Nazarani (Aramaic: נצרנ) is an idiom meaning simultaneously “keepers”, “keeping”, “kept”, “watchman”, “watchers”, “besieged”, “preserve”, “preservers”, “subtle”, “hidden things”, “monuments”, and finally “branches”; and is the correct name applied to all followers of Jesus the Messiah. The final definition is especially interesting since Jesus says, "I am the Vine of Truth” (John 15:1 *).,, “and you are the branches (ܫܒܫܬܐ), whoever abides in me and I in him, will produce plentiful fruit, because without me you are not able to do anything. Unless a man abide in me, he is cast aside like a branch that is withered, and they pluck it and place it into the fire that it may burn. And now if you abide in me and my words abide in you, anything that you desire, shall be given unto you. For by this the Father is glorified by the abundant fruit that you bear and that you be my disciples." (John 15:4-8)
The prophet Isaiah says:
And shall spring forth a branch from the root of Jesse, and from his source shall a branch become fruitful. And shall rest upon him a spirit from Yah. The spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of understanding and of strength. And the spirit of the Knowledge of and the fear of MarYah.(Isaiah 11:1-2)
Zechariah, foreseeing the coming of Jesus, prophesied saying:
Hear now, O Joshua the High Priest, you, and your fellows that sit before you: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch (Zechariah 3:8) And speak to him, saying, Thus speaks MarYAH of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the Temple of the LORD. (Zechariah 6:12)
Of particular interest is Isaiah's use of the Hebrew word "nazer" or "branch" and of "nazeroth" which is obviously identical with "Nazareth" in form. Isaiah uses other related forms of the same word which have meaning when seeing them in their connection to Nazarene fulfillment of "that which was spoken by the prophets."
There are two Hebrew words translated "Branch" in the branch prophecies. The two Hebrew words for Branch are obviously interchanged. One is "tsemach" (transliterated zemach) used in all the verses for "branch" except the major messianic link in Isaiah 11:1 (and two others in Isaiah and one in Daniel already noted) where "natser," (transliterated Nazer) is found. Jesus is called this latter word literally. The hometown of Jesus is Nazareth (Fem. plural of Nazer is Nazeroth). Isaiah 1:1
Some archaeologists have claimed that Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus, however, an inscription found in Cesarea dating from 66AD makes it clear that Nazareth did exist in the first century. I believe that in ancient documents, he was known as Ieshu HaNatsri
The Ancient Nazarites
The angel who announces the birth of John the Baptist foretells that "he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:13–15) meaning that he was a Nazarite from birth. Jesus was also a Nazarite. “I will not drink of this wine until I drink it new with you in my father's kingdom.” Saint Paul cut off his hair because of a vow he had taken (See: Acts 18:18), he also purified himself (rushamma), and went to the temple with four men who had taken the Nazarite vow in order to prove that he was still very much a Jew and not a Hellenizer. Later on, Paul is accused by Tertullus of being the “ringleader of the Nazarites”, who says, “We find that this man is a corrupter, who arouses and causes commotion among all Jews in every land, he is a head of those of the teachings of the Nazarani.” (Acts 24:2) St. James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem, was a Nazarite, and performed with rigorous exactness all the practices enjoined by that rule of life. and in Acts 21:20–24
Acts 11:26 The first followers of Jesus were called Nazarani, even before the pagan Greeks joined the Church at Antioch starting in 39 A.D., when Barnabas sought out Paul in Tarsus and brought him with him to Antioch where they trained a number of Gentile students. These students were known as ܬܠܡܝܕܐ ܟܪܤܛܝܢܐ ("Talmida Krstyna"), student-initiates. (See: Acts 11:25-26) This is a mixture of both Aramaic and Greek meaning literally “students of lesser anointing”. And so the meaning of Talmida Krstyna is student initiates, or more specifically converts from paganism, and doesn’t refer to all followers of Jesus, but only to those who converted from paganism. This sentence does not say that the Apostles were first called “Krstyna” at Antioch. In order to say that, the sentence would have been written with altogether different grammar.
Nazarani vs. Christians
This word Krstyna isn’t even Aramaic it’s a transliteration of the Greek word Χριστιανούς (from Chrestos, Strong’s 5543) which refers to those who are “virtuous, good, manageable, mild, pleasant”. This congregation then at Antioch was the first to embrace the Greeks and their philosophy but other congregations and ideas did exist and were the prevalent force in the early Church.
Writing in Persian in the 4th Century, Aphraates records that the Christians in Persia were divided into two groups, the krishitani who spoke Greek, and the nazarani, who spoke Aramaic. These two groups shared much together, often even the same churches, but they had different liturgical lives and different spiritual beliefs, as the result of their different languages.
This is why we are called Nazarani, because our tradition, the transmission of Jesus’ teachings from which we come was given in Aramaic and transmitted in that language through His Apostles to the countries of the east.
Saint Thomas visited India, China and Korea, Mark Egypt, Addaï (Thaddeus in the west) went to Oserone (modern day Edessa), and the wise men who had attended Jesus’ birth returned to their native Persia with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Even against the ravages of time, Nazarani still exist in small pockets throughout the world. A large contingent of Nazarani are indigenous to Kerala in south India, and also to Iran, Iraq and in small pockets of eastern China. Modern Nazarani still use Aramaic in their liturgies and in their daily prayers, follow the most ancient teachings of Jesus, and keep the older traditions.
The rise of European political power and rampant colonisation did not favour the Nazarani.
That Nazarani spirituality prevailed against the philosophy of the Greeks in the majority of the East is easily understood, since almost every Eastern language preserves the name “Nazarani” rather than “Christian” as the name of the followers of Jesus. In Arabic the word for Christian is Naṣrānī (نَصْرَانِيّ). In Hebrew it is Notsri (נוֹצְרִי), which also has the same meaning.
The Nazarani are a people set apart, as strong ‘branches’ united by a single patrimony in Christ, and have always stood as the pinnacle of Christian culture throughout the world. Even during the 1000 year decline of our church after the Islamic Conquest, our distinct history, theology, preservation of the Aramaic language and the original scriptures and forms of Christian worship have caused us to be a distinct people, with our own manner of living the faith within the Bride of Christ (see: Ephesians 5:22-33).
The majority of those groups who now identify as Syriac Christians were originally descended from nazarani, but have had the misfortune of being located in countries which have experienced colonization by foreign forces; and were subject to various political campaigns geared to convert them to the philosophical teachings of the western krstyna.
Since many of these same countries have only recently experienced political and economic independence and industrialisation, it is not surprising therefore that many of those who now self identify as nazarani have yet to shake the bonds which hold them to the spiritual and religious paths which have been laid out for them by their colonial masters. Such people may call themselves nazarani, but in reality they are bound to the practices of the western Christianity that sought to control them.
Religious tides are shifting. People no longer want to be preached at, they want to learn for themselves, and are searching out those who will teach them. This is where the Nazarani thrive.
- indicates a direct translation from the Aramaic Peshitta text.