Provinces of Palestine

Palestine Provinces in Jesus’ time

Bible study information

  • Locate the main cities and provinces at the time of Jesus. Note especially the distance between Jerusalem, the capital, and Galilee, where Jesus came from.
  • How does this map help you to understand the story of Jesus from Galilee?

The provinces of Palestine in the time of Jesus – Judea, Idumea, Samaria, Galilee and Perea

After much hesitation, the emperor Augustus decided in 4 B.C. to divide King Herod‘s kingdom among his three surviving sons, as Herod had advised him to do before his death.

  • Archelaus, the son of Malthace the Samaritan, was appointed ethnarch (“ruler of the nation”) over Judea, Idumea, and Samaria. The cities of Caesarea and Sebaste were included in his domain, which included Jews and non-Jews in about equal proportions.
  • Herod Antipas, the second son, received two purely Jewish, but widely separated, areas: Galilee (where Jesus of Nazareth spent a large part of his life) and Perea (Jewish Transjordan).
  • The third son. Herod Philip, was endowed with the newly settled lands of the Gaulanitis, Batanea, Trachonitis and Auranitis, as well as Caesarea Panias. Most of his subjects were probably non-Jews, but as the Jews in his lands had been settled by Herod the Great, they were loyal to the dynasty.
  • Salome, Herod‘s sister, (not the princess Salome who asked for the head of John Baptist) got Jamnia and Azotus, and Phasaelis in the Jordan valley.

The cities of Gaza, Gadara, and Hippus, which had seethed with rebellion under Herod’s rule, were attached to the province of Syria.

All of Herod’s sons tried to imitate their father in building cities; Archelaus even called a new settlement in his own name: Archelais.

  • Antipas built Tiberias (named in honor of the emperor Tiberius) and Livias (in honor of the emperor’s mother).
  • Philip added to Caesarea Panias, which was from this time called Caesarea Philippi, and built Julias (also in honor of Livia) near Bethsaida.
  • Archelaus had a short and turbulent reign and was banished in 6AD, his lands being handed over to a Roman procurator.

Herod Antipas remained till 39 A.D. Only Philip died in possession of his tetrarchy, in 34 AD.

Gospel texts: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17:317-321
Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2:93-98

Fertile land around the Sea of Galilee

Fertile land around the Sea of Galilee

The Negev

The Negev

The rich coastal plain between Tel Aviv and Haifa

The rich coastal plain between Tel Aviv and Haifa

Jerusalem buildings

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why did King Herod want to rebuild and embellish ancient Jerusalem?
  2. What did Herod do to embellish the sacred Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
  3. How did he pay for all this?

Herod's buildings in Jerusalem

Herod was one of the ancient world’s great builders, and he transformed Jerusalem into a world-class city. He had various reasons for doing so:

  • he loved pomp and ostentation, and wanted a suitable background for the magnificent king he was determined to be
  • he wanted to immortalize his name so that it rang through the centuries – he did this, but in ways he could never have forseen
  • he needed to secure his rule, since he was only half-Jewish and none too popular with his subjects
  • and he had to appease the hostile population and provide it with work.

These were Herod’s main motives for fortifying and ernbellishing Jerusalem. The revenues he derived from trade and taxes allowed him to build a magnificent palace in the northwestern corner of the Upper City (see reconstruction below). It was guarded on the north by three structures that he named

  • Phasael, after his brother
  • Mariamme in honor of the beautiful Jewish princess, his wife, whom he later murdered
  • and Hippicus, after his closest friend and supporter. See reconstruction of these towers below.

The only known image of the Temple made before its destructionHe also built a theater in the part of the city inhabited by wealthy Hellenizers, raised an inner wall to protect the Upper City, and strengthened the North Gate in the Second Wall. South of the Temple Mount he built a stadium, probably in the Tyropoean valley.

Herod was even more active on the Temple Mount: doubling the area of the Temple esplanade and girdling it with walls and porticoes. lts most prominent feature was the ‘royal portico’ (basilica) in the south of the square, which Herod connected with the Upper City by a second bridge, known after its discoverer as ‘Robinson’s arch’ (see reconstruction below). At right is a coin dating from this period; it is the only known contemporary image of the Temple as reconstructed by Herod the Great.

The king also rebuilt the Temple proper and to secure control over theTemple rebuilt the old Baris, at the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount, into a huge fortress, which he called ‘Antonia’ in honor of his Roman patron and friend, Mark Antony.

Herod was also active as a builder outside his capital: he founded the harbor city of Caesarea in place of Strato’s Tower and rebuilt Samaria, calling the new city ‘Sebaste’ in honor of the Roman emperor Augustus. He built fortresses at Herodium and near Jericho, and entirely reconstructed Macherus (where John the Baptist was beheaded) and Masada on the two opposing shores of the Dead Sea.

Gospel texts: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15:318, 380-425
Josephus, Wars of the Jews 1:401, 5:108, 161, 238, 246, 507, 7:172-177

The fortress towers built adjacent to the royal palace. See middle left of map at the top of this page.

