The discussion so far as to whether Nazareth was or was not the hometown of Joseph is far from conclusive. There are more reasons as to why Nazareth may not have been the hometown of Joseph.
Some scholars claim that there are practical reasons why Nazareth could not have been the hometown of Joseph.
Not Everyone Accepts That The Birth Place Of Jesus Was Bethlehem
Although the birth narrative of Jesus has been around for 2000 years it does not mean that it has been universally accepted even among Christians that the birth place of Jesus was Bethlehem.
Some scholars contend that the birth place of Jesus could not have been Bethlehem. For instance Dr. Beckford asks whether it would have been possible for Mary who was supposed to have been nine months pregnant to have traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem in Judea which is a distance of about 140 kms riding on a donkey (1). Luke says that Mary and Joseph had to do this in order to take part in the Roman census and taxation. Jesus was born while they were in Bethlehem. (Fig 1)
Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), stated that: “Basic medical knowledge tells you that a heavily pregnant woman could not ride a donkey that kind of distance without losing her baby.” Although medical knowledge was primitive in those days, something as basic as this would have been known generally. Joseph and Mary would not have had access to a method of transportation other than walking or riding on an animal (2).
1st Century Judea Women “…Were Considered Second-Class Citizens…”
In addition to this, in 1st century Judea women “…were considered second-class citizens, akin to slaves.” Only Joseph would be required to register with the authorities, because “the husband was the spiritual and legal head of the house.” The need for his teen-aged fiance or wife to be there with him would have been unnecessary. As a matter of fact Joseph would have traveled without Mary, probably in a group for the sake of better protection against bandits (3).
Besides this, there is no record of a worldwide census having been conducted in the last decade BCE, contrary to what was claimed by Luke. If such a census had been conducted, it would have been so unsettling that its effects would almost certainly have been recorded at that time in many Roman documents. There is reference to a local census having been conducted by Quirinius during 6 CE. However at the time this was conducted Jesus would have been about ten years of age. Besides, this census was held in Judea and not in Galilee where according to the Gospel of Matthew is where Joseph lived (4).
It does not stand to reason, requiring Jews and other inhabitants of the Roman Empire to return to their ancestral hometown for a census registration. The economy of the Roman Empire would have been put out of gear if everyone had to make such a visit. The transportation facilities would be completely overloaded. Besides, then as of now, censuses are generally conducted where people lived.
In circa 6 BCE the year that Jesus is said to have been born, it would have been impossible for adult Jews to return to the ancestral city of their tribe. Because of the annihilation and dispersion of Jews in the Northern Kingdom, and the enslavement and exile of the remaining Jews in Babylon of whom only a few returned, several, if not most Jews in Judea at that time would not have been aware of their tribal origins (5). It is therefore more likely that Bethlehem was the hometown of Joseph and the birthplace of Jesus.
People Rejected Jesus As The Messiah Because He Was Known To Have Come From Galilee
Mark 6:1 is not in agreement with the claim of a Bethlehem census. He states that Nazareth is the birthplace of Jesus and his “hometown.” John 7:41-43 is in agreement with this by saying that people in a crowd rejected Jesus as the Messiah because the Messiah was expected to come from Bethlehem in Judea, whereas Jesus was known to have come from Galilee.
There are several references in New Testament which state that Jesus is from Nazareth and not Bethlehem. The early Christians were referred to as “Nazarenes.” Jesus was himself referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus the Nazarene” or “Jesus the Nazorean” – but never as “Jesus of Bethlehem” (6).
Jesus Was Born In Another Bethlehem Which Is In Galilee
This may come as a surprise, but there’s another claimant for the birthplace of Jesus: another Bethlehem.
Dr. Beckford feels that probably Jesus was instead born in another Bethlehem which is in Galilee. He has reasons to believe this. Excavation in this Bethlehem showed that there was a 6th century church. This church the largest Byzantine church in Israel was built above a natural cave which many scholars think is where Jesus was born. In addition to the church, a monastery was also discovered there. Besides this there is also indication of the presence of a large Christian community there during that period.
Bethlehem in Galilee
Dr. Beckford feels that it is more likely that Jesus was born in this Bethlehem since it is only about 7 kms from Nazareth. However the church insists that Jesus was indeed born in the more famous namesake since that would be fulfilling an Old Testament prophesy (7).
A senior archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority wrote in Archaeology magazine that while the ‘Menorah,’ a voluminous database of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), portrays
Bethlehem of Judea as a primeval site with Iron Age objects and the fourth-century Church of the Nativity and other Byzantine and medieval structures, there is a total lack of information about antiquities from the Herodian period which is about the purported time of the birth of Jesus. While archaeological excavations resulted in revealing a lot of material belonging to the Iron Age i.e. 1200 to 550 BCE no materials belonging to the time of Jesus were found there. This has prompted scholars to claim that Bethlehem did not exist as a meaningful town during the time of Jesus.
The absence of artifacts from the period of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea prompted Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to argue that Bethlehem of Galilee and not Bethlehem of Judea was the more likely birthplace of Jesus. Oshri reasons that it is because of the significance of the Bethlehem of Galilee that the early Christians built an imposing church in the middle of Jewish territory.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, conservative Christians maintain that Bethlehem in Judea is the birthplace of Jesus, since this fulfills the prophesy that a messiah would be born there (Micah 5:2). It is because of such discrepancies that theologians Don Cuppitt and Peter Armstrong urge that people should in general be wary of events in the New Testament that are supposed to be fulfillment of prophesies in the Old Testament (8).
The only archaeological evidence presented in all this is that there were some houses that existed in Nazareth during the time of Jesus. All indications are that a Jewish village did exist in Nazareth, but one that was so small that it did not find a place in the listings of Josephus and the Talmud.
Please also read my blog “Jesus May Have Had 6 Brothers And Sisters” at
(1) Leafe, David. (2006). Did Jesus Have a Secret Family? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/FeaturesMiddEast/CanaanJesus01.htm
(2) Cook, Jonathan. (2004). The search for the real Bethlehem. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.jkcook.net/Articles2/0216.htm
(3) Robinson, B.A. (2004). The Christmas story: In what town was Jesus born? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm
(4) Robinson, B.A. (2004). The Christmas story: In what town was Jesus born? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm
(5) Robinson, B.A. (2004). The Christmas story: In what town was Jesus born? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm
(6) Robinson, B.A. (2004). The Christmas story: In what town was Jesus born? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm
(7) Leafe, David. (2006). The Middle East, Did Jesus Have a Secret Family?
Retrieved 2011, from http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/FeaturesMiddEast/CanaanJesus01.htm
(8) Robinson, B.A. (2004). The Christmas story: In what town was Jesus born? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm
(Fig 1) Usual Jewish Route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
(Fig 2) Bethlehem in Galilee.