~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix I - Nazoreans

"Hear O' Israel, HaShem is our God, HaShem alone"

“Jesus of Nazareth[1]” has been so deeply ingrained into our conceptions that virtually every Christian is sure that Jesus lived in a place called Nazareth. Unfortunately, there was no place called Nazareth in Galilee[2] during the time of Jesus and the whole idea of “Iesou Nazoraios” (Greek transliteration) meaning “Jesus of the Nazorean (Nazarene) sect” is a difficult conversion. That is a little strange, because the New Testament makes it clear that “Nazoraios” refers to a group instead of a place: “He is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5)… a follower of the Way, which they call a sect.” (Acts 24:14).

To understand this confusion and misdirection, we need to look briefly at the history of the Gospels and New Testament writers (which is detailed in Appendix XVII). By the time the New Testament gospels were edited for inclusion in the “canonized Bible”, the authors and theologians were far removed from Judea and Galilee and their Jewish predecessors. Their sources were often vague and awkward, including the tradition of “Jesus the Nazarene”. In addition, those familiar with the sect known as the Nazoreans thought of them as heretics and opponents. Thus, instead of using the obvious meaning of Jesus the Nazarene, they created a place named “Nazareth” and made it the home town of Jesus; Jesus the Nazarene became “Jesus of (from) Nazareth”.

To reinforce this notion, they wrote gospel references and stories that included Nazareth. Wherever the more ancient record clearly should read “Jesus the Nazorean”, they substituted “Jesus of Nazareth”. And, to make the reference seem even more significant, in the gospel of Matthew they fabricated a prophecy that had the Messiah coming from Nazareth:  “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets… He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)[3] . This idea was echoed in John 1:45 along with Nathanael’s odd reply: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1:46). But, of course, there is no such prophecy in the Old Testament (even though some try to play and odd game of making the Greek root sound like a different Hebrew word (nezer) which is then taken to mean “stem” from Isaiah’s prophecy Is. 11:1. See “Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible” by Eugen J. Pentiuc (2006), p.120.).

Oddly, even those who should have known better succumbed to this misdirection and so when Bishop Melito of Sardis went to Judea (160 CE) to discover what had become of the legendary Jerusalem Church and the descendants of the apostles, he found no place called Nazareth (and none of the families). He did, however, find a “Gospel of the Nazarenes”. Then, in the fourth century, Helena (Emperor Constantine’s mother) discovered a site she thought was Nazareth and reported her find to Eusebius, the historian (see “Historia Ecclesiastica”, 1:7-14). The place has since been associated with the name “Nazareth” even though there is NO epigraphic evidence (stone engravings, etc.) using the name “Nazareth” dated before 300 CE! Later, by the time the canonical gospels were finalized, there was a place called Nazareth and it is easy to understand how people could have accepted the change: “Notzerim” meant “Nazarenes,” or folks from Nazareth.

As boring as it may be, it is also worthwhile to take a short look at the textual evidence from the manuscripts regarding the attribution (“Jesus from Nazareth“ versus “Jesus the Nazorean”). Here are the Greek words (transliterated in parenthesis) and their frequency of use from the New Testament sources:

  • Ναζωραον (nazōraion) −             3 Occurrences
  • Ναζωραος (nazōraios) −              5 Occurrences
  • Ναζωραίου (nazōraiou) −            4 Occurrences
  • Ναζωραίων (nazōraiōn) −            1 Occurrence
  • Ναζαρηνέ (nazarēne) −                                2 Occurrences
  • Ναζαρηνν (nazarēnon) −           1 Occurrence
  • Ναζαρηνός (nazarēnos) −            1 Occurrence
  • Ναζαρηνο (nazarēnou) −          2 Occurrences
  • Ναζαρ (nazara) −                          2 Occurrences
  • Ναζαρθ (nazareth) −                   6 Occurrences
  • Ναζαρέτ (nazaret) −                       4 Occurrences


Of immediate interest to us is the use in Acts 24:5 where the reference is clearly to a sect and has been so translated: “τν Ναζωραίων [nazōraiōn] αρέσεως” (sect of the Nazarenes)[4]. From here we can try and differentiate the way the term was adopted by the gospel writers: when they wanted to create a reference to the place “Nazareth”, the root word used ten times is “nazara” (as in “He left Nazareth…”)[5]. But when they refer to “Jesus the Nazarene”, the root is “Nazóraios” (as in “"He will be called a Nazarene." (Matt.2:23 – uses both Ναζαρέτ (nazaret) and then Ναζωραος (nazōraios))[6]. All 13 New Testament occurrences of this word may easily (and should) be read “Jesus the Nazorean”.

