THE VEGETARIAN THEME IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION
MISASSUMPTIONS ABOUT JESUS AND CHRISTIANITY
Most Christians assume that Jesus ate fish and Passover lamb and therefore could not have been a vegetarian. Most feel that their religion does not place any limits on what animals they may kill and eat. Most believe that the Christianity of today is the same as the religion of Jesus’ original followers. Most assume that Jesus was a fundamentalist. I challenge all these assumptions.
OVERVIEW: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN JESUS AND MY THEME
My thesis is this: There was a Judeo-Christian “church” before Jesus, an Essene group from which Jesus got his values. That church lasted until the early 400s, when they were scattered by the newly Christian Roman emperors. They disappear from history, save one mention by a Moslem historian in the 800s. I refer to this group loosely as “Judeo-Christian,” although they did not call themselves “Christian,” at least not initially. They probably called their church a synagogue.
There were groups like the Essenes in other parts of the world, such as the Greek Pythagoreans and the Indian Buddhists. By the time of Jesus, they had all travelled each others lands. For example, there were Buddhist missionaries in Roman cities in Jesus’ day. Each of these groups sought to revive the values of the matristic religion which had prevailed thousands years earlier, when peace, law, and justice had prevailed, prior to the time of the patriarchal invasions. They all had a dim memory of that ideal past and each wanted to get back to it, each in its own way.
My thesis is that Jesus was one of a long line of those prophets, one of the greatest. His aim was the moral perfection of humanity. Sadly, his legacy was derailed. His memory and teachings were hijacked by the Romans and their religious allies, the new gentile Christians, particularly the Latin Christians, and transmogrified into a New Testament and a Creed that get his story all wrong, omit many of his most significant ideas, and introduce ideas he would have disagreed with, first and foremost, his deification. As I like to say, Jesus did not want to be worshipped; he wanted to be followed.
Recall that I explained in the chapter of this book entitled Loss of Eden, p.39, that starting around 4300 B.C.E. Europe was invaded by the patriarchal Aryans, rough riders who spread the Indo-European languages. There had been similar Semitic invasions of the Middle East starting around 5500 B.C.E. Later, Aryans invaded Persia and India, and starting in 1492 they invaded the New World. Similar groups invaded China and Africa.
These early invaders rode on horseback, the first in history to do so. They had highly advanced weaponry for the time—powerful composite bows and bone-flint composite swords. These invaders conquered older cultures, killing most of the men, women, and boys and turning the surviving girls into slave wives. Hints of this sad period survive in Hebrew legend. (Cf. Genesis 6:4-5; Numbers 31:13-18, 32-35.)
What was the world like in the Old Middle East and Old Europe before 5500 or 4300 B.C.E.? There was no war, and we know that to be true because cities were not walled. There was probably no slavery. There was literacy; the old lettering survives on pottery, but there is no way to translate it. There was a basic equality between the sexes; most rulers and priests were women, but there were some kings and some male priests. Women leaders did not subordinate men as men later subordinated women.
Starting around 5500 B.C.E. in the Middle East and around 4300 B.C.E. in Europe, the world was turned upside down. The patriarchal invaders took the “daughters of men” as their slave wives (Genesis 6:2; Numbers 31:13-18, 32-35) and created hybrid societies and religions, generally referred to in the Indo-European speaking areas as Celtic or Vedic. It is my theory that the pre-Hebrews were just such a hybrid society, except that they spoke a Semitic language. These hybrid societies worshiped the storm and fire god of the conquerors. However, through the female line they retained memories of the goddess and of the time of peace, law, and justice.
The Hebrew Bible, a collection of sometimes legendary documents which often conflict with each other, contains both detailed instructions for animal sacrifice and at the same time exhortation to end the sacrifices and not eat meat. (Hosea 2:14,18, 4:1-3, 6:6, 8:11-13). As a part of their general return to the principles of the older matristic religion, the Hebrews were the first culture known to ban human and child sacrifice. Opposition to human sacrifice and child sacrifice are two of what I refer to as “keystone principles.” The absence of human and child sacrifice under the Old Europeans, their introduction by the patriarchs, and their abolition in historic times are all watershed events. (“Moloch,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com; Genesis 22:12.)
Legend has it that from Adam to Noah humankind sacrificed no animals and ate no meat, which I believe indicates that there were societies which were vegetarian or which had a vegetarian religious or class priesthood. (Genesis 1:30, 9:3.) Moses tried to return Israel to the vegetarianism of the matristic Eden but failed. (Exodus 16:15; Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 6; Recognitions of Clement, 1:35 ff, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 8:87-88; Numbers 11:7, 18-34.)
