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More on the Name “Nazareth”

My post on the archaeological proof that Nazareth did in fact exist elicited a number of responses, some of them asking for more details – especially about whether the name of the town could have been invented by someone who thought Jesus was a “Nazirite.”  I actually deal with that question in my response to mythicists in my book Did Jesus Exist?   There I deal with the arguments of mythicists Frank Zindler and G.A. Wells.  Here is what I say there:

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Frank Zindler, for example, in a cleverly entitled essay, “Where Jesus Never Walked,” tries to deconstruct on a fairly simple level the geographical places associated with Jesus, especially Nazareth.  He claims that Mark’s Gospel never states that Jesus came from Nazareth.  This flies in the face, of course, of Mark 1:9, which indicates precisely that this is where Jesus did come from (“Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee”), but Zindler maintains that that verse was not originally part of Mark; it was inserted by a later scribe.   In my view, this making a historical claim based on “convenience.”  If a text says precisely what you think it could not have said, then all you need to do is claim that originally it must have said something else.

I do not mean to say that Zindler does not cite evidence for his view.  He claims that the name “Jesus” in Mark 1:9 does not have the definite article, unlike the other 80 places it occurs in Mark, and therefore the verse does not appear to be written in Markan style.   In response, I should say that …

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Was Jesus From Nazareth?
Did Nazareth Exist?

34

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 3, 2015

    I’m curious. I grant that Jesus almost certainly came from Nazareth (and had a Galilean accent!). But what’s your opinion on why the Gospels never mention the nearest city, Sepphoris, which was walking distance from Nazareth?

    Years ago, when there were more televised documentaries about these things, some participants claimed Jesus *must have* visited Sepphoris frequently throughout his life – that he and his father might even have done some work there. Others thought the non-mention of it in the Gospels indicated he never went there.

    Whether or not he went there before he became a preacher, do you think he might have avoided it in his ministry because he feared meeting the same fate as John the Baptist? And wrongly thought “distant” Jerusalem would be safer?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2015

      My hunch is that it is because Jesus never visited big cities, but was a completely rural person, until that last week when he chose to celebrate the Passover in Jerusaelm. My view is that Jesus simply never spent any time in Sepphoris. and the idea that he and Joseph were working there is a modern myth, imho.

      • Avatar
        Nexus  January 6, 2019

        Hi Bart, if you don’t think that Jesus visited Sepphoris, what is your opinion on how Jesus got work as a tekton? Do we know anything about the economy of Nazareth?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 6, 2019

          I’m afraid we don’t know what it entailed. Wood work with gates and yokes? Stone mason for houses? Something else? The economy was largely agrarian. It was a very small hamlet (never mentioned in any single source before the NT) Deep poverty. No public buildings of any kind. Rough houses. If you’re interested, there’s a nice summary of what we know in Jonathan Reed adn John Dominic Crossan, Excavating Jesus.

          • Avatar
            Nexus  January 9, 2019

            I’m trying to see why you believe that Jesus would not have visited Sepphoris. I can see a few probable scenarios that would have brought Jesus to Sephorris. I’m sure they’ve been said before elsewhere. Firstly, I don’t think there could have been that much work for a tekton in a village of 50 houses that was reliant on farming. Being in deep poverty would have made it more likely for him to go seek work elsewhere. He obviously wasn’t opposed to leaving the village! Second, even if there was enough work, one needs tools and supplies from the city to work in any technical trade. Finally, since it was so close, a curious young boy Jesus with friends or family could’ve made the very short trip.

            So, where am I going wrong here? Why wouldn’t he have visited? Was he ethically opposed to going?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 9, 2019

            The problem for me is not whether Jesus may have wandered into Sepphoris a couple of times. It’s that scholars argue that he definitely did, that he was employed there, that he helped build the theater there, that he learned Greek there, that he watched Greek drama there, that he encountered Greek Cynics there, that he learned Greek philosophy there, that…. All of this is just complete speculation based on nothing other than some remarkable scholarly imagination (which I rather like for fiction writing!)

          • Avatar
            Nexus  January 10, 2019

            Thanks Bart, that makes more sense to me. I had a hunch that when you said “never” you probably meant “hardly ever”.

