30 September 420 Feast of Saint Jerome, early source on Jewish Christianity #otdimjh

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Saint Jerome (Latin: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus; Greek: Εὐσέβιος Σωφρόνιος Ἱερώνυμος; c.  347 – 30 September 420) was a Catholic priest, confessor, theologian and historian, who also became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, born at Stridon, an Illyrian village on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia.


He is best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin (the translation that became known as the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospels. His list of writings is extensive. Known as the “protégé” of Pope Damasus I, who died in December of 384, Jerome was known for his teachings on Christian moral life, especially to those living in cosmopolitan centers such as Rome. In many cases, he focused his attention to the lives of women and identified how a woman devoted to Jesus Christ should live her life. This focus stemmed from his close patron relationships with several prominent female ascetics who were members of affluent Roman “senatorial families”.


He is recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Church of England (Anglican Communion). His feast day is 30 September.

Jerome was familiar with the Nazarenes/Ebionites as those “who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.” In his Epistle 79, to Augustine, he said:

What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? To-day there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans [Hebrew minim- sectarians?], and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called ‘Nasarenes’; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither.

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Jerome viewed a distinction between Nazarenes and Ebionites, a different Jewish sect, but does not comment on whether Nazarene Jews considered themselves to be “Christian” or not or how they viewed themselves as fitting into the descriptions he uses. He clearly equates them with Filaster’s Nazarei His criticism of the Nazarenes is noticeably more direct and critical than that of Epiphanius.

Jerome offers an extensive treatment of the Nazareans with specific references to their location, beliefs, and texts. In contrast, his portrait of the Ebionites is vague and stereotypical. His treatment of the Nazarenes is rather neutral, but he labels the Ebionites as dangerous heretics. In various works, Jerome points to charac­ teristics of the Ebionites.

  1. They are related to various other heresies (de perp. virg. 17; adv. Luc. 23; in Tit. 3.10- 11)
  2. Ebion was a historical figure who lived at the time of John (adv. Luc; Matt. Prol.)
  3. Ebion is a successor of Cerinthus (adv. Luc.)
  4. Ebion and Cerinthus are typical representatives of those who confuse the Law and the Gospel (ep. 112.13).
  1. Ebion did not believe that Jesus existed before Mary (de vir. ill. 9)
  2. Ebionites are half-Jews (in Gal. 3.13-14)
  3. They practice circumcision (in Ezek. 44.6; in Gal. 5.3)
  4. They live according to the Law (in Is. 1.12)
  5. They practice Jewish ceremonies (in Is. 1.13)
  6. Ebionites look forward to the millenium (in Is. 66.20)
  7. They reject Paul (in Matt. 12.2)
  8. Ebionites show poverty of spirit (in Is. 1.3; 66.20)
  9. Ebion is associated with Photinus (in Gal. 1.1; 1.11; de vir. ill. 107)
  10. Theodotian and Symmachus are understood by some to be Ebionites (de vir. ill. 54)
  11. Ebion made his own translation of parts of the Old Testament (in Gal. 3.13-14)
  12. Ebion practiced baptism (adv. Luc. 26)
  13. Ebion was cursed by the church fathers
  14. Ebionites, like Nazarenes, use a Hebrew version of Matthew (in Matt. 12.13)
  15. There are Ebionites who claim to be Christians (ep. 112.13).


Jeromes treatment of the Ebionites stands in stark contrast to his portrait of the Nazarenes. Most traits of his generic description of the Ebionite heresy can be found in or presumed from earlier writers. Distinct features are found only in his mention of the millenium, in the connection to Photinus, and, most signifi­ cantly, in the translation tradition. Theodotian and Symmachus are converted Jews who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and Jerome notes that some think they are Ebionites. Jerome further suggests that Ebion translated parts of the Old Testament. Since Jerome is in the process of translating the Hebrew Bi­ ble, it may be no accident that he has labeled his competition as heretics.3 6 Apart from these exceptions, his portrait of the Ebionites repeats, in purpose and con­ tent, that of Epiphanius and other patristic writers.

Here are some of his observations:

Nazarene beliefs

The beliefs of the Nazarene sect or sects as described through various church fathers:

  • in Jesus as Messiah:

The Nazarenes… accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.

— Jerome, On. Is. 8:14

  • in the Virgin Birth:

They believe that Messiah, the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary.

— Jerome, Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine

  • in Jesus as the Son of God:


Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Cæsarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it. In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Saviour quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew. Wherefore these two forms exist “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” and “for he shall be called a Nazarene.”

— Jerome, Lives of Illustrius Men Ch.3

They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion – except for their belief in Christ, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is one, and that his Son is Jesus Christ.

— Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.2

  • Adhering to circumcision and the Law of Moses:

They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law – circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest – they are not in accord with the Christians.

— Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.4

  • Use of Old Testament and New Testament:

They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do.

— Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.2

  • Use of Hebrew and Aramaic New Testament source texts:

They have the Gospel according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.

— Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.9.4

And he [Heggesippus the Nazarene] quotes some passages from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and from the Syriac [the Aramaic], and some particulars from the Hebrew tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews, and he mentions other matters as taken from the oral tradition of the Jews.

— Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 4.22



The following creed is from a church at Constantinople at the same period, and condemns practices of the Nazarenes:

I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with the Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.”[24]

“Nazarenes” are referenced past the fourth century AD as well. Jacobus de Voragine (1230–98) described James as a “Nazarene” in The Golden Legend, vol 7. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) quotes Augustine of Hippo, who was given an apocryphal book called Hieremias by a “Hebrew of the Nazarene Sect”, in Catena Aurea — Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27. So this terminology seems to have remained at least through the 13th century in European discussions.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for this Doctor of the Church, his familiarity with Hebrew and his attempt to understand the ongoing presence of Torah-observant Jewish believers in Yeshua. As a child of his time, and the increasing rift between Christians and Jews, it is hardly surprising that he could not see the continuity between the Church and Israel of which Messianic Jews are a vital and visible sign. Help Christians today recognise their authenticity and place in your ongoing purposes for Israel and the nations. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.


By: Executive Committee of the Editorial Board.Samuel Krauss

Table of Contents

Sect of primitive Christianity; it appears to have embraced all those Christians who had been born Jews and who neither would nor could give up their Jewish mode of life. They were probably the descendants of the Judæo-Christians who had fled to Pella before Titus destroyed Jerusalem; afterward most of them, like the Essenes in former times, with whom they had some characteristics in common, lived in the waste lands around the Dead Sea, and hence remained out of touch with the rest of Christendom.

For a long time they were regarded as irreproachable Christians, Epiphanius (“Hæres.” xxix.), who did not know much about them, being the first to class them among heretics. Why they are so classed is not clear, for they are reproached on the whole with nothing more than with Judaizing. As there were many Judaizing Christians at that time, the Nazarenes can not be clearly distinguished from the other sects. The well-known Bible translator Symmachus, for example, is described variously as a Judaizing Christian and as an Ebionite; while his followers, the Symmachians, are called also “Nazarenes” (Ambrosian, “Proem in Ep. ad Gal.,” quoted in Hilgenfeld, “Ketzergesch.” p. 441). It is especially difficult to distinguish the Nazarenes from the Ebionites. Jerome obtained the Gospel according to the Hebrews (which, at one time regarded as canonical, was later classed among the Apocrypha) directly from the Nazarenes, yet he ascribed it not only to them but also to the Ebionites (“Comm. in Matt.” xii. 13). This gospel was written in Aramaic, not in Hebrew, but it was read exclusively by those born as Jews. Jerome quotes also fragments from the Nazarenic exposition of the Prophets (e.g., of Isa. viii. 23 [in the LXX. ix. 1]). These are the only literary remains of the Nazarenes; the remnants of the Gospel according to the Hebrews have recently been collated by Preuschen in “Antilegomena” (pp. 3-8, Giessen, 1901).

Jerome gives some definite information concerning the views of the Nazarenes (“Ep. lxxxix. ad Augustinum”).

Jerome’s Account.

“What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? To-day there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans, and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called ‘Nazarenes’; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither.”

The Nazarenes, then, recognized Jesus, though it appears from occasional references to them that they considered the Mosaic law binding only for those born within Judaism, while the Ebionites considered this law binding for all men (Hippolytus, “Comm. in Jes.” i. 12). The Nazarenes therefore rejected Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Some accordingly declared even that the Nazarenes were Jews, as, for instance, Theodoret (“Hær. Fab.” ii. 2: οἱ δὲ Ναζωραῖοι Ἰουδαῖοί εἰσι); that they exalted Jesus as a just man, and that they read the Gospel of Peter; fragments of this Gospel of Peter have been preserved (Preuschen, l.c. p. 13). Aside from these references, Theodoret, however, makes the mistake of confounding the Nazarenes and Ebionites; he is the last one of the Church Fathers to refer to the Nazarenes, who probably were absorbed in the course of the fifth century partly by Judaism and partly by Christianity.

The term “Minæans,” which Jerome applies to the Nazarenes, recalls the word “min,” frequently used in rabbinical literature to designate heretics, chiefly the Christians still following Jewish customs; the Rabbis knew only Judæo-Christians, who were either Ebionites or Nazarenes. Hence they applied the name “Noẓri” to all Christians, this term remaining in Jewish literature down to the present time the designation for Christians. The ChurchFathers, Tertullian, for instance (“Adversus Marcion.” iv. 8), knew this very well; and Epiphanius and Jerome say of a certain prayer alleged to be directed against the Christians that although the Jews say “Nazarenes” they mean “Christians” (“J. Q. R.” v. 131). In the Koran also the Christians are called “Al-Naṣara.” The name may be traced back to Nazareth, Jesus’ birthplace. The Mandæans still designate themselves as “Nasoraya”; and they were formerly incorrectly regarded as the remnant of the Nazarenes (W. Brandt, “Die Mandäische Religion,” p. 140, Leipsic, 1889).


