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Nazarene is a title applied to Jesus, who, according to the New Testament, grew up in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, now in northern Israel. The word is used to translate two related terms that appear in the Greek New Testament: Nazarēne (Nazarene) and Nazōraios (Nazorean). The phrases traditionally rendered as "Jesus of Nazareth" can also be translated as "Jesus the Nazarene" or "Jesus the Nazorean", and the title "Nazarene" may have a religious significance instead of denoting a place of origin. Both Nazarene and Nazorean are irregular in Greek and the additional vowel in Nazorean complicates any derivation from Nazareth.
The Gospel of Matthew explains that the title Nazarene is derived from the prophecy "He will be called a Nazorean", but this has no obvious Old Testament source. Some scholars argue that it refers to a passage in the Book of Isaiah, with "Nazarene" a Greek reading of the Hebrew ne·tser (branch), understood as a messianic title. Others point to a passage in the Book of Judges which refers to Samson as a Nazirite, a word that is just one letter off from Nazarene in Greek.
The Greek New Testament uses "Nazarene" six times, while "Nazorean" is used 13 times. In the Book of Acts, "Nazorean" is used to refer to a follower of Jesus, i.e. a Christian, rather than an inhabitant of a town. "Notzrim" is the modern Hebrew word for Christians (No·tsri, נוֹצְרִי) and one of two words commonly used to mean "Christian" in Syriac (Nasrani) and Arabic (Naṣrānī, نصراني).
The traditional view is that this word is derived from the Hebrew word for Nazareth (Nazara) that was used in ancient times. "Nazareth", in turn, may be derived from either na·tsar, נָצַר, meaning "to watch," or from ne·tser, נֵ֫צֶר, meaning branch.
The common Greek structure Iesous o Nazoraios (Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος) "Jesus the Nazarene/of Nazareth" is traditionally considered as one of several geographical names in the New Testament such as Loukios o Kurenaios (Λούκιος ὁ Κυρηναῖος) "Lucius the Cyrenian/Lucius of Cyrene," Trofimos o Efesios ("Trophimus the Ephesian, Τρόφιμος ὁ Ἐφέσιος), Maria Magdalene ("Mary the woman of Magdala"), Saulos Tarseus ("Saul the Tarsian"), or many classical examples such as Athenagoras the Athenian (Ἀθηναγόρας ὁ Ἀθηναῖος).
The Greek phrase usually translated as "Jesus of Nazareth" (iēsous o nazōraios) can be compared with three other places in the New Testament where the construction "of Nazareth" is used:
Acts 10:38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth (ho apo Nazaret, ὁ ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ) with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. KLV 1611
Jesus is also referred to as "he from Nazareth of Galilee":
Matthew 21:21 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. (ho apo Nazaret tes Galilaias, ὁ ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲτ τῆς Γαλιλαίας)
Similar is found in John 1:
John 1:45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus, the son of Joseph, he from Nazareth (Nominative case ho uios tou Iosef o apo Nazaret, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ). 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth (ek Nazaret εκ Ναζαρὲτ)? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
Some consider "Jesus the Nazarene" is more accurate. The name "of Nazareth" is not used of anyone else, and outside the New Testament there is no reference to Nazareth.
"Nazareth" and "Nazarene" are complementary only in Greek, where they possess the "z", or voiced alveolar fricative. In Semitic languages, "Nazarene" and its cognates Nazareth, Nazara, and Nazorean/Nazaraean possess the voiceless alveolar fricative corresponding to the "s" or "ts" sound. Voiced and voiceless sounds follow separate linguistic pathways. The Greek forms referring to Nazareth should therefore be Nasarene, Nasoraios, and Nasareth. The additional vowel (ω) in Nazorean makes this variation more difficult to derive, although a weak Aramaic vowel in "Nazareth" has been suggested as a possible source.
Jerome (c. 347 – 420) linked "Nazarene" to a messianic prophecy by Isaiah, claiming that "Nazarene" was the Hebrew reading of a word modern scholars read as ne·tzer (branch). The text from Isaiah is:
|“||There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. |
ve·ya·tza cho·ter mig·ge·za yi·shai ve·ne·tzer mi·sha·ra·shav yif·reh.
