Life of Brian, the nazoraios

Listening to Synaulia Elenhs Karaindrou.

Humour can be used to distort history.

Distortion of history doesn’t always result into humour.

Professor Joan Taylor (London) has edited a book that will appear in August 2015: Jesus and Brian. Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times Via Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

This book is announced to supports a historical Jesus rather than a mythical Jesus. From the publisher’s website, and see also their table of contents and authors:

“Monty Python’s The Life of Brian film was known for its satirical humour being clever and cutting. Less well known is that the Monty Python film contains references to what was, at the time of its release, cutting edge biblical scholarship and Life of Jesus research. This research, founded on the acceptance of the Historical Jesus as a Jew who needs to be understood within the context of his time, is implicitly referenced through the setting of the Brian character within the tumultuous social and political background of his time.

This collection is a compilation of essays from some of our current times’ foremost scholars of the historical Jesus and the first century Judea, and includes contributions from Martin Goodman, Geroge Brooke, Joan Taylor, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, James Crossley, Philip Davies and Helen Bond. The collection opens up Life of Brian to renewed investigation and in so doing, uses the film to revitalise the discussion of Christian history, biblical studies, and Life of Jesus research. The volume also features a contribution from Terry Jones, who not only directed the film, but also played Brian’s mum.”  (

It is okay to document the scholarship behind the very amusing film. Thus I have no criticism about that idea. It would also be difficult to make a movie when Jesus is only a myth: Jesus is Santa Claus for grown-ups.

However, the film Life of Brian dates from 1979, thus 35 years ago, and the scholarship of the historical Jesus (up to then) has been exposed as biased. Below we will see that Pierre Krijbolder in 1976 in Holland already analysed Jesus as a metaphor only – and the mythical Jesus had precursors before 1976 who were and still are suppressed in the Academia. The London Department of Theology & Religious Studies claims to offer “a unique integration of Humanities and Social Science disciplines as a framework for the study of religions”, but, since theology assumes the existence of God, one wonders what is happening there. My proposal is to use theonomy for the scientific study of such human delusions

One should hope that the book is not some kind of disguised propaganda for a historical Jesus, while abusing a fun movie. Since the book isn’t there yet, all this is only for your information.

In the Appendix I discuss a few pages from another book by prof. Taylor.

Taylor (ed), "Jesus and Brian", 2015

Taylor (ed) 2015

Brian in the Kabbalah, though spelled Briah

My intention is to see whether the education of mathematics can do something with the story of Jesus. The idea is that abstraction, such as for a circle, might also be relevant for other notions and patterns.

I want to stay far away from the Kabbalah, that I after a superficial glance regard as mystic nonsense (but it might have some weird logic). However, when Brian & Jesus are tossed into Google then we find a reference to the Sefer Yetzirah. I just mention this, in case professor Taylor forgot to tell you:

“”Yetzirah” is more literally translated as “Formation”; the word “Briah” is used for “Creation”. The book is traditionally ascribed to the patriarch Abraham, while modern scholars haven’t reached consensus on the question of its origins.” (wikipedia Sefer Yetzirah)

Briah from Nazareth ? Jesus nazoraios ?

Humour is a serious issue. A more serious question then is what nazoraois would mean.

I have been burdening you with this question. My discussion is mostly a rehash of what Biblical scholars already know, or have distorted, for centuries – see the Appendix.

In The simple mathematics of Jesus (SMOJ) (2012) my conclusion was that the word nazoraios is not so interesting. There are too many possibilities that seem to have some reasonable interpretation. It is unlikely that we can recover its original meaning.

But I want to finish my view on Richard Carrier’s book on the historicity of Jesus, and I am still wondering whether the Epistle to the Hebrews and now the word nazoraios would allow us to say more on Paul.

Pontius Pilate affixed a sign onto the cross:

“The acronym INRI (Latin: Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum) represents the Latin inscription which in English reads as “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews” and John 19:20 states that this was written in three languages—Hebrew, Latin, and Greek—during the crucifixion of Jesus. The Greek version reads ΙΝΒΙ, representing Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων. “ (Wikipedia, INRI)

Nazarenus might be Latin for Greek Nazoraios – I cherish my highschool years in gymnasium – but it doesn’t linguistically fit from Nazareth. Scholars have been puzzling and distorting over this for ages.

