Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
A Nazirite (Authorized Versionincorrectly ‘Nazarite’) was one dedicated to God and bound by a vow, the nature of which is explained below.
1. The name. -The primary significance of the Hebrew נָזַר nâzar (not used in Qal) is ‘to separate.’ Hence the נָזִיר nâzîr is ‘the separated, consecrated, or devoted one.’ The same word in the form nezîr is found in Syriac, where it is used, e.g., of maidens consecrated to the service of Belthis (see W. R. Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith)2, p. 483). In Genesis 49:26 nâzîr is applied to Joseph, ‘him who was separate from his brethren.’ In Lamentations 4:7 ‘her Nazarites’ (Authorized Version) probably means ‘her nobles’ (Revised Version). Usually, however, the name nâzîr is to be understood in the technical sense of one separated by the taking, or imposition, of a peculiar vow. One of the marks of the Nazirite was his unshorn locks. Hence the word nâzîr was sometimes used in the general sense of ‘untrimmed’ or ‘unshorn.’ In Leviticus 25:5; Leviticus 25:11 it is used of an undressed vine, and in Jeremiah 7:29 it refers probably to unshorn hair, without implying the Nazirite vow.
2. The vow. -In Numbers 6:1-21 we have the law of the Nazirite. He was bound (1) to abstain from the use of wine, strong drink, and all products of the vine ‘from the kernels even to the husk’ ( Numbers 6:3-4); (2) to ‘let the locks of the hair of his head grow’ unshorn ( Numbers 6:5); (3) to avoid contact with any dead body ( Numbers 6:6-7). From the instructions given to the mother of Samson ( Judges 13:4) some add, as a fourth mark of the Nazirite, abstinence from unclean food. But this was a precept for all Jews, and cannot be regarded as in any way a peculiar mark of the Nazirite. No doubt it may be said to follow from the third point above, that the Nazirite would be careful to guard against all ceremonial defilement.
If by mishap the Nazirite were defiled by contact with the dead, he had to go through a process of ceremonial cleansing, shaving his head and bringing a sin-offering, a burnt-offering, and a trespass-offering, and then begin the original period of his Naziriteship de novo ( Numbers 6:9-12). From the same passage it is clear that both men and women might take the vow ( Numbers 6:2).
3. Development of Naziritism. -It does not lie within the scope of this article to set forth completely the probable rise and evolution of Naziritism, or to argue fully the various problems involved. The reader must consult Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)or Jewish Encyclopedia. Here we simply indicate the most likely way along which Naziritism advanced till it became the complicated phenomenon it presents in the period with which we deal.
It is quite clear, and may be said to be generally admitted, that the legislation of Numbers 6 does not create Naziritism, but regulates it. It is already in existence, with probably a long history behind it. Premising that its earliest history is quite unknown to us, we may say that it makes its first recorded appearance with Samson (Judges 13). He was a ‘Nazirite unto God from the womb.’ Now the only part of the regulations of Numbers 6 that we can affirm with certainty to have been observed by Samson is that prohibiting the cutting of the hair. Quite certainly all the stress is laid on that in his history. His mother, indeed, is commanded to abstain from wine till he be born, but there is no evidence in the stories that there was anything of the ascetic about Samson himself. It is clear that the prohibition against contact with the dead could not have held for him ( Judges 14:19).
When we come to the time of Amos, we find that abstinence from wine is most emphasized. ‘Ye gave the Nazirites wine to drink’ ( Judges 2:12). It is quite clear that by this time abstinence from wine is essential to the Nazirite. Numbers 6 gives equal emphasis to both points, and adds the requirement of ceremonial purity with reference to the dead.
Probably, then, we have three stages in the historical development of Naziritism, but we may take it that the mark of the Nazirite par excellence all through was the unshorn locks, as the use of nâzîr in Leviticus 25:5; Leviticus 25:11 seems to prove. The root idea of Naziritism is ‘separated unto God,’ and in the three prohibitions we have a triple expression of that separation. The first and second came to be merely conventional signs of Naziritism, but it is not difficult to conjecture what significance they had originally. During the period of his vow the Nazirite left his hair unshorn; at the close he burned it at the sanctuary as an offering. The custom of sacrificing the hair was widespread among many nations, the view doubtless being that part of the body may be sacrificed as representing the whole. The hair was unshorn during the vow because, being designed for sacrifice to God, it must be kept inviolate till the set time. Among the ancient Arabians there were several groups bearing a strong resemblance to the Hebrew Nazirites, and it was for purposes of war or blood-feud that they consecrated themselves. Quite probably the earliest type of Naziritism was of similar import. To be a hero against his people’s enemies is the end of Samson’s consecration.
In the ascetic abstinence from wine and the abhorrence of everything connected with the vine, we find probably the remnant of a protest on the part of those who regarded themselves as true Jews against the adoption by Israel of Canaanitish culture. In this the Rechabites were closely allied to the Nazirites. Though this protest had been long forgotten, the ascetic principle would persist in its own strength. The Nazirite, being specially consecrated to God, had a certain affinity with the priests, who were also specially consecrated. Hence it was natural that regulations against defilement, similar to those which applied to priests, should be imposed on Nazirites likewise. (For full discussion of all those points the reader is referred to Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)iii., article‘Nazirite.’)
4. Naziritism in the 1st cent. a.d. -By this time the law of the Nazirite had been minutely developed and expanded into a whole treatise in the Mishna. From the number and variety of the regulations we may infer that the taking of the vow was a very common occurrence. Men and women, both high and low in rank, became Nazirites. Berenice ( Acts 25:13) took a vow (Josephus, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xv. 1). Queen Helena of Adiabene was a Nazirite for many years (Nâzîr, iii. 6), as was also Miriam of Palmyra. Women and slaves could take the vow, but only with the consent of their husbands or owners (ib. iv. 1-5). Fathers might dedicate minors, mothers were forbidden to do so (ib. iv. 29). If one saw a woman convicted of sin by the process of Numbers 5:11-31, he was admonished to become a Nazirite, on the ground that the law of the Nazirite follows immediately in Numbers 6.
The vow was taken for a variety of reasons, such as deliverance from or prevention of sickness (Josephus, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xv. 1), the fulfilment of a wish (Nâzîr, i. 7), or as a penance (Nedârîm, 9b). We may suppose that the same variety of reason as might induce a Catholic to undertake a pilgrimage-penance, discipline, thanksgiving, or the acquisition of merit-would lead the Jew to take a Nazirite vow.
The vow might be for a lifetime or any shorter period that the devotee might choose. In practice the shortest period was 30 days, and this was also the period in an indefinite vow (Nâzîr, i. 3). The vow might be taken outside Palestine, but, so long as the Temple stood, had to be ended in Palestine. The followers of Hillel maintained that though a vow might be observed outside the Holy Land, the whole period must be observed over again in Palestine. The school of Shammai held that it was necessary to observe only 30 days in Palestine.
A man became a Nazirite simply by declaring his intention or wish to become one (ib. i. 1), but there were many formulae connected with the taking of the vow, some of which are not intelligible. It was not a valid vow to say ‘Let my hand be nâzîr,’ it was valid to say ‘Let my liver be nâzîr’; but what was the meaning of saying either we cannot tell. The three restrictions of Numbers 6 remained in force. If one said, however, ‘Let me be a Nazirite on the day that Messiah appears,’ one might drink wine on Sabbaths and feast days, since it was held Messiah would not appear on any of them (’Erubîn, 43a). A life-long Nazirite might out his hair once a year, unless he were a Samson-Nazirite (Nâzîr, i. 4a). This permission followed from the recognition of Absalom as a Nazirite ( 2 Samuel 14:26). The Nazirite was denied the use of a comb, but might dress his hair by other means (Nâzîr, i. 6). On the expiry of his vow the Nazirite had to offer sacrifices ( Numbers 6:13 ff.) at the Temple while it stood, and ‘take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace offerings.’ The necessary expenses were heavy, and it was considered a meritorious thing for the wealthy to defray the expenses of poor Nazirites. The technical term for this charity was ‘having so many Nazirites shorn’ (Nâzîr, ii. 5, 6), King Agrippa, ‘coming to Jerusalem in much greater prosperity than he had before, … ordered that many of the Nazirites should have their heads shorn (Josephus, Ant. XIX. vi. 1).
The destruction of the Temple was no doubt a fatal blow to Naziritism. It gradually disappeared in asceticism, and there is no trace of its survival beyond the early Christian centuries. (For a fuller account of Naziritism in Rabbinical literature see Jewish Encyclopediaix. 195 ff.)
5. Naziritism in the NT. -Nazirites are not definitely mentioned in the NT, and there is difference of opinion as to the number of indirect references.
(a) Jesus.-Jesus had no connexion with Naziritism technically considered. Yet the names Nazarene and Nazoraean applied to Him bear some resemblance to Nazirite. Late ecclesiastical writers like Eusebius, Tertullian, and Jerome show a tendency to confuse the three terms. And if Nazir were taken, not in its technical sense, but as meaning ‘holy one’ (it is actually so rendered twice in Septuagint, Judges 13:7; Judges 16:17), we can see how Jesus might popularly be called Nazir. By a play on words the people might say, ‘Jesus-not Nazarene but Nazir.’ (For a full discussion of this point see E. A. Abbott, ‘Nazarene and Nazoraean,’ in Miscellanea Evangelica I., Cambridge, 1913.)
(b) John the Baptist.-Some hold that the Baptist was a Nazirite, but there is not evidence sufficient to justify this. It cannot be accepted that he ‘is described as a Nazirite for life ( Luke 1:15)’ (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)iii. 500). The only point in which it is predicted or enjoined that John shall resemble the Nazirites is his abstinence from wine, but there is no ground for believing that all who practised that self-denial were Nazirites. This verse describes him no more as a Nazirite than as an Essene, which some, as groundlessly, have held him to be.
(c) James the Just.-With full confidence we might recognize a life-long Nazirite in James ‘the brother of the Lord,’ if we could trust the description of him quoted from the Commentaries of Hegesippus, bk. v., in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)II. xxiii.: ‘This Apostle was consecrated from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, nor ate animal food. A razor never came upon his head.’ But the succeeding incredible statement, ‘he alone was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies,’ and the improbable account of his martyrdom which follows, and contrasts unfavourably with the account given by Josephus (Ant. XX. ix. 1), cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the historian, who probably took his information in part from the Ebionitic Ascents of James (see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)ii. 542).
(d) Acts 18:18.-This verse presents various difficulties. We may decide the grammatical difficulty by saying that, though the construction is ambiguous, it is St. Paul whose head was shorn at Cenchreae, ‘for he had a vow.’ Was it a Nazirite vow? There is no inherent improbability in the thought that St. Paul should take a Nazirite vow, rather the reverse. As we have seen, the vow was a common thing among Jews, and we could easily conjecture plausible grounds for St. Paul’s taking it, e.g. deliverance from danger at Corinth ( Acts 18:1-17) or recovery from sickness, the ‘thorn in the flesh’ to which he was subject. But the supreme difficulty in holding that this was a Nazirite vow is that his head was shorn at Cenchreae, not at Jerusalem, where alone a Nazirite vow could be completed. None of the various explanations that have been offered seems to be adequate. We have noted above that the Nazirite was permitted to cut his hair once a year, if his vow were for a lifetime. But this will hardly suit St. Paul’s case. Again, he is on his way to keep a feast in Jerusalem ( Acts 18:21). Why he should have his head shorn in Cenchreae when in a few weeks he would be in Jerusalem is a mystery, if his was a Nazirite vow. Nor does it meet the case to suggest that this shearing was to purify himself on account of his sojourn among the heathen. For, once again, why should he perform that in a heathen land and not wait till he was in Palestine? Some say that it was customary to shear one’s locks at the beginning of a vow, and that St. Paul is not completing but beginning the period of his vow at Cenchreae. Those who say so quote no authorities for their view, and for a good reason. There is not a particle of evidence anywhere that shearing the hair was a token that a vow was beginning. ‘To shear the head’ was a technical phrase meaning to complete a vow. Hence we must conclude that in all likelihood it was a private, not a Nazirite, vow that St. Paul completed at Cenchreae (see Expositor’s Greek Testament, in loc.; cf. A. C. McGiffert, Hist. of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 274, n.[Note: . note.]4).
