“He Shall Be Called a Nazarene”

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One of the titles given to Jesus was "Nazarene." Where did the title come from, and did it have any special significance? Ray Pritz traces the title's origins.

One of the titles given to Jesus was “Nazarene.” Where did the title come from, and did it have any special significance? Ray Pritz traces the title’s origins.

The title “Nazarene” may have derived from the town of Nazareth where Jesus grew up, but this is not at all certain. Nazareth is never mentioned in rabbinic literature nor in any other writing outside the New Testament before its mention by the Hebrew poets of the seventh or eighth century. Its first post-New Testament appearance came with the discovery of an inscription listing the twenty-four priestly courses. This inscription, found in the summer of 1962 in a synagogue in Caesarea, has been dated to the third or fourth century.[1] The spelling of the name in the inscription is נצרת (natsrat), the same as in the much later Hebrew poets.

Two Problems

The New Testament starting point for investigating the title Nazarene must be Matthew 2:23: “[Joseph] came and resided in a city called Nazareth so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.'”

This was one of the most difficult verses faced by the editorial committee of the annotated edition of the United Bible Societies’ Modern Hebrew New Testament. The main problem is that nowhere in the extant body of Scripture do we find the statement which Matthew seems to quote from the Prophets.

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  • [1] Michael Avi-Yonah, “An Inscription from Caesarea about the Twenty-four Priestly Courses,” Eretz-Israel 7 (1964): 24-28 (Hebrew).

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