|Carter in Nazareth Village|
Carter takes in Nazareth Village
Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Mission Network/Come and See Joint
Nazareth, Israel — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter found time in his trip to the Middle East to drive north to Nazareth, on a recent Saturday afternoon in January to visit Nazareth Village, the full-scale replica of a first-century village in Nazareth.
Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have been honorary chairs for Nazareth Village since the inception of the idea in 1997, but neither had previously visited the site. They were in Palestine and Israel to observe the Palestinian elections Jan. 11.
Accompanied by former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient toured the village with a group that included the mayor of Nazareth, Nazareth Village board members and friends of the village.
Guided by D. Michael Hostetler, the village’s executive director and a worker with Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network, the group stepped back in time as they toured first-century houses, an olive press, a winepress and a synagogue in the heart of Nazareth, just a few blocks away from where it is thought Jesus grew up.
On the web site of his centre to promote human rights, Carter wrote that he was “truly amazed at (the village’s) high quality and archeological integrity.”
The village receives guests from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.
Hostetler said, “We believe it is critical that there be archaeological and historical authenticity in our presentation. By paying attention to details, we deepen our understanding of who Jesus was and his purpose in coming.”
The former president asked about numbers of visitors to the site and the religious background of these visitors. He urged Nazareth Village staff to invite religious leaders beyond those of the Christian faith to see the village, adding that he already had encouraged Muslim leaders in Jerusalem to visit.
During the visit it was clear that the architect of the Camp David peace treaties has long ties with Nazareth. Carter asked about the disputed land near the Basilica of the Annunciation and if this issue was resolved. The mayor of Nazareth told the president that the dispute in Nazareth has never been between Christians and Muslims but rather an internal political matter. The president recalled his visit to Nazareth in 1972 and to the village of Iksal in the suburbs of Nazareth in 1986. He also mentioned his sister Ruth’s visit to the Nazareth Baptist School in the past.
The visitors enjoyed a first-century meal with fresh bread baked over the open fire, thyme, olive oil, cheese and olives. During the meal, the group heard an explanation of the significance of gathering around the table for food in Middle Eastern cultures – a symbol of reconciliation between opponents.
Carter, a veteran Sunday-school teacher, was impressed by the message of life and teachings of Jesus conveyed throughout the tour. He seemed touched by the village’s scriptural cornerstone – Luke 4:17-19 – and when the guide spoke about Jesus’ mandate for his followers to love their enemies during a time of Roman occupation, violence and turmoil. The tour concluded with the presentation of a replica set of ancient ceramic oil lamps – symbols of the light Jesus calls his followers to be.