{Jewish Sects and Orders}

NAZIRITES.
Strictly speaking, the Nazirites (from Heb. nazar, "to separate") formed no community, their vows and obligations being distinctly personal. The rules for this kind of separation are given in Numbers 6; and from the manner of their introduction, seem to recognize the order as already existing. Some have thought, but on scarcely sufficient authority, that it was borrowed by the Jews from the Egyptians. The principle of the Nazirite vow evidently was that of consecration to God; the temporary and outward "separateness" testifying to the lifelong universal obligation. The symbolic accompaniments of the vow were extremely simple, demanding no seclusion nor engrossing observances, and in no way interfering with the ordinary duties of life. To abstain from strong drink, as well as from the fruit of the vine in every shape, to allow the hair to grow, and not to approach the dead - such was the threefold rule for man or woman; and the long hair would be the only very noticeable token of the vow. The "days of separation" might be many of few, according to the wish or conscience of the Nazirite. Jewish writers tell us that the usual period was thirty days, but vows were occasionally made for sixty or a hundred days, and even for a longer time. At the expiration of the vow, the Nazirite had to present himself at the altar with a complete series of offerings; he parted also with his locks, which were burned in the fire of sacrifice. The meaning of this ceremonial was two-fold, including on the one hand release from the special restrictions to which he had been subjected; but on the other, that dedication to a life of piety and holiness of which all sacrifices were the symbol.

In the Nazirite vow, accordinly, there was a sacramental consecration of all life to God; it was peculiarly appropriate therefore to youth; and scanty as are the details furnished by Scripture on the subject, there are hints that this was the period of life usually chosen for the vow. See Amos 2:11; also the touching lament of Jeremiah (Lamentations 4:7): "Her consecrated ones were purer than snow, They were whiter than milk; They were more ruddy in body than corals, Their polishing was like lapis lazuli." (cf. Psalm 144:12, "... And our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace".) A striking similarity exists between the symbols of Nazirite and those of high-priestly dedication (Leviticus 21:10-12, where the word rendered crown is the same as that used in Numbers 6:19 for the long hair of the Nazirite). The separated one would thus be reminded of the great ideal of a holy life - a priestly self-dedication to God. See Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6.

A distinction is made by Jewish writers between a "Nazirite of days" and a "Nazirite for life." The latter were those dedicated from infancy, for a special purpose, to a lifelong observance of the Nazirite vow. Such were Samson, the only one actually called "a Nazirite" in Scripture (Judges 13:7); also Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). James "the Lord's brother" is represented by tradition as a Nazirite. Whether this particular form of dedication was customary in earlier or later times we are not able to decide on the authority of Scripture. "Ewald supposes that 'Nazirites for life' were numerous in very early times, and that they multiplied in periods of great political and religious excitement." The references in Scripture (Amos 2:11,12) seem to refer to the "Nazirites of days." In the history of the Apostle Paul we read of four persons of this class, in whose votive observances he himself took part (Acts 21:23,24,26); while the vow at Cenchrea (Acts 18:18) was evidently of another kind.

It is scarcely necessary to mention that the words Nazirite and Nazarene have no relation to each other. The letter "z" in the two is radically different in Hebrew. "Jesus of Nazareth" was not "a Nazirite," as He Himself suggests (Matthew 11:18,19) in contrast with His Forerunner John.

Naz"i*rite (?), n.

A Nazarite.

 

© Webster 1913.

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