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NAZIRITE, NAZARITE (năz'ĭ-rīt, năz'a-rīt, Heb. nāzîr; connected with nadhar, to vow, hence, people of the vow, i.e., dedicated or consecrated). An Israelite who consecrated himself or herself and took a vow of separation and self-imposed abstinence for the purpose of some special service.
I. Origin. The question whether the concept of the Nazirite was indigenous to Israel has often been asked. It would appear that the practice of separation for religious purposes is very ancient and is shared by a number of peoples. In Israel, however, it assumed unique proportions. Its regulatory laws are laid down in
II. Distinguishing Traits. The three principal marks that distinguished the Nazirite were (1) a renunciation of wine and all products of the vine, including grapes; (2) prohibition of the use of the razor; and (3) avoidance of contact with a dead body. The OT nowhere explains why these three areas of prohibition were chosen as giving expression to the Nazirites' positive “separation to the Lord ” (
III. Nazirites in the NT. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was a Nazirite from birth (
IV. Reason for Assuming the Vow. The reasons for taking a Nazirite vow were numerous. A vow might be assumed by a parent before the birth of a child; by one in some sort of distress or trouble; or by a woman suspected by her husband of unfaithfulness in their marriage relationship until the suspicion could be removed. Women and slaves could take vows only if sanctioned by their husbands or masters.
The period of time for the Nazirite vow was anywhere from thirty days to a whole lifetime. During the Maccabean days, a number of Jews became Nazirites as a matter of protest against the Hellenistic practices and demands of.
V. Nazirites and the Prophets. There is only one clear-cut mention of the Nazirites by the prophets. The prophet Amos (
NAZIRITE, NAZARITE (KJV), năz’ ə rīt, năz’a rīt (נָזִ֔יר, withheld). A member of a Heb. religious class, specially dedicated to God.
The authorization for Nazirites appears in
The Nazirite concept is that of a vow (q.v.), “a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord” (
Yet the vine that is treated with abstinence is also, in a sense, dedicated “to the Lord” (
The Nazirite, as envisioned in the Pentateuch, was one who separated himself for a limited period of time to a high-priestly sort of life: “He is holy to the Lord” (
From the dead.
Naziritism meant the avoidance of ceremonial defilement, esp. from touching a dead body (
Abstinence was specified from wine and other שֵׁכָר, H8911, strong drink or beer (KB; 972). This was not simply because of problems of ministerial intoxication (cf., for the priests,
The cutting of one’s hair was also forbidden (
Even as vows in general consisted of promises made to God, often on condition of His granting certain specified petitions, so the Nazirite vow and the service for God that it entailed seems often to have followed upon divine bestowals of particular, requested blessings, e.g., Hannah’s prayer for a male child (
Rest of the OT.
Subsequent references to Nazirites are few. The prophet Amos, c. 760 b.c., criticized N Israel for perverting the Nazirites, whom Yahweh had raised up, with wine (
Jesus was a Nazarene, q.v. (
Biblical criticism produces a history of Nazirites that differs markedly from the Scripture’s own teaching, as outlined above. The fundamental misconception of the negative critics stems from Wellhausen’s evolutionary reconstruction of the Pentateuch, q.v. Its theory assigns
On associated theories of negative criticism: G. B. Gray, “The Nazirite,” JTS, I (1900), 201-211; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the OT (1961), I:303-306; IDB, III:526, 527.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(nazir, connected with nadhar, "to vow"; nazeir, nazeiraios, as also various words indicating "holiness" or "devotion"; the, Nazarite):
1. Antiquity and Origin
2. Conditions of the Vow
5. Completion and Release
6. Semi-sacerdotal Character
7. Nazirites for Life
8. Samson’s Case
9. Samuel’s Case
10. Token of Divine Favor
11. Did Not Form Communities
12. Among Early Christians
13. Parallels among Other Peoples
The root-meaning of the word in Hebrew as well as the various Greek translations indicates the Nazirite as "a consecrated one" or "a devotee." In the circumstances of an ordinary vow, men consecrated some material possession, but the Nazirite consecrated himself or herself, and took a vow of separation and self-imposed discipline for the purpose of some special service, and the fact of the vow was indicated by special signs of abstinence. The chief
1. Antiquity and Origin:
The question has been raised as to whether the Nazirite vow was of native or foreign origin in Israel.The idea of special separation, however, seems in all ages to have appealed to men of a particular temperament, and we find something of the kind in many countries and always linked with special abstinence of some kind; and from all that is said in the Pentateuch we should infer that the custom was already ancient in Israel and that Mosaism regulated it, bringing it into line with the general system of religious observance and under the cognizance of the Aaronic priests. The critics assign the section dealing with this matter (
2. Conditions of the Vow:
, then, makes provision for the Nazirite vow being taken by either men or women, though the Old Testament does not record a single instance of a female Nazirite. Further, it provides only for the taking of the vow for a limited time, that is, for the case of the "Nazirite of days." No period of duration is mentioned in the Old Testament, but the Mishna, in dealing with the subject, prescribes a period of 30 days, while a double period of 60 or even a triple one of 100 days might be entered on. The conditions of Naziritism entailed:
(1) the strictest abstinence from wine and from every product of the vine;
(2) the keeping of the hair uncut and the beard untouched by a razor;
(3) the prohibition to touch a dead body; and
(4) prohibition of unclean food (
The ceremonial of initiation is not recorded, the Pentateuch treating it as well known. The Talmud tells us that it was only necessary for one to express the wish that he might be a Nazirite. A formal vow was, however, taken; and from the form of renewal of the vow, when by any means it was accidentally broken, we may judge that the head was also shorn on initiation and the hair allowed to grow during the whole period of the vow.
