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The Nazarenes


“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.  He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect…” (Acts 24:5)  Following are some pretty astounding quotes from the book written by Ray Pritz, titled “Nazarene Jewish Christianity”.  His astute research, and his ability to both speak and write in Greek and Hebrew shed a new light on the first “era” of the Christian church.  First he defines the term Nazarene, and who it applies to.  He also points out that the early church was so Jewish in its practices of worship—days of worship—that the Jews considered it a “sect” of Judaism, and not a separate religion.  He says:


“It is important to note that the name Nazarenes was at first applied to all Jewish followers of Jesus.  Until the name Christian became attached to Antiochian non-Jews, this meant that the name signified the entire Church, not just a sect.  So also in Acts 24:5 the reference is not to a sect of Christianity but rather to the entire primitive Church as a sect of Judaism.  Only when the Gentile Church overtook and overshadowed the Jewish one could there be any possibility of sectarian stigma adhering to the name Nazarene within the Church itself.  This should be borne in mind when considering the total absence of the name from extant Christian literature between the composition of Acts and 376[AD], when the panarion was written.  Even after the name Christianoi had been commonly accepted by Christians as the name they called themselves, it would require some passage of time until the earlier name would be forgotten and those who carried it condemned as heretics.” [Ray A. Pritz, p. 15, par. 2, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, 1988, Jerusalem-Lieden, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University]  “To be sure, it is strange (not to say frustrating) that the name is so universally ignored…Of course the lamentable fact that precious few of those Greek fathers would have been able to read a document in a semitic language only decreases the likelihood that the name Nazarene could have been preserved in their writings…So on the one hand it seems likely that the name was preserved somewhere between Acts and Tertullian, but on the other it is equally likely that it was infrequently mentioned in non-Semitic script, which may be accounted for by the predominance of Greek in early Church writing.” [ibid, p.16, par 1, 3, 4]]

          And don’t forget, as Oskar Skarsaune brought out in his masterful work In The Shadow of the Temple, Greek was the language that the economies of the Mediterranean world functioned on, it was the language of commerce and industry, even after Rome conquered the world.  The Gospel being written in Greek was probably a key decision the apostles made early on.  Next, he describes the Nazarenes on into the 2nd century, and how this group divided into two groups, based on doctrinal differences.


Nazarenes and Ebionites



“Suffice it to say at this point that Justin, around the beginning of the second half of the second century, recognizes two kinds of Christians of the Jewish race whom he differentiates on christological grounds.  One group, whom Justin condemns holds doctrines which line up well with what is known to us of Ebionite teaching.  The other group differs from Justin’s orthodoxy only in continued adherence to Mosaic Law.” [ibid, p. 21, par. 1]  Ray Pritz goes on to quote Justin,


Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance to Jewish Law,--and these are the twofold sect of the Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that he was begotten like other human beings…


“This reference to the two kinds of Ebionites must remind us of the testimony of Justin, and it is not without significance that here again they are to be separated on the basis of Christology, and that one of the two sects holds the orthodox line in the disputed matter while the other denies anything divine in Jesus’ origins. If the more orthodox Jewish Christians (who can only be faulted for keeping the Law) are Nazarenes, then we have an early misuse of the name Ebionite to include all Jewish Christian Law-keepers.” [ibid. p. 21, par. 3-4] [emphasis throughout, mine]


early witnesses—two kinds of Jewish Christians


“When we come to Origen, however (and return to the East), we again find two classes of Jewish Christians which he calls Ebionites.  From this point on, the name Ebionite becomes a catch-all for Law-keeping Christians of Jewish background…While Eusebius is aware of more than one kind of ‘Ebionite’ in his sources, he has not succeeded very well in distinguishing their traits.” [ibid. p. 27, par. 3]  “In summary we may say that Justin knows of two divisions of Jewish Christians, one of whom held an orthodox Christology with regard to the virgin birth and pre-existence of Jesus.  Origen, who also knows of two groups, identifies the unorthodox group of Justin as Ebionites. While he calls his more orthodox Jewish Christians Ebionites also, he is inconsistent in this, and we may be justified in concluding that the two groups did not carry the same name. Eusebius, in his turn, cannot avoid seeing—in his sources, if not also from hearsay—two distinguishable Jewish Christian groups, but he does not succeed very well in discerning the beliefs which separate them.  For him there is only one name, Ebionite.  This establishes the continued existence, into the third century at least, if not later, of a Jewish Christian entity whose doctrines tend to distinguish it—in the direction of “orthodoxy”—from the Ebionites.  These are the Nazarenes.” [ibid. p. 27, par 4, p. 28, par. 2-3] 


Doctrines of the Nazarenes


These quotes are from the Panarion 29.


“They are succeeded by the Nazarenes.  They lived at the same time, or before them, either with them or after them.  In any case they are contemporaries.  For I cannot determine who are successors of whom.  For, as I said, they were contemporaries and possessed identical ideas.  [1,2]  They did not give themselves the name of Christ, or that of Jesus, but they called themselves Nazarenes.  [1,3]  All Christians were called Nazarenes once.  For a short time they were also given the name Iessaiains, before the disciples in Antioch began to be called Christians [1,4].”  [Pritz, 1988]…”


“But they also did not call themselves Nasaraeans, for the heresy of the Nasaraeans existed before Christ and they did not know him.  [6,2]  However, everyone called Christians Nazarenes, as I said before. This appears from the accusation against Paul which was as follows: ‘We discovered that this man is a pest, somebody disturbing the people, the leader of the heresy of the Nazarenes’ [Acts 24:5]  The holy apostle did not deny this name although he was not a follower of the heresy, but he gladly accepted the name which was inspired by the malice of his opponents because it had been borne by Christ. [6,4]  For he said at the tribunal: ‘They did not find me in the temple speaking with somebody or causing a riot.  Nothing of what I am accused of did I do.  I admit to you that I serve God in that way which they call heresy, believing everything which is in the Law and the Prophets.’ [6,5]  For it is no wonder that the Apostle admitted he was a Nazarene because everybody called Christians with that name at that time, because of the city of Nazareth and because at this time there was no other name in use.  Therefore persons were called Nazarenes who came to believe in Christ, of whom it is written that ‘he will be called a Nazarene’ [Matt. 2:23].” [ibid. p. 33, par. 2, taken from the panarion 29]…”When they heard the name Nazarenes from others, they did not reject it, because they saw what was meant by those who called them by this name, viz. that they called them by this name because of Christ, since our Lord himself was also called Jesus the Nazarene, as appears from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. [6,8]  For he grew up in the city of Nazareth, at the time a village, in the house of Joseph after being born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Mary, even virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph.  He moved to that same Nazareth when he settled down in Galilee after his departure from Bethlehem. [7,1] These heresies, just mentioned, of which we are giving a brief sketch, passing over the name of Jesus, did not call themselves Iesaians and did not keep the name Jews; they did not call themselves Christians, but Nazarenes, taking this name from the place Nazareth.  But actually they remained wholly Jewish and nothing else. [7,2] For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old, like the Jews.  For the Legislation and the Prophets and the Scriptures, which are called the Bible by the Jews, are not rejected by them as they are by those mentioned above.  They are not at all mindful of other things but live according to the preaching of the Law as among Jews: there is no fault to find with them apart from the fact that they have come to believe in Christ. [7,3] For they also accept the resurrection of the dead and that everything has its origin in God. They proclaim one God and his Son Jesus Christ. [7,4] They have a good mastery of the Hebrew language. For the entire Law and the Prophets and what is called the Scriptures, I mention the poetical books.  Kings, Chronicles and Esther and all the others, are read by them in Hebrew as is the case with the Jews, of course [7,5] Only in this respect they differ from the Jews and Christians [he must mean Gentile Greco-Roman “Christians”]: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with the Christians [i.e the Greco-Roman “Christians”] because they are trained in the Law, in circumcision, the Sabbath and other things.”  [ibid. pp. 33-34, par’s. 3 & 1]


“For thus it is with every heresy, often trying to outdo each other in the matter prescribed concerning keeping of the Sabbath and circumcision and other things.”  [ibid. p. 34, par. 2]


“However they are very much hated by the Jews. For not only the Jewish children cherish hate against them but the people also stand up in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, three times a day and they pronounce curses and maledictions over them when they say their prayers in the synagogues.  Three times a day they say: ‘May God curse the Nazarenes.’ [9,3] For they are more hostile against them because they proclaim as Jews that Jesus is the Christ, which runs counter to those who are still Jews who did not accept Jesus. [9,4] They have the entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew.  It is carefully preserved by them in Hebrew letters, as I wrote in the beginning.” [ibid. p. 35, par 1, from the panarion] 


“We may include here information found elsewhere in the panarion.

1.     They use both Old and New Testaments (7.2).

2.     They have a good knowledge of Hebrew and read the Old Testament and at least one gospel in that language. (7,4; 9,4).

3.     They believe in the resurrection of the dead (7,3).

4.     They believe that God is creator of all things (7,3).

5.     They believe in one God and his son Jesus Christ (7,3).

6.     They observe the Law of Moses (7,5; 5,5; 8,1ff).

7.     They were joined by Elxai and later adopted his book.

8.     Ebion came out of them (30,2,1).

9.     Earlier they were called Iessaioi (5,1-4).

10.            They had their origin from the Jerusalem congregation which fled to Pella before 70 (7,8).

11.            Geographical location of Pella, Kokoba, and Coele Syria (7,7)

12.            They are hated and cursed by the Jews (9,2-3).”


So we see that their beliefs were orthodox, in that they believed Jesus was the Son of God, they believed in his pre-existence as God, Yahweh.  We also see they adhered to the Old Testament Law, especially the observance of the Sabbath and, by extension Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and dietary laws of Leviticus 11.  We see Epiphanius’ attitude toward the Nazarenes, what he’s trying to describe is often hindered because he’s also out to attack them as well, being a Greco-Roman Christian church historian.  Ray Pritz also said about Epiphanius “It would be more accurate to say that Epiphanius is using (or even recalling) Eusebian information and expanding it for his own purposes.”  He also says “Epiphanius wrongly grouped the Nazarenes together with other sects.” 


