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Nazarene is a title by which the followers of Jesus were referred to in the early years after his death.

In Acts Paul is tried in Caesarea and Tertullus is reported as saying:

"We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5, New Revised Standard Version).

It seems clear that "Christian" was not the earliest term for the followers of Jesus, since Acts 11:26 reports its first use, in Antioch - at a time and in a place at least 10 and possibly 20 or more years after the death of Jesus. Many authors have argued that Nazarene was not just one term that was used, but the dominant term, and that it was also used to describe Jesus himself.

The chief argument for this claim rests on an interpretation of the way Jesus is referred to by the writers of the gospels. The original Greek forms of all four gospels call him, in places, "Iesou Nazarene". English Bibles generally translate this as "Jesus of Nazareth", and this is a reasonable translation given that it is clear that all four evangelists did believe that Jesus came from Nazareth. However, it is not the only possible translation. Linguistically, "Jesus the Nazarene" would be at least as correct, and some critics have argued that it is more plausible given that Nazareth seems to have been a place of no significance at the time; it is unmentioned in contemporary history, and it is not even possible to prove, other than by reference to the gospels, that it existed during Jesus's lifetime.

However, regardless of these issues of translation, it seems clear that the term "Nazarenes" had at least some currency as a description of the followers of Jesus. What, therefore, does the word mean? The word might come from at least four different sources:

None of these interpretations is unproblematic (for example, the gospels describe Jesus as avoiding ascetic practices, which would make it odd to describe him as a Nazirite). Possibly "Nazarene" was a deliberate play on words that suggested more than one of these interpretations.

After the word "Christian" had become established as the standard term for the followers of Jesus, there appear to have been one or more groups calling themselves "Nazarenes", perhaps because they wished to lay claim to a more authentic and/or a more Jewish way of following Jesus. The fourth century church father Jerome refers to Nazarenes as those "...who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law." Epiphanius, also a fourth century church father, gives a more detailed, and highly disapproving, description, calling the Nazarenes "complete Jews". But there is little further evidence of these groups' existence, beliefs or activities, and in its absence a great deal of entirely speculative material about them has been published, little of it taken seriously by mainstream historians.

Much more recently, some Christian denominations have revived the word "Nazarene" as a description of Jesus, or of themselves as his followers: the best known of these is the Church of the Nazarene.

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