Category Archives: ebionites

The Oddity of the New Testament: The Epistle of James

The epistle of James sticks out in the NT to me. Not because it seems to be a Judaizing Christian letter, but because it doesn’t seem Christian at all.

The first thing that sticks out to me is that James only writes “Jesus Christ” two times. The first line in chapter 1 and the first line in chapter 2. Keep in mind that all of our original books of the bible did not have “chapters” so there’s a strange coincidence going on there. What follows from the dearth of mentions of Jesus is the lack of any quotes of Jesus. Instead, James quotes from the Tanakh to make his points. He quotes from Leviticus 19:18, Exodus 20:14; Deut. 5:18, Gen. 15:6, and Prov. 3:34, but not from Jesus. The quotes from the Torah are only made for examples (well, except for Deut 5:18), but the Proverbs quote is deference to scriptural authority. Like my post on Paul’s silence, James could have simply quoted their lord Jesus on the issues that James is addressing instead of making arguments.

I realize that the epistle of James is short overall, but these two things — the mention of “Jesus” only twice and a lack of quoting Jesus — make it seem to me that this epistle was not originally a Christian document, but a Jewish document that was hijacked by (possibly Ebionite) Christians who inserted the two Jesus references. It would have been a lot shorter if James had simply quoted Jesus. Which would also have been more effective.

The epistle is certainly positive towards “the poor”; that phrase being what Ebionite means.

Removing the two references to Jesus Christ, the letter maintains its logic and flow, which makes me think they are interpolations. They don’t add any content, context, or logic to the letter. So either this is not a Christian document, or it has a view of Jesus that is similar to Paul (or it’s a type of Christianity that’s indistinguishable from Judaism). A Jesus that is an agent of salvation and not a wandering sage. This, however, is at odds with the Ebionites.

When James speaks of salvation or being saved, it has nothing to do with Jesus’ death or resurrection:

1:21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Obviously, a Logos-Christian could read this part and say that the word that saves you is the Word: The Logos Jesus. And on the other hand, Ebionites did not believe that Jesus’ death had any value in their salvation scheme. But still, one has to wonder what “word” it is that is doing the saving in James’ mind. I would guess some sort of preaching. Coincidentally, another possible strange thing is that this epistle doesn’t mention anything about good news or “gospel”.

The first witness that I could find who seems to know the epistle of James is Irenaeus writing in the late 2nd century. From Against Heresies 4.16.2:

2. And that man was not justified by these things, but that they were given as a sign to the people, this fact shows—that Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.

This is a quote from James 2:23, but is actually a quote from Genesis 15:6. The part that’s unique to James (or Irenaeus) is the “friend of God” part. Here, I don’t think Irenaeus is quoting from James, but is quoting from Genesis and added the friend of God part himself. Irenaeus also doesn’t say who that short phrase “friend of God” he’s quoting from. In the contexts prior to this, Irenaeus doesn’t seem to have any problems saying who his quote is coming from:

(4.16.1) For we, says the apostle, have been circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2:11) And the prophet declares, Circumcise the hardness of your heart (Deut 10:16 LXX). But the Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God’s service. For we have been counted, says the Apostle Paul, all the day long as sheep for the slaughter; (Romans 8:36)

It’s also quite possible that Irenaeus was viewing a version of James that was anonymous.

Origen, writing more than a generation after Irenaeus, seems to be the first unambiguous witness to the epistle of James. In his Commentary on John (19.61) he refers to it as ‘the Epistle of James that is in circulation’, so Origen would function as a terminus ante quem for when this epistle was written.

My thinking is that this epistle was originally Jewish, but Ebionites got a hold of it. They added some “Christian”/Ebionite flavor to this letter so that they have something in circulation in their arguments against orthodox or Paulinist Christians sometime in the 2nd century. But this still doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t add that this was the brother of Jesus writing this letter instead of a servant.

So who knows. I do know one thing – this letter has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus or any Christian specific subject matter. No resurrection, no cross, no gospel/good news. It really doesn’t belong. Maybe Martin Luther was right!

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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in ebionites, epistle of james, interpolation


Jammin’ On The James(es)

The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?”

Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

– Gospel of Thomas 12

So who exactly is James the Just? Why does Jesus give him such authority in this pericope in the sayings of Thomas? According to the canonical gospels, the most important members of Jesus’ students are Peter, John, and James. These names are nearly equivalent to the “pillars” that Paul talks about in Galatians 2:9 (James, John, and Cephas, though I think the name “Peter” was invented by Mark for a reason). It might be nothing, but Paul lists James first in this list. Later in Galatians, Paul mentions how “men from James” led Cephas astray (2:11-12), implying that Cephas was not the leader of the disciples like later Christian tradition asserts. It seems as though James had the most clout out of the pillars.

But then, Paul mentions meeting Cephas and James the lord’s brother on his trip to Jerusalem.

Tertullian’s Against Marcion (c. 207 CE) doesn’t list this omission from Marcion’s version of Galatians so quite possibly Tertullian’s version of Galatians didn’t have a mention of Paul meetings a James who was the lord’s brother. I mean, Tertullian was observant enough to recognize that Marcion’s version of Galatians that mentions the pillars didn’t have the same order as his version (i.e. Cephas, James, John vs. James, John, Cephas) so he would have pointed out this discrepancy if it existed. So James being “the lord’s brother” might not even be original to Paul.

But, there was a group of Christian who revered a James who was a brother of Jesus even though in Mark the only James who was a leader had a brother named John, also one of the pillars.

So if James was the lord’s brother in Galatians, is this also the James that was the pillar? We have a pillar in Galatians who’s name is James who exercises some authority over Cephas, we have a James that’s part of Jesus’ favorites who witness his transfiguration and was a brother of the other pillar John, and then we have a James who was the “lord’s brother”.

Are they all the same James?

Origen claimed (c. 220 CE) that James was called “the lord’s brother” not because they were related, but because they were brothers in righteousness. In this view, all of the Jameses that Paul mentions are the James the Just of the Thomas quote who is the true leader of the pre-Pauline church. The James who is a brother of the pillar John is the aberration; and rightly so since he dies almost immediately in the 2nd century Catholicizing (i.e. universalizing) document “Acts of the Apostles”. Then again, “Acts” never mentions the brother of Jesus named James.

In Gal 2:10, the ‘poor’ are an identical reference to Rom 15:26, and 15:31. Of course, “the poor” were a sect of 2nd century Christians: the Ebionites. “Ebionite” is etymologically derived from the Hebrew אביונים (EBYWNYM or ebionim) which in Hebrew literally means “poor” or “poor ones”. Translating this literally into Greek would be οι πτωχοι. Paul uses this phrase in genitive form in Gal 2:10 (των πτωχων).

The Poor, or the Ebionites, regarded James the Just as their leader… and regarded Paul as a Greek who converted to Judaism and then apostatized. Of course, the Ebionites also rejected all of Pauline Christianity’s teachings – like the virgin birth, co-equality with Hashem, pre-existence, divinity, atoning death, and the physical resurrection of Jesus. They also rejected Paul’s abrogation of the laws of Moses.

Maybe Thomas was a (possibly Gnostic) Ebionite document; those who only followed the teachings of the “living Jesus” and James the Just. There does seem to be some scholarly support for this – i.e. the idea that James was an early leader of the church (or perhaps a Jewish sect that preceded what would become Christianity). According to Robert Eisenmann’s “James the Brother of Jesus”, James [the Just] was written out of the record of being a leader of this pre-Pauline church. And this is probably why there’s this current confusion over which James is which.

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Posted by on March 10, 2010 in ebionites, galatians, james the just, paul


The Many "Christs" in the Bible

Jesus Christ is ιησου χριστου in Greek. But the word “christ” is written multiple times in the Tanakh or LXX (Old Testament). The translators of our modern Christian Bibles conveniently leave out and translate χριστου literally as “anointed” or “anointed one” when in English and not refering specifically to Jesus.

Isaiah 45 LXX
45:1 ουτως λεγει κυριος ο θεος τω χριστω μου κυρω / This the Lord God says to my christ Cyrus

1 Samuel 2 LXX
2:10 […] και υψωσει κερας χριστου αυτου / […] and exalt the horn of his christ

1 Samuel 2 LXX
2:35 […] και διελευσεται ενωπιον χριστου μου πασας τας ημερας / […] and he will minister before my christ always

1 Samuel 12 LXX
12:3 ιδου εγω αποκριθητε κατ’ εμου ενωπιον κυριου και ενωπιον χριστου αυτου / Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of YHWH and his christ.

2 Samuel 19 LXX
19:22 και απεκριθη αβεσσα υιος σαρουιας και ειπεν μη αντι τουτου ου θανατωθησεται σεμει οτι κατηρασατο τον χριστον κυριου / Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the LORD’s christ

1 Chronicles 16 LXX
16:22 μη αψησθε των χριστων μου και εν τοις προφηταις μου μη πονηρευεσθε / Do not touch my christ; do my prophets no harm

2 Chronicles 6 LXX
6:42 κυριε ο θεος μη αποστρεψης το προσωπον του χριστου σου μνησθητι τα ελεη δαυιδ του δουλου σου / O LORD God, do not reject your christ. Remember the great love promised to David your servant

Psalm 2 LXX
2:2 παρεστησαν οι βασιλεις της γης και οι αρχοντες συνηχθησαν επι το αυτο κατα του κυριου και κατα του χριστου αυτου διαψαλμα / The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Christ

Psalm 17 LXX
17:51 μεγαλυνων τας σωτηριας του βασιλεως αυτου και ποιων ελεος τω χριστω αυτου τω δαυιδ και τω σπερματι αυτου εως αιωνος / He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his christ, to David and his descendants forever

Psalm 27 LXX
27:8 κυριος κραταιωμα του λαου αυτου και υπερασπιστης των σωτηριων του χριστου αυτου εστιν / The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his christ

Lamentations 4 LXX
4:20 πνευμα προσωπου ημων χριστος κυριου συνελημφθη εν ταις διαφθοραις αυτων ου ειπαμεν εν τη σκια αυτου ζησομεθα εν τοις εθνεσιν / The LORD’s christ, our very life breath, was caught in their traps. We thought that under his shadow we would live among the nations

These (and many more like it) instances of “christ” are all nouns in the LXX. They’re titles. So someone claiming to be the “christ” or the “messiah” is in no way blasphemy, since it was a title held somewhat regularly among Jewish leadership and those who they thought were doing YHWH’s divine work – even in the case of Cyrus who was a non-Jewish Christ.

Another thing that confuses me about early Christianity is that all Jews were supposed to make sacrifices – burnt sin offerings – to YHWH while the temple was still standing. In the Temple, there would be booths were Jews could buy the necessary animal to present to the High Priest as their burnt offering to YHWH. But there’s no record of Christians not doing this, or them actively refusing to do it, etc. For all intents, Christians are invisible prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Why would Christians still be making burnt offerings to YHWH if they thought that their sins had already been cleansed by Jesus? And if they didn’t make burnt sin offerings, why wasn’t there some huge stink about it recorded by any Jews in the 1st century?

There’s an episode about Paul in Acts of the Apostles (21:23-26) where he’s about to make a burnt offering as a completion of the Nazirite vow, but other than that, there’s no record of Christians refusing to do these burnt offerings. Not even in any letters by Christians written in the 1st century.

Unless, of course, Christians prior to the destruction of the 2nd Temple were all Ebionites… or if Christians prior to the destruction of the Temple weren’t Jewish at all.

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Posted by on August 15, 2009 in early Christianity, ebionites, jesus myth


The History of Early Christianity, part 3

Here is the third part of my lengthy email to her. Part 1 and Part 2

Here’s where I would start with the reliability of the gospels themselves and how – if it’s even possible – to know what Jesus actually said and did (where I asked those questions in the original email). Just to pick on gJohn for a bit, since it’s the most popular – according to the text itself, it was written by a person who knew the “disciple that Jesus loved” and got the information from this disciple. This person never names themselves. Nowhere does it say that the disciple actually wrote it (an “eyewitness account”), this disciple is never called “John” in the text, and at the end of the gospel it says “we know this to be true”, which is a lot like me saying “everything I say is fully substantiated by my own opinion”. It’s circular. Irenaeus, like I wrote above, was the first person in 180 to say that this gospel was written by a “John”.

