FACTS ABOUT ANCIENT NAZARETH
The village of Nazareth as it was in the late 19th century
The original caption to this photograph reads:
OLD NAZARETH FROM THE SOUTH
The bushes at left of the photograph hide the modern town of Nazareth, much grander in appearance. All this area was built over in the 20th century.
ABOUT ANCIENT NAZARETH - FOOD
Nazareth's position in the hills south of Sepphoris was perfect for the three main Mediterranean dietary items: grain, olives, and grapes.
The south-facing slopes over which the village's houses spread were ideal for vines. Deep blue grapes covered trellises or bowed towards the ground.
The ravines in the slope and the rocky ground were suitable for clusters of trees whose olives were gathered, crushed with large grinding stones, pitted, and pressed for oil.
The fields on the slopes could grow the various grains—wheat, barley, and millet whose chaff was separated on threshing floors with winnowing.
The alluvial soil south of the village was sufficiently fertile for vegetables and legumes. Terraces built and irrigated along the steeper slopes maximized the grain harvests and could also support fig and pomegranate trees.
An adequate water source was located at the western edge of the village, now called the Well of the Virgin, and trickled along the length of the village, giving the people of ancient Nazareth the ability to grow their own food.
ABOUT ANCIENT NAZARETH - ITS SIZE
The village in the first century was small. We know this because of the discovery of many underground tombs. These were chiseled into the soft limestone bedrock, and their position shows the limits of the village's perimeter to the west, east, and south, since burial was always done outside inhabited areas.
Steep ravines and ancient terraces on the northern slope confined the oval-shaped settlement.
It would have been 2,000 feet at its greatest east-west length and around 650 feet at its greatest north-south width, though the actual area inhabited in the first century was much less, perhaps only around ten acres.
The people of Nazareth were essentially farmers, so they needed space between the houses for livestock and their enclosures, as well as gardens and orchards.
Nazareth would have had a population of around two to four hundred in antiquity, that is to say, several extended families or clans.
ABOUT ANCIENT NAZARETH - ITS HOUSES
We assume that houses were simply constructed with roughly hewn fieldstones, which were stacked atop each other, held together by smaller stones packed into the spaces, and smeared with clay, mud, or even dung mixed with straw for insulation.
Floors were of packed dirt or beaten earth.
The absence of arches, girders, and roof tiles implies that the roofs were thatched, with wooden ceiling beams supporting a thick bed of straw or reeds, which protected the beams from dampness and was itself covered with packed mud for insulation.
Many of the houses had subterranean cavities. There were bell-shaped cisterns for storing water, and other plastered cisterns would have been used to store grain. Many dwellings were built around caves that were used for living space - which underscores the humble status of the little village.
ABOUT ANCIENT NAZARETH - ARCHAEOLOGY
The pottery found at Nazareth is very modest. It is almost all locally made and utilitarian: coarse cooking pots, casserole dishes, water jugs and storage jars.
The tombs surrounding Nazareth were also very modest. Each of them was typically Jewish. The body was first buried in a body-length shaft cut at right angles into the walls of the tomb chamber, sealed with a large stone rolled into place. When the flesh had decayed, the remaining bones were gathered together and usually placed in an ossuary or bone box.
Ritual bathing pools or mikveh were also found at Nazareth. Used for ritual-purity immersion by Jews, they were found at virtually every Jewish site in Galilee, the Golan, and Judea.
The little village of Nazareth, off the main road, over the hill but still within walking distance of the city of Sepphoris, was Jesus' home. The peasant families who lived there eked out a living, paid their taxes, and tried to live in peace. They were observant Jews, so they circumcised their sons, celebrated Passover, took a day from work on the Sabbath, travelled as pilgrims to Jerusalem, and valued the traditions of Moses and the prophets.
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