  2. Avatar
    Jim-Prup-Benton  March 3, 2015

    As with my comment on the previous post, I am not arguing for Guignebert’s thesis — many times he seems even too skeptical for me, and I certainly have no knowledge about his arguments from the Greek — merely letting you know what it is. And again, he is no mythicist, and his demolition of their simplistic thinking predates yours by literally one century. In fact, at least in translation, his restrained, tongue-biting scorn is very similar to yours, as if you both know that if you said what you really think it would be unprofessional.

    Guignebert’s argument is far from simplistic. He accepts the existence of Nazareth at the time of Julius Africanus — as quoted in Eusebius — and has no doubt it probably existed at the time of Jesus. He even states (p. 79 of the English translation of JESUS) that ‘the redactors of our Gospel certainly believed that Jesus the Nazarene meant “Jesus of Nazareth”‘ (some Greek omitted).

    He — as is his style — always recites the possibilities that the accepted idea is true, and discusses them fairly, even if he winds up questioning — not dismissing them. He does this even in his discussion of the Greek — thankfully there are transliterations so I can quote this part of the argument. He states that the word “Nazarene” in the Greek is given in the three — apparently interchangeable — forms, “Nazarenos,” “Nazoraios,” and “Nazorenos” (he gives the Greek as well). But he claims that none of these would be a proper derivation from “Nazareth” which would, instead be “Nazarethenos” or the like. He does state that it is possible that the final ‘th’ or ‘t’ could have been dropped as a rare but not unknown exception and that “Nazar” might give the above derivation.

    But, he says, that in Aramaic, (I don’t even pretend to follow this) the words “Nazar” or “Nazareth” used a ‘tsade’ which is rendered by a ‘z’ in English and a ‘sigma’ in Greek, while the forms quoted above for “Nazarene” use a ‘zeta’ which usually stands for the Aramaic ‘zain.’ This is, apparently, not unheard of but is usually viewed as a copyist’s error. He leans over backwards almost into a circle to accept the possibility that these were exceptions.

    His stronger point is on the ‘weight’ and meaning of “Nazarene.” He cannot understand why such an obscure town would become so universally attached to Jesus in the Gospels. It would have been meaningless to his hearers — while, say, “Jesus the Galilean” might have been a needed distinction. (He points out that the Gospel uses “Simon of Cyrene” because everyone knew of Cyrene and there are several Simons, but that there is no similar distinguishing of, for example, Andrew; and that saying ‘of Nazareth’ would convey less meaning than ‘of Galilee.’)

    [On that last point, let me make a personal comment. I too come from a small and obscure town, Skyline Lakes, NJ, that isn’t, or at least wasn’t, on most maps when I was growing up — in fact there was some question whether it was a town or a section of another small town, Wanaque, or even Ringwood. Were I to become famous, calling me “Jim from Skyline” would say nothing to any hearer, even if it was known that I was from New Jersey. It would be much more likely that I would be referred to as “Jim from Jersey” or even “Jim from Passaic County” which people at least have heard of. Thus the argument resonates with me.]

    The rest of his argument, that the word is used many times in ways that seem to imply more than a statement of location that it, in itself, seems to mean something near to ‘Son of God’ is far too long to compress here. I am not sure I buy it myself, I probably lean against it, but I am curious if you have any comment if you look it up.

    Finally, there is the possibility that both sides are right, that Jesus came from Nazareth but that “Nazarene” — at least in some instances — refers to something else, maybe connected with ‘nazir.’ That in fact he was a “Nazarene from Nazareth.” (Sometimes I do indulge in ‘blue-sky speculation.’)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2015

      OK, thanks. Nazareth somehow connotes “Son of God”?? Well, that would be interesting…

  3. Avatar
    Jacobus  March 3, 2015

    Prof. Ehrman, what do you think of the opinion that an alternative spelling of Nazareth that is seen in some manuscripts (I think COdex Bezae, not sure where) was originally part of Q?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2015

      No idea!

      • Avatar
        Jacobus  March 5, 2015

        In “The Sayings Gospel Q in Greek and English” (Ed. James M Robinson, Paul Hoffmann, John S. Kloppenborg, 2001 Peeters) Q 4:16 is reconstructed as “…Nazara…”, just the word. I see that “Nazara” is actually in the critical text of the NA28/UBS5 in Luke 4:16. It is the most difficult reading, but it is not attested in Matthew 13:54-58 which follows Mark 6:1-6 more closely. (My memory was failing me, I am not sure where I got the Codex Bezae reference.) How do scholars come up with such conjectures, especially if it seems that Luke and Matthew do not share this reading? Furthermore, there are various other readings, though “Nazara” in Luke 4:16 seems to be the accepted one.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2015

          I’m not sure what you’re identifying as a conjecture. The word Nazara is found in manuscripts of Luke at this point, and the creators of the Q Greek text think that Luke got it from Q.

