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In the Gospel of John it states that when Nathaniel was told that the Messiah was from Nazareth, he wondered, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46)

According to Wikipedia:

A Hebrew inscription found in Caesarea dating to the late 3rd or early 4th century mentions Nazareth as the home of the priestly Hapizzez/Hafizaz family after the Bar Kokhba revolt (AD 132–135).[42][43] From the three fragments that have been found, the inscription seems to be a list of the twenty-four priestly courses (cf. Books of Chronicles - 1 Chronicles 24:7–19 and Book of Nehemiah - Nehemiah 11;12), with each course (or family) assigned its proper order and the name of each town or village in Galilee where it settled... Eleazar Kalir (a Hebrew Galilean poet variously dated from the 6th to 10th century) mentions a locality clearly in the Nazareth region bearing the name Nazareth נצרת..which was home to the descendants of the 18th Kohen family Happitzetz (הפצץ), for at least several centuries after the Bar Kochva revolt.

If priests could have no moral qualms about residing in Nazareth, why would Nathaniel say such a negative comment about Nazareth?

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  • This saying, similar to the claim that no prophet can arise from Galilee, is a reflection of popular prejudices current at the time - neither has any scriptural basis. Galilee was looked down on because there were many non-jews living in that region.
    – Robert
    Sep 24, 2021 at 8:08
  • Does this answer your question? Was Nazareth a joke town?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 24, 2021 at 11:43
  • This seems to be a different question than hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/835/… That question appears to ask about the authenticity of Jesus coming from Nazareth. This question asks why did Nathaniel say what he did.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 24, 2021 at 12:46
  • @Robert - Yes Ironically if you look into scripture as they say there are Prophets in the Torah from Galilee. eg Jonah is from Gath-hepher in Galilee
    – Marshall
    Sep 25, 2021 at 0:02
  • Nathanael! :) Oct 9, 2021 at 4:47

3 Answers 3

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The whole thing about Galilee and Nazareth seems to be some kind of divine irony/comedy. Nazareth was the butt of the joke. Let's see the context, John 1:

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

Jesus was collecting a bunch of Galilean disciples, heading to Galilee.

John 12:

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

Nathanael himself was from Galilee, John 21:

2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Ironically, where was Nazareth?

Barnes:

Nazareth - This was a small town, situated in Galilee, west of Capernaum, and not far from Cana.

At the time of Nathaniel, Jews had a prejudice against Galilee which included Nazareth.

John 7:

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee?

John 7:

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

What was worse than Galilee?

Nazareth :) Smiley face intended.

Gill:

The whole country of Galilee was had in contempt with the Jews; but Nazareth was so mean a place, that it seems it was even despised by its neighbours, by the Galilaeans themselves; for Nathanael was a Galilean

Nathanael was a Galilean. Nazareth was part of Galilee. Jesus was taking his disciples back home to Galilee.

John 1:

46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

Why did Nathaniel say, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"?

He was just innocently echoing the prejudice of the day.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

In some sense, Philip prophesied to Nathaniel to go with Jesus and he would clear his prejudice.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

Jesus confirmed Nathanael's innocence and sincerity.

The joke on Galilee started a long time ago back in the time of Solomon, 1 Kings 9:

10Now at the end of the twenty years during which Solomon built these two houses, the house of the LORD and the royal palace, 11King Solomon gave twenty towns in the land of Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, who had supplied him with cedar and cypress logs and gold for his every desire. 12So Hiram went out from Tyre to inspect the towns that Solomon had given him, but he was not pleased with them.

13“What are these towns you have given me, my brother?” asked Hiram, and he called them the Land of Cabul, as they are called to this day.

Cabul sounds like the Hebrew for good-for-nothing.

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Some good answers here, but here is a different direction.

One important theme in the Gospel of John is where is Jesus from. Of course, they knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem

John 7:42 "Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"

Yet they often made it clear that Jesus, being from Nazareth (in their incomplete estimation) of Galilee meant He could not be Messiah. Not so much a put-down of Nazareth but an indication that he understood that the Messiah was not going to come from there.

John 7:52 They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."

I see the declaration of Nathanael as being one of this nature; "nothing good comes from Nazareth" = the Messiah does not come from Nazareth

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When a well published Greek New Testament scholar such as A.T. Roberson speculated like this, this indications the answer is difficult.

Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? (Ἐκ Ναζαρετ δυναται τι ἀγαθον εἰναι; [Ek Nazaret dunatai ti agathon einai?]). Literally, “Out of Nazareth can anything good be.” There is a tinge of scorn in the question as if Nazareth (note position at beginning of sentence) had a bad name. Town rivalry may account to some extent for it since Cana (home of Nathanael) was near Nazareth. Clearly he had never heard of Jesus. The best thing in all the world came out of Nazareth, but Philip does not argue the point. A saying had arisen that no prophet comes out of Galilee (John 7:52), untrue like many such sayings. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 1:46). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

While the site had been inhabited, archaeological evidence indicated it was uninhabited after Assyria conquered Israel.

Archaeology evidence shows that Nazareth was settled as early as the Middle Bronze Age and continued to be settled through the Iron Age. However, the city is not mentioned in literature prior to the New Testament; likewise, Josephus doesn’t mention it, even though it was located near Japha/Yaphia, a city he fortified during the First Revolt (Josephus, Vita, 230). The site appears to have been uninhabited in the centuries following the Assyrian conquest. Extensive remains have been uncovered from the second century bc, suggesting a significant population increase (possibly resettlement) under the Hasmonean rule. It is unlikely that there was any genealogical continuity between the inhabitants of the Hasmonean period and those of the Iron Age (Reed, Archaeology, 28–31). -- John D. Barry, ed., The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Lexham Press, 2016

The evidence suggests that Nazareth had a population of 200-500 people at the time of Christ, and none of the population was wealthy. The population later increased under Hasmonean rule.

In the first century ad, Nazareth occupied only the ridge and did not extend into the Jezreel Valley 350 meters below (Reed, Archaeology, 115–16). The village’s 40,000 square meters could have accommodated a population as high as 2,000 (Meyers and Strange, Archaeology, 56), but current estimates allow a population of only 200–500 at the time of Jesus. All evidence supports the view that Nazareth’s primary industry was agriculture, including the production of wine and olive oil. The slopes supported the growing of wheat and barley. The soil to the south permitted the cultivating of vegetables. The village, like many throughout the ancient Mediterranean, was likely self-sufficient, though poor. The lack of remains from the period suggests that houses were constructed of local uncut stones and mud with thatch roofing. The town receives no mention in non-Christian sources from the Roman Period. It likely was known only at the local level, and perhaps enjoyed little esteem even there (John 1:46). -- John D. Barry, ed., The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Lexham Press, 2016

Luke 4:16 indicates a synagogue in Nazareth.

The information we now have leads to the possibility that Nathaniel said what he did about Nazareth because is was a very small rural town with poor shepherds and farmers. The view of the rich was:

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” (Matt. 19:23, ESV)

The picture of Nazareth from archaeology is consistent with Jesus' family. They were poor. (Wee As Mary was too poor to offer a lamb after giving birth to Jesus, offering birds instead, does this prove the Magi had not yet pitched up with gold?).

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)

His father was a craftsman/builder (see Was Jesus really a carpenter?). The evidence is consistent with a growing Nazareth (larger in later centuries). Thus, the need for construction.

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