The following is from The Yale Anchor Bible Dictionary:
NAZARETH (PLACE) [IV, 1050–51]. The town of Jesus’ youth in Lower Galilee, just N of the valley of Jezreel (M.R. 178234). The Sea of Galilee lies 15 miles to the E while the Mediterranean lies 20 miles to the W. Nazareth is identified by Matthew (2:23) and Luke (1:26; 2:4, 39) as the village of Mary and Joseph, the place where Jesus grew up (Luke 2:39, 51) and the village he left to visit the towns and villages of Galilee to begin his ministry (Mark 1:9). Luke mentions a synagogue in Nazareth (4:16) where Jesus spoke as an adult and where his message was not well received (4:28–30). Evidently later in his ministry, it was well known that Jesus was from Nazareth (Matt 21:11), which did not always evoke an amiable response (cf. John 1:45–46).
The etymology of the Hebrew name of the town is difficult. The formula quotation in Matt 2:23, “He went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth [Gk Nazaret], that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene [Gk Nazōraios]’” calls for an explanation. The usual solution is to appeal to Isa 11:1, “… a branch [Heb nēṣer] shall grow out of his [Jesse’s] roots.” In this case Nazareth would mean “branch” or “shoot,” indicating the fecundity of the area. But the plays-on-words are more enigmatic than that, and Matthew’s formula is used in a form that appears nowhere else in Matthew, suggesting that he is not quoting the OT.
As inferred from the Herodian tombs in Nazareth, the maximum extent of the Herodian and pre-Herodian village measured about 900 x 200 m, for a total area just under 60 acres. Since most of this was empty space in antiquity, the population would have been a maximum of about 480 at the beginning of the 1st century A.D. Nazareth lay beside Yafa or Yafia, a city that Josephus fortified in the first revolt against Rome and in which he lived (JW 2.20.6–573; Life 52–270). This village was known to be Jewish as late as the 4th century A.D. After the failure of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, the twenty-four “courses” or divisions of priests from the Temple in Jerusalem fled northward. One priestly family by the name of Hapizez (or Hapises) settled in Nazareth (Mishmaroth 18). That Nazareth was the home of a priestly course is repeated in a fragment of a Byzantine period Hebrew inscription, a list of the priestly courses, found at Caesarea in 1962. In the 3d century, Nazareth still had a strong priestly character according to Midr. Qoh. 2.8. In the 3d century the Christian martyr Conon from Nazareth of the family of Jesus was killed in Asia Minor (Bagatti 1969: 16).
The next reference to Nazareth is in the 4th century, when Eusebius mentions that Nazareth is fifteen miles E of Legio, near Mount Tabor. Jerome adds that it was merely a tiny village, a “viculus” (rather than “oppidum”), but neither Eusebius nor Jerome mentions a church (Onomast. 138.25; 141.1). Epiphanius (Adv. Haeres. 30.1—347) tells the story in his memoirs (377 A.D.) of Count Joseph of Tiberias, who appealed to the Emperor Constantine for permission to build a church at Nazareth, among other places. Constantine agreed, and presumably the church was built. When Egeria visited Nazareth about ten years later, however, she was shown “a big and splendid cave in which [Mary] lived.” There was also an altar in the cave and a spring to draw water (Peter the Deacon T). Since this text confuses the remains from the Church of Gabriel and the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Peter has presumably confused Egeria’s notes. It is possible that the Helenopolis mentioned in A.D. 444 by Sozomen (Hist. Eccl. 2.2) refers to Nazareth and Mt. Tabor, cities of special interest to Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine. She understood the Transfiguration of Jesus to have taken place on Mt. Tabor. The Piacenza Pilgrim in A.D. 570 says that the house of Mary “is now a basilica.” This same pilgrim says he visited the synagogue of Jesus. He admired the beautiful Jewish women of Nazareth and hinted that Jewish-Christian relations were at least on a cooperative level (v161.4). Adomnan (Arculf), who lived about A.D. 679–704, visited Nazareth after the Arab conquest. He saw two churches that correspond to the Church of Gabriel and the Church of the Annunciation or perhaps the Church of St. Joseph and the Church of the Annunciation. According to Willibald (Hugeburc 95.20–25), by 808, Christian-Muslim relations had deteriorated so that Christians paid a “ransom” for the Church of the Annunciation to the Muslims.
