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Nazarene is a title applied to Jesus (c. 4 BC- c. AD 30), who grew up in Nazarethmarker,"Jesus was a Galilean from Nazareth, a village near Sepphoris, one of the two major cities of Galilee". ("Jesus Christ." Encyclopædia Britannica, Chicago, 2009.)
"[Jesus] spent His boyhood in the Galilean town of Nazareth." (Bromiley, Geoffrey W., "Nazarene," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: K-P, pp. 499-500.) a town in Galilee, now in northern Israelmarker.
The word is used to translate two related words that appear in the Greek New Testament: Nazarēne (Nazarene) and Nazōraios (Nazorean). The Greek phrases traditionally rendered as "Jesus of Nazareth" can be more literally translated "Jesus the Nazarene" or "Jesus the Nazorean." Therefore, the title Nazarene may have a religious significance. Both Nazarene and Nazorean are irregular in Greek and the additional vowel in "Nazorean" complicates any derivation from Nazareth.

The Gospel of Matthew explains that the title "Nazorean" is derived from the prophecy, "He will be called a Nazorean." Unlike other prophecies that Matthew quotes, this one has no obvious Old Testament source. Some scholars argue that it refers to a passage in the Book of Isaiah, with "Nazorean" a Greek reading of the Hebrew ne·tser (branch), understood as a messianic title. Others point to a passage in the Book of Judges which refers to Samson as a Nazirite, a word that is just one letter off from "Nazorean" in Greek.

The Greek New Testament uses "Nazarene" six times, while "Nazorean" is used 13 times. In the Book of Acts, "Nazorean" is used to refer to a follower of Jesus, i.e. a Christian, rather than an inhabitant of a town. "Nazarene" is the modern Hebrew word for Christian (No·tsri, נוֹצְרִי) and one of two words commonly used to mean "Christian" in Arabic (Naṣrānī, نصراني).


Nazarene is anglicized from Greek Nazarēne (Ναζαρηνέ), a word applied to Jesus in the New Testament. Several Hebrew words have been suggested as roots:


The issue of whether Nazarene is derived from Nazareth has been the subject of much scholarly conjecture since the 19th century.Kittel, G, "Nazarenos, Nazoraios", Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, pp. 875 ff.
"The name has obvious reference to Nazareth," (" Nazarene", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.)
Schaeder, H., "Nazarenos, Nazoraios" in G. Kittel, "Theological Dict. of the New Testament," p. 874.
Albright, W., "Nazareth and Nazoraean," J. of Biblical Lit. 65:2 (June 1946), pp.397–401.

"Nazareth", in turn, may be derived from either na·tsar, נָצַר, meaning "to watch,"

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1906/2003), p. 665.
"Some, however, think that the name of the city must be connected with the name of the hill behind it, from which one of the finest prospects in Palestine is obtained, and accordingly they derive it from the Hebrew notserah, i.e., one guarding or watching."

( Easton's Bible Dictionary, (1897)).
"...if the word Nazareth is be derived from Hebrew at all, it must come from this root [i.e.

נֹצְרִ, nostri, to watch]" (Merrill, Selah, (1881) Galilee in the Time of Christ, p.

116. or from ne·tser, נֵ֫צֶר, meaning branch."The etymology of Nazara is neser" (" Nazareth", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.)
"NAZARETH, NAZARENE - Place name meaning, 'branch.'" (Holman's Bible Dictionary, 1994.)
"Generally supposed to be the Greek form of the Hebrew netser, a "shoot" or "sprout." ( Easton's Bible Dictionary, (1897)).

The Greek phrase usually translated as "Jesus of Nazareth" (iēsous o nazōraios) can be translated more literally as "Jesus the Nazorean." No one else is referred to in scripture in this way, not even other people from Nazareth. For example, the father of Jesus is iōsēph ton apo nazaret (Joseph of Nazareth).

"Nazareth" and "Nazarene" are complementary only in Greek, where they possess the "z", or voiced [aspirated] sibilant. In Semitic languages, "Nazarene" and its cognates Nazareth, Nazara, and Nazorean possess the unvoiced (unaspirated) sibilant corresponding to the "s" or "ts" sound. Voiced and unvoiced sounds follow separate linguistic pathways. The Greek forms referring to Nazareth should therefore be Nasarene, Nasoraios, and Nasareth. The additional vowel (ω) in Nazorean makes this variation more difficult to derive, although a weak Aramaic vowel in "Nazareth" has been suggested as a possible source.


  • ne·tser (נֵ֫צֶר, n-ts-r), pronounced nay'·tser, meaning "branch", "flower", or "offshoot". Derived from na·tsar. (See below.)

