Nazarene or Nazirite?

19 Nov

So I’ve compiled all of the places where ΝΑΖΑΡΗΝΟΣ (Nazarene) is at in the NT and where ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΝ (Nazorene) is at to see if there’s any textual relationship between them. Judges 13:5 LXX has the word ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙOΝ (or ναζιραιος) which is a Nazirite (a naziraios). It’s only one letter off from the New Testament’s “Nazoraios” (ναζωραιος), substituting an iota (LXX) for an omega (NT), and sounds extremely similar. There’s no reason to think that they aren’t intended to be the same word, as there are no instances of “nazirite” (naziraios) in the NT and no instances of “nazoraios” in the LXX. In my opinion, all of these instances in the New Testament of “Nazoraion” should be translated as “Nazirite”, since that’s where the word comes from.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll point out that του::tou in Greek means “of” or “belonging to” while τον::ton and ο means “the”. Thus ιησους ο ναζωραιος should read as “Jesus the Nazirite” and not “Jesus of Nazareth“; ιησους ο ναζαρηνος should read “Jesus the Nazarene” not “Jesus of Nazareth“.

2:23 ναζωραιος
(and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene“)

26:71 ιησου του ναζωραιου
(Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth. “)

Luke 18:37 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”)

18:5 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.)

18:7 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”)

19:19 ιησους ο ναζωραιος
(Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read:|sc JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS)

Acts of the Apostles
2:22 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.)

3:6 ιησου χριστου του ναζωραιου
(Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”)

4:10 ιησου χριστου του ναζωραιου
(then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.)

6:14 ιησους ο ναζωραιος
(For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”)

22:8 ιησους ο ναζωραιος
(‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.)

24:5 των ναζωραιων
(We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect)

26:9 ιησου του ναζωραιου
(I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.)


1:9 ιησους απο ναζαρετ της γαλιλαιας
(At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan)

1:24 ιησου ναζαρηνε
(What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God)

10:47 ιησους ο ναζαρηνος
(When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”)

14:67 μετα του ναζαρηνου ησθα του ιησου
(When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.)

16:6 ιησουν ζητειτε τον ναζαρηνον
(“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him”)

2:23 ναζαρετ
(and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”)

4:13 την ναζαρα
(Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali)

21:11 ιησους ο απο ναζαρεθ της γαλιλαιας
(The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”)

1:26 πολιν της γαλιλαιας η ονομα ναζαρεθ
(In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee)

2:4 απο της γαλιλαιας εκ πολεως ναζαρεθ
(So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David)

2:39 εις την γαλιλαιαν εις πολιν εαυτων ναζαρεθ
(When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth)

2:51 εις ναζαρεθ
(Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart)

4:16 εις ναζαρα
(He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read)

24:19 ιησου του ναζαρηνου
(“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.)

1:45-46 ιησουν υιον του ιωσηφ τον απο ναζαρετ, ναζαρετ!
(45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph

46 Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see” said Philip)

Acts of the Apostles
10:38 ιησουν τον απο ναζαρεθ
(how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him)

Just on first glance, it looks like earlier writings tend to use “Nazarene” while later writings tend to use “Nazorean”. John and Acts of the Apostles only use Nazarene once, whereas AoA has the most uses of Nazorean.

Most of these I would read as “Jesus of the Nazirites”, since nazoraios is an obvious misreading of the naziraios of Judges 13:5. But grammatically, it (nazoraios) should be plural (e.g. ναζωραιοι::nazoraioi), like the plural “nazirites” (ναζιραιοι::naziraioi) in Lamentations 4:7. But it’s not. Though there are a few instances in the Greek of “Jesus the Nazirite” (ιησους ο ναζωραιος/ιησουν τον ναζωραιον::Jesus the Nazirite).

Matt 21:11 and Mark 1:9 have almost identical wording, while Mark has absolutely no instances of “Nazirite” (ναζωραιος)! That is strange. That’s another line of evidence that “Nazarene” was first which for some reason evolved into Nazirite (nazoraios).

My hypothesis which I think explains the most, is that Mark was written first and gave Jesus the title “Nazarene” for some reason. Later gospel writers (and the writer of Acts) thought that the word should be nazoraios/Nazirite since they were trying to proof-text Jesus’ messiah-hood via the LXX. No “Nazarene” appears in the LXX, but the similar sounding “naziraios” does, which was ported to the NT as “nazoraios”. The only thing that is odd about that is the naziraios of the LXX doesn’t have a Nu (ν::n) to account for “Nazarene” (ναζαρηνος::nazarenos), but they probably didn’t care.

