9ᐯ At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.

Mark 1:9
  • Subject: Jesus Anointed
  • Narrator: Mars
  • Author: Flavius Josephus
  • Created: Flavian Imperial Cult

Ἰησοῦς  ἀπὸ  Ναζαρὲτ  τῆς  Γαλιλαίας

Take a moment to set aside the mention of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the chapter, and consider that this is the first time a character named ‘Jesus’ appears on the scene. Usually, in a story when a new character appears, some effort is made to describe that character for future reference. In this case, the description is in two parts: “from Nazaret” and “of Galilaias”. Today, we read it as ‘city, state’, like an address on an envelope. “Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee”. 

There is two significant problems with this kind of translation. The first is having it simply be a location doesn’t really tell us anything about the character or what we can expect from them. “Bob from Dayton, Ohio” isn’t as meaningful as “Bob the glassblower from Dayton Glassworks”. And remember: there are no wasted words here, no meaningless phrases, no unneeded adjectives. It seems highly unlikely that they would have wasted a single letter that didn’t serve their purpose.

The second problem is really just a technicality. No one has ever found a ‘Nazareth’ in Galilee prior to or during the 1st century CE. Josephus never mentioned it, none of the census records show it, we have no record of there ever having been a city, town, or village named ‘נָזִיר’. This doesn’t prove that there never was such a thing, but it does go back to the issue that it had to have meant something or the writer(s) wouldn’t have included it.

The High Priest of Jerusalem would have been a dedicant – a Nazirite – avoiding haircuts, strong drink, and unclean situations. Jesus of Gamla, High Priest of Jerusalem, would have thus been a Nazirite, and he also would have been from Galilee. “Jesus the Nazirite from Galilee” is a perfectly good translation of the name given for the person whom John baptized. 

More interestingly, the Zealots that Jesus of Gamla led in Jerusalem were political separatists who fought against Roman rule. It would mean that by referencing the term ‘Nazirite’ may have had a double-meaning, also referencing the political separatists he had joined with. When the Romans wrote the story about what they did in the Levant and why after the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE led by Jesus the Nazirite from Galilee, it’s not an enormous surprise to see a character named Jesus the Nazirite from Galilee in their story.

This fellow from Gamla could very well be precisely the person indicated by the Gospels. As an element of propaganda in favor of the Roman Empire over Judean rebels, naming a specific rebel leader as having been baptized – that is held underwater until death or conversion – would have been powerful. For all the fuss in the last half-century over the identity of the “historical Jesus”, this guy hardly ever gets any press.