Ray A. Pritz discusses in some depth the evidence extant for Nazarene Jewish Christianity (the title of his book, subtitled: “From the end of the New Testament Period Until Its Disappearances in the Fourth Century”). It was published 1988 so no doubt the scholarly discussion summarized by Pritz at that time has since moved on.
I post here the first of his discussions of a “pre-Christian” sect related to a name like “Nazarenes”. We know from Acts that early Christians were known (at least by outsiders) as Nazarenes — Acts 24:5.
I skip here the reasons (covered many times elsewhere) this term cannot refer (contrary to Matthew 2:23) to a person from the village of Nazareth. Maybe will do so in a future post. I only present Ray Pritz’s discussions, and the evidence he cites, for a pre-Christian group known as “Nazarenes” or something similar.
There are several topics better suited for my http://vridar.info webpage compilation of resources and discussions, and this is one of them. So I expect these blog posts will be rough templates for that site. It’s more of a resource post than a blog discussion/ideas post.
Note how in the concluding paragraph the presumption of a historical Jesus and gospel-truth shuts down one possible avenue of inquiry.
The following is copied from Pritz’s book pages 17-18. The italicized extract from Pliny is from an online translation (Perseus translation, 5:19). Pritz published it in the Latin. Emphasis is mine.
While treating the name of the sect, we may deal here with a short notice by Pliny the Elder which has caused some confusion among scholars. In his Historia Naturalis, Book V, he says: We must now speak of the interior of Syria. Cœle Syria has the town of Apamea, divided by the river Marsyas from the Tetrarchy of the Nazerini; Bambyx, the other name of which is Hierapolis, but by the Syrians called Mabog. This was written before 77 A.D., when the work was dedicated to Titus. The similarity of the name with the Nazerini has led many to conclude, erroneously, that this is an early (perhaps the earliest) witness to Christians (or Nazarenes) by a pagan writer. Other than this, be it noted, there is no pagan notice of Nazarenes.
The area described is quite specifically located by Pliny. It is south of Antioch and east of Laodicea (Latakiya) on the River Marysas (Orontes) below the mountains known today as Jebel el Ansariye (a name that may preserve a memory of the sect). The town of Apamea was a bishopric in the time of Sozomen and an archbishopric in the medieval period. A fortress was erected there during the first Crusade. Today the region is inhabited by the Nusairi Moslem sect (which believes that women will not be resurrected, since they do not have souls).
If to the Nazerini and Nusairi and Nazoraioi/Nazareni we add the Nasaraioi of Epiphanius and the Nazorei of Filaster, we have all the ingredients of a scholastic free-for-all.
The confusion may have started quite early. At the turn of this century, R. Dussaud noted a passage in the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen (VII 15) in which he tells of some “Galileans” who helped the pagans of Apamea against the local bishop and the Christians. Dussaud rightly called into question the likelihood that the Galileans — that is, Jewish Christians — would side with the pagans in a dispute over the keeping of idols, and he suggested that the people referred to were “certainly either Nusairi or Nazerini, whom Sozomen has confused with the Nazarenes.” Sozomen’s source here is unknown. Dussaud further suggested that the writer Greg Aboulfaradj (Chron. Syr. I 173) in the year 891 confused the Nusairi with the Mandaeans . . . and was followed by others.
Can Pliny’s Nazerini be early Christians? The answer depends very much on the identification of his sources, and on this basis the answer must be an unequivocal No. It is generally acknowledged that Pliny drew heavily on official records and most likely on those drawn up by Marcus Agrippa (d. 12 B.C.). Jones has shown that this survey was accomplished between 30 and 20 B.C. Any connection between the Nazerini and the Nazarini must, therefore, be ruled out, and we must not attempt to line this up with Epiphanius’ Nazoraioi. One may, however, be allowed to see the Nazerini as the ancestors of today’s Nusairi, the inhabitants of the ethnic region captured some seven centuries later by the Moslems.