An order of lifelong Nazirites?

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
Post Reply
User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 6494
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA

An order of lifelong Nazirites?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Aug 13, 2019 6:02 pm

We are doubtless all familiar with the Nazirite vow, a time of consecration limited to a certain number of days:

Numbers 6.1-21: 1 Again Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to Yahweh, 3 he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. 4 All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. 5 All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to Yahweh; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long. 6 All the days of his separation to Yahweh he shall not go near to a dead person. 7 He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 All the days of his separation he is holy to Yahweh. 9 But if a man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his dedicated head of hair, then he shall shave his head on the day when he becomes clean; he shall shave it on the seventh day. 10 Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting. 11 The priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him concerning his sin because of the dead person. And that same day he shall consecrate his head, 12 and shall dedicate to Yahweh his days as a Nazirite, and shall bring a male lamb a year old for a guilt offering; but the former days will be void because his separation was defiled. 13 Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall bring the offering to the doorway of the tent of meeting. 14 He shall present his offering to Yahweh: one male lamb a year old without defect for a burnt offering and one ewe-lamb a year old without defect for a sin offering and one ram without defect for a peace offering, 15 and a basket of unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil and unleavened wafers spread with oil, along with their grain offering and their drink offering. 16 Then the priest shall present them before Yahweh and shall offer his sin offering and his burnt offering. 17 He shall also offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings to Yahweh, together with the basket of unleavened cakes; the priest shall likewise offer its grain offering and its drink offering. 18 The Nazirite shall then shave his dedicated head of hair at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and take the dedicated hair of his head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace offerings. 19 The priest shall take the ram's shoulder when it has been boiled, and one unleavened cake out of the basket and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his dedicated hair. 20 Then the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before Yahweh. It is holy for the priest, together with the breast offered by waving and the thigh offered by lifting up; and afterward the Nazirite may drink wine.' 21 This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to Yahweh according to his separation, in addition to what else he can afford; according to his vow which he takes, so he shall do according to the law of his separation."

This vow requires a priest at the "tent of meeting" (or the tabernacle or, later, the temple) to consummate. What I am wondering is whether this temporary vow might not merely be a watered down version of the lifelong status said to belong to Samson:

Judges 13.1-25: 1 Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of Yahweh, so that Yahweh gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years. 2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. 3 Then the angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. 4 Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. 5 For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite [Masoretic: נְזִ֧יר; OG: Ναζιρ; Alexandrinus: Ναζιραῖον; Vulgate: Nazaraeus] to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines." 6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, "A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, 'Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'" 8 Then Manoah entreated Yahweh and said, "O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born." 9 God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. 10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, "Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me." 11 Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, "Are you the man who spoke to the woman?" And he said, "I am." 12 Manoah said, "Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy's mode of life and his vocation?" 13 So the angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, "Let the woman pay attention to all that I said. 14 She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded." 15 Then Manoah said to the angel of Yahweh, "Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a young goat for you." 16 The angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, "Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to Yahweh." For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of Yahweh. 17 Manoah said to the angel of Yahweh, "What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?" 18 But the angel of Yahweh said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to Yahweh, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of Yahweh ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 Now the angel of Yahweh did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of Yahweh. 22 So Manoah said to his wife, "We will surely die, for we have seen God." 23 But his wife said to him, "If Yahweh had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time." 24 Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and Yahweh blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of Yahweh began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Judges 16.15-17: 15 Then she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when your heart is not with me? You have deceived me these three times and have not told me where your great strength is." 16 It came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death. 17 So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, "A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man."

This state of being apparently requires no priest, though it does require the mother to abstain from strong drink (good advice anyway for a pregnant woman) and from unclean things.

This state of being a Nazirite seems to pop up in one of the prophets, as well:

Amos 2.6-16: 6 Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless also turn aside the way of the humble; and a man and his father resort to the same girl in order to profane My holy name. 8 On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined. 9 Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, though his height was like the height of cedars and he was strong as the oaks; I even destroyed his fruit above and his root below. 10 It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and I led you in the wilderness forty years that you might take possession of the land of the Amorite. 11 Then I raised up some of your sons to be prophets and some of your young men to be Nazirites [Masoretic: לִנְזִרִים; OG: εἰς ἁγιασμόν; Vulgate: Nazaraeos]. Is this not so, O sons of Israel?” declares the Lord. 12 “But you made the Nazirites [Masoretic: הַנְּזִרִים; OG: τοὺς ἡγιασμένους; Vulgate: Nazaraeis] to drink wine, and you commanded the prophets saying, ‘You shall not prophesy!’ 13 Behold, I am weighted down beneath you as a wagon is weighted down when filled with sheaves. 14 Flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. 15 He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground; the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. 16 Even the bravest among the warriors will flee naked in that day,” declares the Lord.

