What Was Wrong With Nazareth? (john 1.43-46 )

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

In the Gospel of John we read about many witnesses. Everyone is testifying. The literary context seems to have a strong court motive in which witnesses are called to tell their story of interaction with Jesus to help to make the author’s case. As we come to the end of the first chapter, we meet another type of witness – Nathaniel.

Nathaniel’s first reaction to Philip’s claim that he and others found the Messiah was rather disappointing in 1:46: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Though Nazareth was a very small village. It fact according to archeological conclusions it boasted no more than 150 residents. It was over showed by the Roman with a large Jewish population city just 30-45 minutes’ walk a way that served as an administrative city center – Tzipori (Sepphoris). Jesus must have spent time there as a child and youth, accompanying his Nazareth-resident parents to it for all kinds of matters pertaining to life in Roman Palestine.

However, it is not readily apparent why Nazareth would get such a negative evaluation (Jn.1.46). Though this needs to be considered further, it is possible that the fairly small even by the measurements of the time Nazareth settlement was known as some kind of Judean affiliate center in Galilee and therefore to those who did not like current Jerusalem leaders (or Jerusalem at all) Nazareth’s Judean ideological affiliation was a clear negative and signified that they were indeed Jerusalem’s regional representatives in Galilee. The name of the village, probably, coming from the Isaianic Hebrew for “the Branch” (Netser) may point in the direction of the first option. According to Lk. 4.16-30 the Nazareth settlement radically rejected Jesus, although it was his “hometown”. This may argue for the view that this village along with Cana village[1] was one of those places which was considered to be under Jerusalem religious control and influence of hoi Ioudaioi as discussed in previous commentary sections.

The Gospel of John paints a very “sunny” picture of Jesus great reception in Galilee and its rejection in Judea. Almost every time that Jesus is accepted it happens in Galilee, while his rejections are almost exclusively connected to the land of Judea. It is noteworthy that in the Gospel of John otherwise important Galilean story of Jesus’ rejection is not mentioned at all. It is possible therefore, that “his own received him not” (Jn.1.11) must be read in connection to that largely Judean, Jerusalem-centered rejection of Jesus. Jesus was Jerusalem-centered, Temple-centered Galilean Jew who was not accepted by his own, not in Jerusalem and not in Jerusalem-controlled settlements in Galilee.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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[1]  The water jars for the purification of the hoi Iudaioi (“the Jews”) were present in Cana as well Jn.2.6.

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  1. […] or 7000 people. A large crowd of people followed Jesus and witnessed his miracles. At the time when the village of Nazareth had a population of no more than 200 people (according to reliable archeological data) one can […]

  2. Ramón Sánchez

    Maybe, just maybe, the comment from Nathanael was just a cynical and maybe sordid comic remark over the prevalent claims of messianship in those times by various groups and their respective leaders. As the late George Carlin would have said: Another Messiah? Are they going to organize the Skulls so one of them makes it to power?
    Given the origin of the Gospel of John as the last one and its overall concern for profound spirituality and scatology, the depiction of the complex cultural diversity among the Israelites and their fierce regionalism within their own land would have been well served by presenting that even from the beginning of the disciples some took the extremes adopted by various groups as a motive for joke and disbelief. Based on that, the conversion of anyone, even one respected by Jesus Himself as a true Israelite, is more than a testimony, it’s almost a miracle by itself.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      That is of course possible.

  3. Jeff Martin

    As Nazareth is part of Galilee maybe this has something to do with it

    One rabbi, Johanan ben Zakkai, once lamented, “Galilee, Galilee, you hate the Torah; your end will be seizure by Romans!” – this is from Dr. Scot McKnight’s blog

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Jeff, this is rather famous saying by the pharisaic rabbi (1st century) who is credited with a leading role in Mishnah’s early composition though it was of course codified later (3rd century). You can see a brief overview of this here.
      This being a personal statement, one wonders how much this opinion is really worth. After all it is just one man’s view. Galileans Jews did not accept pharisaic Judaism to the degree that made the pharisaic fathers of the movement satisfied, but their vibrant spirituality could be seen in other places.
      Ironically, Mishnah the foundational document of Rabbinical Judaism was codified in Tziporri a Roman city, not far from the village of Nazareth (of course in Galilee). The problem with your suggestion is that Nathaniel who made the comment was Galilean too (I think he was from Cana). It is unlikely that he simply objected to other Galileans. Cana was also a very religious place. Perhaps, this attitude simply shows the kind of dislikes that ultra-orthodox jews today would have against one another (for example, zatmar vs. lubavitcher, or berdichever), etc. I think there must have been something place specific that made the tiny village of Natseret so repulsive to him. What in particular? We may never know.

