Fragments from an Ancient Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah
The ancient Nazarene commentary on Isaiah consists of five citations of a Nazarene commentary on Isaiah which are preserved in Jerome’s fourth century commentary on Isaiah. This Nazarene commentary is one of the few pieces of ancient Nazarene literature (apart from the “New Testament”) to survive to modern times. The commentary appears to be either a Nazarene midrash or a Nazarene Targum on Isaiah. The commentary is clearly written on a drash rather than a pashat level (see article on PaRDeS in Hermeneutic section). The commentary seems to express an animosity between Nazarene Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism existed by the fourth century. The commentary makes it apparent that the Nazarene Jews of the fourth century did not accept Pharisaic/Rabbinc halachah. For these and other reasons this ancient Nazarene commentary on Isaiah is very valuable to us today.
- James Trimm
On Is. 8:14
And He shall be for a sanctuary,
but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense
to both the houses of Yisra’el:
for a gin and for a snare
to the inhabitants of Yerushalayim.
(Isaiah 8:14 HRV)
The Nazarenes, who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old law explain the two houses as the two families, viz. of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes and the Pharisees. Akiba, who took over their school, is called the master of Aquila the proselyte, and after him came Meir who has been succeeded by Joannes the son of Zakkai and after him Eliezer and further Telphon, and next Joseph Galilaeus and Joshua up to the capture of Jerusalem. Shammai then and Hillel were born not long before the Lord; they originated in Judea. The name of the first means “scatterer” and of the second “unholy”, because he scattered and defiled the precepts of the Torah by his traditions and deutroseis. And these are the two houses who did not accept the Savior who has become to them ruin and scandal.
On Is. 8:20-21
20 For Torah and for testimony?
If they speak not according to this word,
there is no light in them.
21 And they shall pass this way that are sore bestead and hungry.
And it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry,
they shall fret themselves and curse by their king and by their Elohim.
And, whether they turn their faces upward,
(Isaiah 8:20-21 HRV)
For the rest the Nazarenes explain the passage in this way:
when the Scribes and Pharisees tell you to listen to them, men who do everything for the love of the belly and who hiss during their incantations in the way of magicians in order to deceive you, you must answer them like this: “It is not strange if you follow your traditions since every tribe consults its own idols. We must not, therefore, consult your dead about the living ones. On the contrary, God has given us the Torah and the testimonies of the scriptures. If you are not willing to follow them you shall not have light, and the darkness will always oppress you. It will cover your earth and your doctrine so that, when you see that they have been deceived by you in error and they feel a longing for the truth, they will then be sad or angry. And let them who believe themselves to be like their own gods and kings curse you. And let them look at the heaven and the earth in vain since they are always in darkness and they can not flee away from your ambushes.
On Is. 9:1-4
8:23 (9:1) For is there no gloom to her that was steadfast?
Now the former has lightly afflicted the land of Z’vulun, and the land of Naftali,
but the latter has dealt a more grievous blow by the way of the sea,
beyond the Yarden, in the district of the nations.
9:1 (9:2) The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined.
9:2 (9:3) You have multiplied the nation,
You have increased their joy;
they joy before You according to the joy in harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
9:3 (9:4) For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff of his shoulder;
the rod of his oppressor,
You have broken as in the day of Midian.
(Isaiah 8:23-9:3 (9:1-4) HRV)
The Nazarenes, whose opinion I have set forth above, try to explain this passage in the following way:
When Messiah came and his proclaiming shone out, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali first of all were freed from the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke of the Jewish traditions. Later, however, the proclaiming became more dominant, that means the proclaiming was multiplied, through the the emissary Paul who was the least of all the emissaries. And the goodnews of Messiah shone to the most distant tribes and the way of the whole sea. Finally the whole world, which earlier walked or sat in darkness and was imprisoned in the bonds of idolatry and death, has seen the clear light of the goodnews.
On Is. 29:20-21
20 For the terrible one is brought to nought,
and the scorner ceases,
and all they that watch for iniquity are cut off:
21 That make a man an offender by words,
and lay a snare for him that reproves in the gate,
and turn aside the just with a thing of nought.
(Isaiah 29:20-21 HRV)
What we have understood to have been written about the devil and his angels, the Nazarenes believe to have been said against the Sribes and the Pharisees, because the deutrotai passed away, who earlier deceived the people with very vicious traditions (And they watch day and night to deceive the simple ones), who made men sin against the Word of God in order that they should deny that Messiah was the Son of God.
On. Is. 31:6-9
6 Turn you unto Him against whom you have deeply rebelled,
O children of Yisra’el.
7 For in that day they shall cast away every man,
his idols of silver, and his idols of gold,
which your own hands have made unto you for a sin.
8 Then shall Assyria fall with the sword–not of man–
and the sword not of men, shall devour him:
and he shall flee from the sword,
and his young men shall become tributary.
9 And his rock shall pass away by reason of terror,
and his princes shall be dismayed at the ensign, says YHWH,
whose fire is in Tziyon,
and His furnace in Yerushalayim.
(Isaiah 31:6-9 HRV)
The Nazarenes understand this passage in this way:
O Sons of Israel, who deny the Son of God with a most vicious opinion, turn to him and his emissaries. For if you will do this, you will reject all idols which to you were a cause of sin in the past and the devil will fall before you, not because of your powers, but because of the comparison of God. And his young men, who at a certain time earlier fought for him, will be the servants of the assembly and any of his power and stone will pass. Also the philosophers and every perverse dogma will turn their backs to the sign of the cross. Because this is the meaning of the Lord that his will take place, whose fire or light is in Zion and his oven in Jerusalem.
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