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.
A passage in Sefer Pitron Torah, a medieval miscellany dealing with Leviticus 19, the Holiness Chapter, buttresses the conclusions arrived at in “The Decalogue and the New Testament.” If we could be sure that this passage is based on older, ancient material, and that it was not influenced by the New Testament, the area of conjecture in our conclusions would shrink, or perhaps vanish altogether.
From the third to the seventh century A.D., the Jews of Palestine used Aramaic as their primary spoken and written language. This dialect has been of considerable interest to Christian scholars, and some have argued that it is the closest dialect to the Aramaic which Jesus would have spoken.
Athough the concept of Messiah is importance both in Judaism and Christianity, the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (maSHIaḥ, messiah) was not often used in Jesus’ day. Jesus and his contemporaries rarely spoke of the Messiah by that name, but preferred to use other more oblique terms. In the New Testament, maSHIaḥ almost always appears in its Greek translation: χριστός (christos, anointed with oil; Christ). The Greek transliteration μεσσίας (messias) appears only twice, in John 1:41 and 4:25.
A careful reading of the New Testament suggests that Jesus was a scholar learned in the Scriptures and religious literature of the period, which was vast and varied. Yet the popular Christian view of Jesus is that he was a simple, uneducated character from the provinces. This misunderstanding is due in part to a number of disparaging statements made about Nazareth and the Galilee such as, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46), and “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?’” (Acts 2:7).
Jesus spoke of himself using many messianic titles from Scripture. Names such as “Son of Man,” “Green Tree” and “King” all have their origins in messianic passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus also was referred to by such messianic titles as “Lord” (Luke 5:8), “Son of God” (Luke 1:35) and “Son of David” (Luke 18:38). One title applied to Jesus is not so clearly messianic: “Prophet.” There can be little doubt that Jesus viewed himself as a prophet, and that many of his contemporaries concurred. Jesus claimed to be a prophet when he quoted the popular saying, “No one is a prophet in his own village,” going on to compare himself to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:24-27). He made the same claim when he said, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). But what did the people of Nain have in mind when they exclaimed, “A great prophet has been raised in our midst!” (Luke 7:16)?