By Dr. Randall Smith
Courtesy of Christian Travel Study Programs
In the hill country of the tribe of Zebulun, a small village existed for almost two thousand years before the birth of Jesus and yet was virtually unknown in ancient texts and references. This village was unwalled and unprotected, built into a small chalk ridge with a single source of water several hundred meters away from the main body of the village. Small caves were closed in the front to make homes, used for generations. Its unimpressive nature is reflected in the statement of Nathaniel, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46].
The ancient town is now dwarfed by the massive modern village filled with Arab Christians which now fills every ridge around the old village. A number of archaeologists have concluded that the population of the ancient village likely never exceeded 500 persons at the time that Joseph and Mary made this village their home.
Two churches dominate the city’s ancient memory, the Greek Orthodox Church at “Mary’s Well” and the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Greek Church is the older of the two certainly one of the places visited by Arculf (670); the current structure is 300 hundred years old. The tradition of the spring as the place of the angelic visitation of Gabriel no doubt spurred from the “Proto-evangelium of James” (2nd century) which set the scene as Mary was drawing water. Some two hundred meters away, the Basilica of the Annunciation was built in the 1960’s over Byzantine and a Crusader remains erected to celebrate the memory of an angel’s visit to the ancient cave style home found on that site.
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