Nazareth | (2023)

NAZARETH (Heb. נָצְרַת), town in Galilee, mentioned several times in the New Testament as the home to which Mary and Joseph, her husband, returned with the child from Egypt and where *Jesus was brought up (Matt. 2:23; Luke 2:39, 51). Archaeological evidence has shown that the area was settled as early as the Middle Bronze Age, and tombs have been found dating from the Iron Age to Hasmonean times. According to the New Testament, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth before Jesus' birth, which was announced there to Mary by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26; 2:4). When Jesus tried to preach to the people of the town, he was attacked, his assailants attempting to throw him headlong from a cliff, identified by tradition as the Jebel Qafza, a hill 350 m. above sea level. Although he left Nazareth, possibly as a result of the incident (Luke 4:16–30; Matt. 4:13), the name Jesus of Nazareth nevertheless remained in common use both in his lifetime and among his followers, especially the apostle Peter. Members of Jesus' family continued to live in Nazareth at least into the second century. The term "Nazarene" was a derogatory name utilized by one's enemies during the first century (Matt. 21:11), and the Hebrew and Arabic terms for Christians (Noẓeri, Nasrāni) are derived from the town's name. Nazareth is not mentioned in non-Christian sources until the third or fourth century, when it was recorded in an inscription found at Caesarea listing the priestly courses and their seats in Galilee. According to this list (which is reproduced in the seventh-century liturgical poems of Kallir and others), the family of Happizzez (i Chron. 24:15) settled in Nazareth, a name derived in this source from the root nṣr (to guard). It is described by Jerome as a very small village in Galilee (Onom. 141:3). Constantine may have included it in the territory of Helenopolis, a city which he founded, but the town remained purely Jewish in the fourth century.

Excavations conducted by B. Bagatti from 1955 to 1968 on the site of the Church of the Annunciation revealed the remains of a church with a mosaic pavement dating to about 450. Below the church and nearby were the remains of a Jewish town from the Roman period in which were pear-shaped silos, vaulted cellars, cisterns, ritual immersion pools (mikva'to), and olive presses. Among the remains were about 80 partly-stuccoed and inscribed stones, as well as column bases. The excavators view these finds as the remnants of a Judeo-Christian synagogue or a Constantinian church built for Jews. The first mention of a church in Nazareth was made in 570 by Antoninus Placentinus, who describes it as a converted synagogue.

In 614 the Jews in the mountains of Nazareth joined the Persians in their war against the Byzantines. Shortly before the Crusader conquest, the town was destroyed by Muslim Arabs. Tancred captured Nazareth, and the Crusaders built a church, whose finely sculptured capitals (now in the Franciscan Museum) exhibit French workmanship of the 12th century. The archbishopric of Beth-Shean was transferred to Nazareth during the Crusades. After winning the decisive battle against the crusader forces on July 4, 1187, Saladin captured the town; its crusader forces and European clergy were forced to retreat to the coast. At that time, according to an eyewitness account, the townspeople were either massacred or imprisoned while the Basilica was profaned. The city was again in Christian hands in 1240 and 1250, and in 1252 St. Louis of France visited there. In 1263 Baybars ordered a pogrom against the Christians and destruction of churches of the land which included the Basilica at Nazareth, which remained in ruins for 400 years. The Franciscans returned to the town in 1620 by permission of the emir Fakhr al-Dīn. A new church was built under Ẓāhir al-ʿAmir in 1730. In 1955 the present Basilica was commissioned by Franciscans, and the building was consecrated in 1969 based upon a three-level design incorporating the remains from a Roman Period pubic building and the Byzantine and Crusader Basilicas in the lower church.

[Michael Avi-Yonah /

Stephen Phann (2nd ed.)]