Also interesting (at least to some) is the same phrase used in two different gospels and translated differently:

                In Mark: “λέγων· τί μν κα σοί, ησο Ναζαρηνέ; λθες πολέσαι μς; οδά σε τίς ε γιος το θεο.” (Mk. 1:24) the common translation is "Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us?” But then…

                In Luke “α, τί μν κα σοί ησο Ναζαρηνέ; λθες πολέσαι μς; οδά σε τίς ε, γιος το θεο.” (Lk. 4:34) becomes:  "Ah! What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

Reading Mark, one can easily see that the meaning of “Nazarénos” is not a place[7], but a sect (based upon their beliefs or teachings), whereas Luke more easily reads as a place although such an interpretation makes little sense.

And, for those who cannot get enough of this kind of stuff, there are the following interesting uses…

Acts 6:14: “ησος Ναζωραος” (nazōraios)

Acts: 10:38: Ναζαρέθ (Nazareth)

Acts 26:9: Ναζωραίου (nazōraiou) from  ησο το Ναζωραίου”

Mark 1:9: “Nazareth” where elsewhere in Mark the same word best translates as “Nazorean”; suggesting to some scholars that Mark 1:9 is a later addition.

Mark 14:67: “κα δοσα τν Πέτρον θερμαινόμενον μβλέψασα ατ λέγει· κα σ μετ το Ναζαρηνο σθα το ησο.  “… and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, "You were also with the Nazarene [nazarēnou], Jesus!"

Luke 24:19: “κα επεν ατος· ποα; ο δ επαν ατ· τ περ ησο το Ναζαρηνο, ς γένετο νρ προφήτης δυνατς ν ργ κα λόγ ναντίον το θεο κα παντς το λαο,” … “He said to them, "What things?" They said to him, "The things concerning Jesus, the Nazarene [nazarēnou], who was a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people;”

Epiphanius described a pre-Christian sect of Jewish Nazarenes (Har. Xviii; xxix ) and distinguished them from the later Jewish Christian sect of the same name as well as from the Nasireans (cp. Har., xxix. 5), concluding that all Christians were at first called Nazoreans by the Jews.

Accordingly, if Jesus was so well known as “the Nazorean”, it is essential that we figure out who the Nazoreans were: where they came from, what they believed, and what happened to them. We will start by trying to decipher the name itself. There are several possible starting points:

The word netzer meaning "branch" or "stem" (a reference intended to support the claim that Jesus was a descendant of David), the word “nosri/zozri” which means "one who keeps (guard over)" or "one who observes", or the word “nazir” meaning "consecrated" or "separated" which, as in the root of “nazirite”, refers to a man who is consecrated and bound by a vow to God, (generally symbolized by not cutting his hair or drinking wine). Perhaps it was a variation of “Nazaria” or “Nazurai”, an Essene sub-sect noted by Pliny and Josephus. “Nassarene” could also be a deliberate play on words (combining Nazirite with Essene).

Ascertaining the origin of the Nazoreans is difficult and complex – in part because the whole subject matter of Jewish sects is complex. While it is simple to assign classification to individuals and even determine the core differences between the various sects, the reality is that few people clearly fit within a given sect and even the sects themselves cover broader ranges of ideals and purposes than commonly suggested. A modern parallel might differentiating between a moderate Republican and a conservative Democrat – both who happen to be Catholic members of the NRA.

Commonly, the Nazoreans are viewed as affiliated with the Essenes, but then it’s hard to put a finger on what it meant to be an Essene or to say why one couldn’t be both. Oddly, the best historical example of a Nazorean may have been Jesus himself. And, it seems clear that Jesus also had strong affiliations with the Essenes, knowledge of the Pharisees, relationships with various Zealot groups, and ties to lesser known groups such as the Zaddokites and Rechabites. Some of his teachings lean towards Kabbalistic views and the Gnostics have long found him to be one of theirs. And, if all that isn’t enough to make the issue confusing, it seems clear that the Nazoreans have their roots in the Hasidim: the "Godly people."

