When people called Jesus ‘The Nazarene’ what did that mean? If you are reading something from long ago or words that have been translated, it is always dangerous to assume you understand what the writer meant without asking and checking.
No Woman, No Cry
As an example, I always believed Bob Marley was a saint! Well almost! I loved the smoother Reggae of his later Chris Blackwell work. Unlike Saint Bob, I was never much of a hit with the ladies. His song, ‘No, woman, no cry’ comforted me on many a lonely night believing, as I did, that Saint Bob was confirming that a man was better off without a woman, which was a situation I found myself in with depressing regularity.
When I got older and happened to see the song title written with the requisite English grammar, I realised that I had spent most of my life misunderstanding Saint Bob. His meaning was, in fact, the opposite of my understanding. He was advising his partner not to cry!!
Saint Bob and I shared a language (sort of) but I still managed to spectacularly misunderstand him.
Similarly, the Greco-Roman writers of the Gospels inherited a term for their Christ that they didn’t understand either and were too embarrassed to ask about. In the Gospel of Mark, the Jesus of History is referred to as the ‘Nasarene’ with no explanation. The later Gospel writers assume that the term ‘Nasarene’ is an address rather than a title and invent a city to suit.
Strangely, in the Middle East, Nasrani is still the term by which Arabs refer to Christians.
The Hebrew, ( נוֹצְרִי ), No-Tsri, is often translated into Greek as Nazarênas or Nazõraias and it is extremely important to note the additional vowels makes the translation from Nazarene to imply “from Nazareth” extremely unlikely.
By the time they wrote their Gospels in the late first century and early second century, Nazareth was a thriving Roman town. They were not to know that when the Rabbi, in whose Greek name they pray, was alive, the village of Nazareth was abandoned and had been since the Assyrians had devastated Israel five hundred years earlier.
I believe that the second century copyists had to make sense of an obscure Hebrew term, which they lacked the cultural background to understand. Unfortunately, due to the epidemic of anti-Semitism in the early Roman church, Christians didn’t want to ask the Jews for their advice. If, indeed, they could have found any alive. Therefore, they extrapolated a term that was a religious designation (Nazarene) into a reference to an origin of location (from Nazareth).
Lies compounded errors, and over the years as people try to make sense of the term the story gets more ridiculous.
In the Gospel of Mathew, the writer explains for us “he will be called a Nazarene” as a quote from one of the Prophets but the problem is no such quote exists. In the interests of fairness to Paul, it is sometimes suggested that the quote refers to Isaiah 11 “A (Ne-Tser) ‘branch’ from the stump of Jesse.” In actual fact this is a Hebrew play on words to define religious observance. Isaiah was written without chapters so you have to read the entire text in context and anyone who takes the time to wade through the whole book would agree that Isaiah is ONLY talking about the Jewish people, not a future Mashiach.
Nazareth was destroyed by the Assyrians and its people taken into slavery in 740 BC. Today, after a hundred years of investigation, the archaeology confirms that the village of Nazareth was abandoned between 700 BC and 70 AD. The church of the Annunciation is built on top of a second century Roman ruin. Most impartial archaeologists agree that the site was a small farm during the early part of the first century. Indeed, the farm features in the book, ‘The Last Letters of Jesus.’
It was not just Matthew who was a little over eager in his translations, in the Gospel of Luke, 4:16-30 Luke puts Jesus in Nazareth and tells us the town is built on a hill and the irate inhabitants try to throw Jesus off the cliff. Unfortunately, the settlement of Nazareth is in a valley and the nearest hill is Mount Tabor over six kilometres away and the nearest cliff is above Magdala, 21 km away.
It is a shame that two thousand years of misunderstanding of this term has led Christians to ignore the actual words of Jesus in order to concentrate on assumption and mistranslation. The historical Jesus was part of a religious movement that was already old (Elohist) when he took over from John the Baptist. When Jesus died, his brother James ‘the Just’ took over leadership of the movement and it was to James that everyone looked for final judgement (not Peter) [Acts 15:19].
The Essene/Nazarene/Ebionite movement that James belonged to was so popular that when the priests of the Temple stoned James to death (62 AD) the people rose up and expelled the Romans and the priesthood whom they had supported (Origen on Josephus). This uprising eventually led to the Romans destroying Judah and the Second Temple.
The misunderstanding of the term, ‘Nazarene’ facilitated the separation of the Jesus of History from his Jewish roots. In the end ‘Nazareth’ meant whatever the priests said it meant and ultimately it meant nothing.
In fact, it is far more likely that the Hebrew term, Na-Sar, which refers to a tower or siege work is the root of the term ‘Nasarene’ as it alludes to the writings of the Prophet Habakkuk 2-1. Therefore the term would have meant ‘The Keepers of the Watchtower’.
Just as with my misunderstanding of Saint Bob’s song ‘No, woman, no cry’, I had taken a song with a beautiful and deep meaning and by my hasty assumptions turned it into a meaningless contradiction and so it is with Christianity and the Jesus of History.