While I was writing Yeshua’s Cat, I watched with interest as Nazareth Village took shape both on the internet and in the town of Nazareth. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s now an amazing non-profit tourist attraction in Israel, based (as far as I can tell) on careful archaeological and scholarly research. Because their research into 1st century architecture and culture was helpful to me in my writing, I decided that this might be a good time to return the favor.
Finding the kind of everyday details about ancient Israel that I needed was difficult without access to a university research library–and I did my writing miles away from anywhere in the Rocky Mountains. So when I stumbled on a small website documenting the process of reconstructing a small 1st C village near Nazareth, I was delighted. I’m grateful to have discovered Nazareth Village during its formative years, when they were actively struggling with bringing a dream to birth, just as I was.
I’m a visual person, and it helps me enormously if I can really visualize the places I’m writing about–and as a retired professor, I have to be sure it’s accurate! Floor plans and ruins will work in a pinch, but accurate reconstructions are by far the best. If you look carefully through The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, you can see the influence of Nazareth Village’s architectural research in three different areas: Yeshua’s skills at home repair, the structure of Keturah’s house in Capernaum, and some of the structural details of the Capernaum synagogue.
Yeshua’s house repairs
“Then without waiting for a response he bent to his task, tearing away the rotted cane and broken plaster until he could test the strength of the exposed beam underneath. I lay in the sun and thought my own thoughts while he came and went at his work, weaving cane mats to patch the holes, and mixing the first batches of mud to seal them in place. His strong hands were quick and neat at their work, and I guessed that I was watching him at one of the skills he shared with his family.” The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, Chap. 5
The photos above show the construction techniques that resulted in the kind of roof Yeshua was working to repair for Keturah: support beams, covered by woven cane, and various layers of mud and plaster. To the right is Mari’s view of the interior ceiling before it fell on her head. This was also the roof the four friends tore apart to lower the paralyzed young man.
Below you can see a plastered room similar to the one Yeshua was repairing in the following text:
“It was the morning after I had followed him to the spring, and he was chipping the crumbling plaster and mud from Keturah’s kitchen walls. He was slow to answer me, but I recognized the signs of a lengthy response in the making. I sighed. After all, I’d asked the question. He paused and looked at me where I sat across the room, out of reach of his dust.”
The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, Chap. 6
Nazareth Village’s basic house plan (right) was similar to the one I used for Keturah’s house. You can see the entrance into the courtyard, with Keturah’s main room and bedroom. The stairs to the roof would have been at the north end of the courtyard–with the goat.
Below are a couple of pictures illustrating the cistern and the runoff channels that carried rainwater to it. The runoff channel on the roof is mentioned in the text:
“I took refuge on the roof and watched as people craned their necks for a glimpse of his face. From where I sat I couldn’t see much, although I did notice that the crowd parted when several elders, dressed in fine linen turbans and fringed shawls, pushed their way from the street into Keturah’s house. But my curiosity about them died abruptly at the noisy approach of several humans across the roof beyond ours. With a growl, I flattened myself into the cistern’s channel.” The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, Chap. 8
At last we come to the synagogue. There are numerous synagogue ruins in and around Israel, many dating from near the early first century, and their floor plans are very similar.
Gamla . . .
Capernaum . . .
Masada . . .
But Nazareth Village created a reconstruction in three dimensions, and in full scale. Fantastic!
This was the synagogue I was imagining in the scene below:
“As he and his followers disappeared into the house of prayer on that Shabbat morning, I ran up the smooth bark of a great tree and jumped down onto the stone lip of the mud roof. Rising from the roof’s center were smaller stone walls with cat-sized windows all around. I leapt carefully into a window and crept through to the inside.
Far too much air hung between my feet and the floor to jump through the window. Flattening myself on the sill like a mouse in a crack, I inched my head over the inner edge and crouched there to see what I could see. Many men and women sat on stone steps around the sides of a large room, and directly below my window I could just glimpse ben Adamah’s head where he stood speaking.” The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, Chap. 6
To the right is an image of Mari in the synagogue that never made it to the map, probably because I couldn’t quite get past the fact that she didn’t really go in!
From what I can tell, Nazareth Village is a great success, and visitors love it. Maybe some day I’ll visit it first hand, but for now, I’m grateful for its presence online.