  • Fabricius, Cod. Apocryph. N. Test. i. 355;
  • Mosheim, Hist. Eccl. i. 153, Yverdon, 1776;
  • Jones, The New and Full Method of Settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament, i. 385;
  • Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergesch. des Urchristenthums, pp. 441-445, Leipsic, 1884;
  • idem, Judenthum und Judenchristenthum, pp. 32, 74, Leipsic, 1886;
  • Kaulen, in Wetzer-Welte’s Kirchenlexicon;
  • Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach Jüdischen Quellen, pp. 254 et seq., Berlin, 1902;
  • Rubin, in Ha-Eshkol, 1902, iv. 46;
  • R. S. Mead, Fragments of Faith Forgotten, p. 104, Berlin, 1902.



Jewish Ways of Following Jesus: Redrawing the Religious Map of Antiquity

By Edwin Keith Broadhead




REVIEW Edwin K. Broadhead Jewish Ways of Following Jesus: Redrawing the Religious Map of Antiquity (WUNT 266; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), hardcover xx + 440 pp. Matt Jackson-McCabe, Cleveland State University

This study of what Edwin Broadhead calls “Jewish Christianity” begins with a provocative comparison of traditional Jewish and Christian historiography with colonial rhetorical strategy. British colonizers, we are told, justified their occupation of Australia by decreeing that there had been no prior claims on the land despite tens of thousands of years of aboriginal presence. In much the same way, the orthodox Christians and rabbis of late antiquity “imposed their dominance upon the religious map of their own time” by means of “[a]n ideological form of terra nullius,” not least with respect to “Jewish Christians” (p. ix). The orthodox winners, for example, asserted their own “primal status” by either entirely reading Jewish Christians “out of existence” or by “incorporat[ing] them into the identity and history of the victor[s] themselves” (pp. ix, 47). The central aim of this book is “to isolate and to collect” the surviving “historical markers” for this “Jewish Christianity” in order to place it back on the map and thus to “lay to rest any assertion that Jewish Christianity did not exist or that it did not matter” (p. 2). In the process, it seeks to problematize the “parting of the ways” paradigm of traditional scholarship by calling attention to the existence of groups throughout antiquity for whom Judaism and Christianity were not mutually exclusive alternatives. After an initial section, Part One, addresses past scholarship (chapter 1) and the methodological issues involved in definition (chapter 2) and historical reconstruction (chapter 3), the Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 2 SCJR 8 (2013) great bulk of the study proceeds to its central task of identifying such “historical markers.” The data is divided into three categories. “Points of Origin,” which is to say the Jewish character of Jesus, the earliest communities of his followers, and the earliest Christian literature, are examined in Part Two (chapters 4-6). “Patristic Representations” are discussed in Part Three (chapters 7-11). A hodge-podge of “Other Evidence,” namely “Texts ascribed to Jewish Christians” (chapter 12), “Rabbinic Evidence” (chapter 13), and “Archaeological Evidence” (chapter 14) is found in Part Four. The final section, Part Five, presents a brief review of scholarship on the socalled “parting of the ways,” and a still briefer critique of the whole model in light of the “historical markers” the book has assembled (chapter 15). A final chapter presents a general review of basic findings (chapter 16). The end result is a wide-ranging survey of evidence traditionally associated with the category “Jewish Christianity.” In this sense it is broadly analogous to Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik’s edited 2007 volume Jewish Believers in Jesus, though from the point of view of a single author, and with subjects treated in less depth. While the specialist may find little that is radically new, the book provides an accessible introduction to, and a useful conversation partner in, an increasingly important field of research. As always in studies of “Jewish Christianity”—a notoriously variable category over the history of scholarship—matters of definition and classification are crucial. This is particularly so in a survey of this kind: in order to identify the remains of something and thus establish its ongoing existence and significance over centuries, one must have a clear sense of what that something is, and thus what will count as an instance of it. In the chapter on definition, Broadhead defines the “Jewish Christianity” with which he is concerned as those in antiquity who both “follow Jesus” and “maintain Jewishness,” particularly by “present[ing] themselves as faithful Jews standing in continuity, in both thought and deed, with God’s covenant with Israel” (pp. 56-57). To the extent that this definition Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations SCJR 8 (2013) 3 http://www.bc.edu/scjr emphasizes self-understanding, it represents an approach that is potentially more helpful than the usual focus on Torah observance as the definitive feature of “Jewish Christianity.” This move, however, stands in some tension with the author’s decision to present the phenomenon as “Jewish Christianity,” a term that is not a part of the self-identity of any of the individuals or groups in question, and which in fact creates problems that surface elsewhere in the study and are never adequately resolved (compare p. 79 and p. 158, where the term “Jewish Christianity” is conceded as being problematic when applied to Jesus and to the Synoptic sayings source, respectively). There is also at times a certain disconnect between this theoretical definition and the actual practice of classifying data on which the book’s general thesis depends. The identification of the earliest literary remains of “Jewish Christianity” in Part Two, for example, relies largely on a set of criteria whose relationship to the book’s working definition of “Jewish Christianity” is rather ambiguous. Thus the Didache is identified as “Jewish Christian” on the basis of its appropriation of “Jewish source materials”; its use of “the Old Testament” as an authority; a Jewish “prophetic model” for community leadership; its Christology; and its eschatological orientation (pp. 131-33). A broadly similar set of criteria are brought to bear on the Letter of James (pp. 133-34), while the Letter of Jude is said to stand “firmly in the realm of Jewish Christianity” (p. 135) simply due to a “conceptual world…built upon the literature of Palestinian Judaism” (p. 134) and a “guiding ethos…of Jewish apocalyptic thought” (p. 135). Such judgments seem to assume something more akin to the (long abandoned) “Jewish thought-form” construction of “Jewish Christianity” of Jean Daniélou in his 1964 book The Theology of Jewish Christianity than to the identity-oriented approach postulated by Broadhead’s own theoretical statement. Why we should assume, in the case of these works, that such traits correlate with claims on Jewish identity and on Israel’s covenant in particular is not said. Nor is it clear, conversely, why a supposedly more Hellenistic “tone” and self-consciously postapostolic orientation in themselves suggest that the same traits Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4 SCJR 8 (2013) are less likely to signal “Jewish Christianity” in the case of 2 Peter (p. 135). While such issues underscore the as-yet unsettled problem of the utility of “Jewish Christianity” as an interpretive construct, this book presents a useful entrée into the data that have given rise to it. Both those new to the field and specialists will find the book useful in their own ways.