The fortress towers built adjacent to the royal palace. See middle left of map at the top of this page.

Reconstruction of the palace headquarters of the High Priests, including Caiphas

Reconstruction of the palace headquarters of the High Priests, including Caiphas

Reconstruction of the palace of the Hasmonean royal family in Jerusalem

Reconstruction of the palace of the Hasmonean royal family in Jerusalem

Reconstruction of one of the entrances to the Temple precincts

Reconstruction of one of the entrances to the Temple precincts

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Maps of Jerusalem through the centuries

Traditional Christmas carols

German & English Christmas Carols

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Scroll down the page. Which of these Christmas carols do you know? Which are new to you?
  2. Are you by yourself? Pick your favorite Christmas song and sing it. Go on, let it rip!!

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Birth of Jesus

Wise Men the Magi

What is an 'Angel'?

Paintings of angels

Food in ancient times

Favorite hymns

Listen to 10 great Christian songs – then sing one!!

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Youtube link

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Refrain: I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. Refrain

Words by Civilla D. Martin, 1905

‘Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr and Mrs Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs Doolittle had been bed-ridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr Martin and me. The hymn His Eye Is On The Sparrow was the outcome of that experience.’ (Civilla Martin)

All Things Bright & Beautiful

Youtube Link

Chorus: All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings. Chorus

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning,
That brightens up the sky. Chorus

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well. Chorus

Amazing Grace

Youtube link

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me..

I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares…
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord’s my shepherd

Youtube link

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie

In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul he doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for his own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill:
For thou art with me, and thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head thou dost with oil anoint
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

Nearer My God to Thee

Youtube link

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.

Refrain: Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee!
Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone.
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God to Thee.

There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest,
There in my Savior’s love, perfectly blest;
Age after age to be, nearer my God to Thee.

This Little Light of Mine

Youtube link

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Won’t let Satan blow it out.
I’m gonna let it shine.
Won’t let Satan blow it out.
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Let it shine til Jesus comes.
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine til Jesus comes.
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel – NO!
I’m gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel – NO!
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Let it shine over the whole wide world,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine over the whole wide world,
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Onward Christian Soldiers

Youtube link

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Refrain: Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise. Refrain

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail. Refrain

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing. Refrain

Silent Night

Youtube link

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

The Day Thou Gavest Lord

Youtube link

The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;

To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

How Great Thou Art

Youtube link

Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made,

I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed;

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When through the woods & forest glades I wander
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze; Refrain

And when I think that God his son not sparing,
Sent him to die – I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin Refrain

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home- what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art! Refrain

Find Out More

Nazareth in the gospels

Maps Nazareth & Jerusalem

Time-line – The Christian Era

Time-line for the life of Jesus

The life of Jesus, and the early Church

People who were in power at the time of Jesus

Time line of Roman/Jewish history

Find Out More

Nazareth in the gospels

Maps Nazareth & Jerusalem

Nazareth in the gospels

Gospel verses that mention Nazareth

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What information about the birth and childhood of Jesus in Nazareth can we find in the gospels of Luke and Matthew?
  2. Where do Mark, Luke, Matthew and John mention Nazareth?
  3. What vivid pictures do Matthew and Luke give of the final days of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem (see below)?

Birth and childhood

  • ‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth….’ Luke 1:26
  • ‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem.’ Luke 2:1-4
  • ‘After being warned in a dream, Joseph went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled “He will be called a Nazorean.”‘ Matthew 2:22-23
  • ‘When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.’ Luke 2:39
  • ‘Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.’ Luke 2:51


  • ‘The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Phillip and said to him “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth”. Nathanael said to him “Can anything good come of of Nazareth?” Philip said to him “Come and see”.’ John 1:43-46
  • He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
    Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
    Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
    All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.’ Luke 4:16-30
  • ‘In the synagog there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ Luke 4:33-34
  • ‘As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” ‘ Luke 18:35-37
  • ‘Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” ‘ Mark 1:23-24
  • ‘As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” ‘ Mark 10:46-47

Final days

  • ‘When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking “Who is this?” The crowds were saying “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” ‘ Matthew 21:10-11
  • ‘Then one of the, whose name was Cleopas, answered him “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? He asked them “What things?” They replied “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.’ Luke 24:18-19

Bible Study Activities for Luke 4:16-30

You’re Not the Only One…

Rejection by the people we know is one of the most painful experiences of life. It forces us to examine ourselves, and re-assess the people we think we know – just as Jesus had to when the people of Nazareth rejected him.
Read the gospel passage above at Luke 4:16-30, about Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, then spend some time thinking about:

  • Jesus’ experience of rejection in his home town
  • a time when you yourself felt rejected.

How did you cope with the experience? What did you learn about yourself and others?

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Read the gospel passage at Luke 4:16-30. Be’ a person in Nazareth on the day that Jesus is rejected – either

  • a family member who supports him
  • one of the townspeople who try to kill him
  • or perhaps someone who simply watches from the sidelines.