There is an idea that it could refer to nazirite but transformed in such manner that the Romans would not become suspicious. As if the Romans are fools. Well, according to Obelix they are.

“A Roman inspector worth his salt will regard that as nonsense and will look for the hidden message. Not every nazir is a Samson. But the prophecy is about Samson. Solved. The presumption is also that that inspector at the Ministry of Colonian Affairs in Rome would not look at reality but only at texts and would not be able to solve cryptograms.” (SMOJ p122)

Obelix's running gag. (c) Rene Goscinny cs.

Obelix’s running gag. (c) Rene Goscinny cs.

Krijbolder’s nazoraios is nasorayya

Krijbolder 1976 (in Dutch) rejects that nazoraios could mean from Nazareth and mentions as options: (1) from neser, netzer (offshoot), (2) nasi (prince or “risen up”, apparently related to resurrection) “with a suggestion of Moses and a snake”. (3) nasar (obeying the law, observant), like the Mandaeans who call themselves nasorayya. He chooses the latter. I am not convinced.

Doing a new search on this

His reference to Moses and a snake gives this:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3.14, KJV) This refers to Numbers: “And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. (…) And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (Numbers, 21.4-9, KJV)

Perhaps stuck on a stauros ? Richard Carrier also has a quote on a “Standing One”, and refers to Ben Stada (while Latin would be stare and status). It reminds of the rod of Asklepios, the god of medicine, son of Apollo. Asklepios was important for the syncretism into Serapis. The Essenes / Therapeutae were an important sect, according to Josephus. Note that his staff should not be confused with the caduceus with the two snakes of Hermes / Mercury, “the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves”.

Asklepios, Museum of Epidaurus (Source: wikipedia commons)

Asklepios, Museum of Epidaurus (Source: wikipedia commons)

Coincidence has it, that the name Monty Python also refers to a snake, the Python in mythology, or Seth in Egypt.

There is Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer. This is the small 13th sign of the zodiac (December 1-18) – and Paulos means small after all. Perhaps there is a link to the Star of Bethlehem – where Beth = House (of the zodiac) and Lehem = Bread (metaphor of Knowledge, that is easy to distribute), and December is the sowing season in Canaan (with donkey & oxen pulling the plow). My suggestion remains to also look at astrology, since that is what they did back then.

This leads to the suggestion that Moses’s brass snake found its way onto the now golden head band of the Jewish high priest. Or, Moses as a high priest already had a uraeus on his head band, copied from the Egyptians, and put it onto a stake so that it was easier to see.

John Day (ed) “King and messiah” on the Hebrew “nezer”, relating to a head attire (crown, golden head band) for the high priest, see Ps 89.39. (this weblog before, though also with an Egyptian root NZR- fulfill)

This would fit with the Epistle to the Hebrews that announces Jesus as the celestial high priest in the order of Melchizedek:

“In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author affirms that Jesus’ high priesthood is according to the order of Melchizedek, which means that it is more ancient than and superior to the Levitical high priesthood, founded on Aaron, the brother of Moses. The implication of Jesus’ superior priesthood for his Jewish readership is that Jesus is a better means of salvation than the Temple cult, which, in the author’s view, is now superseded. In order to understand it more fully, the author’s argument about Jesus as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek must be interpreted in light of second-Temple theological reflection on the figure of Melchizedek, with which the readers of the letter no doubt were familiar. It seems that the author makes use of his readers’ views about Melchizedek in order to explain his understanding of the salvation-historical significance of Jesus’ death.” (document at Crandall university, Toronto, Canada)

Uraeus on crown, mask of Tutankhamun (Source: wikimedia commons)

Uraeus on crown, mask of Tutankhamun (Source: wikimedia commons)

How rabbinate Judaism might have changed nazoraios into notzrim

Yesterday I considered the interpretation of netzer (offshoot). This apparently is a preferred interpretation in circles of Judaism. We also saw that the Talmud has been using the word notzrim = Christians for ages. There is a subtle change of meaning from offshoot → sentry → guard. Judaism thus would regard Christendom as the guards who hold Judaism captive.

