Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem - 1
"Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" (John 7:42).
In the footsteps of Mary and Joseph (the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem)...
First, a reading from the oft-memorized birth narrative in Luke's Gospel:
"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child" (Luke 2:1-5).
Luke gives no details about the route followed by Mary and Joseph and their traveling companions (people seldom went alone because of the danger from bandits) from their home in Nazareth in Galilee. However, contemporary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote:
"It is the custom of the Galileans at the time of festival to pass through the Samaritan territory on their way to the Holy City."
Josephus thus identified the most direct route which took them southward across the Jezreel Valley, then up along the ridge of rounded hills and weathered peaks (2,625-3,380 feet) that form the backbone of the country. The Samaritans sculpted them with terraces where they nurtured olive trees, fig trees and grapevines. In the small valleys they grew barley and wheat. The modern-day equivalent of the "highway" they followed is today esignated Road 60, traversing the northern part of the Israeli-occupied "West Bank" ("Shomron" to Jews; "Palestine" to Arabic-speaking inhabitants).
Terraced hills of Samaria between Galilee and Jerusalem
Under normal conditions, driving this route today would take about four hours. But, for the 2.2 million Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and East Jerusalem travel through this area is hardly normal. Most are effectively barred from much of Road 60 along with many other roads carefully engineered for the use of the 376,000 Israelis who have settled in the West Bank over recent decades. Palestinians contemplating the 25-mile journey from Ramallah to Jericho, for example, must be prepared to spend an entire day, sometimes days, negotiating Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints.
The many peoples who have lived on this land in past ages have not always been at odds. Forty years ago a cache of letters was uncovered in a cave in the Judaean desert on the southern fringe of the West Bank chronicling the daily life of Babatha, a Jewish woman who lived in the port town of Maoza in modern-day Jordan at beginning of the 2nd century CE. In 1960, archaeologist Yigael Yadin discovered a leather pouch containing her personal documents in what came to be known as the Cave of Letters, near the Dead Sea. The documents found include legal contracts concerning marriage, property transfers and guardianship. These documents, ranging from 96 to 134 CE, depict a vivid picture of life for an upper-middle class Jewish woman during that time. Babatha described Jews and Arabs coexisting without friction. And just a hundred years ago Jews, Christians and Muslims living in Jerusalem routinely attended each other's religious festivals. That kind of harmony eroded and disappeared in the 20th century with the rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism in the region.
Heading south from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Road 60 passes through or near several Old Testament sites. It crosses the fertile Jezreel Valley and passes through Afula. Soon it crosses the so-called Green Line, marking the West Bank's border with Israel, and enters the Palestinian town of Janin which, in 2007, had a population of 39,000. In ancient times it was known as "Ein-Jenin" or "Tel Jenin." The word "ein" means "water spring" in both Arabic and Hebrew, and "Jenin" might be related to the Hebrew "gan" and the Arabic "janna," both meaning "garden". The Arabic name "Jenin" ultimately derives from this ancient name. It has been identified as a place named Gina mentioned in the Amarna letters from the 14th century BC. During the Roman era, Jenin was called "Ginae," and was settled exclusively by Samaritans. It is mentioned in the Bible as En Gannim ("fountain of the garden"; see Joshua 15:34, Joshua 19:21 and Joshua 21:39 in the NIV), The people of Galilee were disposed to pass through the city during the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem.