🔼The name Nazarene in the Bible
The name Nazarene (not to be confused with Nazirite) occurs in a few forms in the New Testament, but it's not clear how the distinctions work, and they are probably just liberal variations of the same, namely to describe someone from Nazareth.
The first person to be on record as being a Nazarene is of course Jesus the Nazarene (Ναζαρηνος; Mark 1:24, Luke 4:34; Ναζωραιος; Matthew 26:71, John 19:19, Acts 22:8), but it's a neglected mystery why Jesus wouldn't be called Jesus the Bethlehemite (true to prophecy, and stating that Jesus was the awaited "son of David") or even Jesus the Capernaumite (where He lived when He rose to fame).
It appears that even though the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians in some circles (starting in Antioch; Acts 11:26, also see 1 Peter 4:16), in others, and especially those circles in which people knew about the Messianic prophecies but denied Jesus to be the one, His followers were referred to as Nazarenes (as demonstrated by public prosecutor Tertullus while he was accusing Paul in front of Felix; Acts 24:5).
For a while even Christians referred to themselves as Nazarenes. The second century Christian author Tertullian (who also provides us with the oldest extant mention of the Trinity) wrote: "The Christ of the Creator had to be called a Nazarene according to prophecy; and this is why the Jews also designate us, on that very account" (Against Marcion.IV.8). Although Christians today (apart from some sects and denominations) don't commonly refer to themselves as Nazarenes, followers of Jesus Christ are still referred to as Notzrim in modern Hebrew, Nasrani in Syriac, and Nasrani in Arabic.
The prophecy which Tertullian refers to is also reflected in Matthew 2:23: "[Joseph, Mary and Jesus] went to live in Nazareth, so that what the prophets had said, namely that He would be a Nazarene, was fulfilled," but a major problem arises when we realize that this prophecy simply does not occur anywhere in the Old Testament. Worse than that: none of the prophets even mentions the name Nazareth.
Some exegetes will explain this conundrum by stating that the whole prophecy thing is bungled; both Matthew and Tertullian were embarrassed about Jesus' hometown being of such little significance, and invented a prophecy in the hope that no one would check it. Other, slightly more serious exegetes assume that the link between Nazareth, Nazarene and ancient prophecies was so obvious in the first few centuries AD that no author felt the need to explain it, in much the same vein as the name Christ isn't explained; back then everybody knew what it meant and entailed, only in present times do we need to give it its own entry in onomasticons and dictionaries. But this absence of explanation caused the obvious to slip into obscurity, and modern scholars have been trying to unearth the secret of the Nazarene ever since. It's generally agreed that the solution should be sought somewhere in the etymology and meaning of the name Nazareth/ Nazarene:
🔼Etymology of the name Nazarene
Some scholars believe that Nazarene is really a variant form of Nazirite (from נזר, nazar, meaning to consecrate), but others derive it with equal confidence from נצר (nasar), meaning either to be watchful or to be green. Deriving the name Nazarene from נצר (nasar), meaning to be green, would at first glance tie Matthew's Nazarean prophecy to the various "branch" prophesies of the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:1, 53:2, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12), but read our article on the name Nazareth for a discussion of the problems of this particular theory. Here at Abarim Publications we propose that the name Nazarene didn't come from נזר (nazar), or נצר (nazar), but rather from a Niphal participle of either the verb זרה (zara), meaning to scatter or winnow, or זרע (zara'), meaning to scatter or sow:
The name Nazareth — or Nazara as it is called in the oldest non-Biblical texts — occurs almost literally in Numbers 5:28, which reads, "If the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and have children (נזרעה זרע; nazar'a zera')". And in Ezekiel 36:9 the Lord submits: "I am for you and I will turn to you, and you will be cultivated and sown (נזרעתם; nazara'tem)".
🔼The Nazarean prophecy
The names Nazareth and Nazarene are used only in the Gospels and Acts, which were written after the Temple of YHWH was destroyed and the Jewish nation was scattered. This obviously fulfilled quite a few Old Testament prophecies (see our article on the verb זרה, zara, above) but also a number of New Testament ones (see for instance Matthew 21:43 and 26:31).