There is a difference between how you call yourself and how others call you. We may consider this scenario:

  • It may well be that the sect (X) that developed Jesus as a concept had the intention of “Jesus nazoraios” to mean the “saviour crowned as the new high priest“, to distinguish this from a military saviour and liberator. (Yirmeyahu pointed out that Joshua of the Exodus is a military saviour.) (The Aramaic or Hebrew form of nazoraios still is not clear to me.)
  • The later Christian Church (CC) used the concept to take away theological primacy from the priesthood in Jerusalem. See how the Epistle to the Hebrews develops the logical argument that the Torah itself proves that the Torah should be abolished.
  • It is not clear what the relation between X and CC is: they need not be quite related except for the point that the concept is adopted.
  • Rabbinate Judaism might have accepted X as still abiding to the law, but when CC took over, they started calling the nazoraios (in its Aramaic or Hebrew equivalent) the notzrim, to express the change of perspective. (Yirmeyahu’s suggestion that nazoraios would be a confused translation then would not be accurate.)
Not Brian but Brain. Tribute to Pierre Krijbolder, “Jezus de Nazoreeër” (1976)

My analysis on Jesus benefited greatly from the book by Pierre Krijbolder (1976 in Dutch, 1999 in English). The English website is now maintained by Jan Hagen who has a degree in law. The link between these two persons consists of ethnomethodology.

Krijbolder applied this to the New Testament, and Hagen recognised this from his studies in law and in particular metajuridica. Hagen used the syllabus by professor Jacques ter Heide, now deceased. Professor Jan Broekman (Leuven, Penn State, law) worked with Ter Heide, and has written extensively on the subject. Recent works are with Penn State Law professor Larry Catà Backer: Lawyers Making Meaning, (Springer, 2013) and also with Professor Backer, Signs in Law—A Source Book (Springer, 2014). I didn’t read these books, but I get the draft:

“The idea is to analyse legal texts from a higher level of abstraction (called “meta”). The text is raw material and input for a complicated interaction or an activity field between actors: prosecution, defence, judge and legislators, and the social environment (notably represented by the media).” (The simple mathematics of Jesus, p 19)

“The book by Pierre Krijbolder should be considered at the same time as the end of all religion, but also the beginning of true empirical knowledge based spiritual thought. In this regard the title ‘Jezus de Nazoreeër’ is sort of misleading, to most people. While Jesus is historically rescued by this study, it is not as a biological person: only in an abstract sense Jesus has been historically rescued, as a model of spiritual thought and its complementary mental behavior attitude. Now this purely abstract Jesus, has never been disproven by any scientist or historian.” (Jan Hagen)

The notion that there is allegory or metaphor in the Bible is easy enough to understand. At first a reader wonders what the new contribution would be. Krijbolder and Hagen however have a good point: they want to better distinguish the literal-mathematical mind from the poetic-artistic mind. These may also be seen as different faculties of the brain.

The simplest “popular” distinction is the lateralization of the hemispheres, with the Greek “sun god” / Apollo / visual / literal / logical / mathematical approach on the right and the Judaic “moon god” / Yahweh / hearing / linguistic / poetic / creative attitude on the left. See the Krijbolder book cover. The Greek are Indo-European from the Eurasian Steppes, and supposedly Judaism developed from shepherd tribes guarding their flocks at night, and Chaldean nightly star gazers.

In semiotics (actually a rather vague collection of insights) notions can be like abstract viruses or memes that have a life of their own, and that affect behaviour even when you are not aware of it (“the word becomes flesh”). We should be careful in abusing the word “brain”, though. What is relevant is that there are different cultural modes that relate to the different faculties of the brain.