  1. Jerome and the Nazarenes

A chronology of Jeromes life helps to situate his description of the Nazarenes.3 Born in northeast Italy somewhere between 341 and 347 ce, Jerome stayed in the West until 372. Following a journey to Syrian Antioch in 372, Jerome spent from twotofiveyearsinthedesertofChalaisadBelum,sometwenty-seven kilometers southwest of the Syrian town of Beroea. In this period Jerome says that he learned the Hebrew language from “a believing brother from among the Hebrews.”4 In the period from 377-380 Jerome studied scripture under the tutelage of Apolli- naris, who was condemned at Rome in 374 and again at Antioch, with Jerome present, in 378. Jerome has no apparent problem in studying with a declared he­ retic, but he does distance himself from specific ideas of Apollinaris: “While he instructed me in Scripture, I never accepted his disputable dogma on Christ’s human mind.”5 This relationship will prove instructive for Jeromes treatment of the Nazarenes.

After a trip to Constantinople, Jerome sailed in 382 to Rome in the company of Epiphanius, a relationship that would be important for the remainder of Je- romes life. Following a trip through Cyprus, Palestine, and Egypt, Jerome ar­ rived in Bethlehem in 386. He seems to have never left Palestine again, though visits to Jerusalem and Caesarea are likely. The correspondence between Jerome and Augustine begins in 394/95. This exchange would expand to some nineteen letters and would cover a period of twenty-five years.6

Jerome offers a long line of commentary on the Nazarenes, and his knowledge and opinion of their work seem to undergo development. Jerome begins speak­ ing of Jewish Christian groups and literature in 383 ce and may make reference to them as late as 419.

1.1 The Gospel according to the Hebrews

In 383 ce Jerome refers to the Hebrew text of a Gospel of Matthew.7 He again cites a Hebrew Gospel in 386 or 387, quoting a non-canonical saying of Jesus: “And never rejoice except when you look at your brother in love.”8 In 391 Jerome ex-

plains a difficult passage from Micah 7.6 (the daughter-in-law rises up against her mother-in-law) by recourse to a Hebrew gospel, to Hebrew grammar, and to an­ other non-canonical saying of Jesus. Jerome says the reader should understand the word of God to be the spouse of the soul and that whoever

should believe the Gospel which is edited according to the Hebrews and which we trans­ lated not long ago, in which it is said of the person of the Saviour: “My Mother the Holy Spirit just took me by one of my hairs,” will not hesitate to say that the word of God ori­ ginated from the spirit and that the soul which is the spouse of the word has a mother in law the Holy Spirit, which has in the Hebrew feminine gender, called rua.9

In 392 Jerome interprets Paul’s claim in Galatians to have seen only Peter and James on his first visit to Jerusalem. Jerome notes the same account in Acts, then turns to another witness about James:

the Gospel which is called according to the Hebrews and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin, of which also Origen often makes use, says after the account of the resurrection of the Lord: “But the Lord after he had given his linen cloth to the servant of the priest went to James and appeared to him .. .”1 0

Following this is an account of the appearance of Jesus to James, who has been fasting:

a little later, it says: “Bring the table and the bread/’ said the Lord. And immediately it is added: “He brought bread and blessed and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him: ‘My brother eat thy bread for the Son of Man is risen from those who sleep.”‘11

It is in 392 that Jerome first associates this gospel tradition with the Nazoreans. Jerome explains that the apostle Matthew was thefirstto compose a gospel in Ju­ dea and that he did so in Hebrew letters “for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed.”12 Jerome is not certain who made the translation into Greek, but he claims to know a great deal about the present state of the gospel:

The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilius the martyr so diligently collected. From the Nazoreans who use this book in Beroia, a city of Syria, I also received the opportunity to copy it.1 3

Jerome then concludes that this gospel quotes not from the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), but from the Hebrew, and he uses this fact to ex­ plain the origin of two citations.14


From this date forward, Jerome will often associate the Hebrew gospel with the community of Nazoreans.15 It should be noted that Jerome most often refers to this text in order to explain an exegetical difficulty, and he sometimes values the Nazarene reading over canonical versions.