(e) Acts 21:23-26.-In this passage it is quite clear that it was a Nazirite vow that the four men had on them, and we have explained above what is meant by St. Paul being at charges for them, that they might shave their heads, viz. that he should defray the rather high cost of the necessary offerings. What is meant by St. Paul’s purifying himself with them (vv. 24, 26)? The shortest period allowed for the duration of a Nazirite vow was 30 days (see above). An explanation like the following is very attractive: ‘The law permitted a man to share the vow if he could find companions who had gone through the prescribed ceremonies and who permitted him to join their company. This permission was commonly granted if the new-comer paid all the fees required from the whole company …, and finished the vow along with the others’ (T. M. Lindsay, Acts of the Apostles, Edinburgh, 1884, ii. 113; cf. J. I. Still, The Early Gentile Christian Church, Edinburgh, 1913, p. 125). Unfortunately, no authority is quoted in support of this view, nor have we been able to find any. (For a better suggestion, see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)iii. 500.) No view is free from difficulty, but on the whole the suggestion of F. J. A. Hort is most satisfying, that St. Paul himself may have been about to offer sacrifices in connexion with a vow made previously, not necessarily a Nazirite vow (see Judaistic Christianity, Cambridge, 1894, p. 109 f.).
Literature.-articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols), Dict. of Christ and the Gospels, Encyclopaedia Biblica, Jewish Encyclopedia, PRE[Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.]3, s.v.; S. R. Driver, Cambridge Bible, ‘Joel and Amos,’ Cambridge, 1897, p. 152f.; R. J. Knowling, in Expositor’s Greek Testament, ‘Acts,’ London, 1900, pp. 392 f., 449 f.; J. Grill, in Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie, 1880, p. 645 ff.; G. B. Gray, in Journal of Theological Studiesi.  201 ff.; W. R. Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith)2, London, 1894, pp. 323 ff., 481 ff.; H. Ewald, The Antiquities of Israel, Eng. translation, London, 1876, pp. 84-88, 152, 281.
W. D. Niven.
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
NAZIRITE (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] Nazarite ). The primary meaning of the Heb. verb nÃ¢zar is to separate. Hence the nÃ¢zÃ®r is ‘the separated,’ ‘consecrated,’ ‘devoted.’ Joseph is ‘the Nazirite,’ i.e ., the consecrated prince, among his brethren ( Genesis 49:26 ); the nobles of Jerusalem bear the same title ( Lamentations 4:7 ); the untrimmed vine, whose branches recall the long hair of the Nazirite proper, is called ‘thy Nazirite’ ( Leviticus 25:5; Leviticus 25:11 ). But, above all, the name belongs to a class of persons devoted by a special vow to Jahweh ( Amos 2:11 f., Judges 13:5; Judges 16:17 , Numbers 6:1-27 , Sir 46:13 , 1Ma 3:49-53 ). According to Judges 13:1-25 and Numbers 6:1-27 , the details of outward observance covered by the vow were: (1) abstinence from the fruit of the vine, (2) leaving the hair uncut, (3) avoidance of contact with the dead, and (4) of all unclean food.
Opinions differ as to whether the abstinence from wine or the untrimmed hair was the more important. Amos 2:11 f. mentions only the former. 1 Samuel 1:11 , on the other band, refers only to the latter (the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ‘and he shall drink no wine or strong drink’ being an interpolation). If we look outside the OT, we see that among the ancients generally the hair was regarded as so important an outcome of the physical life as to be a fit offering to the deity, and a means of initiating or restoring communion with Him. There is evidence for this from Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and, in recent times, even among the Maoris. This, then, seems to have been the original observance. If Amos 2:11 f. does not mention it, the reason is that the most attractive temptation was found in the wine. Judges 13:7 states that Samson’s mother was bidden to abstain, but the same is not affirmed of Samson himself; all the stress, in his case, is laid on the hair being untouched ( Judges 16:17 ). Numbers 6:3-4 puts the abstinence first, but even here the significance of the other point appears in the directions for the ceremonial shaving and oblation of the hair ( Numbers 6:18 ). The vine stood for the culture and civilization of Canaan, and was specially associated with the worship of the nature-gods. Hence it was a point of honour with the zealots of Jahweh to turn away from it utterly. The luxury and immorality connected with a more advanced civilization threatened the simplicity of Israel’s life and faith. Martial devotion coalesced with the ascetic spirit to produce such men as Jonadab, son of Rechab, who resembled the Nazirites very closely ( 2 Kings 10:15 , Jeremiah 35:6 f.).