Nazareth was excavated from 1890 to 1910 within the precincts of the Church of St. Joseph and the Church of the Annunciation. Vlaminek excavated in 1895 and Viaud from 1907–1909. A Neanderthal skull was found near Nazareth in 1934 about 1.5 miles to the SE. Excavations began again in 1954 by Bagatti. Beneath the Church of the Annunciation are some very suggestive archaeological remains. Among them are two small caves with painted plaster, a cross, and inscribed prayers to Jesus in Greek. These could derive from the end of the 3d century, but are most cautiously dated to the early 4th century. These caves are incorporated into a building with mosaic floors that faces S toward Jerusalem. This building, which is oriented N–S, would be interpreted as a synagogue except for a large, equal-armed cross built into its mosaic floor. The excavator interprets this building as a Jewish-Christian synagogue, which may be correct. Between the mosaic floor and the caves, at a level 1.2 m below the main floor of the Jewish-Christian synagogue, is a second 4th-century mosaic with a Greek inscription: “Offering of Conon, Deacon of Jerusalem.” This Conon is evidently a namesake of the Conon mentioned above. When the main mosaic in the floor of the synagogue was lifted the excavators discovered a Jewish ritual bath that measures about two m on each side. Seven steps lead down to the water. Since the ritual bath is not oriented either with the synagogue or with its caves, it seems to be earlier than the structure. In the debris that filled the ritual bath was found painted plaster with inscriptions and graffiti scratched onto it in Greek and Syriac. The plaster had belonged to a 4th-century synagogue which was destroyed to give way to the building of a 5th-century church with its attached monastery. In the debris beneath the floor of one of the rooms of the monastery were about seventy architectural fragments that appear to have belonged to the 4th-century synagogue.
In chronological order, the occupational sequence in this area appears to have included: (1) detached caves of indeterminate (perhaps domestic) use, dating before the 3d century; (2) the cutting and use of a ritual bath, perhaps as early as the 2d century but not after the 3d century, perhaps for Jewish-Christians; (3) the building of a synagogue above the ritual bath which incorporated the caves (this was likely the church seen by Egeria and reported by Peter the Deacon); and finally (4) the building of a 5th-century church and monastery which incorporated the caves and floor of the 4th-century synagogue. This may be the church and monastery seen by the Piacenza Pilgrim in A.D. 570. The long continuity of use and incorporation of earlier units in later buildings suggests a continuity of veneration and worship extending back to the Roman period.
Beneath the convent of the Dames de Nazareth about 100 m W of the Church of the Annunciation are remains of houses, a tomb of the Herodian period, and other underground working spaces typical of those found beneath the other churches. It appears that the inhabitants of Nazareth took advantage of the soft limestone to build cisterns, basements, storage bins, and other underground installations, primarily for agricultural use.
The general archaeological picture is of a small village, devoted wholly to agriculture, that came into being in the course of the 3d century B.C. Although there are traces of earlier Bronze Age or Iron Age occupation, none of these suggests a continuity of more than a generation at a time. It is the late Hellenistic period that gives life to Nazareth, as it does with many other sites which have been surveyed or excavated in the Galilee. People have continued to live in Nazareth from the 3d century B.C. to the present day.
NAZARENES [IV, 1049–50] The term “Nazarene” has been used in English for several related Greek and Semitic-language terms found in NT and later writings. Some of these terms are more accurately represented by other spellings, and the ways in which these terms became related remain to some extent a matter of debate. In general, Nazarene means either (1) a person from Nazareth, or (2) a member of a religious group whose name may have other connotations.
Two Greek forms, Nazōraios and Nazarēnos, are rendered in English versions of the NT as Nazarene, corresponding to the more Hellenistic of the two. (Similarly, English uses Essene for Essaios and Essēnos.) However, in the Greek NT text, Nazōraios is the more frequently used form. That Nazōraios is the more Semitic of the two is suggested by the Syriac NT, which renders both forms as Nāṣrāyā. Matthew, John, and Acts use Nazōraios exclusively; Mark and Luke (once or twice, depending on the manuscript) employ Nazarēnos. No other NT books use the name.
