I have lived almost my entire life in the Capital District (near Albany in upstate New York). I grew up in Amsterdam, I lived in the dormitories at Siena College in Loudonville for four years, I lived in apartments in Menands and Watervliet for three and four years respectively, and I have lived in Clifton Park with my wife, Barbara, and our two daughters for over 30 years. At various times, too, I have worked in Gloversville, Fonda, Schenectady, Albany, Cohoes, Saratoga, and Troy. My only time living and working outside the Albany area occurred after college with a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. As a result, I feel very comfortable in this region, and when I meet new people, I can easily visualize their various communities when they tell me where they live or where they grew up.
When I read the Bible, however, I don’t experience that same sense of familiarity. I know Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, I know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, I know all three of them escaped to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod, and I know Jesus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem and was crucified there and three days later rose from the dead.
What I don’t know, however, unless I make an effort to look at an historical map of that section of the world, is where these places are in relation to one another. I have a feeling, too, that I am not alone in that regard. Thus, I decided that it might be helpful to imagine that Jesus lived in the Capital District. Then, I could compare His home to my home, and I would have a much better understanding and appreciation of His life and His travels while He lived here on the Earth.
As a starting point, then, for this comparison, we will focus on a city and two natural features: Jerusalem (Albany), the Jordan River (the Hudson River), and the Sea of Galilee (Lake George). These three anchoring points will provide us with a parallel frame of reference.
Albany, the capital city of New York State, is our Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem, like Albany, has a rich history, going back to the Old Testament when David conquered it and made it his capital. Later, David’s son Solomon built his temple there. To the east of Jerusalem is the north-south flowing Jordan River, just as our north-south flowing Hudson River sits to the east of Albany. Next, roughly 60 miles to the north is the Sea of Galilee, our Lake George. Thus having superimposed the modern map of the Capital District over the old world map of Israel, we can get an approximate look at where Christ lived and traveled, and we can compare those locations to our own region.
Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary lived before the birth of Jesus, is located about ten miles west of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, so that would put them in the Stony Creek area near Exit 22 on the Northway (Route 87). While Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she left Stony Creek and traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was soon to give birth to the baby who grew up to be John the Baptist. That journey would have taken Mary south toward Jerusalem to “the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:39),” which might be the area near Voorheesville and Thacher Park.
Prior to the birth of Jesus, Mary traveled south again from Nazareth, this time with her husband, Joseph. According to a decree of Caesar Augustus, they were required to register in the town of their ancestors. Thus, they had to walk for three days to “Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because they belonged to the house and line of David” (Luke 2:4). Ironically, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, matches up almost perfectly with the Capital District Bethlehem; both small towns are located just a bit south and west of the capital cities, Jerusalem and Albany.
After the birth of Jesus, the family remained in Bethlehem for a time, and during that time, Mary and Joseph would have made the short trip to the temple in Albany to “present the child to the Lord” (Luke 2:31). During that time, also, the Magi came from the East to worship the baby. These three wise men and their caravan apparently traveled a great distance, so they could have come directly from the east from as far away as Cape Cod in Massachusetts or maybe even farther from the northeast in New Hampshire or Maine.
Then, soon after the wise men departed, Joseph and Mary also traveled a great distance with their baby to avoid Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn Jesus. Joseph had been warned in a dream to “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13). Such a trip at that time would have meant traveling westward along the Mediterranean Sea, so a similar trip in our area could have involved traveling alongside Lake Ontario to the Rochester-Buffalo area and perhaps even crossing into Canada.
Years later, after Herod died, Joseph brought his family back from Egypt, and instead of settling near the capital city, the family returned to Stony Creek in the foothills of the Adirondacks. There, in the relative safety of the countryside, Jesus grew into manhood. His only childhood travels mentioned in the Bible narratives are annual trips to the capital city for the feast of the Passover. In fact, when Jesus was about 12, His parents accidentally left Him there, and when they returned for Him, “they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
The public ministry of Jesus began when He was about 30, and He was in the area of the capital city again when he was baptized in the Hudson River by His cousin John the Baptist. Though the exact location of Christ’s baptism is not clear, most Bible scholars say it occurred on the east side of the river, which would place John and Jesus on the riverbank somewhere between Rensselaer and Troy.
