SEEK THE CONTEXT: Biblical Texts, Language, Cultural Background & Meaning. Context Changes Everything!

Jesus the Nazarene or Nazarite?

Jesus the Nazarene or Nazarite?

After reading the gospels some people start thinking that Yeshua (Jesus) was a Nazarite.

“And came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Mat 2:23 NASB)

The writings of the Apostles, the New Testament are Jewish literary works. Though the authors wrote in Greek there is always some Hebrew lurking behind their words. The writers of the New Testament wrote in Koine Judeo-Greek (common or colloquial Greek) and sometimes, linguistically-speaking, things got messy. Most of the time the Hebrew that stands behind the Greek is hard to see after the text was translated into English.  Here is the source of confusion… Nazarene is not the same as Nazarite and Hebrew shows this clearly!

In fact, these words are not even related to each other. In Hebrew, the word “Nazarite” is נָזִיר (nazir). It always describes someone “consecrated” or “devoted” to God. Notice that it is spelled with letter Zayn (the second letter). Matthew 2:23 uses terms: Ναζαρέτ / נְצָרֶת (natzaret) and Ναζωραῖος (nazoraios) “Nazareth” and “Nazarene”. Both of these words are connected to the original Hebrew word נֵצֶר (netzer) “branch” “shoot” or “sprout”. Notice that the second letter in נֵצֶר (netzer) is not Zayin but Tzadeh. The letters sound similar זִ (z) and צֶ (tz). They may even be phonetically represented by the same letters in Greek and in English, but they are entirely different letters.

So the word “Nazareth” נְצָרֶת (natzaret) in Hebrew implies that it is a town of “a branch, a shoot or a sprout”. No doubt this refers to the Messiah as he is described by the prophets (Is 11:1) or maybe to the people of Israel themselves (Is. 60:21). Nezarene in Hebrew is נוֹצְרִי (notzri). Coincidently the word for Christians in modern Hebrew is נוֹצְרִיִּים‎ (notzriim) – those who follow a Nazarene.  But a Nazarite is a completely different term, designating someone who is consecrated or separated for God’s purposes in some regard.

The terms “Nazarene” and “Nazarite” may sound similar in English but they have no organic connection to each other in Biblical Hebrew from which they derive. They are spelled with different letters and are not connected etymologically. So, no, the Messiah was not a Nazarite and he was not even called a Nazarite by anyone. When Jesus was called a “Nazarene” he was associated with the geographic location from which he came, namely the town of Nazareth in Galilee. And colloquially that was not even a positive or a flattering reference. Many Judean Jews looked down at Galileean Jews and thought of them as uncultured, uneducated farmers and simpletons who spoke with a strange Galilean accent.

Pinchas

I am an educator, researcher, a faculty member and an avid believer in online education. My specialties are Sacred Texts and Cultures (Second Temple period, early Judaism and nascent Christianity). I am passionate about meaning, context, and cultural transmission of ancient texts. My preoccupations with history, ancient languages and contextual interpretation often find expression in my blog posts. Every human has a pretext, every message has a context. Context changes everything! Enjoy reading.


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