The prophecy that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene does not occur verbatim in the Old Testament, but in our article on the name Nazareth we argue that Nazareth was not the name of one specific town, but rather a cluster of towns in which (some) people adhered to a certain school of thought. That school of thought would have focused on The Things Sown or Scattered; wisdoms from other nations and traditions, which could only have come from YHWH and were therefore acceptable. Of this the prophet Isaiah says: "the wealth of the nations will come to you (Isaiah 60:5), they will bring gold and frankincense and will bear good news of the praises of the Lord (60:6), they will go up with acceptance on My altar and I shall glorify My glorious house (60:7)". The Septuagint uses in Isaiah 60:6 the familiar words σωτηριον κυριον ευαγγελιουνται (soterion kurion evanggeliountai), meaning "the saving Lord will be evangelized".
The metaphor that equates the Word of the Lord with seed sown all over the world is obvious in both the Old and the New Testament. Jesus explains His parable of "the sower who went out to sow" by first stating that although the Jews had been given the mysteries of the Kingdom of God directly, "those who are outside" received their share too, but in the form of patterns (Luke 8:10, see Psalm 78:2, Exodus 25:40, Hebrews 8:5). Jesus then cites Isaiah 6:9, "Say: they listen but do not understand, they see but do not comprehend," which was the commission with which Isaiah was charged right after he said, "Here I AM; send me!" The verb used for to send is שלח (selah), from which comes the name Siloam, which belonged to the famous pool through which Jesus healed the man "who was blind from birth" (John 9:7; the rejection of this pool brought about the invasion of Assyria: Isaiah 8:6).
In our day and age, we like to think that Jesus stood out because of His wisdoms and miracles but in His own time reports of sages doing the most wonderful things went viral all over the place (Acts 5:36-37). For His words and miracles he was just a low ranking blog in the living Internet of first century Palestine. What made Him and His Nazarene followers absolutely unique was that they did not consider the Jews the sole beneficiaries of God's grace.
When Jesus died He famously cried out the title of what we now call Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46), which, as many have noted, clearly relates quite a number of details of the crucifixion. But it also refers to Nazarenism. In 22:25, David speaks of a "great assembly," and in 22:27 he says: "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You" (which resonates with God's promise to Abraham: Genesis 12:3, also see Ephesians 3:15 and Zechariah 8:23).
🔼Nazarenism and Judaism
People like to think that Judaism has ever been a unified school of thought which arose all by itself, like a river without tributaries, but that's an obvious folly. Long before the time of Jesus, Judaism had breached into an untold number of sub-sects and schools of thought, which rivaled each other on all imaginable fronts.
Paul explained that Christ and the Body of Christ are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:7), but Abraham had at least nine sons (Ishmael with Hagar, Isaac with Sarah, six sons with Keturah and an untold number of sons with concubines; Genesis 25:6), who may not have been "sons of the promise" but who were all circumcised, along with hundreds of not-related men, who were therefore also partakers of the covenant (Genesis 17:10).
Abraham came from Mesopotamia and so did all "mothers of Israel" (Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah). The priestly tradition of Israel was derived from the order of Melchizedek, who was a Canaanite priest of El Elyon long before Abraham arrived there (Genesis 14:18). Joseph's wife Asenath was the daughter of the priest of On in Egypt; their son Ephraim would occupy land directly north of Judah (Genesis 41:45).
Moses was highly skilled in Egypt's complex theology and the Mosaic expressions of Yahwism (the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant) were obviously extensions of Egyptian artistry. He had bolted out of Egypt, and was bankrupted in every way until Jethro, yet another priest but of Midian in Arabia this time, got him back on his feet (Exodus 2:16). Moses' famous vision of YHWH in the burning bush occurred when he was pasturing Jethro's "sheep" (Exodus 3:1, compare to John 21:15). Jethro too served YHWH and he taught Moses how to organize Israel's judicial system (Exodus 18), and only after the implementation of this system, Moses received the Law of YHWH (Exodus 20). When Israel was on the move, they met resistance from the political powers of Moab, but their priestly tradition was wholly devoted to YHWH (Numbers 22:18) and lavished Israel with blessings and praise (Numbers 23-24).
