Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
Since our pilgrimage in 2000 we have tried to plan itineraries that include at least one activity or site that is a “re-enactment” kind of experience — something that gives our travelers a “hands-on” encounter with life in various Bible times. One time it was a Greco-Roman style dinner complete with costumes and pretend swordplay. Our last trip it was a camel ride and Bedouin heritage dinner at Genesis Land/Abraham’s Tent. (I was excited to learn recently that Genesis Land now also includes a Bedouin style camping experience among its possible activities. Maybe next time?) And on this trip we spent several delightful hours at Nazareth Village, a Christian educational center and open air museum that is a few blocks from the Old City area of Nazareth.
I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical about this site and not really expecting the best. (Part of that is my “just in case” familial upbringing — expect the worst and then be pleasantly surprised when things turn out well.) Even though I’d checked out their website and read some of the feedback on TripAdvisor, I wondered if it was going to end up being some kind of hokey, sub-par theme park.
But Nazareth Village was absolutely awesome. And if the number of group pictures taken of an individual site is any indication of its popularity, then this one wins without a doubt. I think I speak for all of us when I say that Nazareth Village was the highlight of our pilgrimage, and for many different reasons.
First of all, we had an engaging guide, Danny, who is a Messianic Jewish believer. Not only was he well-informed and articulate, but his commitment to Jesus, his passion for sharing the gospel, and his love of his work at the Village were shining examples of the real meaning of evangelism. I couldn’t have handpicked a better individual to show us around — another “God thing” for which I am very, very thankful.
Second, the history and design of the Village was intriguing. The surrounding area had been an open field connected to Nazareth Hospital, one of the last undeveloped areas in Nazareth. When some visionaries started to explore the grounds archaeologically, they discovered quarries and farmland (vineyard terraces, watchtowers, a wine-press carved into the bedrock, and a spring-fed irrigation system) that had existed during Greco-Roman times — roughly 200 BC to 100 AD. Since growing grapes and making wine was one of the main industries of ancient Galilee, it’s quite likely that some of Jesus’ neighbors lived and worked on this land. (I wondered if they could have supplied the wine for the wedding feast in Cana.)
As the Village website puts it, once these treasures were discovered beneath the ground “the dream of showing the world what Nazareth was like in the time of Jesus was born.” Our group appreciated the painstaking detail and historical accuracy evident in each of the reconstructed locations. Starting from the welcome center, we walked downhill past a number of family groupings — three children playing a game of “catch” and a father pushing his daughter on a swing.
A bit further down the hill there was a large old olive tree. It was a nice shady spot for a stop and a lesson about olive cultivation.
At the bottom of the hill there was a large enclosure where a shepherd watched his flock. And off to the side was a replica of a tomb with a circular stone covering the entrance — a typical example from Jesus’ time and the kind probably used for his own burial.
Halfway back up the hill near the ancient wine-press was the reconstructed watchtower. Since the image of the watchtower was used by both the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-3) and in one of Jesus’ parables (Matthew 21:33-41), this was great addition to the Village.
Buildings at the top of the hill included the typical home (with living area on the roof) and workshop …
an olive oil press …
and a synagogue, which was amazingly cool on this warm, sunny day.
I had a profound spiritual experience during our time in the synagogue. While Danny was teaching about Jesus and his first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth, he read — as Jesus did — from the scroll of Isaiah (61:1-3). As he got to the part about “freedom for the captives” and “release of prisoners from the darkness” his voice cracked. I imagine he was remembering his own conversion to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, just as I was remembering my own release from the bondage of long-standing sin when I was in my early 30s.
But it also hit me — and hit me hard — in another way. I have always pictured Jesus in this scene reading this Scripture passage with holy conviction, boldness and authority. But this time I saw Him reading it humbly, realizing the enormity of the task He had been given and knowing He could only accomplish it by relying, as we do, on the presence and power of His Father. Since I have a tendency to sometimes be arrogant in my “rightness,” I really needed this particular lesson.
Finally, all of us were so impressed by the ministry that is accomplished at the Village. For example, not all of the kids that volunteer are Christian; many of them come from Arab Muslim homes. (Here is a sweet video in which some of them share why they have volunteered.) They are provided not only with a day of fun and godly fellowship, but they are also exposed — gently — to the true story of Jesus and the gospel message.
Thousands of school children in the region and visitors from all around the world have also visited the site since it opened in 2000. We were happy to support this vital outreach by spending our money in the gift shop, which included many crafts handmade by local residents, and we also made a sizable group contribution that has been recognized with a “builders brick” on one of the public walkways.
Click here for more group pictures of Nazareth Village.