A Question I Was Asked:

Why Did Joseph Go To Judea?

The Question:

In Matthew 2: 19-23 An angel tells Joseph to go back to Israel (not Judea) from Egypt, which he does. It says in V 21, "And he arose and took the Child and His mother and came into the land of Israel." Why would Joseph want to go 'back' to Judea which is in the South when he was strictly told to go to Israel? Herod's son, Archelaus was reigning in Judea. I assume... he was already there. Also, surely he [Joseph] would have had to pass through Judea?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us check this out:

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:19-23).

Here is a map of the area of Israel at the time of Christ. The general area of Israel includes the three main sections of Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Nazareth is a town in Galilee. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are in Judea. You seem to feel that Israel was just the northern part but 'Israel' may be used as a loose term for this entire area. Judea, of course, was the southern area of Israel. So when Joseph was sent to Israel, the precise area is not initially defined. Later Joseph was warned in a dream not to go to Judea. It was, of course, a matter of prophecy that Jesus had to be a Nazarene, although Nazareth was a place generally held in low esteem.

At the time, Galilee was under the government of Herod Antipas, who was a comparatively mild prince, and in his dominions Joseph might find safety. Archelaus however (reigning in Judea), partook of the cruel and blood-thirsty disposition of his father: at one of the passovers, for example, it is thought that he caused three thousand of the people to be put to death in the temple and city. For his tyranny and cruelty, Augustus eventually deprived him of the government, and banished him.

Regarding Nazareth (vs 23), probably the best explanation of the origin of this name appears to be that which traces it to the Hebrew word 'netzer' in Isaiah 11:1 - the small twig, sprout, or sucker, which the prophet there says, "shall come forth from the stem (or rather, 'stump') of Jesse, the branch which should fructify from his roots." The little town of Nazareth, mentioned neither in the Old Testament nor in Josephus, was probably so called from its insignificance: a weak twig in contrast to a stately tree; and a special contempt seemed to rest upon it - "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). One reason Nazareth might have been held in contempt is that many Gentiles had settled near there.

In travelling to Nazareth, would the three have passed through Judea? Probably, yes, although there was a more rugged, hilly route going northwards to the east of the Dead Sea. The three could have gone that way but it seems unlikely because of Mary having only recently given birth and because of the very young and tender age of Jesus. Joseph would simply have needed to travel through Judea (if he took that route) as inconspicuously as possible.

Robin A. Brace. June 26th, 2012.