As usual, it may pay to take a brief look at the history of sectarianism in Judaism in order to make sense of the situation as it existed during the time of Jesus. The earliest relevant examples might not even be properly considered as “sects”, but they are groups with distinct beliefs and practices. First are the Nazirites as identified in Numbers, chapter 6. As identified there, they are not a sect – instead being those who take a specific vow of devotion. Later, the practice of becoming a life-long Nazirite was so uncommon that those who practiced it were identifiable as a distinct group. Since there is strong empirical evidence[8] that Nazoreans were Nazirites and given the name derivation/linkage, we should recognize the relationship.

The Rechabites (a sub-group of the Kenites) also have an ancient history. Moses married a Kenite wife and the Kenites found favor with God. Rechab was the father of Jehonadab (“Jonadab” in the Book of Jeremiah) who forbade his descendants to drink wine or to live in cities (leading a nomad life). They were noted for their fidelity to the established traditions and customs as well as obeying their ancestor’s commandments.  See Jeremiah 35:6-19. With the obvious commonality shared with Nazirites (no wine) and one interesting (although obscure) link in the story of Jesus, a need to explore the Rechabites emerges. There is a passage from Hegessipus which tells of a Rechabite (priest) trying to intervene during the stoning of James, the brother of Jesus. We don’t know who this person was or why he would risk his life for James, but others presume that he was some close relation. St Neilos, the fifth century Ascetic in the Philokalia, wrote about the Rechabites: "Those of the Jews, on the other hand, who hold philosophy in honour--the Rechabites, the descendants of Jonadab (cf. Jer. 35:6)--do indeed encourage their disciples to live an appropriate way of life. They always live in tents, abstaining from wine and all luxuries; their fare is frugal and provision for their bodily needs is moderate. While devoting full attention to the practice of the virtues, they also attach great importance to contemplation, as the name 'Essene' indicates." (“The Philokalia”, Vol. I, Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, p. 201). The parallels to John the Baptist are impossible to miss.

From these more ancient groups, we move forward in time to the Hellenization period (starting around 300 BCE) and the anti-Hellenistic movement. The cultural corruption from the Greeks was problematic enough for the orthodox Jews, but when the heterodox Jews started to undermine the very nature of Judaism, a major bifurcation took place.

Antiochus Epiphanes (the Hellenistic King of the Persians) was generally opposed to the Jewish religion and wanted to modernize it. Since the leader of the Jews was their High Priest, Antiochus accepted a bribe from Jason, the younger brother of the High Priest Onias III, and appointed him High Priest (174 BCE). Jason was the leader of the Hellenistic faction of the Jerusalem priesthood and the founder of “the Sadducees” – the group that was intent on adapting the Temple and its services to a Grecized form. The orthodox Hasids had to withdraw, leaving their Temple to the abomination of the Sadducees.

The anti-Hellenists became known as the Hasidim or “Pious Ones” although they didn’t unify into any single organized group. Indeed, there was an early split among the Hasidim when one major group left Judea for the safety of Egypt under Onias IV (around 170 BCE, just after the Hellenists murdered Onias III). That group became known as the “Zadokites”.

The Hasidim that remained in Judea were ineffectual against the Hellenists until one of them – a priest of the Asmon family in Modein named Mattathias – started an armed revolt (the “Maccabean revolt”) (in 167 BCE). The Hasidim had actively resisted involvement in governmental affairs and, by necessity, the new Hasmonean Hasidim rulers governed. Once the Hasmoneans re-dedicated the Temple in 164 BCE and Jewish religious freedom triumphed, the traditional Hasidim, became increasingly separated from the political scheming of the Hasmoneans. This also involved the Zadokites because they expected the Hasmoneans to return the High Priesthood to the legitimate holders.