They also thought that Mark was supposed to be history instead of allegory/theology, and latched on to the town “Nazareth” (first appearing in Matt/Luke, from the Hebrew town Natsrat, sounding similar) to account for why Mark called Jesus a Nazarene. Seeing how Matt 21:11 and Mark 1:9 have similar language, and there’s a strong textual relationship between the two, Matt 21:11 probably came first and was inserted later into Mark 1:9. The parallel of Mark 1:9 in Matthew (3:13) where Jesus is going to get baptized by John simply has της γαλιλαιας; no ναζαρετ/θ, which supports a later interpolation into (or clarification of) Mark. Matt is the first person to make any sort of prophecy about Jesus having to be called a “Nazarene”, but this prophecy was lifted from Judges 13:5. Judges has naziraios whereas Matt’s prophecy has nazoraios.

The further writings get from Mark, the more they use what they feel is the more appropriate word: nazoraios (Nazirite). Acts of the Apostles, written in the mid/late 2nd century, has the most uses of the word “Nazoraios” and the least uses of the word “Nazarene/Nazareth” (only once).

What now needs to be answered is why Mark gave Jesus the title “Nazarene”, since he never uses the town/word “Nazareth” and doesn’t look like it derives from the Hebrew Natsrat. Another question is why these three or four authors would waffle between Nazarene, Nazirite, and Nazareth. My hunch is that there has to be some sort of literary relationship between all of the instances of “nazarene” (all one source) and a different relationship between all of the instances of “nazirite” (all one source). These two sources thus end up the foundation for the waffling between Nazarene and Nazirite in Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts of the Apostles. This also means that it has to be a source that Mark wasn’t aware of… some sort of Nazirite “Q”. Either that, or all of these instances of “Nazoraios” are due to the authors piggybacking off of Matthew’s spurious prophecy at 2:23 citing Judges 13:5.

One possibility is that Jesus wasn’t a Nazarene, but a Nasarene. This makes sense of the Hebrew “NT[s]RYM” or Notsrim. The t[s]ade in spoken Hebrew is usually transliterated as an “s” in Greek, like how we get the New Testament’s ΣΑΔΔΟΥΚΑΙΩΝ::Saddoukaion (Sadducees) from the Hebrew Tsadokim. The wikipedia article on Notsrim/Nasarenes doesn’t look very well sourced, but it says that the Nasarenes were around since the time of Jeremiah and were popular during the late Hasmonean era and were anti-Jewish, Northern Kingdom sympathizers. Probably as a reaction to John Hyrcanus destroying the Samaritan temple around 110 BCE. This provides a very tenuous link between nascent Christianity and Samaritanism. Paul was possibly split like the good Superman and bad Superman via the red kryptonite of Catholicizing into Paul the Apostle and Simon the Magician. This is also another weak link… with Simon said to be a Samaritan. Of course, the messiah being a “son of Joseph” is also Samaritan… and possibly Nasarene. All instances in Mark of “Nazarene” thus might actually have originally been “Nasarene”, and were changed via the reading of Matt 2:23/Judges 13:5. There are also no appearances of Samaritans in Mark, unlike the other gospels and Acts of the Apostles.

Another thing is that the Nazirite description in Numbers 6 LXX never once has the word “Nazirite” in Greek. The word used in Numbers 6 LXX is αγνεια::[h]agneia – purified/purification. It probably has something to do with the etymology of the word “Nazirite” which is derived from the Hebrew NZYR which means “consecrated”: to declare, or otherwise make something holy. Which is basically purification (αγνεια). This might mean that the Jewish-Greek translator of Numbers 6 LXX was a different one than the Jewish-Greek translator of Judges 13 LXX. One trying to be true to the idea of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6) and the other trying to write out what it was phonetically from Hebrew to Greek (Judges 13).

I wonder what our New Testaments would look like if both authors had stuck with αγνεια…

Tertullian in “Against Marcion” writes:

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. For we are they of whom it is written, “Her Nazarites were whiter than snow”

Tertullian is citing Lamentations 4:7, as I wrote above.

Comments Off on Nazarene or Nazirite?

Posted by on November 19, 2009 in nazarene, nazirite


Comments are closed.

NeuroLogica Blog

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Slate Star Codex



Matthew Ferguson Blogs

The Wandering Scientist

What a lovely world it is

NT Blog

My ὑπομνήματα about religion


Understand your mind with the science of psychology -


Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

Maximum Entropy

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Skepticism, Properly Applied

Criticism is not uncivil


My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Research Digest

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Disrupting Dinner Parties

Feminism is for everyone!

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

The New Oxonian

Religion and Culture for the Intellectually Impatient

The Musings of Thomas Verenna

A Biblioblog about imitation, the Biblical Narratives, and the figure of Jesus

The Syncretic Soubrette

Snarky musings from an everyday woman

%d bloggers like this: