Just a quick comment here-very few of the messianic prophecies are detailed enough to match the statement above! The nature of predictive prophecy and typology generally is to 'draw the pattern', and anchoring that pattern in a detail or two, but RARELY getting as specific as 'King Herod ...killing children'.
Only the gospel of Matthew (2:16-18) makes this claim, quoting a prophecy of Jeremiah (31:15) which states that "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more." There are two problems with this alleged messianic prophecy:
Just another quick comment-most of the OT references that Matthew makes involve TYPOLOGY, not PREDICTIVE PROPHECY PER SE. As such, the 'predictive' element is NOT foremost in the OT context, but in the background of the Israelite worldview. (I have discussed this in detail in the earlier piece on Typology.) The implications of this for this discussion are significant--these types of passages are referring PRIMARILY to a PAST event, rather than to a future one, with the import that the objection "they cannot be messianic, because the OT context is about the PAST" is irrelevant at best, and ill-informed at worst.
it is not a prophecy about children being killed and it is quite doubtful that there ever was such a slaughter of innocents by Herod. "Rachel weeping for her children" refers to the mother of Joseph and Benjamin (and wife of Jacob) weeping about her children taken captive to Egypt.
I do not mean to be picky, but this statement itself is a little misleading. We don't have a passage in which a literal Rachel 'weeps for her children'. The closest we have is Jacob weeping over the supposed death of Joseph in Gen 37.34-35. But this in no way diminishes the force of Jim's argument.
In context, the verse is about the Babylonian captivity, which its author witnessed.
Technically, the data supports a reference to the Assyrian captivity, rather than that of Babylonian. Rachel was the ancestor of the Northern Tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who covered much of the Northern territory (but was also that of Benjamin, the smaller tribe of the south). Ramath is at the border of Israel (northern kingdom) and Judah (southern kingdom), and could accordingly be involved in EITHER/BOTH captivities. Most commentators think the data supports the Assyrian exile rather than the Babylonian. But, again, this does not mute the voice of Jim's objection.
Subsequent verses speak of the children being returned, and thus it refers to captivity rather than murder.
I have to agree with Jim on this point (as do most commentators on Jer 31). The reference is CLEARLY to the captivity of the heart of Israel, with YHWH's subsequent promise to restore these children to the Land. The mistake that Jim makes (along with many, many Christian interpreters) is in assuming that the 'weeping' is over the slain children, INSTEAD of over the exiled Christ-child. If there is one thing that Matthew makes clear to us throughout his gospel (especially the first half), it is that he sees Christ as the embodiment of True Israel. (see BEAP: 140-141; EBC, (in loc)). [This can be understood either as a case of typology (ruler/nation) or the stronger relationship of CORPORATE SOLIDARITY (below). In either case, the identification is well within the bounds of acceptable Jewish exegesis in the 1st/2nd centuries.] The prophecy of the Assyrian (or Babylonian) captivity in Jeremiah is NOT about the massive casualties of the events leading up to the exile, but about the survivors of those events! In other words, Rachel in Jeremiah is 'weeping' over the living/exiled children (not those who perished in the siege/battles) and "Rachel" in Matthew is 'weeping' over the living/"exiled" Christ-child (not those slaughtered by Herod). And, just as YHWH brings a message of hope to Rachel ('the children will return') so Matthew re-iterates that hope as he narrates the return of the Child in the next few verses.
Thus the objection doesn't stand-the passage is understood typologically, and the alleged discordance between 'captivity' and 'murder' is simply a product of misunderstanding the passages.'.....................
