04.07.01 Daily Life In Nazareth

04.07.01 Daily Life in Nazareth

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.07.01 Daily Life in Nazareth

04.07.01 Daily Life in Nazareth

The village of Nazareth was nestled in the hills of Galilee. Yet strange as it may be, there were three provincial Jewish districts: Galilee, Perea east of the Jordan River, and Judea which surrounded Jerusalem. The southeastern corner of Galilee barely touched Perea.  Otherwise, Galilee was surrounded by non-Jewish people.  In fact, the name Galilee comes from the Hebrew word Galil which means circle – but the district of Galilee is anything but circular.[1]

 Video Insert    >

04.07.01.V1 Jesus as a Carpenter or “Tekton.” Mr. Majd Shufani explains the research that was done to build the reconstructed Nazareth Village.  He then explains the Greek term tekton, meaning carpenter, and the type of activities that Jesus as a carpenter would have performed. (8:00)


Daily life in the first century was extremely difficult with no modern conveniences commonly taken for granted today.  Houses were cold and damp in the winter and the summer nights were so hot and humid that many slept on roofs tops. Today visitors to Israel can visit reconstructed villages at the Hasmonean Village, the Katzrim Talmudic Village, the Nazareth Village, and the Biblical Garden at Yad Hashmonah, to get a glimpse of what ancient life was like. Great care has been taken at these living museums to present an authentic re-creation of daily life in the days of Jesus.

Video Insert    >

04.07.01.V2 The Home of a Typical Jewish Peasant Family. Dr. Bill Heinrich gives a brief description of a typical Jewish home as found in the mountain regions of Israel, while Mr. Majd Shufani describes the typical first century house in Nazareth.  


The English word for carpenter is often said to have come from the Greek word tekton,[2] meaning builder or craftsman (Mk. 6:3a).[3] A master builder or director of works would have been known by the Greek term architekton (753; cf 1 Cor. 3:10) from where the English word architect is derived.[4]  But the tekton was not a carpenter in the modern sense of the word, but one who built with wood, and at times, stone and even metal.[5] It was an occupation of high social importance and wisdom, even though it did not generate an above average income.

Rabbinic literature indicates that if there was a problem in the village and no rabbi was available to resolve the issue, the question was asked, “Where is there a carpenter or a son of a carpenter?”  This occupation was a highly respected trade and, therefore, associated with skilled ability to resolve issues of life. In fact, so highly respected were carpenters, that when a scholar or rabbi walked into a room, the carpenter at work did not have to stand to honor him, but everyone else had to stop whatever they were doing to stand and honor him.[6]

Since Joseph was given the prestigious compliment of being righteous, it should not be a surprise that he was employed in this occupation.  The two most prominent scholars of the day, Hillel and Shammai, were also master carpenters. In Nazareth, situated in the quiet mountains of Zebulon of the Galilee district, Jesus earned His living in the manual trade of His father, as would have been the custom for young men. Scholars believe construction in the nearby city of Sepphoris created employment opportunities for many men who had those trade skills.  It is highly possible that Joseph and his sons worked there.

The fact that Sepphoris is not mentioned in the gospels or elsewhere is a mystery.  The city had a large Jewish population in the early part of the first century as determined by the many mikvaoth, or ritual baths, found in residential ruins by archaeologists.  Therefore, considering its Jewishness and employment opportunities, it is difficult to imagine Jesus not being here in His younger years working for other Jews and those sympathetic to them.[7]

However, some scholars have questioned whether orthodox Jews, such as Joseph and Jesus, would have accepted employment in an overtly pagan city. Sepphoris was dedicated to the Greco-Roman god Dionysus and filled with debauchery of every kind – male and female prostitution, gluttony, materialism, alcoholism, etc.  How could an orthodox Jewish man work there and not become defiled?  That was an issue the rabbis also pondered. Their answer is found in a set of guidelines they crafted to determine the types of Gentile construction projects Jewish craftsmen were permitted to work on. The Mishnah records the following,

None may help them build a basilica, scaffold, stadium, or judge’s tribunal; but one may help them to build public baths or bath houses; yet when they have reached the vaulting where they set up the idol it is forbidden (to help them) to build.

Mishnah, Zarah 1.7

While there were restrictions, Jewish men were permitted to find employment or have shops in Gentile cities. Sepphoris is only an hour’s walk from Nazareth and had a Cardo Maximums (Main Street) with shops on either side.  Craftsmen, farmers, and merchants would sell their goods to “city folk” and travelers.[8] Scholars believe, with a high degree of certainty, that it was somewhere along this “Cardo” where Joseph and Mary met, since tradition says she was born in Sepphoris.[9]

Experiences in the secular employment of Jesus eventually found its way into His teaching. Illustrations of this are the parable of the house builders (Mt. 7:24-27); the parable of the man who tore down his barn to build a bigger one (Lk. 12:16-21); the man who began building a tower without enough funds to complete it (Lk. 14:28 ff.); His interest in the foundations and structure of the temple (Mk. 13:1 ff.); and the parable about employing laborers (Mt. 20:1-16).