Even the building of Solomon's temple, the very heart of Israel, was made possible through the skills and wealth of neighboring Phoenicia (1 Kings 5:7). The second temple was also not Jewish but decreed, designed and paid for by monarchy of Persia (2 Chronicles 36:23, Ezra 6:1-12), and later replaced by the temple complex of the Idumean-turned-Roman king Herod. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the whole of Judea (with the exception of Jesus' family) was firmly clueless about that, but magi from the east figured it out scientifically by applying their knowledge of the night sky (Matthew 2:2).
In Capernaum, a Roman centurion met with Jesus and pleaded for the restoration of his servant's health, upon which Jesus quite tellingly said: "I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel, and let Me tell you that many shall come from east and west and recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:10-11).
🔼Nazarenism and Greek thought
It seems plausible that the ethnonym Nazarene became applied to the intellectual persuasion which flourished on the intersection of Semitic tradition and Greek appreciation for rational thought; that which the Decapolis area was derogatorily known for. Nathanael the Pharisee must have been familiar with these endeavors and doubtlessly opposed them vigorously. That would explain his outburst when Philip told him that the Messiah had come from Nazareth (John 1:46). His famous reply, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" does not refer to a hamlet somewhere (because why would it be impossible for God to bring forth what He wants wherever He wants it from?) but to the school of thought that ventured out of Judaism and into the picking grounds of pagan worlds. Ezra and Nehemiah had strenuously opposed uncritical hybridization (Ezra 4:3), and from their efforts stemmed the rabbinical tradition. In the eyes of traditional Jews, the Nazarenes were doing something horrible.
In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah, and the Jews present there initially thought He was one of them (Luke 4:22), but quickly became enraged at the coming out of Jesus as a Nazarene-by-persuasion and not a Nazarene-by-ethnicity. Jesus first declared release of captives (Luke 4:18, see Leviticus 25:10). Then He quoted a Talmudic proverb which was also lavishly applied by Greek and Latin authors ("Physician, heal thyself," in varying incarnations), and then He reviewed how Elijah was sent to Zarephath in gentile Sidon and Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian, which are all reflections of Nazarene appreciation of other traditions.
With quite a measure of satire, Luke has the Jews run Jesus up the local hill only to see Him turn around go back down again. This image does not occur in Jewish writing. It's an iteration of the story of Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra and "craftiest of men," who took pleasure in killing his visitors so that he could keep his enslaved people under his control (compare Genesis 3:1 with Matthew 23:15). For all his trickery, and because he pridefully believed that he was even craftier than Zeus, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a big rock up a hill and frustratingly watch it tumble down again when he was almost at the top (Homer, Odyssey xi.593).
🔼Nazarenism and the world
The Nazarenes winnowed the great human library to separate chaff from nutrients. They did not simply adhere to any traditional belief (Acts 10:9-22), but investigated all things and kept what was good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Their ministry was one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), focused on a grand unified theory (Ephesians 1:10) yet summed up in Christ: an achievement by grace (Luke 22:31) and love (1 Corinthians 16:14, Ephesians 4:15) and not intellectualism (Ephesians 3:19). It required more than an avid knowledge of all schools of thought; it required becoming indistinguishable from adherers to them (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). Hence all people were able to understand what they were on about (Acts 2:8), all texts were deemed good for edification (2 Timothy 3:16), all things were recognized to work together (Romans 8:5) and thus if all the words spoken by Christ would be written down, the world would be too small to contain all the books this would produce (John 21:25).
