The gospels hint that the Holy Family had connections with two towns, Bethlehem and Nazareth, but in the end, they opted for the latter. Here is why Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Nazareth.
Where were they living before Jesus was born?
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was from Nazareth, which is in Galilee, in the north of the country [Luke 1:26] but it does not tell us where Joseph came from, whether he was from Nazareth or elsewhere.
It does tell us that he was from the family of King David, who had strong connections with Bethlehem, David’s home town.
We are also told that at the census called by the Roman emperor each had to go to his own town to register for taxes [Luke 2:3] .
Joseph took the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, which suggests that Bethlehem was his town, but the gospel states that they were living in Nazareth at the time.
This suggests that Nazareth was not their permanent home, most likely a place to stay while Joseph, a carpenter, earned money on the large construction works going on at the time in Galilee.
Where they lived after Jesus born
It is not often noted that when the Wise Men [Magi] went to Bethlehem they went to the house [not the stable] [Matthew 1:11] where they saw the child.
This indicates that the Holy Family were living in Bethlehem not only when Jesus was born, but after Jesus’ birth.
It was normal at the time for the wife to move to her husband’s house, so the question must be asked, why did they move to Nazareth?
Herod the Great
All of Palestine at the time was under Roman rule, subject to the emperor Augustus, but the administration was done by a client king, known as an ethnarch, Herod the Great, who was a cruel man who killed people who crossed him.
Herod had been alerted by the Wise Men that an heir to the throne of David and therefore a rival to his dynasty had been born.
The wise men had contacted Jesus’ family in Bethlehem and then escaped after being warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
Herod took the advice and discovered that the Messiah, the ultimate challenger to his dynasty, would be born at Bethlehem.
He responded by killing young boys under two years old living at Bethlehem, but Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escaped, taking the road to Egypt, where there was a large Jewish community that would provide shelter and support.
There they stayed until the already old Herod had died in 4 BCE.
The Return from Egypt
Archelaus and Antipas
The Roman emperor, Augustus, split Herod’s kingdom between some of his sons, Herod Archelaus, the eldest surviving son, taking Judaea, where Bethlehem and Jerusalem were, and Samaria, the central section, Herod Antipas, who was later to kill John the Baptist, taking Galilee, where Nazareth was, and Herod Philip taking other areas.
The sons each took the lower-ranking title of tetrarch.
Herod Archelaus had a distinctly bad reputation. He was at least as cruel as his father, but probably not as competent.
He lasted as tetrarch for eight years before the Roman emperor dismissed him.
After Herod’s Death
The gospel of Matthew tells us that later on, an angel informed Joseph in a dream that Herod [the Great] and those who wanted to kill the child were dead, so he decided to take his family back to Bethlehem.
However, when they arrived Joseph was horrified to discover that Archelaus had been appointed ruler of Judaea.
This meant that had they stayed in Bethlehem they would have had to suffer threats from this cruel ruler, and as a surviving member of David’s family, his life and Jesus’ life were not safe.
The wisest course of action was not to stay in his own town of Bethlehem but to make the journey northwards, back to Nazareth. There were two advantages to this move
They are as follows
- While Herod Antipas was not a good person and was capable of cruelty, he was not arbitrarily cruel and so people were safer under his rule than they were under Archelaus. Joseph chose the lesser of two evils.
- Mary’s family was based in Nazareth, so Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would not be alone there.
Nazareth became the place where the family settled.
The decision to go to Nazareth was due to the family being refugees in a time of political oppression, firstly having to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt and next being internal refugees, displaced persons, in their own country when they returned.
Main Points About Joseph, Mary and Jesus Returning Home
- The holy family to run to Egypt because King Herod had decreed that children under the age of two be killed. This decree was made in hope that he would kill the newborn King of the Jews the magi talked about.
- When King Herod fell sick and died, an angel appeared to Joseph with instructions. He told him to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel.
- At the time of the return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus return home, Jesus was between two to five years old.
- On the return, Joseph was further instructed in a dream to take the family to Nazareth.
- The holy family remained in Nazareth until Jesus started his teachings. The return home is believed to be the fulfillment of scriptures.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Joseph, Mary and Jesus Returning Home
- How far did Mary and Joseph travel from Bethlehem to Egypt?
The distance that Mary and Joseph covered while traveling from Bethlehem to Egypt is around 90 miles. Equivalent to almost 145 km.
- What happened to Jesus's father Joseph?
It is believed that Joseph who was the father of Jesus died around the age of 111 years. The causes of his death are unknown and it is believed that he died before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
- Who called the census in Bethlehem?
David called the census to Bethlehem. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph was removed from the house of David. Thus, David was the mastermind behind the census in Bethlehem.
- How old were Joseph and Mary when Jesus was born?
From the mythological evidence, it is believed that Joseph was of around 18 years’ age when Jesus was born. Mary is believed to be around 16 years of age when Jesus was born.
- What nationality was Jesus' mother?
Mary was a woman from the first century, who gave birth to the holy Jesus Christ and gave the world new hope and remedy from their sins. The gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament and the Quran describe Mary as a virgin.
- How many brothers did Jesus have?
Jesus Christ had four half-brothers. They were James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. It is also believed that Jesus Christ had two half-sisters.
- Why do Catholics worship Mary?
The Catholics worship Mother Mary because they believe that God had entrusted her for becoming the mother of the Holy Jesus Christ. They believe that as she gave birth to Jesus so she was a God herself.
When King Herod had died, Joseph could take his wife and child back to Nazareth from the exile in Egypt, where they fled to escape King Herod’s order of killing all boys.
They came back to Nazareth as it wasn’t ruled by the hideous King Archelaus like Bethlehem as it was in the kingdom of Galilee and not Judea.
They stayed here until Jesus started his preachings, fulfilling another prophecy of the bible.
Word Cloud for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Returning Home
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