The Land Jesus Knew, Part 1
December 1982

“The Land Jesus Knew, Part 1,” Ensign, Dec. 1982, 31

The Land Jesus Knew, Part 1

Beginning January 1983, the adult scriptural reading assignment moves to a new course of study: The New Testament. Through August, the Church’s curriculum covers the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Thus, we will focus on the very foundation of our religion, the Savior, Jesus Christ—studying how to follow in his footsteps, reading once again his teachings, sensing once again the joys and sorrows that followed him and his disciples.

In this issue begins a four-part series featuring paintings and photographs of sites and events associated with the Master’s life. This month we focus on events from Gabriel’s annunciation to the Savior’s forty-day spiritual journey in the wilderness after his baptism.

The paintings are by Harry Anderson, noted living American illustrator of the life of Christ, and by David Roberts, a British artist who visited the Holy Land in 1839–1842 and produced many drawings and lithographs of the land. His work, perhaps romanticized in aspects, serves as a rare window through which we obtain an understanding of what the Holy Land might have looked like before the enormous changes of modernization in the twentieth century.

Some of Harry Anderson’s paintings are printed by courtesy of the Church; others are printed by courtesy of Pacific Press Publishing Association, for whom Mr. Anderson has painted many illustrations.

The photography is from the Church Educational System (CES).


1. Nazareth (1839), lithograph by David Roberts.

Thou Shalt Bring Forth a Son

2. Thou Shalt Bring Forth a Son; Harry Anderson, artist. © Pacific Press Publishing Association; used by permission.

Map of the usual Jewish Route from Nazareth to Bethlehem

3. Map 1: Usual Jewish Route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.


4. Bethlehem (1839), lithograph by David Roberts.

No Room in the Inn

5. No Room in the Inn; Harry Anderson, artist. © Pacific Press Publishing Association; used by permission.

Bethlehem Today

6. Bethlehem Today, photograph by CES.

Lying in a Manger

7. Lying in a Manger, by Harry Anderson.

Wise Men from the East

8. Wise Men from the East; Harry Anderson, artist. © Pacific Press Publishing Association; used by permission.

El Arish and “The Way of the Sea

9. El Arish and “The Way of the Sea,” photograph by CES.

Map of the likely route of the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth

10. Map 2: likely route of the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth.


11. Nazareth (1839), lithograph by David Roberts.


12. Nazareth, photograph by CES.

Jerusalem, the Old City

13. Jerusalem, the Old City, lithograph by David Roberts.

About My Father’s Business

14. About My Father’s Business; Harry Anderson, artist. © Pacific Press Publishing Association; used by permission.

Shunem and the Environs of Nazareth

15. Shunem and the Environs of Nazareth, photograph by CES.

Mount Tabor and the Jezreel Valley

16. Mount Tabor and the Jezreel Valley, photograph by CES.

Descent to Jordan from the Jezreel Valley

17. Descent to Jordan from the Jezreel Valley, Photograph by CES.

The River of the Jordan

18. The River of the Jordan, photograph by CES.

Prepare Ye the Way

19. Prepare Ye the Way; Harry Anderson, artist. © Pacific Press Publishing Association; used by permission.

The River Jordan

20. The River Jordan, by David Roberts.

Baptism of Jesus

21. Baptism of Jesus, by Harry Anderson.

The Valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea

22. The Valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, by David Roberts.

Wilderness of Judea and the Dead Sea Today

23. Wilderness of Judea and the Dead Sea Today, photograph by CES.

The Judean Wilderness

24. The Judean Wilderness, photograph by CES.

“And it came to pass that he (the Spirit of the Lord) said unto me: Look! … And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, … most beautiful and fair.” (1 Ne. 11:12–13, 15.)

In the meridian of time, Nazareth was a small Jewish village in Galilee, three miles southeast of Sepphoris, the capital of western Galilee. It was the home of Mary and Joseph, and the scene of Jesus’ childhood and youth. Pictured in this 1839 drawing by David Roberts, Nazareth lies in its hilly, pre-modern setting, with the flat-roofed, terraced dwellings characteristic of Palestine for many centuries.

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

“To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

“And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. …

“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest. …

“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:26–28, 31–32, 38.)

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. …

“And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” (Luke 2:1, 3.)

