Many people travel to Israel with an expectation to experience the Scriptures come alive – to feel the real sense of being in the Bible land. For many, it is a lifetime dream, while for some, a personal pilgrimage. There is always something new and interesting to share, especially the luxury of living in the past. True, Israel is a modern country with all the contemporary amenities, yet deep within each, one sees glimpses of the Biblical era in the terrain, desert areas and vegetation during the drive from place to place and so there is rarely any disappointment. Bible stories come alive, simply at the mention of places.
The name Nazareth stirs evocative pictures in the mind and the illustrated Bible stories come alive imaginatively – Shepherds tending flocks, a donkey with some fresh bread on its back, activity in a village with its residents going about their daily chores, stone dwellings, children on the street, young women at the village well having tête-à-tête and guards at the watch tower keeping watch.
Nazareth is one of the ‘must-see’ places in every visit-Israel itinerary. It is a bustling city with a population of approximately 70,000 people. For nearly 2,000 years hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have found their way to the setting that moulded the Man who changed the course of history. This is where the birth of Jesus was announced to his mother, Mary, where he grew up and spent most of his boyhood. It is in Galilee, where you still see those landscapes, the backdrop of Jesus’ parables and words of encouragement come alive. Where the Bible comes alive.
Nazareth Village is a project that attempts to reconstruct life in the first century and is located on the last remaining tract of virgin farmland, just 500 meters away from where Jesus grew up – almost right in the center of town. It brings to life the Galilean village scenes, recreating Nazareth as it was 2,000 years ago – a Jewish village under Roman occupation. The project has been in operation for a few years now and is a non profit organization, supported by people from around the world. It is a result of 15 years of archaeological, architectural and academic research led by the University of the Holy Land.
Once inside the main entrance the tour begins. A guide leads you through the ancient doors of Nazareth, stepping back in time through four rooms with a detailed introduction to life as it was 2,000 years ago. You will learn of the trade, how the land was made ready for the crops and the produce was transported to the market place and most significantly, what it was like for the Jewish people to live under the Roman rule, including an explanation of the crucifixion. There are some poignant and interesting tidbits of what Jesus’ boyhood life was like in the tiny village Nazareth once was.
Step through ancient doorways into another time and place. Whatever the season you visit the Nazareth Village, there is some significant element of the annual cycle of life as is represented in the Scriptures. In spring there wafts the smell of ripening grain. In winter you will experience the plowing of wheat in full swing. In summer, when we visited, figs were heavy on the trees and there were some olives, too.
As we walked into the village, we were met by a farmer going about his business with a donkey carrying a load on its back and a shepherd tending the sheep. These are people clad in biblical costumes and perform other activities relative of the ancient times.
One notices that most of the residents in this tiny village made their living from the soil. Interestingly, the Hebrew name of Nazareth is derived from an agricultural root. It comes form the word, ‘netzer’ meaning ‘shoot’ (mentioned in the book of the Prophet Isaiah chapter 11 verse 1), referring to an offshoot of an olive tree. The tour simply sprung to life as we learned of how olives were picked and crushed to produce oil at the ancient Olive Press. Olive oil was used to light the lamps in people’s homes, cooking, soothing their skin and also, so importantly, in anointing the kings of the Old Testament. One of the most exciting archaeological discoveries at Nazareth Village was a wine press hewn out of the bedrock that our Guide stood upon as she narrated the tour. Such small presses were common features in the Hellenistic and Early Roman Period. But the location of this wine press – only 500 meters from the original village of Nazareth – makes it very significant
Additionally, there was an opportunity to understand the role of women in the ancient household. The Jewish texts are full of references. In a reconstructed home, we watched as the lady weaver plied her art. Work begins with wool, after the shearing of the sheep. Then comes the cleaning, dyeing and finally the spinning. It was easy to imagine Mary, mother of Jesus, at this task. You can try your hand at it – trust me it isn’t as easy as it looks! Baking traditional flat bread over an open fire and drawing of water form the well are two other traditional occupations of women in those times.
Visiting Joseph’s carpentry shop was an experience. Joseph demonstrates his skill in a manner that would help one imagine the trade in those days. One of the most moving sites is the synagogue. You will be told of the story of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue where “he stood to read” from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. Sitting on the steps of the synagogue gives one an experience akin to what Jesus and his contemporaries may have had whilst gathering in a council hall at the time where important decisions were made.
Nazareth Village offers visitors a true to life ‘tent’ experience too. There is biblical lentil stew, fruit and vegetables grown from the hillsides and warm flat pita bread baked right in front of you.
If you go:
Guided tours are available in English, Hebrew, Arabic and other languages (on request). Advance reservations are recommended. As mentioned earlier, each season brings new things to see at the Nazareth Village. There are four different programs to choose from: Meal Tour, Standard Tour, Pilgrim Tour and Lost Coin tour. The village is open from 8:30am-5:00pm; 8:30am-3:00 pm on Saturdays; closed on Sundays. There is an Entrance fee. You can avail of the local reliable Egged bus service from Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberius or Afula. The Village can also be reached by car. For exact directions it is best to call the Nazareth Village. They can also be contacted through their site: www.nazarethvillage.com.
This visit to the Nazareth Village is a worthwhile experience where scripture history has come alive to enrich, beyond words!
Irene is a contributor to Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to Israel.
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