          • Avatar
            Jacobus  March 7, 2015

            How do scholars get to the point that they see the word Nazara as part of Q? It seems like a dubious educated guess, even if someone might argue that Nazara is actually an Aramaic form of the word. The water just feel very murky.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 9, 2015

            I’m not sure *what* their thinking was.

  4. Avatar
    Jason  March 3, 2015

    Talk about fortunate timing! Here are 2 links to associated subject matter posted Sunday at livescience.com:
    http://www.livescience.com/49941-jesus-home-photos.html
    http://www.livescience.com/49997-jesus-house-possibly-found-nazareth.html
    Pictures of a dwelling in Nazareth excavated and dated to the first century, venerated in the dark ages as the home of Joseph and Mary. Interesting reading regarding the evidence that the family living there in that era was Jewish related to limestone vessels.

  5. Avatar
    Eric  March 3, 2015

    Bart,

    What do you say to those who claim the 70’s Scottish hard rock band Nazareth never existed?

  6. Avatar
    SWerdal  March 4, 2015

    Sensational conspiracy theories sell- and boring, inconvenient, multiple facts, or at least, attestations, are more complicated to whisk away.

  7. Avatar
    billgraham1961  March 5, 2015

    Same mentality as the birthers.

  8. Avatar
    JEffler  March 6, 2015

    Reading through your posts this week I noticed you quote the Q, M and L sources to prove your points. I do realize while there is plausible evidence that it existed, but since there isn’t any manuscript evidence that it did exist, or early attestation or witnesses saying that there are (the early church fathers for example) then how would this effect your view on the witnesses of the four gospels and your view of how they originated?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2015

      Yes, it’s a given that these accounts to not any longer exist — that is very much taken into account by scholars who think that at one time they *did* exist. Without their (one-time and now lost) existence, though, it is very difficult indeed to account for the Synoptic Gospels….

      • TWood
        TWood  June 1, 2016

        Why does this same argument (early accounts based on a real location) not apply to Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb (which the Synoptic Gospels [plus John] attest to)? I’ve heard your reasoning on this before, but to me it sounds very similar to how Richard Carrier’s mythicism dismisses things… I know you don’t typically see things his way (but it seems like you sort of do on Joe’s grave). I get that it’s *possible* it was made up… but that’s always true in history (we weren’t there)… but I can’t really grasp why you don’t think it’s *probable* that those “stupid women” (as Christopher Hitchens called them) really did know where Jesus was buried… and really did see that it was empty a few days later (even Hitch saw this made the story fairly credible)… this doesn’t prove a miracle happened… so I don’t really understand your position on this one from a historical standpoint… I’m in danger of a tautology… so I’ll just hope you answer…

        • Bart
          Bart  June 1, 2016

          I’m afraid I’m not following your question.

          • TWood
            TWood  June 1, 2016

            Sorry, let me try again:

            Claim 1: Jesus was not from the town of Nazareth. The accounts involving this geographic location is an invented myth.

            Claim 2: Jesus was not buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. The accounts involving this geographic location is an invented myth.

            Why is the first claim not valid, while the second claim is valid?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 2, 2016

            Claim 1 is simply not true: we have substantial archaeological evidence for the town of Nazareth in the time of Jesus. Claim 2, on the other hand, is not in the same category: we have no archaeological evidence for Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb or, for that matter, no historical evidence that such a person ever existed. So they are not commensurate claims.

          • TWood
            TWood  June 2, 2016

            Okay, the archeology is the difference here. I see that. But if I may push back one more time to get at the essence of what I’m wondering about. Your answer incl. two statements::

            1. “we have no archaeological evidence for Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb”

            2. “or, for that matter, no historical evidence that such a person ever existed”

            1. Right, but there are various reasons a tomb couldn’t be identified 2,000 years later. Aren’t there some random tombs in that general area that date back to that general time? If so, that would seem to lend credence to the possibility that such a tomb existed. That ossuary was found of a crucified man, which means sometimes crucified people did receive proper burials.

