at Shepherds’ Field.  It was while excavating the foundation for the new church that they found the remains of three additional ancient churches.

There are now the remains of five early-century churches found near Shepherds’ Field:

  • The Natural Cave Church dates to the second half of the 4th century
  • The Cave Church, dating to the 5th century
  • The Roof Chapel, dating to the 5th century
  • The Basilica, from the 6th century
  • The Monastery Church, which dates to the 7th century

 

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel
Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee
Journey to Israel … Ginosar and the “Jesus Boat”
Journey to Israel … St Peter’s Restaurant

 

Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Where It Started … Part 3

Our tour of the Holy Land did not follow the timeline of Jesus’ life. For instance, we didn’t go to Bethlehem, where our Savior was born, until the sixth day of our visit. By the time we went to His birthplace, we had already seen where He was baptized and where He died, was buried, and rose again.

I have decided to try to put as much as I can into chronological order rather than how we saw the landmarks while on our tour. I think it will make more sense that way. Naturally, you can skip around this blog at your convenience and can visit whichever page(s) you desire in the order that pleases you.

Notice the Christmas tree on the left and the Peace Center on the right. (I believe the Peace Center actually may just be a restaurant, but given the political situation, I thought it might be something more significant…)

Bethlehem

It takes someone much smarter than I am to understand how the West Bank and occupied territories all work. I’ve tried to do some research on it all, but I am sorry to say that my mind is left spinning.

So, while I do not purport to understand it all, suffice it to say that Bethlehem is in the West Bank. Our Jewish Israeli tour guide was unable to accompany us into Bethlehem because it is under Palestinian rule.

There is a sign at the border warning Israelis that they could be hurt if they cross over into the West Bank. If I understand correctly, this is because of Israel laws, not Palestinian.

 

Israeli citizens – turn around! You are not allowed here!

Therefore, we were given a Christian Palestinian to guide us through Shepherds’ Field and the Church of the Nativity. I wish I better understood all of the politics of it.

The Names of Bethlehem

Bethlehem plays an important role in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. In Biblical times, it was known as Bethlehem Ephrathah or Bethlehem-Judah. Currently, you may hear it referred to as Bethlehem or by its Arabic name Bayt Laḥm (which translates to “House of Meat”) or its Hebrew name, Bet Leḥem (meaning “House of Bread”).

Getting to Bethlehem

Today, Bethlehem is located in the West Bank. It is only about five miles south of Jerusalem, situated in the Judaean Hills. To get here, though, you have to cross out of Israel and into the West Bank. Fences and warnings abound.

In recent years, tourists quit going to Bethlehem because it was simply deemed to be too dangerous. However, the Palestinians have made great effort to remedy that situation since much of its economy is tourist-driven.

Border security.

Bethlehem in Biblical Times

Bethlehem is important to Christians for many reasons, most especially because it is where our Savior was born over 2,000 years ago. The Church of the Nativity, which stands over the cave where Jesus was born, is one of the oldest Christian churches.

It was initially built by Helena (326-328), mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I. The original church was destroyed but it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Justinian (reigned 527–565). It remains substantially the same today as it was then.

Luke 2:4-7:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 

Bethlehem is important to Christian pilgrims for more reasons than “just” the birth of Christ:

  • Rachel, Jacob’s wife and the mother of Benjamin, died during childbirth on the way to Bethlehem (aka Ephrath). She was buried there. (Genesis 35:16-20)
  • It is where most of the Book of Ruth took place. Ruth married Boaz in Bethlehem. They ultimately became the great-grandparents of the mighty King David.
  • King David was born and raised in Bethlehem. It was there that he was anointed king of Israel by the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 16).
  • King David’s grandson, Rehoboam, who became the first king of Judah (2 Chronicles 11), fortified the town.
  • Shepherds’ Field, where the Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds tending their sheep and announced the birth of Christ is also near Bethlehem.
  • King Herod assassinated all boys in Bethlehem, ages two and under, in a jealous rage after he heard that Jesus, King of the Jews, was born. He hoped that by killing all young boys he would do away with the Christ-child.

Bethlehem Today

The population of Bethlehem and surrounding villages today is over 220,000 people, including over 20,000 living in three refugee camps (Dheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin). While Christians made up most (86%) of the population of Bethlehem in 1950, that is no longer the case. Now, according to Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun, Christians make up only 12% of the population.

Church in Bethlehem

 

Sadly, Baboun says that the unemployment rate in Bethlehem is a staggering 27%. Part of the reason for this high unemployment is the declining tourism trade. Most tourists, even if they go to Bethlehem, do not stay long and spend little of their money there.

When we were there as part of our tour, we ate lunch in Bethlehem, quickly visited Shepherds’ Field, spent an hour or so at the Church of the Nativity (including waiting to be allowed down to the cave over which the church sits), visited a very commercial, very expensive shop, and left.

Angel carved from Olive wood. Beautiful and expensive.

I personally spent a total of $16 US in Bethlehem, the cost of my lunch. I suspect that was also the case for many of the other people who were on our tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t help Bethlehem’s local economy much by our visit.

Just for Fun

Before I leave this page, I want to leave you with a touch of America that has made it across the ocean to the West Bank. Not only did we pass a number of McDonald’s fast food restaurants during our journeys – some kosher, some not – we saw lots of other American companies represented in the Middle East.

Coffee, anyone? I loved the play on words here. (Although I didn’t see it while in Bethlehem, there is also a Walled Off Hotel … playing off the name of the popular Waldorf Hotel in America.)
KFC, Samsung, Dell … All brands we know and love here in America!
You can find Coca Cola at most restaurants. I didn’t have one so I am not sure if it tastes the same as in the US. Notice, too, our American Santa pushing the product!

 

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel
Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee
Journey to Israel … Ginosar and the “Jesus Boat”
Journey to Israel … St Peter’s Restaurant