The Nazarenes (or Nazoreans; Greek: Ναζωραῖοι, Nazōraioi)[1] were an early Jewish Christian sect in first-century Judaism. The first use of the term is found in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 24:5) of the New Testament, where Paul the Apostle is accused of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes ("πρωτοστάτην τε τῆς τῶν Ναζωραίων αἱρέσεως") before the Roman procurator Antonius Felix at Caesarea Maritima by Tertullus.[2] At that time, the term simply designated followers of Jesus of Nazareth, as the Hebrew term נוֹצְרִי‎ (nôṣrî),[3] and the Arabic term نَصْرَانِي (naṣrānī),[4] still do. נוֹצְרִים (Nazarenes) can also be found in 2 Kings 17:9 and 18:8, in the Hebrew, but usually gets translated as, "watchtower" or "watchmen." The "tower of the Nazarenes" is described as the northern boundary in, 2 Kings 18:8.

As time passed, the term came to refer to a sect of Jewish Christians who continued to observe the Torah along with Noachide gentiles who were grafted into the covenant, in contrast to gentile Christians who eschewed Torah observance.[5] They are described by Epiphanius of Salamis and are mentioned later by Jerome and Augustine of Hippo.[6][7] The writers made a distinction between the Nazarenes of their time and the "Nazarenes" mentioned in Acts 24:5.[8]

Nazarene (title)

Main article: Nazarene (title)

The English term Nazarene is commonly used to translate two related Greek words that appear in the New Testament: Nazōraios (Ναζωραῖος, Ναζαραῖος) ("Nazorean") and Nazarēnos ("Nazarene"). The term Nazōraios may have a religious significance instead of denoting a place of origin, while Nazarēnos (Ναζαρηνός) is an adjectival form of the phrase apo Nazaret "from Nazareth."[9]

Because of this, the phrases traditionally rendered as "Jesus of Nazareth" can also be translated as "Jesus the Nazarene" or "Jesus the Nazorean." In the New Testament, the form Nazōraios or Nazaraios is more common than Nazarēnos (meaning "from Nazareth").[1]

The Sect of the Nazarenes (1st century)

See also: Nazarene, Nazirite, Book of Acts, and Early Christianity

The Greek epithet Nazōraios is applied to Jesus 14 times in the New Testament, and is used once in Acts to refer to the sect of Christians of which Paul was a leader.[1] It is traditionally translated as "a man from Nazareth"; the plural Nazōraioi would mean "men from Nazareth". The title is first applied to the Christians by Tertullus (Acts 24:5), though Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26:28) uses the term "Christians" which had first been used at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name used by Tertullus survives into Mishnaic and modern Hebrew as notzrim (נוצרים‎) a standard Hebrew term for "Christian", the name also exist in the Quran and modern Arabic as نَصَارَىٰ naṣārā (plural of نَصْرَانِيّ naṣrānī "Christian").

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220, Against Marcion, 4:8) records that the Jews called Christians "Nazarenes" from Jesus being a man of Nazareth, though he also makes the connection with Nazarites in Lamentations 4:7.[10] Jerome too records that, in the synagogues, the word "Nazarenes" was used to describe Christians.[11] Eusebius, around 311 CE, records that the name "Nazarenes" had formerly been used of Christians.[12][13] The use relating to a specific "sect" of Christians does not occur until Epiphanius.[14] According to Arnold Ehrhardt, just as Antioch coined the term Christians, so Jerusalem coined the term Nazarenes, from Jesus of Nazareth.[15]

The terms "sect of the Nazarenes" and "Jesus of Nazareth" both employ the adjective nasraya (ܕܢܨܪܝܐ) in the Syrian Aramaic Peshitta, from Nasrat (ܢܨܪܬ) for Nazareth.[16][17][18]

The Nazarenes (4th century)

See also: Nazarene (title) § Nazarenes, and Ephanius' Nasaraioi (4th century CE)

According to Epiphanius in his Panarion, the 4th-century Nazarenes (Ναζωραῖοι) were originally Jewish converts of the Apostles[19] who fled Jerusalem because of Jesus' prophecy of its coming siege (during the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 CE). They fled to Pella, Peraea (northeast of Jerusalem), and eventually spread outwards to Beroea (Aleppo) and Basanitis, where they permanently settled (Panarion 29.3.3).[20]

The Nazarenes were similar to the Ebionites, in that they considered themselves Jews, maintained an adherence to the Law of Moses. They rejected all the canonical gospels and used only the Aramaic Gospel of the Nazarenes. Unlike the Ebionites, they accepted the Virgin Birth.[21][22] They considered Jesus as a prophet.[23]

As late as the eleventh century, Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers still referred to the Nazarene sect as a Sabbath-keeping Christian body existing at that time.[24] Modern scholars believe it is the Pasagini or Pasagians who are referenced by Cardinal Humbert, suggesting the Nazarene sect existed well into the eleventh century and beyond (the Catholic writings of Bonacursus entitled Against the Heretics). It is believed that Gregorius of Bergamo, about 1250 CE, also wrote concerning the Nazarenes as the Pasagians.

Gospel of the Nazarenes

Main article: Gospel of the Nazarenes

The Gospel of the Nazarenes is the title given to fragments of one of the lost Jewish-Christian Gospels of Matthew partially reconstructed from the writings of Jerome.

Patristic references to "Nazarenes"

In the 4th century, Jerome also refers to Nazarenes as those "who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law." In his Epistle 75, to Augustine, he said:

What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? To-day there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans, and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called 'Nasarenes'; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither.[25][26]

Jerome viewed a distinction between Nazarenes and Ebionites, a different Jewish sect, but does not comment on whether Nazarene Jews considered themselves to be "Christian" or not or how they viewed themselves as fitting into the descriptions he uses. He clearly equates them with Filaster's Nazarei.[27] His criticism of the Nazarenes is noticeably more direct and critical than that of Epiphanius.

The following creed is from a church at Constantinople at the same period, and condemns practices of the Nazarenes:

I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with the Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils."[28]

"Nazarenes" are referenced past the fourth century CE as well. Jacobus de Voragine (1230–98) described James as a "Nazarene" in The Golden Legend, vol 7. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) quotes Augustine of Hippo, who was given an apocryphal book called Hieremias (Jeremiah in Latin) by a "Hebrew of the Nazarene Sect", in Catena Aurea — Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27. So this terminology seems to have remained at least through the 13th century in European discussions.

Nazarene beliefs

The beliefs of the Nazarene sect or sects are described through various church fathers and heresiologists.

The Nazarenes... accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.

— Jerome, On. Is. 8:14

They believe that the Messiah was born of the Virgin Mary.

— Jerome, Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine

They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law – circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest – they are not in accord with the Christians.

They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do.

— Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.2

They have the Gospel according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.

— Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.9.4

And he Hegesippus the Nazarene quotes some passages from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and from the Syriac [the Aramaic], and some particulars from the Hebrew tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews, and he mentions other matters as taken from the oral tradition of the Jews.

Nasoraean Mandaeans

See also: Nazarene (title) § Mandaeans, and Mandaean priest

Those few who are initiated into the secrets of the Mandaean religion are called Naṣuraiia or Nasoraeans/Nasaraeans meaning guardians or possessors of secret rites and knowledge.[29] According to the Haran Gawaita, Nasoraean Mandaeans fled Jerusalem before its fall in 70 CE due to persecution by a faction of Jews.[30] The word Naṣuraiia may come from the root n-ṣ-r meaning "to keep", since although they reject the Mosaic Law, they consider themselves to be keepers of Gnosis. Epiphanius mentions a group called Nasaraeans (Νασαραίοι, Part 18 of the Panarion), distinguished from the "Nazoraioi" (Part 29). According to Joseph Lightfoot, Epiphanius also makes a distinction between the Ossaeans and the Nasaraeans,[31] the two main groups within the Essenes:[32]

The Nasaraeans ‐ they were Jews by nationality ‐ originally from Gileaditis, Bashanitis and the Transjordan ... They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received laws ‐ not this law, however, but some other. And so, they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but they would not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with it. They claim that these Books are fictions, and that none of these customs were instituted by the fathers. This was the difference between the Nasaraeans and the others.

— Epiphanius' Panarion 1:18

The Nasaraeans may be the same as the Mandaeans of today. Epiphanius says (29:6) that they existed before Christ. That is questioned by some, but others accept the pre-Christian origin of this group.[33]

In the Ginza Rabba, the term Nasoraean is used to refer to righteous Mandaeans, i.e., Mandaean priests (comparable to the concept of pneumatikoi in Gnosticism).[34][35][36] As Nasoraeans, Mandaeans believe that they constitute the true congregation of bnai nhura meaning 'Sons of Light'.[37]: 50 

Modern "Nazarene" churches

A number of modern churches use the word "Nazarene" or variants in their name or beliefs:

See also


  1. ^ a b c "G3480", Lexicon, Strong.
  2. ^ Acts 24:5 "For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes."
  3. ^ נוצרי (Wiktionary), in singular
  4. ^ نصراني (Wiktionary), in singular
  5. ^ David C. Sim The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism 1998 p182 "The Nazarenes are first mentioned by Epiphanius who records that they upheld the Torah, including the practice of circumcision and sabbath observance (Panarion 29:5.4; 7:2, 5; 8:1–7), read the Hebrew scriptures in the original Hebrew"
  6. ^ Petri Luomanen "Nazarenes" in A companion to second-century Christian "heretics" pp279
  7. ^ Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley – Page 670 The term Ebionites occurs in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius but none makes any mention of Nazarenes. They must have been even more considerable in the time of these writers,
  8. ^ Edward Hare The principal doctrines of Christianity defended 1837 p318 "The Nazarenes of ecclesiastical history adhered to the law of their fathers; whereas when Tertullus accused Paul as "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes," he accused him as one who despised the law, and " had gone about to the temple," Acts xxiv, 5, 6. "
  9. ^ Frank Ely Gaebelein, James Dixon Douglas The Expositor's Bible commentary: with the New International Version 1984 "Matthew certainly used Nazōraios as an adjectival form of apo Nazaret ("from Nazareth" or "Nazarene"), even though the more acceptable adjective is Nazarēnos (cf. Bonnard, Brown, Albright and Mann, Soares Prabhu)."
  10. ^ Teppler, Yaakov Y; Weingarten, Susan (2007), Birkat haMinim: Jews and Christians in conflict in the ancient world, p. 52, This presumption is strengthened by the statement of Tertullian: The Christ of the Creator had to be called a Nazarene... Unde et ipso nomine nos Iudaei Nazarenos appellant per eum. Nam et sumus iie auibus scriptum est: Nazaraei....
  11. ^ Schnelle, Udo (1987), Antidoketische Christologie im Johannesevangelium, p. 41, usquehodiein synagogis suis sub nomine Nazarenorum blasphemant populum christianum... 191; In Esaiam: blasphemiis et ter per singulos dies in omnibus synagogis sub nomine Nazarenorum anathematizent uocabulum Christianum...
  12. ^ Bulletin, School of Oriental Studies, 2002.
  13. ^ Epiphanius Panarion 29
  14. ^ Priestley, Dr Joseph, Memoirs, The term Ebionites occurs in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius but none of them make any mention of Nazarenes
  15. ^ Ehrhardt, Arnold, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 114, (John 1 :46) is an apt commentary upon this development, for there seems to be no evidence to support the thesis of a... We only mention it because it has given rise to all sorts of speculations amongst the more imaginative students of Christian origins
  16. ^ Metzger, Bruce Manning (1977), The early versions of the New Testament, p. 86, Peshitta Matt, and Luke... nasraya, 'of Nazareth'
  17. ^ Jennings, William (1926), Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament, p. 143
  18. ^ Smith, Robert Payne (1903), Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 349.
  19. ^ Panarion 29.5.6
  20. ^ See: Jonathan Bourgel, "The Jewish Christians’ Move from Jerusalem as a pragmatic choice", in: Dan Jaffe (ed), Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, Leyden: Brill, 2010, pp. 107–38.
  21. ^ Krauss, Samuel. "Nazarenes". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  22. ^ Hegg, Tim (2007), The Virgin Birth: An Inquiry into the Biblical Doctrine (PDF), TorahResource, archived from the original (PDF) on 21 August 2007, retrieved 13 August 2007
  23. ^ "Nazarenes from the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia". McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2021-07-25.
  24. ^ Strong (1874), Cyclopedia, vol. 1, New York, p. 660((citation)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  25. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Letter 75 (Augustine) or 112 (Jerome)".
  26. ^ "NAZARENES -".
  27. ^ Filaster (ca. 397 CE) was a bishop who wrote the "Book of Diverse Heresies" (lived about the time of Epiphanius). Pritz, Ray, Nazarene Jewish Christianity: from the end of the New Testament period until its disappearance in the fourth century, p. 73 ft.12, The sect of Filaster (Nazorei/Nazarei) derives somehow from the Nazirites and accepts the Law and prophets.
  28. ^ Parks, James (1974), The Conflict of The Church and The Synagogue, New York: Atheneum, pp. 397–98.
  29. ^ Rudolph, Kurt (7 April 2008). "MANDAEANS ii. THE MANDAEAN RELIGION". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 3 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen(2010). Turning the Tables on Jesus: The Mandaean View. In Horsley, Richard (March 2010). Christian Origins. ISBN 9781451416640.(pp94-11). Minneapolis: Fortress Press
  31. ^ Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 378). Panarion. 1:19.
  32. ^ Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. "On Some Points Connected with the Essenes". St. Paul's epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: a revised text with introductions, notes, and dissertations. London: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC 6150927.
  33. ^ Drower, Ethel Stephana (1960). The secret Adam, a study of Nasoraean gnosis (PDF). London UK: Clarendon Press. xvi. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 6, 2014., p. xiv.
  34. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443.
  35. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2010). The great stem of souls: reconstructing Mandaean history. Piscataway, N.J: Gorgias Press. ISBN 978-1-59333-621-9.
  36. ^ Gelbert, Carlos (2011). Ginza Rba. Sydney: Living Water Books. ISBN 9780958034630.
  37. ^ Brikhah S. Nasoraia (2012). "Sacred Text and Esoteric Praxis in Sabian Mandaean Religion" (PDF).

Further reading