Soon after His baptism, Jesus retreated to the desert where he spent 40 days praying and fasting. Obviously we don’t have any desert area in the Capital District, and scholars and historians differ on whether Jesus spent this time east or west of the river. Thus, Jesus may have been in a deserted area east of the river near the small towns of Nassau and Stephentown or west of the river in the open spaces out near the Albany International Airport. During that time alone, Jesus called on the words of His Father to resist the three temptations of the devil
When Jesus completed His time in the desert, he returned to the Stony Creek area but settled in the town of Capernaum which was at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus lived near some of the fishermen he recruited to be His disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Since Lake George is narrower and much longer than the Sea of Galilee, Jesus probably would not have lived at the extreme northern end of the lake. Instead, He might have been living in the area of Bolton Landing, and the summer tourists in the village of Lake George would have heard all about His miracles on the Lake: walking on the water, calming the storm, and the enormous catches of fish.
Jesus also performed many other miracles in the towns surrounding Lake George. He was at a wedding feast in Warrensburg when He changed water into wine. He raised a widow’s son from the dead in Glens Falls. And he multiplied the five loaves and two fishes and fed five thousand followers near Diamond Point.
In addition to His miracles, Jesus spent plenty of time teaching, including His parables and His Sermon on the Mount. His teaching journeys from Capernaum to the north and west took Christ to Tyre, Sidon, and Caesaria Phillipi, and His journeys to the south and east took Him to the ten towns of the Decapolis. Those journeys in upstate New York would be equivalent to trips to Gore Mountain, Schroon Lake, and Ticonderoga to the northwest and through much of Washington County to the southeast. The Sermon on the Mount, meanwhile, where Jesus spoke of what we know today as the Beatitudes, may have taken place in the area between Warrensburg and Bolton Landing.
Once Jesus had completed His years of teaching and miracles in the Lake George area, He made His final trip south to the capital city. Before entering, most historians say he may have spent the night in Menands or Loudonville (Bethany), where He had previously raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, from the dead. Then, on what Christians today refer to as Palm Sunday, Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey to the cheers of His followers who praised Him saying, “Blessed is the King of Israel” (John 12:13). This entry may have brought Christ south on Broadway or North Pearl and then west to the temple area which may have been near Albany City Hall or the State Capitol.
Early in that final week, Jesus drove the money changers from that same temple, and on Thursday evening, he celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples. This gathering may have taken place in the area of the governor’s residence, the Executive Mansion near Lincoln Park. After the meal, Jesus traveled to the south and east to pray with Peter, James, and John. This Garden of Gethsemane may have been where the Port of Albany is now located, and Jesus was arrested there and brought to the house of Caiphas, the high priest, who lived near the Empire State Plaza. When Caiaphas refused to make a decision, Jesus was brought to Pontius Pilate near the Alfred E. Smith Building and condemned to die. Thus, Christ’s final journey to the cross, the Via Dolorosa, brought Him westward on Washington Avenue to the southeast corner of Washington Park where He died on the cross on Good Friday and was later buried nearby.
According to Christian beliefs, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the following Sunday, what people today refer to as Easter Sunday. He appeared at the tomb to Mary Magdalene and another woman, but during the next 40 days, He also appeared to others in various locations: to doubting Thomas and the other disciples in a room near where the Last Supper took place, to two other disciples on the road to Schenectady (Emmaus), to His disciples again in the Lake George area, and one last time near the capital city before He ascended into heaven.
So assuming that Jesus did live most of his life in an area slightly bigger than the greater Capital District, what does that mean for people alive today, both believers and nonbelievers? Essentially, it means that where a person lives is so much less important than how a person lives. We do not have to travel great distances to have a dramatic effect on the world in general or in the lives of the people around us. Instead, like Jesus, we can all make significant contributions, contributions that transform lives and reverberate through subsequent generations, during not only during the Christmas season but also during every season of the year.