The Nazirite vow was originally a life-long obligation. Young and enthusiastic men were moved by the Spirit of God to take it up, as others were inspired to be prophets, and it was an offence against Him to tempt them to break it ( Amos 2:11 f.). Women were divinely bidden to devote their promised offspring ( Judges 13:7 ). Others prayed for children and promised that they should then be consecrated to this service ( 1 Samuel 1:11; it is noteworthy that in the Heb. and Syr. of Sir 46:13 , Samuel is expressly called a Nazirite). In course of time, however, a great change came over the purpose and spirit of the institution. The vow was now taken to gain some personal end protection on a journey, deliverance from sickness, etc. Women, too, became Nazirites. And the restrictions were only for a certain period. Numbers 6:1-27 represents this stage, but the information which it gives needs supplementing. For instance, it fails to prescribe the manner in which the vow should be entered on. The Talmud asserts that this was done in private, and was binding if one simply said, ‘Behold, I am a Nazirite,’ or repeated after another, ‘I also become one’ ( Nazir , i. 3, iii. 1, iv. 1). Numbers 6:1-27 does not determine the length of these temporary vows. Here, again, a rule had to be made, and it was decided that the person himself might fix the period; otherwise, it should be thirty days ( Nazir , i. 3, iii. 1; Jos. [Note: Josephus.] BJ II. xv. 1). In case of accidental defilement, the Nazirite had to undergo seven days’ purification, cut off his hair on the seventh day and have it buried ( Temura , vi. 4), on the eighth day bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, one for a sin-, one for a burnt-offering, as well as a lamb for a guilt-offering, and thus begin the course of his vow afresh (cf. Nazir , iii. 6; Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XX. ii. 5). At the expiration of the time he was brought to the door of the sanctuary, with a he-lamb for a burnt-offering, a ewe-lamb for a sin-offering, a ram for a peace-offering, ten unleavened cakes and ten unleavened wafers anointed with oil, a meat-offering, and a drink-offering. When the sacrifices had been offered his hair was shaved and he put it in the fire which was under the peace-offering, or under the caldron in which the latter was boiled ( Nazir , vi. 8). Then a wave-offering was made, consisting of the sodden shoulder of the ram, a cake, and a wafer. The fat was then salted and burned on the altar, and the breast and the foreleg were eaten by the priests, who also ate the waved cake and the boiled shoulder; the rest of the bread and meat belonged to the offerer (Maimonides, Hilchoth Maase ha-Corbanoth , ix. 9 11). A free-will offering followed ( Numbers 6:21 ). In the second Temple there was a chamber in the S.E. corner of the women’s court, where the Nazirites boiled their peace-offerings, cut off their hair and cast it into the caldron.
The following historical notices are of some interest: (1) 1Ma 3:49-53 enables us to realize the importance which came to be attached to the punctilious performance of every one of the ceremonies. Just before the battle of Emmaus, the Nazirites, being shut out of Jerusalem, could not offer the concluding sacrifices there. Evidently this was regarded as a serious public calamity. (2) The important tractate of the Talmud entitled Berakhoth tells a story of slightly later date than the above, which illustrates the ingenuity which the Rabbis displayed in finding reasons for releasing from their vows persons who had rashly undertaken them (vii. 2). (3) John the Baptist has been claimed as a Nazirite, but this is doubtful; we read nothing about his hair being untouched. (4) A custom grew up for wealthy people to provide the requisite sacrifices for their poorer brethren. Thus, when Agrippa came from Rome to Jerusalem to enter on his kingdom, ‘he offered many sacrifices of thanksgiving; wherefore also he ordered that many of the Nazirites should have their heads shaven’ (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XIX. vi. 1). This throws light on Acts 21:23-26 . (5) Eusebius ( HE ii. 23) appears to represent James the Just as a lifelong Nazirite: ‘He was holy from his mother’s womb. Wine and strong drink he drank not, neither did he eat flesh. A razor passed not over his head.’ But the further statement that he alone was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies is so improbable as to lessen our confidence in the narrator.