The New Testament follows the Old Testament the way a tree blossoms in spring. Everybody knows that the Greek New Testament was grafted on the Hebrew Testament, but the New Testament obviously also uses quite a bit of Greek philosophical tradition (and rejects as much Greek as Hebrew tradition; Acts 17:18, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Colossians 2:8; also see our article on the Epicureans). Much has been published on this in modern times but as the second century Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria already wrote, "Philosophy was given to the Greeks as a covenant peculiar to them, as a stepping stone to the philosophy which is according to Christ" (6.8). To continue the metaphor: The New Testament is the Old Testament in bloom, catalyzed by the fertilizer of Greek philosophy.
A Nazarene is someone who appreciates all traditions but rejects blind adherence to a particular one, who investigates everything, keeps what works and rejects what doesn't. A Nazarene, like a Yahwist, is a proto-scientist, and distinguished from a modern day scientist only in the understanding that the universe did not come out of an accidental energetic singularity but from the willful command of a Living Being, and that the grand unified theory is not expressible in mathematics but only in the personality of that Living Being.
🔼Christianity versus Nazarenism
In our modern day and age, the word Christianity is a general term which tries to sum up all forms of allegiance to Jesus Christ. On a chronological scale, it describes the chunk of monotheism that sits between Judaism and Islam, but theologically speaking, the word Christianity is a colossal misnomer.
The word Christianity obviously derives from the word Christ, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. Both come from verbs that mean to anoint, and describe three distinct offices in Israel's theocratic structure, namely that of (high)-priest, prophet and king; three stations that had no earthly superior but which could not exist separately without the other two.
The job of the high-priest was to atone for Israel's sins by means of a sacrifice, which Jesus obviously fulfilled by sacrificing Himself. The job of a prophet was to translate words from God into language that people could understand, which Jesus obviously did via all His sermons and parables. The job of king, however, is harder to pinpoint because Israel was never supposed to have had a king other than God Himself (1 Samuel 8:7). The king that Israel finally got was supposed to be different from the kings of the other nations; Israel's king was to be a shepherd of the people (2 Samuel 5:2). A shepherd leads his herd to grazy pastures and protects them from wild animals, and in return, sheep provide the shepherd with wool. Sheep can not be violently coerced. When on the move, they will willingly follow the voice of their shepherd, and when they are in a pasture, they will roam free and fan out while the shepherd keeps guard. The big difference between Israel's king and any other king was that any other king was the boss of his people whereas Israel's king was the servant of his people.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, "You have scattered My flock" and "I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and will bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. I shall also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them, and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified nor will any be missing" (Jeremiah 23:3-4).
"King" Jesus, therefore, is not a king in the regular sense but a king towards whom people voluntarily gravitate. Jesus is not a king of power but a king of weakness and surrender, as far removed from political power as can possibly be. Jesus arose from Yahwism, which describes people from all walks of life, from anywhere on the planet, who pursue truth for the sake of truth (John 8:32). By the sheer nature of language, Yahwism will use whatever vocabulary is the vogue, and thus it may sound like a religion, but Yahwism relates to religion the way Israel's king relates to regular monarchy.
The Christians who were famously martyred in the first three centuries after Christ weren't people who adhered to just another religion, but people who refused to adhere to any religion at all. Rome insisted that everybody would partake in the imperial cult, and although most people have no problem with that (even today, a large majority of people think there own country, culture or sport's team is the greatest on general principle) Yahwists won't submit to anything other than truth. A people like that can't be subdued. In Rome, atheism was equal to high treason and that's how Yahwism came to be illegal and a deadly endeavor to boot.
🔼Constantine's ☧ symbol
In 313 emperor Constantine published the Edict of Milan, which allowed people to worship whatever deity they wanted without loss of property rights, and that caused people to confuse Yahwism with a religion and Yahweh and thus Christ with just another god. One particular brand of Yahwism spoke of "Savior", "Lord of Lords" and "Son of God," which mimicked Rome's imperial religion, as well as of immortality and resurrection, which were also phrases used by the Roman cult of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun), to which Constantine was devoted. In 310, Constantine had famously marched upon the armies of Maxentius, after he had seen a vision of a symbol coming out of the sun. According to some accounts, the symbol was accompanied by the message, "In Hoc Signo Vinces", meaning "with this symbol you will conquer", and which obviously catered to the sensibilities of a devout follower of Sol Invictus. The symbol was ☧, the interlaced Greek letters Χ (chi) and Ρ (rho).
