“Authentic” Netzarim

Ten Historical Characteristics of the “Authentic” Netzarim

By James Scott Trimm

There are many organizations now claiming an identification with the ancient Sect of the Netzarim/Nazarenes. One even claims to be the only “authentic” representation of Netzarim Judaism. Many of these organizations differ substantially with what we know historically about the ancient sect of the Nazarenes. The purpose of this article is to outline some of the historical characteristics which we know the ancient Nazarenes had, which many of these pseudo-Nazarene organizations lack. Beware of so-called “authentic” Nazarene/Netzarim Judaism that does not have these characteristics. There is nothing historically “authentic” about these groups.

1. Did not call themselves “Christians”

“These sectarians… did not call themselves Christians–but ‘Nazarenes,’…”
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

2. Accepted Yeshua as Messiah

“The Nazarenes… accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.”
(Jerome; On. Is. 8:14)

“They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion– except for their belief in Messiah, … They disagree with [other] Jews because they have come to faith in Messiah.”
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

3. Were Torah Observant

“The Nazarenes… accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.”
(Jerome; On. Is. 8:14)

“They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion– since they are still fettered by the Law–circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest– they are not in accord with Christians.
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

4. Used both the Tanak (“Old Testament”) and the “New Testament”

“They use not only the New Testament’ but the ‘Old Testament’ as well, as the Jews do…”
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

5. Used Hebrew and Aramaic NT source texts.

 

“They have the Goodnews according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

“And he [Heggesippus the Nazarene] quotes some passages from The Gospel according to the Hebrews and from ‘The Syriac’ [the Aramaic], and some particulars from the Hebrew tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews, and he mentions other matters as taken from the oral tradition of the Jews.”
(Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 4:22)

6. Believed in the Virgin Birth of Yeshua.

“They believe that Messiah, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Miriam.”
(Jerome; Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine)

7. Accepted the diety of Messiah… teaching that Elohim is ECHAD but that there are “many (more than two) ‘powers’ in heaven” including the Messiah.

“They…declare that God is one [ECHAD]…”
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

The Mishna states that the MINIM taught:

“There are many `powers’ in heaven”
(m.San. 4:5)

Clearly the MINIM in this portion of the Mishna were Nazarenes (1) and not Ebionites, since Ebionites clearly rejected the deity of Messiah.

In the Gemara to this portion of Mishna (b.San. 38b) the Talmud discusses various proof texts that the MINIM used to support their teaching of “many powers in heaven” including the Messiah.

R. Johanan said:

“In all the passages which the Minim have taken [as grounds] for their heresy, their refutation is found near at hand.
Thus: Let us make man in our image, (Gen. 1:26)
And God created [sing.] man in His own image; (Gen. 1:27)
Come, let us go down and there confound their language, (Gen. 11:7)
And the Lord came down [sing.] to see the city and the tower; (Gen. 11:5)
Because there were revealed [plur.] to him God, (Gen. 35:7)
Unto God who answereth [sing.] me in the day of my distress; (Gen. 35:3)
For what great nation is there that hath God so nigh [plur.] unto it, as the Lord our God is [unto us] whensoever we call upon Him [sing.]; (Deut. 4:7)
And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, [like] Israel, whom God went [plur.] to redeem for a people unto himself [sing.], (2Sam. 7:23)
Till thrones were placed and one that was ancient did sit. (Dan. 7:9)
Why were these [plurals] necessary? To teach R. Johanan’s dictum; viz.: The Holy One, blessed be He, does nothing without consulting His Heavenly Court (literally “Family”) , for it is written, The matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the Holy Ones. (Dan. 4:14)
Now, that is satisfactory for all [the other verses], but how explain Till thrones were placed? (Dan. 7:9)
One [throne] was for Himself and one for David [Messiah]. Even as it has been taught: One was for Himself and one for David: this is R. Akiba’s view.
R. Jose protested to him: Akiba, how long will thou profane the Sh’kinah?
Rather, one [throne] for justice, and the other for mercy.
Did he accept [this answer] from him or not? Come and hear!
For it has been taught: One is for justice and the other for charity; this is R. Akiba’s view. Said R. Eleazar b. Azariah to him: Akiba, what hast thou to do with Aggada? Confine thyself to [the study of] Nega’im and Ohaloth [civil issues]. But one was a throne, the other a footstool: a throne for a seat and a footstool in support of His feet (Is. 66:1).”

This section of Talmud tells us that the MINIM used Tanak passages in which Elohim was referenced in a plural form as proof texts for their teaching of “many powers in the heavens”. Among their proof texts were Gen. 1:26; 11:7; 35:7; Deut. 4:7; Sam. 7:23 & Dan. 7:9). The Rabbinic Jews dismissed these as examples of Elohim speaking to “His Heavenly Court” (literally “Heavenly Family”) i.e. the “watchers” of Dan. 4:14.

8. Accepted “Jewish Tradition” but not Rabbinic Halachah

“They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion…”
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)

“And he [Heggesippus the Nazarene] quotes some passages from The Gospel according to the Hebrews and from “The Syriac” [the Aramaic], and some particulars from the Hebrew tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews, and he mentions other matters as taken from the oral tradition of the Jews.”
(Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 4:22)

There are preserved for us five fragments from an ancient Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah in which the fourth century Nazarene writer makes it clear that Nazarenes of the fourth century were not following Pharisaic Rabbinical Halakhah. The following is taken from the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah 8:14:

” ‘And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel…’ The Nazarenes explain the two houses as the two houses of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes and Pharisees… [they Pharisees] scattered and defiled the precepts of the Torah by traditions and mishna. And these two houses did not accept the Savior…”

9. Accepted Paul as an emissary to the Ephraimites and Gentiles.

“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 Goodnews of the emissary Paul who was the last 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.”
(Jerome on Is. 9:1-4)

10. They wore Head Coverings

“…false teachers, who, seeing that none of the emissaries any longer survived, at length attempted with bare and uplifted head to oppose the proclaiming of the truth…”
(Eusebius; Eccl. Hist.)

Footnotes

(1) It is important to define an important Talmudic term MIN (singular) / MINIM (plural).

The fourth century “Church Father” Jerome writes of the Nazarenes and Ebionites:

“What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? Today there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans, and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called ‘Nazarenes’; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe.”
(Jerome; Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine)

Now Ebionites and Nazarenes were two distinct groups with varying beliefs (the Ebionites split off from the Nazarenes round 70 C.E.) but both of these groups were known by Rabbinic Jews as ” Minim” or as Jerome calls them in Latin “Mineans”.

According to the Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalami and Midrashic Literature, Marcus Jastrow defines MIN “…sectarian, infidel… a Jewish infidel, mostly applied to Jew Christians”. Jastrow uses the term “Jew-Christians” to refer to Ebionites and Nazarenes although these groups did not call themselves “Christians”.

Many scholars believe that the term MIN began as an acronym for a Hebrew phrase meaning “Believers in Yeshua the Nazarene”.

 

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