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"Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see," as Philip said to Nathaniel.
Why not? It appeared really charming last night as we came down the mountain from the northeast with the grateful shadows of evening falling softly around it. The vale is small certainly, but then the different swellings of the surrounding hills give the idea of repose and protection; and, for my part, I would infinitely prefer to have the home of Mary and her divine Son in such a quiet seclusion, than to be obliged to force my way to it through the dust, and confusion, and hard worldliness of any crowded city.
I most emphatically accord with that opinion, or rather feeling; and there is a sort of latent beauty and appropriateness in the arrangement by which He who made all things out of nothing should himself come forth to the world out of a place that had no history. The idea here tempts one to linger upon it and expatiate, but this would throw us quite off our present track, which is to go "round about" and describe this city of Nazareth and her neighbors.
It is certainly remarkable that this place, dearest to the Christian heart of all on earth except Jerusalem, is not mentioned in the Old Testament, nor even by Josephus, who was himself on every side of it, and names the villages all about it, but seems yet totally ignorant of its existence. It was probably a very small hamlet, hid away in this narrow vale, and of no political importance whatever. And, so far as its subsequent history can be gathered from Eusebius, Jerome, and other ancient records, it never rose to distinction until the time of the Crusades. It was then made the seat of a bishopric, but long after this it was an insignificant village, and remained such through many a dark age of lawless violence. Within the last hundred years, however, it has gradually grown in size and risen into importance, until it has become the chief town of this district. It is now larger and more prosperous than in any former period in its
history, and is still enlarging. The present population must exceed three thousand, but it can never become a great city. The position is not favorable, and there is a distressing want of water. Even at this early season there is an incessant contest for a jar of it around this fountain of the "Annunciation," which is the only one in the village. The present growth of Nazareth is mainly owing to the unchecked inroads of the Arabs from beyond Jordan, which has rendered it unsafe to reside in Beisan and on the great plain of Esdraelon. Most of the villages have been recently deserted, and this work of destruction is still going on; and the villagers from the plains are here in Nazareth, at Jennin, and still farther in toward the sea-board. Should a strong government again drive these Arabs over the Jordan, the population and importance of Nazareth would decline at once. It must, however, always be a spot sacred to the whole Christian world, for here our blessed Saviour passed the greater part of his life while on earth. But what a profound silence rests upon those thirty years of mysterious existence! We only know that here the child Jesus grew up from infancy to childhood and youth, increasing in stature as other children do, and in knowledge, and in favor both with God and man, as none ever have done. Here, too, he spent the years of his ripening manhood in humble labors and in sinless communion with God. How natural the desire to lift the veil that shrouds all this period in impenetrable darkness! Hence the spurious gospel of the "Infancy of Christ," stuffed with puerile or profane fables.
Let any one, curious to see what weak, uninspired man makes of the history of Jesus, turn to the First and Second Gospels of the Infancy, or the "Gospel according to Nicodemus," and he will be devoutly thankful to know that they are miserable forgeries, so foolish that they are rejected by all; and, so far from desiring to have the veil which covers the early life of the incomprehensible God-man lifted, he will adore the wisdom and the kindness that has thus concealed what we could not rightly appreciate nor even understand. Infinite wisdom decided that it was not well to
ANTIQUITIES OF NAZARETH.
encourage such inquiries, and has taken effectual care that they should never be answered. There remains not one acknowledged anecdote of his life during all these years. And, farther, I am most happy to believe that there is not a fragment of the ancient Nazareth itself which can be identified. It is nearly certain that every stone of the small hamlet where the Saviour of the world spent so many years has long ago dissolved back into the white marl of the hills from which it was quarried. This kind of rock disinte grates with great rapidity, and, as the place was often almost or quite destroyed and forsaken, the soft stones thus exposed would not last fifty years.
Well, thus I would have it. I like to feel assured that the church of the annunciation, the cave, the kitchen of Mary, the work-shop of Joseph, the dining-table of our Lord and his apostles, the synagogue where he read the Prophet Isaiah, and the precipice down which his enraged fellow-villagers were determined to cast him headlong, as now shown, are all fabulous, apocryphal, and have no claims to my veneration or even respect. The eye rests on nothing with which our Lord was familiar except his own glorious works. These remain the same. This narrow vale, on the side of which the village is built, climbing up the steep mountain back of it, is very much now what it was then. To this fountain the young Jesus came for water just as these fine healthy children now do with their "pitchers." Shut in on all sides by fourteen swelling eminences on the circling mountains, as Dr. Richardson counts them, Nazareth must have been always, as at present, very hot, particularly in the early part of the day. It was also wanting in prospects and distant views. Hence, no doubt, our Saviour would often climb to the top of this western hill, which rises at least five hundred feet above the bottom of the wady. There he could behold the distant sea, and breathe its fresh breeze. From thence, too, his eye would rove delighted over a vast expanse of sacred scenery. We can do the same, and in the doing of it hold converse with his spirit, and enjoy what he enjoyed, without one doubt to trouble, or one fable of med
dling monk to disturb. Let this suffice. God does not admit impertinent curiosity behind the veil of his own privacy.
Of places which immediately surround Nazareth little need be said, because few of them are mentioned in the Bible, or have ever risen to any distinction. Tabor, and Debûrich, and Ksalis, Endor, and Nain, we shall visit hereafter. Yafa here, to the southwest two miles, is the Japhia of Zebulon. Semmûnia, mentioned along with it, is in the same great oak woods two or three miles still farther west. Josephus also mentions Jibbata in the plain south of Semmûnia. Sefûrieh, the Sephoris which figures so largely in Josephus and during the Crusades-the Diocæsaria of the Romans and the fathers-is about five miles to the northwest. The fine fountains south of Sefûrieh, the more valuable for their rarity in this region, have witnessed many a contest between Crusader and Saracen, as it was a favorite camp-ground for both. Though it was an important city for several centuries after the advent of Christ, as appears abundantly from Josephus and Roman authors, and had coins struck with its name, yet it owes its celebrity mostly to the tradition that Joachim and Anna, the supposed pa rents of the Virgin Mary, resided there. It is now a considerable village, and flourishing for this region. The ruins of a castle, probably built by the Crusaders, may still be seen on the hill above it; and other remains, more ancient, are below on the west side. The latter may have belonged to a church or convent of the Middle Ages. The place is favorably situated, being nearly half way between Acre and Tiberias, with the fat and fertile Buttauf on the north, the long vale of Tur'an east, and the magnificent oak glades for many miles to the south, west, and northwest. The inhabitants are not the most complacent to strangers, and I have never liked to spend the night there.
30th. You have been making good use of this bright morning, I suppose, for you left the tent at an early hour?
I went at the call of the bell, and heard the monks say mass in their "Chapel of the Annunciation." The organ and the chant were quite affecting in this strange land and