This passage does not make it sound as if the Nazirites are merely under a temporary vow; they are paralleled with prophets, for one thing, and it comes across as if being a Nazirite was the destiny of some of Israel's young; one is reminded in this connection of young Samuel, for example:

1 Samuel 1.9-11: 9 Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”

Notice that Samuel's parents, Elkanah and Hannah, hail from "the hill country of Ephraim" (1 Samuel 1.1), and that Amos was prophesying specifically about Israel (Amos 2.6), and that Samson is a Danite hero; all of these long term Nazirites, as it were, are from the north, not from the south, which is interesting given that Joseph, father to Ephraim — the eponymous patriarch of the north — is also called a Nazir (or "consecrated one"):

Genesis 49.22-26: 22 "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; 24 but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one consecrated among his brothers [Masoretic: וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו; LXX: καὶ ἐπὶ κορυφῆς ὧν ἡγήσατο ἀδελφῶν; Vulgate: et in vertice Nazarei inter fratres suos]."

Deuteronomy 33.13-17: 13 Of Joseph he said, "Blessed of Yahweh be his land, with the choice things of heaven, with the dew, and from the deep lying beneath, 14 and with the choice yield of the sun, and with the choice produce of the months; 15 and with the best things of the ancient mountains, and with the choice things of the everlasting hills, 16 and with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one consecrated among his brothers [Masoretic: וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו; LXX: καὶ ἐπὶ κορυφῆς δοξασθεὶς ἐν ἀδελφοῖς; Vulgate: et super verticem Nazarei inter fratres suos]. 17 As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his, and his horns are the horns of the wild ox; with them he will push the peoples, all at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and those are the thousands of Manasseh."

There is one possible reference to Nazirites as a possibly permanent order from the south:

Lamentations 4.7: 7 Her consecrated ones [Masoretic: נְזִירֶיהָ; OG: Ναζιραῖοι; Vulgate: Nazarei] were purer than snow; they were whiter than milk; they were more ruddy in body than corals; their polishing was like lapis lazuli.

But it is not clear here that Nazirites are properly in view in this verse, since there is nothing about refraining from wine or haircuts, and many translations render this word as "princes," "dignitaries," "leaders," or "nobles," probably in agreement with the following comment:

R. B. Salters, Commentary on Lamentations 4.7: That the author is referring here to the Nazirites seems unlikely. The passages which allude to Nazirites (Num 6.2-8, 13, 18-21; Judg 13.5-7; 16.17; Amos 2.11f.) never speak of their beauty but only of their abstinence from wine, their avoidance of corpses and their vows to allow their hair to grow freely.

Of course, the same can be said of Joseph in the patriarchal blessings pronounced upon him and his tribe by Jacob and by Moses; but, whether we include or exclude those blessings, and whether we include or exclude the verse from Lamentations, it seems that there may well have been, at least in the north (and only possibly in the south), a tradition of lifelong "consecrated ones" dedicated to serving God in some special way. This lifelong obligation seems to have been offered to the more common folk, at least in the south (and probably in the north by sheer availability of the temple rites to any practicing Israelite or Jew, as well), in the form of a temporary vow for which a priest was required.

Could such an order of "consecrated ones" have survived into century I as Nazarenes or Nazoraeans? The requirements were not genealogical, at least, and perhaps they changed over time, as well. Perhaps Jesus the Nazarene was Jesus the Nazir, Jesus the member of an order dedicated to God in some way. It has long been pointed out that Jesus does not seem to have refrained from wine, at least from the sources that we have on the matter, but (A) Samson may not have abstained from it either (he hosts a מִשְׁתֶּה, literally a drinking party, OG πότος, in Judges 14.10) and (B) our sources may be tendentious on this topic (possibly in a way outlined by Robert M. Price in his essay, "Was Jesus John the Baptist Raised from the Dead?").

At any rate, the several mentions of the Nazirites which either indicate or imply a lifelong commitment to God call for comment. I suggest that an order of "consecrated ones" existed, and that the origin of the later Nazarenes or Nazoraeans in that order is at least as likely as, if not more so than, their origin in the town of Nasareth or in the "branch" prophecy of Isaiah 11.1.


Posts: 1734
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:36 am

Re: An order of lifelong Nazirites?

Post by andrewcriddle » Tue Aug 13, 2019 8:15 pm

There are rabbinic references to the possibility of a life long Nazirite vow. ... 5-nazarite
This appears to be regarded as a personal choice rather than membership of a group of lifelong Nazirites and may not be relevant.

Andrew Criddle

Post Reply