Nazareth, where Jesus spent his childhood, is situated in the Galilean hills overlooking the Jezreel valley. Its winding, cobbled lanes, churches, convents and monasteries, and the all-pervading sense of history vividly conjure up the story of 2,000 years ago when Joseph, heeding the angel's words, "took the young child and his mother...and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth" (Matthew 2:21-23). Jesus spent his childhood here, though the gospels give no description of these formative years. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament and only archaeological evidence points to a village inhabited during the First Temple period. Its Jewish community was almost wiped out by the Romans during the Jewish revolt. Later, with the strengthening of the Roman Empire, the number of Christians grew. From the fourth century, churches were built on the sites which related to Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Today, the population consists of Christians, represented by several denominations, Muslims and Jews. There are many churches, monasteries, convents, hostels and schools.
Nazareth Village offers you exactly what you come to the Holy Land for: to touch the time of Jesus, see its sights, hear its sounds, and even breathe in its aromas. Located on a pastoral patch of farmland in the modern city of Nazareth, a tour of Nazareth Village provides an authentic experience of the land of the Bible. You are greeted by costumed "inhabitants" (the staff grew grow up in Nazareth), and feel Jesus' teachings come alive along the Parable Walk. You can see women spinning, drawing water and baking bread, and men tilling the soil or harvesting, and herding sheep and goats. At the olive oil press, you'll learn that the word "Nazareth" comes from the Hebrew for a new shoot of an olive tree, the "branch" of Isaiah 11:1. An entire house has been reconstructed, along with a synagogue of the type in which Jesus preached in this very town (Luke 4:16-28). Nazareth Village is a truly unique way to immerse yourself in the Bible.
The Church of the Annunciation
The focal point of Nazareth is the Church of the Annunciation situated in the city's old market quarter. This church was completed in 1969 and is the fifth church built on the spot where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus.
Four miles beyond Nazareth, in the direction of Tiberias, is the Arab village of Cana. The Christian inhabitants, who number half the local population, belong to the Catholic, Greek or Melkite Churches. Cana is the scene of two important New Testament happenings. Nathaniel, a native of Cana, was initially quite skeptical of Jesus. It was he who said, "can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Also, here at Cana, Jesus performed his first miracle: at a wedding he was attending the wine required for the sanctification gave out. Jesus commanded that six stone jars used in the ritual purification be filled with water. When the water was drawn out, it miraculously turned to wine. This was to be the first of Jesus' signs.
Mount Tabor, at 1,850 feet, is the highest mountain in the area. From here, there is a magnificent view of the Jezreel plain, Nazareth to the west and Samaria to the north. The top is a large plateau. It was traditionally on the summit of Mount Tabor, "the high mountain apart," that Jesus was transfigured in the eyes of Peter, James and John "and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light" (Matthew 17:2).
Tiberias, on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, was founded by Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee in 21 A.D. During the city's construction, a Jewish necropolis (cemetery) was uncovered and Jews refused to live there for fear of ritual contamination through contact with the dead. It remained exclusively pagan for many years and we have no evidence that Jesus ever entered the site. Tiberias later became a seat of Jewish scholarship. By the second century, the Sanhedrin was located here. It was in Tiberias that the Mishna and the Jerusalem Talmud were compiled, and Hebrew scriptural punctuation was composed. After serving as the capital of Galilee during Crusader times, Tiberias declined in subsequent centuries. It is currently a growing Jewish city known for its therapeutic hot springs.
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee is the catchment basin for the Jordan River and is fed by the melting snows of Mount Hermon to the north. Numerous other seasonal streams flow down from the surrounding mountains to this low-lying, fresh-water lake, 685 feet below sea level. The Sea of Galilee is in fact a lake; it is 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide, and 50 meters deep, with a surface area of 63.7 square miles. In a land so barren, this fresh-water lake provides much needed greenery, respite for the eyes and the soul and, through the intense cultivation possible here, nourishment for the body. Jesus spent most of his three-year public ministry in towns and villages around the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars, taking note of the large number of sick people that came to Jesus to be healed, believe that they may have initially come to the region to take advantage of the hot springs.
The cured northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee contains several brackish springs, thus explaining the Greek name for the site, Heptapegon (seven springs). Over the years, the name was destroyed to Tabgha. The site is where Jesus' miraculous feeding of the multitude is commemorated by a fourth century church whose flower and bird mosaics are the most beautiful in the Holy Land. Between the apse and altar of the church is a 5th to 6th century mosaic, representing fishes and a basket of loaves (Mk. 6:34, Luke 9:10).
The Mount of Beatitudes
The Mount of Beatitudes
On a hill rising behind Tabgha is a round chapel built in 1937 and maintained by the Franciscan Sisters. This site, which offers one of Israel's most beautiful panoramas, is where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Capernaum, at the time of Jesus, was a border village between Herod Antipas Tetrach of Galilee and Hellenistic Gaulanitis. It contained a customs house, and was garrisoned by a small Roman detachment. It was here that Jesus came to teach after his failure to evangelize Nazareth, and Capernaum became the center of his Galilean ministry. Jesus gathered together his disciples here (Matt. 4, 14) and performed many cures (Mk. 1,21;2,3, Luke 7, 2). Today can be seen the remains of a synagogue 2-3 centuries younger than that in which Jesus taught, though most likely on the same site. The main material used for the building is well-dressed and carved limestone. The synagogue is typical of the basilica style of the period with Corinthian columns. Nearby are the remains of an octagonal structure thought to be built on the remains of Peter's house.
Yardenit Baptismal Site
Yardenit is a popular site for the baptism of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Situated close to where the Jordan leaves the Sea of Galilee, it boasts modern facilities including showers and a restaurant.
Caesarea Philippi, at the base of Mt. Hermon, stands at the headwaters of one of the sources of the Jordan. Its present name is Banias, a distortion of the Greek word Paneas, for here stood a shrine to the god Pan. Here, Herod the Great built a Shrine to Caesar. Philippi, his son, embellished the town and named it Caesarea. Caesarea Philippi is to be distinguished from the Herodian port-city Caesarea Maritima. It was here that Simon acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, to which Jesus replied: "You are Peter. And on this rock (Petra) I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."