Moses predicted that a prophet would come after him who would complete his work. (Deuteronomy 4:12, 36.) Jesus’ followers believed Jesus was that prophet (Acts 3:22) and that Jesus’ aim was to complete Moses’ work of returning the world to its Edenic peaceful state, as it was before the patriarchal invasions. Part of Moses’ work was to eliminate animal sacrifice from the Jewish religion. Jesus shared this goal and actually shut down the sacrificial system in the Jerusalem Temple for some short period of time. (John 2:14-16.) Jesus and his immediate circle of apostles were vegetarian, and so too was his Judeo-Christian church for 400 years until it was persecuted out of existence. That’s my theory.
OVERVIEW: WHAT WAS GREAT ABOUT JESUS?
Christians generally consider Jesus to have been great because he made the cosmic sacrifice—trading his life for our sins. However, the churches acknowledge he was great for a second reason—although, they rarely mention it—and that is because of the content of his ethical teachings. The points I make here will be developed more fully below.
Jesus referred to himself as a prophet. (Mark 6:4.) A prophet was not someone who predicted the future but one who spoke moral truths. As stated above, Jesus and his followers considered him to be the prophet Moses had predicted would later complete his work. (Deuteronomy 4:12, 36; Matthew 10:41, 13:57, 14:5, 21:11; Luke 7:39, 13:33; John 5:46, 6:14, 7:40; Acts 3:22, 7:37; cf. The Recognitions of Clement, 4:35-36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 142-143.) Perhaps Jesus regarded himself as a prophet of the school of Hosea, for he quoted Hosea, who like Jesus opposed the sacrificing of animals. (Matthew 12:7; Hosea 6:6).
Jesus referred to himself 82 times as “son of man.” (Matthew 8:20, 9:16, 16:33, 19:28; Acts 7:56.) Outside the gospels, the term is used only a few times. (Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6, 10:29; Revelation 1:13, 4:14.) The term “son of man” in the Hebrew Bible simply served as a term for “man” and was never used to describe god. The son of man in Daniel (7:13-14) had special powers, but again he was not a divinity but a human who guarded mankind. The term “prophet” and the phrase “son of man,” were quickly abandoned by Church Fathers as terms to describe Jesus. Perhaps “prophet” was too far down the hierarchy. Perhaps “son of man” was felt to be contradictory to “son of god.”
At his baptism Jesus was declared to be “son of god,” although only in the sense that each messiah-king of Israel was declared to be god’s adopted son at his coronation. “Messiah” literally means “one anointed with oil,” and kings were anointed. (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; Mark 1:11; Acts 10:38, 13:33; Hebrews 1:5, 5:5.) Thus “son of god” originally was just another way of saying “messiah-king.”
Others referred to Jesus as messiah-king or asked him if he were messiah-king. Jesus fled at one point from people who wanted to make him messiah-king. (John 6:15.) Jesus was apparently a direct descendant of David, and heir to the Davidian throne, should he only claim it. He was not sure initially whether he would accept his calling, for he asked his followers for their opinion. Later he privately admitted to them that he was messiah-king, but ordered them not to tell others. It was clear when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey in messiah-king style, that he had committed himself. (Matthew 16:16, 16:20, 26:63-64; Mark 9:41, 12:35; Luke 9:20; John 1:41, 4:25).
Apparently Jesus believed that the messiah-king would take power and free Israel from Roman tyranny when Israel was morally worthy and sufficiently righteous. (Matthew 3:2.) So Jesus called for repentance. He said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” by which he perhaps meant that if enough people repented, god would assist the repentant in establishing an earthly messianic kingdom. (Matthew 4:17.) Apparently too few repented. Jesus’ effort failed, at least in the short term.
Jesus took at least one military action. He took over the temple, drove out all those who bought and sold animals, and also drove out all the animals. Thus, he abolished animal sacrifices in the Temple for some period—as the messiah was to do: “In the time of the Messiah the sacrifices will cease (except that of thanksgiving).” (Pesik 9:79, “Antinomianism,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com; see the section of this book entitled Jesus Stopped the Animal Sacrifices in the Temple, p. 179.) And he was crucified as messiah-king of the Jews. The sign on the cross said “King of the Jews.” (Mark 15:2, 25.)