The accidental violation of the vow just mentioned entailed upon the devotee the beginning of the whole matter anew and the serving of the whole period. This was entered on by the ceremonial of restoration, in the undergoing of which the Nazirite shaved his head, presented two turtle-doves or two young pigeons for sin and burnt offerings, and re-consecrated himself before the priest, further presenting a lamb for a trespass offering (
5. Completion and Release:
When the period of separation was complete, the ceremonial of release had to be gone through. It consisted of the presentation of burnt, sin and peace offerings with their accompaniments as detailed in
6. Semi-sacerdotal Character:
The consecration of the Nazirite in some ways resembled that of the priests, and similar words are used of both in
7. Nazirites for Life:
The only "Nazirites for life" that we know by name are Samson, Samuel and, but to these Jewish tradition adds Absalom in virtue of his long hair. We know of no one voluntarily taking the vow for life, all the cases recorded being those of parents dedicating their children. In rabbinical times, the father but not the mother might vow for the child, and an interesting case of this kind is mentioned in the dedication of Rabbi Chanena by his father in the presence of Rabban Gamaliel (Nazir, 29b).
8. Samson’s Case:
Samson is distinctly named a Nazirite in
9. Samuel’s Case:
Samuel is nowhere in the Old Testament called a Nazirite, the name being first applied to him in Sirach 46:13 (Hebrew), but the restrictions of his dedication seem to imply that he was. Wellhausen denies that it is implied in
10. Token of Divine Favor:
It is very likely that Nazirites became numerous in Israel in periods of great religious or political excitement, and in
11. Did Not Form Communities:
So far as we can discover, there is no indication that they formed guilds or settled communities like the "." In some sense the Essenes may have continued the tradition, and James, the Lord’s brother (Euseb., HE, II, xxiii, 3, following Hegesippus), and also Banns, tutor of Josephus (Vita, 2), who is probably the same as the Buni mentioned as a disciple of Jesus in Sanhedrin 43a, were devotees of a kind resembling Nazirites. Berenice’s vow was also manifestly that of the Nazirite (Josephus, B J, II, xv, 1).
12. Among Early Christians:
The case of John the Baptist is quite certain, and it was probably the means of introducing the custom among the early Christians. It was clearly a Nazirite’s vow which Paul took, "having shorn his head in Cenchrea" (
As the expenses of release were heavy for poor men, such were at times aided in this matter by their richer brethren. Thus, Agrippa, on his return from Rome, assisted many Nazirites (Josephus, Ant., XIX, vi, 1), and Paul was also at charges with others (
We come across something of the same kind in many countries, and we find special abstinence always emphasized. Thus we meet with a class of "votaries" as early as the days of Hammurabi, and his code devotes quite a number of sections to them. Among other restrictions they were prohibited from even entering a wineshop (Sect, 110).
13. Parallels among Other Peoples:
Then we are familiar with the hierodouloi of the Greeks, and the Vestal Virgins of the Romans. The word nezir also appears in Syriac and was applied to the maidens devoted to the service of Belthis. In the East, too, there have always been individuals and societies of ascetics who were practically Nazirites, and the modern dervish in nearly every way resembles him, while it is worthy of record in this connection that the Moslem (an abstainer by creed) while under the vow of pilgrimage neither cuts his hair nor pares his nails till the completion of his vow in Mecca.
W. M. Christie