The First Book of the Maccabees (7:1-16) offers some explanation of the evolving rift within the Hasidim. In response to the Maccabean revolt, the Syrian king sent Bacchides along with his Hellenist choice for High Priest named Alcimus to take vengeance on the revolutionarys and to reestablish Syrian control over the Temple.  A group of Hasidim/Chasidim (“scribes”) gathered before Bacchides to seek peace in the belief that "A man who is priest from the seed of Aaron has come with these forces. He will not wrong us." Alcimus gave them strong assurances that he also sought peace and vowed that "We will not seek evil for you and your friends." The Hasidim believed him and surrendered. Bacchides then arrested sixty men from among them and executed them that day. Thus, the Hasidim picked the wrong side against the Hasmoneans and were treated as enemies by both sides.

Josephus describes an event in line with this idea: John Hyrcanus (grandson of Mattathias Maccabeus) finally achieved political independence in 128 BCE and was approached by a Hasidim named Eleazar who  suggested that Hyrcanus should be content to be the “King” and return the High Priesthood to the Oniads[9]. Hyrcannus was offended and a Sadducee named Jonathan told him that this view was common to a large number of the Hasidim that he called the “Pharisees”. This began a rivalry that would last for many generations. But there were other off-shoots that were equally important as the Sadducees and the Pharisees (which are dealt with in detail in Appendix XVI).

Pliny and Josephus both provide information about another key group – the Essenes. Pliny believed that the name Essene was derived fromhesed”. He said that they probably separated from the Judaean Hasidim who aligned with the Maccabbees against Antiochus (Epiphanes IV) back in 160 BCE and that some were been part of the priesthood who broke away (the Zadokites). The Essenes were strongly opposed to the illegitimate High Priests and their unclean Temple. One group was centered in Egypt (in the Land of Onias) and another in Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found)[10].

Within a few decades after the Hasmoneans consolidated their power and control, the Essenes split into progressives and conservatives; the progressive conservatives retaining affiliation with the name “Pharisees” and the conservatives being the normative “Essenes”. These Pharisees claimed to be just as traditional as the Hasidim, but a whole lot more pragmatic.

The Pharisees were a large and diverse group bound by one common belief: that the Torah (God’s Law) was sufficiently incomplete and unclear that additional “teachings” were required to permit true righteousness. They accepted what is known as the “Oral Tradition” – an expansion of scriptural law into new situations or applications based upon “professional” or “scholarly” interpretation (“scribes” and later, the Rabbis). This put them at odds with the true Hasidim who accepted the Torah as complete and with the mainstream priests who profited greatly as “judges” of the law.

So, to return to our starting premise, we should recognize that one person could easily believe in the Oral Tradition (a Pharisee) while believing that the legitimate High Priests were not in power (a Zadokite) and accepting the broad spectrum of new/non-conflicting ideas of the Essenes.  Indeed, this person could have been Jesus.

Within this context there are three other major developments that we should consider. First, there was a growing acceptance of Messianic prophecy and belief. These beliefs were quite diverse and were not necessarily aligned with other divisions. All the major sects had Messianic believers and none of them had a particular view that was widely accepted. Thus, among the Essenes, there were those who believed that there would be two Messiahs (a royal Messiah and a priestly Messiah) and those who believed there would be only one. For sure, the scope of Messianic beliefs is great enough that we’ve devoted an entire appendix to the topic – Appendix VI).

Next, there were new ”non-canonical” books that gained popular acceptance (remember, the canonized scripture was developed later). One was actually a group of works related by the name Enoch[11] consisting of five distinct texts, some perhaps written after the time of Jesus: The Book of the Watchers , The Book of Similitudes (Parables) of Enoch, The Book of the Heavenly Luminaries, The Book of Dreams, and The Epistle of Enoch. It is probable that some of these works were popular among the Essenes and are represented within the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Jude quotes/misquotes The Book of Watchers; Jude 1:14-15)

Also popular among the Essenes was the Book of Daniel (including its non-canonical sections). Daniel’s visions were popularly played out in public performances and his eschatological (end-of time) views seemed to fit the hopes of many. Even if viewed as fanciful or fictional, the stories had significant impact in the popular culture.