Like I wrote before, John steals Philo’s “Logos” and identifies Jesus with the Logos. John chapter 1 completely betrays its Hellenistic pedagogy – an illiterate Palestinian fisherman who spoke Aramaic is very unlikely to have learned to read and write near flawless Koine Greek, read Philo’s work, and reinterpret Jesus as Philo’s “Logos”. However, like I wrote above, the Gnostic (or proto-Gnostic) Cerinthus was schooled in philosophy in Alexandra, Egypt where Philo also established schools at. Cerinthus believed in a similar/mixed Christology of the Ebionites, that Jesus was a regular person born by normal means from Mary and Joseph, and that the “Christ” (or the Logos) descended on him from his baptism by John and abandoned him on the cross. Jesus, the man, would be resurrected along with everyone else who died “in the Logos” in the last days by the Higher God that the Christ/Logos was sent by (possibly YHWH, since according to Cerinthus, the angels created the world, not YHWH.

Without delving too much into the origins of the Hebrew bible, the word used for “God” in Genesis is “Elohim”, which is plural, just like “min” is singular for “apostate” and “minim” is plural for “apostates” – originally YHWH and the Elohim were two separate “gods” and along the redaction of the Hebrew Bible the “Elohist” accounts and the “Yahwist” accounts were merged; this also sorta brings back the story given in Exodus 3 – Moses is confused over which “god” he should say sent him – “El” or “YHWH”?

There is also the “Priestly” accounts and the “Deuteronomists” [deuteronomy – deutero nomy / δευτερο νομοι – literally means second laws in Greek] accounts that were merged as well along with the Yahwists and Elohists. Around 500 BCE, the Iranian (“persian”) Empire conquered all of the Near East and much of North India, Central Asia. The emperor which conquered the middle east, Kurosh (Cyrus), set the Hebrews enslaved in Babylon free and let them return to Israel, the Tanakh/Bible calls Kurosh thus mashiakh (messiah), the anointed one [Isaiah 45:1 LXX – ουτως λεγει κυριος ο θεος τω χριστω μου κυρω / this the lord god says to my christ Cyrus/Kurosh].

The Iranians did not impose their religion (Zoroastrism) to others, but usually tried to subvert them. Ezra and Daniel were employees of the Empire and especially Ezra or people associated with him are the most likely to have put Hebrew oral tradition in written form and edit those writings into the first issue of what we call the Old Testament/Tanakh: Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim [Law, Prophets and Writings; any “prediction” about Jesus’ messiahship in any of the books of Writings and not Prophets is a HUUUUUUUGE fallacy, thus eliminates all of the “messiainic predictions” in the Psalms. The Psalms are just songs to be sung, not any sort of divine fiat. It’s like thinking a Beatles song is somehow telling you secrets from god], of course some of the books in Ketuvim appeared later.

Elements such as angels, good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell, judgment day were absent from the Torah, which tells the oldest Hebrew/Abrahamic traditions. In the Torah, the souls of the dead went to Sheol, no matter what.

Zoroastrism had angels, good vs. evil, heaven and hell and judgment. Those elements thus probably got into Hebrew belief by Iranian influence. The very belief that there is only one God and all others are imagined is more Zoroastrian than early Abrahamic, since the Torah and some other books hint at the interpretation that only one god is worthy of praise, the other gods exist but are unworthy. One of the earliest Hebrew books written – Job – evidences this particular theology.).

Anyway… so it might not be so much that “John” stole Philo’s/Cerinthus’ work, but that the author of 1 John edited an already existing gospel of Cerinthus to emphasize Jesus as the Christ/Logos being flesh and blood. The first apparent use of “John” isn’t by orthodox Christians, but by Gnostics in the early second century. According to Polycarp, an “Apostolic Father” in the 2nd century who knew John personally, John and Cerinthus were contemporaries and bitter enemies. Though, there’s some confusion over which “John” Polycarp (the story is actually relayed through Irenaeus) is talking about. There was a John the apostle, who Papias – a contemporary and companion of Polycarp – said that he never met, and John the presbyter (i.e. “elder”) who was a contemporary of Papias (and thus Polycarp as well, which might be the “elder” that wrote the epistles and the gospel). Here is Eusebius’ “Church History” 3.39.2-7 explaining the confusion:

2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.


4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders— what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.


7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things, we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.

The teacher(s) who went astray in 1 and 2 John are probably referring to Cerinthus. But why would the writer of 1 John go through so much argument over those who thought that the Christ wasn’t flesh and blood if he saw Jesus himself? Why not just say “those guys don’t know what they’re talking about. I saw Christ with my own two eyes and I received teachings from the man himself”? Thus the writer of the Johannine epistles might not have been the John who was a “son of thunder” and Jesus’ disciple.

Anyway, considering that this gospel also claims that Christians were kicked out of the synagogues during the time of Jesus (9:22, 12:42) means that Christians had been kicked out of the synagogues during the writer’s lifetime. This doesn’t actually happen until around 85 – 95 CE (the Council of Jamnia), meaning Christians worshiping outside of synagogues was commonplace when this text was written. With that in mind, memorizing verbatim all of the speeches of Jesus in this gospel for almost 100 years is implausible; especially since these speeches are longer than any of the shorter, easier to memorize speeches found in the Synoptics.

It also talks about Jews and Jewish customs like a third party who is unfamiliar with Jewish customs. An eyewitness (who is supposedly a Jew) would not write like this. It also blames the entire race of Jews (instead of just the Pharisees like in the Synoptics) for the death of Jesus… which is weird, considering that the writer – and Jesus – are supposed to be Jews. The writer also claims that Jesus went around claiming to be god. There’s no way Jews from the first century would have tolerated this, he would have been arrested and stoned for blasphemy immediately. Jews recite the Shema every morning in prayer proclaiming the oneness of God; a person claiming to be god would be killed on the spot. No subterfuge would have been necessary for his arrest.

Jesus is also presented as “the Christ” for a group of Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim (4:1 – 42). Like I wrote above, Samaritans don’t care about the House of David – they’re looking for a Messiah from the House of Joseph (again ironically, their messiah will be a “son of Joseph”). The fact that the Samaritans here accepted someone that they identified right from the start as being a Jew (who also claimed that salvation only comes “from the Jews” – and they accepted this!) and then accepted as “the Christ” doesn’t make sense and totally glosses over the years of confrontations between Jews and Samaritans. It would be like you accepting Mohammad as the Christ.

Jesus’ actions in this gospel are also markedly different than the Synoptics in this respect because he is displaying his superpowers wantonly, instead of like in the Synoptics trying to hide his identity. This is called the “Messainic Secret” in scholarship. This Messainic Secret theme is absent from John (this gospel is also the only one with Jesus turning water into wine, which is another Hellenistic tradition; the Greek god of wine Dionysus had a ceremony where three jars of water are turned into wine overnight). The writer also claims that Jesus said that he’s the only way to salvation (unlike the Synoptics); this would have made no sense to Jews in the 1st century, especially while the Temple was still standing. Jesus is also said to have raised Lazarus from the dead, which is the reason why the Pharisees wanted to get rid of him. If this actually happened, there would have been no questions about resurrection of the dead and what resurrected bodies look like in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul could have just told his audience to go look at Lazarus.

Don’t think that my deconstruction of John’s gospel is “revolutionary” or whatever; this is stuff that’s common knowledge among scholars and seminary students (hey – you always wanted to date a minister, right? Be careful what you wish for lol j/k).

Anyway, if I had to reconstruct “a” historical Jesus, I’d say that he was an apocalyptic prophet who valued Jewish nationalism and fundamentalism over family, and was rightly executed for seditious activities. There were hundreds of this type of “historical Jesus” in the first century, and they all probably got meshed into one, idealized person. Over time, this (or these) historical Jesus was glorified by his followers and deified by their Greek, gentile proselytes. The Greek/Roman pagans – who were already accustomed to worshipping human beings as gods, as evidenced by the “Preine Inscription” I linked to above.

Again, think about it this way. Jews have a history of “kings” and “high priests” being anointed with oil once taking office. Hence the term “christ”, which as I’ve already pointed out, means “anointed one”. In none of the Jewish writings have they ever worshipped their kings and high priests as “gods”. This is idolatry; one of the three cardinal sins that Jews would rather die over than transgress (the other two being murder and incest). Jews went to war with Rome and had their Second Temple completely demolished due to this refusal to worship human beings (Roman Emperors) as gods. And they haven’t had a Temple since. Jews went to war with Rome a second time and were kicked out of their homeland and had it renamed to “Palestine”, again, due to this maniacal aversion to idolatry. Jews have absolutely no tradition of worshipping a human being as a god, and went to war with Rome twice and were utterly defeated due to this aversion.

But… a HUGE fucking “but”… non-Jews have hundreds of years of tradition of worshipping human kings as gods. A non-Jewish king not being considered a god is almost unheard of in 1st century Palestine and before. It’s almost blindingly obvious that once Christianity was spread to non-Jews that they would deify the supposed Jewish king. It’s almost as obvious as saying “water is wet”. It would be a miracle for non-Jews to NOT deify a king – in this case Jesus – if they earnestly thought he was a king.

So yeah… it’s also possible that Paul’s Christ and the Jesus of “Q” / gThomas were two different people.

Maybe the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who gained a following by teaching that the “Son of Man” was going to come down from the sky — just like it was predicted in the Book of Daniel — to kick Roman ass and liberate the Jews. Then he got himself crucified for trying bring about this expected apocalypse by enacting a symbolic attack on the Temple (since he would need a lot of help to do so…). After his death, his followers scattered. A few months or years later, one of them says he had a vision of Jesus that talked to him and told him he was coming back. A few more followers start claiming to have seen similar visions. The cult is revived with a new expectation that Jesus himself was the Son of Man, and that he will be along directly to kick those Roman asses.

One particular convert, prone to hallucinations and religious mania begins to believe that Jesus is appearing to him too, and giving him instructions. This new convert exports the cult to non-Jews where he teaches that Jesus is a divine figure of salvation. Once among the Gentiles, the cult begins to accrete its miracle traditions, and the visionary experiences claimed by the disciples get transformed into a literal resurrection narrative, complete with an empty tomb that never existed in history.

Historians, philosophers, and theologians who lived during Jesus’ time period (like Philo and Josephus) would have definitely taken notice of a guy performing miracles, healing scores of people all throughout ancient Palestine, being followed around by hundreds or thousands of people, and eventually getting crucified due to the Pharisees’ fear and jealousy about his popularity. But no one outside of Christian literature writes about Jesus until almost a century after his death, and only do so because they’re repeating the claims made by Christians – and they don’t call him “Jesus” but either “Chrestus” or “Christus” (Chrestus was actually a semi-common first name and means “good” or “useful” – thus “Chrestians” or “Χρηστιανοι” [pronounced “Chreestians”] – would mean “the good ones” in Greek and Jesus Chrestus would be “Jesus the good”). But, Jews executed for seditious activity were a dime a dozen and nothing to write about. And if he wasn’t popular, then the Pharisees would have had no reason to use subterfuge to get him tried and executed by Roman authorities… which is sort of a catch-22. Both scenarios can’t be true – either he was popular and that’s the reason why he was executed (but no contemporaries – like Philo – wrote about him) or he was unpopular and just from some backwater – but the Pharisees wouldn’t have had a reason to get him executed by the Romans instead of doing it themselves like they did with Stephen and James – like Yeshu ha-Notzri of the Talmud, Jesus ben Pandira, or Jesus ben Stada. If true, then this completely undermines the main theme running throughout the gospels – Jesus’ popularity. Herod, the tetrarch of Judaea, wouldn’t have been anxious to meet some nobody.

