Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Mysterious Relationship of

The Early Nazarene Christians and Rabbinic Judaism

During early New Testament times, the relationship between the Pharisees, Sadducees and Christians was often turbulent and deeply troubled. Matters grew even worse after the fall of the Temple in 70 A.D. Rabbinic Judaism, which rejected Yeshua as the Messiah, became increasingly hostile toward the Nazarene Christians. Rabbi Akiva even endorsed the renegade Bar Kochba as the "Messiah." Eventually, the rabbis even put a "curse" into the daily synagogue prayers, the amida, which directly cursed the nozri or Nazarenes and other similar minim or "heretics"! Here is the intriguing saga.

by HOIM Staff

What were the earliest Christians called? Scripture tells us that early believers in the Messiah were first called "Christians"or "Messianics," as the Greek would imply -- at the Gentile city of Antioch -- and that appellation was a derogatory term given to them by the local unbelievers, not a name they chose for themselves (see Acts 11:26). The term was also used by king Agrippa when he listened to Paul's defense, and finally blurted out, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28).

Regardless of the origin of the term, however, the apostle Peter later used it himself to describe the followers of the Messiah. He wrote, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf" (I Pet. 4:16). The Greek word is Christianos, from the word Christos, meaning "Messiah," or "Anointed one."

However, in extant literature from that early time, including the Talmud, and early writings of the Church Fathers, such as Eusebius, and Origen, we find that the earliest Christians were commonly known among their Jewish neighbors and counterparts as "Nazarenes."

The Early "Nazarenes"

Actually, the name "Nazarene(s)" only occurs about a dozen times in Talmudic literature. In all but two of these instances it refers to "Yeshua the Nazarene." Half of these passages were censored in the Middle Ages, either by Christian censors or Jewish editors for fear of them. The censored passages were restored to the Talmud by R.N.N. Rabbinovicz from older MSS. From references to the early Nazarenes from various sources we have learned a number of vitally important things about them. For example, we have discovered that they:

1. Used both Old and New Testaments.
2. Believed in the resurrection of the dead.
3. Had a good knowledge of Hebrew and read the Old Testament and at least one gospel in that language.
4. Believed YEHOVAH God is the creator of all things.
5. Believed in one God (YEHOVAH) and His son Yeshua the Messiah.
6. Observed the Law of Moses.
7. Had a high respect for the writings of the apostle Paul.

Jerome, about 404 A.D., in a letter to Augustine, said, "They believe in Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary the Virgin, and they say about him that he suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again." In the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah 29:17-21, they wrote against the Scribes and Pharisees that they "made men sin against the Word of God in order that they should deny that Christ was the Son of God" (see Ray A. Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity: From the end of the New Testament Period until its disappearance in the Fourth Century, The Magnes Press, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, c.1992, p.35, 43, 53-54). In their commentary on Isaiah 31:6-9, they understand the passage as saying: "O sons of Israel, who deny the Son of God with such hurtful resolution."

Jerome also tells us that the Jewish Nazarenes, or followers of Yeshua of Nazareth -- Yeshu-Notzri -- were cursed in the synagogues "by the Pharisees," and that they mixed faith in the Messiah with the keeping of the Law (p. 55). In other words, they were true Christians! For Yeshua himself said he did not come to destroy or to do away with the Law (Matt. 5:17-19), and that one must keep the commandments if they hope to enter into eternal life (Matt. 19:17-19). Paul himself said that faith does not make "void" the Law, but rather "establishes it" (Romans 3:31).

Jerome also tells us that the Nazarenes must have been on generally good terms with the Jews during early times, because in the same letter to Augustine he indicates that they were to be found "in all the synagogues of the East among the Jews" (ibid.).

