Scant mention of Nazareth is made in historical sources, Biblical or otherwise. The first mention in the Bible comes with Mary's account of a visitation by an angel in Nazareth to announce that she would bear the Messiah. The place is not mentioned in secular history until four centuries later during the Byzantine period. Archaeological digs uncovered evidence suggesting Nazareth was a small farming village of perhaps 400 people, located in the lower Galilean hills in a basin approximately 1,250 feet above sea level. It was a modest, peasant village, little regarded by contemporaries, as evidenced by the dismissal of the area in John 1:46: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Nonetheless, the culture of the ancient Nazarenes influenced its inhabitants, including Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
Daily life in Nazareth consisted of working the land to pay taxes and feed families. Everyone pitched in to plant, tend, harvest and market crops of grapes, olives, wheat, barley and millet, and also raised animals such as hens, cows and goats. Women prepared the daily meals, in addition to many other domestic chores. The agricultural influences of the Nazarene culture are evident in many of the Bible's parables as taught by Jesus. The citizens of Nazareth spoke Aramaic, relying on story-telling and other oral traditions for both entertainment and education.
The Nazarene diet reflected the main crops grown in the area, largely depending on bread, olives, olive oil and wine. During the growing season, they could supplement their diet with bean and lentil stews, fruits and nuts. The hens provided eggs and cows or goats allowed the occasional treat of cheese and yogurt. Meat was not a big part of the menu, but they did sometimes have salted fish.
At the time of Jesus, the region was experiencing a severe economic depression. Herod the Great's building programs provided jobs for a while, but when those ended, tradesmen scrambled to find work to provide for their families. Archaeological evidence points to the fact that in spite of the humble status of the majority of the Nazarenes, there were a few well-to-do families in town, generally landowners and businessmen. But the disparity of wealth divided the rich socially from the poor workers and tradesmen, and the destitute beggars.
Most houses had a few rooms arranged around a central courtyard, although some were two-story dwellings. A typical Nazarene house was built of stacked stones, clay, mud, dung and straw, with a flat thatched roof sealed with mud. The flat roof provided a work area for drying clothes and grains, as well as a cool place to eat and sleep during the hot season. Inside, the floors were packed dirt. Hollow spaces dug out under the homes served as grain and water storage; homes built near caves often used the natural structures for extra storage or living space. Windows were high on the walls, meant to let light in, not provide a view, and the homes had no chimneys, filling with smoke during the winter from the oven. Animals often lived inside in the winter to provide added warmth. Simple straw mats on the floor served as tables, and household equipment consisted of earthenware pots, stone and clay storage bins, flour and oil jars, baskets, grinding stones, oil lamps and wool-filled sleeping mats. Spaces between dwellings allowed room for farming, gardening, orchards and livestock.
- David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images