Finally, related to both the above, there was new focus upon “mystical” and “eschatological” ideas. The core belief of Judaism had always been the “coming of God’s Kingdom on Earth” – the “end of times”. For Jews, our existence is based upon preparing for this Coming, the preparation is based upon practicing “Righteousness”, and when the end comes, the righteous will be accepted into God’s Kingdom. This is an eschatological view of existence. Within that larger belief, there has always been plenty of room for interpretation and expansion. Without doubt, the whole theology is built upon doubt. Virtually every aspect of the process and result is “mystical” or not objectifiable.

Mysticism didn’t start with Judaism, but it found fertile soil in its substrate. There is so much mysticism associated with Judaism that if one started to study it at birth and studied nothing else, they would hardly scratch the surface in a lifetime. There is even a separate set of “scripture” for this Jewish mysticism called the “Kabbalah” (Hebrew  קַבָּלָה‎, which means "receiving"). The Kabbalah defines the nature of the universe, existence, and other religious/mystical issues[12]. In modern times, its foundational work is called the Zohar and it is in itself the subject of a lifetime of study (and controversy). We know little about Jewish mysticism during the time of Jesus because it was a secret part of the Oral Tradition shared only with “adepts” or initiates. (I’m sorry, there’s no Appendix for this subject. But take a look at the “Mt. Carmel Essenes” discussed in Appendix XVII).

From Hasidim roots grew many sects who may be regarded as the direct continuation of Hasidism into the times of Jesus. The earliest historical reference to these sects is found in Josephus (Josephus, Antiq. XIII, 5:9), who introduces them along with his own openly biased opinions about them. (Josephus was clearly Sadducean and liked the Essenes, but disliked the Pharisees). He discusses these sects (along with the “Zealots”) as representatives of differing doctrinal viewpoints held at the time (about 145 BCE). Other useful historical references include the Babylonian Talmud (Kidd., 66a – also strongly biased against the Pharisees) and the Christian historian Epiphanius (in “Panarion”).

Interestingly, although Paul called himself a “Pharisee”, the New Testament authors and editors were very much opposed to the Pharisees[13]; so much so that contemporary use of the term has taken on negative connotations. We should wonder why this was the case since the teachings of Jesus were more in line with the Pharisees than the Sadducees (who are largely ignored) and the New Testament references to the Pharisees are generally misrepresentative of their views[14].

So where does all this lead? If you haven’t lost track, it to the Nazoreans. Unlike Pliny and Josephus, Epiphanius gives us a more complete list of the major Jewish sects at the time of Jesus: “Sadducees, Scribes, Pharisees, Hemerobaptists, Ossaeans [Essenes], Nazarean [Nasaraioi])and Herodians." (Panarion 1:19)

Epiphanius viewed the Hemerobaptists as being tied to the Scribes/Pharisees and the Essenes with the Nazoreans. Josephus mentions two Essene branches and when considered with Epiphanius, we can suggest they were the “Ossaeans” and “Nazareans”. The key difference was that Essenes encouraging celibacy while the Nazoreans encouraged marriage. For the most part, the Nazoreans are centered more in the north (especially at Mount Carmel and the Essenes in the south (with a small “Quarter” of Jerusalem).

Epiphanius goes on to say: "The Nazareans - they were Jews by nationality - originally from Gileaditis (where the early followers of Yeshua fled after the martyrdom of James the Lord's brother), Bashanitis and the Transjordon…They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received laws [but held  that the scriptures of the Pentateuch were not written by Moses]… 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…This was the difference between the Nazarean and the others…“ (Panarion 1:18).

Conversely, Epiphanius has the Essenes originating from Nabataea, Ituraea, Damascus (as in the place where the “Teacher of Righteousness” took those spoken of in the Damascus Covenant), Moabitis and Arielis (lands beyond Dead Sea). . .  “Though they were different from the other six of these seven sects, they caused schism only by forbidding the books of Moses like the Nazareans”. (Panarion 1:19)