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 
The word ‘Nazirite’ is used to indicate both a kind of vow and the person who made such a vow. It is not to be confused with Nazarene (the name given to a person from the town of Nazareth), but comes from the Hebrew word nazir, whose meaning indicates that a Nazirite vow was one of separation ( Numbers 6:2). Those who made Nazirite vows wanted to show openly that they had set themselves apart to God for some special purpose over a certain period.
During the period covered by the vow, Nazirite kept three special laws. First, they refused wine and anything that was likely to produce it, to demonstrate their refusal of life’s enjoyments and to avoid any possibility of drunkenness. Second, they let their hair grow long, as an open sign to all that they were living under the conditions of a Nazirite vow. Third, they avoided anything dead, to emphasize to themselves and others the holiness that their service for God demanded ( Numbers 6:3-8).
If people broke their Nazirite vow deliberately, no remedy was available. If they broke it accidentally, they could ask forgiveness through offering sacrifices. But the time they had kept their vow was lost and they had to begin again ( Numbers 6:9-12; cf. Amos 2:11-12). At the end of the period of the vow, they offered sacrifices, shaved off their hair and were released from the three Nazirite restrictions ( Numbers 6:13-21).
Probably the best known Nazirite in the Bible was Samson, whose parents dedicated him to God at birth to be a Nazirite for life. Samson had little regard for the Nazirite laws concerning the drinking of wine and contact with dead bodies, though he did allow his hair to remain uncut. When he finally broke that law too, he broke the last remaining link in his declared devotion to God ( Judges 13:3-7; Judges 14:9-10; Judges 14:19; Judges 16:19-20).
Samuel and John the Baptist were possibly Nazirites for life ( 1 Samuel 1:11; Luke 1:15). It appears that on one occasion Paul took a short-term Nazirite vow upon himself ( Acts 18:18; cf. Acts 21:23-26).
Holman Bible Dictionary 
The Nazirite's outward signs—the growth of hair, abstention from wine and other alcoholic products, the avoidance of contact with the dead—are illustrative of devotion to God. Violation of these signs resulted in defilement and the need for purification so the vow could be completed. Numbers 6:1-21 regulated the practice and lined the phenomenon to cultic law and locality. Numbers 6:1-8 show how the Nazirite's period was begun. In case of defilement, a method of purification was given ( Numbers 6:9-12 ). The status was terminated ( Numbers 6:13-21 ) by the burning of shaven hair and the giving of various offerings. Parallels exist between the cultic purity of the high priest and the Nazirite.
The lifelong Nazirite in biblical tradition included Samson ( Judges 13:1 ), Samuel ( 1 Samuel 1:1 ), and John the Baptist ( Luke 1:15-17 ). In the New Testament, Paul took the Nazirite vow for a specific period of time ( Acts 18:18; Acts 21:22-26 ). Amos 2:12 shows an ethical concern for protecting the status of the Nazirite.
Webster's Dictionary 
(n.) A Nazarite.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 
naz´i - rı̄t ( נזיר , nāzı̄r , connected with נדר , nādhar , "to vow"; ναζείρ , nazeı́r , ναζειραῖος , nazeiraı́os , as also various words indicating "holiness" or "devotion"; the King James Version, Nazarite ):
1. Antiquity and Origin
5. Completion and Release
6. Semi-sacerdotal Character
7. Nazirites for Life
8. Samson's Case
9. Samuel's Case
11. Did Not Form Communities
12. Among Early Christians
13. Parallels among Other Peoples
The root-meaning of the word in Hebrew as well as the various Greek translations indicates the Nazirite as "a consecrated one" or "a devotee." In the circumstances of an ordinary vow, men consecrated some material possession, but the Nazirite consecrated himself or herself, and took a vow of separation and self-imposed discipline for the purpose of some special service, and the fact of the vow was indicated by special signs of abstinence. The chief Old Testament passages are Judges 13:5-7; Judges 16:17; Nu 6; Amos 2:11 , Amos 2:12; compare Sirach 46:13 (Hebrew); 1 Macc 3:49-52.