04.07.01a (2)


04.07.01.A. A NATURAL FOREST TYPICAL OF FIRST CENTURY WOODLANDS.  A natural open-tree forest with meadows is located a short distance northwest of Nazareth.  While most of the trees in the land were destroyed during the Turkish Ottoman occupation (1517-1917) the trees of this small area of several hundred acres survived.  It can be seen today as Jesus saw it and it may have been from this forest where He obtained the wood for His craft.  Photograph by the author.

For thousands of years houses were built of stone in the mountain and desert regions, or with mud bricks along the coastal areas. Except for rafters and doors, there was very little wood in them. Many scholars believe the carpenter or tekton was a master stone mason and wood worker, the latter being a craftsman who made a wide variety of wooden household and agricultural utensils. Others argue that the tekton built the wooden supports for the construction of Roman arches rather than trim and shape stones.  A partial list of carpentry tools is found in Isaiah 44:13, such as the measuring line, marker, chisel, and compass which have been used throughout history in woodworking as well as masonry construction.[10]  The Greek poet Homer (c. 850 B.C.) said that the tekton constructed ships, houses, and temples.[11]  Clearly, he was a highly skilled craftsman among working men. His trade taught Him to transform dead and useless objects into living and useful things; that the meanest material fashioned and shaped can become precious, friendly and useful to men. Later He would teach the divine principles of the Kingdom of God so that dead and useless people could be become precious, friendly, and useful to God.


04.07.01.B. A FIRST CENTURY “CARPENTER” AT WORK. This wood worker, in authentic costume, is employed at his woodcraft in a manner similar to the work of Joseph and Jesus.  Photograph taken at the reconstructed Nazareth Village by the author.  



04.07.01.C. TOOLS FOR WOOD AND STONE WORK OF A “CARPENTER.” Typical tools such as hammers, chisels, and saws were used to make wooden implements such as plows and yokes for oxen.  Carpenters were also stone masons.  Photograph taken at the reconstructed Nazareth Village by the author.


04.07.01.D. A PLOW AND YOKE FOR TWO DONKEYS. This plow and yoke, typical of biblical times, were acquired by the writer in Nazareth.  The natural formations of tree limbs were selected for the various parts of the implement. Photograph by the author.


04.07.01.E. TWO ARABS PLOWING IN THE 1920S AS IN BIBLICAL TIMES. This plow design is known to be at least 4,000 years old as clay models of plows have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. Photograph by H. V. Horton.


04.07.01.F. TYPICAL WOODWORKING TOOLS.  Typical tools of a first century carpentry shop that Joseph, Jesus, and His brothers might have used. Homes and workshops reflect more about a society and how people lived than monumental structures like palaces and temples. Photographed at the reconstructed Nazareth Village by the author.


04.07.01.G. RE-CREATED FIRST CENTURY STONE MASONS (“CARPENTERS”). Builders, dressed in authentic attire, work on a building at the reconstructed Nazareth Village as Jesus may have done centuries ago.  Photograph taken at the Nazareth Village by the author.


04.07.01.H. THE CARDO MAXIMUS IN SEPPHORIS. Only a single column stands on the once proud street that was lined with columns and many shops along either side. The Latin name cardo maximus was the main street of any Roman city, and Sepphoris was the capital city of Galilee.  It was here where people came to shop and trade. Photograph by the author.

As previously stated, Nazareth was a village where peasants lived in stone houses that were cold and damp in the winter.  For this reason, whenever possible, a home was incorporated with a cave that offered stable temperate conditions: warm and dry in the rainy winter months, cool and pleasant in the hot dry summer. Houses had stone walls coated with a clay and straw mixture, with an occasional mud-lime plaster coating.  Windows were square or rectangular openings in the walls with a skin or wooden closure.  Floors were of packed dirt or flat stones, and roofs were made with dirt or stone and coated with a mud-lime plaster to create some degree of water-tightness.  Rainwater from the roof was channeled into a cistern for summer use. The stove was a small clay dome in which a fire was built.  Bread dough in the form of a modern pizza was laid upon the hard hot clay stove surface to bake.  Life in such primitive homes was so crude that it is almost impossible today to comprehend what the daily activities were like at that time.[12]


04.07.01.I. THE KITCHEN OF A RABBI’S HOUSE.  The author stands in a reconstructed kitchen of a rabbi’s home in Katzrim, a fourth century (A.D.) Jewish village. The hanging shelf kept food safe from pesty animals.  In small villages, the rabbi generally generally had the nicest home. Photograph by Paivi Heinrich.