Viewing the Nazoreans and Essenes as related and sometimes confused with each other, we can look to sources which discuss the northern Essenes and regard such as Nazoreans. This is especially true of the “Essenes” at Mt. Carmel[15]. The sacredness of Mt. Carmel was well known in ancient Israel and an altar had been erected in honor of God on its summit. Its ruins were repaired by the prophet Elijah as soon as this could be done safely (1 Kings 18:30). Tradition located the Altar of Elijah on the rocky plateau of el-Muhraqa on the southeast flank of the Mt. Carmel range and excavations in 1958 uncovered what is accepted as Elijah's altar, the cave where he lived, the fountain of Elijah, and the remains of an ancient monastery. As early as 200 BCE, Mt. Carmel was known as "The sacred promontory"[16]. Later (around 60 CE), Vespasian, offered sacrifices on Elijah's open-air Altar at Mt. Carmel[17]. Iamblichus, a Syrian Philosopher of the 4th century B.C., wrote that Carmel was "the most holy of all mountains and forbidden of access to many." The Historian Tacitus wrote: "Carmel is the name both of a god and a mountain; but there is neither image nor temple of the god; such are the ancient traditions; we find there only an altar and religious awe.” (Hist. xi. 78, 4).

The southern Ossaeans were known as the B'nai-Zadok, or "Children of Zadok." The Qumranians termed themselves “Keepers of the Covenant” which in Hebrew was Nozrei ha-Brit (the origin of the term Nozrim). More information regarding thethe Essenes and Qumranians appears in Appendix XVI.

There is some speculation based upon modest historical support that both the Essenes and the Nazoreans had ties with the Therapeutae of Egypt[18]. Philo of Alexandria described at length the Therapeutae of Egypt as a Jewish monastic community that bore considerable resemblance to the Qumranian Essenes[19]. These Therapeutae (or Therapeutrides) professed healing skills for both bodies and souls (“pleasures and appetites, fears and griefs, and covetousness, and follies, and injustice, and all the rest of the innumerable multitude of other passions and vices”). The Therapeutae claimed to have been instructed by nature and the sacred laws to serve the living God.

Mt. Carmel was consecrated to God and the Nazoreans prohibited permanent dwellings to be built on it. Instead, its keepers and pilgrims lived in tents (or yurt-like temporary shelters). Nothing was allowed to be killed there, no blood could be shed, and only plant foods could be eaten on its slopes. “Vulgar” people were prohibited from entering its regions (Iamblichus).

Even more interesting was this historical aside:

After gaining all he could from the [Jewish] Phoenician Mysteries, [Pythagoras] found that they had originated from the sacred rites of Egypt, forming as it were an Egyptian colony. . . . On the Phoenician coast under Mount Carmel, where, in the Temple on the peak, Pythagoras for the most part had dwelt in solitude . . . Mount Carmel, which they knew to be more sacred than other mountains…” (Iamblichus, “The Life of Pythagoras”).

The Nazoreans and Pythagoreans shared many commonalities[20]:  vegetarianism, wearing seamless white linen gowns with their hair uncut and parted down the middle with a colorful headband, and a keen interest in Kabballistic studies.

Like Elijah -a true remnant of Israel, the Nazoreans made their way to Mount Carmel and just as Elijah had rebuilt the 'altar' on Mt. Carmel with twelve stones (one for each tribe of Israel), so the Nozoreans would hope to restore the true worship of God there.  Among the Nazorean and Essene predestinarians, there could be little doubt that Mt. Carmel was the prophesied objective for the end-of-times, marked out for them from even before time began. For the Nazoreans believed that they had more than the “correct” version of the Torah, they had a complete version.

We can re-assemble some of their beliefs through information in the Book of Acts…

“However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.” (Acts 24:14).

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44)

 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of The Life.” (Acts 5:20)

“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.” (Acts 5:34).

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker who is constantly stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the sect known as the Nazarenes.”   (Acts 24:5).

It is unmistakable, “The Way” (of the Nazoreans) was what Jesus and the Nazoreans called their sect. They were not "from Nazareth”; they were not Pharisees or Sadducees or Essenes, they were Nazoreans. “The Truth” was what they sought and what they taught. “The God of Truth” was not just some obscure biblical deity who demanded ritual sacrifices and inane worship. The God of the Nazoreans was a loving God who had given us “The Life” and “The Way”. These ideas dictated how they lived: communally (sharing what they had with one another) and spreading good will, hope, healing, and God’s love.

