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Who were the Nazarenes?
The early 'Church", was composed of the disciples who had known Jesus, or Yehoshua (Joshua) ben Yoseph. I believe he was likely the son of Joseph, after all, both genealogies list him as as son of Joseph, something even the birth myths cannot erase. This early group of followers became know as the Notzerim (also transliterated as Notzrim or Nozrim) or Nazarenes, just why is a matter of some debate among scholars. They were, as the actions of James/Yaakov the brother of Jesus/Yehoshua in the Christian New Testament demonstrate, Torah observant Jews. What marked them as different from their fellow Jews of the time was their belief that the messiah had already come and was still alive. They expected Jesus/Yehoshua to complete his task before their generation had passed away. Matt 24:34, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (NIV)
Origin of the term Notzerim
The sources say Notzerim (also spelled Notzrim or Nozrim) is THE Hebrew word for the English word Nazarenes. They are one and the same. The Church Fathers called this heretical Jewish-Christian movement Nazarenes. The scholars debate whether the origin of the name applied to the Nazarene movement was from nazarite or the city of Nazareth.
The Hebrew term Narzarite (refering to one who takes a vow) is nun-kamatz-zion-hiriq-yud-reish. I have included the vowels because it is important that it has a kamatz. Remember that in Ashkenazi practice, including that of the 2 Siddurim I quote below, the kamatz is transliterated as 'o', not 'a' as in Sephardic pronunciation.
The city of Nazareth, on the other hand, is spelled nun-kamatz-tzadi-sheva-reish-patach-sav/tav. In Ashkenzai pronounciation, again the kamatz would be transliterated as 'o'.
From the Encyclopaedia Judaica article on the city of Nazareth: "The early Christians were contemptuously called Nazarenes by their enemies (Matt. 21:11), and the Hebrew and Arabic terms for Christians (No[t]zeri, Nasrani) are derived from the town's name." Note: the t is added in the quote as I cannot reproduce the . under the z. Since it is in Matthew, and thus refers to the time when Jesus/Yeshsayahu was alive, it is clear that the term Nazarene was applied to the Jewish followers of Jesus/Yeshsayahu first. Only later did it become attached to all Christians.
Note that a non-Jewish movement such at the Pauline Gentile-Christian church cannot be declared heretical by the rabbis, as they are a totally different religion and since they are not Jews, not bound by Torah.
The rabbis can only declare a movement of Jews heretical. (see also The Nazarenes become a Heretical Jewish Sect below). The Pauline movement was of non-Jews, the Notzerim were Jews and were declared heretical in the Birkat HaMinim. Refering to Jewish-Christian groups including the Nazarenes (Notzerim) and Ebionites (Evionim), the Encyclopaedia Judaica says "Being rejected both by normative Judaism and the Church, they ultimately disappeared.", this dispite the fact that the amongst the Jewish-Christain groups, "Some sects saw in Jesus mainly a prophet and not the 'Christ,' others seem to have believed in him as the Messiah, but did not draw the christological and other conclusions that subsequently became fundamental in the teaching of the Church." (Encyclopaedia Judaica, "Christianity") Yet, they were still rejected by Judaism.
How were the Nazarenes Viewed Initially by the Pharisees
The Pharisees, who were at this stage not opposed to the movement, had a wait and see attitude. This is typified by the statement of Rabban Gamaliel, Nassi or head of the Sanhedrin, a great leader of the Pharisees and thus the majority of the Jewish people in Acts 5:34-39:
So, the question is, after waiting, what happened? Was it just Paul's teachings that distanced this movement from Judaism? Or was there another reason this sect was eventually declared heretical (more on that in a bit)? To help get the picture, we need to first know that Rabban Gamaliel was speaking before the destruction of the Second Temple. It is important to know how this movement reacted to Paul and his teachings. Then we need to examine the actions of this sect during the revolt, after the revolt, and during the next revolt lead by Bar Kokhba.
The Nazarenes and Paul
The Nazarenes used their own variation of the Gospel of Matthew. The Church Father quoted those passages where it differed from the version of Matthew that was to become official in the Gentile-Christain Church. The Gentile Church considered the Nazarenes to be heretics and Judaisers, even though they were the followers of those who had actually known Jesus/Yeshsayahu during his lifetime. By the same token, the Nazarenes had a rather dim view of Paul.
Maccoby, in the appendix referenced in the footnote to this last quote, states that "[r]eferences to the Nazarenesa dn their beliefs (human status of Jesus, opposition to Paul) can be found in the writings of Justin Martyr, Epiphanius, Jerome, Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Origen" (Ibid, p 218)
The Nazarenes become a Heretical Jewish Sect
As previously stated, the Nazarenes were Torah observant and within Judaism at first, but after a generation had passed with no return of their candidate for the messiah whom they asserted was still alive, they were labeled as a heretical Jewish sect for not giving up their belief in this same messiah. Gentile Christianity, not being part of Judaism, was not so labled, though anyone leaving the Jewish religion for another (Gentile Christianity was and is most certainly another religion), abrogating the eternal covenant, was an apostate to Judaism and is so today.