1.2 A Nazarene Version of Jeremiah

Jerome also claims to have seen a different version of Jeremiah circulating among the Nazoreans. In his comments on Mt. 27.9-10, Jerome notes that Matthew cites a proof text from Jeremiah, but the quotation is actually from Zechariah. This does not seem to be a problem for Jerome, and he seems to accept that the gospels sometimes cite the prophets in general without knowing exactly which book is quoted. He notes, almost incidentally, that he knows of a version of Jeremiah that does contain the prophecy cited in Mt. 27.9-10. Jerome says that recently “I read a certain Hebrew work, which a Hebrew person of the Nazorean sect offered me as the apocryphal book of Jeremiah, in which I found these words literally.”16

1.3 A Curse Against the Nazarenes

Jerome claims to know of a synagogue curse aimed specifically at the Nazoreans. In his commentary on Amos 1.11-12 Jerome says that “until today in their syna­ gogues they blaspheme the Christian people under the name Nazoreans.”17 His commentary on Isaiah 5.18-19 applies the verses to the leaders of the Jews and says that “up to the present day they persevere in blasphemy and three times a day in all the synagogues they anathemize the Christian name under the name of the Nazoreans.”18

1.4 The Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah

A great deal is learned from Jeromes dependence on the Nazoreans from his in­ terpretation of the book of Isaiah, dating from 408/10 ce. Jerome seems to have come into possession of a Jewish Christian commentary on Isaiah, and this text impacts Jerome in two ways. First, it provides the key for his interpretation of

1 5 Found in the commentary on the Gospel of Matthew {in Matt. 12.13; 23.35); but also in the interpretation of Isaiah in 408 or 410 ce (in Is. 40.9-11); in the interpretation of Ezekial around 410 or 415 ce (in Ezek. 16.13; 18.5-9); in the argument against Pelagius around 415 ce (adv. Pelag. 3.2). In some places Jerome makes no attribution, and at places he also con­ nects this gospel to the Ebionites.

16 in Matt. 27.9-10. Origen notes the same problem, but he is likewise unconcerned by the contradiction.

1 7 Found in the commentary on Amos (in Amos 1.11-12). 18 in Is. 5.18-19.

Chapter 7: Nazarenes


some difficult texts in Isaiah, and, secondly, it seems to convince Jerome that the Nazoreans hold an acceptable christology.19 While Jerome may in fact cite exten­ sively from this source without giving credit, there arefiveor six major passages in which his dependence on the Nazorean Isaiah commentary is explicit.

1.4.1 Isaiah 8.11-15

For his interpretation of Isaiah 8.11-15 Jerome seeks help for the difficult pro­ phecy that the Lord “will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over – a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Isa. 8.14). Jeromefindsa solution in the Naza- rene commentary:

The Nazoreans, 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, namely 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 suc­ ceeded by Joannes the son of Zakkai and after him Eliezer and further Telphon, and next Joseph Galilaeus and Josua 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 scat- terer and of the second unholy, because he scattered and defiled the precepts of the Law by his traditions and SevTepwoeiq. And these are the two houses who did not accept the Saviour who has become to them destruction and shame.2 0

Ray Pritz notes that the rabbinical order of succession given here is incorrect, and he thinks that Jerome has created the etymological description of Hillel.21 Nonetheless, this text suggests the Nazarenes were aware of rabbinic tradition and interpretation and that they carried on an extended debate with the rabbis.

1.4.2 Isaiah 8.19-22

Jerome also seeks help with Isaiah 8.19-22, which offers the following condem­ nation: “Now if people say to you, ‘Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, for teaching and instruction?’ Surely those who speak like this will have no dawn!” Jerome turns again to the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah:

1 9 See the discussion by A. F. J. Klijn in Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1992), p. 19.

2 0 in Is. 8.11-15. The text may be found in CC {Corpus Christianorum) 73A.116; in PL (Patrologia Latina) 24.119; and the text and translation in Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evi­ dence, p.220-21. The logion about consulting the dead concerning the living ones has a close parallel in the Gospel of Thomas at Saying 52: “His disciples said to him, ‘Twenty-four prophets spoke in Israel, and all of them spoke in you/ He said to them, ‘You have omitted the one living in your presence and have spoken (only) of the dead.'”

2 1 Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, pp. 58-62.

