Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Rev Know-it-all’s guide to the Holy Land part 8

Rev. Know-it-all’s guide to the Holy Land continued…

From Capernaum, home of St. Peter and his family we take a long walk of about twenty miles to the little towns of Cana and Nazareth (of course in the 21st century we will take a comfy tour bus). This distance could easily be covered in a day by people who were accustomed to walking as were Jesus and his contemporaries. For us it is an effort to walk to the corner grocery store. Of the two towns Cana was by far the more important. It had a reliable spring of water and had been settled for thousands of years before the birth of Christ. There are a lot of candidates for the Cana of the Bible, but the one commemorated in our times as the site of the wedding at Cana is, at least in my opinion, the best of the bunch because of the testimony of early pilgrims including St Jerome.

Modern excavations beneath the present church have revealed remnants of early first century houses and an ancient basilica. Kfar Kenna, as it is called today, is only a few miles north-east of Nazareth. Remember that Jesus was at the wedding feast with his mother, his relatives and his disciples, according to the second chapter of the gospel of John. For such a crowd to be invited to a wedding, one would think that there must have been some sort of familial or other neighborly association. It makes sense that Cana was just a short walk from Nazareth. Nazareth, however, was about two miles east of nowhere at all. It was about as unimportant as a town can be.

At the time of Christ, it was tiny, about 500 people, though it seems to have had its own synagogue. Fr. Bargil Pixner, a scholar who really knew the Holy Land in the twentieth century, says that much of the royal family of David had remained in Babylon. They were comfortable there. The situation of the returning exiles must have been a little like the return to the Holy land during the upheavals of the twentieth century. The hardy went back. The smart stayed home in New York. “We’ll be going next year after we’ve got the business sorted out. Write. Keep us posted.” 

The Davidic family started to return during the century before Christ. There was talk of the Messiah. The Messiah would of course be a member of the Davidic family. This meant government jobs. When the old royal family started coming back in greater numbers, the Maccabees and the Herodians, not descendants of David were running things, so they settled in two towns near the Sea of Galilee. One was a bit to the east of the Sea of Galilee and was called Kokhaba, or the “the Star” calling to mind the prophecy, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24: 17) This is the only clear mention of anything resembling a Messiah in the Torah.

The other little town was called Nazareth, probably a word meaning “little shoot.”  This calls to mind the prophesy of Isaiah, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots, a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1.) The tiny town of Nazareth, like most ancient towns everywhere, was made up of a lot of people who were cousins. It is interesting to think that the people of this proud little town, by and large descendants of King David, wanted to throw Jesus over a hill for blasphemy when he proclaimed himself the Messiah.

It is also quite remarkable to think that in our times, the Christians of Nazareth, quite possibly descendants of those Nazarenes two thousand years ago, built a stadium in recent times on that same hill to receive Pope Benedict, the vicar of the Messiah. History is an amazing thing.

More to come...

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