Jesus was great because he took action. He got involved in anti-Roman politics. There were messianic claimants who raised armies such as Judas of Galilee (c. 6 C.E., Acts 5:37) and Jesus Bar Kokhba in the well-organized revolt of 132-135 C.E., but there were other messianic claimants who like Jesus raised no army, such as Theudas (c. 44-48 C.E., Acts 5:36; Josephus, Antiquities, 20:97) and “the Egyptian” (Acts 21:38; Josephus, Antiquities, 20:167.) War would be necessary, but god would do most of the fighting (Luke 22:38), as god had done for Gideon. (Judges 7:8.) Led by King Jesus and assisted by god, an independent Israel would drive out the brutal Roman dictatorship. But Israel would not have gone out to conquer other nations. Jesus’ apostles would only have judged Israel. (Matthew 19:28.) His kingdom would have served as an example to other nations of how to establish law, justice, and peace. It would have relied on moral force. Israel glorified its teachers, not its warriors. The religion of the messiah was ethical monotheism. God was inseparable from ethics and ethics was inseparable from the concept of god. (Isaiah 1:12-17; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Psalms 50:7-23; Deuteronomy 10:12-3; James 1:27, 2:8; Mark 12:29-31; Matthew 25:34-40.)
Jesus’ successors continued his messianic, prophetic tradition—because his message had been so convincing. They continued in his tradition also because they perceived him alive after his crucifixion and felt the presence of the holy spirit— two experiences which might have been the same. They established a commune and worshiped in the Temple, setting up a vegetarian counter-cult alongside the traditional cult which sacrificed animals. (See the section of this book entitled Stephen, Hellenist, Foe of the Sacrificial System, p. 98.)
Jesus’ “church” believed that non-Jews could become disciples of Jesus either by converting to Judaism and becoming full Jewish Christians (although they never used the term “Christian”) or by simply adopting the seven laws which apply to all humans, the Noachide laws. (Acts 15:20.)
Jesus and those around him were vegetarian, and his followers were encouraged to “bear what they were able” regarding eating meat, which I believe meant they were to observe a vegetarian fast at lest two days per week (Didache 8:1-2), always to avoid eating the flesh of animals killed in connection with pagan sacrifices and sold in the public market, and always to avoid cruelty to animals. The rule against “eating things strangled” was a term of art or code name that stood for the rule against eating the meat of animals tortured or painfully killed. (Acts 15:20.) It is probable that vegetarianism was not an immediate or absolute requirement but a goal to be striven for. (See the sections of this book entitled James, Brother of Jesus, p. 108, and The Burden Theme, “Bear What Thou Art Able”, p. 158.)
The Judeo-Christian movement was persecuted out of existence by the 400s, although Muslim sources make mention of it as late as the 800s. Their books were banned. They were forbidden to be copied, which meant that after a few hundred years they rotted out of existence. Probably some were burnt in the bonfires that thug monks set alight in the streets.
Jesus did not succeed in establishing his kingdom of ethical monotheism in his lifetime, but that does not mean he was a failure or that his followers will not yet someday succeed in his name. He pointed the way. He was a major player in the process that I am trying to describe in this book, the process of trying to return the world to a state of peace, justice, high ethical and environmental standards; to put an end to slavery; to find a balance between the sexes; to end child abuse; and achieve a sensitivity to the suffering of the animals.
Paul, John, and their disciples—who aimed their teachings at gentiles—completely dropped all references to Jesus as prophet and son of man. They preferred “son of god,” and not in the sense of adopted son of god but as pre-existent logos, and only-begotten son of god. They referred to Jesus as “Lord Jesus Christ,” and they used the term “christ” to mean “messiah-god” instead of “messiah-king.”
Ultimately, through a process of “christological inflation,” a term I have coined, Paul, John, and their successors made Jesus into god coequal with the father. Matthew and Luke taught Jesus was begotten of god at the time of his conception. (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35.) The author of Mark taught that Jesus became god’s son at his transfiguration or enthronement. (Mark 9:7.) Paul taught that Jesus was designated son of god and begotten at his resurrection. (Romans 1:4; Acts 13:33.) John taught Jesus was begotten of god from the beginning of time. (John 1:2.) The original Ebionites teaching was that Jesus was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary, that Jesus had been “begotten” at his baptism, meaning he had been adopted, like all Israel’s kings at their coronation, as god’s honorary and preeminent son. (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; Mark 1:11; Acts 10:38, 13:33; Hebrews 1:5, 5:5.)
Because the denomination known as “orthodox” or “catholic” or the “great church” was so well organized, because it so fiercely attacked all other Christian and pagan sects, and ultimately because it made an alliance with the Roman government, it ended up as the official religion and used that position to suppress or destroy all other pagan religions and all other sects of Christianity. In its many councils it perfected the theory that Jesus was the cosmic sacrifice in the Greek mystery religion sense that wiped away the sins of those who believed in him. Those who expressed doubts were excommunicated and told they would go to hell. Later, doubters were killed.