“As one should recollect, Plato advised the state, to banish all those who used artistic forms of expression, as such expressions carried in them the possibilities of multiple hermeneutical meanings, to escape proper criticism. Plato was thus against artistic and poetic freedom. Up to this very day of ours, mankind bears the toll in its ears of this biased verdict, prohibiting unbiased appreciation of pre-Platoon allegorically styled and extrapolated Hebraic minded forms of expression.

Very few apart from Pierre Krijbolder have properly appreciated this separation in mental digesting characteristics of semantics by the naturally authentic pre-Platoon expressing brain on the one hand by the rather limited hermeneutical post-Platoon brain, on the other hand. The difference in alignment of the unit of symbol for meaning is tremendous. Two entirely different worlds of semiotic brain setups.” (Hagen, main page, some typo’s corrected)

Obviously, when the New Testament is merely a vessel to propagate theological and halakha ideas in poetic form, then modern literally minded researchers of the historical Jesus are barking up the wrong tree.

Yet, some history could be recovered. Krijbolder suggests that Jesus stands for a new theological concept. There would be aspects or phases in the concept: birth, baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection have metaphorical meaning about the relation of the new theological concept with the other theological concepts (not necessarily sects) of the period. We are back to the mundane decoding of metaphors:

“So the general picture presented by Krijbolder is this: within the mainstream Essenism (Jesus of Bethlechem or young Jesus), a new sub-movement led by former Qumran sect chief priests, was gradually developed; the baptized Jesus. These former Qumran chief priests taught the spiritual law interpretation that required the sadducean law orientation, whereas the main stream Essenism followed the pharisaic law orientation. The reason was, that those former Qumran priests, must have recognized in the immortality of the soul doctrine illustrative for the mainstream Essenism, a motivation that was lacking in the Qumran-movement. Only the pharisaic law orientation seemed to provide the window, for such motivation. So they walked over, leaving then the Qumran-movement or symbolically John the Baptist, as beheaded allegorically.” (Hagen, “about” page, typos corrected)

Thus: Essenes (Therapeutae) & Qumran Sadducees → Nazoraios (as a new kind of Pharisees). I am not sure whether it is historically correct to associate Qumran with the Sabians. But Robert M. Price in his review of Eisenman’s New Testament Code agrees:

“The Teacher of Righteous was James the Just (though Arthur E. Palumbo, Jr., The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Personages of Earliest Christianity, 2004, may be right: as per Barbara Thiering, John the Baptist may have been the first to hold that office, with James as his successor).” (Robert M. Price)

We saw before that Christianity relies on Original Sin. For the notion of Original Sin it indeed is important to have an immortal soul. Thus Judaism originally fled from Egyptian religion, like Protestants with iconoclastic rejection of false gods. The Torah emphasizes the law rather than the Egyptian notion of an immortal soul that is judged by Osiris in the Hall of Ma’at. With a twist of history, Jesus leads the way back to Egypt. Jesus as a person is a myth, but as a concept is historical.

PM 1. Krijbolder 1976 doesn’t benefit from the recent time shift hypothesis that puts events around 70 AD rather than 30 AD (Eisenman, Einhorn).

PM 2. A downside of the Krijbolder / Hagen website is that Hagen’s use of English is somewhat crude and at times difficult to follow. He also includes his own analysis, and at times one cannot see what is from Krijbolder and what is from Hagen. He also included in the English book version a new section on the Turin Shroud that makes for historical nonsense. Thus he has saved Krijbolder’s important work from oblivion but there is still work to make it more accessible. Hagen own views and interpretations are also relevant and he should state those more clearly. However, I read the book with great interest and with quite an impact on my understanding (skipping the part on the Shroud) and can recommend it.

NB. This text is also archived on this website under the denominator “Anatomy of Holland”. Krijbolder’s book dates from 1976. His analysis apparently has been structurally neglected or ridiculed in Holland, which again slows the Dutch closed mind. Consider the waste of time since 1976 ….

Krijbolder 1999

Krijbolder 1999


If the Life of Brian is given a make-over, I would suggest to put in more snakes.