168 Part 3: Patristic Representations of Jewish Christianity

For the rest the Nazoreans explain this passage in this way: When the Scribes and the Pharisees tell you to listen to them, men who do everything for love of the belly and who hiss during their incantations in the way of the 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 his own idols. W e must not, therefore, consult your dead about the living ones. On the contrary God has given us the Law and the testimonies of the scriptures. If you are not willing to follow them you shall not have light, and darkness will always oppress you. It will cover your earth and your doctrine so that, when they 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 dark­ ness and they cannot flee away from your ambushes.2 2

This material makes it clear that the Nazarenes pose themselves over against the developing authority of the rabbinic tradition. They criticize the line of interpre­ tation that cites the precedent of dead teachers, offering in its place their own en­ gagement with the scriptures of Israel.

1.4.3 Isaiah 9.1

Jerome then turns to the following passage in Isaiah 9.1. There he reads “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphthali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” Jerome finds in the Nazarene commentary a three-stage framework of salvation history.

The Nazoreans whose opinion I have set forth above, try to explain this passage in the fol­ lowing way: When Christ came and his preaching shone out, the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphthali first of all were freed from the errors of the Scribes and the Pharisees and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke of the Jewish traditions. Later, how­ ever, the preaching became more dominant, that means the preaching was multiplied, through the Gospel of the apostle Paul who was the last of all the apostles. And the Gos­ pel of Christ 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 gospel.2 3

Ray Pritz finds evidence for a Hebraic text in the spelling of Naphthali. This form agrees with the Hebrew text over against both the Septuagint and against the ca­ nonical form of Matthew (4.15-16), where Nephthali is used.24 Beyond this lin­ guistic connection, the citation offers important information about the Naza-

2 2 in Is., 8.19-22. The text may be found in CC 73.121; in PL 24.123f.; in Klijn and Rei- nink, Patristic Evidence, pp. 220-23.

2 3 in Is., 9.1. The text maybe found beginning in CC 73.123; in PL 24.123-25; in Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evidence, pp. 222-23.

2 4 Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, pp. 6 4 – 6 5 .

Chapter 7: Nazarenes


renes. They differ from the Scribes and Pharisees on the role of Jewish tradition, they accept the ministry of Paul, and they welcome a mission to the Gentiles. No mention is made of imposing Jewish traditions upon Gentile converts. More sig­ nificantly, Jerome likely finds here an acceptable christology and ecclesiology.

1.4.4 Isaiah 11.1

In a subsequent work Jerome confirms this christology and suggests the ety­ mology of the Nazarene name. At Isaiah 11.1 Jeromes reads “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Jer­ ome finds a Nazarene connection helpful.

Next the Nazoraeans, a name which the LXX translates by “sanctified” and Symmachus by “separated,” is always written with the letter zain. Therefore on this flower which rose suddenly from the trunk and root of Jesse through Mary the virgin, the Spirit of God rested, because in him the whole fullness of the godhead took pleasure to dwell cor­ porally; not as in the other holy ones moderately but according to the Gospel read by the Nazoraeans which was written in the Hebrew language: “The whole fountain of the Holy Spirit came upon him.”2 5

Jerome seems to point here to the translation of the term Nazarite as a separated or holy one, but he chooses to establish another connection with the Nazoraean title. Jerome seems to connect the Nazorean name to the Hebrew term for root (nezer),26 then offers a christological interpretion of the trunk and root of Jesse. The virgin birth of Jesus is affirmed, as is his anointing with the spirit. Ironically, Jerome then takes the passage that is sometimes used to speak of Jewish Chris­ tians holding a limited, adoptionist christology (divine sonship received at Jesus’ baptism) and uses it to argue instead (in agreement with Col. 1.19) that “in him the whole fullness of the godhead took pleasure to dwell corporally.” It is not clear here whether Jerome is citing the ideas of the Nazarenes or is simply using their name to elucidate his own theology. At the least, Jerome sees no contradic­ tion in this connection.

1.4.5 Isaiah 29.17-21

Isaiah 29.17-21 speaks of the renewal of Israel in which “the deaf shall hear … the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” In this renewal, “the tyrant

2 5 in Is., 11.1-3. See Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evidence, pp. 222-23.

2 6 The Hebrew text of Is. 11.1 links the name of Jesse (yisai) with the term for root (nezer). See the discussion in Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, pp. 11-13; Robert. H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Suppl. to NovTest 18 (Leiden: Brill, 1967), pp. 97-104.


