The Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph, Mariam and Jesus came to live in Nazareth. That fulfilled the words spoken by the prophets that 'He shall be called a Nazarene (Nazarean, Greek: nazooraios).' So says Matt 2:23.
What was the prophecy and where is it? Bible sceptics say that nowhere in the Bible is there such a prophecy written. They say that shows Matthew made up false stories. But these sceptics do not tend to point out that Matthew says the prophecy was spoken, not written.
But there is another grave error, a humongous one. In fact the prophecy encompasses more or less every prophecy ever written or spoken by Israelite prophets.
There is a key factor that such commentators willingly leave out. They are too often microscopically concentrated on not only the letters of the text, (not even the meaning of the words). They become victims of unsubstantiated theories about how and when the gospel of Matthew was written.
Let's first deal with the historical facts.
What most commentators leave out is the historical context – Herodian despotism. Herod killed his own sons because he merely suspected them of disloyalty. How do you think he would react to everyone calling Jesus: Jesus the Messiah, the king, the rightful son of David, and only legitimate heir to rule Israel?
|Herod's Massacre of the Innocents (Kerold)|
Herod's record was as clear as red blood on a white linen cloth. When it came to Jewish pretenders to what he considered his throne, given him by Rome, he wiped from the face of the earth anyone who could claim Davidic heritage.
He burned the family archives and the city of Bethlehem.
When Parthian Magi announced that the Davidic Messiah was born he ordered a baby genocide. He killed all children under two in an area from Bethlehem in the south to the northern suburbs of Jerusalem.
No one even dared to name a child David in Herod’s time.
Joseph, Jacob, Simon, Judas, yes.
David absolutely not.
What has this to do with Nazareth?
Imagine someone who supported the Czar in the time of Stalin’s USSR. Would they call the group, the ‘Czarist’ group? Would they proclaim: ‘I am a Czarist’?
They would be dead men.
Subtly and truth are required. The prophets referred to in Matt 2 most obviously include those such as Isaiah, Ezekiel and Micah that refer to the Davidic Messiah – the Branch (Netzer) of David.
Why is Nazareth mentioned frequently in the NT and Nazarene describes the followers of Christ? The answer is the same to the question: why is the capital of Galilee, Sepphoris, not mentioned at all?
|Nazareth in Ceasarea inscription |
of priestly courses
Sepphoris became a pagan Roman town. Nazareth was a suburb of the capital. The name of the town, Nazareth, was found on a stone tablet in Caesarea in 1962. It lists the priestly courses or mishmarot and their geographical assembly points. It is clear from the spelling Nazareth has nothing to do with the Nasarites of Num 6.
Nazareth was holy. Sepphoris was unholy and Roman. It was previously a center of rebellion. It had been the center of Israelites and Jews reclaiming their hereditary land after the return from Babylonian captivity. In a revolt against Roman oppression of their religious beliefs, the population had been slaughtered or sent into slavery. It had been rebuilt. Now it was ultra loyal to Herodian Rome.
Jews and Israelites still returned. According to Josephus, millions of the faithful attended the annual festivals in Jerusalem. Only those who could prove that they were legitimate Israelites with proven genealogy could attend.
Talmudic sources say the genealogical history of all legitimate Israelites (and a few non-Israelites too) was found in the archives of the Depository (Jeshana) of Sepphoris. It had pedigree records (copies or originals) of material Herod tried to destroy in the family archives in Jerusalem to assure his dominance.
For priests and Israelites,
‘If his father’s name was found in the archives at Sepphoris, no further inquiry was made.’
Evidently this vital history of Israel and material for its future was not in the city center where pagan riots could burn them. It was on a defendable hill as the NT describes for Nazareth.
Israel a society ruled by pedigree.
Proof of genealogical pedigree was essential in all levels of Israelite society. Israel was probably the strictest and most prominent genealogically-centered society on earth.
It was impossible to enter the Temple without proof of descent – legitimate descent reinforced at least by 2 or 3 honest witnesses– from one of the twelve tribes.
Priestly pedigree had even stricter rules. They had to marry virgins from a tribe of Israel. Israelites were allowed to marry virgins of converted gentiles.
Thus protecting the identity of an authentic descendant of David from Herod required subtlety and ruse. Hence the term 'Nazarene' was used. It meant the Messiah who fulfilled the Tanakh prophetic promises from Genesis to Chronicles.
But it was camouflage for Romans and Herodians. To foreigners and gentiles it meant a man from a small town near the Rome-loyal city of Sepphoris. That is evident in the varieties of describing a man from Nazareth. How did these Nazarene variations arise and by whom?
There are variations of the term of Nazarene: nazooraios or nazarinos. The town of Nazareth itself is spelt in several ways, ending with -a, -ath, -eth or -et. These may be due to local use or in the case of non-believers like the servant girl who accused Peter as understanding it to refer to a geographical location of a suburb of the Galilean capital Sepphoris. ‘His speech betrays him.’
For the faithful Hebrew-speakers the name Nazareth could mean the city of Genealogies or Branches. The Hebrew word 'Netzer' means branch or off-shoot or descendant.