However, this peaceful, placid, halcyon period of time did not last, in all places. Writes Ray Pritz, in Nazarene Jewish Christianity,

"On the Jewish side, the exclusion of the Nazarenes was not nearly so gradual. At the end of the first century, the birkat ha-minim was formulated with the sect specifically named. This is recorded in both patristic and Jewish sources. Nonetheless, we have found it possible that there was some limited synagogue attendance by Nazarenes into the early decades of the second century. In addition to this, we find continued contact between the two communities in the form of a polemic or dialogue. Such contact should not surprise us, since the Nazarenes lived in the same geographical areas with predominantly Jewish communities. However, as the polemic and distrust grew, the separation and isolation from the Jewish community were increased. Different steps along the way effected this separation: the flight to Pella, the birkat ha-minim, the refusal of the Nazarenes to recognize and support Bar Kochba. By the middle of the second century, the rift was probably complete" (p. 109).

The Nazarenes, being primarily Jewish, kept up their knowledge of Hebrew, and maintained an internal system of education. They could read the Old Testament, or Tanakh, as it is now often called by Jews, in the original Hebrew, and probably at least one of the gospels, the gospel of Matthew.

Epiphanius, an early "church father" and writer, wrote of these "Nazarenes," whom he viewed as Judaizing heretics. Nevertheless, he said about them:

"These heresies...passing over the name of Jesus, did not call themselves Iessaians and did not keep the name Jews; they did not call themselves Christians, but Nazarenes, taking this name from the place Nazareth. But actually they remained wholly Jewish and nothing else. For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old, like the Jews. For the Legislation and the Prophets and the Scriptures, which are called the Bible by the Jews, are not rejected by them...They are not at all mindful of other things but live according to the preaching of the Law as among the Jews: there is no fault to find with them apart from the fact that they have come to believe in Christ. "For they also accept the resurrection of the dead and that everything had its origin in God. They proclaim one God and his Son Jesus Christ. They have a good mastery of the Hebrew language. For the entire Law and the Prophets and what is called the Scriptures, I mention the poetical books, Kings, Chronicles and Esther and all the others, are read by them in Hebrew as is the case with the Jews, of course. Only in this respect they differ from the Jews and Christians: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with the Christians [sic] because they are trained in the Law, in circumcision, the Sabbath and other things" (see Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, p. 33-34).

Epiphanius considers the Nazarenes "under a curse," because of their adherence to the laws of YEHOVAH God, including the Sabbath and Holy Days, Passover, and the like. To Epiphanius, they were nothing more than Jews, although professing the Messiah. He wrote, "for they are rather Jews and nothing else" (Panarion 29, 9:1, quoted in Pritz' book, ibid., p. 34).

Mysteriously, these faithful followers of Yeshua the Messiah were Jewish in every way -- just as much so as Jews of the Dispersion or Diaspora -- but for their singular acknowledgment of Yeshua as the Messiah, as they knew from reading such Scriptures as Isaiah 53, for example. But the Jewish leaders and rabbis who did not concur in this identification were distressed by them. Not wanting to accept Yeshua as the Messiah, they pounced on his followers. Epiphanius tells us:

"However, they are very much HATED by the Jews. For not only the Jewish children cherish hate against them but the people also stand up in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, three times a day and they pronounce curses and maledictions over them when they say their prayers in the synagogues. Three times a day they say: 'May God curse the Nazarenes.' For they are more hostile against them because they proclaim as Jews that Jesus is the Christ, which runs counter to those who still are Jews who did not accept Jesus" (ibid., p. 35).

The controversy between the Nazarenes, and the Pharisaic-Rabbinic leaders of Judaism could only grow over the years, since neither group was willing to compromise or adopt the beliefs of the other. The Nazarenes were well aware of the fact that Judaism of their time had been divided primarily into two beliefs-- the teachings of the House of Hillel, and the teachings of the House of Shammai. Both Houses had rejected the Messiahship of the Messiah. Those who were converted and accepted the Messiah, from either house, were banished from Judaism, looked upon as traitors (as was the apostle Paul!), and expelled often from the synagogue.

Prophecy of the Two Houses?

Interestingly, in the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah 8:14, they had a most insightful explanation of the "two houses" of Israel. In this Scripture we read: "And he [the Messiah] shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to BOTH THE HOUSES of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem."

How did the Nazarenes, or early true Christians, apply this verse? Jerome wrote:

"The Nazarenes, 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, viz. of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes and Pharisees. Akiba, who took over their school, is called the master of Aquila the proselyte, and after him came Meir who has been succeeded by Joannes the son of Zakkai and after him Eliezer and further Telphon, and next Joseph Galilaeus and Joshua up to the capture of Jerusalem. Shammai then and Hillel were born not long before the Lord; they originated in Judaea. The name of the first means scatterer and of the second unholy, because he scattered and defiled the precepts of the Law by his traditions . . . And these are the two houses who did not accept the Saviour who has become to them destruction and shame" (Pritz, p. 58).

The mention of the "two houses" in Isaiah 8 would naturally have brought to their minds the two houses of the Pharisees, "Beit Shammai" and "Beit Hillel." Both houses or schools of the Pharisees ultimately rejected the messiahship of Yeshua.

Obviously this is prima facie evidence that the early Nazarene Church, which observed the Laws of Moses and found them not contrary to faith in the Messiah, maintained contact with Rabbinic Judaism, as it continued to develop after the destruction of the Temple. Akiba, a leading Rabbi of the Bar Kochba period and a principal founder of modern Judaism, was well known to them.

Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba

Says Ray Pritz, "Of all the rabbis of the first two centuries the most significant for the Jewish Christians must have been Rabban Gamaliel the Elder and Akiva, the former, of course, because of his appearance in the New Testament (Acts 5:34; 22:3), and the latter because of his involvement with the messianic rise of Simon ben Cosiba [Bar Kochba] and the compilation of the earlier Mishnah" (p. 59).

Concerning Rabbi Akiva, or Akiba, Pritz points out, "It was his endorsement of a false messiah (and for Jewish Christians a rival messiah) which was the last straw which broke the ties of the notzrim [Nazarenes] with rabbinic Judaism" (ibid.).

Prior to the Bar Kochba rebellion in 132 to 135, when the Romans broke the back of the Jews and killed over a million, and sent the remainder into exile and the Diaspora, banning Jews from Jerusalem from that time forward, the Jewish rabbinical community and the Nazarene Christians had dwelt in relative peace, if not in harmony and unity. As Pritz writes, "The Nazarenes must have remained on such intimate terms with rabbinic Judaism that they were familiar with the names of its leaders into the later second century. This necessitates a familiarity with the mishnaic tradition, which in turn indicates some continuing contact between communities" (p. 62).

Jerome also quotes the Nazarene interpretation of another passage from Isaiah, in which they apply the principle to the errors of the houses of Shammai and Hillel, the two branches of Pharisaism and its successors, rabbinic Judaism. The passage reads as follows:

"For the rest the Nazarenes explain the passage this way: when the Scribes and Pharisees tell you to listen to them, men who do everything for the love of the belly and who hiss during their incantations in the way of 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 its own idols. We 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 the darkness will always oppress you. It will cover your earth and your doctrine so that, when you 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 darkness and they can not flee away from your ambushes" (Pritz, p. 63).

Because the Jewish schools of both Shammai and Hillel rejected the messiahship of Yeshua, and maintained their own "traditions of the elders" which they refused to stand corrected and to part with (Matt. 15:2), the nascent New Testament Jewish Nazarene Christianity had to do spiritual battle with them continually. Says Pritz,

"It is clear that the Nazarenes considered the final authority in any such debate to be the Old Testament and not later rabbinic interpretation, i.e. they rejected the concept of halakaha" (Nazarene Jewish Christianity, p. 63).

Thus the Nazarenes, like Yeshua and the apostles, appealed to the ultimate authority in any debate over religious practice and observance -- the Word of YEHOVAH God itself! They, like Yeshua before them, in effect said to the Pharisees of both houses of Hillel and Shammai: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). Yeshua added: "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would also have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:45-47).

Jerome also gives us the Nazarene Jewish commentary on another passage in Isaiah which sheds light on the true relationship between nascent Jewish Christianity and the developing rabbinic Judaism of that time. He shows that the Nazarenes rejected the "very heavy yoke of Jewish traditions," even as the Messiah did -- the "errors of the Scribes and Pharisees." Jerome declares:

"The Nazarenes, whose opinion I have set forth above, try to explain this passage in the following way: When Christ came and his preaching shone out, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali [the region of Galilee] first of all were freed from the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke of the JEWISH TRADITIONS. Later, however, 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 gospel 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" (p. 64).