Modern Nazareth and Naẓerat Illit

In April 1799 *Napoleon's troops occupied Nazareth, but with his retreat it was recaptured by Aḥmad Jazzār Pasha. In 1890 the German scholar G. Schumacher estimated Nazareth's population at 7,500. Shortly before the outbreak of World War i, the German military command established its Palestinian headquarters there. The town was taken by the British in 1918; at that time there were 8,000 inhabitants, two-thirds of whom were Christian, and the rest Muslim. In the 1920s Nazareth's economy was still based largely on agriculture, as its inhabitants owned lands in the Jezreel Valley. The town remained surrounded with olive groves, which supplied it with raw materials for the manufacture of oil and soap. The Muslim element in Nazareth was strengthened when villagers from the vicinity were absorbed there. Nazareth became a market center for a wide agricultural region and a pilgrimage and tourist center, developing handicrafts, while inhabitants also found work in the Haifa industrial zone.

In July 1948, during the War of Independence, the Israel army took Nazareth from Kaukji's forces in "Operation Dekel." Its population remained and was augmented by Arabs who had abandoned other locations in Israel. It thus increased from 9,000 inhabitants in 1947 to 25,100 in 1961 and 32,900 in 1969, Muslims attaining a slight majority over Christians. In 2002 the population of Nazareth was 61,700, with a municipal area of 6.4 sq. mi. (16.5 sq. km.). It included 67% Muslims and 33% Christians. Unemployment reached 14%, including 80% among women, and income was about half the national average. Tensions between Muslims and Christians, increasing as the Muslims gained hegemony, reached a peak when Muslim residents sought to build a mosque near the Church of the Annunciation.

Nazareth became the largest Arab center in the State of Israel (in its pre-1967 borders) and, with a number of private and public secondary schools, an important center of Arab education and culture. It has a hinterland of Arab villages both in Galilee to the north and in the southern Jezreel Valley and the Iron Hills to the south, constituting a highway junction connected with Haifa, Tiberias, Afulah, and Shefar'am. In 1970 Nazareth had 24 churches and convents of different Christian denominations, the newest being the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation–the largest church in the Middle East–constructed between 1955 and 1968 over the Grotto of the Annunciation and the foundations of the original Byzantine church. Tourism and pilgrimages have been important sources of Nazareth's economy. Other branches of its economy comprise small industries and workshops and administrative services. An increasing number of laborers have been employed in Naẓerat Illit.

In 2000, Nazareth was declared a high-priority tourist site, and the Nazareth 2000 Project initiated large-scale roadwork and rehabilitation of the Old City, together with the construction of new hotels and museums.

In 1957 the ground was laid for the neighboring Jewish development town of Naẓerat Illit. Israel-born settlers formed the nucleus of its population, which was augmented by immigrants mainly from Europe. It received city status in 1974. Its population increased from 1,000 in 1957 to 13,200 in 1969, and reached 35,200 by the mid-1990s and 44,290 in 2002, including 91% Jews, 2% Muslims, and the rest Christians. In these latter years the city absorbed 25,000 new immigrants, which led to construction of new neighborhoods. The municipal area extends over 11.5 sq. mi. (29.7 sq. km.). The city has broad avenues tracing the hill contours, with large apartment buildings occupying the western and central sections and industrial structures on the eastern one. The economy of Nazerat Illit was based on relatively large enterprises. In the early 2000s, its industrial areas included approximately 100 factories in various industries, such as food, textiles, electronics, steel, etc.

[Shlomo Hasson /

Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)


C. Kopp, Holy Places of the Gospels (1963), 49ff.; idem, in: jpos, 18 (1938), 181ff.; 20 (1946), 29ff.; M.J. Stiassny, Nazareth (Eng., 1967); Prawer, Ẓalbanim, index; M. Barash, in: Eretz-Israel, 7 (1964), 125–34 (Heb. section); A. Olivari, in: La Terre Sainte (Aug.–Sept. 1961), 201–6; M. Benvenisti, Crusaders in the Holy Land (1970), index; W.E. Pax, In the Footsteps of Jesus (1970), index. add. bibliography: B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth, vol. 1, From the Beginning till the xii Century, tr. from Italian by E. Hoade (1969); B. Bagatti and E. Alliata, Excavations in Nazareth, vol 2, From the 12thCentury until Today, tr. from Italian by R. Bonanno (2002). Websites:;

Encyclopaedia Judaica Avi-Yonah, Michael; Phann, Stephen; Hasson, Shlomo; Gilboa, Shaked

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