Jesus the Nazarene

Why did Jesus have long hair? Was he a Nazarite? And where in the prophets does it every say that He will be called a Nazarene?

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "The Nazarene". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

Matthew says that Yeshua settled in Nazareth, thereby fulfilling the prophecy that says, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” In transliterations, the word looks similar to the word “Nazirite,” that is, one under a vow not to cut his hair. That’s why artists began depicting Jesus with long hair. In Hebrew, it’s a completely different word. Nazarene and Nazirite are completely unrelated. So what does Nazarene mean? On the simplest level, a “Nazarene” simply means someone from Nazareth.

But this raises another problem. Where in the Prophets does it say that the Messiah will be called a Nazarene? No such prophecy exists in the Hebrew Scriptures. Neither is such a prophecy found in apocryphal literature. Some critics go so far as to claim that Matthew made it up!

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23)

The key to understanding Matthew’s missing proof text is in the word Nazareth itself. The Hebrew for Nazareth (Netzeret) appears to be based upon the Hebrew word meaning a "branch" or a "sprout." Nazareth means “Branchtown.” Isaiah uses the word in one of the most famous messianic prophecies in the entire Bible to describe the promised Messiah King as a branch growing from the stump of the Davidic dynasty:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch (netzer) from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Matthew alludes to this passage from Isaiah and several other important parallel passages when he refers to the prophets saying, “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). The Messiah is called “Branch” in Zechariah, Jeremiah, and earlier in Isaiah. Compare the following prophecies about the Messiah:

In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel. (Isaiah 4:2)

Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5)

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. (Jeremiah 33:15)

Then say to him, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD.’” (Zechariah 6:12)

In other words, Matthew is not referring to just one prophecy when he says, “He shall be called a Nazarene,” nor is he quoting a particular passage. Instead, he is referring to several passages that use the often-repeated title for the Messiah—the Branch. For this reason, Matthew uses the plural form “prophets” when he says, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets.” In every other proof text that he cites, he uses the singular form “prophet.”

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This year Torah Clubs are studying the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish context. Discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables; study Jewish parallels to his teachings; and ultimately know Jesus better.

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