April 2, 2012

The Nazareth Puzzle

Small towns aren't perfect but they usually know what they're doing. Every village may have its share of idiots, thieves and abusers, but long lived towns generally benefit from having developed, over time, their own brand of tried and true customs, mainly interpersonal channels for dealing with trouble, and for keeping the peace.

Granted, successful villages also tend to favor the powerful over the peons, but for most of history the peons haven't had much else to hope for besides their resulting if tiny share of the general welfare. In most instances, a dry crust with peace and quiet actually does far outweigh the great cost of tempting fate for remote chances of achieving remarkable fortune in big cities, such as Jerusalem, Athens, or Rome.

Yes, we're talking about ancient small towns. Some general principles do apply in all ages.

In the foothills of Galilee, Nazareth was such a place. The advantageous location had probably been claimed and reclaimed through the eons but the village of Jesus' day had most likely built up its particular customs for a hundred years (give or take) before Joseph wed Mary. The synagogue (gathering) most likely met in a multi-use space, but had well established customs and leadership, and probably a decent collection of scrolls. Herod's tax collectors made the rounds at least once a year. Jerusalem Pharisees might come to visit once in a while. The Sabbath service was well attended and featured several hours of discussion on scripture, of whatever quality. The women were subordinate to their husbands, who in turn submitted to the town's leadership, which was undoubtedly influenced both by the synagogue leaders and the most prominent (local) landowners. Multi-family households were probably common, as were dawn to dusk days for the peasants at certain times of the year. The annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an opportunity to represent Nazareth, not a requirement for everyone. Would be looters were not left behind without watchful authorities prepared to apprehend and cast judgment upon them.

In all, the data we do have about Nazareth fits the description of a typical and well established small town, particularly of the first century era. And this was the town in which Jesus was well liked, but not seen as particularly vocal or wise about God-business. He grew in favor with his fellow Nazarenes, but they did not know he was gradually mounting up spiritual wisdom beyond anyone's years.

How was Jesus so well liked, in a town such as this? So well liked, and yet so poorly known?

THIS is the primary question to ask about Jesus' so-called "silent years" in his hometown.

I have asked it before, and I'll ask it again. But I wonder - what's your answer?

Think on this, please.

. . .

1 comment:

Josh said...

Very good question, Bill. But I'm not sure I have an answer. I'd much rather hear yours.

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