Jesus from Nazareth

Most readers will already be aware of the NT Pod podcast on the question of Jesus’ birthplace by Mark Goodacre, and the response from Clayboy. I thought I’d chip in with my $.02 worth.

For me, the fact that Jesus was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” (such designations indicated one’s place of birth, as the case of Saul of Tarsus seems to confirm) is key evidence pointing to Jesus’ birthplace having been Nazareth. Although Matthew and Luke seem to agree (independently, for those who subscribe to the Q hypothesis) on Jesus having been born in Bethlehem, that is one of very few details these authors agree on when it comes to the birth of Jesus. Both are clearly engaging in strenuous and contrived attempts to have Jesus be born in Bethlehem and yet still account for his being known as “Jesus of Nazareth.”

I have some course notes on my web site about the problems historians face when dealing with the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke, for those who may wish to explore this and other related topics further.

  • Edward T. Babinski

    That's funny, because you say that such narratives raise extremely problematical historical questions but the super colossal web-pologist J.P. Holding of Tekton Apologetics Ministries says that the infancy narratives convey information about thel ife of Jesus that "remains as solid as ever."

  • James F. McGrath

    I don't know what to make of J. P. Holding. There have been times when I contemplated linking to something he wrote, but he regularly has typos in the titles, never mind the main body of his blog posts. That doesn't bode well for his ability to harmonize historical documents in a persuasive way! :)

  • Bill

    Great points, James.On a minor point: "strenuous" I can grant, but contrived" is a bit of an assumption, isn't it? Not to 'apologize' here, certainly, but I'm curious what might you see in Mt. vs. Lk. that strictly contradicts the other?I wonder if you'd grace us with a separate post on the topic. You know, for the "Holiday Season". ;-)

  • Doug Chaplin

    Really – comparable to that single source reference to "Saul of Tarsus" never mentioned by the chap himself? Personally I'm okay with that, but you're far more sceptical than me. :)

  • James F. McGrath

    I will if you really want me to, but I think the link I posted already indicates much of my thinking on this subject. Take a look and let me know what else if anything I ought to add!

  • Solly Gratia

    Thanks for the link to your study pages James.Re Luke, I guess he could have been mistaken about the timing, since they didn't have a universal calender back then. But there is very much a sense that he and Matthew are locking Jesus into the mainstream of Judaism as they see it.I preached through Matthew a few years a go, and saw the OT references in cpp 1-4 as centreing around exile, and liberation from that. Jesus as the new Moses, yes, but not the lawgiver, rather the liberator.

  • Anonymous

    Let me see if I have it straight as to why Jesus was probably born in Nazareth.1. In his day, people didn’t move around a lot, and he was known as Jesus Nazareth—a pretty solid historical fact, buttressed by dozens of references in the gospels.Query: does Paul ever refer to Jesus of Nazareth? 2. Early followers of Jesus were strongly motivated to find features of Jesus’ life that fulfilled prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible. Micah 5:2 fills this bill. We don’t have to say Matthew (the best evidence suggests that Luke had Matthew, and doesn’t count as an independent source) made it up out of whole cloth, only that he read the evidence backwards—from the fulfillment (which must have been because Jesus was a descendent of David and the Messiah) to the prophecy. 3. The birth narratives, if they don’t flat-out contradict each other, don’t fit well together. The shepherds or the magi seems more probable than the shepherds and the magi. But more probable still seems neither. See also 5. 4. Both births stories have the air of legend about them—angels, celestial phenomena, magi come calling. Such legends were associated with the births of other figures of the time.5. Luke has the birth occurring when Quirinius was governing Syria—who took office in 6 A.D. Matthew has it in the days of Herod the King—who died in 4 A.D. There are two ways out of this one: one, to suppose that Qurinius was governor twice, and two, to suppose that the birth occurred not “while” Quirinius was governor, but “before.” Those eager to read history or the gospel text in unnatural ways so as to avoid any inconsistency will take refuge here. Those more concerned to discern what happened will be persuaded by Richard Carrier and James McGrath. 7. Nothing of importance turns on the question where Jesus was born. It is for good reason none of the great creeds refer to his birthplace. His special relationship with God would by precisely the same whether he was born in Bethlehem or sixty-nine miles to the north.

  • Bill

    Sorry. Just got to read the article. So much time spent on Quirinius. One of my missions in life is to say, "Suspend judgment on Quirinius – temporarily forget that bit until we've examined everything else exhaustively." But you're in a fine tradition, of course. And there sure is a lot to say about Qui.All my questions are about that little paragraph near the end. There's enough there to make much more of.One point:The Lukan census, if historical, probably had no property requirement. First, the property would have been in one's current residence, not in one's ancestral home. Second, Josephus talks about the strong reaction to that aspect of the 6 AD census, specifically. (Antiquities 18.2)If the pregnancy was a scandal in Nazareth, the natural response by Joseph & Mary would be to go for the registration, but stay for a fresh start.

  • James F. McGrath

    OK, Bill, I set Quirinius to one side and tried to address the other aspects here: