He Shall be Called a Nazarene
James Scott Trimm
In the King James Version of Matthew we read:
And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth:
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets,
He shall be called a Nazarene.
(Matthew 2:23 KJV)
And came and dwelt in the city of Natzaret:
to fulfill what was spoken by the mouth of the prophet,
for He will be called Natzaret.
(Matthew 2:23 HRV)
The Hebrew (Shem Tob, DuTillet and Munster) and Aramaic (Old Syriac and Peshitta) all have singular “prophet” while the Greek has “prophets”.
Anti-missionaries have claimed that there is no such prophecy and that the reference was simply invented. Of course there is no motive for the author of Matthew to cite a prophecy that did not exist, as doing so would only discredit his book.
Several answers have been proposed to this "problem" passage:
One suggestion has been that the reference is simply a drash interpretation of the passages which prophecy that the Messiah would be "dispised and rejected by men" (Is. 53:3) "a worm... a reproach of men, and despised of the people." (Ps. 22:6) as we read of Nazareth "Can there be any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46)
Another possible answer is that the prophecy may refer to Isaiah 11:1 in which the Messiah is referred to as “the branch” (Heb: NETZER).
One final answer is that this exact wording once appeared in a lost book of the Bible.
In fact there are several books of the Tanak which have since become lost or removed. For example the books known as the "Apocrypha" (1Esdras, 2Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, 1Maccabees, 2Maccabees, 3Maccabees and 4Maccabees). Another example is the Book of Enoch which was lost in ancient times and not recovered until fairly modern times. When Jude writes:
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
(Jude 1:14-15 KJV)
This is actually quoting 1Enoch 1:9.
Another example can be found in the Tanak itself. The Book of Jasher is twice cited in the Tanak: "Is not this written in the Book of Jasher?" (Joshua 10:13) "Behold it is written in the Book of Jasher." (2 Samuel 1:18)
The Fourth Century "Church Father" Jerome indicates that he was well aware of both Greek and Hebrew versions of the source document for the prophecy "He shall be called a Nazarene" (Matt. 2:23) writing:
To these belong the two:
Out of Egypt have I called my son.
and For he shall be called a Nazarene.
(Jerome; of Illustrious Men 3)
This brings us to another comment Jerome makes about another prophecy quoted in the Book of Matthew. In the Greek text of Matthew 27:9-10 (as well as in the DuTillet and Munster Hebrew texts) a prophecy is attributed to Jeremiah which is not to be found in our current text of Jeremiah, but a very similar passage does appear in Zech. 11:12-13. (However in the Shem Tob Hebrew and the Old Syriac and Peshitta Aramaic versions have only "the Prophet" and not "The Prophet Jeremiah" (Some Shem Tob texts have "The Prophet Zechariah").)
According to Jerome these exact words (in Matt. 27:9-10) actually appeared in a (now lost) Apocryphon of Jeremiah (2nd Jeremiah?) which was in the hands of the fourth century Nazarenes:
"Recently I read in a certain Hebrew book
that a Hebrew from the Nazarene sect brought to me,
the apocryphon of Jeremiah, in which I found this text
written word for word."
(Jerome; Commentary on Matthew 27:9)
Certainly the passage in Matthew 2:23 may also have appeared in this Apocryphon of Jeremiah.
In fact it is likely that all of these explanations are part of the truth. The Nazarene Apocryphon of Jeremiah may well have include this prophecy. This was part of a series of prophecies identifying the Messiah as "The Branch" and which also was partially fulfilled in the fact that Messiah would be despised and rejected, and the saying of the time was "Can there be any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46).
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