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Christian asceticism as seen through the image of the Jewish Nazirite in Jerome

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Christian asceticism as seen through the image of the Jewish Nazirite in Jerome
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  9Tabula  Archa Verbi 15 (2018) 9 –24 Christian asceticism as seen through the image of the  Jewish Nazirite in Jerome 1 by R L In the history of early Christian monasticism, little attention has been given to the memory of the Jewish Nazirites. 2  These ascetics, who followed a volun-tary, sacrificial and devotional practice laid down in Numbers 6,1–21, have been largely forgotten in the study of early Christianity. Yet, the idealized im-age of the Jewish Nazirite was picked up and developed by the early Christian  writers, Jerome in particular, to legitimize the practices of contemporary as-ceticism. This study argues that Jerome saw Jewish Nazariteship as providing a foundation for Christian asceticism. Understanding the tradition of the Jewish Nazirites through the eyes of Jerome is central not only to understanding the ascetic tradition in the region that saw the birth of Christianity, but to illustrat-ing an important tension within the Christian tradition in general, between emphasis on a personal relationship with God and separation from the com-munity to that end, and emphasis on a common life organized and supported by the hierarchy of the Church. Jerome had little time for those Jewish Christians who called themselves Nazirites in his own day. In a letter to Augustine he writes: In our own day there exists a sect among the  Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minaei , and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarites. They believe in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in  whom we believe. But while they desire to be both  Jews and Christians, they are neither Jews nor Christians. 3  Jerome nonetheless made connections with them. He mentions a group of Na-zirites of Beroea, from whom he acquired the Gospel of the Hebrews, mainly 1 This research has been funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung. 2 The one study looking at Jerome’s interest in Nazarites is M 2006 in which the focus is lexical rather than contextual. There is no mention of Nazarites in F 2009, E 1996 or V/W 2002. 3 H Epistulae ,   12.13, 381: “Usque hodie per totas orientis synagogas inter Iudaeos heresis est, quae dicitur Minaeorum et a pharisaeis huc usque damnatur, quos uulgo Nazaraeos nuncupant, qui credunt in Christum, filium Dei natum de Maria uirgine, et eum dicunt esse, qui sub Pontio Pilato et passus est et resurrexit, in quem et nos credimus, sed, dum uolunt et Iudaei esse et Christiani, nec Iudaei sunt nec Christiani.”  10Rina Lahav to illustrate the life and beliefs of a group who accepted Christ but had not abandoned the Jewish Law. 4  He describes their beliefs in his commentary    on Isaiah: The Nazarites, who receive Christ in such a way that they do not set aside the ob-servation of the Law, interpret the two houses as the two families of Shimmei and Hillel. From these families the scribes and Pharisees arose. Akiba took over their school, whom they assert was the teacher of Aquila the proselyte. After him came Machir, whom Johannan son of Zaccheus succeeded; and after him came Eliezer, and in order Thelphon, Joseph the Galilean, and Joshua up to the captivity of  Jerusalem. Shimmei and Hillel therefore arose in Judea not long before the Lord  was born. The former name means “destroyer,” the latter “profane,” because he destroyed and defiled the precepts of the law by his own traditions [cf. Mt 15,3], and δευτερωσεις ; and these are the two houses that did not receive the Savior,  who was made a ruin   and a stumbling block   to them. 5 This practice of Jewish followers of Jesus calling themselves Nazarites seems to go back to Acts 24,5, when Paul is described in Jerusalem as being the ring-leader of the Nazarites.For Jerome, traditional Nazariteship had ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Modern scholarship has similarly concentrated on the phenomenon of Nazarites as described in the Hebrew Bible and the corresponding Talmudic sources. 6  Their findings and interpretations have been limited to the phenomenon itself and the period of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem, rather than on the influence of the Nazirite tradition on subsequent generations. 7  Jerome was nonetheless very interested in drawing a typological connection between the Nazirites of the Old Testament and the new and better Naziriteship of Jesus. 