Was Jesus a Nazarite?

Jesus might not have had long hair after all.
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Comprehending who Jesus was as a man is still a matter of research, and even controversy. Some Christians say he's Almighty God, others say he's not Almighty God. Christians say he's the Messiah, Jews say he's not the Messiah, and so on. But determining whether Jesus was a Nazarite -- also spelled Nazirite -- is pretty straightforward and without much controversy.

1 Nazarite vs. Nazarene

Jesus is rightly called a Nazarene, as he grew up in the town of Nazareth. But a Nazarene is not the same as a Nazarite. Being a Nazarite had nothing to do with a location, race or nationality, but was the title given to those who maintained a specific code of conduct as a way to demonstrate dedication to God. A Nazarite had to fulfill at least three main requirements: abstain from drinking alcohol or any product of the grapevine, and from eating grapes in all their forms; abstain from cutting the hair on the head; and avoid touching dead bodies.

2 Becoming a Nazarite

A person became a Nazarite in at least three ways: by making a voluntary Nazarite vow to God, to be maintained for a specific period of time; by one of his parents offering him to God, to be a Nazarite from birth onward; and by God appointing a person as a lifetime Nazarite. The Bible character Samson, for example, was a Nazarite from birth because an angel appeared to his parents before he was conceived and told them that he would be a Nazarite. The boy Samuel was promised to God as a Nazarite by his mother before he was conceived. Although John the Baptist was never directly called a Nazarite, it's likely that he was one because God directed him, via his parents, to abstain from wine and other liquor.

3 Jesus Drank Wine

Avoiding wine drinking is one factor that disqualifies Jesus Christ from having been a Nazarite, since Jesus not only miraculously turned water into wine, according to the Bible book of John, but also drank it. In Luke's scriptural record, Luke quotes Jesus saying to his accusers: "The Son of Man [Jesus] has come eating and drinking, and you say, behold, a man who is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and notorious sinners." The fact that Jesus acknowledged that he drank wine shows clearly that he was not a Nazarite.

4 Jesus' Physical Appearance

Not being a Nazarite has implications regarding Jesus' appearance. The stereotypical portrayal of Jesus is the thin, long-haired, white-robed man, seen commonly in Christian artwork. But some, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, believe that since Jesus was not under a Nazarite vow, he was not required to grow out his hair. Therefore, according to some, it's likely that Jesus' hair was neatly trimmed in a style similar to other Jewish men of the day.

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."