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PLINY THE ELDER'S NATURAL HISTORY (c.78 AD) 2 Questions on Nazarenes

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(Question 1) Was Pliny the Elder in his Natural History referring to the Christian community around Apamea as the "Nazarenes"?
Pliny writes in Book V, Chapter 19 of his Natural History:


Coele Syria has the town of Apamea, divided by the river Marsyas from the Tetrarchy of the Nazerini...

It is suggested, that these are the Phylarchi Arabes of Strabo, now called the Nosairis, who were situate to the east of Apamea. The river Marsyas here mentioned was a small tributary of the Orontes, into which it falls on the east side, near Apamea.

In the New Testament, Paul is accused of being a leader of the Nazarene sect (Acts 24:5), and Tertullian (late 2nd c. - early 3rd c.) says that the Christians were called Nazarenes by the Jews. And according to the 4th c. writers Eusebius and Epiphanius, the Jewish Christians fled from Jerusalem to the area of Pella in Perea (in modern Jordan) before the war of 70 AD in anticipation of the war. So about the time when Pliny wrote his Natural History (c.78 AD), the Nazarene Christians likely were inhabiting the region of Pella. Further, in this passage, Pliny says that the tetrarchy of the "Nazarenes" was living near Apamea (in Syria), which was also called Pella. Pliny also described the Essenes in detail a few chapters earlier (in Chapter 15 of Book 5), so it would fit the context for Pliny to describe the Nazarene Christians as well.


    The people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella.
    — Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3

    This heresy of the Nazoraeans exists in Beroea in the neighbourhood of Coele Syria and the Decapolis in the region of Pella and in Basanitis in the so-called Kokaba (Chochabe in Hebrew). From there it took its beginning after the exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege."
    — Epiphanius, Panarion 29,7,7-8

However, there are some scholarly objections to equating Pliny's Nazarenes with the Christians. Pliny is often considered to have described a pre-Christian "Nazarene" sect in Syria because his writing on the Levant commonly describes the region as it was in the time of Marcus Agrippa (63-12 BC), whose writings formed a major source of Pliny's information.
Besides that, Pliny in the first century describes the Nazarini as living near Apamea/Pella in Syria, whereas Eusebius and Epiphanes in the fourth century describe the Nazarenes as living in Pella in what is today Jordan. It could be that Pliny was mistaken about the location (Syria v Jordan) or else that the fourth century writers were mistaken, or it could be that these really were two different Pellas with two different groups of "Nazarenes".

(Question 2) What does Pliny mean when he says that the Nazarenes are ruled by a "tetrarchy"?
The term "tetrarchy" literally means that four people rule over a group. The term "tetrarchy" is common for the chapter that mentions the Nazarenes. In the same chapter, Pliny names about 20 other "tetrarchies" in the region. Perhaps it doesn't literally mean that the community was ruled by four persons, but rather that they were part of the Herodian system, wherein Herod the Great's kingdom was broken into quarters, each ruled by a king descended from Herod and subject to Rome?


Edited by Pakobckuu

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