Jesus the Nazarene means Jesus of the Branch of David. It encompasses the main prophecies of the whole Bible.
Centuries of Regicide
The term ‘Nazarene’ derives from Netzer, an off-shoot or branch, someone who was a legitimate Davidic descendant or part of this Davidic group. That is Hebrew. Few gentiles knew Hebrew and even less had access to the records.
In Herod’s time anyone saying ‘I can prove I am a Son of David’ outside the Temple (where gentiles were not allowed) would be killed by Herod’s men. Nazarene or ‘Branchist’ implied a Davidic descent without being overt.
The Helenistic Syrians under the Seleucids did their level best to eradicate the Davidic line. The Maccabees or Hasmoneans liberated the land from this pagan oppression. But they did not want a Davidic king to replace their military power based on their high priests. Instead they claimed to be 'ethnarchs' or rulers of the people. And then they succumbed to self-pride and made themselves kings.
The Hasmoneans were not able to resist the intrusion of Roman power. But in the Roman civil wars they allied themselves to Julius Caesar and won recognition 'for ever' as rulers of Israel. They had no interest in seeing a Davidic king. Then Rome decided to make Herod king of Judea. The high priest was demoted to be a Quisling of Roman power. Herod was ruthless in wiping out any opposition.
|Herod the Great Despot|
In all these centuries of the post-exile world up till Joseph, father of Jesus, the identity and even the existence of the Davidic line was obscured to the point of its assumed non-existence. The rigidly enforced Herodian/ Roman ‘registration’ of the Bethlehem property forced Joseph to courageously step forward and reveal his royal lineage. He had been able previously to distract attention because he also held priestly (Levitical) lineage.
The danger without
Jesus would be killed, if, outside the Temple, he openly proclaimed that he was the Son of David. But the death sentence would also apply to those who Herod thought would support this assertion. Outside the Temple the people took their life in their hands to call Jesus, Son of David. That would be deadly for Jesus and anyone who was seen concurring with the title. He told people bluntly not to say this title.
Desperate people sometimes make desperate moves.
In Matt 9:27 two blind men cried out: Son of David, have mercy on us!
He asked them whether they believed he could heal them and did so. Then he charged them: 'See that no man know it.' v30. It was dangerous for the newly sighted men and anyone who agreed with them. Later other blind people used the same psychological technique to be cured because they knew he could heal them, Matt 20:30. In Mk 10:47, Bartimeus, after regaining his sight, stuck with him as the safest place. In Luke 18:39 the crowds rebuked the blind man, for crying out, Son of David, -- before he was healed.
After the Resurrection
After the Resurrection, it was different. It was witnessed and affirmed officially by Romans.
In the 60s, decades after the Resurrection, believers were all normally referred to as Nazarenes. Paul was called a Nazarene in Acts 24:5. It was proof of Christ's future active kingship of the planet.
Jesus Christ (=Jesus the anointed king) came from the seed of David according to the flesh.’ Rom 1:1-3.
When, in John 1:46-9, Nathanael acclaims ‘Jesus the son of Joseph who is from Nazareth’ to be ‘Son of God and king of Israel’ it was completely verified in the most authentic genealogical archives of Israel and unchallengeable.
The early ekklesia was Nazarene, not Christian
Paul was not a Christian. He was a Nazarene.
Once Jesus had proved his Messiahship, by the resurrection and the Romans acknowledged it, it was more easy to overtly identify as Nazarene followers, like Paul and the early ekklesia.
The Hebrew term, Nazarene, was the normal name for Christ’s followers.
Around the time of Caligula in 41 CE, when he was trying to destroy all Judaism, the term ‘Christian’ was first invented. It was used as an insult by gentile Greeks of Antioch, Acts 11:26. This belittles the prophetic resonance of Nazarene, the legitimate Davidic King, destined to rule the world, to a mere leader of a movement. The significance of holy oil and anointing was lost on pagans. ‘Christian’ became the official term for the imperial Roman syncretic religion.
The faithful Nazarenes were excluded and persecuted.
The other deadly exposure of linguistic Davidism was also relieved after the resurrection. Those who supported Davidic legitimacy and purity across all Israel were known as Essenes or more correctly Esseans. Josephus uses both terms.
Essene comes from the Latin usage. Where does the term Essean come from? It relates to Yesse or Jesse, the father of David. As late as the 400s CE Epiphanius, the bishop of Constantia of the imperial church, a converted Jew who knew Hebrew, wrote a list of the origin and beliefs of early Christian groups. He wanted them eliminated. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5819-epiphanius
On the Nazarenes he said:
‘These people did not give themselves the name of Christ or Jesus’ own name, but that of Nazoreans. They also came to be called ‘Jesseans’ for a short while, before the disciples began to be called Christians at Antioch. But they were called Jesseans because of Jesse, I suppose, since David was descended from Jesse…’ Panarion 2.29.
This shows that 'Nazarene' relates directly to the genealogical prophecies of the whole Bible. The parallel name of Esseans is also of genealogical origin. Both have significance for the prophecies of the Messiah made over the many centuries of Israel’s history.