Part 3: Patristic Representations of Jewish Christianity

shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease; all those alert to do evil shall be cut off…”. Jerome offers these comments:

What we understood to have been written about the devil and his angels, the Nazoreans believe to have been said against the Scribes and the Pharisees, because the 6£i)Tepa)Tal passed away, who earlier deceived the people with very vicious traditions. And they watch night and day to deceive the simple ones who made men sin against the Word of God in order that they should deny that Christ was the Son of God.2 7

The debate between Nazarenes and rabbinic tradition emerges anew in this cita­ tion. While A. Schmidtke sees the use of Sei)T£pu)Tai as evidence of a Greek text, Pritz thinks otherwise.28 He notes that Seutepcotal and Seutepcbaeic, are the most common rendering in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) for misneh, which means duplicity or repetition. The term lies behind the developing con­ cept of mishnah, which came to mean teaching handing down from teacher to disciple. Pritz believes the Greek word became a technical term for the teaching of tradition, and this can be seen in the patristic writings. He argues there is no comparable Latin term available to Jerome, so his options are to simply tran­ scribe the Hebrew or to use the normative Greek term. Pritz concludes that Jer­ ome has used the Greek as a recognizable reference to the rabbinic tradition.

If this is true, the passage articulates the Nazarene perception of rabbinic au­ thority. The founders of the rabbinic tradition are understood as those who watch day and night to deceive simple ones into a denial that Christ was the Son of God. For the Nazarenes, this mishnaic tradition has passed away and is to be replaced with obedience to the word of God.

1.4.6 Isaiah 31.6-9

Isaiah 31.6-9 calls Israel to turn back to Yahweh and to abandon their idols. As a result of this turning, Yahweh will fight against the Assyrians: “he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be put to forced labor. His rock shall pass away in terror, and his officers desert the standard in panic, says the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.” Jerome turns again to the Nazarene commentary.

The Nazoreans 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 apostles. 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 be­ fore you, not because of your powers, but because of the compassion of God. And his young men who a certain time earlier fought for him, will be the tributaries of the Church

2 7 The text and translation may be found in Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evidence, pp. 222-23.

2 8 Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, pp. 66-68. See also Pritz’s article entitled “The Jewish Christian Sect of the Nazarenes and the Mishnah,” Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies. Division A (1982), pp. 125-30.

Chapter 7: Nazarenes


and any of its 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 Sion and his oven in Jerusalem.2 9

In this interpretation, the call to Israel has become the foundation of the church, which lives under the sign of the cross. In this text the Nazarenes still hold out hope for a mission to the Jews.

1.4.7 Summation

These six passages that draw explicitly from the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah are instructive not only for their content, but also for the way in which Jerome employs them. In addition, they offer information about the historical frame­ work of the Nazarene movement known to Jerome.

First, it is significant that Jerome uses these Nazarene texts, that he uses them with no hint of critique, and that he finds in them an acceptable christology and ecclesiology. Most notable is the fact that Jerome seems to turn to the Nazarene commentary to address his more difficult exegetical problems. In doing so, Jer­ ome offers here no critique of the Nazarenes, nor does he plead their cause.

Secondly, the content of these citations tells us something about the world- view of the Nazarenes. They are well-versed in the Hebrew language, and they are engaged in collecting and preserving sacred texts. They seem to be acquainted with the targumic tradition of biblical commentaries, and their commentary on Isaiah shows some affinities with this method. The Nazarenes known to Jerome are familiar with developments in the rabbinic schools, but they reject the Pha­ risaic claim to authority. They do not acknowledge the authority of the oral tra­ dition as it is embodied in the mishnaic tradition, but seek rather to interpret the scriptures for themselves. They accept the apostleship and the ministry of Paul. They affirm the mission to the Gentiles with no mention of imposition of Jewish law. Jerome understands their christology to be compatible with orthodoxy. These Nazarenes have an ecclesiology, that is, some concept of a universal church that includes Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. They still hope for a renewed mission among the Jews. Thirdly, the Nazarene commentary offers some his­ torical framework for the Nazarene movement. There is evidence here that late in the 4 r d century ce Jewish followers of Jesus are engaged in an ongoing debate with rabbinic Judaism. Their manuscript tradition bears witness to an alternate history for the Gospel of Matthew and for the text of Jeremiah. Their commen­ tary demonstrates a Jewish pattern of interpretation employed in their debate with rabbinic Judaism.

2 9 The text may be found in CC 73.404; in PL 24.357; in Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evi­ dence, pp. 222-25.


Part 3: Patristic Representations of Jewish Christianity

1.5 Other References by Jerome

In addition to his use of the Isaiah commentary, Jerome has other things to say about the Nazarenes. His correspondence with Augustine in 404 ce deals with a variety of issues.30 Jerome tells Augustine about the Hebrew version of Matthew (ep. 20.5), he rejects the translations of Aquila the proselyte (ep. 57.11), then he of­ fers a lengthy reflection on the observance of Jewish Law (ep. 112.13). Here Jer­ ome disagrees with the opinion that it is good for Jewish followers of Christ to keep the Law. This, he says, brings the danger that “we shall fall into the heresy of Cerinthus and Hebion, who believe in Christ and for this only have been ana­ thematized by the fathers, because they mixed the ceremonies of the Law with the Gospel of Christ and in this way confessed new things while they did not cut loose from the old” (ep. 112.13). In the following line it is not clear if Jerome con­ tinues with that thought or whether he now speaks of a different group of Jewish followers of Jesus.

