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The Nazirite Vow

The Nazirite (spelt 'Nazarite' in the King James Version) Vow is described in
Numbers 6:1-21. A man or woman who took the Nazirite Vow dedicated him or herself completely to God for a stated period. Sometimes this was for life, or sometimes a child would be so devoted from birth. The Nazirite Vow was thus a form of consecration to the service of God.

Nazirites must refrain from strong drink, including wine and any product of the vine, for cultivation of the vine was associated with the settled way of life, rather than with the nomadic existence. Another regulation concerning Nazirites forbids them to cut their hair.

Some Rastafarians have adopted the Nazirite Vow as a way of life. The hair is often allowed to grow long and uncut, to form
dreadlocks, the notion of which is also perhaps linked to the image of the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). An Ital (vital/natural) vegan or vegetarian diet is also often kept, though some Rastafarians eat fish, and some also eat meat, but pork at least is generally avoided (see Leviticus 11:7).

Rastafari is thus strongly linked to ancient Jewish food laws. From the perspective of the New Testament, these food laws no longer need to be kept (see for example
1 Timothy 4:1-3, which states that all foods were 'created to be received with thanksgiving'). St. Paul even wrote, 'One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.' But abstinence from certain foods is certainly understandable, and is often influenced by concerns of physical health as much as of spiritual health. Processed foods in particular may be avoided since they often contain unnatural ingredients thought to be harmful (additives, preservatives, flavourings, colours, added salt or sugar), or repulsive on moral grounds (e.g. genetically modified ingredients, or meat from animals that have suffered cruelty). Rastafarians aim to be utterly independent of 'Babylon' and so will seek to use only truly Ital ingredients.

Samson was a Nazirite dedicated to God while still in his mother's womb (see
Judges 13:2-7), and who grew up to become the most famous Nazirite of the Bible. His legendary unrivalled strength lay in his long hair, since this was the physical and visual evidence of his vow. During his lifetime, Samson won numerous victories against Israel's enemies, especially the Philistines. As Bob Marley sings in 'Rastaman Live Up', "Samson slew the Philistines with a donkey jawbone", a reference to Judges 15:15-16. However, Samson was eventually betrayed into the Philistines' hands by his wife, Delilah, who shaved off his hair while he slept. (More recently, many Rastafarians suffered a similar fate when they were imprisoned and their locks were shaved off before they were released the following morning, hence the expression, "Dreadlocks in moonlight, baldhead at sunrise", in Lee Perry's song, 'Dreadlocks In Moonlight'.) But Samson's hair that had been shorn off began to grow back. Thus he finally had his revenge on the Philistines, when he regained his strength long enough to bring the roof and pillars of a large building crashing down upon thousands of them as well as killing himself. Read his whole story in Judges 13-16.

It is probable that several other well known biblical characters were also Nazirites, including some of Israel's greatest prophets. Samuel, for example, was devoted from birth. His mother, Hannah, had previously been barren (barrenness was considered a disgrace or even a punishment for a woman), but she vowed that if God would give her a son, she would dedicate him to service in God's temple for his whole life, and no razor should ever touch his head. (See
1 Samuel 1:10-11). Subsequently, she conceived and gave birth to Samuel, who went on to become a great prophet and annointed Israel's first two kings.

It is thought by some that John the Baptist may also have been a Nazirite, since the angel who came to announce his birth stated that he should drink "neither wine nor strong drink", and that he would be "filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb". (See
Luke 1:15). During his childhood and youth, he also lived the typical nomadic existence of a Nazirite.
John may well have modelled his life on that of the Old Testament prophet Elijah - compare, for example, their similar modes of dress, in
2 Kings 1:8 and Mark 1:6.

Not surprisingly, the word 'Nazirite' has sometimes been connected with 'Nazarene' (see
Matthew 2:23 and Acts 24:5), which may have contributed to the idea of Jesus being a Nazirite, hence the popular Rastafarian influenced image of the dreadlocked Jesus.

A Rastafarian depiction of the Last Supper of Jesus (here shown as Haile Selassie), and his disciples. ... I'd like to credit this artwork properly - if anyone knows the artist, please email me! Thanks

Linguistically, there is strictly no connection between 'Nazirite' and 'Nazarene' in the original Hebrew language. The Hebrew word 'Nazir', from which is derived 'Nazirite', means a 'crown' or 'diadem', and hence also refers to a person who vows to let his or her hair grow as an offering to God. On the other hand, the word 'Nazarene' refers to 'a dweller in Nazareth' (more properly 'Natzeret' - see
Luke 1:26) the town in Galilee of northern Israel where Jesus spent his childhood. The name Natzeret is derived from a root word, 'Netzer', meaning 'to sprout' or 'to create'.

Not long after Jesus' death, Paul the Apostle wrote, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" (
1 Corinthians 11:14). Such reasoning may seem outdated today, but Paul was writing at a time when the polarity of the sexes was insisted upon, and therefore a man with long hair was considered a disgrace. Nevertheless, through the ages, Jesus has been most frequently portrayed wearing long hair - a sure testimony to the fact that most artists have considered that nature teaches otherwise! It is worth remembering that Paul never actually met the historical Jesus.

Songs such as '
Rastaman' by Bunny Wailer, and 'Dreadlocks Nazarene' by Prince Alla may be based on a slight linguistic misconception, but if so, it has produced some apt insights on the Rastafarian perception of Jesus. Indeed, the word 'Nazarene' also has some interesteing further implications, for besides its literal meaning of 'a dweller in Nazareth', the name has come to be applied to a relatively obscure, long misunderstood religious group, the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).

Jesus' first followers, including his disciples and companions who knew him personally, were initially all called Nazarenes. These were not 'Christians' in the modern sense. The term 'Christian' only began to be used much later, in Antioch (
Acts 11:26), to refer to people who accepted Paul's teachings about Jesus, though probably had never met or known Jesus himself.

Modern research has revealed much about the Nazarenes and their early practices. They seem to have held beliefs about Jesus that are much more comparable with those of Islam than orthodox Christianity. Following the discovery of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran after 1947, the Nazarenes have also been closely associated with the Essene community. See the following archive of Nazarene Essene literature:
The Nazarene Way - The Esoteric Teachings of Jesus and the Nazarene Essenes.

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