COMPLEX MESSIAH - ON THE MEANING OF THE TERM, "NAZARENE"Shlomoh Sherman
The following is an email which I sent to Philologos, the linguistic "expert" at the Jewish weekly, FORWARD, in June, 2003. He never replied to the email nor did he mention my email in his column.
Ordinarily I do not take time out of my busy schedule to respond to articles I read in newspapers or magazines. But your remarks in your article, COMPLEX MESSIAH, were so outrageously off-base that I could not help but respond, knowing that thousands of your readers are now in possession of false information.
I do not know how conversant you are with New Testament scholarship but I spent several years putting together a 37 chapter essay on Jesus the Nazarene and His Jewish Followers, and I must tell you that your ideas of where the name Nazarene [NOTSRI] originated are completely out of line with the majority of scholarly opinion.
Like the average Jew or Christian, you assume that the name Nazarene should be associated with the city of Nazareth! Wrong! I have heard people ask if Jesus was a Nazarite [!] based on the same similarity of sound.
The Hebrew word 'NOTSRI' was long in existence before the Middle Ages. It was, in fact, the name by which Jesus' followers called themselves toward the end of their leader's life.
I'll get back to Nazarene in due course.
Your statement about the use of "Christian" as a term used by Jewish followers of Jesus, based on its use in Antioch, is also erroneous. "Christian" is a term whose use was initiated by GENTILES, not Jews. It was a term of derision, meaning something like "oily people", and was applied to Jesus' followers because they called him "Anointed". Greek speaking gentiles had no idea what an 'anointed' [xristos] person was, what anointing meant to the Jews, that it implied royalty. Therefore since Greek speaking followers of Jesus called him Xristos, those who mocked them, called them Xristianoi. They were GENTILES. Jewish followers continued to call themselves NOTSRIM.
NOTSRI is built on the root N-TS-R which carries the meanings of 'hidden', 'flourishing', or "guarding"
One school of thought is that since the Messiah is called the "Branch out of Jesse", that NOTSRI is a Messianic reference to Jesus. But if this were true, why would his followers also be called NOTSRIM?
Others believe that Jesus and his followers called themselves NOTSRIM because they looked upon themselves as the guardians of the Jewish faith or of the Jewish people.
The tradition of the followers of a rabbi, bearing the name of his town of origin nowhere exists in Jewish history before the rise of Hassidism. That's only around 300 years ago.
The followers of Jesus were from Galilee but not from Nazareth. The name of Nazareth in Hebrew, Natseret, were it the word giving rise to the name of Jesus' followers, would have produced a word more like Natsareti, which in fact, means Nazarethite, citizen of Nazareth.
The practice of Jesus' followers adopting the name NOTSRIM has more to do with the meaning of N-TS-R, 'hidden' or 'secret'. The Nazarenes were considered an outlaw gang, both by the Romans and by the Sadducees. Therefore they became known as "Hidden Ones" or "Secret Society Ones."
And THAT's where the Hebrew word for "Christian" comes from.
Scarsdale, New York
June 25, 2002
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