In ancient Hebrew texts, vowels were not indicated, so a wider variety of readings was possible in Jerome's time. Here branch/Nazarene is metaphorically "descendant" (of Jesse, father of King David). Eusebius, a 4th-century Christian polemicist, also argued that Isaiah was the source of "Nazarene." This prophecy by Isaiah was extremely popular in New Testament times and is also referred to in Romans and Revelation.
Nazirite, Hebrew na·zir (נָזִר, n-z-r), pronounced naw·zeer', meaning "one consecrated, devoted". This word has a messianic association based on passages in Genesis and Deuteronomy. A Nazirite was a person consecrated to God either from birth, such as Samson or Samuel; or for a limited time. "Nazirite" (Ναζιραιος) is only one letter off from "Nazorean" (Ναζωραιος) in Greek. But it is unlikely that Jesus was a Nazirite, or that Matthew intended a comparison between Jesus and the amoral Samson.
The term Nazarene (Nazorean or Nazaraean) has been referred to in the Jewish Gospels particularly the Hebrew Gospel, the Gospel of the Nazarenes and the Gospel of Matthew. It is also referred to in the Gospel of Mark. 
Matthew consistently uses the variant "Nazorean". A link between Nazorean and Nazareth is found in Matthew:
And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
The passage presents difficulties; no prophecy such as "He shall be called a Nazorean" is known in Jewish scripture, and "Nazorean" is a new term, appearing here for the first time in association with Nazareth and, indeed, for the first time anywhere.
Matthew's prophecy is often linked to Isaiah's. Although only Isaiah's prophecy gives "branch" as ne·tser, there are four other messianic prophecies where the word for branch is given as tze·mach. Matthew's phrase "spoken through the prophets" may suggest that these passages are being referred to collectively. In contrast, the phrase "through the prophet," used a few verses above the Nazorean prophecy, refers to a specific Old Testament passage.
An alternative view suggests that a passage in the Book of Judges which refers to Samson as a Nazirite is the source for Matthew's prophecy. "Nazorite" is only one letter off from "Nazorean" in Greek. But the characterization of Jesus in the New Testament is not that of a typical Nazirite, and it is doubtful that Matthew intended a comparison between Jesus and the amoral Samson.
The Gospel of Mark, considered the oldest gospel, consistently uses "Nazarene," while scripture written later generally uses "Nazorean." This suggests that the form more closely tied to "Nazareth" came first. Another possibility is that Mark used this form because the more explicitly messianic form was still controversial when he was writing. Before he was baptized, Mark refers to Jesus as "from Nazareth of Galilee," whereas afterwards he is "the Nazarene," suggesting a transformation at the time of baptism. In a similar fashion, second century messianic claimant Simon bar Kokhba (Aramaic for "Simon, son of a star"), changed his name from Simon bar Kosiba to add a reference to the Star Prophecy.
After Tertullus (Acts 24:5), the second reference to "Nazarenes" (plural) comes from Tertullian (208), the third reference from Eusebius (before 324), then extensive references in Epiphanius of Salamis (375) and Jerome (circa 390).
Epiphanius additionally is the first and only source to write of another group with a similar name, the Nasarenes of Gilead and Bashan in Trans-Jordan (Greek: Nasaraioi Panarion 18). Epiphanius clearly distinguishes this group from the Christian Nazarenes as a separate and different "pre-Christian" Jewish sect. Epiphanius' explanation is dismissed as a confusion by some scholars (Schoeps 1911, Schaeder 1942, Gaertner 1957), or a misidentification (Bugge). Other scholars have seen some truth in Epiphanius' explanation and variously identified such a group with the Mandeans, Samaritans, or Rechabites.
|“||"Jesus" is a hidden name, "Christ" is a revealed name. For this reason "Jesus" is not particular to any language; rather he is always called by the name "Jesus". While as for "Christ", in Syriac it is "Messiah", in Greek it is "Christ". Certainly all the others have it according to their own language. "The Nazarene" is he who reveals what is hidden. Christ has everything in himself, whether man, or angel, or mystery, and the Father....|
The apostles who were before us had these names for him: "Jesus, the Nazorean, Messiah", that is, "Jesus, the Nazorean, the Christ". The last name is "Christ", the first is "Jesus", that in the middle is "the Nazarene". "Messiah" has two meanings, both "the Christ" and "the measured". "Jesus" in Hebrew is "the redemption". "Nazara" is "the Truth". "The Nazarene" then, is "the Truth". "Christ" [unreadable] has been measured. "The Nazarene" and "Jesus" are they who have been measured.