In the NT, Nazarene most frequently describes a person—namely, Jesus—from Nazareth. Nazareth is not directly mentioned in Hebrew literature until the liturgical poems of Kallir (7th cent. C.E.?). This, together with philological questions on the link between the town name and Nazarene, led to much speculation on the origin of these names (see Schaeder TDNT 4: 874–79). Archaeological excavation has revealed a Jewish settlement in Nazareth in the 1st cent. C.E. (see NAZARETH), and an inscription from about 300 C.E. found in Caesarea confirms the spelling of the town as NṢRT (Avi-Yonah 1962). While one might expect the Ṣ (ṣade) to be represented in Greek by s (sigma), parallel cases using z (zeta) are known. Thus questions on the formation of the gentilic remain. In rabbinic literature Jesus is labeled YŠHW HNWṢRY, apparently a nomen agentis from the root NṢR, meaning, e.g., “observer” (of torah). There are at least two cases in the NT where Nazarene means something different than, or additional to, “from Nazareth.” Most of Jesus’ followers were not from Nazareth, nor, according to Luke 4, was he well received there. These cases are significant for later use of Nazarene as a group name.
Matt 2:23 has puzzled many by asserting that when Jesus’ family arrived in Nazareth it fulfilled what was said by the “prophets” (note the plural) “that he shall be called Nazōraios.” The text clearly associates Nazareth and Nazōraios, but since no Hebrew Scripture mentions Nazareth, readers had to look for other allusions, calling on the Hebrew roots NṢR and NZR. In the case of NṢR, Isa 11:1 prophesies the messianic “shoot (neṣer)” from Jesse; additionally NṢR as a verb can mean “to observe, to guard.” On the other hand, if Matt 2:23 alludes to NZR, there are stories of Nazirite vows, consecrating Samson (Judges 13) and others (Samuel in 4Q1 Sam). Jesus was surely not a Nazirite proper, but the LXX associates this root with holiness, and consequently some church writers (e.g., Tertullian, Eusebius) so interpreted the verse. The intention of Matt 2:23 depends in part on the language knowledge and exegetical method of the writer(s) of Matthew (Brown 1977: 207–13). In any case, Matt 2:23 presents Nazōraios as a favorable appellation.
In Acts 24:5 Paul appears accused by other Jews as a leader of the “heresy” of the Nazōraioi. Though of course he defends his teaching, Paul does not disown the name. Acts also introduces the name Christian (Christianoi), which eventually displaced Nazarene as the preferred self-designation of the increasingly Greek and Latin speaking gentile Church. But while those who believed in Jesus as Messiah abandoned the name Nazarene, Jews generally—including Jews who believed in Jesus, but who still observed Mosaic law—kept using Nazarene and its apparent varieties, including Heb Noṣrim. Additionally, the name was retained by the churches speaking Syriac (Nāṣrāyā), Armenian, and Arabic (Naṣāra).
In patristic literature the evolution continued. Writing ca. 200 C.E. Tertullian noted, “the Jews call us Nazarenos” (Against Marcion 4. 8). A century later Eusebius switched to past tense: “We who are now called Christians received in the past the name Nazarenoi” (onomast.). Writing about 375 C.E. Epiphanius condemns the Nazōraioi, who are not a newly founded group, as a heresy (Panarion 29). Jerome followed Epiphanius: “… since they want to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither Jews nor Christians” (Epistle 112.13 to Augustine).
Epiphanius and Jerome (in the works cited) also provide the first clear accounts of the practice in some ancient synagogues of condemning the Noṣrim in the blessing or curse on heretics (birkat ha-minim): “… may the Noṣrim and Minim speedily perish …” (according to Cairo Genizah manuscripts). By this time, Epiphanius and Jerome are not sure whether the curse encompasses all Christians or only Jewish-Christians.
Epiphanius also condemns the Nasaraioi (Panarion 18) which his sources describe as a pre-Christian, law-observant group. There is no direct evidence that such a group existed. However, Epiphanius may have encountered a claim such as that made by the Mandeans, who call themselves the Nāṣōrāyā, the true religious “observers.” (This claim parallels that made by other groups, e.g., the Samaritans’ self-description as the “true keepers of torah.”) The Mandeans claim to predate Judaism as well as Christianity.
Another illustration of the question of differing meanings of the terms subsumed by Nazarene appears in the 3d cent. Middle Persian inscription of Kartı̄r, a Zoroastrian priest who was intolerant of other religions. Kartı̄r condemned, among others, “… Jews … and Nazarai, and Christians …” (lines 9–10; Chaumont). Nazarene here could represent orthodox Christians (if “Christians” in this case refers to Marcionites) or Mandeans or some variety of Jewish-Christians.
To define Nazarene, one must take into account the time, place, language, and religious perspective of the speaker, as well as the meanings of other available religious group names. The development of these names merits further study.