Explain what happens, as you see it. Empathize with the motives and emotions of the person.

Lay-out of the 2nd century synagogue at Capernaum, a town near Nazareth; the synagogue at Nazareth was probably on the same plan, but smaller.

The Birth of Jesus 5What happened next? See Shepherds and Angels

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What  the  Gospels say

There are two descriptions of the birth of Jesus. Matthew focuses on Joseph, Luke on Mary.

1.  Joseph’s dream.    Read the blue text

2.  Bethlehem.    Read the green text

3.  Mary bears a son.    Read the red text

Matthew 1:18-25  18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

Luke 2:1-7   1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrolment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

You might like to compare the parallel accounts of the births of Jesus and John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel. You can find the gospel texts at

Notice especially statements about

the pregnancy reaching term, Luke 1.57 and 2.6

the birth statement, Luke 1.57 and 2.7

marvelling onlookers, Luke 1.63 and 2.18

the taking to heart of what had happened, Luke 1.66 and 2.19

circumcision and name-giving, Luke 1.59 and 2.21

John’s birth is clearly a prelude to the birth of Jesus.

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Find Out More

Nazareth in the gospels

Maps Nazareth & Jerusalem

Houses in Nazareth

Ancient houses – what were they like?

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What was the house of Jesus, Mary and Joseph like?
  2. Describe the basic lay-out of a house in ancient Nazareth.
  3. Houses in ancient Nazareth used far fewer resources than modern houses. What would have been the advantages/disadvantages of a Nazareth house?

Houses in ancient Nazareth were made with a rough stone foundation and mud-bricks made on site. A minimum of wood was used in the roof structure: wood was expensive. The houses in Nazareth were probably single storey, simple and small.

Though a house might have been drab on the outside, inside it was cool, comfortable and pleasant. It was much larger inside than it seemed from outside. At right is the interior of a mud brick house at Ait Benhaddou in Morocco; it is similar to 1st century AD houses in Nazareth.

There was a central paved courtyard with an open drain at the centre, so the stones could be rinsed clean and would not flood with rain. Inside and out the walls were covered with plaster, flattened with a smooth stone.

A house may have been one or two-roomed, but it had everything the family needed. There was a raised platform at one end, where they sat and slept on cushions and mats. Usually they ate your meals outside under an awning, but if it was too hot or was raining, they ate inside. The room was stuffy by modern standards because the windows were small, covered with lattice or shutters.

Outside on the street there was little traffic. They were too narrow for carts, and even a donkey carrying a bulky load might block them. People avoided the sun and hugged the shadows of the walls. Two or three times a day a flock of noisy boys invaded the streets on their way to the synagogue, where they went for their lessons in Torah.

The foundations of a house were stones roughly squared and piled one upon another (see the photograph of the recent house excavation in Nazareth, further down page). These foundations gave some stability to the house, and it needed all the stability it could get. Earthquakes sometimes happened, and the walls of the house, being mud brick, required constant repair. Maintenance of the mud brick surface was a continuing task for the householder.

There were few windows in the house, and even those were small and high in the wall – to bar the entry of any intruder. In summer these windows were covered with a lattice cover or with wooden shutters; in winter with thick woolen matting. This kept the house cool in summer and warm in winter.

The courtyard and the roof were important parts of the house, used for tasks that needed good light – such as spinning and weaving, and food preparation. The flat roof area might also be used for sleeping, or for drying food or textiles (see the story of Rahab the prostitute). In earlier times the roof may also have been used for bathing – Bathsheba was probably bathing on the flat roof of her house when she was seen by King David (for more on this famous act of voyeurism, go to Bathsheba, her story).

In recent (2009) excavations in Nazareth, a house from the 1st century AD was discovered. A CNN article from December 21, 2009 says:

Archaeologists in Israel say they have discovered the remains of a home from the time of Jesus in the heart of Nazareth. The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the find “sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus” in the Jewish settlement of Nazareth, where Christians believe Jesus grew up. The find marks the first time researchers have uncovered the remains of a home in Nazareth from that time period, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said in a statement.
“The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of dwellings in Nazareth in that period,” Yardenna Alexandre, excavation director for the authority, said in the statement. “Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period.”
Christians believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived in Nazareth with her husband, Joseph. They believe Mary was in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel revealed that Mary would give birth to the son of God, a baby to be named Jesus.
A number of burial caves that date to the early Roman period also were discovered close to the inhabited area during the excavations, the authority said.
The discovery was made in the modern city of Nazareth during an excavation in advance of construction of the International Marian Center of Nazareth, which will illustrate the life of Mary.
An association in Nazareth plans to conserve and display the home’s remains in the center. It will be built next to the Church of the Annunciation, which stands on the spot where Catholics believe Mary once lived. The Church of the Annunciation is in the heart of Nazareth, above an older church and atop the ruins of a church from the Byzantine period. In the middle of these churches is a cave that was believed in antiquity to be the home of Jesus’ family. Researchers found storage pits and cisterns in the compound of the Church of the Annunciation, many of which date to the time of Jesus, Israeli archaeologists said.
In the excavation, a large, broad wall that dates to the 15th century was exposed. It was constructed on top of and used the walls of an ancient building, the statement said.
This earlier building — the one that dates to the time of Jesus — consisted of two rooms and a courtyard in which a rock-hewn cistern collected rainwater. Few artifacts were recovered from inside the building — mostly fragments of pottery vessels from the first and second centuries.