            2. This one seems like a mythicist statement to me. Isn’t the fact that all four gospels mention him at least *some* historical evidence for his existence? Paul’s earlier statement that Jesus appeared to only men, but later the gospels indicate women see Jesus at this tomb… the criteria of embarrassment, multiple attestment, and dissimilarity all seem to be there. There seems to be at least as much evidence here as there is for other things you believe to be probably true (like Jesus cleansing the temple)… outside of the gospels do we have evidence for that?

            3. Are you a maverick on this one—or do most NT scholars agree with you—what’s the current consensus?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 3, 2016

            1. There may be reasons for there being no evidence. But that doesn’t mean that there is evidence!
            2. Yes, we have to take the multiple attestation seriously. But we also have to take seriously the very real problem that Romans did not allow crucified criminals to be given a decent burial.
            3. Yes, most NT scholars think that the Joseph tradition is historical. I have a very full discussion in How Jesus Became God.

          • TWood
            TWood  June 3, 2016

            I will buy that book too… but when you say the Romans didn’t allow proper burials for crucified criminals… I understand that is generally true… but doesn’t the discovery of the Yehohanan Ossuary prove that exceptions were made?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 4, 2016

            No, not at all, in my view. I have some posts on this in my reply to Craig Evans if you want to look them up.

          • TWood
            TWood  June 6, 2016

            I read all the entries I could find… two questions linger…

            1. I understand the rule was to leave bodies on crosses and deny them proper burials… but doesn’t this ossuary still show an exception to that rule (regardless of how many other bodies were in it)?

            2. Pilate was under pressure by Tiberius to prevent Jewish uprisings without treating the Jews too harshly. This seems to give Pilate a motive to assuage the possible anger of Jesus’ followers who saw Jesus as a Jew who was unjustly killed by Rome (we know Josephus was able to use diplomacy to get his living friends off crosses). So why isn’t it reasonable for a Pharisee like Joseph to diplomatically get his dead friend’s body off the cross to avoid a potential mob?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 7, 2016

            1. No, not at all. We don’t know how long Yehohanan’s body was on the cross before it was taken off.

            2. Just read what contemporaries like Philo say about Pilate and you’ll see differently. Again, I’d suggest you read my (many) posts on these issues.

  9. Avatar
    Slydog1227  March 7, 2015

    Quite obvious to me. He was called Jesus of Nazareth precisely because he referred to himself as such. Who doesn’t have a little hometown pride, regardless of whether the “hearer” know’s the place or not. I’ve always been proud to proclaim I’m from Senatobia, Ms. Though most people, unless from around here, and even in this day and age, wouldn’t have a clue as to where I was referring.
    Using this logic, as some of your aforementioned “experts” assert, is undeniable proof that not only was there a Nazareth, but there was most definitely a Jesus from there.

  10. talmoore
    talmoore  October 14, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, while I’m not inclined to doubt the archaeologists that the town of Nazareth did, in fact, exist in Jesus’ day, there is no shortage of questions concerning the connection between Nazareth and the words most often used to express Jesus being from there; namely: Nazarene, Nazarean, Nazorene, Nazorean, etc. (Take your pick of spellings). Like I said, I’m willing to trust the experts that there was a town and Jesus could have come from there, but the actual meaning of the word Nazarene (and it’s alternate spellings) is a seemingly inextricable enigma…unless one attempts to break it down into Hebrew. I’ve come to notice that much of the seemingly unanswerable questions of the gospel record suddenly seem to make much more sense when broken down into the Hebrew. And I’m not talking about the connection with Nazir or Nazirites. That’s a no-go. Nor am I refering to the Isaiah passage concerning the “branch”, or נצר.

    What seems to have been missed in the whole discussion of Naz-r-(etc.) is that some semitic shoreshim (roots) can be four letters long. So let us consider a four letter shoresh that can also spell Naz-r-. Well, the most readily obvious one is to stick an Aleph between the Nun and the Zayin. And this, in fact, is exactly what Shem Tov does in this medieval Hebrew translation of Matthew, spelling the town of Narareth as Na’azerit (נאזרית), which raises the immediate question of why Shem Tov would add the Aleph when it’s unnecessary for the translation of Nazareth. Indeed, it adds a glottal stop that’s not even part of the pronunciation! Well, maybe the Aleph is there because it’s part of the shoresh. That is to say, Nazareth/Nazarene/Nazorene/etc. come from the shoresh נאזר ! As it turns out that root has an actual meaning in Hebrew, and its meaning might just blow your mind. Na’azara/Na’azora means “girded” in Hebrew, as in wearing a belt or sash. And here’s the kicker, BOTH spellings mean “girded”, either נאזרה or נאזורה, the only difference being one of aspect. Hence, the fact that we see BOTH Nazarene and Nazorene in the gospels is not a surprise they’re actually a transliteration of נאזרה and נאזורה, respectively.