      1. Jeff Martin

        Actually I would think that Jesus’ statement that “..here is an Israelite without deceit”. would actually help solidify my argument because Nathaniel was the type of person to be bluntly honest even it disparaged his own hometown.

        So Jesus grants to Nathaniel this highly unlikely thing for the Messiah was not supposed to come from any other place other than Bethlehem. The insignificance of Nazareth plays into the insignificance of Jesus’ burth and upbringing.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Perhaps. Keep up thinking critically!

          1. Jeff Martin

            Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg,

            Thank you for your time. I found an interesting piece about Sepphoris from and Eric Meyers Paula Fredrickson. It mentions the mixture of both Roman influences and Jewish ritual – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/sepphoris.html

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Jeff, as always thank you for your contribution the blog discussions and our growth. Sepphoris and Tzipori is one and the same thing. One of my favorite places to look for how life was back then.

  4. Gerben Houtman

    What if Nathaniel’s negative reaction came not from a disdain for Nazareth but, a knowledge of Scripture? Suppose that Nathaniel had been contemplating the Messiah when Philip approached him with the good news? Nathaniel may have known that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. Hence his comment “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” meaning that the messiah comes from Bethlehem.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Gerben, hi! It could be the way you are suggesting. But in that case the most logical thing to say would be that Nazareth is not the place from the Messiach would come, Bethelehem is. In my mind there was something very negative about Nazareth that is not know to us, but was known to Nathaniel.

  5. […] which Passover did Jesus observed. Jesus was not a Samaritan. Nor was he a Qumranite. He was in fact a Galilean, Jerusalem-centered Israelite. In a word he was a […]

  6. Tom Brennan

    This is an excellent discussion. All too often the socio-political environment of 1st century Israel is glossed over with simplicity. Roman governance extended into almost every segment of daily life in the lands it controlled. The fishing trade depended on salt, the “franchise”and permit governance were prizes handed out to the most cooperative citizens. Publicans were deeply resented because they lived within the community and yet worked as collectors of the myriad of fees and taxes. In many ways they were seen as both collaborators and spies. The choice of Levi as a disciple must have deeply rankled the other disciples (and also been a serious demonstration of God’s mercy).

  7. Michelle

    Dr. Eli,

    Nathaniel didn’t see any good in Nazareth, true. But in thinking about Jesus’ rejection being mostly in all Jewish-controlled areas, could it have been caused by the spread of rumors concerning Jesus not being Joseph’s son? I’m just trying to understand a dynamic of the culture. Were there rumors and ill feeling amongst the people of Bethlehem and Nazareth concerning Jesus’ birth (and then Mary and Joseph’s disappearance to Egypt while their neighbors’ sons were killed, and then suddenly showing up years later with Jesus who was not killed like the others), and did those rumors spread to the other Jerusalem-controlled cities? Is it possible that the people living in the Galilean areas didn’t have knowledge of these rumors (assuming there were rumors)? If so, is that one reason he was accepted so well in the Galilean areas, and not the Jerusalem-controlled cities?

    Thanks for posting this discussion. As you can see by my questions, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

    1. Ramón Sánchez

      Good Point! If I,m not mistaken, the Gospel has a reference to Jesús by the jews questioning his Messianship Claims because: is not him the son of Joseph?
      So, his parentwood was not in question During his ministry but afterwards.

  8. Ramón Sánchez

    Is vindicated decisively On ita acuracy of representing a real existían históricas figure Who was feared by his claims.

  9. Ramón Sánchez

    The rejection of Jesús by the jews is self evident in Gospels. The focus On this rejection coming from the jews is also atested in this writings.
    It is My TRADING of the Gospel that Pilates absolved Jesús 3 times in his process. Echen in the end calling for juegue menú from the people Whois rejected his decision the people calles for crucifixion. It was not a call by Pilate but by the jews.
    Why the jews call for a hanging On a Wood which was a clear and absolute curse on the one Who suffered that death and Which meant that the person Would never gain ressurrection acording to those Who Believe so (the Pharisees).
    My take is that the call for crucifixion by the jews was not Online aún execution but a total rejection of his claims. And in rejecting those claims so decisively, the Gospel is vindicated

  10. Ramón Sánchez

    The rejection of Temple Judaísm can aliso be seen in the call for crucifixion wich was, in fact, a request for a curse On him and the negación of his ressurrection due to the curse of hanging On a wood.