Christians, Nazarenes, etc., was: [ADS-L] Believe on me

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 3 00:04:09 UTC 2007

When I reduced the body of Christians only to those officially
recognized as such by the Congregation for the Teaching of the Faith,
a bureau of the Vatican once known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation
of the Holy Office, otherwise known as the Roman Inquisition, I was
attempting to be facetious. I apologize to those readers for whom this
was no joke.


On 9/2/07, Stephen Goranson <goranson at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Christians, Nazarenes, etc., was: [ADS-L] Believe on me
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  Beverly Flanigan, then Arnold M. Zwicky, then Larry Horn wrote:
> >> [WG] <The teacher replied that all Christians (read: "Catholics
> >> and, perhaps,
> >> the Orthodox") are assumed
> >> to be personal friends of God and you don't speak formally to your
> >> buds.>
> >>
> >> What??  Protestants weren't included?!?  The KJV was sponsored by the
> >> Protestant Anglicans, remember!
> >
> > we haven't had the "Christian(s)" discussion in a while.  the short
> > summary is that different groups use the word, in a bewildering
> > variety of ways, to exclude other groups they judge to be not really
> > christians.  so some catholics (as wilson suggests) exclude
> > protestants, on the grounds that protestants left the (original and
> > true) christian church.  (the position of the orthodox varies here,
> > as wilson suggests.)  and many protestants exclude catholics
> > (sometimes maintaining that catholics worship mary rather than
> > christ, more often maintaining that the churches of the reformation
> > returned christianity to its true nature, rejecting the errors of
> > catholicism).  many evangelical protestants exclude anyone who's not
> > a born-again christian (so anglicans, lutherans, methodists, etc. are
> > all out).  even if you count both catholics and main-line protestants
> > as christians, you might exclude some or all of the following:
> > mormons, quakers, unitarians, christian scientists, seventh-day
> > adventists.
> Another parameter is whether the group (to use a pretheoretically
> neutral term) in question defines *itself* as Christian, as Arnold
> notes the MCC does.  Are there any groups here other than Unitarians
> (/Unitarian Universalists) that don't?  (We had a discussion on this
> re Quakers, but I can't remember how that turned out, and the web
> sites appear to be somewhat indecisive on this question.)
> LH
> Then Stephen Goranson:
> Perhaps it's of interest to note that the name "Christians" (Christianoi in
> {Latin-influenced?] Greek) appears only three times in the New Testament, once
> in a late book, a letter ascribed to Peter but probably written long after his
> death, and twice in the book Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author
> who wrote Gospel of Luke. In Acts Paul is accused [by whom?] of being a
> ringleader of the "heresy" of Nazarenes. The Greek for "heresy" then was a
> neutral term, merely a choice to affiliate with a philosophy, medical
> school, or
> other tradition. A skeptic wanted to be considered a heresy member, but
> was told
> skepticism wasn't a full worldview, so it wasn't good enough to be a
> heresy. In
> the second century AD/CE the Greek for heresy took on the negative
> connotation,
> as did minim (kinds) and minut (heresy) in Hebrew, as Jews and
> Christians sought
> to strengthen distinctions. The Rabbis were heirs to the Pharisees, but were
> ambivalent to the name Pharisees. Al Baumgarten's excellent article, "The
> Name of
> the Pharisees," JBL 102 (1983) 411-28  shows readings of perushim/separatists
> and paroshim/specifiers (an approximate English analog is "discriminators"--a
> word with positive and negative connotations). Diachronically, the rabbis
> eventually are ambivalent toward the name, perhaps as separatism was less on
> the agenda post 70 (and "Sadducees" in their lexicon expands to encompass
> various rejected views).
> Acts places the first use of "Christians" in Antioch, which seems
> plausible, but
> may date it too early (since it is little used in extant texts early
> on). But a
> question remains whether it was originally a self-designation or one first
> applied by outsiders. E.g., Elias Bickerman, "The Name of the Christians," HTR
> 42 (1949) 109-24, takes the latter view.
> One modern move to reclaim the name Nazarenes came with the Church of the
> Nazarene in Los Angeles in 1896.
> I see that someone online copied my 1992 Anchor Bible Dictionary article on
> Nazarenes. Without trying to fix the Greek and Semitic transliteration
> diacritics, here it is:
> NAZARENES The term ?Nazarene? has been used in English for several related
> Greek and Semitic-language terms found in NT and later writings. Some of these
> terms are more accurately represented by other spellings, and the ways
> in which
> these terms became related remain to some extent a matter of debate. In
> general,
> Nazarene means either (1) a person from Nazareth, or (2) a member of a
> religious
> group whose name may have other connotations. Two Greek forms, Nazoµraios and
> Nazareµnos, are rendered in English versions of the NT as Nazarene,
> corresponding to the more Hellenistic of the two. (Similarly, English uses
> Essene for Essaios and Esseµnos.) However, in the Greek NT text, Nazoµraios
> is the more frequently used form. That Nazoµraios is the more Semitic of the
> two is suggested by the Syriac NT, which renders both forms as Naµs\raµyaµ.
> Matthew, John, and Acts use Nazoµraios exclusively; Mark and Luke (once or
> twice, depending on the manuscript) employ Nazareµnos. No other NT books use
> the name. In the NT, Nazarene most frequently describes a person?namely,