That brings us back to Paul’s letters – that his Christ did nothing of relevance (or did things that were embarrassing or non-virtuous – thus not written) while on Earth other than have a last supper, get betrayed, crucified, and spiritually resurrected. No miracles, no wisdom sayings (1 Cor 1:22 – 23).

I personally recommend New Testament scholar Bart Erhman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” and “Lost Christianities”. I was thinking about buying them for you, but that’s probably a bit too much considering how long even *this* email is! What, in the military, they call “information overload”. But I would like it if you read them. Though, you probably wouldn’t learn anything new in those books after reading this email. But, he is a very well respected New Testament scholar, and not just some guy you used to date… lol. And he has different conclusions from mine as well.

I guess the main point in all of this is that there never was a “true” Christianity. The “Christianity” that’s practiced in the modern world is simply the result of a political power struggle, with the victors being in the right place at the right time who appealed to the lowest common denominator of “Christianities” (e.g. was Jesus the son of God or God himself? Was he 100% human or 100% divine? Why not just combine them all! Thus the term “catholic”… “universal”). Worse yet, these early Christians all being “politicians”, we have to assume that the victors were the only ones being honest and all of the various offshoots of Christianity since its “inception” were dishonest. But we don’t have any of the writings by their detractors because once the Catholic Church was officiated, all “heretical” books were burned, and all “heretics” were executed. All of these offshoots make sense when seen through the lens of politics, and not theology. How many honest politicians are there, especially when power is on the line? The struggle for “orthodoxy”? People try to separate politics from religion in the modern era, but for all of human history and pre-history, politics and religion always walked hand in hand.

Every single text in the canonical and apocryphal NT is a polemic against their political/religious rivals: (for instance, the epistle of James – “faith without works is spiritually useless” – is at odds with Paul’s epistles – “faith alone is enough for salvation”).

There never was a time when Christianity was one homogeneous religion/philosophy, even as Paul’s letter to the Galatians explicitly alludes to. The surviving (“orthodox”) literature of the second and third centuries slanders (like Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” or Tertullian’s “Against Marcion”, etc.) opponents with exaggerated or even false charges, they employed shunning and other acts of social intimidation rather than open debate, and routinely complained about forged texts and other tools of deception in their ranks. Marcion claimed his “Luke” and Pauline epistles were original and the others were corrupted, yet the “orthodox” claimed that Marcion’s “Luke” and Pauline epistles were a corrupted version of theirs. Again, we don’t have any of the “non-orthodox”‘s complete works since they were all burned or destroyed, so we really don’t know how cogent their arguments were and how accurately the winners (the “orthodox”) described their opponents. Finding the Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi was a pretty significant event, in that it shows that Irenaeus wasn’t being honest in his depiction of the Gnostics. If faith is more important than honesty, then what’s stopping someone for “lying for Jesus”? What’s stopping a proto-Orthodox Christian from editing a text to conform to what they already feel – through faith – is true? There’s no need for objectivity if you already have faith, and if the text doesn’t align with your faith, then the text is wrong and needs to be changed… ! And it wasn’t as though the earliest Christian proselytes could read since Christianity spread among the lowest classes. Meaning that the earliest Christians didn’t rely on scripture itself for conversion, but even to this day I haven’t met a Christian who was neutral to Christianity at one point and then read the NT and was like “Wow! This makes sense!” and then converted. Every Christian I know seems to have had some sort of religious experience or was in the midsts of a personal/emotional crisis and used their immediate culture’s explanation for the experience and/or crisis and then read the NT to justify what they already believed.

Another point is that there were a whole bunch of sociological precursors to Christianity that influenced Christian thought, theology, and Christology – some of which, if they didn’t exist (like the LXX), Christianity in its current form wouldn’t be here.

I guess, though, that we’d have to assume that the “right” Christianity succeeded because how else would we know about the “true” religion?

My conclusion after finding all of this out was that the religion of Jesus was probably the religion of the Ebionites… why would they die for a lie? The Ebionites don’t exist anymore and we don’t know much about them, but they seem to still exist in spirit with the Jewish school of Hillel. Paul was probably more at odds with the original disciples (the Ebionites) than his letters make him out to be (besides Galatians), and that the current form of Christianity is more Paul’s doing than Jesus. The “current” (using that term loosely) version of Christianity didn’t spread among Jews, but among Greek and Roman pagans. The message presented in Pauline Christianity (as opposed to Ebionite Christianity) was one of inclusion and reversal of fortune. Not only did Christianity not spread among Jews, it spread among the lowest of the social classes of the pagans – mostly the uneducated, the women, and slaves – giving them a promise that Jesus would come back and kick everyone’s ass during their lifetimes, and all of those rich, intellectual people that oppressed them would get their just deserts.

I also have to point out that the facts I presented in this email are very conservative “consensus” conclusions. Diving in any deeper and I find that there really isn’t any broad consensus about what happened, who wrote what, when, and where. The theories and ideas are just as varied as each individual New Testament scholar themselves; though if you ask about this sort of stuff in a church, you’d get the “devotional” answer instead of the “scholarly” answer. Going into the many possible digressions would probably make this email worthy of some sort of publication lol. Though I did do a cursory review of some of them – like the ones involving Marcion for example, since I think that’s a linchpin topic. And at the same time, since I’m very much science-minded, that all of the information presented here is basically a progress report. I might find out some new information (or find out that something I wrote is actually wrong) later on in my studies! You know – trying to be “less wrong” and all.

A secondary point (like what I tried to express in the first email) was that if we’re going to base all of our life’s decisions and relationships with people on something, then we should have a well informed opinion about it. Not having a well informed opinion about it could be disastrous. I don’t know any Christians, other than scholars and seminary students, who know all of the stuff I presented in this email (again, the layperson tends to read the Bible devotionally, while scholars and seminary students read it critically, like how you’re taught to read Shakespeare)… this means that they don’t have all of the information that they need to make an educated decision.

I even know some Christians (mostly professional apologists) who explicitly advise their adherents not to investigate the historicity of Christianity or Jesus himself, implying that the information in this email would be detrimental to faith; having sentiments that say that going to a university or otherwise getting a secular education is bad for the faith. Why is that? Wouldn’t a judge want to hear all of the evidence on a murder case since this decision means either condemning a woman to a life behind bars or a life of freedom? Why is knowledge seen as a bad thing? Is it preferred that a person be faithful instead of being “less wrong”? The only thing I can conclude is that they want their readers and followers to start from the conclusion and only accept facts that support the conclusion instead of gathering all of the evidence and arriving at an unbiased conclusion based on all of the evidence.

What would you say to someone that said “Look, you have to first believe that black people are inferior and THEN you’ll see all of the evidence for it”? Isn’t that a horrible way of doing any sort of investigation? Wouldn’t that just keep someone in a racist mindset? Why is it an exception for Christianity?

When reading the literature from apologists, it always strikes me how much emotional manipulation is present in their arguments. Yeah, emotional arguments are effective, but I try my best not to appeal to those (even though I could – like the problem of suffering for instance; I could really lay it on thick there and I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard my version of it!). You’re a college educated, intelligent person – not a weak-will woman who’s just a slave to her emotions. Emotional arguments are effective and fast, but also fleeting – built on the shaky foundation of our insecurities. Appealing to rationality has a much stronger foundation, but take a lot more time to digest. If I didn’t think you were smart, I wouldn’t have wasted my time on that first long-ass email and this one – hell, I wouldn’t have even spent my valuable time with you in the first place… or picked you over […] (and some other girls).

I sometimes post at and their zeal for their religion is… impressive, to say the least. I think you should read some of the posts there, just for another point of view. I read a post by a guy in his late 30’s with a wife and 3 kids. The thread was about the second coming of Jesus. This guy was very anxious for Jesus to come back and take him out this evil world (as he put it). The guy must be one unhappy man to feel this way, despite the fact that he’d probably say he’s full of the “joy of Jesus”. Other posts have people avoiding sex with their wives in order to be all the time ready for the “instantaneous snatching”. Ironically, I post in support of their beliefs, citing the relevant scripture, and don’t challenge anything just to see how ridiculous they can get.

Finally, I think I’ll end this email with a quote. It’s hilarity is really a microcosm of the misunderstanding that most layman Christians have about the Bible:

“If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us”

Books you should read!:
“Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Erhman
“A History of God” by Karen Armstrong

Those two are more objective, however these two are opposites of each other, a nice bipartisan approach:

“God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship” by Kenton L. Sparks
“Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity” by John W. Loftus

Comments Off on The History of Early Christianity, part 3

Posted by on August 1, 2009 in bart erhman, cerinthus, confirmation bias, deuteronomist, early Christianity, ebionites, elohist, gospel of john, john, karen armstrong, priestly, yahwist


The History of Early Christianity, part 2

And here is part two of my lengthy email to her. Part three coming soon.

Well, after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, four new major (for this email) religions sprout out from the rubble of the 2nd Temple: the Ebionites, Rabbinic Judaism, proto-Catholic Christianity, and Christian Gnosticism. The first two groups are thoroughly Jewish, the last two are thoroughly Greek/Roman (Gentile) phenomena. Most importantly, the Ebionites were Jewish-Christians who still maintained Jewish practices/full Torah observance (following all 613 mitzvahs [commandments] – yeah, there are more than just “ten”) and said that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, but he was just a regular person. Not God, not the *literal* but *adopted* “son of God” (a common title among revered Jews; see Slight digression, “son of God” was also a title used for Roman Emperors. describes the “good tidings” [ευαγγελια / “gospel”] of the “son of God” [υιος του θεος] and savior [σωτηρας / soteras] Augustus, who was so revered we get the month “August” from him), was born by normal means from Mary and Joseph, who’s crucifixion didn’t serve any theological or atonement purpose, and didn’t pre-exist as Philo’s Logos. This makes sense since the Ebionites’ name derives from the Hebrew word for “poor”, which is “ebion” – this means they could read and write Hebrew. Ebionites literally means Poor Ones, meaning that they placed special value on poverty (Matt. 19:16 – 24).

Also, since they could read Hebrew, this meant that they weren’t restricted to using the LXX, which meant they saw through the “arguments” that formed the basis for Jesus’ divinity and virgin birth. Both arise from using the LXX and not Hebrew version of the OT. Hebrew has those certain language nuances I mentioned earlier that are absent from Greek that Greek *only* speaking Jews or Gentiles would be unaware of – hence the abundance of Greek words in Christian literature such as:

The Greek Iesous (Jesus) instead of the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua) [All instances of “Joshua” in the LXX are transliterated as “Jesus”; so Moses’ successor “Joshua” in the LXX is “Jesus”; the “Book of Joshua” in the LXX is the “Book of Jesus”]
Christ (Anointed / Messiah)
Catholic (universal)
Presbyter (elder)
Ecclesia (gathering / assembly [church])
Baptize (dunk)
Pet[e]r (Rock, root word for [petr]ified)
Episcopal (literally “epi” “scopos”: “over seer” – bishop)
Apocalypse (to unveil; revelation), apocrypha (hidden)
Apostle (ambassador)
Evangelist / angel (good news proclaimer / messenger)
Gospel (it’s actually ευαγγελια – “evangelia” which is “good news” or “good tidings” [ευαγγελιον – “evangelion” is good message; singular]. Good news was then transliterated into “god spell” from which we get “gospel”. The root for ευαγγελια also forms the root for “eulogy” which is basically “good words” [also the root for euthanasia – ευ θανατος “good death”, eugenics, eucharist, etc – notice that evangelia is a combination of ευ and “αγγελια” – the word for “angel (messenger)”].)
Deacon (diakonos/diakonon – literally “dia – through” and “konos – the dust” which is a “servant”; the dust kicked up by the servant as he/she waits on people; or a “Minister”: vis Mark 1:16 και οι αγγελοι διηκονουν αυτω – “and the [pl.] angels served him” – though some translations might say “and the angels ministered to him”)
Epistle (letter)
Canon (from the Greek κανόν, “kanon”, which means “rules” or “measuring stick”)
And “Bible” (comes from the Greek word “βιβλίο – biblio” which means “book”).