Maccoby's Revolution in Judea gives the inital view that the Nazarenes were labeled as heretics in 90 C.E. His later book, The Mythmaker revises this date to the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt.
Further evidence that the Nazarenes were labeled heretics in Judaism comes from Maccoby's The Mythmaker in footnote 10 on page 219:
Looking up the reference on page 80 yields the following:
Note 3 to the paragraph above states the sources for this as: "Eusebius, quoting Justin Martyr, 'Ecclesiastical History', IV, 8. Also Latin version, Hadrian's Year 17."
From the Encyclopaedia Judaica article "Amidah" (italics by me for emphasis. Note that it was not directed against Gentile-Christians, but Jewish ones, i.e., Nazarenes or Nozerim)
Further information comes from the Encyclopaedia Judaica article "Birkat Ha-Minim" by Meir Ydit (quoted fully, italics by me for emphasis)
The formulation of this prayer is ascribed to Samuel ha-Katan, who revised its text after it had fallen into oblivion (Ber. 28b). The many different historical situations in which this prayer was used are reflected in the variant readings still extant. The text has been further confused as a result of censorship during the Middle Ages. In geonic times, this prayer was invoked against poshe'im ("sinners") or, as Maimonides read it, against apikoresim ("heretics"), whereas in the Mahzor Salonika and in the Roman Mahzor it refers to meshummadim ("the apostates"). This term was further changed into ve-la-poshe'im, which later became ve-la-malshinim ("slanderers"). In some versions other expressions were substituted for the word minim: e.g., "all doers of iniquity," regardless of origin and nationality. The Sephardi ritual retained minim. Instead of the passage "and all the enemies of Thy people," as in older versions, the modified Ashkenazi and Roman rites read: "and they all." The phrase malkhut zadon ("kingdom of arrogance") by which the Roman Empire was meant, was changed by Amram b. Sheshna (Amram Gaon) into "the arrogant," as in most rites. The concluding phrase "who breakest the enemies and humblest the arrogant" (Siddur Amram Ga'on) was replaced in some versions, by: "who breakest the evildoers" (Siddur Sa'adyah Ga'on and Maimonides). From the historical evidence, it is clear that this prayer was never meant to be directed against non-Jews in general, but rather against Jewish heretics and gentile persecutors of the Jews. Nevertheless Jews were often accused of including a special imprecation against Christians in their statutory prayers. In modern times, the text has further been adjusted and many prayer books substitute the impersonal "slander" and "evil" for "slanderers" and "evil doers." In several Reform rites, the prayer has been modified or omitted.
Thus far I have quoted only from sources written by Jewish authors to show that the Nazarenes were eventually a heretical Jewish sect. Before I quote from the Siddur, I would like to present a quote from a source written by a Christain, namely Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity. First a quote from p 42, which while not directly at the heretical nature, it supports Maccoby's theory that Jesus/Yehoshua was claiming to be the messiah in the Jewish way. As such, he would have had to have fulfilled the prophecies he followed, but he himself admits his own failure "It is done..." "Why have you forsaken me?", etc. (see also, my article on Jesus, Sukkot, and Zechariah)
More to the point on the heretical nature of the Nazarene sect and their view that Paul/Saul was a heretic, comes from page 43 of Paul Johnson's book.
I would reiterate that there is some debate on the date, others saying it was later, at the time of Bar Kokhba that this modification took place.
Finally, I present quotes from the Siddur, footnotes to two respected Siddurim, on just what the Birkat HaMinim is about and to whom it is directed.
From the Complete Artscroll Siddur, page 107 (*** my own for emphasis)
In this atmosphere, Rabban Gamliel felt the need to compose a prayer against heretics and slanderers, and to incorporate it in the Shemoneh Esrei so that the populace would be aware of the danger.
Despite the disappearance from within Israel of the particular sects against whom it was directed, it is always relevant, because there are still non-believers and heretics who endanger the spiritual continuity of Israel (Yaaros D'vash).
Appearantly the commentator in this Siddur does not know of the attempts to revive a Torah observant Nazarene community who still holds to the belief that Yehoshua (they only use his Hebrew name) is the messiah, dispite evidence that the messiah has not yet come. As the early Nazarene were considered heretical for clinging to this belief, so too should this revived movement be considered heretical for Jews to join. It is, of course, clear that a Jew who joins one of the movements who believe that Jesus was more than messiah, or messiah in the Christian usage (and thus become Christian in their religion not matter what it is called by the missionaries, abandoning the eternal covenant), is an apostate. We Jews need to be armed with the above information, lest we join either the more Christian seeming "Messianic" movements, or a movement like that trying to revive the more Jewish seeming Nazarene movement. Neither are appropriate for a Jew, all such movements incorperating Jesus or Yehoshua or Yeshua, or whatever version of the son of Yoseph and Miriam's name, make a Jew joining an apostate, a heretic. Such is a violiation of the eternal covenant we have with HaShem. If you have joined such a movement, it is not to late to turn back to the eternal covenant, to become a Torah-true Jew. As it is written in Malichi 3:7 "...Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you--said the L-RD of Hosts." G-d will accept you back into the ranks of those who faithfully keep His covenant, among those who are Shomrai HaBrit (Keepers of the Covenant).