Epifanio da Salamina
Panarion adversus omnes haereses (315-403)
Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, was the first to bring news of a church in Nazareth, remembering Joseph of Tiberias’ attempt to build a church in the village of Nazareth. Joseph was a Jew baptized during Constantine’s time. The bishop recounts having been a guest in Count Joseph of Tiberias’ villa in 355 in Scitopoli, nowadays Beit She’an, and of having learnt from him how Christianity officially penetrated Galilee, which had been a Jewish stronghold until then.
Joseph, “apostle” of the Patriarch Judas Ha-Nasi, had decided to convert to Christianity after reading the New Testament and having had contacts with some bishops. Honored by Emperor Constantine’s friendship who had dignified him as a “companion,” he requested his permission to erect some churches in Galilee, especially in Tiberias, Diocesarea (Sefforis), Nazareth, Cana and Cafarnaum.
The emperor not only gave permission, but also ordered the tax authorities to provide him with all necessary means. According to Epiphanius’ report, Count Joseph, was able to inaugurate churches in Tiberias, in Diocaesarea and other cities despite the Jewish community’s reaction. With regard to Nazareth, in the story it appears in the list of churches that Count Joseph wanted to build, although its construction is not mentioned. However, he was probably able to carry out the work.
Epiphanius points out the presence of small Christian communities in Galilee. In this regard, he retrieves Hegesippus’ and Julius Africanus’ second century texts, which mention early Christians in Galilee, humble peasants called to account for their descent from Jesus’ family before the emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) and during Decius’ persecution (249-251 AD). A man named Conon was martyred in Phrygia under Decius’ persecution, who made the following statement before the court: "I'm from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, I am related to Christ whom I worship like my ancestors did."
« The good emperor (Constantine) made (Joseph) a count and added that he could ask of him whatever he wanted. Joseph asked for nothing but to receive this great gift from the emperor, that he be permitted by means of imperial edict to erect churches to Christ in the villages of the Jews. Indeed, no one had ever been able to build churches there, because neither Greek nor Samaritan nor Christian was found in their midst. This (rule) indeed they have that no other race may be next to them. This is true especially in Tiberias, in Diocesarea also known as Sefforis, in Nazareth and in Cafarnaum. … He only built a small church in the Adrianeion in Tiberias, but he completely fulfilled his building wishes in Diocesarea and some other cities. »
Donato Baldi, Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum, Jerusalem ,1935, pp. 2-3