The homes of Jewish peasants generally had only two rooms, a family bedroom and another “family room,” which included the cooking area. It was the only room where guests could visit unless there was an attached courtyard.[13] The home in which Jesus lived may also have been a shelter for some valuable domestic animals.  These were kept indoors at night as not to be threatened by thieves or wild animals.  An example is found in 1 Samuel 28 where King Saul went to see the witch (medium) of Endor.  She took a calf from “within her house” (v. 24), killed it, prepared it, and served the king and his servants. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-15 that a lamp that has been lit will give light to the whole house.  That was because houses were of simple design and consisted of a large room and a smaller sleeping room.  The wall separating the two rooms often had square openings called “windows” through which fresh air flowed and allowed some light to shine in.[14]

Most people in today’s Western culture would not have a great affection for first century country dining. Small bowls served as drinking cups and soup bowls. The first century diet was essentially a cereal diet, supplemented with seasonal fruits and vegetables.[15] The meat would have been fish that was grilled or dried and salted.  Any other meat was for rare special occasions.  During the cold rainy winter months, everyone would have eaten inside a crowded room, whereas in the warmer months family time was in the courtyard adjacent to the house.


04.07.01.J. THE INTERIOR OF A TYPICAL JEWISH HOME. The interior of this reconstructed 4th century house at the Katzrim (Qatzrim) Archaeological Park (Museum) is probably nearly identical to Jesus’ home.  The walls were constructed of large stones, with the ceiling/roof being either of stone or tree limbs with branches covered with plastered mud. The wall on the right side is an interior wall with a series of ventilation holes known as “windows.” This type of home is cold and damp during the winter rainy season and deadly, if occupied, during an earthquake.  Photograph by the author.

The gap between the wealthy and the common peasants was tremendous.  The houses of the common people, or am-ha-arets, were small and modest.  The ground floor tended to have a low ceiling with dark soot covering the walls.  Generally, cooking was done outside, except in the cold and wet winter months.  The first floor had between two and four rooms. Slightly wealthier homes had a few high openings that served as windows, and a courtyard shared by neighbors. Often the oldest son lived in an added room on the side of his parents’ house when he married.  If the house was on the side of a hill, at times a cave was part of the dwelling area for either human or animal occupancy.  The second floor had more window openings and a higher ceiling.  The flat roofs served as drying areas for food, water collectors, and places for family meetings or times of prayer (Acts 10:9).[16]


04.07.01.K. THE ANCIENT NAZARETH TO CAPERNAUM ROAD.   Jesus often walked between Nazareth and Capernaum, He went through these distant wheat fields and down through the Valley of the Doves, as seen from the top of Mount Hittim.  On the right side is Mount Arbel with countless caves in its massive cliff face, and beyond it is the Sea of Galilee.  Photograph by the author.

Jesus was an itinerant preaching rabbi who could easily be seen as a wandering Jew.  Even as a child He journeyed to Egypt.  From the Egyptian dusty sand dunes, His parents took Him to the fresh waters and green hills of Galilee.  From Nazareth He often went to Jerusalem to observe the Lord’s feasts (also called the Jewish feasts). He was called of God to meet John the Baptist a short distance north of the Dead Sea where He was baptized. He traveled most often in the Galilee areas, namely in Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. He walked through Samaria and to Gentile cities such as Gadara, Caesarea Philippi, Sidon, Tyre, and Syria. Jesus did not stay long in any village or city.   He was a traveler on a focused mission; a wayfarer in voluntary exile in the land of His own creation; to a people He desired to call His own.

Jesus lived, spoke, and taught like a Jew.  An in-depth study of rabbinic writings reveals that many sayings of Jesus had previously been spoken by other righteous rabbis. The Jewish people, therefore, were already familiar with many of the foundational principles upon which He proclaimed His Kingdom of God/Heaven. His discussions with opponents revealed His divine wisdom, yet He was in every way an orthodox Jew on a divine mission to bring fulfillment to the Old Covenant and usher in the age of the New Covenant.  A major difficulty of modern Christians is that we think of Jesus as a Christian without a Jewish culture or religion. In fact, He was an orthodox Jew who lived in a religiously conservative Jewish community.[17]

04.07.01.Q1 Why do the Gospels not give details of the childhood or young adult years of Jesus?