In this passage, we find that the Nazarene Christians -- like Yeshua the Messiah, Peter, James, John and especially Paul -- rejected Jewish traditionalism, invention, and additions to the Torah or Old Testament. They referred to them as the "very heavy yoke of the Jewish traditions." Even so, in similar language the apostle Peter rejected those who would compel new converts to embrace Judaism together with all its traditions and extra-Biblical rules and rituals, saying, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a YOKE upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" (Acts 15:10).

These early Jewish Christians also endorsed the writings of "the apostle Paul," whom they called "the last of all the apostles." Paul, of course, also condemned those who sought to bring Christians into "bondage" (Gal. 2:3-5), with a "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1), and ritualism. How interesting that the original Jewish Christians did not oppose Paul, and his teachings, in any way!

Ray Pritz says, "What we have here, then, is an endorsement of Paul's mission to the Gentiles. This spreading of the Gospel to the Gentiles was, according to the Nazarenes, a natural, even a glorious development. One is often led to expect a sort of bitterness on the part of the Jewish Christians that they were swamped, their position usurped by the Gentile Church. But here we find only a positive reaction to the flow of events" (p. 65).

Another Prophecy Applied to the Jewish Leaders

In another passage in Isaiah, the Nazarene Christians again showed how it clearly and prophetically pointed at the wickedness of the Pharisees, the schools of Shammai and Hillel, during the time of the Messiah, when they rejected the Word of YEHOVAH God that they might keep their own "traditions" (Matt. 15:3-14; Mark 7:5-13). Isaiah wrote:

"For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off: That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought."

Says Jerome on this passage:

"...the Nazarenes believe [this] to have been said against the Scribes and Pharisees, because [they] passed away, who earlier deceived the people with very vicious traditions (and they watch[ed] day and night 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" (p. 65,Nazarene Jewish Christianity).

The Nazarenes existed well into the third century, and were actively engaged in a dialogue -- "heated, no doubt," says Ray Pritz -- with rabbinic Judaism. Pritz adds that the Nazarene Jewish Church was "familiar with the developments within Judaism and rejected the authority of the pharisaic scholars to interpret scripture definitively." Pritz goes on:

"...Nor did they accept as binding on themselves (or on any Jews) the Oral Law as embodied in the Mishnah. These Jewish Christians view Paul and his mission favorably and evidently even accepted -- in theory at least -- the unity of the Church as composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ...And finally, this group had not lost hope that the Jewish people might yet turn to accept Jesus as the Messiah" (p. 70).

Notice carefully. This passage does not say the Nazarenes rejected the "Oral Law," but rather did not accept it "as embodied in the Mishnah." In other words, YEHOVAH God never intended the Oral Law to be written down, and when it was eventually put into writing many additions and interpretations were also written down which were ridiculous and senseless -- chaff amongst the wheat, as it were. "Traditions of the elders" were written down as law, along with original principles of Oral Law -- traditions which the Messiah condemned (Matt. 15; Mark 2, 7). However, the Nazarenes never rejected the "Oral Law" in principle -- for obviously they observed the Sabbath and all Holy Days, which means they acknowledged the Jewish sacred calendar (lunar) which itself was preserved in the "Oral Law," and not the written Scriptures!

Like Yeshua himself, they rejected the man-made additions and strict, stern, severe interpretations of the Law put into the Mishnah and Talmud by various Rabbis as part and parcel of Rabbinic Judaism.

This is a vitally important point. Understand! Yeshua and Paul and the other apostles clearly rejected what they referred to as "the TRADITIONS of the elders" (Matt. 15:1-20). However, they never rejected the "CUSTOMS of the fathers" (Acts 21:21-24). This claim on the part of Jewish leaders was a "bum rap"! (Acts 21:24). Paul himself confessed, "I have committed nothing against the people or customs of our fathers" (28:27).