> Jesus?from Nazareth. Nazareth is not directly mentioned in Hebrew literature
> until the liturgical poems of Kallir (7th cent. c.e.?). This, together with
> philological questions on the link between the town name and Nazarene, led to
> much speculation on the origin of these names (see Schaeder TDNT 4: 874?79).
> Archaeological excavation has revealed a Jewish settlement in Nazareth in the
> 1st cent. c.e. (see NAZARETH), and an inscription from about 300 c.e. found in
> Caesarea confirms the spelling of the town as NS\RT (Avi-Yonah 1962).
> While one
> might expect the S\ (s\ade) to be represented in Greek by s (sigma), parallel
> cases using z (zeta) are known. Thus questions on the formation of the
> gentilic
> remain. In rabbinic literature Jesus is labeled YSðHW HNWS\RY, apparently a
> nomen agentis from the root NS\R, meaning, e.g., ?observer? (of torah).
> There are at least two cases in the NT where Nazarene means something
> different
> than, or additional to, ?from Nazareth.? Most of Jesus? followers were not
> from Nazareth, nor, according to Luke 4, was he well received there.
> These cases
> are significant for later use of Nazarene as a group name. Matt 2:23
> has puzzled
> many by asserting that when Jesus? family arrived in Nazareth it fulfilled
> what was said by the ?prophets? (note the plural) ?that he shall be
> called Nazoµraios.? The text clearly associates Nazareth and Nazoµraios,
> but since no Hebrew Scripture mentions Nazareth, readers had to look for other
> allusions, calling on the Hebrew roots NS\R and NZR. In the case of NS\R, Isa
> 11:1 prophesies the messianic ?shoot (nes\er)? from Jesse; additionally
> NS\R as a verb can mean ?to observe, to guard.? On the other hand, if Matt
> 2:23 alludes to NZR, there are stories of Nazirite vows, consecrating Samson
> (Judges 13) and others (Samuel in 4Q1 Sam). Jesus was surely not a Nazirite
> proper, but the LXX associates this root with holiness, and consequently some
> church writers (e.g., Tertullian, Eusebius) so interpreted the verse. The
> intention of Matt 2:23 depends in part on the language knowledge and
> exegetical
> method of the writer(s) of Matthew (Brown 1977: 207?13). In any case, Matt
> 2:23 presents Nazoµraios as a favorable appellation. In Acts 24:5 Paul appears
> accused by other Jews as a leader of the ?heresy? of the Nazoµraioi. Though
> of course he defends his teaching, Paul does not disown the name. Acts also
> introduces the name Christian (Christianoi), which eventually displaced
> Nazarene as the preferred self-designation of the increasingly Greek and Latin
> speaking gentile Church. But while those who believed in Jesus as Messiah
> abandoned the name Nazarene, Jews generally?including Jews who believed in
> Jesus, but who still observed Mosaic law?kept using Nazarene and its apparent
> varieties, including Heb Nos\rim. Additionally, the name was retained by the
> churches speaking Syriac (Naµs\raµyaµ), Armenian, and Arabic (Nas\aµra). In
> patristic literature the evolution continued. Writing ca. 200 c.e. Tertullian
> noted, ?the Jews call us Nazarenos? (Against Marcion 4. 8). A century later
> Eusebius switched to past tense: ?We who are now called Christians received in
> the past the name Nazarenoi? (onomast.). Writing about 375 c.e. Epiphanius
> condemns the Nazoµraioi, who are not a newly founded group, as a heresy
> (Panarion 29). Jerome followed Epiphanius: ?. . . since they want to be both
> Jews and Christians, they are neither Jews nor Christians? (Epistle 112.13 to
> Augustine). Epiphanius and Jerome (in the works cited) also provide the first
> clear accounts of the practice in some ancient synagogues of condemning the
> Nos\rim in the blessing or curse on heretics (birkat ha-minim): ?. . . may
> the Nos\rim and Minim speedily perish . . .? (according to Cairo Genizah
> manuscripts). By this time, Epiphanius and Jerome are not sure whether the
> curse encompasses all Christians or only Jewish-Christians. Epiphanius also
> condemns the Nasaraioi (Panarion 18) which his sources describe as a
> pre-Christian, law-observant group. There is no direct evidence that such a
> group existed. However, Epiphanius may have encountered a claim such as that
> made by the Mandeans, who call themselves the Naµs\oµraµyaµ, the true
> religious ?observers.? (This claim parallels that made by other groups,
> e.g., the Samaritans? self-description as the ?true keepers of torah.?)
> The Mandeans claim to predate Judaism as well as Christianity. Another
> illustration of the question of differing meanings of the terms subsumed by
> Nazarene appears in the 3d cent. Middle Persian inscription of Karté÷r, a
> Zoroastrian priest who was intolerant of other religions. Karté÷r condemned,
> among others, ?. . . Jews . . . and Nazarai, and Christians . . .? (lines
> 9?10; Chaumont). Nazarene here could represent orthodox Christians (if
> ?Christians? in this case refers to Marcionites) or Mandeans or some
> variety of Jewish-Christians. To define Nazarene, one must take into account
> the time, place, language, and religious perspective of the speaker, as
> well as
> the meanings of other available religious group names. The development
> of these
> names merits further study.
> Bibliography Avi-Yonah, M. 1962. A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea. IEJ
> 12: 137?39. Brown, R. 1977. The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City, NY.
> Chaumont, M.-L. 1960. L?inscription de Karté÷r a la ?Ka>bah de
> Zoroastra.? JA 248: 339?80. Klijn, A. F. J., and Reinink, G. J. 1973.
> Patristic Evidence for Jewish-Christian Sects. Leiden. Pritz, R. 1982. The
> Jewish Christian Sect of the Nazarenes and the Mishna. PWCJS 8/1: 125?30.
> Stephen Goranson
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