What shall I say of the Ebionites who claim to be Christians? Until now a heresy is to be found in all parts of the East where Jews have their synagogues; it is called “of the Mi- naeans” and cursed by the Pharisees up to now. Usually they are called Nazoreans. They believe in Christ, the Son of God born of Mary the virgin, and they say about him that he suffered and rose again under Pontius Pilate, in whom also we believe, but since they want to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither Jews nor Christians, (ep. 112.13)

On the one hand Jerome seems to have labeled the Nazoreans as an Ebionite he­ resy. It is clear that he knows almost nothing about Ebionites, crediting their ori­ gins to a historical figure who, in the opinion of most scholars, never existed. When Jerome shifts to a description of the Nazoreans, his tone is more sympa­ thetic. He claims they are found throughout the East and that they are cursed in the synagogues. His description of Nazorean beliefs is an orthodox litany remi­ niscent of the apostles’ creed. They believe in Christ, “in whom we also believe.” The one criticism raised against the Nazoreans is their adherence to Jewish iden­ tity, presumably in the form of Jewish practices.

Jerome, of course, is not writing a history of the Nazoreans, nor is he offering an apology in their behalf. His wider aim is the translation of scripture, the writ­ ing of commentaries, the defense of the gospel, and the attack on heresy. In his letter to Augustine, he is apparently, among other things, trying to impress. In the framework of these larger concerns, Jerome sometimes offers confusing and even contradictory information about Jewish followers of Jesus. His claim to have translated the Hebrew gospel is not entirely coherent. Jerome says in 383 ce that he does not know who translated the Hebrew version of Matthew into Greek.31

3 0 Text and translation of relevant portions of the letter to Augustine may be found in Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evidence, pp. 198-203.

3 1 Most scholars today believe that canonical Matthew was written in Greek, not trans­ lated from any language.

Chapter 7: Nazarenes


Jerome also says he had an opportunity to copy this work. In 392 he claims to have recently translated the Hebrew gospel into both Greek and Latin. He notes that Origen has used this gospel, and Jerome sometimes quotes the same pass­ ages as Origen, perhaps from Origen. In 415 ce we learn for the first time that Jer­ ome thinks the Gospel according to the Hebrews was written in the Chaldaic and Syriac language (Aramaic), but with Hebrew letters. Jerome also says this gospel is used by the Ebionites. In his 404 letter to Augustine, Jerome seems to conflate Ebionites and Nazarenes, or perhaps to speak of two kinds of Ebionites.

Most scholars conclude that Jerome, like Epiphanius before him, sees the Nazarenes as heretics. Their conclusion depends largely on the one passage in which Jerome seems to castigate Nazarenes:

Strange stupidity of the Nazoreans! They wonder whence wisdom possessed wisdom and power possessed powers, but their obvious error is that they only looked at the son of the carpenter, (in Matt. 13.53-54)

Quite a number of scholars find here evidence that Jerome rejected the Naza­ renes as heretics and was inconsistent in his description of them.3 2

It should be noted, however, that Jerome is commenting on a passage about the appearance of Jesus in the synagogue of his home town (Mt. 13.54). In re­ sponse to Jesus’ teaching, the people ask “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?” (Mt. 13.54). Jerome is clearly addressing this context. In his commentary he quotes Mt. 13.53-54a, then paraphrases it, noting that Je­ sus went to him homeland (patriam) and to the synagogue there. Jerome then cites the question of the people: “Whence came that wisdom, those powers?” The following line marks the beginning of Jeromes comments on the passage: “Strange stupidity of the Nazoreans! They wonder whence wisdom possessed wisdom and power possessed powers . . . ” (in Matt. 13.53-54). As Ray Pritz cor­ rectly notes,33 Jerome is speaking here of the people of Jesus’ home town. Al­ though the text never names Nazareth, Jerome presumes the reference to the home town of Jesus means he is in Nazareth – and thus speaking to Nazarenes. Jerome is reflecting on the gospel passage and is scolding the people (in the story) from Jesus’ home town, not the Nazarenes of Beroea.

1.6 Summation

Despite some confusion and contradiction, Jerome seems to have no ongoing agenda for or against the Nazarenes. This stands in stark contrast to his less in­ formed, consistently negative treatment of the Ebionites. Jeromes description of the Nazarene presence in Syrian Beroea, his access to their texts and his frequent use of them, his description of their debate with the rabbis, and his many refe-

3 2 Including Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evidence, p. 47. 3 3 Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, pp. 53-54.


Part 3: Patristic Representations of Jewish Christianity

rences to the synagogue curse against Nazoreans all seem plausible. In light of this evaluation, Jerome bears witness to a group of Jewish followers of Jesus who are active in Syria in the late 4 t h century ce. Their beliefs are largely those of the developing Christian orthodoxy, but their observance of the Jewish Law and their unique approach to scriptural tradition and interpretation set them apart. In addition, they appear to be the target of hostility from some synagogues, and they are participants in an ongoing debate with rabbinic Judaism.


Part 3: Patristic Representations of Jewish Christianity

  1. Jerome and the Nazarenes

8.2 Jerome and the Ebionites


About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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