Excavations at the site of an ancient house in Nazareth

Also, researchers found several fragments of chalk vessels, which were used by Jews in this period because such vessels were not susceptible to becoming ritually unclean, researchers said.
Another hewn pit, whose entrance was apparently camouflaged, was excavated and a few pottery fragments from the early Roman period were found inside it.
“Based on other excavations that I conducted in other villages in the region, this pit was probably hewn as part of the preparations by the Jews to protect themselves during the great revolt against the Romans in [A.D.] 67,” Alexandre said.

Example of a stone house with courtyard, from a 19th century photograph

Features of a house in 1st century Nazareth

The house in the photograph above is almost certainly grander and larger than Mary and Joseph’s house in Nazareth. Their house would have been made of mud brick rather than stone and had a courtyard and two/four rooms – a front, public room with an awning, and a private room behind it, and possibly some storage rooms for food and animals.

  • Houses in Nazareth had a flat roof with exterior stairs at the side and an awning of woven goats’ hair to protect against the sun. This was used by the women as a work-space, an extra room.
  • The inside of the house was quite comfortable, though minimalist by our standards. There were raised platforms at one end of the room, with cushions and mats – woven by the women and, like their clothing, embroidered.
  • The walls were covered with plaster, rubbed flat with a stone and painted with geometric patterns.
  • There was hardly any furniture as we know it. Niches were cut into the wall, and these provided storage for bedrolls and clothes.
  • Large amounts of food – jars of oil and olives, etc., were kept in separate storage areas, secure against mice. Archaeological excavations in the Nazareth area show there was a honeycomb of underground rooms under the houses, hollowed out of the soft rock. They were used for a variety of purposes – living quarters in the fierce heat of summer, cisterns for water, grain silos, and storage. Luke’s gospel situates Jesus’ birth in a room like this.
  • The inside rooms of the house were small and dark, so the courtyard and roof were important work areas, with better light for tasks like spinning and weaving.
  • The roof was also a cool place to sleep in hot weather. Rahab, the Jericho prostitute who was one of Jesus’ ancesstresses, hid Israelite spies under the heaps of drying flax stalks on the roof of her house (see Rahab’s story).
  • Down in the courtyard was the cooking area, with an open fire, an oven and an array of cooking utensils. There was a mortar and pestle for grinding small amounts of grain and a covered area where people sat while they worked or talked.
    Some household tasks needed good light, and the courtyard was ideal: spinning and weaving were done there. You would also find
  • a stone cooking area with a fire, cooling utensils and perhaps a bread oven
  • stone implements for grinding grain
  • a covered area for sitting
  • stalls for animals
  • This space served as a daily workplace – the weather was dry for most of the year. Here food was prepared, people met, and animals were kept.
  • The courtyard often contained a mikveh for ceremonial purification, and the family latrine as well, which was emptied every day into a communal manure pit.

This was the homely setting for the life of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, and their son Jesus.

19th century photograph of a Middle Eastern village

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Gospel text for this story

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Ancient Buildings

Nazareth – Jesus’ home town

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What was Nazareth like at the time of Jesus?
  2. What made King Herod’s rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem so impressive?
  3. What sort of house did rich people live in – eg the High Priest Annas
  4. What was the large town near Nazareth, and what was it like?

Nazareth at the time of Jesus

Of course no-one knows exactly what Mary and Joseph‘s house in Nazareth was like. The house disappeared many centuries ago. But we do know what ordinary village houses looked like in 1st century Palestine, and in Nazareth in particular.

The basic floor plan had a central courtyard with rooms opening off it. These rooms were small by our standard, with a minimum of windows. Lattice work and shutters were used to cover window openings.

Rooms were small. Stairs or a wooden ladder led up onto the roof, which was used as an outdoor room partly shaded by matting or a tent-like superstructure.

The inside rooms tended to be dark, so the courtyard and the roof were important parts of the house, used for tasks that needed good light – Mary of Nazareth and the women of her family would have spun yarn, woven fabric and prepared food there. In hot weather family members slept there as well.

For more pictures and information, go to What Archaeology Tells Us About Nazareth.

Reconstruction of a type of house that was common in 1st century Galilee: courtyard, living quarters, storage area for animals and equipment

Modern-day excavations in Nazareth: the houses ordinary people lived in
usually had rough stone foundations and mud-brick walls

Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem

Most people know Herod the Great as the king who ordered the massacre of the Innocents at the time of Jesus’ birth. But as well as this he was one of the great builders of the ancient world – cities, fortresses, palaces, the Temple. He built on a grand scale.

Construction of the Temple in Jerusalem lasted for 46 years. This building was meant to last. The area of the Temple Mount was doubled and surrounded by a high wall with massive gates. The Temple was raised, enlarged, and faced with beautiful white stone. Its courtyards served as a gathering place and its shaded porticoes sheltered merchants and money changers. A great door led to the sanctuary, at the western end of which was the Holy of Holies.

The Temple was not only the center of religious ritual, but the place where the Holy Scriptures and important Jewish literature was kept. It was the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the High Court of Jews during the Roman period.

Herod also built a huge administrative sector and a luxurious royal palace (see below), but the Temple was still far and away the most impressive building in 1st century Jerusalem.

For more pictures and information, go to Jerusalem Archaeology. 

Reconstructed exterior of the inner courtyards and main buildings of the Temple
built by King Herod the Great at the time of Jesus

Reconstruction of the interior courtyards of the great Temple of Jerusalem in the time of Christ

A reconstruction of the Hasmonean royal palace built by King Herod the Great in Jerusalem

Map of the layout of Jerusalem at the time of Christ, showing the Temple and Herod’s palace. The site of Caiaphas’ residence and the Upper Room is conjecture; its exact location is unknown

The House of Annas

This may have been the house of Annas, a former High Priest who questioned Jesus in Jerusalem the night he was arrested. The house must have belonged to someone important and rich, because it is large even though the area it was built in was cramped and short of space.

‘From the time of Herod up until Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, the Upper City on the higher western hill was a residential area for wealthy merchants and influential priestly families. Connected to the Temple by a viaduct over the Tyropoeon Valley, the Upper City was a convenient home for families and officials with temple duties. Constructed in the style of Roman villas, each home was built around a central courtyard and had two or more stories. One residence, dubbed “the Mansion” covered an area of 6,500 square feet. The number of its ritual baths led to the theory that it was the dwelling of a high priest.’
Quoted from

A reconstruction of ‘the Mansion” found in the Upper City of Jerusalem (see quote above).
The ruins date from the 70AD, when the buildings were destroyed after the Jewish Revolt.
At that time, the whole city was demolished – ‘not one stone standing on another’.

Peter may have stood warming his hands at a fire in the courtyard (middle of diagram);
Jesus’ trial may have taken place in the area marked ‘reception hall’;
then he was probably held for some hours in one of the storerooms below the mansion

The palace of Pontius Pilate

Jerusalem was not the main base of Pontius Pilate, though he visited it frequently. Most of the time he lived in the coastal city Caesarea. When he was in Jerusalem he lived in a section of the royal palace built by King Herod the Great, father of the Herod (Herod Antipas). This was the praetorium, official residence of the Roman governor.

After Jesus had been tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin he was bound and led through Jerusalem from the house of Caiaphas, where he had spent the last part of the night, to the praetorium. It would not have been a long walk. Houses of wealthy Jewish citizens like Caiaphas lay close to the Roman administrative centre.

The praetorium in the coastal city of Caesarea; the building in Jerusalem was similar.
Note the two courtyards at the centre of the buildings.

The praetorium in Jerusalem covered part of the original palace of King Herod the Great, so Jesus only walked a short distance for his meeting the Herod Antipas, son of King Herod

This stone floor is said to be the central courtyard of the Roman praetorium.
Jesus may have stood here when he was interrogated by Pontius Pilate.

Sepphoris – The Theatre

Sepphoris is not mentioned in the Bible, but it was only a good stretch of the leg from Nazareth, and Jesus certainly knew the town. In fact, it is quite probable that Joseph and his young son Jesus worked there – they were builders, and Sepphoris was one of King Herod’s great building projects when Jesus was a boy. Since Nazareth was only a small village and work would have been limited if not downright scarce, Joseph may have helped build the beautiful theater there, or any of the sophisticated Greek-style buildings and roads.

The theater is about 74meters in diameter, with enough seats for 4,500 people. The people who attended this theater were sophisticated, admiring Greek and Roman plays.

Traditional, conservative Jews such as Jesus and his family frowned on this, and preferred their own Jewish culture.

For more pictures and information, go to The City Jesus Knew: Sepphoris

An extraordinarily sophisticated floor mosaic from the city of Sepphoris; the woman depicted is called the Mosa Lisa of Galilee

The Greek-style theater at Sepphoris; devout Jews did not attend these theaters,
and were reluctant to enter sophisticated cities like Sepphoris

Capernaum – The Synagogue

The white marble synagogue in this photograph is not the one that Jesus taught in, but it was built on top of an earlier one from the first half of the 1st century AD – the one that almost certainly saw Jesus of Nazareth. The original synagogue was of black basalt, with gray marble columns and a cobblestone floor.

Jesus performed many miracle in Capernaum, and chose four of his disciples from among its population: Peter, Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. Perhaps it was here that the crippled woman was healed by Jesus – the text says he ‘called her over’, presumably from the benches along the wall of the synagogue.