He goes on to say “It is only in pan. 29,7 that he has preserved for us the testimony of a knowledgeable source.” 


Panarion 9,7

“The data in this section present us with a body in every way ‘orthodox’ except for its adherence to the Law of Moses.  If we remember that the Jewish Church of Jerusalem also kept the Law through the period covered by the book of Acts, then we have a picture of the earliest Jewish Christian community.   Two items from section 7, the flight to Pella and the geographical data, are dealt with below.

  1. They use both Old and New Testaments.  This implies, though it is not clearly stated, that they make use also of Paul.  We know from Jerome that the Nazarenes respected Pauline writings, a fact which sets them apart from other Jewish Christian groups.  In fact it is generally a characteristic of the heresies [he means “heretics”] that they reject some portion of scripture.  The very fact that Epiphanius can credit them with acceptance of canonical scripture is a strong statement in favor of their ‘orthodoxy’.  The fact that they read the Old Testament ‘and at least one gospel’ in Hebrew, which they know well, only serves to confirm their Jewish background.
  2. Section 7,3 gives us three brief pieces of information about the doctrines of the Nazarenes.  One need make only a quick comparison with the opening chapters of Acts to see that these basic doctrines had a place in the teaching of the earliest Jerusalem Church: the resurrection of the dead (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10); God is creator of all things (4:24); and belief in one God and his child Jesus Christ (3:13, 26; 4:27, 30).  To this point we have nothing that would differentiate the Nazarene sect from the primitive Church.  The picture is not full, certainly, but what we are given in every way confirms the identity of the Nazarenes as the heirs of the earliest Jerusalem congregation.  Even Epiphanius has nothing condemnatory to say about the data thus far.” [ibid. p. 44, par. 2-4]
  3. “The parting of the ways is at the Law of Moses. It is their observance of the Law—and this alone—which, for Epiphanius, separates the Nazarenes from the main [emerging Greco-Roman] Church.  ‘Only in this respect they differ from the…Christians.’  It is this one thing which stands out that is essentially the only thing remembered by subsequent Fathers against the sect, starting with the anacephalaiosis.  It makes little difference that the first Jewish believers continued to keep the Law (Acts 15; 21:20-26); it is immaterial that the epistle to the Galatians was addressed to Christians from gentile background or that Paul perhaps never wrote against Jewish Christians keeping the Law. [Proof of this can be seen from a careful reading of Romans 14:1-23.] The significance of all of this has long since been lost to men like Epiphanius.  The Law is taboo [to the Greco-Roman Christians].  To attempt to keep it is to put oneself under a curse [according to Epiphanius, is what Ray Pritz is driving at].  If the Nazarenes want to observe parts of the Law, then they are ‘Jews and nothing else.’  Never mind if the same could be said for James or Peter, or, indeed, Paul.  For our purpose, of course, this matter of the Law only reinforces the conviction that we have a body of Jewish believers who have managed to preserve the very earliest traditions of their forebears.” [ibid. p. 45, par. 1]  [emphasis mine throughout]


So, again, we find the very descendants of the first Church of God in Jerusalem, founded by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit on Pentecost 31 or 32AD, still adhering to the customary days of worship commanded in the Old Testament law, just as the early Jerusalem church had.  Nothing has changed.  Even the apostle Paul said the choice for “days of worship”, although optional now under the freedoms of the New Testament, was a matter of individual  Christian conscience.  And this early “era” of the church would not be robbed of that freedom of choice. This fact stands out throughout this research.


Possible source of Epiphanius and Jerome


We see from this quote that Epiphanius and Jerome were using a credible source for the facts they were passing on in their history of the early Jewish Christians.  It also answers how long the Nazarenes existed in the Middle East.


“Schmidtke in his pioneering work…tried to show that both Epiphanius and Jerome were primarily dependent on Apollinaris for their knowledge of the Nazarenes and their writings.  His conclusions are still generally accepted…The important point for our investigation is that Jerome did study under Apollinaris, an extremely learned and informed man who spent his entire long life in the area of Laodicea and Antioch, that is, in the vicinity of Beroea…From the foregoing considerations we may conclude that, while Jerome may or may not have had personal contact with the body of Nazarene Christians, he was certainly well enough situated to have learned much about them from contemporaries who did know them well.  Not the least important corollary to this is that Jerome may be considered a good witness to their continued existence until at least the end of the fourth century.” [ibid. pp. 50-51, par. 3 & 2 resp.]


