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13. Nain: the First Resurrection Miracle

(For the section on the Nain church jump to 2:08)

An event that is documented only in the Gospel of Luke (7:11-17) presents a truly miraculous event performed by Jesus. After healing the centurion’s Servant (or one of the king’s men, in the version of John’s gospel), Jesus and his disciples are recorded as visiting Nain.

There they are met by a funeral procession. The only son of a widow had died. Having compassion on her, Jesus decided to act: “Then he came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried [him] stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And he presented him to his mother. The fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us” and, “God has visited His people”(Luke 7:14-16).

 

A painting inside the church of Nain depicting the miracle Jesus performed at the site.

A painting inside the church of Nain depicting the miracle Jesus performed at the site.

Nain is undoubtedly located on the eastern side of the Galilee, about 9 km south east of Nazareth. At the site is an Arab village by the same name (Nein). Despite its miraculous reputation, Nain was not frequently visited by pilgrims in antiquity. The reason for that could be indicated in the accounts of the few who did visit the site. One such person was a French monk in 1664. He said, “in the village are one hundred Arab families, wild as leopards, and therefore only few Christians come here. And there is no sign of the house of the widow.”

In 1880 the Franciscans built a church in the village in honor of the miracle. Today the church is maintained by a local Arab family, and is opened only when groups of pilgrims visit the site.

 

Pilgrims visiting the church in Nain.

Pilgrims visiting the church in Nain.

The church is plain and is decorated with two paintings, a pillar, and a stone coffin. Only in recent years a few salvage excavations were conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Nain. Most relevant are the excavations in the court in front of the church, where the remains of a building from the Mamluk period (13th-14thcentury CE) were found, and some small finds from the Roman and Byzantine period (1st-7th century CE).

 

An early 20th century photo of the church of Nain

An early 20th century photo of the church of Nain. In the front arches of a possible Mamluk period khan can be seen. Similar finds were recently discovered in excavations of the IAA in the village. In the back is mount Tabor, which is identified as the place of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Remains that could be linked to the miraculous event described in Luke 7 are still waiting to be revealed, such as houses, stone coffins, or the gate and walls which are mentioned during the funeral procession.

Nain and Shunem

Nain is located only a short distance from Shunem, where a surprisingly similar event is documented in the Old Testament, that is of Elisha raising from the dead the son of a woman who had given him hospitality (II Kings 4:8-37). Perhaps that is why the mourners at Nain responded to the miracle performed by Jesus by crying “A great prophet has risen up among us!” (Luke 7:16), assimilating Jesus with the Biblical prophet Elisha.