Moreso, the God of the Nazoreans wasn’t somewhere else waiting to return to earth and establish a kingdom. The creed of the Nazoreans echoes in the Gospels: “Change your life for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” “The Way” was the primary message of Jesus’ ministry: “’Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31; Jesus is summarizing the Torah in a manner similar to Hillel[21] and repeating the commandment of Leviticus 19:18).

One last little bit of history may add to our understanding of the Nazoreans.  In 1870, an Aramaic manuscript titled “The Gospel of the Nazoreans” that had been hidden away for centuries in a Tibetan monastery was discovered, translated and later published. This ancient scripture seems in virtually every respect identical to the work by the same title that was known and widely quoted within the Catholic Church during the first century. Several early church fathers believed that this “Gospel of the Nazirenes” (also known as "The Gospel of the Holy Twelve") was the long-lost original Gospel written by the actual Apostles in the period immediately following Jesus’ death and upon which all of the Biblical synoptic Gospels are based (termed by some the "Q Gospel", but such is unlikely). A complete version of the gospel is available at http://www.thenazareneway.com/ght_table_of_contents.htm.

In sum, we should recognize ten things about the Nazoreans:

1. They were one of many Jewish sects that evolved from Hasidim origins where a belief in orthodoxy led to separation.

2. They pre-date the time of Jesus by centuries and grew as some affiliation with the Essenes emerged.

3. They were centered in regions north of Judea and had a special tie to Mt. Carmel and the prophet Elijiah.

4. Their general beliefs seem derived from Nazirites, Rechabites, Kabbalists, Zaddokites, and Essnes.

5. They were closely associated with the Zealots and some of their Hasidim roots had a history of militaristic action.

6. Their Messianic expectations were not those of main-stream Judaism and tended to incorporate broader ideas (including those of the Therapeutae and the Gnostics).

7. They were devoutly Jewish and believed wholeheartedly in following the correct Torah.

8. Their view of God had evolved beyond the more superstitious and archaic views of the Temple priesthood and their religious ideas incorporated newer Pharisaic ideas.

9. They believed the end-of-times were near and that they had the higher purpose of preparing for it.

10. They were a diverse group with many beliefs and differences – bound together strongly by a well known and professed creed: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and with all your strength. Honor God by loving your neighbor as yourself.






[1] Different authors, often speaking with different accents and even languages, did not employ universal spelling when speaking of “Nazarenes” and thus, one finds many alternate forms: Nasarenes, Nazarenes, Nasarenes, Nasorenes, Nazaroi, Nazareaen, Nazarites, N'Tzrim, etc.

[2] "There is no such place as Nazareth in the Old Testament or in Josephus' works, or on early maps of the Holy Land." (Holley , 1994, p. 190). "There is, in fact, no record of Nazareth's existence at that [Jesus'] time...Nazareth is not to be found in any book, map, chronicle or military record of the period so far discovered." (Gardner, 2007, p. 53). ”There exists no epigraphic or archaeological evidence that a city called Nazareth even existed prior to 60 or 70 CE at the earliest… It was actually a tiny, unnamed collection of about a dozen huts near the town of Gat-Hyefer, and was never known by the name of Nazareth until it was picked by a fifth-century Christian Roman emperor to be ‘Nazareth’, because he was embarrassed by the fact that no town by that name actually existed."– "The Case Against 'The Case for Christ', Scott Bidstrup, (1998), p.102. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Jewish Old Testament, among the 63 towns named in the Talmud (the Jewish law code), the Apocrypha, nor in Paul’s letters. It does not appear in any early rabbinic literature. Nazareth was not included among the 45 cities of Galilee that were mentioned by Josephus (37 CE-100 CE), a widely traveled historian with ties to Galilee who voluminously described the region. Excavations by Benedict Vlaminck (1892), Prosper Viaud (1889-1909) and Bellarimo Bagatti (1950s) uncovered pre-Israelite, Canaanite tombs (2000-1000 BCE) and some Israelite tombs from about 200 BCE, but almost no evidence of habitation until after 135 CE. “Nazareth in History and Archaeology,” Jack Finegan.

[3] “κα λθν κατκησεν ες πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέτ• πως πληρωθ τ ηθν δι τν προφητν τι Ναζωραος κληθήσεται.”  Greek Study Bible (Apostolic / Interlinear). “The tradition that Jesus lived at one time in Nazareth rests upon a misinterpretation of the term Nazorean, which … is not derived from ‘Nazareth’.” J. Spencer Kennard Jr. from Benedict College.