"It is uncertain whether Jeremiah 31:15 refers to the deportation of the northern tribes by Assyria in 722-721 B.C. or to the deportation of Judah and Benjamin in 587-586 B.C. (cf. R.E. Brown, Birth of Messiah, pp. 205-6). The latter is more likely. Nebuzaradan, commander of Nebuchadnezzar's imperial guard, gathered the captives at Ramah before taking them into exile in Babylon (Jer 40:1-2). Ramah lay north of Jerusalem on the way to Bethel; Rachel's tomb was at Zelzah in the same vicinity (1Sam 10:2). Jeremiah 31:15 depicts mourning at the prospect of exile; Rachel is seen as crying out from her tomb because her "children," her descendants (Rachel is the idealized mother of the Jews, though Leah gave birth to more tribes than Rachel) "are no more"—i.e., they are being removed from the land and are no longer a nation. But elsewhere we are told that Rachel was buried on the way to Ephrathah, identified as Bethlehem (Gen 35:19; 48:7). Some see a confusion of traditions here and assume that the clan of Ephrathah later settled in Bethlehem and gave it its name, thus starting a false connection Matthew follows. The problem, however, is artificial. Genesis 35:16 makes it clear that Jacob was some distance from Bethlehem-Ephrathah when Rachel died—viz., somewhere between Bethel and Bethlehem (only 1Sam 10:2 says more exactly where he was). Moreover Matthew does not say Rachel was buried at Bethlehem; the connection between the prophecy and its "fulfillment" is more subtle than that. ... Why does Matthew refer to this OT passage? Some think the connection results from word association: the children were killed at Bethlehem, Bethlehem = Ephrathah, Ephrathah is connected with Rachel's death, and Rachel figures in the oracle. Rothfuchs (p. 64) sees a parallel between the condemnation to exile as a result of sin her) and the judgment on Israel as a result of rejecting the Messiah (an interpretation that sees the slaughter at Bethlehem as a sign of the latter). More believable is the observation (Gundry, Use of OT, p. 210; Tasker) that Jeremiah 31:15 occurs in a setting of hope. Despite the tears, God says, the exiles will return; and now Matthew, referring to Jeremiah 31:15, likewise says that, despite the tears of the Bethlehem mothers, there is hope because Messiah has escaped Herod and will ultimately reign. [EBCNT, in loc]
"He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem (2:16). Only 123 men returned to Bethlehem from the Babylonian deportation (Ezra 2:21), and it appears not to have grown beyond a small village of perhaps a thousand people at the birth of Jesus. Herod’s forces kill all the infant boys under the age of two years, which would calculate to between ten to thirty boys. Although this number of infant boys massacred would be a huge loss for the village of Bethlehem, it is not an incident that stands out significantly when seen in the light of other horrific events in Herod’s infamous career, and historians would have easily bypassed it. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning” (2:18). Centuries earlier, Nebuchadnezzar’s army had gathered the captives from Judah in the town of Ramah before they were taken into exile to Babylon (Jer. 40:1–2). Jeremiah depicts Rachel, who is the personification of the mothers of Israel, mourning for her children as they are being carried away. However, there was hope for their future because God would restore Rachel’s children to their own land (31:16–17), and messianic joy would come in the future establishment of the new covenant with Israel (31:31–34). [ZIBBC, in loc]
C. Use in Jewish Sources, The Targum on Jer. 31:15 reads, "Thus says the Lord: 'The voice has been heard in the height of the world, the house of Israel who weep and lament after Jeremiah the prophet, when Nebuzaradan, the chief of the killers, sent him from Ramah, with a dirge; and those who weep for the bitterness of Jerusalem, as she weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they have gone into exile'. " (All translations from the Jeremiah Targum are taken from Hayward 1986.) The personification of Rachel is replaced with the literal referent "the house of Israel," her children are explicitly identified as Jeremiah the prophet and others from Jerusalem, and the cryptic Hebrew "because they are not" is explained as the people's departure into exile. There also seems to be a desire to clarify why Ramah appeared in the original OT text, hence the allusion to Nebuzaradan's action (see Jer. 40:1). All of these explanations elaborate on the natural meaning of the more poetic MT and fit an understanding of the passage that Matthew could have presupposed. In later rabbinic literature, Rachel becomes a consummate mourner (Whitters 2006: 236-37). "
"Further strengthening the parallel is the alternate tradition, probably current also in Matthew’s day, that Rachel’s tomb was on the outskirts of Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem (cf. Gen 35:19; 48:7; to this day, what is called Rachel’s tomb is located there). Rachel might well weep there for the infants of Bethlehem, even within the larger context of messianic joy through the birth of the Christ in that same village. [WBC, in loc]
"This second tradition, which identifies Ephraph with Bethlehem (cf. Demetrius in Eusebius, Praep. ev. 9:21–10), favoured the traditional site venerated by Christians and Muslims, and it puts Rachel’s burial place near Bethlehem on the Jerusalem road. Thus there were two rival reports as to the location of the tomb (cf. Gen. Rab. on 35:18 and Jeremias, Heiligengräber, pp. 75–76). Matthew speaks for the report found in Gen 35 and 48. This is why he can associate Rachel’s weeping in Ramah with the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem. (Curiously, Jacob, Rachel’s husband, is associated with Bethlehem in Apost. Con. 7:37:2, which is probably from a Jewish synagogal prayer.) (2) According to Jer 40:1, all the captives of Jerusalem were gathered at Ramah for the march to Babylon (cf. the targum on Jer 31:15). This encourages one to draw a typological correlation between Israel and the Messiah. Just as the Jews, amid lamentation and grief, left Ramah to go into exile, so Jesus, amid lamentation and grief, left Bethlehem to go into exile. The departure of the Messiah to Egypt recapitulated the deportation of the people to Babylon—an event to which Matthew, significantly, calls attention thrice in the genealogy (1:11, 12, 17). (3) Three different OT prophecies involve Ramah: Isa 10:29; Jer 31:15; Hos 5:8. All three associate the place with a disaster of one sort or another. When one adds that the exile to Babylon began there (see above), Ramah might be regarded as a city of sadness par excellence. (Cf. the way in which the 9th of Ab became the date of disasters par excellence; see Davies, GL, pp. 71–2.) [ICC, in loc]
"Redak explains that this is figurative of the Ten Tribes, led by Ephraim." [Judaica Books of the Prophets, in loc]
"Jeremiah’s reference to lamentation here may be based on the use of the site as a staging area for shipment of exiles to Babylonia after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 (see 40:1). [BBC, Jer 31]
This verse inspired a midrash on the merit of Rachel, who intercedes before God in connection with Manasseh’s sins. [Fishbane, M. A. (2002). Haftarot. The JPS Bible commentary (382). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society]
"The expression “merit of the fathers,” here is not to be taken literally, but rather in the sense of merit of parents or ancestors, for here it refers to the merit of Rachel who was regarded as the mother of all Israel (see Gen. Rab. 71.3)." [Lauterbach, J. Z. (2004). Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael. Originally published: Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society of America, 1933-1935. (New ed.). Philadelphia, Pa: Jewish Publication Society.]What we see from this is:
"But why is the lamentation of Rachel heard at Ramah? Most expositors reply, because the tomb of Rachel was in the divinity of Ramah; in support of this they cite 1 Sam. 10:2. Nägelsbach, who is one of these, still maintains this view with the utmost confidence. But this assumption is opposed to Gen. 35:16 and 19, where it is stated that Rachel died and was buried on the way to Bethlehem, and not far from the town (see on Genesis, l.c.), which is about five miles south from Jerusalem, and thus far from Ramah. Nor is any support for this view to be got from 1 Sam. 10:2, except by making the groundless assumption, that Saul, while seeking for the asses of his father, came to Samuel in his native town; whereas, in the account given in that chapter, he is merely said to have sought for Samuel in a certain town, of which nothing more is stated, and to have inquired at him; see on 1 Sam. 10:2. We must therefore reject, as arbitrary and groundless, all attempts to fix the locality of Rachel’s sepulchre in the neighbourhood of Ramah (Nägelsbach); in the same way we must treat the assertion of Thenius, Knobel, Graf, etc., that the Ephratah of Gen. 35:16, 19, is the same as the Ephron of 2 Chron. 13:19, which was situated near Bethel; so, too, must we deal with the statements, that Ephratah, i.e., Bethlehem, is to be expunged from the text of Gen. 35:9 and 48 as a false gloss, and that the tradition, attested in Matt. 2:18, as to the situation of Rachel’s sepulchre in the vicinity of Bethlehem, is incorrect. Nor does the passage of Jeremiah now before us imply that Rachel’s sepulchre was near Ramah. Rachel does not weep at Ramah over her lost children, either because she had been buried there, or because it was in Ramah of Benjamin that the exiles were assembled, according to Jer. 40:1 (Hitzig, and also Delitzsch on Gen. 35:20). For it was the Jews who were to be carried away captive that were gathered together at Ramah, whereas it was over Israelites or Ephraimites that had been carried into exile that Rachel weeps. The lamentation of Rachel is heard at Ramah, as the most loftily situated border-town of the two kingdoms, whence the wailing that had arisen sounded far and near, and could be heard in Judah. Nor does she weep because she has learned something in her tomb of the carrying away of the people, but as their common mother, as the beloved spouse of Jacob, who in her married life so earnestly desired children. Just as the people are often included under the notion of the “daughter of Zion,” as their ideal representative, so the great ancestress of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh is here named as the representative of the maternal love shown by Israel in the pain felt when the people are lost." [Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. (8:273-274). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.]
