Nazareth Village re-creates life as Jesus knew it

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On a rocky hillside in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up and spent much of his life, a familiar scene is taking shape. In the courtyard of a stone stable, surrounded by rough-hewn wooden farming implements, a young man and his wife are comforting their newborn son. They are dressed in simple, handwoven tunics, and the baby is lying on a bed of fresh straw in an animal's trough.

It is as if they had been transported back in time 2,000 years to the birth of Christ and the simple rural community where Mary and Joseph lived, probably less than a mile away. This is Nazareth Village, an authentic re-creation of a first-century Holy Land farm.

This week, the village was the scene for a dramatic retelling of the Nativity by torchlight, accompanied by readings from the Gospels and carols in Arabic for the local community. The play has been staged in Nazareth since 2000, and it draws thousands of spectators.

Although there are other Nativity plays in the Holy Land, this is probably the most authentic reconstruction of the birth of Nazareth's most famous son. The crowded courtyard is buzzing with the raucous sounds of donkeys, sheep and chickens that share the rough accommodation. The steady thud of hammers and chisels drift over from a nearby carpenter's workshop. The air is thick with the smoke of oil lamps, the fresh farmyard odors of animal dung and viscous white goat's milk cooking in a pot on an open fire.

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