Friday, July 23, 2010

A Biblical Scholar's First Impressions of Israel X: Nazareth

"Why do you want to go to Nazareth?  What's in Nazareth?"  A ten-year old friend of the family in Tel Aviv asked me this before we had left for Galilee.  It was, of course, a delightful, unconscious echo of Nathanael's comment in John 1.46.  I must admit that my expectations for Nazareth were not high.  Lots of people had told me not to expect too much, and I knew that the huge, bustling modern town would not be the kind of place that would reward the Biblical Scholar interested in seeing something of interest and relevance to the first century.

One of the most memorable things about the trip was the whole business of coping with the traffic and trying to work out where to enter Nazareth and where to park.  After driving around it a few times, we eventually just headed straight into the middle and tried to park.  We made the big mistake of trying to go into a tiny, packed underground parking lot at which a rather aggressive character tried to persuade us to give up our car keys so that he could park the car for us, all for 25 shekels.  Having backed out, we found a much more acceptable parking place in the open air for just 6 shekels, and I got to hang on to the car keys.

We did two things while in Nazareth.  The first was to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation.  It is a beautiful looking church, and inside there is a kind of grotto that is alleged to have been part of Mary's house.  And underneath the basilica, there is some interesting archaeology.  As usual, shirts were required to go over the girls' shoulders.  As elsewhere too, there were no crowds.  Just the odd visitor.  It seems that the end of June is not a busy time for tourism in Israel.

The second thing was to walk through the large, partly covered market.  This was a strange mix between the strange and the familiar.  There was a lot of the same kind of market tat that you see in markets all over the world, but this was combined with a very middle-eastern feel.  As far as I remember, there was very little here for the tourists -- not here all the olive-wood carved nativity scenes and the Holy Land jewellery that you find everywhere else.  The place was not bustling with people, and a lot of the market-stall people were just sitting and chatting and watching the odd passer-by go by.

Our day in Nazareth ended in disappointment.  I had been keen to visit Nazareth Village, a kind of re-creation of first century Nazareth, with some archaeology, in a site that has had proper input from consultants like my colleague Eric Meyers.  It has a nice website, which I consulted before we left, but there is no information on there at all, at least none that I could find, about how to get there.  In the light of this, I assumed that it would be rather like old Capernaum or the Jesus Boat, easy to find and well-signposted.  But it was not.  It's impossible to find, or at least it was for us.  After circling Nazareth city several times, driving through it several times, exploring the Isaeli Nazareth town and everywhere else in the general region, and having asked several people, we were none the wiser and never found it.  So a suggestion to those running Nazareth Village that it would be worth adding a "How to find us" section on your website, and to invest in some signs and publicity in the general area.  Perhaps we were being thick, but I bet there are thousands of others who miss it too.

One other minor disappointment: I was hoping to see a cheese shop in Nazareth.  The sign "Cheeses of Nazareth" really ought to be irresistible for an entrepreneur out there.

Photograph credit: Tiamat.


Bob MacDonald said...

There is a map here
is it OK?

We plan to be in Israel on the other side of summer - October - after the psalms conference in Oxford

loving your summaries

Mark Goodacre said...

Hi Bob. Thanks for mentioning the map. No, I think it's pretty useless.