"Gnostic" is Greek for "knowledge", as the Gnostics claimed to have hidden knowledge concerning the religions of others.
Although the historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100) mentions 45 towns in Galilee, he never mentions Nazareth. But Josephus also writes that Galilee had 219 villages in all, so it is clear that most village names have gone unrecorded in surviving literature. Nazareth was overshadowed by nearby Japhia in his time, so Josephus might not have thought of it as a separate town. The earliest known reference to Nazareth outside the New Testament and as a contemporary town is by Julius Africanus, who wrote around AD 200. Writers who question the association of Nazareth with the life of Jesus suggest that "Nazorean" was originally a religious title and was later reinterpreted as referring to a town. This process would assign Nazareth as a hometown.
The numbers in parenthesis are from Strong's Concordance.
|Look up Nazarene in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
The first confirmed use of "Nazarenes" (in Greek Nazoraioi) occurs from Tertullus before Antonius Felix. One such as Tertullus who did not acknowledge Iesous ho Nazoraios ("Jesus of Nazareth") as Iesous ho Christos ("Jesus the Messiah") would not call Paul's sect Christianoi ("followers of the Messiah").
In Acts, Paul of Tarsus is called, "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans," thus identifying Nazorean with Christian. Although both "Christianios" (by Gentiles) and "Nazarenes" (by Jews) appear to have been current in the 1st century, and both are recorded in the New Testament, the Gentile name "Christian" appears to have won out against "Nazarene" in usage among Christians themselves after the 1st century. Around 331 Eusebius records that from the name Nazareth Christ was called a Nazoraean, and that in earlier centuries Christians, were once called Nazarenes. Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:8) records that "for this reason the Jews call us 'Nazarenes'. The first mention of the term "Nazarenes" (plural) is that of Tertullus in the first accusation of Paul (Acts 24:4), though Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26:28) uses the term "Christians", which had been "first used in Antioch." (Acts 11:26), and is acknowledged in 1 Peter (4:16). Later Tertullian, Jerome, Origin and Eusebius note that the Jews call Christians "Nazarenes."
"The Christ of the Creator had to be called a Nazarene according to prophecy; whence the Jews also designate us, on that very account, Nazerenes after Him."– Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.8)
The Aramaic and Syriac word for Christians used by Christians themselves is Kristyane (Syriac ܟܪܣܛܝܢܐ), as found in the following verse from the Peshitta:
Acts 11:26b .ܡܢ ܗܝܕܝܢ ܩܕܡܝܬ ܐܬܩܪܝܘ ܒܐܢܛܝܘܟܝ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ ܟܪܣܛܝܢܐ ..
Transcription: .. mn hydyn qdmyt ᵓtqryw bᵓnṭywky tlmydᵓ krsṭynᵓ.
Translation:The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch
Likewise "but if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this name" (1 Peter 4:16), and early Syriac church texts.
However in the statement of Tertullus in Acts 24:5, "Nazarenes" and in "Jesus of Nazareth" are both nasraya (ܕܢܨܪܝܐ) in Syrian Aramaic, while Nasrat (ܢܨܪܬ ) is used for Nazareth. This usage may explain transmission of the name Nasorean as the name of the Mandaeans leaving Jerusalem for Iraq in the Haran Gawaita of the Mandaeans. Saint Thomas Christians, an ancient community of Jewish Christians in India who trace their origins to evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century, are known by the name Nasranis even today.