Jerome (c. 347 – 420) linked "Nazarene" to a messianic prophecy by Isaiah, claiming that "Nazarene" was the Hebrew reading of a word modern scholars read as ne·tzer (branch). The text from Isaiah is:

In ancient Hebrew texts, vowels were not indicated, so a wider variety of readings was possible in Jerome's time. Here branch/Nazarene is metaphorically "descendant" (of Jesse, father of King David). Eusebius, a fourth century Christian polemicist, also argued that Isaiah was the source of "Nazarene." This prophecy by Isaiah was extremely popular in New Testament times and is also referred to in Romans and Revelation.

Other suggested roots

  • na·tsar (נָצַר, n-ts-r), pronounced naw·tsar', meaning "to watch, guard, keep". This word also has a messianic association based on a passage in Jeremiah.

  • na·zir (נָזִיר, n-z-r), pronounced naw·zeer', meaning "one consecrated, devoted". This word has a messianic association based on passages in Genesis and Deuteronomy. A Nazirite was a person consecrated to God either from birth, such as Samson or Samuel; or for a limited time. "Nazorite" is only one letter off from "Nazorean" in Greek.

Ancient usage


Matthew consistently uses the variant "Nazorean." A link between Nazorean and Nazareth is found in Matthew:

The passage presents difficulties: (1) no prophecy is known in Jewish scripture, "He shall be called a Nazorean; (2) "Nazorean" is a new term, appearing here for the first time in association with Nazareth and, indeed, for the first time anywhere.

Matthew's prophecy is often linked to Isaiah's. Although only Isaiah's prophecy gives "branch" as ne·tser, there are four other messianic prophecies where the word for branch is given as tze·mach. Matthew's phrase "spoken through the prophets" may suggest that these passages are being referred to collectively. In contrast, the phrase "through the prophet," used a few verses above the Nazorean prophecy, refers to a specific Old Testament passage.

An alternative view suggests that a passage in the Book of Judges which refers to Samson as a Nazirite is the source for Matthew's prophecy. "Nazorite" is only one letter off from "Nazorean" in Greek. But the characterization of Jesus in the New Testament is not that of a typical Nazirite, and it is doubtful that Matthew intended a comparison between Jesus and the amoral Samson.


The Gospel of Mark, considered the oldest gospel, consistently uses "Nazarene," while scripture written later generally uses "Nazorean." This suggests that the form more closely tied to "Nazareth" came first. Another possibility is that Mark used this form because the more explicitly messianic form was still controversial when he was writing. Before he was baptized, Mark refers to Jesus as "from Nazareth of Galilee," whereas afterwards he is "the Nazarene," suggesting a transformation at the time of baptism. In a similar fashion, second century messianic claimant Simon bar Kokhba (Aramaic for "Simon, son of a star"), changed his name from Simon bar Kosiba to add a reference to the Star Prophecy.

Nonscriptural use

The Gospel of Philip, a second century Gnostic work, claims that the word "Nazarene" signifies "the truth":

"Gnostic" is Greek for "knowledge", as the Gnostics claimed to have hidden knowledge concerning the religions of others.

Another possible source of Nazarene is Natsarenes, priests of the Mandeans (said to be followers of John the Baptist). Epiphanius writes of a "pre-Christian" Jewish sect which he calls Nasarenes. This sect has been variously identified with the Mandeans, Samaritans, or Rechabites. The Jewish Christian Nazarenes may have evolved into the Ebionites. In Acts, Paul of Tarsus is called, "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans," thus identifying Nazorean with Christian.

A town that never was?

Although the historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100) mentions 45 towns in Galilee, he never mentions Nazareth. But Josephus also writes that Galilee had 219 villages in all, so it is clear that most village names have gone unrecorded in surviving literature. Nazareth was overshadowed by nearby Japhia in his time, so Josephus might not have thought of it as a separate town. The earliest known reference to Nazareth outside the New Testament and as a contemporary town is by Julius Africanus, who wrote around AD 200. Writers who question the association of Nazareth with the life of Jesus suggest that "Nazorean" was originally a religious title and was later reinterpreted as referring to a town. This process would assign Nazareth as a hometown. At one point, Mark states the home of Jesus was in Capernaummarker, possibly the remnant of an older tradition that is otherwise lost.

Table of variants

The numbers in parenthesis are from Strong's Concordance.

Nazarene (3479)

  • Nazarēne (Ναζαρηνέ) ,
  • Nazarēnon (Ναζαρηνὸν)
  • Nazarēnos (Ναζαρηνός)
  • Nazarēnou (Ναζαρηνοῦ) ,

Nazorean (3480)

  • Nazōraios (Ναζωραῖος) , , ,
  • Nazōraiou (Ναζωραίου) , , ,
  • Nazōraiōn (Ναζωραίων)
  • Nazōraion (Ναζωραῖον) , ,

Nazareth (3478)

  • Nazareth (Ναζαρέθ) , , , , ,
  • Nazara (Ναζαρα) ,
  • Nazaret (Ναζαρὲτ) , , ,


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