After their marriage, and as the time for Mary’s delivery drew near, Joseph and Mary journeyed from Nazareth to Judea at the call of Rome’s tax collectors. Presumably their route was by way of Jewish Perea rather than through Samaria, thus taking them from Nazareth down the Valley of Jezreel into the Jordan River valley, and up to Jerusalem and Bethlehem by way of Jericho, a journey of about one hundred miles.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

“To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” (Luke 2:4–5.)

Though the northern province of Galilee was to be the scene of his childhood and youth (see Isa. 9:1–2), the place of Jesus’ birth was distinctly marked in prophecy: “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

Just a village in Jesus’ day, Bethlehem was situated on the east and northeast slope of a long limestone ridge, about six miles south of Jerusalem. The surrounding country, though hilly, was fertile and well cultivated even in the time of David Roberts, who completed this drawing in 1839. In the distance are the hills of Moab, and below them is the Dead Sea.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

“And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6–7.)

Harry Anderson depicts Joseph and the expectant mother Mary being turned away from an inn at Bethlehem, overcrowded due to the many persons there for the tax-gathering.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8–11.)

Like most cities in ancient Palestine, Bethlehem was built on a hill and may be seen some distance away. This photograph is of Bethlehem from the traditional Shepherds’ Field, where modern shepherds still watch over their flocks. Bethlehem was a walled city as early as David’s time. Its narrow streets and flat-roofed houses may appear today somewhat as they did anciently.

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15–16.)

Having seen for themselves that the long-awaited event had come to pass—the Savior born into the world—the shepherds then went forth testifying of all they had heard.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

“Saying, Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” (JST, Matt. 3:1–2.)

Following his birth, the baby Jesus was circumcised and then presented at the temple. (See Luke 2:21–38.) After a period of time (Jesus is now spoken of as a “young child” instead of a “babe”; compare Matt. 2:11 with Luke 2:12, 16), wise men arrived from the east to worship him. When they came to Bethlehem, they found the child with his family now in a house instead of a stable, and they presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (See Matt. 2:11.)

Where the men came from is unknown, and neither is it known how many there were; but in this painting, Harry Anderson portrays the traditional three.

“The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

“When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

“And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.” (Matt. 2:13–15.)

Threatened by Herod’s evil designs, Joseph and Mary took the “young child” and fled by night into Egypt, an area that was also under the control of Rome but outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. The shortest generally travelled route would have taken them through the coastal city of Ashkelon, and from there directly to Egypt along the principal route called “the way of the sea.” (See Map 2.) They arrived safely, likely finding refuge among the many Jews who lived in Egypt at that time.

Pictured here is the town of El Arish, on the Mediterranean seacoast some fifty miles south of Gaza. Mary and Joseph likely passed by here. Visible at the photograph’s center is the broad delta of the Wadi El Arish, the biblical “river of Egypt,” the ancient border between Egypt and the land of Canaan. (See Gen. 15:18.)

“But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

“Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.

“And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

“But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

“And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:19–23.)

After the death of Herod, the land of Palestine was divided among his three sons. Archelaus ruled in Judea, Idumea, and Samaria; Herod Antipas, in Galilee and Perea; and Philip, in northeastern Palestine.

“They returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39–40.)

This view of Nazareth by David Roberts offers a pre-modern setting for the city to which Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus returned from Egypt. The town lies on the lower slope of a hill that looks out over the great Plain of Esdraelon (the historic Plain of Jezreel), the largest and most fertile valley in Israel. Across the valley to the south are the mountains of Samaria; to the east, over intervening hills, is seen the summit of Mount Tabor; and to the west the long line of Mount Carmel stretches to the sea.

Today’s Nazareth presents a strikingly different appearance than Roberts’ view of 1839, having spread along the hillside and spilled onto the plain. Today the city is inhabited by 25,000 Arabs (many of them Christian) and 25,000 Jews. Nazareth has attained great prominence because of its association with the Savior. Thus, it now houses more than forty Christian-owned buildings, including orphanages, monasteries, schools, and convents.

“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.

“And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:41–42.)

Jerusalem lies near the summit of a broad mountain ridge, seen here from the southeast in a drawing by David Roberts. The Valley of Kidron, which separates the city from the Mount of Olives, is seen at the lower right. In Jesus’ day, the great temple stood essentially in the place now occupied by the large Moslem mosque, the Dome of the Rock, prominent at the center of this painting.