Since Joan Taylor speaks about the historical Jesus as a Jew, he cannot be a concept or metaphor – unless she means that Jew is a concept or metaphor too.


Professor Taylor on nazoraios and nasorayyo

Joan Taylor, “The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea” (2012) p171-172, (Amazon reviews),  tells the following about the nasorayya – and I only looked at these pages and not the rest of the book.

Taylor 2012

Taylor 2012

Remarkable points:

  • Judaism after 70 AD did not become rabbinic overnight. It took some efforts, as Yohanan ben Zak(k)ai shows.
  • The name “Samaritans”, how they call themselves, means guardians of the law !
  • Samaritans in the Talmud are called by others kuthim or Cutheans, apparently referring to Kutha in Iraq. It this might be a midrash (not a “lie”). It reminds of the kittim apparently also used for the foreigners, Greek & Roman. Wikipedia gives Kittim ~ Kiton on Cyprus ~ Citium ~ “It was often applied to all the Aegean islands and even to “the W[est] in general, but esp[ecially] the seafaring W[est].“” This reminds of the Sea Peoples and the collapse in 1177 BC, and the Philistines (Palestina). Also, Paul’s visit to Cyprus to buy figs, and where he met Bar-Jesus, might only be a midrash on that he got his theology (fig tree) from the kittim.
  • Taylor suggests that the Essenes would be called ‘Herodians’. I don’t understand why she suggests this. Mark 12:13-17 has “13 And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. (…) 17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.” But it is not clear that these Pharisees or Herodians would be Essenes. See also Mark 3:6 on the Sabbath. (I didn’t read her book though.)
  • She mentions different translations of nazoraios but (at this occasion) doesn’t indicate the problems, and doesn’t touch on the question what the proper translation would be. Her reference to Jesus in the (post 70 AD) Talmud as ha-Notzri is too simple (but perhaps covered by the references she gives).
Joan Taylor p171

Joan Taylor p171


Taylor p172

Joan Taylor p172


Joan Taylor p172 footnotes

Joan Taylor p172 footnotes

C.K. Barrett, Acts: Volume 1: 1-14

C.K. Barrett, Acts: Volume 1: 1-14, p 140, 1994, reprinted twice in 2006, gives the “traditional” view that nazoraios would be “from Nazareth”. This is clearly deficient. (And a good occasion to practice your German too.)

Barrett p140

Barrett p140

The Sabians, discussed by Paul Carus, editor of the Monist, 1915

The editor of the Monist (pdf p295, here at JSTOR) looks at the Sabians – the baptists whom we already met with Queen Helen of Adiabene.

  • “The word Sabian means “baptizer”. It is derived from the Hebrew tsaba and ought to be pronounced Tsabian, with a sharp German z as initial. (…) we have good reason to assume that the Christians adopted baptism from them.”
  • The Babylonian link for the Mandaeans would fit the location of Adiabene.
  • The mediator between God and mankind, who descents and also visits hell, reminds of Jesus.
  • There are seven heavens, like in the Ascension of Isaiah, that Richard Carrier referred too, while the Torah would have three heavens. The Talmud curiously has seven heavens. Check Genesis on the plural “heavens“. I hope that someone can give a reliable exegesis, but perhaps they are already trying since LXX (with Judaic gnostic cosmology).
The Monist p295

The Monist p295

Carus suggests that St. John the Baptist had founded an independent “perfected” religion, and that he was reduced in the NT to only a precursor of Christ.

Thus the Sabians would have a subsect with the name “Disciples of John”:

  • with baptism
  • with a spiritual Christ (anointed one)
  • similar to a faith in Apollos – a name that sounds similar to Paulos
  • someone’s left hemisphere creates the new word gnosistic.

Apparently the source is The Odes of Solomon, that wikipedia dates to perhaps the 2nd century. It would be some half-way-house between Christianity and Gnosis: “Thus, the Odes may be seen as existing in a time and place where gnosistic terms among non-gnostic Christians were still acceptable (…)”.

The Monist p296

The Monist p296


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