“The Nazarenes, who accept Christ 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 Pharisees.  Akiba, who took over their school, is called 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 Galiaeus and Joshua up to the capture of Jerusalem.  [i.e. 135AD]…

“We may first note the complete lack of condemnation of the Nazarenes by Jerome.  They are simply those “who accept Christ in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.”  True, there are places where he castigates them precisely for that, but the only place where he dwells on and attacks it is in his controversy on the whole matter of Law observance with Augustine.” [ibid. p. 58, par.1-2]


What we see from the quote above, which Ray Pritz comments on, is that the Nazarenes had an active and ongoing dialogue with rabbinic Judaism.  We will see evidence that this dialogue became heated at times, due especially to Nazarene evangelism, which must have continued to have a powerful impact on the Jews in the land of Israel as well as the whole Middle East and Asia Minor.  Ray Pritz says: “The Nazarenes must have remained on such intimate terms with rabbinic Judaism that they were familiar with the names of its leaders into the second century.”  [ibid. p. 62, par. 4]


Nazarene Isaiah Commentary


Ray Pritz goes on to comment on the Isaiah commentary of the Nazarenes:  “As we noted at the outset, these passages are very important, perhaps informative as anything we will consider in this study.  We have been able to trace through them an active Nazarene presence well into the third century.  The sect which produced this document was actively engaged in a dialogue—heated, no doubt—with rabbinic Judaism.  It was familiar with the developments within Judaism and rejected the authority of the pharisaic scholars to interpret scripture definitively.  The Nazarenes of this work may themselves have continued to keep the Law of the Pentateuch, but they did not see it binding on those who believed from among the Gentiles.”


Let’s interrupt this quote right here and notice something.  We don’t want to miss this, because it is an extremely important distinction.  I can’t over-emphasize the importance of this.  The Nazarenes were basically what we would call non-Torah observant in their attitude that Gentile believers could keep “the law of Christ”, that is, Gentile believers had the freedom in Christ to be Sunday/Christmas/Easter observing, and still be Holy Spirit indwelt believers in Jesus Christ.  But for them, they chose to adhere to the Old Testament Law of God, as magnified by Jesus in Matthew 5:17-48.  i.e. they were non-Torah observant, but leaned toward being Torah observant.  They were quite similar to the early Church of God in Jerusalem before Acts 15 and the book of Romans, chapter 14 was written, but they fully understood the freedoms given in those two passages to believers, freedoms which gave the believer freedom of choice for “days of worship.”  I have had communication with a Torah observant Messianic congregation in Oregon, which adheres to the Old Testament Law in similar fashion, and yet recognizes that some of the Gentile—Sunday/Christmas/Easter Christian churches are truly Holy Spirit inspired and indwelt.  These little distinctions mustn’t be missed, because they help us understand this first “era” of the Christian church.  Ray Pritz continues.


“Nor did they accept as binding on themselves (or on any Jews) the Oral Law as embodied in the Mishnah.  These Jewish Christians viewed Paul and his mission favorably and evidently accepted—in theory at least—the unity of the Church as composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ.  Their Christology too called Christ the Son of God.  The document itself displays an active familiarity with the Hebrew language and must have been written in either Hebrew or Aramaic…And finally, this group had not lost hope that the Jewish people might yet turn to accept Jesus as the Messiah.” [ibid. p. 70, par. 2]


Look at it this way.  Say you know of a Sabbatarian Church of God or some people in one.  They observe the 7th Day Sabbath, the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and the dietary laws of Leviticus 11.  And yet they recognize that Holy Spirit indwelt people can and do exist in Sunday observing evangelical churches, say like the Calvary Chapel’s whose sermon transcripts grace this site.  Say they even recognize some of these more Holy Spirit inspired churches as being genuine sister-churches in Christ.  This would be a modern-day example of what was just described by Ray Pritz above.  That is the picture of the Nazarenes that existed from 31AD to the early 400s AD.  Does such a Sabbatarian Church of God exist?  Maybe, but Sabbatarians have been so used to being beat up over their observance of the Old Testament Law, just as their early 1st ,  2nd    and 3rd century forebears were, that they are suspicious of the Sunday observing Gentile churches.  And they are suspicious of these other Christians trying to convince them that their Sabbath/Holy Day observance is wrong, which we are learning from this study, and as Romans 14 clearly points out—it is not wrong—it is a matter of freedom of choice, and they are not going to be bullied into giving up something they believe is better.  They are afraid of allowing any syncretization of teaching to cross over into their churches, because they are fully aware of the forced syncretization that took place in 325AD, which essentially destroyed the Nazarene “era” of the Christian church. They are fully aware of the nasty changes that were forced upon believers by Constantine in 325AD.  Finish reading this article before you pass judgment.  Ray Pritz now summarizes his research. 


Summary of the facts presented in “NAZARENE JEWISH CHRISTIANITY”


“Let us bundle our gleanings.  This purposely limited analysis of five fragments from GH [Gospel of the Hebrews] has yielded a picture of a group distinctive from the Ebionites in its doctrine of the divine sonship of Jesus and its acceptance of the Old Testament prophets.  The Nazarenes who used this gospel clearly affirmed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead but may have had (at least at the time when the gospel was composed) an incomplete doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  The recension of GH which we have examined may have revealed a balance between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, and especially of his own self-awareness of a “dual nature.”…“Along the way (and incidentally) we have perhaps seen that Jerome is not to be trusted in everything he says, but neither is he to be rejected out of hand as unreliable.” [ibid. p. 94, par. 1]


“The patristic evidence provides an interesting corollary to Schaffer’s conclusion.  We find references to the synagogue curse in Epiphanius and Jerome. Epiphanius states:


However, they are very much hated by the Jews.  For not only the Jewish children cherish hate against them [where do you think they learn if from?], but the people also stand up in the morning, at noon and in the evening, three times a day, and they pronounce curses and maledictions over them when they say their prayers in the synagogues.  Three times a day they say: “May God curse the Nazarenes.”


Jerome wrote Augustine (ep. 112,13): “Until now a heresy is to be found in all of the synagogues of the East among the Jews; it is called ‘of the Minaeans’ and is cursed by the Pharisees until now.  Usually they are called Nazarenes.”  In Amos 1.11-12: “until today they blaspheme the Christian people in their synagogues under the name of Nazarenes.”  In Is. 5.18-19: “Three times each day they anathematize the Christian name in every synagogue under the name of Nazarenes.”  In Is. 49.7: “They curse him [Christ] three times a day in their synagogues under the name of Nazarenes.”…[ibid. p. 105, par. 2-3]


Let’s stop and examine this last quote.  What would cause the Jews to curse the Nazarenes so powerfully in their synagogues, if indeed this is true?  Wouldn’t it be powerful preaching and witnessing about Jesus being the Messiah from fellow Sabbath, Holy Day observing Jews?  We have to read between the lines a little bit here.  Ask “why?” sometimes.  The Nazarenes were still having a powerful impact on Judaism.  Today, anti-missionaries are ranting and raving in similar fashion because of the powerful witness of Jews for Jesus, a tiny little Messianic Jewish evangelistic organization whose impact is felt worldwide amongst Jews.  Their slogun goes somewhat like this: “To Make the Messiah, Jesus, an unavoidable issue amongst their people, the Jews.”  The Nazarenes were no different.  The gospel was going to the Gentiles very successfully, and they were not going to neglect their own people.  Now we’re somewhat at the end of man’s age, close to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ’s 2nd coming, and God has just recently restored the Jewish branch of the body of Christ, and they in similar fashion are now evangelizing powerfully to their people.  [see and]


Ray Pritz continues to summarizes his book thus:


“There emerges from our considerations an entity, a viable entity of Law-keeping Christians of Jewish background.  These were direct descendants of the first Jewish believers in Jesus.  They survived the destruction of Jerusalem in part because they fled successfully to Pella of the Decapolis, and in part because they had roots also in Galilee.  These Jewish Christians were called Nazarenes after Jesus, and probably received the title on the basis of early Christian interpretation of certain Old Testament passages (e.g. Isa. 11:1) as referring to the Messiah and specifically to Jesus himself.  The Nazarenes were distinct from the Ebionites and prior to them.  In fact, we have found that it is possible that there was a split in Nazarene ranks around the turn of the first century.  This split was either over a matter of christological doctrine or over leadership of the community.  Out of this split came the Ebionites, who can scarcely be separated from the Nazarenes on the basis of geography, but who can be easily distinguished from the standpoint of Christology.

          The continued existence of this Nazarene entity can be traced with reasonable certainty through the fourth century, contingent upon the credence we give to the evidence of Epiphanius and Jerome at the end of that century.  While their corroborating testimonies cannot fairly be dismissed, even without them we must allow for the continuation of the Nazarenes at least to the third century…They were to be found in the Galilee and probably in Jerusalem until 135[AD], when all Jews were expelled from the city.  It would seem that members of the sect moved northward at a somewhat later date and were to be found also in the area of Beroea of Coele Syria near the end of the fourth century.” [ibid. p. 108, par. 1-2]


About this “It would seem that members of the sect moved northward”, I have some pretty interesting speculation on where the Nazarenes moved—coming up to, during and following the massive Jewish-Roman War that took place from 132 to 135AD.  Let Ray Pritz continue:


