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Son teaches of fatherhood in Nazareth


Amer and his 8-month-old son in the carpentry shop at Nazareth Village.

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Oct 18, 2005
-by Ryan Miller and Glenn Witmer

Nazareth — Amer paused from his job in the carpenter shop at Nazareth Village, sawdust spit from the 2,000-year-old tools settling into the dust. In his lap, 8-month-old son stirred. Amer placed the boy’s hand on the saw, and the boy stopped, mesmerized by the ancient apparatus.

Amer thought about Joseph, a carpenter who once had lived near this shop, and his once-young son. What was it like to have the son of God work with him in the carpentry shop? Did Joseph sit Jesus on his lap as he worked? What did they talk about over the saws and awls?

Shirley P. Roth, Nazareth Village interim director, said first-century fathers were seen as loving protectors. They slept inside the front door at home to defend the family and worked long days, often with children and other family members, to provide basic necessities. Through his work at Nazareth Village, Amer said his own thoughts about fatherhood have changed.

“This is a window of understanding of what life was like in Jesus’ hometown in the time that he lived,” Roth said. “It also gives insights into his teachings … in a new way.”

Some of those insights, biblical stories and interpretations, as well as news, photos and recipes, will be available in “The Word on the Street,” a new monthly Internet newsletter from, a ministry supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission network.

When Nazareth Village opened in 2000, developers expected tourists to the Holy Land to flock to the re-creation of first-century Nazareth that brings the teachings of Jesus to life. But the start of an intifada caused a drastic drop in international visitors. Instead of the hundreds of thousands drawn to the land by the millennium, most people stayed home, and local tourist businesses wondered what to do with stacks of merchandise and how to feed their families.

“It was a devastating blow for everyone involved,” Roth said, “to have politics and national affairs keep us from the ministry we intended.” As violence recedes, tourists are beginning to flock back in to see the re-creation of first-century village life less than a half-mile from where Jesus lived.

Roth said visitors match the Nazareth Village staff – they come from a variety of religious backgrounds, but all gain something from Jesus’ life and ministry. While the guides through the village are Christian, the Nazareth residents that populate Nazareth Village during open hours represent Christians, Muslims and Messianic Jews. Visitors, too, represent the entire spectrum from belief to atheism. One recent visitor, a devout atheist, told his guide that Nazareth Village pushed him to return home and open his Bible.

“To be able to speak that powerfully to someone who is not a believer is a good reason for why we’re here,” Roth said.

Roth succeeded former director D. Michael Hostetler who, with his wife Virginia and family, moved to Kitchener, Ontario, for two years of program development and sharing the Nazareth Village vision with supporters in North America. In addition, Virginia will be studying at Conrad Grebel University College. Roth features a background as a management consultant, educator, grant writer, and director of community-based programs in the health care field.

“At Nazareth Village we want to continue to strive to learn more about the life of the people that Jesus knew,” Roth said. “For as we gain new understandings and are able to share more fully the story of Jesus’ life and ministry with visitors who come from all over the world, we know that our heavenly father is being honored.”

The monthly free newsletter, “The Word on the Street,” is available through the Subscribers who sign up additional members will receive a free gift and be entered into free drawings for further Nazareth Village gift items (see Web site for details) . “The Word on the Street” will feature news clips of developments in the village and its surroundings, photos of the village people and animals (one just lost and another found!), food tips and scenes from domestic life 2,000 years ago and “Village Vignettes” – biblical stories and interpretations drawn from our parable walk. Content is suitable for use in Bible and Sunday-School classes.