"As far as Jeremiah 31:14 is concerned, it is not at all certain that Hebrew ramah is in fact the locality Ramah, that is, er-Ram, 5 miles (8 km.) north of Jerusalem. It may simply mean “on a height” and was so understood by Targum Jonathan, R. Joseph Kara, and Radak—not without good reason, for the place-name otherwise invariably appears with the definite article." [Sarna, N. M. (1989). Genesis. English and Hebrew; commentary in English. The JPS Torah commentary (408). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.]
AND RACHEL DIED, AND WAS BURIED IN THE WAY TO EPHRATH. etc. (XXXV, 19). What was Jacob's reason for burying Rachel in the way to Ephrath? Jacob foresaw that the exiles would pass on from thence, therefore he buried her there so that she might pray for mercy for them. Thus it is written, A voice is heard in Ramah... Rachel weeping for her children.... Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping... and there is hope for thy future, etc. (Jer. XXXI, 15 f.). [Note that the burial in Bethlehem is for the purpose of being 'heard' in Ramah!]So, again, I think the ancient background indicates that any Rachel-versus-Leah or Ramah-versus-Bethlehem problems were not seen by the ancient commentators--they were understood as being in synch, connected, and/or literary (e.g., personification, metaphor) devices in the prophetic writings. .......................
The slaughter by Herod is also in doubt because the writer of Matthew is the only person who has noted such an event.
I have commented on these types of arguments before ("only X people refer to Y..."). The VAST MAJORITY of ALL human experience is witnessed by individuals, not groups. This criteria of 'you cannot accept what only ONE witness says' would eliminate the vast majority of history as we know it (including much of the formative scientific experiments of our era). There is no compelling argument to support such an arbitrary criterion of truth/trustworthiness, and indeed, it approximates a feebler form of the 'argument from silence'.
Flavius Josephus, who carefully chronicled Herod's abuses, makes no mention of it.
There are several things wrong with this statement.
Herod's suspicion bordered on paranoia. He killed his own wife, the Hasmonaean princess Mariamne, and, at a later date, her adult sons Alexander and Aristobuus. At the end of his life he executed another son, Antipater the son of Doris. Augsutus made the grim joke that it was safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son (Macrobius, "Saturnalia" 2:4:11). The king's pig was safe, due to Herod's studied outward observance of Judaism; his sons were not. When he realised his death was near Herod ordered the arrest of the leading citizens of all the villages. These were to be killed at the news of the king's death. Tears would then be shed, even if not for him! Mercifully the village notables were released unharmed from the Hippodrome where they had been imprisoned.
Civil wars erupted throughout Herod's kingdom when his violent and repressive rule finally ended. Josephus commented that Herod had "an evil nature, relentless in punishment and unsparing in action against the objects of his hatred" (Antiquites, xix:328).
A decade or so after his death an anonymous author wrote inferring that Herod was "an arrogant king...a reckless and godless man...who will exterminate their chief men...and bury their bodies in unknown places...he will slay the old and the young and show no mercy...terrible fear of him will come over all the land" (Assumption of Moses, 6:2ff)
So, what was the reference to the killing of the children for, if it was not the point of citing the prophecy of Jeremiah?
As far as I can tell, it has three functions in Matthew's narrative:
This passage is just another case of typology, and so the argument doesn't find the intended target. A simplified version of many of these arguments looks like this:
The problem is obviously with statement #2 above, for we have demonstrated amply that the very OPPOSITE was true-MOST major past events in Israel's history were ASSUMED to have predictive elements, under the structure of typology. This was NOT a 'Christian Invention', as we demonstrated. Therefore, all such objections are off-target, due to the incorrect middle premise.
But this still doesn't answer the question of WHY Matthew used this passage-it DOES look a bit strange to 'Western minds'. We have seen that typology would be an appropriate vehicle for understanding this connection, but is there something MORE TO IT?
Indeed, in this passage we see the peculiar Semitic notion of 'corporate solidarity', that forms an ever-present substrate in biblical teaching, and which goes BEYOND typology.
In what sense can we say that Israel was a type of the Messiah? The 'my son' element in the passage in Matthew tips us off that the element of sonship may be the pivotal concept.