“What we have seen of their doctrines lines up well with the developing christological doctrines of the greater catholic Church.  [He does not mean the Roman Catholic Church here, but the “universal church” on the Gentile side.] The sect seems to have been basically Trinitarian.  They accepted the virgin birth and affirmed the deity of Jesus.  They also seem to have had an embryonic, developing doctrine of the Holy Spirit, one which was no more nor indeed less developed than that of the greater Church at a comparable stage.  Contrary to other Jewish Christian groups of the time (and also current to scholarly opinion) they did not reject the apostleship of Paul.  They recognized his commission from God to preach to the gentiles, and they seem fully to have accepted the fruit of his labors: the “Church from the Gentiles.”…The Nazarenes, as Jews, continued to observed certain aspects of Mosaic Law, including circumcision and the Sabbath, [and this would include the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, as well as dietary laws], and it was this which brought about their exclusion from the Church [i.e. the emerging Greco-Roman Church].  This  rejection and exclusion was, however, gradual.” [ibid. p. 109, par. 1]


“On the Jewish side, the exclusion of the Nazarenes was not nearly so gradual.  At the end of the first century, the birkat ha-minim was formulated with the sect specifically named.  This recorded in both patristic and Jewish sources.  Nonetheless, we have found it possible that there was some limited synagogue attendance by Nazarenes into the early decades of the second century.  In addition to this, we find continued contact between the two communities in the form of a polemic or dialogue.  Such contact should not surprise us, since the Nazarenes lived in the same geographical areas with predominantly Jewish communities.  However, as the polemic and distrust grew, the separation and isolation from the Jewish community were increased.  Different steps along the way effected this separation: the flight to Pella, the birkat ha-minim, the refusal of the Nazarenes to recognize and support Bar Kochba.  By the middle of the second century, the rift was probably complete.”  [ibid. p. 109, par. 2]


“Of particular interest is the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah. This work shows clearly that the rejection was not solely from the Jewish side.  The Nazarenes refused to accept the authority established by the Pharisaic camp after the destruction of Jerusalem, and in so refusing they adjudicated their own isolation from the converging flow of what we call Judaism.  Just as they rejected the Church’s setting aside of the Law of Moses, so also they refused the rabbis’ expansive interpretations of it…From Talmudic sources we have seen that the Nazarenes may have conducted an active program of evangelism among the Jews.  The Isaiah commentary confirms that they never relinquished hope that Jews would one day turn away from tradition and towards Jesus: “O Sons of Israel, who deny the Son of God with such hurtful resolution, return to him and to his apostles.”” [ibid. p. 110, par. 1-2]


Geography of the Nazarenes


Jerome tells Augustine (ep. 112,13) that the Nazarene sect is to be found among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East.  At the time of writing, this would have been highly unlikely, although it may have been not so far wrong three hundred years earlier…Turning more to specific references, we have the Pella tradition.  Some Nazarenes doubtless remained there, across the Jordan, while others, perhaps led by their aging bishop Simon, returned after 70 or 73 to Jerusalem.  They will not have stayed there past 135, and with the Hadrianic persecution both Jerusalem and Pella Nazarenes may have fled north.” [ibid. p. 120, par. 1-2]  “Our final bit of geographical data revolves around Beroea of Coele Syria.  Epiphanius (pan. 29,7) names this town (modern-day Aleppo) as a home of the Nazarenes.  He does not mention it in connection with the Ebionites.  Jerome, like Epiphanius, states in the present tense that the members of the sect are living in Beroea of Syria.  Black notes that the two presbyters for whom Epiphanius wrote his panarion came from Beroea in Coele Syria (PG 41, 156).  This must greatly strengthen the credibility of what he says about the place, as he would hardly have been likely to tell them something of their own town which they would know to be patently false.  Neither Epiphanius nor Jerome tells us how they got there, and we can only surmise that they may have fled there during the Hadrianic persecution which ended in 138 [AD].  Similarly, we have no data as to the size of the group.  It is here we see the last traces of the Nazarenes.”


Now that leaves us in a very interesting spot historically.  We know that Judeo-Christians are very extant in Asia Minor up until 325AD.  Asia Minor is pagan.  Where did these Judeo-Christians come from? 


The Bar Kochba Revolt


First of all, what was the Bar Kochba Revolt (spelled by some Bar Kokhba’s Revolt)?  Wikipedia defines it thus:  Bar Kokhba’s Revolt (132-135CE) against the Roman Empire, also known as The Second Jewish-Roman War or The Second Jewish Revolt, was a second major rebellion by the Jews of Iudaea and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars.”  Shira Schoenberg writes “When Hadrian first became the Roman emperor in 118 C.E., he was sympathetic to the Jews.  He allowed them to return to Jerusalem [from their expulsion in 70AD—interesting to note, Jewish Christians had been allowed to return and were a presence since 73AD] and granted permission for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The Jews’ expectations rose as they made organizational and financial preparations to rebuild the temple.  Hadrian quickly went back on his word, however, and requested that the site of the Temple be moved from its original location.  He also began deporting Jews to North Africa.”  She goes on to describe the next event.

          “The Jews organized guerilla forces and, in 123 C.E., began launching surprise attacks against the Romans.  From that point on, life only got worse for the Jews.  Hadrian brought an extra army legion, the “Sixth Ferrata,” into Judea to deal with the terrorism.  Hadrian hated “foreign” religions and forbade the Jews to perform circumcisions.  He appointed Tinneius Rufus governor of Judea.  Rufus was a harsh ruler who took advantage of Jewish women.” 