Aerial photograph of the reconstructed 4th century synagogue at Capernaum;
note also the foundations of ancient houses surrounding the synagogue

Masada – The Palace

Masada is not mentioned in the New Testament, and there is no way of telling whether Jesus ever went there or not. But King Herod, whose hunt for the newborn Messiah ended in the Massacre of the Innocents, certainly did. Paranoid, he transformed the earlier bleak fortress of Masada into an (almost) impregnable bastion – but added an ultra-luxurious palace as well.

Masada was well-situated to repel any attack. It was perched on top of an isolated rock cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert, a place of gaunt and majestic beauty. The land there falls steeply away on every side, making
it a natural fortress. On the northern edge of a steep cliff, it had a splendid view in every direction. No defender would ever by taken by surprise.

The three buildings shown below were part of a small but elegant palace-villa for the king. They were separated from the fortress and administrative buildings at Masada so that the king and his favorites could enjoy total privacy and

This northern palace consists of three terraces, luxuriously built, with a narrow, rock-cut staircase connecting them. On the upper terrace, several rooms served as living quarters. In front of them was a semi-circular balcony with two concentric rows of columns. The rooms were paved with black/white and colored mosaics in intricate geometric patterns.

For more pictures and information, go to Bible Architecture: Masada

King Herod’s Masada fortress: administrative buildings on the flat top of the plateau (centre),
the luxury palace on three levels at the edge of the precipice (bottom left)

A reconstruction of the lower two terraces of the palace built by King Herod the Great at Masada. Compare these buildings with the ruins still visible in the photograph of the Masada 
(above this image, bottom left of aerial photograph).

Part of an intricate mosaic floor at Masada. Floors like this were extraordinarily expensive and indicative of high social status

Masada – Water Storage in giant cisterns

Though it had beautiful palace buildings and luxurious living quarters, Masada was primarily a fortress, built as a refuge in times of danger. This meant it had to withstand a long siege if necessary, with sufficient supplies of food and water for hundreds of people.

The water supply at Masada was guaranteed by a network of large, rock-hewn cisterns on the northwestern side of the hill. They filled during the winter with rainwater flowing in streams from the high side of the plateau, and could be relied on to supply all the needs of the people sheltering in the fortress. One of these cisterns is illustrated below. It supplied water for drinking and bathing, and also for irrigating gardens or vegetable plots.

The effectiveness of these cisterns was tested when the Romans laid siege to Masada in 72AD. For two years the defenders of the fortress were able to hold off the attackers, and throughout all this time they were never short of food or water. In the end, they were only defeated when the Romans built a siege ramp and moved a battering ram up to the walls of the fortress, breaching the wall.

For more pictures and information, go to Bible Architecture: Masada

One of the enormous water reservoirs excavated under the plateau at the top of Masada: water in the desert

The Fortress of Machaerus

There is no way of knowing whether Jesus ever went to Machaerus, but it certainly had strong associations for him since, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Machaerus was the place in which John the Baptist was imprisoned and then beheaded (Bellum VII.6.1-2). Jesus was only too aware of this event.

Herod was frightened by John’s fearless criticism of him, and of his power to stir people up – as he would later be frightened/intrigued by Jesus. Herod sensed he had met someone he could not control. Putting John into the prison at Machaerus removed John from his followers, and stopped them from communicating with their charismatic leader.

It was a forbidding fortress, built to intimidate and control the troubled area between Palestine and Petra. It did its job well. No-one could get in or out of Machaerus without Herod knowing about it.

When Herod decided to kill John, the walls of the fortess meant there could be no-one to oppose him.

When the Jewish Revolt broke out in 66AD, the rebels holed up within Machaerus’ seemingly impregnable walls. But the Romans built siege works around the base of the fortress and when the lower part of the fortress was captured and burned, the people in the upper city surrendered.

You can still see part of the Roman siege ramp on the west side of the mound, and ruins of the Roman camp lie on the hill to the west.
For information and some extraordinary photographs, go to Bible Fortress: Machaerus

Aerial photograph of Machaerus, with Roman-era acquaduct on the farther side of the fortress; within these walls John the Baptist died (photograph by Jane Taylor, March 2004)

Remains of the stone Roman-style aquaduct that brought water to the fortress of Machaerus

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Maps Nazareth & Jerusalem

Food in ancient times

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Nazareth in the gospels

Nazareth in the gospels

Food in ancient Nazareth




Mary of Nazareth

Maps Nazareth & Jerusalem

Maps of events in Jesus’ life

Food in Nazareth

Food: what people ate in Nazareth

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What food items did a Jewish woman have at her disposal, in the time of Jesus?
  2. How was food stored at that time, in Nazareth?
  3. What food might have been eaten at the Wedding in Cana? At an everyday meal in Nazareth?

Reconstruction of a house interior, showing cooking and storage area

The kitchen

In fact, there was not enough space in a villager’s house for a kitchen as large as the one shown above. This kitchen would have been found in one of the richer houses of the period – not in a simple village like Nazareth. The house of Mary and Joseph’s family would have had a simpler cooking area, perhaps a circle of stones with a fire at the center, or a small bread oven. It was in the main room of the house – along with the sleeping and eating areas.

