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The Nazarite Vow


    «A nazirite or nazarite, (in Hebrew: נזיר, nazir), refers to a Jew who took an ascetic vow described in Numbers 6:1-21. The term "nazirite" comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning "consecrated" or "separated".» (Wikipedia, s.v. "Nazirite")

    The Nazarite vow was the Jewish manner of dedicating one's self to God for a period of time that ranged from thirty days through a lifetime.  There are instances of children being vowed to God by their mothers before birth.  The biblical regulations concerning the vow are found in Numbers 6: 1-21.  The essence of the vow is threefold: (1) abstaining from wine and from all grapes and grape products;  (2) shaving the head at the beginning of the vow period and letting it grow uncut thereafter; (3) total avoidance of any corpse.  Should the Nazarite become defiled by a dead body, he is to begin the period of the vow again after shaving his head twice and offering two turtle-doves or pigeons as a sacrifice of purification.  When the vow comes to an end, a lamb, a ewe lamb, and a ram are offered in sacrifice, together with cakes of unleavened flour and olive oil, wafers of unleavened bread tempered with oil, and a libation or drink offering (probably wine).  After the sacrifices, the former Nazarite shaves his head and burns the hair that grew during the time of his vow.

    It is not always easy to identify the Nazarites in sacred Scripture.  One might suppose that Sampson had taken the vow, or that his mother had taken it for him, for she was told to drink no wine, and "as for the son which you will conceive and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb" (Judges 13: 1-8)  But it is not clear that Sampson himself abstained from wine—Judges 14 places him at or in a vineyard, has him hosting a wedding banquet—and chapter 15 has him killing a thousand men, something quite incompatible with avoiding corpses!

    The priest Samuel is another often called a Nazarite.  His mother drank "neither wine nor any strong drink" at the time she was pleading for a son at Silo (1 Kings 1), and promised that "no razor shall come upon his head," but there is no suggestion that she always abstained.  In chapter 16, Samuel hacked a man to pieces.  And the feast described in chapter 9 almost certainly included wine and other grape products.

    Nazarites are mentioned, but remain unnamed, in Amos 2:11-12 and in 1 Machabees 3: 49-50.

    In the New Testament, one supposes that Saint John the Baptist was a Nazarite.  In chapter 1 of Luke's Gospel the angel reveals that "he shall drink no wine or strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb.  Matthew 2 describes him as living in the desert, living on locusts and wild honey, wearing a camel hair garment and a leather belt—it is not difficult to imagine him not cutting his hair or drinking wine.

    In Acts 23 Paul assists four men to conclude the period of their vows, offering the sacrifices and shaving their heads.  And Paul may have taken and completed the vow himself, as appears to be the case in chapter 18.

    Very likely, Saint James, the cousin of our Lord, was a Nazarite.  We have this fragment from the second century Hegesippus, and quoted in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, describing him 

    Concerning the martyrdom of James, the brother of the Lord, from Book V.
James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church, in conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just, from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh; no razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, nor make use of the bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not wear any woolen garment, but fine linen only. He alone, I say, was wont to go into the temple: and he used to be found kneeling on his knees, begging forgiveness for the people-so that the skin of his knees became horny like that of a camel's, by reason of his constantly bending the knee in adoration to God, and begging forgiveness for the people. Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek Defense of the People, and Justice, in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.
 —Source "The Fragments of Hegesippus" (c. 165-175 A.D.)

Book of Numbers
6:1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
6:2. Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: When a man, or woman, shall make a vow to be sanctified, and will consecrate themselves to the Lord:
6:3. They shall abstain from wine, and from every thing that may make a man drunk. They shall not drink vinegar of wine, or of any other drink, nor any thing that is pressed out of the grape: nor shall they eat grapes either fresh or dried.
6:4. All the days that they are consecrated to the Lord by vow: they shall eat nothing that cometh of the vineyard, from the raisin even to the kernel.
6:5. All the time of his separation no razor shall pass over his head, until the day be fulfilled of his consecration to the Lord. He shall be holy, and shall let the hair of his head grow.
6:6. All the time of his consecration he shall not go in to any dead,
6:7. Neither shall he make himself unclean, even for his father, or for his mother, or for his brother, or for his sister, when they die, because the consecration of his God is upon his head.
6:8. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the Lord.
6:9. But if any man die suddenly before him: the head of his consecration shall be defiled: and he shall shave it forthwith on the same day of his purification, and again on the seventh day.
6:10. And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons to the priest in the entry of the covenant of the testimony.
6:11. And the priest shall offer one for sin, and the other for a holocaust, and shall pray for him, for that he hath sinned by the dead: and he shall sanctify his head that day:
6:12. And shall consecrate to the Lord the days of his separation, offering a lamb of one year for sin: yet so that the former days be made void, because his sanctification was profaned.
6:13. This is the law of consecration. When the days which he had determined by vow shall be expired, he shall bring him to the door of the tabernacle of the covenant,
6:14. And shall offer his oblation to the Lord: one he lamb of a year old without blemish for a holocaust, and one ewe lamb of a year old without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for a victim of peace offering,
6:15. A basket also of unleavened bread, tempered with oil, and wafers without leaven anointed with oil, and the libations of each:
6:16. And the priest shall present them before the Lord, and shall offer both the sin offering and the holocaust.
6:17. But the ram he shall immolate for a sacrifice of peace offering to the Lord, offering at the same time the basket of unleavened bread, and the libations that are due by custom.
6:18. Then shall the hair of the consecration of the Nazarite, be shaved off before the door of the tabernacle of the covenant: and he shall take his hair, and lay it upon the fire, which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.
6:19. And shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and he shall deliver them into the hands of the Nazarite, after his head is shaven.
6:20. And receiving them again from him, he shall elevate them in the sight of the Lord: and they being sanctified shall belong to the priest, as the breast, which was commanded to be separated, and the shoulder. After this the Nazarite may drink wine.
6:21. This is the law of the Nazarite, when he hath vowed his oblation to the Lord in the time of his consecration, besides those things which his hand shall find, according to that which he had vowed in his mind, so shall he do for the fulfilling of his sanctification.


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