Facing the Facts

Paul was being falsely accused by wicked men, who happened to be the leaders of the Jewish religion, at that time -- the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. They often tried to kill him, to get rid of the "pest." Is it any wonder, then, that Paul himself felt very negatively toward those men and the wicked, lying insinuations and false accusations they were leveling at him? Paul wrote from personal experience when he warned the brethren in Thessalonica of such men, saying:

"For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus; for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are CONTRARY to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost" (I Thess. 2:14-16).

Rejecting the Messiah, they clung to the Torah -- but they even rejected those many simple Old Testament Scriptures which foretold of the Messiah. When the Scriptures seemed to speak of Yeshua, such as Isaiah 53, the Rabbis and Pharisees, their predecessors, simply re-interpreted the passage to make it apply to "Israel" instead. Paul saw this blindness -- this hostility -- the attempt at legalistic self-righteousness -- and he warned the Jews of its consequences. He wrote:

"For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:2-3).

The Great Divide or Gulf

The Nazarene Christian Jewish community kept the laws of YEHOVAH God, endorsed the entire Old Testament, observed the Sabbath and holy days of YEHOVAH God, accepted the sacred calendar, and were the direct descendants of the first Jewish believers in the Messiah. They survived the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. because they fled successfully to Pella of the Decapolis, and in part because they had roots in the Galilee. They were to be found in the Galilee and probably Jerusalem until 135 A.D., when all Jews were expelled from the city. Some were found in the area of Berea of Coele Syria near the end of the fourth century. Writes Ray Pritz,

"The Nazarenes, as Jews, continued to observe certain aspects of Mosaic Law, including circumcision and the Sabbath, and it was this which brought about their [eventual] exclusion from the Church. This rejection and exclusion was, however, gradual" (p. 109).

Pritz adds:

"There emerges from our considerations an entity, a viable entity of Law-keeping Christians of Jewish background. These were direct descendants of the first Jewish believers in Jesus....These Jewish Christians were called Nazarenes after Jesus, and probably received the title on the basis of early Christian interpretation of certain Old Testament passages (e.g. Isa. 11:1) as referring to the Messiah and specifically to Jesus himself" (p. 108).

The continued existence of the Nazarenes can be traced with reasonable certainty down to the fourth century. Geographically, the Nazarenes were essentially limited to pockets of existence along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and in the region of Galilee and Jerusalem at least till the city fell to Emperor Hadrian and his soldiers in 135 A.D. when the Bar Kochba rebellion was squelched.

Says Pritz:

"The Nazarenes were not included in the earlier heresy lists [of the Catholic Church] because they were simply not considered heretical enough or a threat to 'orthodoxy.' While there may have been very little intercommunal contact, individual Nazarenes seem to have had sporadic visits with certain Church leaders."

The Jews, however, who lived side by side with the Nazarene community, were not so accommodating as the far-flung Church, which had problems of its own. The rabbis of Judaism, who followed in the footsteps of the earlier Pharisees, excluded the Nazarenes much more rapidly, from their fellowship.

Yeshua Mentioned in the Talmud

There are only five places in the Babylonian Talmud where Yeshua the Nazarene, the Nozri, is mentioned. The earliest place is in Avodah Zarah 16b-17a, where the name appears twice and apparently escaped the eyes of the censor. We read:

"Our Rabbis teach, When R. Eliezer was arrested for Minut [Heresy] they took him up to the tribunal to be judged. The governor said to him, 'Will an old man such as thou busy himself about these vain things?' He said 'Faithful is the judge concerning me.' The governor supposed he said this in reference to him; but he only said in reference to his Father in Heaven. He (the governor) said, 'Since I am trusted concerning thee, Dimissus, thou art released.' When he came to his house his disciples came in to comfort him, but he would not take comfort. R. Akiva said to him, 'Rabbi, suffer me to say something of what thou hast taught me.' He said to him, 'Say on.' He said to him, 'Rabbi, perhaps there has come Minut into thy hand and it has pleased thee, and on account of that thou hast been arrested for Minut.' He said to him, 'Akiva, thou hast reminded me. Once I was walking in the upper street of Sepphoris, and I found a man of the disciples of JESHU THE NAZARENE, and Jacob of Kfar Sechania was his name. He said to me, 'It is written in your Torah, "Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot," etc. What may be done with it? Latrinae for the high priest.' And I answered him nothing. He said to me, 'Thus hath JESHU THE NAZARENE taught me, "For the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return." From the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they shall go."' And the saying pleased me, and because of this I was arrested for Minut; and I transgressed against what is written in the Torah, 'Keep thy way far from her,' this is Minut; 'and come not nigh the door of her house,' this is the Government" (Pritz, p. 96).

