Thursday, 3 January 2013

Nazareth revisited

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I very extravagantly allowed myself to be persuaded by the taxi driver to let him drive me to Nazareth rather than take the bus and am glad I did. The Judaean Desert and Jericho were beautiful in the morning light as was the plain of Armageddon on which Nazareth, lovely hill-town, stands. 


Nothing very much in the Bible happened in Nazareth, except the Annunciation, which clever theology students often do not take seriously. But I remember the late Alice Thomas Ellis, asked what was the greatest achievement for women, replied 'The Annunciation'.


I stayed the night at Nazareth with an American self-described 'Episcopalian evangelical' who has come to the Holy Land to help convert people to Christianity. He has written the history of how the Anglicans established their mission in Jerusalem for just this purpose (but to covert Jews, as converting Muslims under Ottoman law was a capital offence). Nowadays, he tells me,  the Anglican Church in Jerusalem despite its handsome cathedral and the lovely Christchurch, besides the Jaffa gate, refuses to  offer non-Anglicans instruction in the woolly Anglican faith, with the sole exception of people married to Anglicans. The Anglicans restrict themselves to criticising the Israeli government (never Hamas who might react unpleasantly). It sounds very Anglican. 


Nazareth is a purely Arab town in Israel  The Arab population surrendered to the Jews in 1948 on condition that they were allowed to remain. In those days it was a mainly Christian town but now, like Bethlehem and Ramallah and many other towns, it is three quarters Muslim. The present mayor is a 'Christian' but in fact a Communist. He will not stand at the next election and it is very possible that his successor will belong to the Muslim party and try to move Nazareth in a - to use a silly word - 'Islamist' direction.


Besides Nazareth is a new Jewish town called Upper Nazareth or Nazareth Illit, which was formerly run by and largely populated by Romanian Jews but was since taken over by Russian Jews. Many of these are in fact Christians who buy their Christmas decorations from shops in the Arab town. The Orthodox Church makes no attempt to cater for these Russian-speaking Christians. The mayor of Upper Nazareth made headlines by refusing to permit the erection of a Christmas tree in a public space the town. He cannot, however, prevent prosperous Arab Christians buying houses there to get away from Muslims or the threat of Islamisation in the lower town.


Lower Nazareth, sans tourists this afternoon, is a lovely place with sere leaves, bright light and an autumnal feeling. Girls everywhere drinking cappuccinos and window shopping. 


Nazarene girls are sweet and very girly. How odd to think that the Blessed Virgin Mary was one of them, although she, unlike them, was neither Christian nor Muslim, but an ultra-religious Jewess. Who knows whether the house preserved in the Catholic basilica is the house where the Holy Family really lived but what is sure is that the well beside the Orthodox Church is the well from which she would have drawn their water. Water springs do not move in a mere two millenia.


I dipped into a book in my friend's house and read three sentences which struck me as very suggestive. The author pointed out that for Muslims Judaism and Christianity are only misunderstandings of Islam (for them Moses and Jesus were really Muslims). Therefore there is no point in seeking to understand or learn from these two defective faiths. 


Interesting thought. It reminds me that Carlyle said the Mahometanism was 'Christianity miusunderstood'. He was probably right but this has not stopped Westerners analysing and studying Islam and getting called Orientalists, for some reason a derogatory term, for their pains.

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