Although Arab Christians referred to themselves as Kristyan, the term "Nazarene" was adopted into the Arabic language as singular Naṣrani (Arabic: نصراني, "a Christian") and plural Naṣara (Arabic: نصارى, "Nazarenes, Christians") to refer to Christians in general. The term "Naṣara" is used many times in the Qur'an when referring to them. For example, Surat Al-Baqara (Verse No. 113) says:
2:113. The Jews say the (Naṣara) Nazarenes are not on anything, and the (Naṣara) Nazarenes say it is the Jews who are not on anything. Yet they both read the Book. And those who do not know say like their saying. Allah will judge between them their disputes on the Day of Resurrection.—Hassan Al Fathi Qaribullah Qur'an Translation, AL-BAQARA 113
In rabbinical and contemporary Israeli Hebrew, the term "Notzrim" (plural) or singular "Notzri" (נוצרי) is the general official term for "Christians" and "Christian", although many Christians prefer Meshiykiyyim (משיחיים) "Messianics", as found in most Hebrew New Testament translations.
Notzri "Nazarene", plural Notzrim (Hebrew: נוצרים), "Nazarenes", in Rabbinic and modern Hebrew is the standard term for "Christian" and "Christians". An alternative term, used to translate the Greek Christianoi in many translations of the New Testament into Hebrew, and by some churches, is Meshiykhiyyim "Messianics" (Hebrew: משיחיים).
The first Hebrew language mentions of Notzri (singular) and Notzrim (plural) are in manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud, these mentions are not found in the Jerusalem Talmud. Notzrim are not mentioned in older printed editions of the Talmud due to Christian censorship of Jewish presses. Notzrim are clearly mentioned in Avodah Zarah 6a, Ta'anit 27b, and may be reconstructed in other texts such as Gittin 57a.
Samuel Klein (1909) proposed that the passage in Gittin ("Documents") 57a, which is one of the most controversial possible references to Jesus in the Talmud, may also have included reference to "Yesu ha Notzri" warning his followers, the "Notzrim", of his and their fate.
An additional possible reference in the Tosefta where the text may have originally read Notzrim ("Christians") rather than Mitzrim ("Egyptians") is "They said: He went to hear him from Kfar Sakhnia of the Egyptians [Mitzrim] to the west." where medical aid from a certain Jacob, or James, is avoided.
There are no Tannaitic references to "Notzrim" and few from the Amoraic period. References by Tannaim (70-200 CE) and Amoraim (230-500 CE) to "Minim" are much more common, leading some, such as R. Travers Herford (1903), to conclude that Minim in Talmud and Midrash generally refers to Jewish Christians.
The references to Notzrim in the Babylonian Talmud are related to the meaning and person of Yeshu Ha Notzri ("Jesus the Nazarene") in the Talmud and Tosefta. This includes passages in the Babylonian Talmud such as Sanhedrin 107b which states "Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and led Israel astray" though scholars such as Bock (2002) consider the historicity of the event described is questionable. The Jerusalem Talmud contains other coded references to Jesus such as "Jesus ben Pantera," while the references using the term notzri are restricted to the Babylon Talmud. (See main article Jesus in the Talmud for further discussion).
Two fragments of the Birkat haMinim ("Curse on the heretics") in copies of the Amidah found in the Cairo Geniza include notzrim in the malediction against minim. Robert Herford (1903) concluded that minim in the Talmud and Midrash generally refers to Jewish Christians.
The early medieval rabbinical text Toledoth Yeshu (History of Jesus) is a polemical account of the origins of Christianity which connects the "notzrim" (Nazarenes) to the "netzarim" ("watchmen" Jeremiah 31:16) of Samaria. The Toledot Yeshu identifies the leader of the "notzrim" during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus as a rebellious student mentioned in the Baraitas (traditions outside the Mishnah) as "Yeshu ha-Notzri". This is generally seen as a continuation of references to Jesus in the Talmud although the identification has been contested, as Yeshu ha-Notzri is depicted as living circa 100 BCE. According to the Toledot Yeshu the Notzrim flourished during the reign of the Hasmonean queen Alexandra Helene Salome among Hellenized supporters of Rome in Judea.
The term "Notzrim" continued to be used of Christians in the medieval period. Hasdai Crescas, one of the most influential Jewish philosophers in the last years of Muslim rule in Spain, wrote a refutation of Christian principles in Catalan which survives as Sefer Bittul 'Iqqarei ha-Notzrim (Refutation of Christian Principles).