The gospels do not give detailed information on the childhood of Jesus, or what He did during the eighteen years between His visit to the temple at age 12 and the time He began His ministry between the ages of 31 and 33. The gospel writers clearly had their own purposes, as each one wrote for a specific reason to a specific audience. Each one desired to convey the message that Jesus lived, died, and arose from the grave for the salvation of mankind.  In other words, God stepped into human history to redeem mankind. That is the main point of every gospel![18] Other details were not considered important to any of the New Testament writers. All the teachings and miracles that are written in the four gospels point to the main point – that Jesus is the Messiah of fulfilled prophecies! If the gospels were historical treatises, detailed information on his childhood and pre-ministry years would be given.

It must be remembered that the writers were essentially oriental Jews – and ancient people of the orient thought differently than do modern Western people. Even European church leaders a few centuries after Christ reasoned and thought differently than did first century oriental Jews. Consequently, there are two negative reactions to the gospel narratives – one ancient and another modern.

  1. The absence of historical information on the early years of Jesus has given rise to numerous apocryphal myths, many of which were later immortalized by Italian artists during the Middle Ages. But the problem is that these so-called gospel writers lived centuries after Jesus and obviously did not know Him or His community personally, and at times, did not even reflect the Jewish culture. Often their “gospels” are little more than fanciful accounts or factious novels. Some include stories of dragons that bowed down to Him; of roses in Jericho that suddenly blossomed wherever Jesus walked by; how He formed a bird from clay and it came to life and flew away. Yet the creators of these legends failed to realize that any account that is not rooted in truth is an insult to His character and holiness. Jesus said that false teachers would come and satisfy itching ears. They may have meant to honor Him; but no fairy tale touted as truth can honor Jesus.[19]
  1. More recently, modern liberal scholarship says that the miracles are fictional events to build up the esteem of the Hero Jesus. Yet these opinions are without any ancient literary or archaeological foundation. The fact that most of the disciples and died horrible deaths says volumes about the truth they wrote and preached.[20] The opinions of liberal scholars are frequently found in the media around Christmas and Easter when many give serious thought to the biblical message.

Therefore, the reader must understand the gospels from the mindset of the original author and the message he conveyed to his audience. If God decided to place Jesus in the social framework of first century Judaism, then maybe believers of Jesus should learn something about first century Judaism and the social and political environment in which Jesus lived and ministered.

[1]. Barclay, “Luke.” 45.

[2]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 12;  Issler. “Exploring the Pervasive References to Work in Jesus’ Parables.” 327.

[3]. Batey, Jesus and the Forgotten City. 74; Packer, “Carpenter, Builder, Workman, Craftsman, Trade.” 1:279.

[4]. Vine, “Master Builder.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:396.

[5]. Campbell, “What was Jesus’ Occupation?” 512.

[6]. Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29a and 33a; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 3, 303-12.

[7]. Batey, Jesus and the Forgotten City, 72-75.

[8]. See a full-size artistic Cardo street scene at 16.01.07.A.

[9]. Chancery and Meyers. “How Jewish was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time.” 20; See also “Guide to Sites.” By Biblical Archaeology Review. Staff. 60.

[10]. Visitors and students to Israel should visit reconstructed villages and witness first century life and the re-enactment of first century life with its crafts and trades.  Among the best as of this writing are the Biblical Garden at Yad Hashmonah, the Nazareth Village, the Katzrim (Qatzrim) Archaeological Park, and the Hasmonean Village northwest of Jerusalem along Route 443 near Modi’in.  A few miles further west along the same highway is the Neot Kedumim Park, a 625 acre biblical landscape reserve with reconstructed first temple period scenes.  Two other sites of interest is the Golan Heights Archaeological Museum north of the Sea of Galilee and the Philistine Museum in Ashdod.  A visit to one or more of these “living museums” will enhance one’s understanding of the cultural setting of the days of Jesus.

[11]. Barclay, “Mark.” 138.

[12]. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 30-36.

[13]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 263.

[14].  Packer, Tenney, and White, eds. The Bible Almanac.  487-92.

[15]. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 96.

[16]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 489-90.

[17]. See 03.04.26; Meyers and Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity. 57.

[18]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 1, Session 2.

[19]. Two examples are: 1) Ron Charles, who has gathered scores of fanciful legends and myths, mostly written between the sixth and sixteenth centuries, that pertain to the life of Christ in his book titled, The Search: A Historian’s Search for Historical Jesus. (Self-Published, 2007); and 2) Nicholas Notovich, whose book,  The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. Trans. (Virchand R. Gandhi, Dover Pub.) is a so-called historical account of when Jesus went to Asia to study between the ages 13 and 29.

[20]. See Appendix 27: “The Faith Of The Disciples And Gospel Writers.”

  • Chapters