The other mentions of the name "Nazarene" come from the latter part of the third century and add nothing to our knowledge of the early Nazarenes.

However, the famous enigma of the minim who are cursed in the twelfth Benediction of the amidah prayer has puzzled scholars. Many believe it refers to Christians, some say it means Jewish Christians, and others point out that the term was also used prior to the existence of Christians or the Church -- therefore, the term must also include other "heretics," as it were, in the eyes of the Jewish rabbis.

Says Pritz, generally it is safe to say that the term "minim" are Jews who reckon themselves to be Jews "but who are excluded by the rabbis" (p. 103). However, there is no doubt that the term refers to or includes Nazarene Christians in the famous synagogical prayer called the

Birkat Ha-Minim

The matter in question is the formulation (or revision) of the twelfth Benediction of the semoneh-esreh prayer of the daily amidah. In its present form in all Ashkenazi liturgies, there is no mention of minim, but the text is preserved in Sephardic rites where censorship did not interfere.

"Following an analysis primarily of the patristic evidence Krauss, in a remarkable piece of scholarship, concluded in 1892 that the actual wording of the original formula must have been something like...('may all the NOZRIM perish in a moment.')...In 1898 Schechter published the first of several fragments of the semoheh-'esreh from the Geniza. The twelfth Benediction includes the word...('may the nozrim and the minim perish in a moment.') In subsequent years further manuscripts came to light from widely scattered provenances which would seem to prove conclusively that a very early version of the birkat ha-minim...contained the words nozrim and minim...In 1907 Marx published a text of the Siddur of R. Amram Gaon. The manuscript dates from 1426 and reads...('may the nozrim and minim be destroyed in a moment.')...In the first Venice printing of the Talmud we find this comment by Rashi (missing in later, censored editions) at Brachot 30a (= 28b in today's pagination): 'They revised it at Yavneh after a long time in the vicinity of the teaching of the nozri, who taught to overturn the ways of the living God" (p. 104).

This is very heavy matter. Jerome wrote to Augustine pointing out the truth that Jewish synagogues in his day still cursed the Nazarenes. He wrote, "Until now a heresy is to be found in all of the synagogues of the East among the Jews; it is called 'of the Minaeans' and is cursed by the Pharisees until now. Usually they are called Nazarenes." He also wrote, "until today they blaspheme the Christian people in their synagogues under the name of Nazarenes" (Amos 1:11-12). Further, "Three times each day they anathematize the Christian name in every synagogue under the name of Nazarenes."

As long as this curse remained in the synagogical prayers, it polarized and split Jewish Christians, called Nazarenes, from the rest of the Jews and their synagogue services. In fact, it has been suggested by some scholars that this curse was introduced into the synagogues to ferret out "Christian Jews" who were secretly attending the synagogues. The reasoning was that they surely would not pronounce a curse upon themselves! No doubt, this reasoning had its merits, and further separated true Jewish Nazarene Christians from the ongoing development of Rabbinic Judaism, isolated them, and contributed to the growing wall of separation.

On the other hand, however, this curse, since it was "causeless," and wicked in the extreme, would have reflected and richocheted back upon those who both invented it and continually pronounced it! In other words, the CURSE became literally a curse upon Judaism itself!

When Pontius Pilate brought Yeshua the Nazarene before the Jewish crowd gathered in front of the Judgment Hall, he asked them if he should release him, or the criminal Barabas. He knew that for envy and jealousy they had brought him up on charges. They asked for the release of Barabas. When he asked, "What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?" They responded, "Let him be crucified!" (Matt. 27:22). When he asked, "Why? What evil hath he done?" They shouted more vehemently, "Let him be crucified!" (v. 23).