In the OT, YHWH uses the term 'son' in several different settings:
Enter the concept of Corporate Solidarity. (For the seminal work on this topic, see H.W. Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel, 1964). This notion is somewhat bizarre to western minds, to be sure, but was part and parcel of the ANE worldview. It is summarized in Reumann's introduction to Robinson's work:
that important Semitic complex of thought in which there is a constant oscillation between the individual and the group-family, tribe, or nation-to which he belongs, so that the king or some other representative figure may be said to embody the group, or the group may be said to sum up the host of individuals.Eichrodt has one of the better descriptions of how this looked to the individual in Israel (The Theology of the Old Testament, vol II, 175):
With all the unbroken force of primitive vitality men felt their individual lives to be embedded in the great organism of the life of the whole community, without which the individual existence was a nullity, a leaf blown about by the wind, while in the prosperity of the community, on the other hand, the individual could alone find his own fulfillment. His devotion to the great whole was therefore the natural thing, this being bound to the destinies of the totality an axiomatic process of life. This is seen most clearly in the assertion of collective retribution, which feels it to be a completely just ordinance that the individual should be involved in the guilt of the community, and conversely that the action of the individual should react upon the fate of the group.
Even though there are examples of ordinary individuals affecting the community this way (e.g. Joshua 7.1), the three most explicit identifications are 1) father=offspring; 2) king=nation; and 3) Servant of YHWH=nation (or remnant).
This has been dealt with in the typology piece, and was pervasive throughout both Israel and her neighbors in the ANE. (For a full discussion, see Eichrodt, II: 231-267). It has no relevance to the passage before us [but does in many cases, in which David (father)= Son of David (offspring).]
This is where the King 'sums up' or embodies the whole of the Nation. The familiar stories in 2 Sam 12 and 24 demonstrate how the sin of the king (i.e. David) resulted in judgment on the nation, and the theological histories we call the books of I and II Kings record soberly how the moral failures of Israel's leaders resulted in the great judgments.
This is where the celebrated Servant of YHWH in Isaiah (specifically in the Servant Songs-principally 42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) is identified with the nation Israel and often with the righteous remnant of Israel.
The Servant Song passages are notoriously complex, but the Servant designation
is variously applied to Israel the nation AND to some individual/remnant
group that 'ministers' to Israel (1st and 2nd Songs), and in the 3rd and
4th Songs, the emphasis seems to be on an individual (e.g. birth, obedience,
suffering, death, triumph, sacrifice)-beyond the bounds of simple personification.
[see ZPEB, "Servant of the Lord" and EBC, VI: 17-19.] Jewish interpreters
over the ages have identified the Servant with historical Israel, the faithful
remnant, Ideal Israel, and various historical characters (e.g. Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Moses, Zerubbabel, Cyrus, the Messiah).
The relevance of this to our study here should be clear. The identification of Israel-King-Messianic Servant --at the corporate solidarity level-allows NT (and Jewish) writers to see OT passages in the wider messianic complex of concepts. Longnecker (BEAP: 94) states it carefully:
In biblical exegesis, the concept of corporate solidarity comes to the fore in the treatment of relationships between the nation or representative figures within the nation, on the one hand, and the elect remnant or the Messiah, on the other. It allows the focus of attention to "pass without explanation or explicit indication from one to the other, in a fluidity of transition which seems to us unnatural" (Reumann)The Net: Not only would typology allow Matthew to use Hosea 11.1 in reference to Christ, but the pervasive concept of solidarity between the Messiah and the Nation gives even stronger support for the legitimacy of his exegesis.
Strictly speaking, Jesus COULD HAVE BEEN a Nazirite at some point in his life, since Nazirites didn't have to STAY Nazirites (Numbers 6). But I tend to agree with Jim that Jesus was NOT a Nazirite during his public ministry, and that this 'prophecy' does NOT refer to a Nazirite vow.
But Jim has not dealt with the other, more probable options here-that of Nazarene (of Nazareth-as the context seems to suggest) or that of Netser-ene ("branch"-a play on a messianic title in Isaiah, Zec., and Jeremiah). The later suggestion (i.e. a word-play on the OT word for "branch") fits well with the plural in "prophets", and has identifiable passages in the prophets, but leaves the link with the town of Nazareth obscure and unexplained.
The option of Nazarene-as simply being one from Nazareth-makes the most sense of the place-name association, but leaves us with the obvious question of where in the prophets are there ANY mentions of Nazarene or Nazareth? We cannot find ANY overt references to these in the OT at all (much less MULTIPLE references!), so what's going on? Matthew is using this passage to argue with his Jewish contemporaries that Jesus is the promised Messiah, so how effective would it be if he were SO BLATANTLY WRONG?! Something MUST be 'hidden' in the context that confuses us, yet makes the argument powerful to Matthew's contemporaries. What clues do we have to go on?