Also, a lot of words associated with the “Old Testament” are Greek in origin as well, like “Genesis”, “Deuteronomy” (δευτερο νομοι – deutero nomy: second laws) , “Exodus”, “Moses”, “Psalms”, etc. Another line of evidence that modern Christianity is descended from the LXX.

The Ebionites held that only members of Jesus’ family were rightful leaders of the new Church (like James the Just – see gThomas 12), and that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism, apostatized, and later started having gnostic visions of a “Son of God” redeemer – a fusion of Jewish theology and Greek philosophy. There might be some truth to their claim due to Paul citing the LXX in his arguments instead of the Hebrew Bible, as I mentioned above. A well trained Pharisee wouldn’t cite the LXX and confuse the word “lord” with YHWH if they could read Hebrew.

Any time people fuse Greek philosophy with Jewish theology, a system of thought that resembles Christianity always pops up. Paul, also, is not the first person to preach “non-circumcision” in Judaism. Like I wrote earlier, Hellenistic influence was always creeping in on Judaism, Hanukkah is pretty much a celebration of circumcision Jews over non-circumcision Jews. I think I’m the only one to notice this, but it seems as though Jesus clearning the Temple in the gospels might be a literary device used as allegory by the gospel authors “reversing” the Hannuka celebration. Victory of the non-circumcison Jews (Christians) over the circumcision Jews. However, I don’t have the pedagogy or the time to flesh that out more.

But think about it this way: the 2nd Temple was HUGE. It was like the size of a football stadium. It wasn’t just a religious temple, it was also a military fortress. Did Jesus really cleanse the Temple of “the money changers” in such a huge arena without being tackled and arrested; and then kept out the money changers while preaching freely? During the preparation for the biggest holy day in Judaism where hundreds of thousands of people were probably clamoring about, coming in from all over the Roman empire (the equivalent of policing a stadium during the Super Bowl)? When Judah Maccabee did this, he had an *army*. I don’t know about you, but I’d have a pretty hard time clearing a temple that’s like the size of a football field of probably hundreds of money changers’ booths and successfully keeping them out while preaching… all by myself. Imagine trying to kick out some vendors by yourself during Woodstock without the cops/security (or in 33 CE some Roman or Jewish troops) arresting you. So, yeah, it might just be another allegory and not a historical event (if it was historical, then Jesus would have needed an army or a large group of supporters which might look like an insurrection…).

Another significant event happens in Jewish history in the year 132. The Roman Emperor Hadrian starts erecting a statue to Jupiter on the sacred grounds of the rubble of the Second Temple. An abomination… standing where it doesn’t belong… causing desolation. This incites the Jews to go to war again with Rome and the *actual* Jewish messiah comes – Simon Bar Kochba. He leads this rebellion against Rome and re-acquires Jerusalem, re-establishing the Kingdom of Israel. He reigns as prince in Jerusalem for 3 years. During this time period, the Ebionites are severely persecuted. Both by the Jews for refusing to accept Simon as the real messiah and by the proto-Orthodox Christians for refusing to accept Jesus’ divinity, virgin birth, and atonement. Of course, the Romans pretty much did the equivalent of nuking Jerusalem to reclaim it, killing Simon (who is officially thus far the last actual prince of Israel), and purging Jerusalem of all Jews. In the aftermath of the war, Rome consolidated the older political units of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria into the new province of Syria Palaestina (Palestine). The new name was derived as an insult from the name of the enemies of the Jews, the Philistines who had occupied the coastal plain in ancient times.

Also, the Roman emperor Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism because he saw that as a major factor in the continued rebellions over the past 60 years (there was also the “relatively” minor Kitos War inbetween the First Jewish-Roman war and the Bar-Kochkba Revolt, where a Roman “Legion” with an ensign of “pigs” were stationed in Caesarea – “Gadara”, “Gerasa” or “Gergesa” – “C” and “G” are somewhat interchangable in Greek. What’s the name of that demon that gets exorcised into pigs?? Another allegory). He prohibited the Torah law, the Hebrew calendar, and executed Judaic scholars.

Some scholars posit that the attempted outlawing of Judaism is what prompted the writing of the gospels; using allegory to separate Christians (like the situation with Barabbas) from Jews and to show that Romans (represented by Pilate, the centurion who claims that “this man really was the Son of God”, etc) were actually supportive of Christ[ians]. It’s also odd how the Pharisees are always depicted as the “bad” guys in the gospels yet Jesus only has one run in with the Sadduccees and it ends with the Sadduccees basically saying “hey you’re right!” and we never hear from them again. In the gospels the Pharisees are depicted as being stubborn and legalistic in regards to the “Law” (Torah), yet it was the Sadduccees who were the strictly legalistic branch of the Jews, since their power base, being the “ruling class” of the Jews, was dependent on the Law. The Pharisees were actually more interested in the spirit of the Law and not adhering to it literally. Why would Jesus be at odds with the sect of Jews who were interested in the allegorical and non-dogmatic application of the Law and yet only have one run in with the class of Jews who *were* actually insanely legalistic? Why would Jesus be at odds with the Pharisees – who were *anti-slavery?* The *Sadduccees* were pro-slavery! But… Jesus never does condemn slavery… (another odditiy of Paul’s letters is that he complains about the Law and only mentions the Pharisees, even though during his lifetime it was the Sadduccees who were the legalistic ones).

Now for the most important part of the Christian Bible. A Christian Bishop named Marcion who was probably born around 70 – 80 AD “breaks off from the ‘orthodoxy'” (a very subjective designator in this time period) being kicked out of the church in Rome around 110 and starts what is later called by his detractors “Marcionism”. Marcion affirmed that Jesus was the Savior, but Jesus’ teachings were incompatible with the god of the Torah and that Jesus was actually the savior sent by a higher, hitherto unknown god of love and mercy (more Plato inspired theology). This god, from one of the higher heavens (2 Cor 12:2), sent his son Christ as a blood sacrifice to the lower, brutal, bloodlusting god of the Jews (possibly 2 Cor 4:4 – who is the “god of this age”??) for the redemption of all mankind. Marcion then was the first person to separate the Torah and make a distinction between “Old” and “New” and in 140 he compiled the first “New Testament” with 10 of Paul’s letters (the ones above minus the “Pastorals”) and one gospel, that seems to share a lot of similarities with our current Luke.

Notice that this happens in 140, five years after the failure of the Bar-Kochkba revolt, and in an environment that was trying to make Jewish theology illegal. Paul, for Marcion, was this new god’s chief apostle, whom Paul knew via personal revelation (just like Paul’s current corpus says like in Gal. 1:11 – 17, 1 Cor 11:23, and elsewhere). Marcion’s teachings made a lot of logical sense (why would God sacrifice himself to himself to save us from himself? It makes more sense for a God of love to sacrifice its son to a separate war-like God), and lot of his arguments against the brutality depicted in the Torah (called the Antithesis; cf the supposed “morality” in Numbers 31 or Deut. 22:28-29) are still used to this day.

The “orthodoxy” then scrambled to compete with this by arguing for their own “New Testament” against Marcionism. A simple, narrow popularity contest is what prevented you (and all of Western civilization) from being Marcionites. According to radical critic Hermann Detering (and some other scholars), Simon Magus may be a cypher for Paul, [] with Paul having originally been detested by the proto-Orthodox church due to the popularity of Marcionism, and the name changed when Paul was rehabilitated by virtue of forged epistles correcting the genuine ones. Simon Magus is sometimes described in apocryphal legends in terms that would fit Paul. Furthermore while the Christian proto-Orthodoxy frequently portrayed the major “Gnostic” leader Marcion as having been a follower of Simon Magus (according to Irenaeus, Simon Magus was the “father of all heresies”), Marcion nowhere mentions even the existence of Simon, and instead identifies himself as a follower of Paul. The Ebionites, also, had a huge disdain for Paul – in what’s regarded as some of their writings called the “pseudo-Clementines”, Peter is seen at odds with Simon Magus which most scholars conclude is Paul. The Ebionites argued in their writings that Peter never argued for the abolition of the Law or considered a “curse” like Paul did so there was no way they could have gotten along.

The three Pastoral epistles and “Acts of the Apostles” (maybe even canonical Luke and 2 Peter) were more than likely written to counter Marcion as well, which means they were written almost 100 years after Paul lived. No Christian prior to Marcion seems to be aware of the existence of Acts of the Apostles. Hence, the name change of Paul in Acts, which Paul himself never mentions in his letters. Other “Acts” type literature is also dated to the 2nd century, such as “Acts of Pilate”, “Acts of Peter and Paul”, “Acts of John”, “Acts of Thomas”, “Acts of the Twelve”, etc. This also explains why there are so many letters written by “Paul” in the NT, because the proto-Orthodox church used his letters in their own canon to capitalize on the popularity of Marcionism. From another perspective, why would Jesus go out of his way to pick 12 disciples, teach them the secrets of the coming Kingdom of God, send them out to evangelize during his time on Earth (or “LXX” number of apostles in Luke), just so that he can later knock a guy off of his horse months (or years) after his resurrection to make this guy’s evangelism take up half of the documents for his New Covenant?

While Christians earlier than Marcion (like Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius) write a word or two about Paul or quote one or so of his letters, it seems as though Marcion is the first to actually collect “all” of Paul’s letters – minus the Pastorals. There’s a possibility that every single one of the 10 uncontested and contested Pauline epistles were written by Marcion and distributed throughout his churches. It might even be possible that Marcion was writing about *himself* in those letters, since he did found a lot of churches in the Roman empire. Marcion is also the first Christian to use “Luke” in arguments – even before the earliest proto-Orthodoxy use of the gospel material like Justin Martyr.

Irenaeus is a name you should know. He has a work called “Against Heresies” that he wrote in 180 in which he attacks Marcion (conveniently after his death), the Ebionites, the Nazarenes, and the various Gnostics (like Valentinians, Sethians, Cerinthians, etc.[interestingly enough, the Gnostic Valentinus was a disciple of a “Theudas”, and Theudas was supposedly a disciple of Paul]). In his work, Irenaeus finally gives names to, and argues for, four gospels in the orthodoxy’s “New” Testament:

Matthew also published a gospel in writing among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter & Paul were preaching the gospel and founding the church in Rome. But after their death, Mark, the disciple & interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing what Peter used to preach. And Luke, Paul’s associate, also set down in a book the gospel that Paul used to preach. Later, John, the Lord’s disciple — the one who lay on his lap — also set out the gospel while living at Ephesus in Asia Minor – Against Heresies 3.1.1 (the first Christian document that gives names to the gospels)

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground [1 Timothy 3:15] of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. – Against Heresies 3.11.8 (arguing for only four gospels even though there were more in circulation at the time)

As you probably can tell, 3.1.1 is the order that the gospels appear in the NT. However, Irenaeus’ credibility is questionable. We know now that his depiction of Gnostics is incorrect due to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in the 1940s containing over 30 manuscripts of Gnostic gospels; he was writing more to warn his proto-Orthodoxy about Gnosticism, not trying to accurately describe it. Also, no Hebrew version of Matthew has ever been found; Matthew was writing originally in Greek due to his use of the LXX. Unless, of course, Irenaeus is referencing the Hebrew written gospel used by the Ebionites (but he would consider their gospel “heretical”). Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” is the first Christian apologetic writing that actually names the gospels of “Luke” and “John” (possibly also the first mention of the names “Matthew” and “Mark”, piggybacking on Papias’ Mark “Logia” [literally “words” – a sayings gospel]). Prior to Irenaeus, no other Christian writes “according to John” or “according to Mark”, etc. they just quote what we find is a phrase specific to John or specific to Matthew etc. Marcion, writing before both Justin Martyr (150s) and Irenaeus (180s) called his “Luke” the “Gospel of the Lord”. Marcion is actually the earliest Christian to quote any gospel directly in his writings. Quite ironically, if we Anglicized “Marcion” (like “Jesus” is the Anglicized version of “Ιησου::Iesou”) his name would be “Mark”.

So, just to bring this point home: the gospel names Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are first given to the canonical gospels in 180. Prior to 180, no one knows of any gospel *authors* called Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John and no one knows of any documents called “the gospel *according to John*”, etc.

However, it’s generally agreed by NT scholars that Mark was the first gospel written, and that Luke and Matthew edited and expanded Mark because they didn’t like his version and used another source called “Q” (like I mentioned to you before) that might be similar in form to the Gospel of Thomas or Papias’ “Logia”, and John was written last. gThomas might have even been written before Mark.

Reading these gospels in their chronological order, Jesus goes from the *adopted* son of God in Mark (like what the Ebionites believed, and what Paul writes in Romans 1:3) via baptism (in Mark, the spirit descends like a dove *into* him, and *immediately* forces him into the desert/wilderness – like being possessed – if you read it in its original Greek) and loses his power/adoption on the cross (thus Mark 15:34-35, with the Temple veil being spilt in two. According to Josephus, the Temple veil was a huge picture of a starry sky, the symolism harkening back to when the sky split open and the spirit descended into him from John’ baptism [Mark and Matthew both have Jesus quote Psalm 22:1, while Luke quotes Psalm 31:5]), to the *literal* son of God in Matthew/Luke (thus trying to *explain* the baptism since he was *already* the son of God), and then to God *himself* (or Philo’s “Logos” – the Word – the baptism now completely gone) in John. Each gospel also gets progressively more gnostic, changes Jesus’ last words on the cross, and gospels written after John are relegated to the Gnostics – though the “Gospel of Peter” was considered canonical for a while as well, it’s a bit more Gnostic-like than John (the True Cross is able to talk and says the word “Yea” wtf lol) – it eventually fell out of favor for possibly promoting “Docetic” (Jesus was just a spirit with the illusion of being human) Christology. There are actually some who say that a prototype version of John was written by the “Gnostic” Cerinthus (who was schooled in *Alexandra, Egypt*… hint hint) and was edited by the person who wrote 1 John to make it more “orthodox” by insisting on the Christ made flesh (google the “Egerton gospel”).

If James had been the brother of Jesus, why does no Christian know any stories about the life of Jesus from the age of 12 to 30? Surely the brother of Jesus would have had his brains picked clean by Christians eager to know what Jesus had been like. Therefore, the evolution of Jesus from being the adopted son of God to being God himself makes more sense, given the lack of any details of Jesus’ childhood and if he wasn’t considered the son of god from birth.

Also, Mark originally ends without any resurrection appearances; the women just run away scared and don’t tell anyone (16:8). The part after 16:8 is called the “Long Ending”, but the language in the LE is different than that found in the rest of Mark’s gospel. NT scholars are almost unanimous that the part after 16:8 isn’t original to Mark. So, Matthew and Luke have the first resurrection appearances. John also further corrects the resurrection appearances (also Paul’s account of resurrection appearances) by having the “Doubting Thomas” scene and the scene where Peter gets to reaffirm his love for Jesus three times to make up for him denying Jesus three times in the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) – which is odd if Mark was supposed to get his info from Peter but doesn’t have this reconciliation. Reading Mark, it actually looks like the author of Mark was *discrediting* Peter and the disciples (e.g. “are you still so dull?” and “get behind me satan!”, the Parable of the Sower with the “word” getting lost on the *rocks*… rock=peter: Peter, even though he was anxious for the “word” abandons Jesus at the end, etc.).

And then, since Matthew and Luke didn’t like this discreditation, they edited Mark’s narrative to rehabilitate the disciples (e.g. “for you are Peter [“rock”], and on this rock…” nullifying the Parable of the Sower). This is an evolving Christology, an evolution common to many myths; John is the most popular, yet least historical – if at all – gospel out of the four. As a matter of fact, it seems as though the (Greek speaking) gospel writers, writing after Paul, got ahold of a LXX, Paul’s letters, and simply picked “prophecies” for Jesus to fulfill in their narratives (this process is called “midrash”), with some getting a bit overzealous about the prophecies fulfilled.

For example, Matthew is the worst of it – the word “Nazarene” or “Nazareth” never appears in the LXX, but somehow the writer of Matthew thinks this is fulfilling a prophecy in the LXX. Matthew also thinks that Isaiah 7:14 is a messainic prophecy, but it isn’t. Isaiah is telling Ahaz to wait for YHWH for support instead of making alliances with Assyria. The “sign of Immanuel” is a timetable for when YHWH will destroy Ahaz’s enemies. By the time the child Immanuel reaches puberty (Is. 7:15 – 20) – telling Ahaz to wait for about 15 years – the time it takes for the woman in their company to give birth and have the child reach puberty – the two kingdoms (Is 7:16) which are about to invade that Ahaz is fretting over will be defeated, (See and 7:14 doesn’t say “virgin” in Hebrew. It *does* say “virgin” in the LXX though; a line of evidence that Matthew was written by a Greek speaker. Matthew also thinks that Hosea 11:1 is a messainic prophecy, but he conveniently leaves out the very first sentence of Hos. 11:1 which says “When Israel was a child, I loved him” so he could get “And out of Egypt I called my son” and apply it to Jesus. Also, Matthew quote-mines Jeremiah 31:15 for the “slaughter of the innocents”, but he also conveniently leaves out the rest of Jer. 31 which is about the Babylonian captivity, saying that Rachel’s children will “return from the land of the enemy”.

Anyway, Proto-Catholic Christianity is centered in Rome, whereas Ebionite Christianity is centered in Jerusalem (Aelia Capitolina after the destruction of Jerusalem after the Bar Kochba revolt, though the Ebionites joined the rest of the Jewish diaspora after Bar Kochba). In my opinion, the Ebionites are probably what the real, prior to Paul Christians were. The religion of Cephas/Peter, John, and James (Jesus’ brother), while the religion of Paul was closer to Gnosticism. The Ebionites continue surviving until proto-Catholic, Pauline Christianity is favored by Constantine for the “official” Roman religion circa 330 AD. Thus the Catholic Church is formed. When the first official Pope is named, the Ebionites and the Desposyni (relatives of Jesus) came to the gentile Pope and tried to re-claim the now official church but were dismissed. The Ebionites and Desposyni (along with the Gnostics) become further marginalized, finally disappearing around the 5th century (no, I’m not advocating some sort of Da Vinci code scenario!). The oppressed in the proto-Catholic church thus become the oppressors… Part 3.

References: (The Septuagint or LXX) (this is my web site! yay!) (Philo’s and Josephus’ writings about Pilate) (The argument by most scholars that Mark was written first) (The Maccabees and Hanukka) (Essene’s Dead Sea Scrolls) (Eusebius’ “Church History” written c. 300) (Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” written c. 180) (2008 Oxford conference about the “Synoptic Problem” by Christopher Tuckett) (Sanhedrin 43a – Yeshu ha-Notzri) (Sanhedrin 107b another exerpt about Yeshu) (Sanhedrin 67a a passage about a ben Stada / ben Pandira) (a lengthy diatribe by a Jewish guy arguing against Christianity. While lengthy and doesn’t cite sources, he does provide good linguistic arguments since he apparently knows Hebrew) (Biblical Archaeology Review article on the “Teacher of Righteousness”) (Biblical Archaeology Review article about similarities / differences between Jesus and the “Teacher of Righteousness”),8599,1820685,00.html (Gabriel’s Revelation) (another comparison between the Essenes and Jesus) (a verse-by-verse exegesis of the gospel of Mark) (this is a pretty radical deconstruction of the gospel of Mark but it makes some pretty good arguments that Mark is a pro-Paul, anti-Peter work).

Comments Off on The History of Early Christianity, part 2

Posted by on July 13, 2009 in Adonai, adoni, christ, early Christianity, ebionites, Hashem, jesus, LXX, paul, septuagint, YHWH, YHWH pronunciation


The History of Early Christianity, part 1

This was originally an email I was going to send to someone, but I decided not to send it to her. So I thought I would post it here instead of letting it go to waste. Maybe and hopefully, if she’s curious enough, she’ll stumble upon this blog. I’m going to split this into two posts because it’s pretty lengthy; one of the reasons why I didn’t send it to her. I didn’t want to beat her over the head with all of this – it’s a lot to digest. The other reason being that it went against the opening theme of the email that was about going out and learning things for yourself instead of simply accepting things uncritically.

I think when I put all of the contents of that email in a Word doc, it was around 50 pages! Ridiculous. Anyway…

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” – Hillel the Elder, c. 100 BCE.

“Jesus” was a common name in the Second Temple time period. I’m going to list a couple of them that eerily share a lot with the Jesus of Christianity.

Yeshu ha-Notzri was a member of a Jewish sect called “Notzrim” around 100 BCE. He was charged with practicing sorcery and tried by the Sanhedrin. For 40 days a town crier was sent out into the streets of Jerusalem asking if anyone would come forth and speak in his defense. When no one came, he was executed; he was hanged on the eve of Passover. He apparently also had five disciples. How much of that is true or false, no one knows. It’s one of the many notes on Sanhedrin trials found in the Jewish Talmud. As you know, Jesus’ actual name is “Yeshua”. Translating this directly into English is “Joshua”, not “Jesus”. But “Yeshua” in Greek is “Iesou” (Ιησου), and “Iesou[s]” in English is Jesus. In my opinion, it seems as though “Iesous” was back-translated in to Hebrew to end up as “Yeshu”; the “I” sound in Greek, the “Y” sound in Hebrew, and “J” sound in our modern English are all generally the same sound, so you could say “Yeshu” or “Jesu”, the “s” in Hebrew can be pronounced as either a regular “s” or an “sh” (It seems pretty obvious to me that the Hebrew “Yeshu” was derived from the Greek “Jesu”). And the ending of the word in Greek depends on its grammatical context.

For example, “Jude”, “Judas”, and “Judah” are all the same name in Greek but change depending on the grammatical context, kinda like we would say either “an apple” or “a pear”; so “Jesus” could be pronounced as either “Jesu” or “Jesus” (or “Jesun”) in Greek. In Mark 1:1, it says “αρχη του ευαγγελιου ιησου χριστου” (the beginning of the good news [of/by] Jesu Christ) but just a few lines later at Mark 1:9 it says “ιησους της γαλιλαιας” (Jesus of Galilee [“from Nazareth” is argued to not be original, since this is the only time in Mark’s gospel he uses “Ναζαρετ – Nazareth” instead of “Ναζαρηνος – Nazarene” and all of its grammatical variations, the significance of which I’ll explain later]). Later at Mark 15:1 is another grammatical variation of “Jesus”, it says “ολον το συνεδριον δησαντες τον ιησουν” which says literally “all of the conference bound [the] Jesoun”.

“Jesu” is the neutral version of the name and the actual transliteration of Yeshua/Joshua, whereas if Jesus is doing something, it becomes “Jesus” (which is why this is the version that occurs the most in the NT), if Jesus is having something done to him, it changes to “Jesoun”. And just to be thorough, here is Numbers 13:16 LXX:

και επωνομασεν μωυσης τον αυση υιον ναυη ιησουν / And Moses named Hosea son of Nun Jesus

But it’s literally “Jesun” since Jesus/Joshua is having something done to him – the naming.

Next, Jesus ben Sira was a Jewish sage living around 180 BCE who wrote a non-canonical Tanach (Old Testament) book called “the Book of Sirach”. This Jesus was a wandering Jewish preacher who apparently was always close to getting killed due to his teachings. His works included mixing Jewish theology with Greek Homer-styled heroes.

Jesus ben Pandira might have started or belonged to the Essenes (that Jewish sect that I told you about before besides the Pharisees and Sadduccees). He was reported to have been a miracle worker and upset the Maccabean king (106-79 BCE) by continually preaching about the end times, and was eventually executed by being hanged from a tree – on the eve of Passover. Ben Pandira might be the Essene “Teacher of Righteousness”; the Essene suffering, benevolent teacher.

So, next, around 10 BCE to 10 AD there was some Hebrew “scripture” inscribed on a tablet called “Gabriel’s Revelation” in which the angel Gabriel is talking to a messiah claimant, saying that even though he died, he would be brought back to life in three days. Some scholars think that the messiah claimant referred to here is a Jew named Simon, who was one of Herod’s slaves who revolted (the Jewish historian Josephus writes about him in his work “Antiquities of the Jews” 17.10.6), and that the community that produced this tablet is the same community that the Dead Sea Scrolls belonged to – Jesus ben Pandira’s Essenes. The Dead Sea Scrolls also contain themes of baptism, asceticism, allusions to “living water”, a “new covenant” celebration, and a “messianic banquet”.

Also during this time period, a Hellenized Jew named “Philo” had schools in Alexandria, Egypt. His schools focused on mixing Jewish theology with Greek philosophy. The thing he’s most known for is this concept called the “Logos”. The Logos was literally what the gods (in Stoicism, YHWH in Judaism) used to make the world. Kinda like how we would use gloves to handle radioactive material since we can’t touch it directly. “Logos” in Greek means “logic” or “word / speaking” (it’s also the root word for the “-logy” suffix in all of our sciency words like bio[logy], paleonto[logy], geo[logy], etc.). The logos, Philo taught, was also sorta the blueprint for humans, and functioned as a “high priest” in heaven ( – you should read the whole article; ironically Philo’s non-Jewish version of god is a lot like mine). All High Priests are anointed with olive oil once taking office – they are “YHWH’s anointed” (Greek: χριστου κύριου – actually the “lord’s anointed”) – ergo… the logos, the high priest, is a “christ”: “χριστος” (notice the parallels between “Jesus the high priest” in Zechariah 3 and Jesus the “high priest” Hebrews. Of course in your English Bible, the high priest is called “Joshua” in Zechariah 3).

Philo is also a contemporary of Jesus and would have definitely taken notice of him (and Philo even visited Galilee once), but never writes about him… but he does write about his other contemporary – Pilate, which I’ll get to later.

Another major thing that happened in this time period (3rd – 1st centuries BCE) was the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek so that the reading of the Hebrew Bible wasn’t restricted to the Pharisees or other Jews who could read and write Hebrew. This tome was called the “Septuagint” or the “LXX”: literally “Seventy”. It gets its name from the tradition that 70 Hebrew scholars translated the Hebrew bible into Greek. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into his native tongue – German – it brought the Bible to the common person, letting anyone who could read the ability to read it without depending on the priesthood for translations, ushering in the Protestant Revolution. The same thing happened with the LXX – Jews who could only read Greek were allowed to read the Torah/Tanach without depending on the Pharisees or other Hebrew educated Jews for translations. The LXX also made Judaism mainstream. It meant Jewish thought could be teased against Plato and Homer etc. and its influence could spread. Without “it” (there were many variations, all called “Septuagint”), Judaism would have remained an insular national cult. This allowed any gentile Greek who could read and get their hands on a LXX to perform exegesis and midrash on the Hebrew Bible and fuse it with their own philosophies (a *very* key point), making up stories based on LXX characters. Later, when the writers of the gospels quote the Tanach, they’re not quoting the Hebrew version, they’re quoting the LXX… “mistranslations” and all. It’s not so much that there were “mistranslations”, it’s just that languages never have a one-to-one relationship. I’m sure there are jokes, double entendres, etc. you know in German that wouldn’t make sense in English, and vice-versa. Every reference to Tanach texts in the NT does so by quoting the LXX. None of them quote the actual Hebrew version.

For example, in Hebrew, there are two words for “lord” – Adonai and adoni. Adonai is “LORD” and adoni is “lord”; the first refers to YHWH only, and the second is simply a human title. This is because Jews, if they’re reading from the Hebrew Bible and come across YHWH (יהוה), they’ll say “LORD” – Adonai (or they’ll say “HaShem” – The Name). Greek only has one word for “lord” – kyrios (κυριος). This is a critical point here – the tetragrammaton (יהוה or YHWH – Yahweh) is never written in the LXX. The writers of the gospels and Paul wrote in Greek and used the LXX for their arguments. This means that they couldn’t read Hebrew and thus were unaware of the difference between the two “lords” in Hebrew, and unaware of any being named YHWH. I reiterate – Paul, James, Jude, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and for some reason Jesus himself were **all unaware of a being named YHWH**. All references to YHWH in the LXX use either “kyrios” or “theos”, so the writers of the NT only used those words as well. The most glaring example of this confusion by the gospel writers is Psalm 110 (NIV):

“The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

In Hebrew, the first LORD is pronounced as “Adonai” but would be really pronounced YHWH (vowels aren’t really written in Hebrew, so for example your name in Hebrew is actually שרה or SRH) if Jews were to forsake the aversion of saying Ha Shem out loud. The second “lord” is “adoni”, and in this case is referring to a *human*… King David (the Psalm begins with “a psalm for/about King David”. “My lord” = King David). Adoni is *never* used for a divine entity, only for *humans*. The second “lord” is, in English, improperly capitalized (you can read the actual Hebrew here: and see that יהוה only appears one time in verse 1, not twice; Hebrew reads from right to left). However, this distinction between the two types of “lord” doesn’t exist in Greek or in the LXX. So when, for example, the writer of Matthew wrote 22:41-44 and quotes Psalm 110, he thinks that both lords have the same divine “lord” status. Both “lords” are gods. Thus you get the inaccurate idea that the “lord / adoni”, a god (in Matthew’s case, Jesus) sits at the right hand of the “lord” (YHWH). A Pharisee (trained in Hebrew) would have pointed out the two *very* different types of “lords” immediately, and not sulked away with their tail between their legs. This also seems to imply that Jesus spoke Greek *instead* of Hebrew or Aramaic, which doesn’t make sense.

The implication that Jesus spoke in Greek and not Hebrew/Aramaic shows up again in John 3:1-8… “[born] again” (γεννηθη άνωθεν – gennithi anothen [our word “genesis” comes from the Greek]) makes sense in Greek as a double entendre, but not in Aramaic/Hebrew, since in Greek the word for “again / anew” can also mean “from above” (anothen). The more specific word in Greek for “again” would be either “pali” (or in koine Greek “palin” …lol) or as is used in 1 Peter 1:23 “αναγεγεννημενοι – anagegennimeni”… literally “reborn [pl.]”. This double meaning is completely absent in the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “anew”. “From above” and “anew” are two separate words/phrases in Aramaic. The writer of John thus implies that Jesus and Nicodemus are speaking in Greek to each other, since Nicodemus wouldn’t have had the confusion/reaction that he had if Jesus was speaking in Aramaic and said “born from above”.

Paul makes the same “mistake” meshing the two different “lords” and showing ignorance of YHWH in Romans 10:9 – 13 (and elsewhere):

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. For the same Lord is Lord of all. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Paul is using Joel 2:32 (Joel 3:5 LXX) as a proof text for the divinity of Jesus. His argument only makes sense if Joel 2:32 reads “lord” – as does the LXX. If Paul had rabbinic training (or could read Hebrew) then he would certainly know that Joel was talking about a specific name – YHWH (the referent for Adonai). Joel in Hebrew doesn’t say “lord”, it says YHWH. Not once does the book of Joel say the word “lord”.

To try expressing this another way, whenever the phrase “YHWH El” or “YHWH Elohim” appears, Hebrew literate Jews would read it “the LORD God”. Sometimes it’s written as YHWH El (the LORD God), sometimes just YHWH (the LORD). If someone can’t read Hebrew, they might think that the singular “lord” (kyrios) is a different being than the “lord god” (kyrios theos), but seems to have similar “powers” as the “LORD God”. Since non-Hebrew literate readers of the LXX find “lord” and a different “lord god” they might think that these are two different beings (sorta like Philo’s “Logos”, hmm…) – yet Hebrew literate readers would recognize that YHWH (Adonai – Lord) is the same being, regardless of the qualifier “God”. Notice in Joel 2:32 that “the LORD God” is never mentioned. Just the LORD. Of course, Paul couldn’t read Hebrew, so he didn’t know that this “LORD” character is YHWH, and not some other “LORD” (in Paul’s case, Jesus). Now you know how the phrase “my name is the LORD” is actually supposed to be (“my name is YHWH”).

As a slight side note, however, the gospel of John implies that YHWH’s name is “I Am”, which he got from Exodus 3:14. It’s still not quite, since “I am” in Hebrew is אהיה (ehyeh or ahyah) and not יהוה. John uses multiple “I am” statements to imply that Jesus is God – but he’s still unaware of The Name יהוה since that would have been written in the LXX as “lord” and אהיה would be written in the LXX as “I am” (εγω ειμι – ego eimi). But notice in the very next verse, Exodus 3:15, YHWH says his actual name that he says he should be called “from generation to generation” (but, in our English and the LXX, it says “LORD” and not YHWH). And in the subsequent generations, the Jews have to be reminded again and again that their “God” is “Yah” (“god” = el… “yah” or “jah” – Elijah, means “my god is jah”; “shua” in Hebrew means “salvation”, “Yah-Shua” [Jesus’ Hebrew name] means “Yah is salvation”; but don’t take these theophoric names too prophetically, since “Judas” – the betrayer – his name comes from Yahuwdah which means “praise to Yah”).

This Jewish person I correspond with sometimes had this to say about Exodus 3:14:

Without gong into detailed Hebrew ‘word studies’ and elaborately documented ‘proofs’, my personal opinion on Exodus 3:14 is approximately;

“I am the causing to be, what I am causing to be”

A ‘play’ on The Name ‘YHWH’ and the causative verb forms ‘yah’he and ha’yah’ יהי and היה (and ‘it (he) WAS)’-(and ‘it (he) BECAME’)

The core idea being of a past, present, and future (self-existent) FORCE, causing, and bringing into ‘being’ all that -ever ‘was’ -now ‘is’-ever ‘shall be

The LXX version of Ex 3:14 has YHWH say “εγω ειμι ο ων” which in Greek is “I am the being” (ων is the Koine Greek version of οντος which forms the root to one of my favorite words “ontology” lol). It’s probably the closest the Greek translators could come to describing the “pun” that only makes sense in Hebrew.

Another interesting side note about “adoni” is that’s no coincidence that this is the name of one of the Greek gods “Adonis” who, oddly enough, was a dying and resurrecting god. “Adoni” (lord) is where Adonis gets his name.

So, if Paul knew Hebrew, his argument in Romans would look like this (for this instance I’ll translated YHWH as “Jehovah” as JWs do):

“Whoever calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved. For the same Jehovah is Jehovah of all. If you confess with your mouth that Jehovah is salvation is Jehovah and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This makes absolutely no sense. Like I wrote above, “Jesus” isn’t Jesus’ actual name, it’s “Yah is salvation” (Yahshua or Yahoshua).

Anyway, for this reason alone, the vast majority of converts to Christianity were gentile Greeks (“ger toshav” – you should google it!) and non-Hebrew literate Jews. Conversions of Hebrew-literate Jews was almost non-existent (1 Peter 3:10-15 quotes Psalm 34:12-16 and also betrays ignorance of YHWH). If you talk to any Jews today, these are some of the same reasons that they give for not being Christians – that Christians don’t understand the language nuances of Hebrew, and don’t understand what the Jewish Messiah is *actually* supposed to do. Why would Christians refer to Jesus by the Greek name “Jesus” instead of the Hebrew name “Joshua”? Or call themselves the Greek word “Christian”? Why the lack of Hebrew words in Christian literature? All of the evidence indicates that the early Christians didn’t understand Hebrew and “exploited” the ignorance of Hebrew on all of their proselytes. How, then, can non-Hebrew literate people claim to know the Hebrew Bible better than people who *can* read Hebrew? It doesn’t even seem as though any of the “Apostolic Fathers” (Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Clement) were Jews.

It seems as though if it weren’t for the LXX, there would be no Christianity – other than the Ebionites; which I’ll explain later.

Also, during this time period there were many factions of Jews besides the Pharisees and the Sadduccees. There were the Notzrim, the Zealots, Herodians, Essenes, Nazirites (not really a “sect”, but whatevs), etc. But the main four that are probably most important for this email are the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, and Notzrim. Just so I can stop typing “Notzrim”, that Hebrew word in (Greek) English is, for all intents and purposes, “Nazarenes”.

Yes, the Nazarenes were around before Jesus and had nothing to do with a town called “Nazareth”. “Yeshu ha-Notzri” means “Jesus the Nazarene”. While it’s debated whether our English “Nazarenes” (Greek “Nazoraios” Ναζωραιος) derives from the Hebrew “Notzrim” (Aramaic “Natzoriya”), “Notzrim” and “Naztrat” have two different meanings in Hebrew. “Notzrim” means “Nazarene” as a religious group (or simply a close knit group) like the Pharisees, and “Naztrat” means “someone from Nazareth (Nazarene)” in *modern* Hebrew. The term “Naztrat” or town called “Nazareth” is never found in the Talmud or any other Jewish writings until after Christianity’s prominence. However, “Nazarene” (Notzrim) is, and is used to refer to Christians all throughout the Talmud. The town “Nazareth” seems to first appear in non-Christian literature when Constantine’s Christian mom, Helen, either “found” or “founded” the town circa 330. I really have no idea if the town Nazareth existed during Jesus’ lifetime. There’s evidence that people lived in the area *now* known as Nazareth in the first century, but whether it was actually called “Nazareth” back then is up for grabs.

There’s also the possibility that “Nazarene” is a Greek mistranslation of a “nazirite” vow (Numbers 6:1-21).

The Nazarenes prior to the Christian era were claimed to have been descendants of the House of Joseph… meaning that they had a completely divergent view of the “Christ” or “Messiah” – he wouldn’t be a “seed of David” (since that’s via the lineage of the House of Benjamin), he would be from the House of Joseph. Their messiah was supposed to re-establish the northern kingdom. The Nazarenes called themselves “sons of Joseph” due to their heritage. Also complicating/conflicting matters, the modern day Samaritans claim lineage from the House of Joseph. Apparently, the Nazarenes were popular among the Samaritans; with the Samaritans claiming that Mount Gerizim as the true place where sacrifices to YHWH were to be performed, and not Jerusalem (see John 4:19). Samaritans also claim that the only inspired texts were the first five books of the OT (the Pentateuch) written by Moses.

There might have been a lot of mixing of religions before a lot of this was written down and reified. The gospel of Matthew, which was said to have been written to try to convert Jews, is the only gospel that’s antagonistic towards Samaritans. John, on the other hand, is antagonistic towards Jews and has “many Samaritans” believing in him – but if Jesus is a Davidic seed, it is insanely unlikely that Samaritans would accept a Davidic Messiah, since they don’t acknowledge lineage from the House of Benjamin.

We’ll skip what happens in Christian history from the year 1 AD to 33 (really, no one knows) and go straight to the earliest Christian writings by Paul which were written around the 40s – 50s, or, at the most written before 70. The reason for a no-later-than 70 date I’ll also write about later. There are 13 letters ascribed to Paul. 14 if you count “Hebrews”, but this has been contested ever since it was introduced by the proto-Orthodoxy around 1,850 years ago. For all intents and purposes, “Hebrews” was anonymously written, just like the canonical gospels. Seven of Paul’s letters share a near scholarly consensus that they’re authentically written by “Paul”, or at least written by the same person. There are three letters that have no consensus, and three that are almost unanimously agreed by New Testament scholars to not be by “Paul”, or at least not by the same person. The seven that are generally agreed to have been written by “Paul” are 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, Phillipians, and Philemon. The three that have no consensus are Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, and Colossians. The three agreed forgeries are 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – called the “Pastoral Epistles”. From my own reading I think that “Paul”, or the same person, did write Ephesians and Colossians but not 2 Thessalonians.

Reading all of the authentic and non-consensus Pauline letters, there’s something “wrong” with Paul’s version of Christ. Paul’s Christ does nothing of value while he was on Earth other than have a last supper, get “handed over” (cf. 1 Cor 11:23 vs. Rom 8:23), crucified, and “resurrected”. Paul’s Christ never gets baptized by John, does no miracles, no wisdom sayings or parables, never clears the Temple, and never heals anyone or raises anyone from the dead (wouldn’t Jesus’ marital status – either “celibate” or “married” have been a highly potent line of argument in 1 Cor 7?). Paul also never mentions his crucifixion by Pilate in Jerusalem (that part is mentioned in the Pastorals, which was written to counter a specific “person” which I’ll write about later) or any sort of “empty tomb”. Some things are certain in Paul’s letters though – he’s the Son of God, was crucified at some point in the past, and was resurrected (and is going to come back and destroy the world while resurrecting all those who are “asleep” in Christ). However, Paul’s account of his resurrection is that he “appeared” to the apostles (on a similar note, Paul [and all other epistles] never makes any mention of any “disciples”, or people that his Christ actually taught physically or any “ministry” in the sense of “preaching”). Paul makes no distinction between the way he appears to himself and the way he appears to Cephas (Peter – may or may not be the same person), the 500, the “twelve” (why are the twelve mentioned separately from Cephas [pronounced “kee-fas”]? Isn’t he part of the twelve? Thus the possibility that Cephas and Peter are two different people), and James. The prima facie conclusion (that is, without any biases from later gospels) is that Christ appeared to them all the same way – in visions.

Paul’s writings are very proto-Gnostic. More on that later, since it’s extremely important to the canonization process and “New” Testament (or you can read this as well: This silence about the earthly life of Jesus by Paul is shared with the epistles of “1 Peter”, “1, 2, 3 John”, “Jude”, and “James” up to writings like Ignatian epistles, Polycarp’s epistles, 2 Peter, and the Didache (short for “The Teaching [Didache / διδαχη, where we get the phrase “didactic”] of the Twelve”) circa 100 AD. This is where we start to get “whispers” of gospel material – vague quotes, works, biography, etc. of Jesus. But never direct word-for-word quotes like what Paul does with the Tanach – or more accurately, with the LXX. In the mid-100s we start getting direct quotes of gospel material, but no author names. Like Justin Martyr’s “Memoirs of the Apostles” in 150. He quotes from what we find are Matthew, Luke, and Mark (possibly John) but he never names those authors outright (side note – Justin never describes “talking in tongues” as being among the gifts that Christians possess upon being saved, which means that, at the least, his version of Mark didn’t have the part after 16:8 which most scholars agree is a later addition to the text. Justin doesn’t seem to be aware of Paul or considered to be “Simon” the Magician, and was a contemporary and *antagonist* of a “Marcion”; the reason for me mentioning that will be brought up later). Similarly so with Tatian’s subsequent “Diatesseron” which literally means “through four” in Greek – it was a single version of the four gospels without any contradictions (my website name “diapente” means “through five”).

Now, back to the Jews. Two very significant events happen in Jewish history from 70 AD to 132 – 135 AD. Probably the most important events for *all* modern Jews. Since the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest of the “known world” in the 300s BCE up to the first century AD, Jews are pressured for assimilation by the Greek culture and had been conquered by the more brutal Romans since the 50s BCE. Jews are pissed off. Their high priests are just Roman lackeys, some Jews want to maintain their Hebrew roots while other Jews want to assimilate to Greek culture (which was actually one of the causes for the celebration of Hanukkah about a hundred years prior around 150 BCE – the traditionalist Jews cleared the Temple of Hellenistic influence; this is in 1 & 2 Maccabees which isn’t included in Protestant Bibles but is present in Catholic Bibles). The Sadduccees are the “ruling class” of the 2nd Jewish Temple culture, the Essenes were highly ascetic Jews who were insanely dedicated to Judaism but somewhat anti-social and highly selective, the Nazarenes are “Jews” who are Jewish by ethnicity but want to re-establish the northern kingdom of Judah (where Galilee is at), want to re-establish the lineage of Joseph from the Torah (calling themselves the “Sons of Joseph”) and are sort of “anti-Pharisee/Torah”, and the Pharisees are the “regular”, Torah-educated Jews: the Rabbis. All of these Jewish sub-groups want freedom from each other, Roman rule and Greek assimilation, and Messiah-ism is rampant. Hundreds, if not thousands, of “messiahs” pop up starting mini rebellions, doing random displays of trying to recreate the miracles of Moses and other prophets, etc. and all are put down by the Romans. Romans like to kill, and they’re pretty brutal. However, Pontius Pilate was even more brutal. He was actually too brutal even for his superiors and was eventually fired for his wanton murder and execution of Jews. The polar opposite of how he’s presented in the gospels.

As a matter of fact, the situation between Jesus (Christ) and Jesus (Barabbas) displaying Pilate’s “mercy” almost certainly never happened. In the gospels, Pilate is presented as merciful, reluctant, and scared of the Jewish mob. According to Philo (in his work “On The Embassy of Gauis”), Pilate was “inflexible, he was stubborn, of cruel disposition. He executed troublemakers without a trial.” He refers to Pilate’s “venality, his violence, thefts, assaults, abusive behavior, endless executions, endless savage ferocity.” Philo, for the most part, got along with the Romans. He was the head of a delegation to the Roman Emperor Caligula, yet this is the way he speaks about Pontius Pilate. Not only that, but Philo and Pilate were contemporaries.

Josephus also has a very negative view of Pilate. According to Josephus, at one point there was a minor uprising, somewhat peaceful, of Jews because they were demonstrating against Pilate’s spending money from the Temple on building an aqueduct. Pilate had soldiers hidden in the crowd of Jews while addressing them. After giving the signal, Pilate’s soldiers randomly attacked, beat, and killed scores of Jews who weren’t even being unruly; he just liked killing Jews. Note that Josephus is writing this account *for the Romans!* You would think that, if anything, he would present a Roman official in a better light if his audience were his Roman superiors. Accordingly, Pilate was fired for massacring some Samaritans who went up to Mount Gerizim where a messiah claimant went to demonstrate a miracle.

There’s no way he would have had some tradition of letting one prisoner go and no way he would have been scared of a mob of Jews. He would have just killed them all. Also, Jesus Barabbas is a nonsense name – “Barabba[s]” or “bar Abba” (remember, this was originally written in Greek and thus the endings change depending on the grammatical context – so in the text appears “Barabbas” and “Barabban”) is Aramaic for “son of the father”, which is a surname that makes no sense. This is a literary creation of the author of Mark and scholars really have no consensus on why he would do it. Possibly, Jesus Barabbas was the historical Jesus who really was an insurrectionist and was rightfully arrested and executed, and Pilate’s “washing his hands” was symbolic of removing the blame for Jesus’ death on the Romans and placing it on the Pharisees (or all Jews in gJohn) so that Christianity wouldn’t be seen as being at odds with Roman authority (giving a clue as to when these stories were written – which I’ll explain in the next couple paragraphs). The surname “Barabbas” given because the historical Jesus was known for praying to the Father and always refered to himself as “the son”. This also makes sense of why Paul’s letters, and other epistles written in the 1st century (1 Peter, James, Jude, 1,2,3 John) make no mention of any miracles or wisdom sayings attributed to Jesus.

Either that, or Mark put this in to mimic the “scapegoat” ceremony in Leviticus 16. Jesus, the real “son of the father” just so happens to meet “bar Abba” (son of the father) who is his complete opposite? And Pilate, who executed troublemakers without trial, supposedly had a ceremony for releasing insurrectionists because it was a Jewish holiday? He had no respect for Jewish customs! And releasing an “insurrectionist” would make Pilate himself an accomplice to insurrection. So possibly an allegorical representation of Lev 16.

Another somewhat important aside, Josephus was born in 37 CE. In his autobiography, he says that when he turned 16 (which would be around 53 CE), he wanted to get a thorough introduction to the three major “philosophies” of Judaism – he names the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Essenes as the three. Later on, he mentions a fourth “philosophy” of Judaism led by a Galilean named “Judas” which scholars have dubbed the “Zealots” which supposedly only had 4,000 followers. According to Acts of the Apostles, this was a time period when thousands of Jews and Greeks were being converted to Christianity, yet Josephus doesn’t mention any of these mass conversions that should have been happening during his lifetime.

Finally, in the year 66, the first Jewish-Roman war breaks out – during the reign of Nero – and the Jews are crushed. Most importantly, the Second Temple is destroyed in 70. This is a HUGE cataclysm for Jews and sparks the beginning of Rabbinic Judaism – the current form of Judaism. In the Apocalypse of John of Patmos (the book of Revelation), he writes about an “anti-Christ” who’s “number” is six hundred and sixty six. Greek (and Latin and Hebrew) don’t have separate “text” for writing numbers. So if a Greek wanted to write the number “12”, they’d either write δωδεκα (twelve) or use Greek letters to add up to 12, like βι; “β” is the number 2 and “ι” is the number 10 – so βι would be “12”. So, if someone’s name adds up to a certain number, you could just “write their number” instead of spelling out their name… !

Nero was pretty much a bastard. He killed his own mother and sister, reinstated persecutions against Jews, and supposedly “fiddle while Rome burned”. At the end of Nero’s reign, during the First Jewish-Roman war, he fled Rome because he knew he was going to get assassinated. When some members of the Roman Senate found him, he decided to commit suicide instead of being exiled and/or murdered. So Nero, this huge bastard who started the war with the Jews, simply “disappears” one day from the point of view of the common person. Depending on who is talking, “Nero” can be spelled either as “Nero” or “Neron” – the difference between the two names being the letter “N”. “N” has the value of 50 in Greek.

There are actually two versions of the “number of the beast” in John’s Revelation. The most commonly known one “six hundred sixty six”, and another that appears in some earlier manuscripts of Revelation – six hundred sixteen(here). What an odd coincidence: 666 minus 616 = 50… the value of “N”.

Also around this time, there was another veeeery interesting “Jesus” named Jesus son of Ananias described by Josephus in his book “War of the Jews” 6.5.3:

An incident more alarming still had occurred four years before the war at a time of exceptional peace and prosperity for the City. One Jeshua son of Ananias, a very ordinary yokel, came to the feast at which every Jew is expected to set up a tabernacle for God. As he stood in the Temple he suddenly began to shout: ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against the bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the whole people.’ Day and night he uttered this cry as he went through all the streets. Some of the more prominent citizens, very annoyed at these ominous words, laid hold of the fellow and beat him savagely. Without saying a word in his own defence or for the private information of his persecutors, he persisted in shouting the same warning as before. The Jewish authorities, rightly concluding that some supernatural force was responsible for the man’s behaviour, took him before the Roman procurator.

There, though scourged till his flesh hung in ribbons, he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, but lowering his voice to the most mournful of tones answered every blow with ‘Woe to Jerusalem!’ When Albinus — for that was the procurator’s name — demanded to know who he was, where he came from and why he uttered such cries, he made no reply whatever to the questions but endlessly repeated his lament over the City, till Albinus decided he was a madman and released him. All the time till the war broke out he never approached another citizen or was seen in conversation, but daily as if he had learnt a prayer by heart he recited his lament: ‘Woe to Jerusalem!’ Those who daily cursed him he never cursed; those who gave him food he never thanked: his only response to anyone was that dismal foreboding. His voice was heard most of all at the feasts.

For seven years and five months he went on ceaselessly, his voice as strong as ever and his vigour unabated, till during the siege after seeing the fulfilment of his foreboding he was silenced. He was going round on the wall uttering his piercing cry: ‘Woe again to the City, the people, and the Sanctuary!’ and as he added a last word: ‘Woe to me also!’ a stone shot from an engine struck him, killing him instantly. Thus he uttered those same forebodings to the very end.

Interestingly, this Jewish historian, writing for his Roman benefactors, writes about more alarming stories like these (like an insurgent Jesus son of Sapphias, who gathers a bunch of *fishermen* and *poor people* to start a rebellion in Josephus’ hometown Galilee – and when one of this Jesus’ followers betrays him, this Jesus is arrested and his band of fishermen and poor people abandon him), gives pages and pages about all of these bandits, crazy people, messiah claimants, etc., multiple Jesuses who seem to be an “episode” of the Gospel’s Jesus’ ministry, but never writes about the Jesus of Christianity – even though Josephus was from Galilee and lived from 37 to 100… and Josephus’ father was a member of the Jewish priesthood, someone that would have had first hand experience of the Jesus of Christianity.

The current corpus of Josephus has a single paragraph about the Jesus of Christianity in his other book “Antiquities of the Jews” but considering that he calls him “the Christ” in that book (a word he doesn’t use anywhere else) and only has one paragraph describing him – while on the other hand writes pages about bandits and crazy people – makes his passing remark about the Jesus of Christianity (it’s called the “Testimonium Flavium” in scholarship) more than likely an interpolation by later Christians. The way that books were copied prior to the printing press makes unintentional interpolations happen all the time. Possibly, a Christian scribe copying Josephus’ work read the part about Pilate and wrote in a margin of the text (implying that he wasn’t intentionally trying to forge Josephus’ work) a couple of words about the Jesus of Christianity. A later scribe, not knowing that these couple of words are more like an anotation or note and not the original work, simply and mistakenly inserted the note of the margin into the body of the work.

Josephus actually thought that the Roman General Vespasian was the Messiah:

What more than all else incited them [the Jews] to the [1st Roman] war was an ambiguous oracle … found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world. This they understood to mean someone of their own race, and many of their wise men went astray in their interpretation of it. The oracle, however, in reality signified the sovereignty of Vespasian who was proclaimed Emperor on Jewish soil”

– Josephus’ Jewish War 6.5.4

Anyway, after the war, the Pharisees (who become Rabbinic Jews) begin consolidating power (mostly by murdering the Sadduccees, since the Sadduccees’ power base – the Temple – was destroyed), the Essenes mysteriously disappear, and what happens to the Nazarenes? Part 2

References: (The Septuagint or LXX) (this is my web site! yay!) (Philo’s and Josephus’ writings about Pilate) (The argument by most scholars that Mark was written first) (The Maccabees and Hanukka) (Essene’s Dead Sea Scrolls) (Eusebius’ “Church History” written c. 300) (Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” written c. 180) (2008 Oxford conference about the “Synoptic Problem” by Christopher Tuckett) (Sanhedrin 43a – Yeshu ha-Notzri) (Sanhedrin 107b another exerpt about Yeshu) (Sanhedrin 67a a passage about a ben Stada / ben Pandira) (a lengthy diatribe by a Jewish guy arguing against Christianity. While lengthy and doesn’t cite sources, he does provide good linguistic arguments since he apparently knows Hebrew) (Biblical Archaeology Review article on the “Teacher of Righteousness”) (Biblical Archaeology Review article about similarities / differences between Jesus and the “Teacher of Righteousness”) (another comparison between the Essenes and Jesus),8599,1820685,00.html (Gabriel’s Revelation) (a verse-by-verse exegesis of the gospel of Mark) (this is a pretty radical deconstruction of the gospel of Mark but it makes some pretty good arguments that Mark is a pro-Paul, anti-Peter work).


More On The Essenes and the Ebionites

So it seems as though there’s more on this controversy on the link between the Essenes and Christianity. I read the short wikipedia bio on Alvar Ellegard, and he’s another person who saw links between Jesus the Christ and the Essenes’ Teacher of Righteousness. From wikipedia:

Ellegård argues that the original Jesus was identical to the Teacher of Righteousness, who was the leader of the Essenes at Qumran about 150 years earlier than the time of the Gospels, and that it was Saul/Paul who created Christianity through his contacts with the sect that kept the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to Ellegård, the Damascus Document gives support to this theory. The document states that the Essenes moved to Damascus outside Jerusalem, but the word “Damascus” appear to being used symbolically to refer to exile. Ellegård interprets this as one evidence that the “Damascus” that is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles in fact is Qumran. St. Paul was on his way to Damascus when he had a vision of Jesus.

There’s this strange link between Gnosticism, the Essenes, early Christianity, and Paul. It seems as though if more serious research was put into this link, then we could flesh out a true picture of what happened in Christianity’s early years. But no serious research will be done on the historicity of Jesus because huge institutions have a lot of money and power that goes into whether Jesus was a real person or not.

Again with politics.

John Allegro, Elaine Pagels, and Alvar Ellegard – if we put the writings of these three together, it seems as though Jesus might just be a myth after all. I never considered Jesus Mythicism to have as much legitimacy as mainstream scholarship on the issue, but who knows – if other mainstream scholars weren’t also Christians, they wouldn’t have such an emotional reaction to the issue and would be able to study it objectively. Jesus as solely a myth or Jesus as a historical person doesn’t have any emotional impact on me either way, so in that respect, I’m more open to possibilities about the issue than mainstream Christian scholars.

As for the Ebionites; they were a sect of Jewish Christians who followed the teachings of Jesus but still followed Jewish law. The word “ebion” in Hebrew means “poor”. The Ebionites rejected many of what are now mainstream thoughts on Jesus, like his pre-existence, divinity, atonement for original sin, virgin birth, and resurrection. From wikipedia:

The Ebionites are described as emphasizing the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus as the biological son of both Mary and Joseph, who by virtue of his righteousness, was chosen by God to be the messianic “prophet like Moses” (foretold in Deuteronomy 18:14–22) when he was anointed with the holy spirit at his baptism.

Of the books of the New Testament, the Ebionites are said to have accepted only a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews, as additional scripture to the Hebrew Bible. This version of Matthew, Irenaeus reports, omitted the first two chapters (on the nativity of Jesus), and started with the baptism of Jesus by John.

The Ebionites believed that all Jews and Gentiles must observe the commandments in the Law of Moses, in order to become righteous and seek communion with God, but these commandments must be understood in the light of Jesus’ expounding of the Law, revealed during his sermon on the mount. The Ebionites may have held a form of “inaugurated eschatology” positing that the ministry of Jesus had ushered in the Messianic Age so that the kingdom of God might be understood as present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age.

James vs. Paul

James, the brother of the Lord, presided over the Jerusalem church after the other apostles dispersed. Paul, self appointed Apostle to the Gentiles, established many churches and founded a Christian theology, (Pauline Christianity). At the Council of Jerusalem (c 49), Paul argued to abrogate Mosaic observances for his non-Jewish converts, but Paul’s arguments were rejected, and Jewish Law and tradition concerning non-Jewish followers were asserted by refrence to Noahide Law.

Some scholars argue that the Ebionites regarded James, brother of Jesus, the first bishop of Jerusalem, the rightful leader of the Church rather than Peter. James Tabor argues that the Ebionites claimed a unique dynastic apostolic succession for the relatives of Jesus. They opposed the Apostle Paul, who established that gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised or otherwise follow the Law of Moses, and named him an apostate. Epiphanius relates that some Ebionites alleged that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism in order to marry the daughter of a high priest of Israel but apostasized when she rejected him.

Emphasis mine. This can also explain Paul’s connection with the Essenes, his assertion that Gentiles didn’t have to follow Jewish laws, why he writes in Greek, and his conception of Jesus. It’s funny how Christians nowadays follow Paul’s Christianity (being “gentiles”, obviously) instead of James and the Ebionite’s Christianity. I guess it’s not really “funny” because what’s known as Christianity today was largely the result of the politics in regards to Eusebius and Constantine I.

Again… politics.

Comments Off on More On The Essenes and the Ebionites

Posted by on September 6, 2008 in ebionites, essenes, historicity, jesus myth, teacher of righteousness

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