When Pilate saw that reason would not prevail, but that a tumult was brewing, and that the mob could get out of hand, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. See you to it" (v. 24).

The Jews answered:

Thus they pronounced a divine curse upon themselves. Even so, when they cursed the Nazarenes, who were innocent of any heresy, and righteous and obedient to the Law and Torah, their curse reverberated upon their own heads!

Because of these false allegations, and accusations, which the majority of Jews have never understood, and for which they have never repented, or acknowledged or admitted as being committed by their ancestors -- these heinous deeds of the Pharisees and rabbis of previous generations -- Yeshua himself warned them:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them who are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:37-39).

The Separation

Rejected by both nominal "Catholic" Christians, who were moving more and more into rejecting all things Jewish, and adopting pagan customs to replace Biblical holy days, and pagan beliefs and practices, and repudiated by the successors of the Pharisees, the new rabbinical Judaism, because of their acceptance of Yeshua as the Messiah, and their rejection of "the traditions of the elders," and various halachic innovations in the Mishnah and Talmudic Judaism, the Nazarene Jewish Christians were increasingly isolated. Because of their adherence to the commandments of YEHOVAH God and the Torah, Gentile Christianity rejected them. Because of their belief in Yeshua as the Messiah, the Jews excluded them. But they also rejected the innovations of Judaism which were contrary to Scripture. Says Ray A. Pritz:

"Of particular interest is the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah. This work shows clearly that the rejection was not solely from the Jewish side. The Nazarenes refused to accept the authority established by the Pharisaic camp after the destruction of Jerusalem, and in so refusing they adjudicated their own isolation from the converging flow of what we call Judaism. Just as they rejected the Church's setting aside the Law of Moses, so also they refused the rabbis' expansive interpretations of it. In other words, they rejected halackah as it was DEVELOPING IN RABBINIC JUDAISM" (p. 110).

Did you catch what was happening? The Nazarenes refused to accept the authority established by the Pharisaic camp after the destruction of Jerusalem. Prior to that time, the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai were in contention with each other, and were forced to make allowances for differing opinions. Therefore, because the Jewish religion was relatively "democratic," and authoritarians and dictators were generally not tolerated, there was a relative "freedom" of religion amongst the Jews, and Jewish Christians for many decades could attend the synagogues without any problem.

However, after 70 A.D., when the Temple was destroyed, and supposedly a small voice (a bat kol) told the Jewish religious leaders that henceforth the House of Hillel would be supreme, the House of Shammai disappeared. The resultant remnant all were of the Hillel persuasion, supposedly, and the result was a new religious "tyranny" which expelled the Nazarenes, which no longer felt it had to tolerate them, and which even pronounced a CURSE upon them!

Rabbinic Judaism had strayed far from the original teachings of Hillel himself, who was noted as a great peacemaker, and reconciler -- a man of love, kindness, and patience. The heirs of Judaism had become impatient, unkind, dictatorial, and cruel. The Nazarenes, who had been a minority for over 40 years, and who had been tolerated if not accepted, were no longer to enjoy any grace or favor in the eyes of the new Rabbinical councils. A new Regime took over, after the destruction of the Temple, and perhaps fearing for its own security and very existence, after Roman oppression and persecution, they themselves became vicious persecutors of the Nazarenes and pushed them outside the confines and bounds of Judaism!

The Nazarenes themselves rejected the Church's setting aside of the Law of Moses, and thus rejected the growing Catholic Church and dogma which swept over the Gentile branches of the Church of God. They also rejected and refused the new rabbinical expansive interpretations and emendations of the Law or Torah. In so doing, of course, they brought about their own isolation from both the paganism of Rome, and the developing streams of Judaism.

