Jesus’ Upbringing in Nazareth

Posted on October 6, 2020


By David Ettinger

Though born in Bethlehem, the Lord Jesus during His earthly existence was raised in the town of Nazareth. What did His life look like growing up? What was Nazareth like? What did the life of Israelis living in the north at that time look like?

Let’s take a brief look.

An Overview
When thinking of Nazareth – the hometown of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – think small. Very small. In fact, think “hamlet,” for – with a population of less than 200 citizens – this is what Nazareth was.

It is no wonder that when told by his friend Philip that he had “found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45), Nathanial replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

Nazareth was just like any other town in Galilee, only smaller. It had a synagogue and marketplace, both of which served as the main gathering spots.

Besides being the place of worship, the synagogue would have also been where the townspeople met to discuss political and governmental matters, such as new taxes imposed by Rome. The marketplace, besides being the venue of commerce, gave women a respite from their ceaseless chores at home and the rare opportunity to socialize with one another.

Many of Nazareth’s homes were built into the hills, therefore the people were always walking either up or down. The synagogue and marketplace, located at the entrance to the town, were located at the bottom of the hill, while houses were further up. Therefore, to worship or shop, a resident would descend the hill; to return home or visit a neighbor, a resident would climb (if that neighbor lived further up the hill).

Modern-Day Nazareth

Unfair Reputation
Nazareth was nestled in beautiful surroundings as it was situated at the northern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon, one of the most visually stunning locations in all of Israel. Its breathtaking vista included rolling, green hills from which townfolk could survey vast tracts of lush land west and south for miles on clear days.

Unfortunately, Nazareth was also unfairly regarded by Israelites from Jerusalem – and even those from the bigger towns in Galilee such as Capernaum – as a rural backwater slum populated with bumpkins and ignorant farmers.

This reputation, however, was hardly warranted. The snobs down south frowned upon Nazareth and nearby towns only because they produced little – if any – men of higher rabbinic education. Also, the dialect of Aramaic spoken by the people of that region was coarse compared to the more refined dialect of the south. However, the people of Nazareth were hardworking, honest men and women who knew the importance of vigorous toil and responsibility.

Joseph and Mary were two such people.

Joseph was a carpenter, which, interestingly enough, was regarded as lowly work – even in Nazareth. For whatever reason, such trades as silversmith, potter, engraver, and stonecutter were considered more respectable than that of humble carpenter. Perhaps carpenters earned smaller wages than other skilled craftspeople.

Because most trades were handed down from generation to generation, it is quite possible Joseph’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all carpenters.

Joseph spent his days crafting chairs, benches, tables, cattle yoke, plows, and window frames. His busy days consisted of long hours working hunched over the current project, the constant sawing, hammering, smoothing, and crafting playing havoc on his hands, inflicting upon them painful splinters, cuts, and bruises.

The literal tools of Joseph’s trade included a bow drill, spindle, hearth, simple bow, an ax-like utensil called an adze, a saw, mallet, and compass.
Wishing to draw business and inform potential customers of their profession, carpenters wore a chip of wood dangling from one of their ears. This made it easier for those seeking carpenters to find them.

While Joseph was laboring in his workshop – probably located right next to his house – Mary, whose Hebrew name was the beautiful “Miriam,” would have been equally hard at work partaking in the usual woman’s endeavors of the day. Such endeavors included baking bread for the evening meal, spinning yarn for clothing, bedsheets, and cloths, weaving baskets, scouring clothes on a large washstone, and culling curds from goat’s milk.

As if this were not enough, women also had the unenviable task of working on the thatched or mud roofs with which most Galilean homes were built. Leaking during and following rainstorms was a constant problem, and someone had to repair the holes or crevices through which the water dripped. That someone was often the woman of the house.

Another responsibility for women was preparing breakfast for the family. Morning fare was simple, consisting of curds and bread, either leftover from the night before, or freshly baked if the woman rose particularly early. Other than fruits, vegetables, and bread, lunches were relatively light.

Dinner, also prepared by the women, was the most substantial meal of the day and included the always-present bread, wine, salted fish or boiled chicken, beans, lentils, cucumbers, leeks, and onions. Sometimes, dinner also featured nuts, melons, figs, and grapes.

Though simple, life in Nazareth meant hard work and persistence, but Joseph and Mary were up to the challenge! And this is the culture and background in which Jesus was raised.