From Tsade (צ) to Zeta (Z)

09 Feb

I was in the middle of looking up Hebrew proper names/nouns with a Tsade (צ) in them to see how many of them had the Tsade transliterated into a Z in Greek or a Sigma (Σ) in Greek. Of course while following a thread on FRDB “spin” seems to have done a lot of the legwork before me so I’ll post what he wrote here for my own edification:

I have pointed out on countless occasions that The Semitic Tsade was extremely frequently transliterated as a Greek sigma. Just look at Zion (ציון) in LXX Greek, which invariably appears as Σιων. Sidon ever spelt with a zeta in the LXX? Zadok ever spelt with a Zeta in the LXX? What about Isaac (יצחק)? Etc. In the case where this is not the case, ie zeta is used for Tsade and we have multiple exemplars, regarding the Moabite town of Zoara, the LXX Greek is predominantly sigma. However, in the case of Nazareth, we have not one single case of a sigma being used in the earliest literature. The zeta is a grave problem for the veracity of Nazareth and you have to look at the evidence rather than concocting naive explainings away.


Instead, we have some good evidence in the gospel texts for a progression of related terms:

  1. Regarding Nazareth, there is no parallel in the synoptic gospels regarding its use, so it cannot be seen as part of the earliest tradition.
    Early in the christian tradition there was Ναζαρηνος (used 4 times in Mk, two of which were carried over into Lk)
  2. Mt removes all references to Ναζαρηνος sometime before including references to Nazara.
  3. As both Mt and Lk know Nazara but in different contexts, we have evidence for a Nazara tradition which precedes both of those gospels but which developed after Mk, which thinks that Capernaum is the home of Jesus (Mk 2:1).
  4. Mt accepts Nazara, using it twice 2:23 and 4:13 and justifies Nazara with a warped reference to Jdg 13:5, “he will be called a Ναζωραιος” in 2:23.
    Nazareth finally comes in Lk in the birth narrative and in Mt as an interpolation into some Marcan material (Mt 21:11).

1. Ναζαρηνος 2. Nazara 3. Ναζωραιος 4. Nazareth

That’s the basic evidence.

Of course there’s also Melchizedek (LXX/NT Μελχισεδεκ) and Sadducee (NT Σαδδουκαιος), which both also derive from Zadok. Meaning that phonetically, “Nazareth” based on the Jewish town nun-tsade-resh-tav (נצרת) should have been rendered in Greek as Nasaret[h].

On the other hand, “Nazirite” is consistently transliterated with a zeta in the LXX (here, here, and here it is ναζιραιον, here it is ναζιρ) but this is because Nazirite (נזיר, NZYR) is not spelled with a Tsade. It’ spelled nun-zayin-yod-resh. Other LXX manuscripts as well as Numbers 6 translate “nazirite” literally as consecrated (αγνεία). The prediction that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (spelled ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΝ in Matt 2:23) seems to be derived from Judges 13:5; the prediction that Samson would be a Nazirite (spelled ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΝ).

This has significance for an earlier post I made about the textual evolution in early Christian writings (well, in the Wescott and Hort NT) from ΝΑΖΑΡΗΝΟΣ (Nazarene) to ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ (Nazirite-ish), somewhat dishonestly translated into English in all instances as “Nazareth”. Spin also made a blog post about the manuscript evolution from Nazarene to Nazareth, which corroborates my post.

Jesus was originally called a Nazarene. But what the hell is a Nazarene?


Posted by on February 9, 2010 in nazarene, nazirite, sigma, tsade, zeta


3 responses to “From Tsade (צ) to Zeta (Z)

  1. James F. McGrath

    February 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Your question is a good one about “Nazarene.” One possibility that deserves further investigation is that it has some connection to the Mandaeans (who historically have referred to themselves as Nasaraeans) and/or (depending on whether you think they might be the same) the pre-Christian Jewish group of Nasaraeans mentioned by Epiphanius.

    At any rate, it is quite plausible to argue that Jesus had been labelled in this way (as too some of his followers seem to have been) and some early Christian authors tried to give the term a geographical rather than a religious/sectarian meaning.

  2. J. Quinton

    February 9, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    That would make the most sense, that Jesus was called a Nasarene or some derivative of it. Though it seems a bit ad hoc to say that scribes changed Mark's “Jesus the Nasarene” to “Jesus the Nazarene” to conform to later writings (e.g. Matthew's spelling of “nazirite”), since we have no manuscript evidence of Mark with “Nasarene”.

    Though, it is only one letter!

  3. Leina

    February 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    natser? strongs H5342, Isaiah 11:1

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