1. Antiquity and Origin:
The question has been raised as to whether the Nazirite vow was of native or foreign origin in Israel.The idea of special separation, however, seems in all ages to have appealed to men of a particular temperament, and we find something of the kind in many countries and always linked with special abstinence of some kind; and from all that is said in the Pentateuch we should infer that the custom was already ancient in Israel and that Mosaism regulated it, bringing it into line with the general system of religious observance and under the cognizance of the Aaronic priests. The critics assign the section dealing with this matter ( Numbers 6:1-21 ) to the Priestly Code (P), and give it a late date, but there cannot be the least doubt that the institution itself was early. It seems not unlikely that on the settlement in Canaan, when the Israelites, having failed to overcome the native population, began to 1009 freely with them, the local worship, full of tempting Dionysiac elements, brought forth this religious protest in favor of Israel's ancient and simpler way of living, and as a protection against luxury in settling nomads. It is worthy of note that among the Semites vine-growing and wine-drinking have ever been considered foreign to their traditional nomadic mode of life. It was in this same protest that the Rechabites, who were at least akin to the Nazirites, went still farther in refusing even in Canaan to abandon the nomadic state. See Rechabites .
2. Conditions of the Vow:
The Pentateuch, then, makes provision for the Nazirite vow being taken by either men or women, though the Old Testament does not record a single instance of a female Nazirite. Further, it provides only for the taking of the vow for a limited time, that is, for the case of the "Nazirite of days." No period of duration is mentioned in the Old Testament, but the Mishna, in dealing with the subject, prescribes a period of 30 days, while a double period of 60 or even a triple one of 100 days might be entered on. The conditions of Naziritism entailed: (1) the strictest abstinence from wine and from every product of the vine; (2) the keeping of the hair uncut and the beard untouched by a razor; (3) the prohibition to touch a dead body; and (4) prohibition of unclean food ( Judges 13:5-7; Nu 6).
The ceremonial of initiation is not recorded, the Pentateuch treating it as well known. The Talmud tells us that it was only necessary for one to express the wish that he might be a Nazirite. A formal vow was, however, taken; and from the form of renewal of the vow, when by any means it was accidentally broken, we may judge that the head was also shorn on initiation and the hair allowed to grow during the whole period of the vow.
The accidental violation of the vow just mentioned entailed upon the devotee the beginning of the whole matter anew and the serving of the whole period. This was entered on by the ceremonial of restoration, in the undergoing of which the Nazirite shaved his head, presented two turtle-doves or two young pigeons for sin and burnt offerings, and re-consecrated himself before the priest, further presenting a lamb for a trespass offering ( Numbers 6:9-12 ).
5. Completion and Release:
When the period of separation was complete, the ceremonial of release had to be gone through. It consisted of the presentation of burnt, sin and peace offerings with their accompaniments as detailed in Numbers 6:13-21 , the shaving of the head and the burning of the hair of the head of separation, after which the Nazirite returned to ordinary life.
6. Semi-Sacerdotal Character:
The consecration of the Nazirite in some ways resembled that of the priests, and similar words are used of both in Leviticus 21:12 and Numbers 6:17 , the priest's vow being even designated nēzer . It opened up the way for any Israelite to do special service on something like semi-sacerdotal lines. The priest, like the Nazirite, dared not come into contact with the dead ( Leviticus 21:1 ), dared not touch wine during the period of service ( Leviticus 10:9 ), and, further, long hair was an ancient priestly custom ( Ezekiel 44:20 ).
