The Land of Jesus, Part 1


The mortal ministry of Jesus Christ affected all mankind, yet it occurred in a narrow strip of land between 60 and 140 kilometers wide and less than 240 kilometers long.

Even though the gospel Jesus taught is universal, his teachings and earthly experiences are tied closely to the land in which he lived. Sheep, fishing nets, millstones, and temple walls were objects of his life and his teachings. Tax collectors, shepherds, fishermen, and noblemen were among those who heard his words and believed.

What was the land of the Messiah like? In this issue, we feature photographs of places where Jesus lived and where he began his ministry. In next month’s issue we will feature places and objects prominent in his life—and in his death and burial.

Unless otherwise credited, the photographs are from the pictorial archive of Dr. Richard Cleave of Jerusalem.

He who was called “the bread of God” and “the bread of life” (John 6:31–35) was born in Bethlehem, a Hebrew term meaning the house of bread.

Modern-day Bethlehem is seen here across the rocky slopes of Shepherds’ Field, where, to this day, shepherds in kaffiyeh headdresses still tend their flocks.

King Herod sought to kill the Christ child (see Matt. 2:16), but an “angel of the Lord [appeared] to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt” (Matt. 2:13).

We don’t know where Jesus lived in Egypt, but this scene, showing the marked contrast between the desert and the fertile area watered by the River Nile, is typical of the land to which Joseph and his family fled.

The stay in Egypt, as Matthew points out, fulfilled the prophecy in Hosea 11:1 that God would call his “son out of Egypt.” (See Matt. 2:15.)

The Temple Mount at Jerusalem today features the Dome of the Rock, a Moslem mosque first constructed about A.D. 690. Anciently this was the site of Herod’s temple. Although the temple was completed before the Savior’s birth, he would have seen ongoing construction on other buildings in the temple complex.

Nazareth is much larger today than it was when Jesus lived there after his family returned from Egypt. But in many respects the original character of the village remains. The ancient marketplace and well date to the time of Christ.

“All flesh is as grass,” wrote the Apostle Peter, “and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:

“But the word of the Lord endureth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:24–25).

The wild poppy, common to both biblical and modern times, is an example of a short-lived flower whose beauty quickly “falleth away.”

Despite modern technology, the camel is still widely used in the Holy Land for work and travel, just as it was in biblical times. It was an animal known to John the Baptist, who wore a garment woven from camel’s hair (see Mark 1:6), and to the Savior. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he told his disciples, “than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). Later, he accused the hypocritical scribes and pharisees of being “blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24). This particular camel is nibbling at an acacia tree. Such trees provided the “shittim” wood from which the Lord commanded Moses to build the tabernacle and some of its furnishings. (See Ex. 25:5, 10, 13, 23, 28.)

As Jesus began his ministry, he lived in Capernaum, a town located about four kilometers south of this beautiful area where the Upper River Jordan enters the Sea of Galilee. In Jesus’ time, Capernaum was one of the most prosperous and crowded districts in all Palestine and may have had a population of 10,000. A major industry was fishing, with the fish being hauled aboard boats in nets much the same way then as they are today. Two sets of fishermen brothers, Peter and Andrew—who lived in Capernaum—and James and John, answered the call of the Master to become “fishers of men.” Jesus taught the people wherever they gathered to hear him, including in synagogues similar in style to this well-preserved structure at Kefar Baram, upper Galilee, dating from the second century A.D. (See also the inside back cover.)

[photos] Photography by William Floyd Holdman

[photo] Photography by Timothy L. Taggart

[photo] Photography by Kathleen E. Lubeck

[map] Copyright 1970 Providence Lithograph Co.