“In the City of Nazareth I Beheld a Virgin”

Alan C. Miner

Neal A. Maxwell notes that at least two times in Jesus' earthly ministry, the possibility that He was the expected Messiah was discounted by disbelievers, because the scriptures available to the Jews were assumed to be silent concerning a prophet's coming out of Galilee or Nazareth--only Bethlehem was cited. (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:3-6; John 7:41, 52). Concerning this incident, Robert J. Matthews has noted the following:

As recorded in the King James Version, wise men from the East inquired of Herod about the birth of the "King of the Jews." Consequently, Herod asked the scribes "where Christ should be born." He was told that it was written, "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." (Matthew 2:2-6)

However, as given in the JST, the men from the East asked Herod a more searching question: "Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews?" (The Prophet's changes here and hereafter are highlighted by italics.) Herod was told by the scribes that the prophets had written, "And thou, Bethlehem, which lieth in the land of Judea, in thee shall be born a prince, which art not the least among the princes of Judea; for out of thee shall come the Messiah, who shall save my people Israel." (JST Matthew 3:6)

As presented in the JST, it is not Bethlehem, but Jesus who is the prince; and he is not simply a Governor come to rule, but the Messiah come to save Israel. Surely it was Jesus (and not Bethlehem) who was the prince, for he (and not the whole village) was to inherit the throne of David and rule Israel "with judgment and with justice . . . for ever,," as recorded in Isaiah 9:6-7. (Robert J. Matthews, "A Greater Portrayal of the Master," Ensign, March 1983, p. 9)

The Book of Mormon, however, makes it clear that Jesus' unfolding life would involve Nazareth:

And it came to pass that I [Nephi] looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. . . . And he [an angel] said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. (1 Nephi 11:13, 18)

Significantly, Matthew made reference to the prophecy concerning Jesus' being a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23), but it is an apparent reference to a lost book of scripture.

"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."

In a bittersweet comment on this loss of scripture, Maxwell writes that one cannot help but wonder what might have happened if, when Herod inquired of the scripturalists of his time concerning Jesus, those advisers had had access to or understood the fulness of the scriptures. [Neal A. Maxwell, Plain and Precious Things, pp. 16-18] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 13:40]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary