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The Nazarenes (or Nazoreans; Greek: Ναζωραῖοι, Nazōraioi) 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. At that time, the term simply designated followers of Jesus of Nazareth, as the Hebrew term נוֹצְרִי (nôṣrî), and the Arabic term نَصْرَانِي (naṣrānī), 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. They are described by Epiphanius of Salamis and are mentioned later by Jerome and Augustine of Hippo. The writers made a distinction between the Nazarenes of their time and the "Nazarenes" mentioned in Acts 24:5.
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."
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").
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. 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. Jerome too records that, in the synagogues, the word "Nazarenes" was used to describe Christians. Eusebius, around 311 CE, records that the name "Nazarenes" had formerly been used of Christians. The use relating to a specific "sect" of Christians does not occur until Epiphanius. According to Arnold Ehrhardt, just as Antioch coined the term Christians, so Jerusalem coined the term Nazarenes, from Jesus of Nazareth.
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.
According to Epiphanius in his Panarion, the 4th-century Nazarenes (Ναζωραῖοι) were originally Jewish converts of the Apostles 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).
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. They considered Jesus as a prophet.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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."
"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.
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.
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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. According to the Haran Gawaita, Nasoraean Mandaeans fled Jerusalem before its fall in 70 CE due to persecution by a faction of Jews. 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, the two main groups within the Essenes:
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.
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). As Nasoraeans, Mandaeans believe that they constitute the true congregation of bnai nhura meaning 'Sons of Light'.: 50
A number of modern churches use the word "Nazarene" or variants in their name or beliefs:
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....
usquehodiein synagogis suis sub nomine Nazarenorum blasphemant populum christianum... 191; In Esaiam: ...in blasphemiis et ter per singulos dies in omnibus synagogis sub nomine Nazarenorum anathematizent uocabulum Christianum...
The term Ebionites occurs in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius but none of them make any mention of Nazarenes
(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
Peshitta Matt, and Luke... nasraya, 'of Nazareth'
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The sect of Filaster (Nazorei/Nazarei) derives somehow from the Nazirites and accepts the Law and prophets.
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