Wikipedia picks up with the story in 130AD: “In 130, Emperor Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem.  At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild the city, but the Jews felt betrayed when they found out that his intentions were to rebuild the Jewish holiest city as a pagan metropolis, and a new pagan temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was to be dedicated to Jupiter.”  Shira Schoenberg continues the story. “In approximately 132 C.E., Hadrian began to establish a city in Jerusalem called Aelia Capitolina, the name being a combination of his own name and that of the Roman god Jupiter Capitolinus.  He started to build a temple to Jupiter in the place of the Jewish Holy Temple.  As long as Hadrian remained near Judea, the Jews remained relatively quiet…”  Wikipedia continues: “The Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva (alternatively Akiba) convinced the Sanhedrin to support the impending revolt, and regarded the chosen commander Simon Bar Kokhba to be the Jewish Messiah, according to the verse in Numbers 24:17: “There shall come a star out of Jacob” (“Bar Kokhba” means “son of a star” in the Aramaic language)…Most historians believe that it was this messianic claim in favor of Bar Kokhba that alienated many Christians (including Jewish Christians), who believed that the true messiah was Jesus, and sharply deepened the schism between Jews and Christians.  The Jewish leaders carefully planned the second revolt to avoid mistakes that had plagued the first Great Jewish Revolt sixty years earlier.  In 132, a revolt led by Bar Kokhba quickly spread from Modin across the country.”


Shira Schoenberg continues: “When he [Hadrian] left in 132, the Jews began their rebellion on a large scale.  They seized towns and fortified them with walls and subterranean passages.  Under the strong leadership of Simon Bar-Kokhba, the Jews captured approximately 50 strongholds in Palestine and 985 undefended towns and villages, including Jerusalem.  Jews from other countries, and even some gentiles, volunteered to join their crusade.  The Jews minted coins with slogans such as “The freedom of Israel” written in Hebrew.  Hadrian dispatched General Publus Marcellus, governor of Syria, to help Rufus, but the Jews defeated both Roman leaders.  The Jews then invaded the coastal region and the Romans began sea battles against them.” Wikipedia continues.


“The Era of the redemption of Israel”


“A sovereign Jewish state was restored for two and a half years that followed.  The functional public administration was headed by Simon Bar Kokhba, who took the title Nasi Israel (ruler or prince of Israel).  The “Era of the redemption of Israel” was announced, contracts were signed and coins were minted with corresponding inscriptions (some were overstruck Roman silver coins).  Rabbi Akiva presided over the Sanhedrin.  The religious rituals were observed and the korbanot (i.e. sacrifices) were resumed on the Altar. Some attempts were made to restore the Temple in Jerusalem.”


Roman reaction


Shira Schoenberg best describes it: “The turning point of the war came when Hadrian sent into Judea one of his best generals from Britain, Julius Severus, along with former governor of Gemania, Hadrianus Quintus Lollius Urbicus.  By that time, there were 12 army legions ]60,000 men approximately] from Egypt, Britain, Syria and other areas in Palestine.  Due to the large number of Jewish rebels, instead of waging open war, Severus besieged Jewish fortresses and held back food until the Jews grew weak.  Only then did his attack escalate into outright war.  The final battle of the war took place in Bethar, Bar-Kokhba’s headquarters, which housed both the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court) and the home of the Nasi (leader). Bethar was a vital military stronghold because of its strategic location on a mountain ridge overlooking the Valley of Sorek and the important Jerusalem-Bet Guvrin Road. Thousands of Jewish refugees fled to Bethar during the war.  In 135 C.E., Hadrian’s army besieged Bethar and on the 9th of Av, the Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, the walls of Bethar fell. After a fierce battle, every Jew in Bethar was killed.  Six days passed before the Romans allowed the Jews to bury their dead.  Following the battle of Bethar, there were a few small skirmishes in the Judean Desert Caves, but the war was essentially over and Judean independence was lost.  The Romans plowed Jerusalem with a yoke of oxen.  Jews were sold into slavery and many were transported to Egypt.  Judean settlements were not rebuilt.  Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and the Jews were forbidden to live there.  They were permitted to enter only on the 9th of Av to mourn losses in the revolt.  Hadrian changed the country’s name from Judea to Syria Palestina.  In the years following the revolt, Hadrian discriminated against all Judeo-Christian sects, but the worst persecution was directed against religious Jews.  He made anti-religious decrees forbidding Torah study, Sabbath observance, circumcision, Jewish courts, meeting in synagogues and other ritual practices.   Many Jews assimilated and many sages and prominent men were martyred including Rabbi Akiva and the rest of the Asara Harugei Malchut (ten martyrs).  This age of persecution lasted throughout the remainder of Hadrian’s reign, until 138 C.E.”


