Nazarene Space


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

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
scandel.  


On Is. 8:20-21

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

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
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.


On Is. 29:20-21

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

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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Replies to This Discussion

Paul: An Emissary to Ephraim

By

James Trimm


Let me begin by examining the Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah 8:14 as cited by Jerome:


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.


Now I want to clarify two things here. First of all the Nazarene commentary here is not giving the Pashat (literal meaning) of the passage but a MIDRASH (an allagoical meaning) for the passage. This Midrash draws an allagorical relationship between the two houses of Israel (the House of Israel and the House of Judah) and the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel. The basis for this Midrash is a wordplay on the names Shammai and Hillel which sound in Hebrew like the words for "scatterer" and "unholy".  "Scatterer" ties the House of Shammai allegorically to the "scattered" House of Israel. "Unholy" ties the House of Hillel to the House of Judah.

Two things are important to note:

1. The Midrash is not identifying an allegory to the two houses
themselves, but to the STUMBLING (see Is. 8:14) of the two houses.

2. The Midrash is not attacking Hillel and Shammai themselves but the
Houses or schools of Rabbinic thought that arose after them in their names
(as is clear from the linage of Rabbis that came after them), The purpose
of this portion of the Midrash is to link Rabbinic Judaism to the
"stumbling" of the House of Judah discussed in this section of Isaiah.

This section of the commentary is purely midrashic (allegorical) and tells us little about the Nazarene understanding of the Pashat (literal meaning) of this passage.

But now lets look at the Nazarene commentary on Is. 9:1-4 (8:23-93 in Jewish versions) as cited by Jerome:

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 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.

(Note: The "Jewish traditions" in the context of this commentary refer to Rabbinic Halachah of the fourth century CE with which the Nazarenes took issue.)


Now Isaiah 9:1-4 refers to "Galilee of the GOYIM (nations/Gentiles)" but identifies these "Gentiles" as the inhabitants of "the land of Zebulon and Naphtali". Here the House of Israel is being identified as "Gentiles".  There are at least two other places in Scripture where the word "Gentile" is used to describe Ephraim (the House of Israel). One of these is Gen. 48:19 where (in the Hebrew) Ephraim is told his descendent's will become "a multitude of nations (GOYIM; Gentiles)" (compare Rom. 11:25 where the same phrase is translated in the KJV as "fullness of the gentiles"). The other case is in Rom. 9:24 which refers to "Jews" and "Gentiles" but then goes on (in Rom. 9:25-26) to quote Hosea (Hos. 2:23; 1:10) to identify them which the "Children of Judah" and "the Children of Israel" (Hosea 1:10-11; 2:23).

The Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah understands "you have multiplied the nation" (Is. 9:3) to refer to Paul "the proclaiming was multiplied, through the Goodnews of the emissary Paul... to the most distant tribes".  Therefore the ancient Nazarenes understood the "Gentiles" to whom Paul primarily directed his message with the Ephraimite "Gentiles" of Isaiah 9:1-4 and with "the most distant tribes".

This comment in the Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah makes it clear that the Ancient Sect of Nazarene Judaism held that Paul was an emissary to the Ephraimites.

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