8  He was building on Matthew’s assertion 4 H De uiris inlustribus , 3, 9: “Mihi quoque a Nazaraeis qui in Beroea, urbe Syriae, hoc uolumine utuntur, describendi facultas fuit.” 5 H  Commentarii in Isaiam , 3.8.1., 116, lin. 41: “Duas domus Nazaraei, qui ita Christum recipiunt, ut obseruationes legis ueteris non omittant, duas familias interpretantur, Sammai et Hellel, ex quibus orti sunt scribae et pharisaei, quorum suscepit scholam Akibas, quem magistrum Aquilae proselyti autumat et post eum Meir, cui successit Ioannan filius Zachai, et post eum Eliezer, et per ordinem Telphon, et rursum Ioseph Galilaeus, et usque ad captiuitatem Hierusalem Iosue. Sammai igitur et Hellel non multo priusquam Dominus nasceretur, orti sunt in Iudaea, quorum prior dissipator interpretatur, sequens profanus; eo quod per traditiones et δευτερώσεις  suas legis praecepta dissipauerit atque maculauerit. et has esse duas domus, quae saluatorem non receperint, qui factus sit eis in ruinam et scandalum.” 6 Nb 6,1–21 and a treatise named Nazir (Nazirite, Hebrew: רי 󰗖 נ   ) of the Mishnah and the Tosefta and in both Talmuds, devoted chiefly to a discussion of the laws of the Nazirite laid down in Numbers 6,1–21. In the Tosefta its title is Nezirut   (“Nazariteship”). In most of the editions of the Mishnah this treatise is the fourth in the order Nashim, and it is divided into 9 chapters, containing 48 paragraphs in all. Also see C 2005, D 1997 and B G 1900, 201–211. 7  H G 2009, 81. 8  J 2015, 592.  11 Jewish Nazirite in Jerome (2,21) about Joseph going to Nazareth: “There he settled in a town called Naza-reth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled, He will be called a Nazarene (more correctly Nazarite, Nazaraios in Greek or Nazaraeus in the Latin Vulgate).” The problem for Jerome was that this line had never been found in the Hebrew Scriptures. He argued that the verse al-ludes to Jesus as doing for his people what Samson was meant to do for Israel but had not. Samson the Nazirite, was meant “to begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Jg 13,5). The parallels between Jesus and Samson are only partially accurate. Unlike John the Baptist, Christ does not abstain from wine. Instead he evangelizes to drunkards (Mt 9,9–12). Christ does not avoid dead bodies. Instead he raises the dead (Mt 9,23–25). Whereas John the Baptist is described like a traditional Nazirite, Christ is a true and better Na-zirite, diverging from the Old Testament standard like Samson, but in a holy and honourable direction. 9 No existing Old Testament text, however, prophesies that the Messiah  will be either a person from the village of Nazareth, or a Nazirite. If such a prophecy ever existed it would have had to have been in a different version of existing Old Testament books or in Old Testament books now lost. 10  In 388 CE  Jerome wrote his Book on the Interpretation of Hebrew Names , in which he listed his interpretations of Hebrew names, without actually including the names in He-brew letters. The reader was invited to guess what the srcinal name was from  Jerome’s Latin interpretation of Nazaraeus as one who is morally pure, upright and free from sin ( Nazaraeus mundus ). 11 Nazareth [means] a flower, or a shoot from it, and cleanliness, separateness or guardedness. It is written not with the Hebrew letter z   but with the Hebrew Sade ,  which sounds neither like s nor as z. Nazareus [means] clean. 12  Nazirite [is] clean, holy and separate. 13 He was still of the same opinion thirteen years later when he wrote his Commen- tary on the Gospel of Matthew   2,23: Nazareus is interpreted as holy. He will be made entirely holy to God, as the holy scripture records. Otherwise we can say that it is true according to the Hebrew  words as is written in Isaiah: He will come out of the virgin, from the root of Jesse, and  from the root he will ascend as a Nazirite. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. First John the Baptist preaches the kingdom of heaven, forerunner of God, should be honoured for the privilege. This is what is spoken by the prophet 9 C 2015. 10 M 2006, 365. 11 M 2006, 365f . 12 H Liber interpretationis hebraicorum nominum , 62,   lin. 24: “Nazareth flos aut uirgultum eius uel munditiae aut separata uel custodita. Scribitur autem non per z litteram, sed per Hebraeum sade, quod nec s nec z littera sonat. Nazaraeus mundus.” 13 H Liber interpretationis hebraicorum nominum , 70, lin. 12: “Nazarenum mundum sanctum uel abiunctum.”  12Rina LahavIsaiah: The voice is crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make  your path upright” (Is 40,3; Mt 3,3).  14  Jerome elected to construct a complex etymology combining the two words Nazareth and Nazaraeus   to create a type of purity, holiness and separateness. It is a tenuous connection, but it created a precedent which he used in his polemics in favour of asceticism in the desert. Glossing over the shift in the meaning of the word in Mt 2,23 from Nazirite to a person from Nazareth, he presents a picture without the difficulties. For Jerome, Nazareth, Nazirite, and the flower which grew from the stem of Jesse (the bloodline of David) all have the same root meaning, namely of a “flower”, here extended to mean a person,  who like a flower is morally pure, holy and separate from the crowd. As Moran has argued in his important study of the issue, the words Nazaraeus   (Nazirite) and Nazarenus   (a person from Nazareth) are synonymous for Jerome. They in-dicate a Nazirite, in its later Christian sense as one set apart for and dedicated to God, and not as Naziriteship in its Old Testament legal sense. 