“And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

“But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

“And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

“And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

“And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

“And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

“And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:43–49.)

Having reached the age of twelve, Jesus, according to Jewish practice, was no longer considered a child but now took his place among men. His studies would have intensified and his vocational preparation received a new emphasis. At that age, he was entitled to enter the temple courts and listen to the rabbis, even to participate. Having astonished the learned doctors with his extraordinary understanding, he returned with his family to Nazareth.

“And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.

“And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.” (JST, Matt. 3:24–25.)

In Galilee Jesus grew from youth to manhood. Much of Galilee was the very embodiment of the pastoral life, yet the Galilean spirit was solid and tenacious. From here came eleven of the Lord’s disciples; also the prophets Jonah, Elisha, and Hosea. And here Jesus grew in stature and knowledge: “And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but … continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.” (D&C 93:12–13.)

In the springtime, a vast blanket of green covers the hills of Galilee where Jesus walked, as in this photo of the area of Shunem, just seven miles distant from Nazareth across the Plain of Esdraelon.

Also in the area of Galilee where Jesus grew is Mount Tabor, a beautiful mountain, wholly of limestone, rising about a thousand feet above the great Plain of Esdraelon seven miles east of Nazareth.

When President Spencer W. Kimball visited the Holy Land in October 1979, he visited Mount Tabor and said: “I felt very sure that this was the spot where Jesus had taken his three disciples, Peter, James, and John, to this ‘high mountain apart,’ and there had given certain blessings. [See Matt. 17:1–9.] I felt a very warm Spirit as we gathered together and felt what came to us from this experience.” (Taken from KSL Television special report, “Spencer W. Kimball: Journey to the Middle East,” 24 Oct. 1979.)

“And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh.” (JST, Matt. 3:26.)

When Jesus was about thirty years of age, he left Nazareth to go to the Jordan river in Judea. The Valley of Jezreel descends from the Plain of Esdraelon not far from Nazareth to the Valley of the Jordan. This view is of the Jezreel Valley looking east toward the land of Gilead in the background. The southeastern end of the Jezreel Valley here shown is about sea level and drops down into the Jordan Valley just west of Gilead.

Shown here is the Jordan River where it exits from the southern end of the Sea of Galilee and continues its flow south toward the Dead Sea. The water, placid here, enters the long, descending Jordan Valley and then meanders through a narrow flood plain crowded with scrub thorn and fragrant tamarisk. The river turns so much along its journey that it actually winds 180 miles in an overland distance of 60 miles.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

“And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matt. 3:1–3.)

“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

“And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:4–5.)

John’s activities at this time appear to be concentrated “in the wilderness of Judaea” (Matt. 3:1), with his baptisms taking place at Bethabara (see John 1:28), possibly at the fords of the Jordan near Jericho.

As this drawing by David Roberts indicates, the Jordan was a river of considerable size in pre-modern times; today, irrigation and dams generally reduce it to a small size as it enters the Dead Sea.

“John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29.)

“Then cometh Jesus … unto John, to be baptized of him.

“But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.” (Matt. 3:13–15.)

This view is the descent from Jerusalem to the area of Jericho, thought by some scholars to be near the location of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. From the summit of these hills are seen broken peaks and rocky outcrops, a labyrinth of ravines and sparse vegetation. It is an area of minimal rainfall and chalky soil, presenting a forbidding aspect from the rugged mountains on both sides of the valley down to the salt sea.

After his baptism, Jesus “began to be about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) and was led into the wilderness for forty days—probably in the wilderness of Judea above Jericho, an age-old place of refuge for people seeking sanctuary.

This photo, an aerial view of the wilderness of Judea, with the Dead Sea in the background, shows a wild, almost treeless area that guards the approach to Jerusalem from the east.

“Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God.

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil.” (JST, Matt. 4:12.)

“Then the devil leaveth him, and … he departed into Galilee. …

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:11–12, 17.)

This photograph illustrates the arid country that is the Judean wilderness. The small group of trees at left center indicates a water source, but little vegetation grows here. Geographers call the area a “rain shadow”—that is, moist air coming off the Mediterranean Sea first condenses its rain on the coastal plains and Judean hill country, leaving little to fall here. Also, seasonal rains from northern latitudes arrive last in the south and then leave first. Thus, these desert regions receive far less annual rainfall than the northern areas of Galilee and Lebanon.