This symbol would become one of the most recognized Christian symbols, but it wasn't back then. In Constantine's days, this symbol was used by Greek pagan scholars, who wrote it in the margins of texts to mark a passage they found striking (the ancient equivalent of a highlighter marker). ΧΡ is short for χρηστος (chrestos), meaning pleasant or profitable, fit for use. In the New Testament this same word is used to describe usefulness of things or people towards other people. It's also employed to describe the quality of Christ's yoke: for My yoke is chrestos and My load is light (Matthew 11:30), which doesn't emphasize the easiness of following Jesus but rather its basis in practical usefulness. Paul appears to hint at the practice of marking useful passages in texts when he says, "Test all things and hold on to the good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21; albeit by using the adjective καλος).
At the battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine did not spontaneously turn Christian, as the legend goes, because Christianity didn't exist yet. There were only rivaling Jewish and pagan sects, Roman and barbarian. Constantine wasn't a theologian, he was a statesman. He wasn't after truth but after social stability. And so he took the best of the most dominant religious expressions (those marked with ☧), tossed them in a blender, and brought about the Roman Christianity that is still with us today.
🔼The best of all worlds
Constantine's blender produced a shamelessly misnamed monstrosity, which assumed the same power structure that had signified the Roman imperial cult, with the monarch being the earthly representative of Christ Pantokrator. The word pantokrator was thought to mean Almighty, and is in the Bible exclusively used for God the Father. The title Pantokrator obviously directly opposes the nature of Jesus' kingship. Rome had its eagle, Jesus had a dove. Rome's emperor rode a war horse, Jesus the foal of a donkey. In other words: Christ Pantokrator had nothing to do with Jesus the Nazarene, and was in fact a novel title bestowed upon the Invincible Sun. The then bishop of Rome figured all this to be a marvelous idea, also because the other bishops wouldn't acknowledge his supremacy (all being in direct violation of Jesus' command to not appoint leaders and to call no one Father: Matthew 23:8-10), and thus the Papacy got going. A few centuries later, Jesus' mother Mary was forcibly reincarnated as the state deity and the great mother-goddess of nature religions. That's around the same time that Mohammed began writing the Quran in protest of all this nonsense.
God the Father became the new Jupiter, and when after 1917, Russian icon painters weren't allowed to depict God the Father anymore, they re-applied their time-honored design of the bearded Old Man to Father Frost, who in turn became Santa Claus, who in turn became the patron saint of Coca Cola (still feel like making the world sing in perfect harmony?). Christmas the way we know it is positively the most blasphemous holiday of the year. It's a hybrid of sun-worship and fertility cults (to give a hint: shepherds don't abide in the field in dead winter). A close second is Easter, which commemorates a score of fertility deities (hence the eggs), who descended into Hades (hence the persistent and ultimately unbiblical idea that Jesus descended into hell during his three days of being dead, as rather unfortunately adopted into the Nicene Creed, which is still recited in many churches today).
The two-bits worth of Zoroastrianism and Mithraism gave Christianity its signature good-versus-evil and light-versus-dark bi-polar fallacy. This idea is simply unbiblical and unscientific. Darkness is the absence of light, not the opposite of it. When you switch on the light in a dark room, no substance is replaced. During the day the sun radiates light, but in the night there is no evil anti-sun that radiates darkness. And metaphorically: wisdom takes effort but ignorance takes no effort at all. Construction requires a focal point, destruction doesn't. A building reflects abilities; destruction reflects nothingness.
