David the son of Jesse declares,
The man who was raised on high declares,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel,
'The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.' (2 Samuel 23:1-2)
Yeshua was known as "The Nazarene." In the Aramaic New Testament, he is called
The title was even nailed to the cross with him; was this intended to denote his hometown or the actual charge for which he was sentenced to die? His followers were known as Nazarenes even after his death, resurrection, and ascension.
Blind Bartimaeus' reaction is interesting: "When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'" (Mark 10:47) Perhaps it was more than hearing that it was Yeshua from the town of Nazareth that caused such an enthusiastic reaction from Bartimaeus; his address to the "Son of David" is as significant as the actual meaning of "Nazarene."
If "Nazarene" was only a way of denoting Yeshua's hometown, then isn't it odd that even his followers were given the name? Although some may have come from near the little hamlet of Nazareth in the Galilee, there is no evidence Yeshua selected or received any disciples from his hometown. In fact, his hometown folks were less than welcoming. They tried to push him over a cliff!
A respected Jewish rabbi and scholar who survived the Holocaust and later converted to Christianity was Israel Eugenio Golli. He was the chief rabbi of Rome. Working from his extensive knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Arabic, Rabbi Golli investigated the term "Nazarene" as it was used in the Brit HaChadashah (New Testament). After an exhaustive analysis, he concluded that the grammatical structure of the word in context as a place-name title was not a good fit for a word intended to describe both Yeshua and his disciples.
The Scripture that leads most to conclude that Yeshua was called a Nazarene because of his hometown is Matthew 2:23:
Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'
The problem is that Nazareth is not mentioned in the Prophets, or even in the entire Tanakh. There is no direct quote that says the Messiah will be called a Nazarene. Rabbi Golli, however, investigated the Prophets thoroughly, and he concluded that they DO say that the Messiah will be a Nazarene, but the difference is that he will be called The Branch,
(H5342), in Isaiah 11:1.
The Notzri: The Branch
(H5341) denotes the act of GUARDING, WATCHING OVER, PRESERVING, AND OBSERVING. This definition of Nazarene is more apropos to the person of Yeshua than merely a hometown. The verb natzar is often used in the context of keeping the covenant and preserving life, sometimes by hiding. The most overwhelming use of natzar, however, is in relation to keeping the testimonies, commandments, and statutes of the Torah.
This context of natzar is consistent with Yeshua's assertion that he had not come to abolish the Torah or Prophets in Matthew Five, but to fulfill them and bring them to their fullest meaning.
Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but WHOEVER KEEPS AND TEACHES THEM, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Here are only a few examples of natzar in the songs of the Sweet Singer and other psalmists:
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. (Psalm 32:7)
For the choir director. A Psalm of David. Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. (Psalm 64:1)
That they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments, (Psalm 78:7)
So that they might keep His statutes and observe His laws, Praise the LORD! (Psalm 105:45)
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. (Psalm 119:2)
Take away reproach and contempt from me, for I observe Your testimonies. (Psalm 119:22)
Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34)
This has become mine, that I observe Your precepts. (Psalm 119:56)
The arrogant have forged a lie against me; with all my heart I will observe Your precepts. (Psalm 119:69)
I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts. (Psalm 119:100)
Depart from me, evildoers, that I may observe the commandments of my God. (Psalm 119:115)
Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them. (Psalm 119:129)
Jews of the First Century were quite comfortable with wordplay, so the essential meaning of Nazarene may have included Yeshua's hometown only as a secondary meaning. The primary meaning directly links Yeshua to the Sweet Singer of Israel and the Prophets' assertion that The Branch will be one whose vitality originates in keeping the covenant of the Father.
Twittering Rabbis and Preachers
Yeshua the Nazarene (Aramaic: Yeshua HaNotzri) may be better understood as Yeshua the Singing Preacher. His disciples were also recognized as singing proclaimers of the Gospel. Even Paul, though not one of the disciples, practices the rabbinic custom of singing prayers:
What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:15)
The Aramaic root of Nazarene is
; the noun form of
" In Aramaic, "'Nazarene' holds also the concept of
preacher and teacher.
" (Golli, p. 47) In Syriac,
to sing, to trill, to twitter,
" or "
to sing, to declaim a poem
." In the context of Jeremiah 31:6-7, the word
." (p. 41)
Applying the Aramaic meaning of Nazarene, Yeshua and his disciples were known as "the preachers, the declaimers." (Golli, p. 46) Yeshua was charged before Pilate not because he was from Nazareth, but because he preached in a way that moved the people mightily! He was Yeshua the Nazarene, Yeshua the Preacher.