Well, the first major clue is the use of the plural 'prophets'. Matthew has 11 formulaic fulfillment passages (1.23; 2.15; 2.18; 2.23; 3.3; 4.15f; 8.17; 12.18-21; 13.35; 21.5; 27.9f), but this is the ONLY passage with the plural-EVEN in those passages which are 'compound prophecies' from MULTIPLE prophets (i.e. 21.5; 27.9) attributed to only one of them.
When we begin to study passages in which 'prophets' (or equivalent collective nouns such as 'law' or 'scripture') are 'quoted' we notice a peculiar pattern-the 'quote' turns out to be a summary that finds NO explicit word-for-word occurrence. It seems to work as a summary or a conclusion. Consider some of these:
In each of these cases, we have a collective reference, with a 'quote' that has no close parallels in the OT. The quotes seem to be summaries of multiple passages.
The last three of these warrant special attention-Mt 7.12; John 7.38; and Gal 3.22.
But let's try anyway! What might be the import of the phrase 'Nazarene' to Matthew's readers? (We have seen that the exact word doesn't have to be in the OT, just as the phrase 'prisoner of sin' didn't have to be in the OT for Paul's usage to be correct in Gal 3). What data do we have about Nazareth and "Nazarene" from those times that would suggest a 'content' for this summary phrase?
First, there is no mention of Nazareth in the OT, the Talmuds, or Josephus. In fact, there is only ONE literary reference to N. outside of the Christian scriptures-an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritema (Meyers and Strange, Archeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity, SCM: 1981, p. 56). It was a small town, of no particular fame or stature.
Second, Nazareth was in Galilee, of which the prophecy Matthew uses from Isaiah 9 (in Mt 4.15f) describes as 'dwelling in darkness and in the shadow of death' and a land 'of the Gentiles'. The land of Galilee (which Jesus is also associated with-cf. "Jesus of Galilee" in Mt 26.69) was accordingly "2nd or 3rd class citizens" from the standpoint of Jerusalem! .
Third, this portion of the land (i.e. Galilee) was originally given by King Solomon to Hiriam, king of Tyre, as a gift but the OT records his appraisal: "King Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, because Hiram had supplied him with all the cedar and pine and gold he wanted. 12 But when Hiram went from Tyre to see the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. 13 'What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?' he asked. And he called them the Land of Cabul, a name they have to this day.[I Kings 9]." [ "Cabul" sounds like the Hebrew for "good-for-nothing"!]
Fourth, the most important information we have about Nazareth is the exchange in John 1:
Fifth, Jesus' experiences in Nazareth illustrate the rather 'low caliber' of many of its citizenry. In Luke 4, they try to kill him (minutes after 'speaking well of him'!), and in Mrk 6.6 it records that Jesus was 'amazed at their lack of faith'.
Sixth, not only did the Gentiles reject Nazareth in King Solomon's day, but they apparently didn't find it 'good-for-anything' later either. After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70, it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would ONLY move to un-mixed towns--towns WITHOUT Gentile inhabitants. The ONE extra-biblical literary reference to Nazareth (cited above) is to such a moving of the priests of the order of Elkalir to Nazareth. The implication is that Gentile populations avoided Nazareth well past the time of Jesus...It still was Cabul-"good for nothing".
What emerges from this look at the data about Nazareth is that the term "Nazarene" would have been quite a disparaging remark, conveying contempt and pointing to the insignificance of the community. As such, it would have been the perfect moniker for conveying the pervasive OT witness to Christ's humble origins and despised status (cf Is 53: "he was despised and rejected of men"). And, in this case, the plural 'prophets' were a constant witness.
[Even after Christ, the term 'Nazarene' (i.e. from Nazareth) remained a contemptuous term for Christians. The first Christians were, of course, Jewish and to their fellow-Jews they were known as Nazoreans (of the Nazarene), although they called themselves 'followers of the Way' and later, "Christians". (see BNTH: 213-215.) As such, the original notion of 'contempt' would have been present in the very name they called the Christians. Indeed, after the fall of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin had the synagogue prayers changed to SPECIFICALLY exclude the Nazarenes. The twelfth of the Eighteen Benedictions in the Jewish prayer book, towards the end of the first century (it is different now), was changed to read:
It is interesting that this 'Nazarene' designation STILL SURVIVES in Hebrew as nosri, the term for one who believes in Jesus! (DNTT, II:333).]
Rengstorf, arriving at notions of rejection, disassociation, and contempt as the basic connotation, makes a fitting summary in a Christological context (DNTT, II:334):
While these passages may not be convincing to us Westerners as examples of 'fulfilled prophecy', they are nonetheless accurate examples, and were powerful and effective arguments in the 1st century.