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. chris

    Mat 13:55  This is the builder’s son, isn’t it? His mother is named Mary, isn’t she? His brothers are James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, aren’t they? 
    Mat 13:56  And his sisters are all with us, aren’t they? So where did this man get all these things?” 
    Mat 13:57  And they were offended by him. But Jesus told them, “A prophet is without honor only in his hometown and in his own home.” 
    Mat 13:58  He did not perform many miracles there because of their unbelief. 

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