Cupboards were unnecessary, because small niches were cut into the walls – storage space for bed rolls, clothes, small items of food, etc. But grain or oil for cooking was kept in a separate storage area. There was also space for animals and their food-troughs, called mangers.

Twice a day, in the cool of the morning and in the evening, women took large earthenware pitchers to the village well, where they pulled the water up with a leather bucket on the end of a rope. This was the time of day when they talked with their friends, waiting to draw water.

What people ate

Meals were simple but wholesome. Bread, usually barley bread, was a feature of every meal, and women made it as often as needed. In summer, they probably baked several days’ supply at a time, to cut down on the discomfort caused by the heat of their oven.

Grain for bread was ground by the women on two grinding stones, the lower one fixed, the upper one rotating (see photograph at right and enlargement below). The grain was mixed with water, and then fermented dough, kept for this purpose, was kneaded into the dough, which was left to rise. Then the thin, flat circles of dough were slapped onto the hot stones in the fire, or placed in a bread oven if the family had one.

The main meal was eaten in the evening. It might consist of a lentil stew seasoned with herbs like cumin, black cumin or coriander. It was served with cheese made from sheep or goats’ milk, olives, onions and bread. Fruits included fresh figs and melon, as well as dried pomegranates and dates – dried fruits were a staple item in the Middle East. Wine, water and curdled milk, similar to liquid yogurt, accompanied the meal.

Sugar? Unheard of, so most people had healthy teeth. Honey was used as a sweetener, but only occasionally and usually by the wealthy. Meat was a rarity, kept for special occasions. Fish was much more common, and the dried fish industry was an important source of wealth for the people around the Sea of Galilee. The town of Magdala, not far from Nazareth, was a center of the dried fish industry, and Mary Magdalene may have earned her money from dried fish rather than prostitution – see Did Jesus Marry Mary Magdalene?

The ravines in the slopes and the rocky ground were suitable for clusters of trees whose olives were gathered, crusted with large grinding stones, pitted, and pressed for oil. The fields on the slopes could grow 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 harvest 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 it trickles along the length of the village, giving people the ability to grow their own food in small patches of ground.

The ‘Well of the Virgin’ as it appeared in a 19th century photograph of Nazareth

The home was important in Jewish religion. In our society, people associate prayer with a church. In the Jewish religion, both the home and the synagogue were places of prayer. A rabbi or scholar was in charge of prayer in the synagogue, but in the home each individual woman in charge of a household was responsible for the prayer-services held in that home.
This was how Mary and Joseph of Nazareth lived.

Kosher food in Mary’s kitchen

Jewish women prepared all the family’s food. In doing so, they played an important part in maintaining the ‘Jewishness’ of the family.

Mary of Nazareth almost certain kept a ‘kosher’ kitchen. This meant the kitchen itself, and each item of food, was ‘proper’ for a Jewish family. Certain foods were (and are) permitted to Jews; others were not.

Jews were forbidden to eat specific types of food, and had to prepare their food in a particular way. Their meat, for example, came from animals who had cloven hooves and chewed their cud – the goat and the lamb. These had to be be killed in a humane way, so that the animal suffered as little as possible. Kosher food
As a rule, animals that ate grass were permitted, animals that ate flesh were not. All reptiles were forbidden. Fish must have fins and scales; crustaceans could not be

These were not arbitrary choices. Each of the forbidden foods had the potential to carry disease, or be dangerous in some way to anyone who ate it.

As a devout Jewish family, Mary and Joseph carefully observed the dietary laws of Judaism.

Excavated earthenware pottery set

Middle Eastern woman sifting grain, early 20th century photograph

Two Middle Eastern women with quern and handstone for grinding grain

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Nazareth people

The people of Nazareth

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. What did the people of ancient Nazareth (like Jesus, Mary and Joseph) look like?
  2. What work did Nazareth people in general do?
  3. What work did the women of Nazareth do?
  4. What did the people of Nazareth (like Jesus) do for entertainment?

People: what did they look like?

First of all, what did the people of ancient Nazareth (like Mary and Joseph) look like?

They would have been shorter than modern people, about five feet tall for women and a bit more for men. They were robust, sturdy, with strong brown hands callused from work, and glossy black hair.

Peasant women often painted a line of red or purple dye down the center parting of their hair, and wore modest pieces of jewelry. Their clothes were homespun wool or linen, loose fitting, in one of the soft colors of natural dyes – cream, a deep faded pink, or a soft grey. Both sexes wore leather ankle-length boots in winter, sandals in summer, and cut their dusty toenails with a sharp knife.

For images and more information, go to Clothes for Rich and Poor

The 19th century photograph of a Bedouin girl at right gives some idea of the clothing and decoration of a Middle Eastern woman from a nomadic tribe. Of course, Mary lived in a village surrounded by good farm land, and would have been slightly more affluent than women of nomadic tribes. But there were similarities. The girl in the photograph wears a garment that is not only handwoven but homespun as well. Women in the biblical period made their family’s garments from scratch.