    Now, of course, this is all just a bit of hand-waving and speculation, so we must ask, why would Jesus and his followers refer themselves as The Girded? What, exactly, are they girding themselves for? Well, funny enough, the prophets talk about being girded using the root אזר in particular circumstances; namely, refering to when a warrior or king girds a sword to his waist or a priest girds his holy sash to his waist–as opposed to the other Hebrew word for gird, חגר, which the prophets use to refer to supplicants and mourners girding a sackcloth and pouring ashes on their heads. So the Nazarenes/Nazorenes, possibly, were trying to say something by calling themselves The Girded. Maybe they were girding themselves with a sword, preparing for the apocalyptic battle ahead? Maybe they were griding themselves with the priestly garments in preparation of reclaiming the Temple? Who knows. I’ll just offer up a few passages that may or may not elucidate this mystery.

    Psalms of Solom, Ps 17:
    “And gird him with strength to shatter in
    pieces unrighteous rulers,
    to purify Ierousalem from nations that
    trample her down in destruction,”

    Isaiah 11:5
    וְהָיָה צֶדֶק, אֵזוֹר מָתְנָיו; וְהָאֱמוּנָה, אֵזוֹר חֲלָצָיו.
    And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
    Is this passage the origin of the Na’azara/Na’azarai or Nazorenes/Nazarenes? Were the Nazarenes “girded”, n’a’azor/n’a’azra about with righteousness, tzedeq, and faith, emunah.
    Also note this passage is Chiasmic in translation—A B, B A

    45:5
    ה אֲנִי יְהוָה וְאֵין עוֹד, זוּלָתִי אֵין אֱלֹהִים; אֲאַזֶּרְךָ, וְלֹא יְדַעְתָּנִי. 5
    I am the LORD, and there is none else, beside Me there is no God; I have girded thee, though thou hast not known Me;
    “a’azerkha” I have girded you. The girded by God are, therefore, “na’azera”.

    מא וַתַּעֲנוּ וַתֹּאמְרוּ אֵלַי, חָטָאנוּ לַיהוָה–אֲנַחְנוּ נַעֲלֶה וְנִלְחַמְנוּ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּנוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וַתַּחְגְּרוּ, אִישׁ אֶת-כְּלֵי מִלְחַמְתּוֹ, וַתָּהִינוּ, לַעֲלֹת הָהָרָה. 41 Then ye answered and said unto me: ‘We have sinned against the LORD, we will go up and fight, according to all that the LORD our God commanded us.’ And ye girded on every man his weapons of war, and deemed it a light thing to go up into the hill-country.
    לג הָאֵל, הַמְאַזְּרֵנִי חָיִל; וַיִּתֵּן תָּמִים דַּרְכִּי. 33 The God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way straight;–Psalm 18:33
    מ וַתְּאַזְּרֵנִי חַיִל, לַמִּלְחָמָה; תַּכְרִיעַ קָמַי תַּחְתָּי. 40 For Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle; Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.—Psalm 18:40
    ז מֵכִין הָרִים בְּכֹחוֹ; נֶאְזָר, בִּגְבוּרָה. 7 Who by Thy strength settest fast the mountains, who art girded about with might;–Psalm 65:7
    א יְהוָה מָלָךְ, גֵּאוּת לָבֵשׁ:
    לָבֵשׁ יְהוָה, עֹז הִתְאַזָּר; אַף-תִּכּוֹן תֵּבֵל, בַּל-תִּמּוֹט. 1 The LORD reigneth; He is clothed in majesty; {N}
    the LORD is clothed, He hath girded Himself with strength; yea, the world is established, that it cannot be moved.—Psalm 93:1
    “Be watchful for your life; let your lamps not be quenched and your loins not
    ungirded, but be ye ready; for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh.”—The Didache

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