Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Judah

I started down the SDG Games path because I didn’t know as much about Biblical geography as I wanted. My goal wasn’t to become an expert in the topic, I just wanted to understand the context of the Biblical stories as I read God’s Word.

However, as I’ve started developing the first game, Journeys with Jesus, I’m learning things that many would never encounter, so I want to share with you some of the more interesting and helpful facts.

So today I’m starting a new series of articles about things I’ve learned along the way, and I thought a good way to do so would be to focus on the journeys I’m including in the game Journeys with Jesus. Let’s start at the very beginning…

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and shall name him ‘Jesus.’  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”  (Luke 1:30-33)

Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and in a wondrous miracle, Mary became the mother of Jesus.

Nazareth is in Galilee, which is in the north of Israel. In Jesus’ day it was a small village, probably with fewer than 500 people. It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament or in non-Biblical writings prior to the time of Christ.

Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:46)

Interestingly, in modern times, Nazareth is a much more prominent city with a population of nearly 80,000. Today it is most notable for two identities. As the boyhood home of Jesus, it is a center for Christian pilgrims and tourists. It is also the political center for Arabs in Israel. According to Wikipedia, the population of Nazareth today is 69% Muslim and 31% Christian.

Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)

Jesus’ first journey is described later in Luke 1 when Mary, carrying Jesus in her womb, visits her relative Elizabeth. We don’t know exactly where Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias lived, it is only referenced as “a city of Judah”.

Judah was in the south of Israel. By the time of Jesus, the area previously called Judah was now usually called Judea (sometimes spelled Judaea). In fact, I think this passage is the only place in the New Testament (other than direct quotes from and references to the Old Testament scriptures) that the name Judah is used for this area. Towards the end of Luke 1, when Elizabeth gives birth to John, the area where they live is referred to as Judea.

Fear came on all who lived around them, and all these sayings were talked about throughout all the hill country of Judea. (Luke 1:65)

Judea appears to be the Greek adaptation of the name Judah. When Joshua led the conquest of the promised land and the allotment of the land to the different tribes of Israel, the tribe of Judah received a large portion in the very southernmost part of the land.

Later, after King Solomon’s death the kingdom was divided, the northern portion was called Israel or Ephraim and the southern was called Judah, but also included parts of what had been Benjamin’s, Dan’s, and Simeon’s allotments. From that point on, the definition of the territory called Judah and then Judea became a political definition rather than a tribal one and the border would move around a bit over the years, decades, and centuries.

Earlier in Luke 1, Zacharias had been serving in the temple in Jerusalem, so it’s possible that he and Elizabeth lived near Jerusalem. According to Google Maps, the distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem is 149 km (93 miles) and today (with modern roads and walkways) it would take 31 hours to walk between the two cities.

Because I don’t know where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived, I don’t include this first journey in the game, although there is a journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, which reflects the annual trips that Jesus’ family would take to Jerusalem.

His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

The image above is from the current prototype of the game board showing the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem in Judaea.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

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