What work did Nazareth people do?

Joseph was a builder – not a carpenter, since there was little need for a carpenter in a small village, and wood was a luxury item. He probably had to travel to get jobs outside Nazareth, but there was plenty of work at the time, since Herod Antipas had recently redesigned and rebuilt the nearby town of Sepphoris.

Mary was a junior member of a large Jewish peasant family, always surrounded by other people. She did the traditional work of women – preparing food, washing, fetching water from the well, working in the fields owned by her family, helping other women raise their many children.

If you were a young Jewish woman like Mary of Nazareth you lived with your extended family, or with the family of your husband. Your home was made of stone and mud-brick and though it might not have been beautiful on the outside, inside it was cool, comfortable and pleasant. For images and information, see Women’s Work or Bible Archaeology: Work

As far as we know, Jesus’ family lived a normal life in Nazareth. They were devout, traditional Jews, travelling often to Jerusalem for the major religious festivals. Their son Jesus was taught building skills by his father Joseph, and was expected to carry on the family trade. Their lives were simple, ordinary, humdrum.

Shepherds and their sheep

Shepherds and flocks were a common feature of everyday life in biblical times. A flock depended utterly on its shepherd for safety, food and daily care, so the shepherd became a common symbol of God’s care for humanity and all creation.
The two most famous uses of this symbol are in Psalm 23 and in John 10. Both of these passages link the good Shepherd with divine care:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” Psalms 23:1-4

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
And I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:11-15

Women’s work

A woman in 1st century Nazareth performed all the small tasks expected of any woman in a farming community:

  • she washed clothes in an open-air communal water-trough; these wash-troughs all over the Mediterranean world were scenes of camaraderie and gossip
  • she carted water from the ancient spring that served everyone in Nazareth
  • she cooked food – steaming bread cakes were a daily item. A primitive sort of popcorn, made by putting fresh grain on a hot metal plate, was popular
  • she preserved food; at certain times of the year the women were swamped with the task of drying grapes, dates and figs. Olives were eaten fresh or pickled. There was a wide range of vegetables, eaten fresh or dried: beans, lentils and peas, onions and leeks, melons and cucumbers. These were made into spicy soups. Goat cheese and yogurt were eaten fresh because of the heat. Dried fish and eggs were sources of protein, with chicken, mutton and lamb for special occasions. The food may have been simple, but the taste was strong, seasoned with rock salt, vinegar, mint, dill and cumin
  • she made clothes; the clothes of the day were simple, but they are made from scratch by the women of each family
  • she tended the goats and sheep who grew the wool, clipped the animals, carded and spun the wool, wove the cloth, shaped and sewed the clothes, mended them when they showed signs of wear….. Each house was a thriving little production center
  • every Jewish woman, young and old, knew the small tasks involved in caring for the elderly, and for family members who were ill – sponging their face and hands, combing their hair, keeping the room where they lay as quiet as possible.

The work may have been shared among all the women, but it was still heavy work, and Mary of Nazareth probably ate her food with a hearty appetite at the end of the day.

The spring of the Virgin in Nazareth, 19th century photograph


Almost everyone in Nazareth, men and women, were farmers. They had to be, since very little was imported from outside the village. It was heavy, continuous work, and Jesus was certainly familiar with it. He probably even worked in the fields as a boy, judging from Luke 8:5-8, the Parable of the Sower:Ancient ploughs and oxen

5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Ploughing was done in the wet season, from October to April. This was also the time for sowing seed, harrowing and weeding. Flax and barley were harvested in April and May, then wheat.

Vines had to be pruned and tended during the growing season, then the grapes picked from July to October. Grapes were used as dried fruits, and for making wine. Most people also grew fig and olive trees in their plots of land.
There is a full description of ancient farming, with photographs and archaeological drawings, at Bible Archaeology: Agriculture.

Entertainment in Nazareth

Women in rural communities like Nazareth did not read, since it was unnecessary. Instead, stories were memorised.

Mary of Nazareth was part of an oral society that gloried in story-telling. The great enemy in ancient societies was boredom, and clever talk kept boredom at bay. People in the ancient world told stories and acted them out for pure enjoyment. There is, after all, more sex and violence in Scripture than in anything that has come out of Hollywood. Read Judges 19 (a husband indifferent to the gang rape of his wife) or Genesis 38 (seduction and deceit). It was not only the handing-on of traditional stories, but a challenge to the audience to make judgements about what was right and wrong.Scrolls of the Torah

Mary almost certainly knew the five books of Torah by heart. It was a woman’s responsibility to teach her children about Yahweh and Judaism until the age of seven. Boys were then handed over to a male teacher at the synagogue, and taught to read. A former queen of Israel, Alexandra, had mandated that all Jewish boys should be able to read the Scriptures.

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Nazareth in the gospels

Maps Nazareth & Jerusalem