“The Romans demolished all 50 Jewish fortresses and 985 villages.  The main conflicts took place in Judea, the Shepula, the mountains and the Judean desert, though fighting spread to Northern Israel.  The Romans suffered heavy casualties as well and Hadrian did not send his usual message to the Senate that “I and my army are well.”


Long-term consequences and historic importance


Back to Wikipedia: “Modern historians have come to view the Bar-Kokhba Revolt as being of decisive historic importance.  The massive destruction and loss of life occasioned by the revolt has led some scholars to date the beginning of the Jewish diaspora from this date [and not the earlier Babylonian captivity date].  They note that, unlike the aftermath of the First Jewish-Roman War chronicled by Josephus, the majority of the Jewish population was either killed, exiled, or sold into slavery after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, and the Jewish religious and political authority was suppressed far more brutally.  After the revolt the Jewish religious center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars.  Judea would not be a center for Jewish religious, cultural, or political life again until the modern era, though Jews continued to live there and important religious developments still occurred there…Historian Shmuel Katz writes that even after the disaster of the revolt: “Jewish life remained active and productive.  Banished from Jerusalem, it now centred on Galilee.  Refugees returned…”  He lists the communities left in Palestine: “43 Jewish communities in Palestine in the sixth century:  12 on the coast, in the Negev, and east of the Jordan, and 31 villages in Galilee and in the Jordan valley”  Now let’s analyze what Mr. Katz has just said here.  In the 500AD’s—400 years later—there are now 43 Jewish communities, where there were once 985 villages and towns—communities.  In 400 years there are 43 Jewish communities where there were once almost 1,000 communities. 


What Can We Learn From All This?  How Does This Show Us Where the Nazarenes Might Have Gone?


Wars, especially major ones, are very effective movers of people and populations.  The Nazarenes were a church community, a Jewish-Christian church community.  There are three major things that will move a religious population: economics, religious persecution, and major war.  We find all three conditions being met here during the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, the 2nd Jewish-Roman War.  Remember Ray Pritz said he thought the Nazarenes moved north?  Then he lists a few places where there are records of them being.  But don’t forget, the apostle John, the last apostle, had moved north to Asia Minor and headquartered himself in Ephesus.  The evangelism of Paul, as we have just seen, created a lot of Judeo-Christian congregations in Asia Minor.  Polycarp, the disciple of John is now bishop, ruler over this vast area of Asia Minor and the Judeo-Christians up there.  These are friendly churches, keeping the Passover of the 14th Nisan, and thus they are Sabbath/Holy Day observing Judeo-Christians.  If you were a Jewish Christian living in Israel coming up to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (or say you were foolish enough to remain in Israel during that war)—knowing Polycarp is in Asia Minor ruling over a bunch of friendly Judeo-Christian congregations—where would you move to?  If Stark’s figures are correct, and three million Judeo-Christians were residing in Asia Minor up to 325AD, where do you think they came from?  They all weren’t there to begin with, that’s for sure.  Asia Minor is pagan, it’s population is basically pagan except for the Jewish synagogues that popped up all over the coast of Asia Minor during and after the Diaspora of the Babylonian captivity and then the First Jewish-Roman War in 70AD.  Also, figure a good number of Judeo-Christians would have decided to move north from 66-70AD, moving to Asia Minor where the last remaining apostle, John, was headquartered in Ephesus.  Put yourself in their shoes.  If you had a family where would you go?  I am postulating that there were two movements of Nazarene Jewish Christians that moved north to Asia Minor, one from 66-70AD and the other from 132-135AD.  A remnant stayed behind, and re-formed the Jerusalem congregation, descendents of the original Church of God at Jerusalem.  As you read excerpts from Oskar Skarsaune’s In the Shadow of the Temple, a Jewish-Christian synagogue dating to 73AD was recently found, having been inhabited by these Jewish Christians, descendents of the Nazarenes, up until the time of the Crusades.  Pretty astounding if you ask me.  Remember I said three things would move a religious community, economics, persecution and war?  Those three things moved a religious community to the United States from the Midlands of England in 1620, to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Persecution and resulting economic hardship brought the Separatists from the Midlands of England to Plymouth.  Ten years later the threat of impending civil war in England brought 30,000 Puritans to Boston Harbour to escape persecution and war.  That was only four hundred years ago, a relatively short time-span historically speaking, so we have a well-documented history of the event.  Looking back 1900 years, through the lens of histories written by a group’s detractors can be a little bit more difficult.  There is a very strong suspicion amongst historians and scholars that many of these early histories written by the participants themselves (i.e. the Nazarenes and Judeo-Christians of Asia Minor) have been “lost” or destroyed.  But we can make a very educated guess, and that is what I have done here.


Links to two online resources on the Bar Kokhba Revolt:’s_revolt 


I highly recommend purchasing “Nazarene Jewish Christianity” by Ray A. Pritz.  It is a little over 100 pages, but he draws sound conclusions from the historic evidence now at hand.  I found my copy on



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