[4] In the Talmud, Jesus is called ha-nozri and his followers ha-nozrim.

[5] Cf John 1:45; John 1:46 and note Matt. 21:11.

[6] Judith Romney Wegner, at Connecticut College, suggests that the name may come from the Hebrew “Natsar” (to guard, or protect, a keeper of something hidden, or a watchman). It is possible, therefore, that the Nazoreans saw themselves as “guardians” of righteousness or of hidden teachings. This interpretation also supports the Gospel of Philip explanation for the Nazoreans: “he who reveals what is hidden.”

[7] Note also “nazarēnos” at Mk 10:47.

[8] James the Just and John the Baptist stand out as examples.

[9] Part of this suggestion was based upon Hyrcanus' mother having been a captive of the Seleucids before his birth and therefore his Jewishness was uncertain.

[10] We should avoid the common mistake of thinking that the Qumranians wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (although they may have written some of them) and that they represented the Essenes generally. It is difficult to “pigeonhole” the Qumranian groups and they represented only a very small proportion of the Essenes.

[11] Enoch/Hanoch are related to the Hebrew "chinuch" = enlightenment, wisdom, spirituality.

[12] According to the Kabbalah there exist 10 emanations through which God (referred to as “Ein Sof” - The Infinite) reveals themself [seemingly bad grammar, but correctly used here] continuously – known as the “Sephirot”.

[13] This was probably because the post-Destruction Jews (after 70 CE) were more Pharisaical and they opposed the Christian interpretation of Jesus as Messiah.

[14] For example, Mark wants to point out how excessively strict the Pharisees were by having them seek punishment of Jesus for healing a man's withered hand on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:1-6). However, no historical Rabbinic rule has been found according to which Jesus would have violated the Sabbath. The old Hasidæan Sabbath laws were extremely severe and the Shammaites (Sadducean leaning) adhered to them rigidly. But the more commonly accepted Pharisaical view was that of the Hillelites, who accepted: "Where a life is at stake the Sabbath law must give way" and "The Sabbath is handed over to you, not you to the Sabbath" (Mek., Ki Tissa). Jesus, followed the majority Pharisaical view and performed cures on the Sabbath (Mark ii. 27, iii. 1-16, and parallels; Luke xiii. 10-21, xiv. 1-8); “but that the Pharisees should on this account have planned his destruction, as the Gospels record, is absurd”. (Jewish Encyc.) Note Luke 6:4 in the Codex Bezae version where Jesus offers a genuinely Pharisaical view: “The same day, [Jesus] saw a certain man working on the Sabbath and said to him: ‘Man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed. But, if you do not know, you are accursed, and a trespasser of the law’.”

[15] The northern Nazoreans were known as the B'nai-Amen, or "Children of God" whereas the southern Ossaeans were known as the B'nai-Zadok, or "Children of Zadok."

[16] From the geographical place-name lists found at the Amin-Ra Temple at Karnak (under “Rosh Qidshu”, meaning "First and Holiest”).

[17] As noted by the Roman historian Suetonius, in his "Lives of the Caesars”.

[18] Epiphanius surmised that the "Jessasans" (Essenes/Nazoreans) were connected with the Therapeutae of Philo. (Har. xx and xxi).

[19] Baigent disagrees: “Vermes seems to consider that a link existed with the Alexandrian Therapeutae described by Philo in “On the Contemplative Life”, but in this he is undoubtedly in error since the Therapeutae have all the characteristics of a Pythagorean Judaic sect rather than of the Dead Sea Scroll sect. citing Vermes, ‘The Etymology of ‘Essenes’, Revue de Qumran, 7, ii (1960), p.439. From “The Essenes and The Dead Sea Scrolls”, by Michael Baigent. © 2000.

[20]“… the Therapeutae have all the characteristics of a Pythagorean Judaic sect..” “The Essenes and The Dead Sea Scrolls”, by Michael Baigent. © 2000.

[21] Hillel was famously asked to summarize the Torah while standing on one foot and he replied: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation.” (Shabbat 31a).

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