Ray Pritz continues:

"There is another factor in this separation from Judaism, one of perhaps greater importace than the rejection of halakah. It is the person of Jesus. With their acceptance and proclamation of the deity of Jesus, the Nazarenes went beyond allowable limits for a Judaism of ever stricter monotheism. Either one of these -- their non-acceptance of rabbinic halakah and even more their belief in Jesus -- would have been sufficient to consign them to the category of apostates. From talmudic sources we have seen that the Nazarenes may have conducted an active program of evangelism among Jews. The Isaiah commentary confirms that they never relinquished hope that the Jews would one day turn away from TRADITION and towards Jesus: 'O Sons of Israel, who deny the Son of God with such hurtful resolution, RETURN to him and to his apostles'" (p. 110).

"The Causeless Hatred"

Why did the ancient Pharisees and their successors have such hatred and bitterness toward the Messiah, and the Jewish Nazarene Christians? Does it make any sense?

The answer is clearly no -- their hatred and animosity were completely uncalled for. As Pilate himself observed, it was completely unjustified. It was a reasonless, baseless hatred. Yet the Jewish Talmud states that the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple in the time of Vespacian, in 70 A.D., was because of the "great hatred." As Arthur Hertzberg writes:

"The First Temple was destroyed because of the sin of idolatry, sexual licentiousness and murder....But during the time of the Second Temple, the people were engaged in the study of Torah, and the performance of commandments and deeds of loving kindness. Why, then, was the Second Temple destroyed? Because the people were guilty of GROUNDLESS HATRED. This teaches that the sin of groundless hatred is considered to be as grave as the sins of idolatry, sexual licentiousness and murder" (Hertzberg, Judaism, p. 253; passage quoted from Yoma 9b).

The Jewish nation was shattered, and the people scattered into the four winds, around the world, and have been scattered for the past 1,900 years, for a very great reason. The Jewish leaders fell into a grave error -- and committed a great sin and brought not only the blood of Yeshua the Messiah on their heads, but also that of many other martyrs who were faithful to the Messiah, including James, the brother of the Messiah.

They had plenty of warning. They had ample opportunity to repent, and change their ways. But they chose to scorn the Messiah and cling to their self-serving practices and beliefs. In so doing, they brought the WRATH of YEHOVAH God upon themselves. But the time has come for reconciliation -- for forgiveness of past sins, and extending of the hand in friendship, love, harmony, and peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers," Yeshua said, "for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).

Says a modern Messianic Jewish writer:

"Why is it that the majority of our people do not believe in Yeshua as Messiah today? It's certainly not because everyone has examined the evidence and prayed and asked God for the truth. It is simply TRADITIONAL. Just as the majority followed false teachers then, so today the same mistakes are perpetuated. In fact, the rejection of Yeshua seems to be the one tradition that all Jews agree on, from the orthodox to the non-traditional and even to the atheists.

"It is not true that the one thing all Jews have in common is one God. It is that all say NO to Yeshua, that is, all except for a minority who have stepped outside the tradition of negativism and found that Yeshua really is who he said he was. He has given us a wonderful new life.

"What about you? Will you accept a challenge to make up your mind, based on your genuine, prayerful consideration?" (Walter Lieber in The Messianic Outreach, Autumn 1993, p. 7).

In our day, today, more and more Jews are beginning to open their eyes to the TRUTH about the Messiah! Thousands of Jewish people have accepted the New Testament as the Word of YEHOVAH God, along with the Old. Thousands now acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is the God-sent Messiah.

Interestingly, a great many Israeli Jews secretly believe that Yeshua was indeed the Messiah. How many? No one knows, for like Nicodemus of old, they are keeping their beliefs to themselves, for the time being (see John 3:1-2; 7:12-13, 47-53). This trend will no doubt continue, as prophecy must be fulfilled, and there must be 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel brought to the Messiah, and converted, before the return of the Messiah (Rev. 7:1-9) -- including 12,000 from the tribe of JUDAH, and 12,000 from the tribe of LEVI (see verses 5 and 7). Most of these two tribes, today, would likely be Jewish, whereas those from the other tribes could well be from the "lost ten tribes" which migrated into Northwestern Europe, Britain, Ireland, Australia and North America! May YEHOVAH God speed this day of reconciliation, unity and shalom! (Ezek. 37:15-28).


Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.

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