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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Nazareth

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The ‘city called Nazareth’ (Matthew 2:23), in which Jesus lived from childhood to manhood, lay in a beautiful valley of Southern Galilee, due west of the southern end of the Lake of Galilee, and about midway between that Lake and the Mediterranean. After the Gospels, it is expressly mentioned only in the phrase Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέθ, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (Acts 10:38), but an equivalent of this expression, Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος, also translated ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ but lit. [Note: literally, literature.] ‘the Nazaraean,’ or ‘Nazarene,’ is found six times in Acts; while the followers of Jesus are once called ‘the Nazarenes’ (οἱ Ναζωραῖοι, Acts 24:5). The name ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ has various shades of meaning, according to the spirit in which it is uttered. On the Day of Pentecost St. Peter uses it with an amazed sense of the identity of the lowly Nazarene, who met a felon’s death, with the glorious Being who, Risen and Exalted, has been made Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22; cf. Acts 3:6, Acts 4:10). The accusers of Stephen refer with contemptuous anger to ‘this Jesus the Nazarene’ (Acts 6:14), whom the heretic would fain set above Moses. St. Paul recalls the time when his unenlightened conscience drove him to take active measures against ‘Jesus the Nazarene,’ a name which he used at that time with fierce scorn (Acts 26:9). But on the road to Damascus he learned its true meaning, when his question ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ was answered, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene’ (Acts 22:8). The Galilaean town, valley, and hills were for ever graven on the Saviour’s heart, and His own use of the familiar title made it doubly sacred. His followers could never object to be named ‘the Nazarenes,’ as they were, e.g., by Tertullus (Acts 24:5), just as they could not but glory in being called ‘the Christians’ (Acts 11:26). While the former name was of Jewish origin, and came to be their standing designation among the unbelieving Jews, the latter was a Gentile coinage. ‘The Nazarene’ and ‘the Nazarenes’ correspond to the terms which are used in the Talmud-הַנּוֹצְרִי (Sanh. 43a, 107b; Sot. 47a) and הַנּוֹצְרִים (Ta‛ǎn. 27b); and to the present day the word Nôṣrî is habitually applied in Jewish literature to Jesus’ followers, whom a strict orthodoxy can no more name ‘Christians’ than it can call their leader ‘Christ.’ The name ‘Nazarenes’ still designates the Christians in all Muslim lands.

It is a significant fact that Nazareth, which is so dear to Christendom, is never named in the OT, Josephus, or the Talmud. Though it was a city (πόλις, Matthew 2:23), not a village (κώμη), it was a place without a history, and Nathanael of Cana-who may not have been quite free from the jealousy of neighbourhood-had great difficulty in imagining that it might produce the Messiah (John 1:46). But many things have been said, and uncritically repeated, about Nazareth, which are not well grounded on fact; e.g., that Jesus lived for thirty years ‘in the deep obscurity of a provincial village … not only in a despised province, but in its most disregarded valley’ (F. W. Farrar, The Life of Christ, new ed., 1894, p. 41), and that ‘probably public opinion looked upon the little town as morally degenerate’ (Meyer on John 1:47). There is no reason to believe that the Nazarenes were less brave, less devoted to their country’s cause, less zealous for the law, less inspired by Messianic hopes than the other Galilaeans. And one of the hills that ‘girdle quiet Nazareth’ was a perfect watch-tower, set in the midst of the Holy Land and the mighty Roman Empire, for the young Prophet who was to give the city so great a place in history. His feet climbed its summit easily and-as His love of hills would indicate-probably often; and while His eyes ranged over one of the fairest prospects on earth, He had ‘ears to hear’ the murmur of the world. If His youth was inwardly, it could scarcely be outwardly, peaceful. He loved solitude, and the words ‘in secret’ (ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ, Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6) were dear to Him; yet He was destined for society, and His early years were passed in no backwater, but in the full current of the events of His time. He was never far from the crowds, often (such were Roman oppression and Jewish sedition) the madding crowds of Galilee, and ‘all the rumour of the Empire entered Palestine close to Nazareth’ (G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) , 1897, p. 434; cf. Selah Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ, 1885, p. 123f.). All the time that His talent (if the word may here be used) was growing in stillness, His character was being formed in the stream of the world. Nazareth was in truth the best of all places for the education of the Messiah (cf. W. M. Ramsay, The Education of Christ2, 1902).

Various etymologies of ‘Nazareth’ have been proposed. The idea that it means ‘consecrated,’ ‘devoted to God’ (from נָדַר, whence Nazirite), or that it denotes ‘my Saviour’ (נוֹצְרִי), may be dismissed at once. Equally improbable is the notion that it embodies a Messianic name, ‘the Shoot,’ or ‘the Sprout’ (נֵצֶר), which is found in Isaiah 11:1. The most likely suggestion is that it signifies ‘Watch-tower’ (from נֹצָרֶת, Aram. נָצְרֶה, נָצְרַת, a name which would be given first to the hill, and then to the town built on its flank.

Acting on a hint of Wellhausen’s (Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte, 1894, p. 222, footnote 3), T. K. Cheyne has tried to conjure ‘the city of Nazareth’ out of existence, leaving the sacred name as a mere synonym of ‘Galilee’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iii. 3358 f.), but his reasoning, as G. A. Barton remarks in Jewish Encyclopedia , is ‘in the highest degree precarious.’

Literature.-A. P. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine23, 1912; V. Guérin, Description géog. de la Palestine, pt. iii.: ‘Galilée,’ 1880; F. Buhl, GAP [Note: AP Geographie des alten Palästina (Buhl).] , 1896; W. Sanday, Sacred Sites of the Gospels, 1903; K. Baedeker, Palestine and Syria, 1912, p. 246.

James Strahan.

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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nazareth'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/n/nazareth.html. 1906-1918.

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