15  The fre-quent references by the Evangelists (never by St Paul) to Jesus the Nazarene is consciously ambiguous in evoking both the town of Nazareth and the tradition of being a Nazirite as one who offered his whole person to God. Jerome was greatly influenced in structuring this model by Origen who,  writing in the third century, was perhaps the first to give a Christian spiritual meaning to the memory of the tradition of the Nazirite. In his commentary on the book of Numbers Origen creates a parallel between following Christ and taking a vow of the Nazirite: If therefore [you say] “Take up your cross and follow Christ”, if you say, “I live, but no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me”, if you say “He desires and thirsts to give back our soul and to be with Christ, as St. Paul said, and he does not delight in the enticements of the world, and he spiritually keeps all the law which was given to Nazirites, then he bestowed himself, that is his soul, to God”. 16 14 H   Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei , lib. 1, 16, lin. 215: “Nazareus sanctus interpretatur. sanctum autem dominum futurum omnis scriptura commemorat. Possumus et aliter dicere quod etiam eisdem uerbis iuxta hebraicam ueritatem in Esaia scriptum sit: Exiet uirga de radice Iesse , et Nazareus de radice   conscendet. paenitentiam agite, adpropinquauit enim regnum caelorum. Primum Baptista Iohannes regnum caelorum praedicat ut praecursor domini hoc honoretur priuilegio. Hic est enim qui dictus est per Esaiam prophetam dicentem: uox clamantis in deserto: parate uiam domini, rectas facite semitas eius .” 15 M 2006, 365. 16 O, trans. Rufinus In Numeros homiliae , hom. 24.2, 230: “Si ergo ‘tollas crucem tuam et sequaris Christum’, si dicas: ‘vivo autem, iam non ego, vivit vero Christus in me’, si ‘desideret et sitiat anima nostra redire et esse cum Christo’, sicut et Apostolus dicebat, et praesentis saeculi non delectetur illecebris et si omnem legem, quae de Nazaraeis data est, spiritaliter impleat, tunc ‘semet ipsum’, id est animam suam, ‘obtulit Deo’.”  13 Jewish Nazirite in Jerome Origen also says that:  Although in the church the primary sacrifice after the apostles seems to be the one of the martyrs, the secondary of the virgins and the tertiary of the continent people, I think, nevertheless, one should not deny married people who devote time to prayer, to be considered as completing their vows, like those of the Naza-rites. All these people can be seen as living sacrifice, to be able to present their own bodies as a living sacrifice pleasing to God. On the contrary, bodies of virgins and continent, if they are polluted by the blemish of pride, sordid avarice and filth of lies or obscene language, their sacrifice is polluted. They think that they are pleasing to God only by the virtue of dedicating their physical virginity, how-ever in the law, an offering is inspected by a diligent priest, not only if it is from the clean animals, but also if it has a blemish in its eyes, ears or legs; no one eyed, plucked or lame animal is brought to the divine alter. 17  Jerome admired the works of Origen and translated many of them, but by 400 CE was becoming reluctant to share his admiration of this author in fear of being implicated in his heresy. 18  Nevertheless, Jerome shared the fascination of the Nazirite tradition and followed Origen in reframing it to the Christian  worldview.T N   AZIRITE  It is important, therefore, to look at the srcinal tradition of Naziriteship, as depicted in the Old Testament, to explore the attraction of Jerome to its te-nets and relevance to his own day asceticism. Naziriteship, or the practice of becoming a Nazirite, was open to all Israelites if they so wished during the time  when the Temple in Jerusalem was their centre. A Nazirite could be made so by his parents before birth, like Samson (Jg 13,4–5), or he or she could take it upon himself or herself for a period of time. After the exile in the sixth century BC temporary Nazirites    were numerous, while permanent Nazirites    were ra-re. 19  Samson, the prototype of the Nazirite, was promised by his mother to God before his birth and for the duration of his life (Jg 13,4–5). She was instructed 17 O, trans. Rufinus Epistulam Pauli ad Romanos explanatio , 34.9.1, 714: “Et quamuis in ecclesia prima post apostolos hostia martyrum secunda uirginum uideatur tertia continentium; puto tamen quod nec hi qui in coniugiis positi sunt et ex consensu ad tempus uacant orationi uelut Nazaraeorum uota soluentes si in ceteris sancte agant et iuste negandi sunt corpora sua exhibere posse hostiam uiuentem sanctam placentem Deo; nec rursum corpora uirginum uel continentium si aut superbiae macula aut auaritiae sordibus aut linguae maledicae uel mendacii immunditia polluantur hostiam sanctam et Deo | placentem putandi sunt ex sola uirginitate corporis obtulisse; quia et in lege hostia cum offerretur inspiciebatur a sacerdote diligentius non solum si ex mundis esset animalibus sed ne aut in oculo haberet uitium aut in auribus aut in pedibus ne claudum ne luscum ne uulsum animal diuino ammoueretur altari.” 18 F 2009, 52. 19 B G 1900 ,  204.
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