In Modern Hebrew, the word "Notzrim" (נוצרים) is the standard modern word for Christians, but Meshiykhiyyim (Hebrew: משיחיים) is used by many Christians of themselves, as in the BFBS New Testament of Franz Delitzsch; 1 Peter 4:16 "Yet if any suffer as ha-Meshiykhiyyim (Hebrew: משיחיים), let them not be ashamed, but let them glorify God in that name." In the Hebrew New Testament Tertullus' use of "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5) is translated "Notzrim", and "Jesus of Nazareth" is translated "Yeshu ha Notzri".
Pliny the Elder mentioned a people called the "Nazerini" in his Historia Naturalis (Book V, 23). Bernard Duborg (1987) connects Pliny's Nazerini with early Christians, and Dubourg dates Pliny's source between 30 and 20 BCE and, accounting for the lapse of time required for the installation in Syria of a sect born in Israel/Judea, suggests the presence of a Nasoraean current around 50 BCE. Pliny the Elder indicates that the Nazerini lived not far from Apamea, in Syria in a city called Bambyx, Hierapolis or Mabog. However it is generally thought that this people has no connection to either Tertullus' description of Paul, nor to the later 4th century Nazarenes Pritz, following Dussaud, connects Pliny's 1st century BCE Nazerini, to the 9th century CE Nusairis.
The testimonies of Epiphanius, Philastrius, and Pseudo-Tertullian may all draw in part from the same lost anti-heretical works of Hippolytus of Rome, mentioned as the Syntagma (Hippolytus) by Photius, and Against all Heresies by Origen and Jerome.
Epiphanius uses the spelling nasaraioi (Νασαραίοι), which he attempts to distinguish from the spelling nazoraios in parts of the New Testament, as a Jewish-Christian sect. According to the testimony of Epiphanius against the 4th century Nazarenes, he reports them as having pre-Christian origins. He writes: "(6,1) They did not call themselves Nasaraeans either; the Nasaraean sect was before Christ, and did not know Christ. 6,2 But besides, as I indicated, everyone called the Christians Nazoraeans," (Adversus Haereses, 29.6). The sect was apparently centered in the areas of Coele-Syria, Galilee and Samaria, essentially corresponding to the long-defunct Kingdom of Israel. According to Epiphanius they rejected temple sacrifice and the Law of Moses, but adhered to other Jewish practices. They are described as being vegetarian. According to him they were Jews only by nationality who lived in Gilead, Basham, and the Transjordan. They revered Moses but, unlike the pro-Torah Nazoraeans, believed he had received different laws from those accredited to him.
Epiphanius' testimony was accepted as accurate by some 19th-century scholars, including Wilhelm Bousset, Richard Reitzenstein and Bultmann. However Epiphanius testimony in this regard, which is second-hand, is in modern scholarship read with more awareness of his polemical objectives to show that the 4th century Nazarenes and Ebionites were not Christian.
The Mandaeans of Iraq use the term "Nasorean" in their history, the Haran Gawaitha, to describe their origins in, and migration from Jerusalem: "And sixty thousand Nasoreans abandoned the Sign of the Seven and entered the Median Hills, a place where we were free from domination by all other races."...
Theories on the origins of the Mandaeans have varied widely. During the 19th century Wilhelm Bousset, Richard Reitzenstein and Rudolf Bultmann argued that the Mandaeans were pre-Christian, as a parallel of Bultmann's theory that Gnosticism predated the Gospel of John. Hans Lietzmann (1930) countered with the argument that all extant texts could be explained by a 7th-century exposure to, and conversion to, an oriental form of Christianity, taking on such Christian rituals as a Sunday Sabbath.
Scholars of Mandaeans considered them to be of pre-Christian origin; however, no evidence for this is found prior to the 2nd century. They claim John the Baptist as a member (and onetime leader) of their sect; the River Jordan is a central feature of their doctrine of baptism. However, in the 1960s the position of scholars of Mandaeism settled on an early Jerusalem, but not pre-Christian, origin.