The Synagogue Church is a Melkite, Greek Catholic church located in the municipal market in Nazareth; in a building that served as an ancient synagogue and was in the Middle Ages the church. A new church was built next to it in 1887. According to Christian tradition, in this place, Jesus used to study and pray; in which he declared to the worshipers that he was the Messiah. Following this proclamation; the worshipers took him out of the city and sought to push him from the top of a mountain. But he passed through them and was saved. According to the tradition previously accepted; Jesus jumped from the mountain and was saved. Although this tradition is no longer accepted, the mountain is still known as the Mount of Precipice.
In 570 CE, an Italian visitor described Nazareth’s synagogue and reported that the original Bible was still there; including the bench where Jesus used to sit. The floor of the Synagogue Church is sunken about 1.5 meters underground; possibly built atop a Crusader church dating from the 12th century. The church was under the control of the Franciscans until the 18th century when the ruler Zahir al-Umar passed it to the Greek Catholics.
The Christian Tradition About the Synagogue Church
According to Christian tradition, the Synagogue Church is built on the ruins of the ancient Nazareth synagogue where Jesus studied and prayed. In addition, it is where one Sabbath day Jesus went to preach. In two Gospels (Matthew 13:54-58, Mark 6:1-6), his fellow townspeople became angry with him. Because he was one of them, they did not trust him to have the authority to preach in that way and to perform miracles. He was amazed at their lack of faith and concluded that a prophet is not honored in his own hometown.
In Luke 4:14-30, the account differs: Jesus reads in Synagogue Church from Isaiah 61:1,2 and the worshippers are pleased. But he tells them that prophets are called to do their work in foreign places rather than at home; because they are not accepted in their own hometown. In doing this, he also implicitly declares himself as the Messiah. This sermon infuriates the listeners; who drag him to a cliff to throw him over, but he simply walks through the crowd and leaves.
Little is known of the years Jesus spent in Nazareth, leading scholars to describe this time as “the hidden life” or “the silent years”. It is thus all the more significant for Christian visitors to find a lonely place where such silence is broken – the Synagogue Church.
The Gospel According to Luke
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: […]
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. […]
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4: 16-30)