In search of Jesus' Nazareth
Traces of biblical times scant in modern incarnation
In this story:
December 24, 1996
Web posted at: 2:50 p.m. EST (1950 GMT)
From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers
Nazareth, Israel (CNN) -- For nearly two millenia, Nazareth has been holy to pilgrims because it's the place
where Christmas and Christianity began. Much has changed in
2,000 years, but pilgrims still come in search of Jesus
Christ's home town. Some are disappointed in what they find. (1.4M/2 min. and 29 sec. QuickTime movie)
According to the Bible, in the Gospel of Luke, the angel
Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to tell a young, virgin Jewish
girl named Mary she had found favor with God and would
conceive and bring forth a son called Jesus.
"She must have committed her life to understanding the
almighty and God made her his choice," said the Anglican
bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Abu El-Assal.
Then, as now, if an unwed Middle Eastern girl becomes
pregnant, she might be stoned to death, but Mary had the
courage to "accept the challenge," El-Assal told CNN. (286K/26 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Luke tells us Mary was promised to a young carpenter named
Joseph who found it difficult to learn his bride was with
child. It took an angel messenger to ease his anguish.
The bishop calls Joseph "a man of goodwill who listened to
the voice of God."
As a young man, Jesus took up his father's craft, and
carpentry remains an honored profession in Nazareth. Today,
young men still learn to work with wood as Jesus must have
Nazareth: then and now
But looking for modern evidence of the holy family can be
frustrating, pilgrims report. The biblical village of 400
people is now home to 60,000, most of them Christian Arabs.
And Nazareth is now almost as noted for its traffic jams as
it is for Jesus.
"It's much noisier and dirtier than I thought it would be,"
says one recent visitor. But another pilgrim expresses a
view that faith is stronger than personal comfort. "Jesus
died for us," she says.
Three holy sites in Nazareth lay claim as the location for
the Annunciation -- where the angel Gabriel called Mary. At
one site -- with a fountain noted in Greek Orthodox tradition
-- thirsty pilgrims can drink free holy water.
The belief in Christianity has also brought commerce to
Nazareth. Carvings made of olive wood are plentiful, as is
the sound of cash registers.
Street beggars, cell phones
Signs of old and new are easily juxtaposed in Nazareth, where
blind beggars and cell phone users can both be seen on city
But perhaps the best thread of continuity to biblical times
is the donkey, the lowly animal Mary rode to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
Donkeys "were and still are used by the poor people," says
Dr. Geries Saed-Khouri, a biblical scholar and director of the Al-Liqa Center. They "help us reflect on the poor."
But no longer do donkeys carry the Virgin. Instead, they are
used to collect garbage on streets too narrow for trucks.
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