The Catholic and Orthodox array of saints is really an iteration of the traditional pantheon of the Greeks and Romans, with the ubiquitous aureoles representing the Invincible Sun looming behind every demi-god or saint. In many ancient cultures, the sun was recognized as the light-bearer, and thus as justice dispenser, and became thus closely linked to earthly political leaders (hence the crown of royalty). That means that solar worship became associated to early forms of nationalism; the word monarch comes from mono and mimics the idea of solo reflected in the word Sol. Louis XIV thus called himself the Sun King. The neo-Roman conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte was a big fan of the sun. And, not surprisingly, Adolf Hitler, being the artist that he was, pillaged ancient Rome for imagery and designed the party's flag, explaining that the white disk represented the "national idea" (mein kampf, book II, chapter VII).
Constantine's concoction was a religion of fatal compromise and became quite the rage, especially among folks who didn't mind cutting corners here and there. It seems wonderfully wise to compromise and make everybody happy, but as one anonymous and rather crude sage once observed, "a rose by any other name still smells like crap if it was crap to begin with". The great difference between Constantine's selective editorial process and that of the Nazarene is that Constantine's aims to glorify himself and the nation that he rules, while the Nazarene aims to glorify the Creator and the creation He rules. That's not a subtle difference.
Whilst compromising the time-honored intricacies of the world's religious expressions into a boggy mire, Rome marched mankind into the darkest age the world has ever seen. Yahwism, the pursuit of truth for the sake of truth, was forced underground (became illegal even, as it was considered a form of high treason against papal authority in all matters, hence the Inquisition) and didn't resurface until the scientific revolution of the Renaissance, about a thousand years later.
That Renaissance, of course, was made possible by an influx of science and art from the Islamic world, which was flourishing while Christian Europe waddled in mud and pestilence. The yoke was thrown off also from the shoulders of science, which resulted in the absurd and oxymoronic "debate" between science and religion (from the beginning of time, science had been a function of theology, and should still be).
🔼The real deal
There are two basic aspects to Nazarenism:
- The pursuit of and dedication to Truth, no matter how bizarre or how much it will overthrow presently held beliefs, no matter how much derision it will attract or disadvantage it will cause.
- The pursuit of the wellness of everybody, no matter where people come from or where they live, no matter which belief system they adhere to or which lifestyle they prefer, no matter whether they like you or not and vice versa.
No one can claim the sun for themselves. Jesus said of the Father: "He causes His sun to rise on evil and good, and sends rain to righteous and unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). Although it's certainly significant that the first Nazarene came from Judaism and never stopped being a practicing Jew, modern Nazarenes exists in every possible walk of life, recognizable by their rebellion against whatever is folly in that walk of life and without necessarily abandoning that walk of life.
A Nazarene scientist won't stop being a scientist but will refute unfounded assumptions and hypotheses, irrespective of peer pressure or eligibility for funding. A Nazarene Christian will point out follies existing in Christianity (you're obviously on a Nazarene Christian website now), and a Nazarene politician will go head to head with corrupt colleagues. A Nazarene doctor will help any patient, no matter what they believe or how wealthy they are, just like a Nazarene plumber will repair anyone's toilet. And the best part is that no Nazarene will find it necessary to found a Nazarene club, with Nazarene symbols and Nazarene leadership.
Nazarenism is quite literally anti-fascism; it stands perpendicular to the belief that one or one's group is somehow better or more important than others. More radically: the more intelligent a creature is, the more fascistic it tends to be, the more it values its own existence over that of others. A Nazarene typically thinks the other way around, not in the sense that he or she thinks she is less important than others, but rather that there are no others; there's only us and Truth. To a Nazarene, faulty beliefs or destructive lifestyles are to humanity what a disease is to an individual; the proper response is healing, not shunning, rejecting or exterminating.
Nazarenes listen, learn, grow, serve and share. They hate secrets and covertness, and relations with figures of formal authority are usually a bit shaky. They look forward to a world without temples (Revelation 21:22), but would never deliberately damage one. They are signified by immense respect, unbridled generosity, a sky-wide interest, clarity of vision and the unshakable willingness to die rather than allow deceit.