What was Joseph like?
We do not know if Joseph was a native of Nazareth or not. His family, we are told, came originally from Bethlehem in the south, from the house of David. He is often portrayed as an older man, but in fact there is no reason to think this was so, other than that an elderly man might be content for his wife to remain a virgin after marriage, as the Catholic tradition taught.
Where was Nazareth?
We have heard of Nazareth so often that it has become almost mythic, but the Nazareth where Joseph lived and worked was as real then as it is today.
- Take a map of Palestine and find the spot on the coast where Mount Carmel juts out into the sea on the south side of the Bay of Acre.
- Follow the River Kishon, on the north side of the Carmel range, upstream through the narrow gorge by which it enters the Plain of Acre, and you come out into the Plain of Esdraelon.
- This is the only break in the long line of hills which run like a backbone down the centre of the land, and the only level passage east and west, from the Jordan to the sea, for the whole length of Palestine.
The whole Plain swarms with historical memories: of Elijah and the priests of Baal, of Gideon and the Midianites, of the tragic King Saul and the Philistines. It has been the battleground of nations from the dawn of history down to the time of Napoleon – even he fought a battle there.
In shape the Plain of Esdraelon is a triangle, and the northern side, running east and west, is formed by the southern edge of the hills of Galilee, which drop sharply into the plain.
About midway in the line of hills a narrow valley cuts in, rises steeply, and opens out into a high, flat basin. Here in this upland valley, 1160 feet above the sea, Nazareth lies.
From the hills on which Nazareth is built you can look, as Joseph once looked, over the whole land from snow-clad Hermon in the north to the hills of Judea in the south, and from the mountains of Gilead across the Jordan to the waters of the Mediterranean. You are looking at the same land he looked at…
Map of Nazareth and the surrounding countryside of Galilee
Nazareth was not an obscure, out-of-the- way-place. It is always called a town or city in the Gospels, and important trade routes passed nearby.
- The capital of the province, Sepphoris, was in sight from the hill above it.
- Flourishing cities on the coast and by the lake of Galilee were within a few hours’ journey.
- It lay in the midst of a beautiful and fertile country, with a teeming population and the hum of trade all about it.
We must not picture Joseph and his little family as living in an isolated village.