7. Nazirites for Life:
The only "Nazirites for life" that we know by name are Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist, but to these Jewish tradition adds Absalom in virtue of his long hair. We know of no one voluntarily taking the vow for life, all the cases recorded being those of parents dedicating their children. In rabbinical times, the father but not the mother might vow for the child, and an interesting case of this kind is mentioned in the dedication of Rabbi Chanena by his father in the presence of Rabban Gamaliel (Nazir, 29b).
8. Samson's Case:
Samson is distinctly named a Nazirite in Judges 13:7 and Judges 16:17 , but it has been objected that his case does not conform to the regulations in the Pentateuch. It is said that he must have partaken of wine when he made a feast for his friends, but that does not follow and would not be so understood, say, in a Moslem country today. It is further urged that in connection with his fighting he must have come into contact with many dead men, and that he took honey from the carcass of the lion. To us these objections seem hypercritical. Fighting was specially implied in his vow ( Judges 13:5 ), and the remains of the lion would be buy a dry skeleton and not even so defiling as the ass's jawbone, to which the critics do not object.
9. Samuel's Case:
Samuel is nowhere in the Old Testament called a Nazirite, the name being first applied to him in Sirach 46:13 (Hebrew), but the restrictions of his dedication seem to imply that he was. Wellhausen denies that it is implied in 1 Samuel 1:11 that he was either a Nathin ("a gift, (one) 'given' unto Yahweh "; compare Numbers 3:9; Numbers 18:6 ) or a Nazirite. In the Hebrew text the mother's vow mentions only the uncut hair, and first in Septuagint is there added that he should not drink wine or strong drink, but this is one of the cases where we should not regard silence as final evidence. Rather it is to be regarded that the visible sign only is mentioned, the whole contents of the vow being implied.
10. Token of Divine Favor:
It is very likely that Nazirites became numerous in Israel in periods of great religious or political excitement, and in Judges 5:2 we may paraphrase, 'For the long-haired champions in Israel.' That they should be raised up was considered a special token of God's favor to Israel, and the tempting of them to break their vow by drinking wine was considered an aggravated sin ( Amos 2:11 , Amos 2:12 ). At the time of the captivity they were looked upon as a vanished glory in Israel ( Lamentations 4:7 margin), but they reappeared in later history.
11. Did Not Form Communities:
So far as we can discover, there is no indication that they formed guilds or settled communities like the "Sons of the Prophets." In some sense the Essenes may have continued the tradition, and James, the Lord's brother (Euseb., He , II, xxiii, 3, following Hegesippus), and also Banns, tutor of Josephus ( Vita , 2), who is probably the same as the Buni mentioned as a disciple of Jesus in Sanhedrin 43a, were devotees of a kind resembling Nazirites. Berenice's vow was also manifestly that of the Nazirite (Josephus, B J , II, xv, 1).
12. Among Early Christians:
The case of John the Baptist is quite certain, and it was probably the means of introducing the custom among the early Christians. It was clearly a Nazirite's vow which Paul took, "having shorn his head in Cenchrea" ( Acts 18:18 ), and which he completed at Jerusalem with other Christians similarly placed ( Acts 21:23 ).
As the expenses of release were heavy for poor men, such were at times aided in this matter by their richer brethren. Thus, Agrippa, on his return from Rome, assisted many Nazirites (Josephus, Ant. , Xix , vi, 1), and Paul was also at charges with others ( Acts 21:23 ).
We come across something of the same kind in many countries, and we find special abstinence always emphasized. Thus we meet with a class of "votaries" as early as the days of Hammurabi, and his code devotes quite a number of sections to them. Among other restrictions they were prohibited from even entering a wineshop ( Sect , 110).
13. Parallels Among Other Peoples:
Then we are familiar with the Hieródouloi of the Greeks, and the Vestal Virgins of the Romans. The word nezı̄r also appears in Syriac and was applied to the maidens devoted to the service of Belthis. In the East, too, there have always been individuals and societies of ascetics who were practically Nazirites, and the modern dervish in nearly every way resembles him, while it is worthy of record in this connection that the Moslem (an abstainer by creed) while under the vow of pilgrimage neither cuts his hair nor pares his nails till the completion of his vow in Mecca.