Even today, rabbis who are teaching will move into and out of a singsong for emphasis. This is an ancient custom. Preaching is simultaneously an act of singing, as is prayer or reading from the Scriptures. Can't you hear Yeshua singing the Beatitudes to the multitude?
Golli acknowledges that there is no tacit mention of Yeshua or his disciples singing in declamation of the Gospel, yet he cautions:
If in the Gospel there is no mention of declamation simply because this form of exposition was no novelty to those accustomed to hear the rendering of the sacred texts in song, we should not exclude the fact that Jesus and His disciples made use of declamation too. (p. 52)
In fact, Golli points out that rabbinical literature from that period of history cautions one who is translating from the actual Scriptures into Aramaic not to sing his translation song as loudly as the biblical text so as not to obscure the significance of the actual Hebrew text (p. 53).
Song was very much a part of the culture of Israel. According to Philo, the recitation that accompanied the presentation of a basket of fruit at Sukkot was in the form of a song (p. 43). Tractate Megillah 32a emphasizes the importance of reading Scripture as a song or modulation. Rabbi Akiva recommended singing one's daily study of Scripture: "
Zemer bekol yom, zemer bekol yom
," or "A song each day, a song each day." The Bible was studied by singing a passage of it.
The scribes had introduced a
(signs to like musical notes) to aid reading and memorizing Scripture, and this eventually evolved into the existing system of
, or musical accents. Golli reports that Yemenite Jews, even adults, were quite unable to quote Scripture without singing it because that is how they learned it! (p. 43) There are special melodies for the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. The reading of a psalm is really the reading of a song as originally intended.
Yeshua's Harp: the Galilee
The twittering Natzar may be broken into a Hebrew onomatopoeia,
, which mimics the sound of a cricket (
). This is similar to the ancient preachers who sang a portion of Scripture and then explained it in their sermons with melody (p. 42). Psalm 48:4 describes the act of teaching to the accompaniment of a harp.
Nazareth in the First Century was no more than a village. It was, however, located near the Kinneret (Lake of Galilee). The lake is called the Kinneret because its shape resembles a harp, the ancient instrument of King David, who played a
(H3658). Yeshua's hometown was near the great harp of Israel, and he was its great preacher.
Although Nazareth (
) was considered a linguistic connection to Yeshua, the primary connection between Yeshua's actual work on earth and the Hebrew and Aramaic languages is the designation of Preacher. The risen Yeshua walking the Emmaus road listens patiently as his own disicples unwittingly also fulfill the roles of Proclaimer and Nazarene:
And He said to them, 'What things?' And they said to Him,
'The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet
mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the
people.' (Luke 24:19)
Even Paul in Chapter Fifteen of his Letter to the Romans emphasizes the song of praise that Gentiles can sing with Israel because of Yeshua's fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy and his proclamation.
In view of such rich history, to carry on a worship service of prayer and Scripture reading without song would be to omit the pattern of our Messiah Yeshua and his disciples. Prayers and Scripture readings become spiritual songs in addition to words of understanding. These songs aid comprehension and recall, and they invite the Spirit to move over the harpstrings of our hearts. What a beautiful heritage of the synagogue Yeshua passes on to successive generations who hear and proclaim him.
Here are Yeshua's final words to his disciples:
And Jesus came up and spoke (G2980) to them, saying, 'All
authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go
therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I
am with you always, even to the end of the age.' (Matthew
The Greek word
(G2980) is translated as "spoke." It is a prolonged form of an otherwise obsolete verb that has several translations, among them "to preach." Thayer's Greek Lexicon notes that the verb applies not only to human beings, but to the sounds of animals, most particularly birds or locusts, a close and kosher relative of the cricket (tzratzar), whose song is compared to the preaching of the ancient prophets.
Compare Yeshua the Nazarene's last song to his disciples to David's last words of song. The observance and proclamation of the commandments is what ties The Nazarene to The Branch. The Branch from the Root of Jesse is indeed the reality of the anointed King David, the Sweet Singer of Israel.
The early preaching of the Nazarenes was a loud, musical, and Spirit-filled proclamation of the Good Tidings of great joy. The loud proclamation of Yeshua at Sukkoth in the Temple heralded an era of inspired teaching and preaching, for the Son of David was singing songs of deliverance.
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should
go; (Psalm 32:7-8)
Let the earth in these troubled times once again be awestruck at the Nazarenes who proclaim spiritual songs of deliverance like their rabbi, teacher, preacher, prophet, evangelist, and Messiah, Yeshua HaNotzri!