Nazareth and Bethlehem


“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” (Luke 2:4 NKJV)

The ancestors of both Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem, which was in the territory assigned to the tribe of Judah: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6 NKJV) Yet Joseph appears to have been raised in the city of Nazareth which was in a territory far to the north. Why would the Messiah, who was from the tribe of Judah be raised in an area so far from his tribe?

A comparison of the location of Nazareth indicates that it was close to the borders of Zebulun, Naphtali and Issachar
(“Palestine in Christ’s Time” Nelson’s Bible Dictionary)
 (“Tribal Distribution of Palestine” Moody Atlas of Bible Lands)
•    The city of Nazareth did not exist at the time of the tribal distribution. Fausset's Bible Dictionary states, “Nazareth is never named in Old Testament.” (“Nazareth” Fausset's Bible Dictionary)
•    Zebulun - Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary states that Nazareth was “situated in the territory belonging to Zebulun.” (“Nazareth” Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
•    Naphtali – The Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon states Nazareth was “a territory in Naphtali largely occupied by heathen; a circuit of towns around Kedesh-Naphtali, in which were situated the 20 towns given by Solomon to Hiram king of Tyre as payment for his work in conveying timber from Lebanon to Jerusalem.” (Galiyl OT:1551 Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon)

Although the area of Nazareth was part of the territory assigned to one of the northern tribes, it may be that this area became part of the tribe of JUDAH. Land could be transferred from one tribe to a different tribe under a very specific set of circumstances:
•    A daughter inherited the property from her father. This began with the daughters of Zelophehad: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter.’” (Numbers 27:7-8 NKJV)
•    However, the property of the daughter could be transferred to the tribe of her husband if her husband was from a different tribe: “Now if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken from the lot of our inheritance. And when the Jubilee of the children of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.” (Numbers 36:3-4 NKJV)
If one of the male ancestors from the tribe of Judah married a daughter who had inherited land in the area where Nazareth would be built, then that specific property would become the property of one from the tribe of Judah.

Timing of the intermarriage
Although the daughters that inherited land were commanded to marry WITHIN the tribe, there was one extreme circumstance that may have allowed no other option. That circumstance may have been the deportation of the men of the northern tribes to Assyria: “Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day. Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.” (2 Kings 17:23-24 NKJV) Many of the men of the northern tribes were killed and thus much of the land would be given to the surviving daughters. It may have been that one of these daughters who inherited the property in the area that would become Nazareth fled south to the territory of Judah, which was still ruled by the Jews. It may be that one of the men of the tribe of Judah saw this daughter of the northern tribe and married her. The land in the northern area that she inherited would now become the property of the tribe of Judah.

This may explain HOW a person descended from Judah could live within the boundary of the territory assigned to one of the northern tribes and still remain on land that belonged to the tribe of Judah. However it does not explain WHY the Messiah would choose to be raised in a territory separate from His birth.
•    To hide his origin - Perhaps being raised in a city far from Bethlehem would hide from others until the appropriate time that Jesus was the Messiah. If it had been more obvious that Jesus was from Bethlehem, the people would have had no reason to doubt that He was the Messiah. Since He spent time in Nazareth after His birth, this required faith: “Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?’ So there was a division among the people because of Him.” (John 7:41-43 NKJV)
•    To fulfill His title as the son of David - Jezreel was the place from which came the first wife of David, who was the mother of his firstborn son: “Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess.” (2 Samuel 3:2 NKJV) The mother of the son of David came from the region near Nazareth, as was the mother of the Son of David.
•    To demonstrate humility - Nazareth was in Galilee, a region despised by the religious authorities: “They [the Pharisees] answered and said to him [Nicodemus], ‘Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.’” (John 7:52 NKJV) If Galilee was looked down upon by the Jews of the south, then Nazareth was the lowest place in Galilee. Nazareth was a place which none could imagine as a source of good: “And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” (John 1:46 NKJV)

“And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:13-16 NKJV)