With the help of the Christian emperors, the orthodox drove the non-orthodox underground, including the Judeo-Christians, direct descendants of Jesus’ relatives and the original Jerusalem church. The possession of Christian books written in Hebrew was outlawed. Most traces of the Judeo-Christians vanish sometime around 400—although they are mentioned by Moslem scholars as late as the 800s. Their writings were burned or molded away, forbidden by law to be copied. Some Judeo-Christians returned to Judaism. Some merged into gentile Christianity. Some merged into and became a significant part of Islam in the 600s; in fact Islam may be best understood as the prophet Mohammed’s refinement of Nazarene (not Ebionite) Judeo-Christianity. See Ebionites vs. Nazarenes, p. 93.
Gentiles were familiar with gods who had divine sons and gods who died for the sins of the world, so Paul and John and their disciples got favorable feedback when they preached their christologically inflationary theology. To put it in a crass way, it sold well on the preaching circuit. Paul raised a lot of money. He bragged about his generosity, particularly in favor of the Judeo-Christians of Judea who were suffering because of drought and the confiscations and enslavements carried out by Roman tax farmers (Galatians 2:10) and because of persecutions by the same coalition which killed Jesus.
James, Jesus full brother, first “bishop” of the Judeo-Christian “church,” was assassinated in 62 C.E. The Judeo-Christians fled Jerusalem and lost their influence over gentile Christianity. The Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and the “Desposyni,” the kinsmen of Jesus, leaders of the Jerusalem church, went on the run from the Roman army. There was a vacuum of authority. James and the Jerusalem apostles stopped sending out teachers to rein in gentile Christians. Paul, John, and their successors were free to reinvent Jesus. The mutant gentile arm of Christianity grew quickly, and the original Jewish arm withered.
How could so much Christological inflation have occurred so quickly? See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134, for my theory as to how it happened.
Christological inflation may seem a little far afield from my topic, which is the diet of Jesus and his early followers. However, bear in mind that the process of elevating Jesus to status as deity coequal with god the father included a simultaneous deemphasis of Jesus as a teacher of ethical principles about making peace, which principles included making peace with the animals. Gentile Christians found it more convenient to worship a god who demanded certain beliefs but who put few restrictions on behavior, less convenient to follow a prophet who demanded that they make great changes in their behavior, including their dietary behavior.
FOLLOW JESUS BY BEING DEEP HISTORIANS
AND STUDENTS OF ETHICS
Because the oldest gospels were burned or prohibited from being copied and thus rotted away and because the gospels we have today are so heavily edited by so many hands, one who is called to follow Jesus must do wide ranging historical research to identify the fragments of Jesus’ teaching which remain.
The Christianity of today focuses too much on the New Testament and too little on the many other sources of information about Jesus, too much on Jesus’ cosmic sacrifice and too little on Jesus’ ethical teachings, too much on getting forgiveness for sins and too little on stopping the sinning—including the sins we commit against innocent animals and the physical environment.
As you read this section, you will see that I am an admirer and follower of Jesus—not as the cosmic sacrifice but as our greatest teacher of peace, law, and justice. I am an admirer and follower not of the Jesus you read about in our mangled New Testament, but of the Ebionite Jesus of Judeo-Christian history.
Sufficient scraps of the oldest writings survived the anathemas of the heresy fighting Church Fathers and the book burning of the Roman censors to make it clear that Jesus was himself a vegetarian as were his Judeo-Christian followers.
A CRITICAL APPROACH BUILDS A BETTER FOUNDATION
A wise man built his house on a foundation of stone and it withstood rain, flood, and wind; a foolish man built his on sand and it collapsed when the storm came. (Matthew 7:24 ff.) A fully informed faith, aware of all issues, is strong. An uninformed faith may collapse when faced with unexpected questions.
Fundamentalists who believe every word of the Bible is literally true have sand as their foundation. They say the Bible is “fully verbally inspired,” and that if it is not, then it is all a lie. This itself is a lie. The Bible contains many truths, but is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies simply because it was written and rewritten by humans. Fundamentalists say we should approach the Bible with faith and just believe what it says, but they fail to say which contradictory version we should believe. See www.innvista.com/culture/religion/bible/contrant.htm for a partial list of contradictions. I will point out more below.
The New Testament is even more flawed than the Old: It was not written by Hebrew speaking Judeo-Christians who had known Jesus but by Greek speaking gentile Christians who got their information third hand. It was heavily edited around 150 C.E. when the church of Rome cobbled together our New Testament in response to the New Testament that Marcion had brought to Rome. (See the section of this book entitled Marcion—Follower of Paul, Catalyst of the Canon, p. 131.) The books of the Judeo-Christians which would have given us a much more accurate picture of Jesus and his teachings were burned and suppressed and exist only in the few quotations which orthodox writers made of them.
Fundamentalists will have problems with my hypothesis that Jesus ate no meat, because the gospels clearly say Jesus ate fish, fed fish to others, and called apostles who were fishermen. (Matthew 7:10, 4:19, 14:17, 15:36, 17:27; Mark 1:17; Luke 24:42, John 6:9, 21:9. See the section of this book entitled What About the Fish Stories? p. 191, for an explanation of how the fish passages arose.)
Jesus was not a fundamentalist. He exhorted his followers to be “prudent money changers”… “because there are genuine and spurious words” in the Old Testament and “…every man who wishes to be saved must become, as the Teacher said, a judge of the books written to try us.” (The Clementine Homilies, 2:51, 3:50, 18:20, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 238, 247, 329.) Jesus himself was a critical theologian, challenging the Judaism of his day. (Matthew 5:21-48, 22:29; Mark 12:24.) Those who are committed to Jesus should take the same critical approach to the New Testament as Jesus did to the Hebrew Bible and become deep historians. One searching for truth must search everywhere, with an open mind, and without fear. There is no reason to fear truth. Truth will strengthen, not undermine, an informed faith.
Only god is perfect. To say the Bible is fully verbally inspired is to say it is perfect, which is to say it is god. That is idolatry. Some would say fundamentalism is thus a form of idolatry. Some would say that to regard Paul’s writings as inspired is double idolatry, for not only was Paul not inspired, he was a perverter of Jesus’ teachings.
Fundamentalists believe they have a source of all knowledge and that they know everything, when their dependence on one book assures that the opposite is true. Because of their certainty that they know all, they close their minds to new insights. In their idolization of the New Testament, they fail to consider other sources of truth.
Fundamentalists, because they believe the New Testament literally, make two errors. They worship Jesus when they shouldn’t, and because they fail to study other sources which would tell them what Jesus really taught, they fail to follow him. As I say often, Jesus did not want us to worship him; he wanted us to follow him.
Fundamentalists also believe in the devil as a person almost as powerful as god. This keeps them from identifying the real devil: ignorance, the hard-to-interrupt cycle of violence, and artificial corporate entities which through legal manipulation have been released from ethical considerations and are dedicated only to profit maximization—the mindless quest for the false god Dollar. Fundamentalists misperceive what good is and misperceive what evil is.
Thus, for many reasons, fundamentalism is not just a harmless error; it is a dangerous form of thinking.
Theology is not particularly complicated; there is no reason why critical theology cannot be taught in churches. All seminary trained priests and ministers are at least partially aware of the issues I raise here, but they continue to feed their flock inspirational pablum. They do so in part out of habit and laziness, but also because they do not know how to untangle the New Testament mess. They do not know what they would be left with if they started untangling it. Trained theologians know something is not right about the New Testament, but they do not know what the alternative is.
Below I will utilize the critical approach to introduce you to the various Jewish and Judeo-Christian vegetarian groups—Essenes, Nasoreans, Nazoreans, Ebionites, who claimed they got their ethical values including their vegetarianism from Jesus, James, Peter, Andrew, Matthew, and other followers of Jesus.
The Fathers believed Paul’s theories about the inherent sinfulness of humans and the power of the devil and thus saw a need for humans to punish themselves to overcome their evil nature and beat back the devil. Asceticism was their way to do that. The Church Fathers acknowledged that many of the founders had been vegetarian, but they categorized or dismissed vegetarianism as asceticism. (See Colossians 2:23.) For them, vegetarianism had no value except as a form of asceticism, a way to punish the body.
I will discuss the surviving sources of information regarding these vegetarians. The sources are extensive, and some are right in the New Testament. The revisionist editors did a haphazard job of purging vegetarian references as they edited the gospels. And some of what we know comes from quotations which ultra-orthodox heresy fighting Church Fathers made of now lost Judeo-Christian writings.
I will have much to say about Paul, who was not a vegetarian and who was contemptuous of vegetarians. He referred to them as being weak in faith because they would not eat meat. (1 Corinthians 8: 4-13.) He was contemptuous of the Jerusalem founders of Christianity, referring to them as “superlative apostles” and the “circumcision party.” (2 Corinthians 11:5,13, 12:11; Galatians 2:12. See Paul, James, and the Jerusalem Council, p. 122.)
Although Paul declared that vegetarianism was of no importance, early gentile Christians were nevertheless vegetarian or partially vegetarian. Catholic Christians for the first 800 years kept either a Monday through Friday or a Wednesday and Friday fast that was strictly vegetarian, and this can be traced back to the Didache and Didascalia, early Christian revisions of originally Essene and Judeo-Christian teaching manuals. Observant Orthodox Christians keep this fast even to the present. I will argue that such a strong tradition could only have come from Jesus and the Essene synagogue in which he grew up.
While I take a critical approach to theology, I try not to be destructive. I will do more than just show that parts of the New Testament are not literally true. I will give you the tools that will help you separate the true from the untrue and fill in the gaps that remain. I will introduce you to Jesus the prophet like unto Moses, vegetarian prophet in the tradition of Hosea, son of man, adopted but fully human son of god, and opponent of the Roman slaveocracy. If you are a Christian, you will come to know a far more compelling figure than the Jesus of the cosmic sacrifice. Your Christian faith will be grounded on a firmer foundation. If you are not a Christian, you will at least become an admirer of Jesus as a profoundly important teacher of a method of making the world a place of peace and justice.
Why do I take a critical approach? Shouldn’t I just focus on the evidence for Jesus’ vegetarianism and leave everything else about Christianity untouched—which is what groups like the Christian Vegetarian Association do? (www.christianveg.com.) Why risk upsetting the faith of unlearned Christians? Because, simply put, the CVA approach is not convincing. It appears to focus arbitrarily on the verses that favor vegetarian theory and ignore those that disfavor it.
For me to demonstrate the high probability that Jesus was a vegetarian, I must teach you the critical method and teach you the method in full. Using this tool, you will be able to read our highly edited New Testament and understand how to tell the oldest layers from those added later. A little bit of the critical method might just be enough for you to conclude that nothing in the New Testament is true. But if I take you all the way through the process, you will come out on the other side possessing tools sufficient to understand what Jesus stood for.
There is one final reason why I take a critical approach: I think if Jesus is looking over the balcony rail and observing what goes on down here on earth, he is probably tired of Christians inflating him into something he was not and completely missing what he actually was. Clarifying who he really was is a service I think he would appreciate. Something similar could be said of poor, confused Saul of Tarsus. He would probably appreciate someone undoing all the damage he did.
HISTORY OF DIET AS A TOOL FOR DOING THEOLOGY
Most theologians take little notice of dietary matters as they construct their theories. I believe they overlook a powerful analytical tool. A focus on diet can lead to insights they otherwise might miss. I will return to this point frequently in this chapter, so I will say no more about it here.
I had studied theology for decades and been a strict vegan for ten years when I first encountered Dr. Charles P. Vaclavik’s book, The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ, at an EarthSave meeting. But it had never occurred to me until that point that Jesus had been a vegetarian. The evidence was there, right in the New Testament and in the writings of the Church Fathers, but I had never noticed it. None of my seminary professors, none of the theology texts I had read, even mentioned it. It’s a pretty amazing omission. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Vaclavik at vegan conventions, and I highly recommend his book as the best big-picture overview of the vegetarianism of Jesus.
The Didascalia and Didache are Christian adaptations of Essene or Judeo-Christian manuals used to school new converts, and these contain important references to Essene, Judeo-Christian, and early gentile vegetarianism. (www.earlychristianwritings.com.)
The Church Fathers make scores of references to the vegetarianism of the first Christians, including such Church Fathers as Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, John Chrysostom, Jerome, and Epiphanius. The Ebionite Judeo-Christian Pseudo-Clementine writings escaped the fires of the Roman censor—probably because they center on Peter and thus helped support the primacy of the Roman church. They contain highly advanced theological discussions which I believe accurately reflect the thinking of Jesus and his early Ebionite followers. (www.earlychristianwritings.com, www.ccel.org/fathers.html.)
Using the Crosswalk research tool, it is easy to do searches through the Old and New Testaments on a word or phrase basis. You can compare 17 different translations. You can have access to basic Greek and Hebrew lexicons by doing a search using the New American Standard Bible translation with Strong’s Numbers. (bible.crosswalk.com.) See also the Online Parallel Bible at www.Bible.cc.
Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels is highly useful for comparing the three synoptic gospels. A version is available on line at www.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/meta-4g.htm.
You can read the Greek Septuagint version or translation of the Hebrew Bible by going to www.septuagint-interlinear-greek-bible.com, and you can compare the Hebrew Bible by going to bible.crosswalk.com and selecting New American Standard Bible with Strong’s Numbers. Comparing the Septuagint readings with the Hebrew Bible readings is important because the New Testament writers quote from the Septuagint—never from the Hebrew Bible. Because the Septuagint sometimes mistranslates the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament often misquotes the Hebrew Bible, sometimes creating nonsequiturs.
There is free internet access to the Jewish Encyclopedia, a hundred year old but still useful. (www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) You can buy the Encyclopedia Judaica for only $129 on CD-ROM. (www.JewishSoftware.com.)
Glen Davis maintains a list of New Testament verses quoted or referred to by Church Fathers. We know the dates the Fathers wrote, so their use of New Testament verses can tell us when certain books were first being circulated. (www.ntcanon.org.)
You may find the 1954 Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge useful. (www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc13/htm/i.htm.)
There is a wealth of information to be found on an official Catholic website which features the Catholic Encyclopedia. (www.newadvent.org.)
The Journal of Higher Criticism follows the critical theology of Walter Bauer and the Tubingen School. (www.depts.drew.edu/jhc/jhcbody.html.)
Jewish writers such as Josephus and Philo provide information about the vegetarian Essenes and James, brother of Jesus. (www.earlyjewishwritings.com.)
Unfortunately, the writings of Epiphanius are not available online. Check out The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., Book I and II, through inter-library loan or buy it through Amazon for around $120.
I recommend all the writings of Hyam Maccoby, including The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity; Revolution in Judea: Jesus and the Jewish Resistance; and Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages.
I highly recommend the writings of the late Dr. Shlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Dr. Pines translated numerous Moslem documents pertaining to the Judeo-Christians and other sects. In his Studies in the History of Religion see the section of the book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources.
Finally, I would like to add that I treat many sections of this chapter as free-standing articles. I have repeated arguments and sources which appear elsewhere. I do this because certain arguments and sources are relevant to numerous issues, and for the convenience of the reader. If I say the same things in different ways, it is more likely the reader will figure out what I am driving at.
In our day of mass publication, the Internet, and constitutional rights of freedom of speech and press, it is impossible to censor anything in advance—except perhaps defense secrets. After-the-fact censorship sometimes occurs in that if one libels, slanders, or violates the privacy of another in print or orally, he can be sued. However, there is no almighty censor who reads books, magazines, and newspapers before they are distributed.
It comes as a big surprise to most people that things were very different in Roman times. Every book had to be approved by the censor before being copied and sold. There were no printing presses. One made a book by hand copying it, a slow and expensive process. Few books were published. With the censor on your side, you really could kill an idea.
Roman emperor Theodosius I was an imposing figure in church-state history. In 380 C.E., without consulting with the bishops, he passed a law stating that the Nicene Creed was binding on all. He made religious tolerance illegal. He shut down the pagan temples, ending their animal sacrifices. He and his co-ruler Gratian were the first emperors not to take the title pontifex maximus, chief priest of all pagan religions. The emperor was no longer guardian of the Roman cults. Pope Damasus, who served from 366-384 C.E., was the first Roman bishop to assume that title.
The emperors Theodosius and Valentinian authorized the Roman censor either to require the editing of books which contained material considered heretical by orthodox Christian leaders, to forbid certain parts from being copied, to forbid books from being copied at all, or to order books destroyed. At a time when books were rare and written on paper, not copying them would mean that within a century or two they could rot away. The writings of the vegetarian Pythagorean Porphyry were ordered burned, probably all Judeo-Christian writings in Hebrew, and probably also all Gnostic writings. Someone buried gnostic documents, including the Gospel of Thomas, at Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt sometime in the 300s or 400s, probably to avoid their being burned by the censor.
There are surviving Christian and Jewish manuscripts in which entire lines and paragraphs have been blacked out with ink. There are also manuscripts in which there are blank spaces, meaning that they were copied from manuscripts in which those sections had been blacked out. See Robert Eisler, The Messiah and John the Baptist, p. 594 ff., for photos of censored manuscripts. Eisler’s book is a must-read book for those interested in the origins of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. It is long out-of-print, so request it through interlibrary loan.
The censor banned the Judeo-Christian writings as well, and this may explain why only fragments remain, usually in quotations made by the heresy fighters. (See www.earlychristianwritings.com for surviving fragments of the Gospel of the Hebrews and fragments of other works.)
We know of certain Judeo-Christian books by name which ceased to exist: The Gospel of the Ebionites (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospelebionites.html), The Ascents of James, The Preachings of Peter, and The Travels of Peter (Periodoi Petrou). The last two are probably imbedded in the Clementina, and some sections are quoted by Church Fathers and heresy-fighters such as Epiphanius. Islamic sources state clearly that there was an Aramaic or Hebrew gospel. I hypothesize that it was named “Matthew.” The Judeo-Christians refused to share the original Matthew with the Pauline Christians. (See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134.) So the Pauline Christians recited what they could remember of the original gospel from Sunday sermons and wrote it down in Greek, and the first edition of it was what scholars refer to as Proto-Mark. The compilers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke copied from Proto-Mark. The compilers of Matthew and Luke copied also from the Q document. It is likely that books that would tell us the most about Jesus were destroyed, probably in the time of Emperor Theodosius.
Eusebius refers to and quotes extensively from the church histories written by Hegesippus and Papius, each of which contained at least five books, neither of which survives. Eusebius (died c. 341) read their histories in the library at Caesarea. He says Hegesippus was “of Hebrew stock.” Hegesippus, as quoted by Eusebius, tells us most of what we know about James, including the fact that James was a vegetarian. Eusebius says that Papius believed that Jesus would return and set up a thousand year reign, and Catholic theologians say Papias’ history was destroyed for that reason. The Pauline Christians were trying to be accepted as Romans, and they knew the Romans would not approve of a religion that prophesied that a Hebrew messiah-king would return and rule. Eusebius worked closely with Constantine to found the Catholic Church and publish the first hundred complete Bibles. One has to wonder why he would not have seen to it that these early histories survive—unless they contained other information that he did not want preserved. (Eusebius, Church History, 2:23, 3:39, 4:22; Catholic Encyclopedia, “St. Papias,” www.newadvent.org.) Perhaps they still exist, hidden away in some secret Vatican library. It is hard to believe the Church would not have retained even one copy.
The emperor’s censor even required the editing of the Talmud to remove any language which was perceived to be offensive to Christianity. This is probably why code names are so often substituted for actual names in the Talmud and other Jewish writings and why there is so little information in them about Jesus and Christianity. The writings of Josephus were edited to be more favorable to the Catholic view of Jesus.
I will now review one-by-one the various early vegetarian groups, starting with the Essenes.
Essenes and Pharisees were both descended from the pre-Maccabean Hasidim. (“Essenes,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) Pharisees emphasized the virtues of marriage and having a big family and were vegetarians presumably only when they fasted on Mondays and Thursdays or when they took the Nazarite vow. (Luke 18:22; See the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 7:23, which quotes the Didache, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 465 ff.)
Essenes were strict vegetarians, and older Essenes were generally celibate. I take the position that Jesus was of Essene background, while others say he was a Pharisee. The two positions are not irreconcilable because Essenes and Pharisees respected each other and shared most beliefs and customs.
Josephus, Philo, Eusebius, and Plinius say the Essenes were vegetarians. The Essenes shared vegetarianism and many other customs with the Pythagoreans.
The Essenes were active starting in the century before Jesus’ birth. Several important First Century individuals and movements either were descended from the Essenes or were influenced by them: John the Baptist, Matthew, Peter, James the brother of Jesus, all of Jesus’ apostles, the Judeo-Christian Ebionites, and Jesus himself—were all said by various sources to have refused flesh food altogether.
The Essenes probably did not refer to themselves as Essenes. Others gave them that name. Jews referred to the Essenes as kehala kaddisha and said they survived the fall of Jerusalem. (“Christianity in its Relation to Judaism,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) They were called “Nasaraean” in Palestine and “Therapeutae” in Egypt, although the term “Nasaraeans” may refer to Essenes who married as opposed to those who were celibate. According to Epiphanius, an Essene related group, which existed before Jesus and before it accepted Jesus as messiah, was known as “Nasaraean.” The same group, after it had accepted Jesus as messiah came to be known as “Nazoraean.” (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., Book I, 19:5:4-6, p. 47, Book II, 29:6:1; see Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 2:17, p.50 ff.) Christians were referred to as “Nazarenes” before they were referred to as “Christians.” (Matthew 2:23; Acts 11:26, 24:5.)
The Essenes—spelled “Essens” by translator William Whiston—opposed the system of sacrificing animals in the Jerusalem Temple. Josephus says of them:
The doctrine of the Essens is this: … when they send what they have dedicated to God into the temple, they do not offer sacrifices, because they have more pure lustrations of their own; on which account they are excluded from the common court of the temple, but offer their sacrifices themselves [or, commentators suggest, offer themselves as sacrifices]…?. (Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, tr. Wm. Whiston, Book XVIII, 1:5, p. 377.)
The Essens … live the same kind of life as do those whom the Greeks call Pythagoreans…?. Herod had these Essens in such honour, and thought higher of them than their mortal nature required. (Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, tr. Wm. Whiston, Book XV, 10:4, p. 333 f.)
[They] seem to have a greater affection for one another than the other [Hebrew] sects have. These Essens reject pleasures as an evil, but esteem continence, and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue. They neglect wedlock, but choose out other persons’ children, while they are pliable, and fit for learning; and esteem them to be of their kindred, and [adopting them as orphans] form them according to their own manners. They do not absolutely deny the fitness of marriage… but they guard against the lascivious behavior of women, and are persuaded that none of them preserve their fidelity to one man. [Perhaps Josephus was a bigot. On the other hand, women who followed, for example, the religion of Dionysus in his day were known for their infidelity. Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident,
p. 75.] These men are despisers of riches…?. [I]t is a law among them, that those who come to them must let what they have be common to the whole order,—insomuch, that among them all there is no appearance of poverty or excess of riches, but every one’s possessions are intermingled with every other’s possessions…?. [Acts 2:44.] They think… it… is a good thing… to be clothed in white garments…?. [S]wearing is avoided by them…?. They also take great pains in studying the writings of the ancients, and… inquire after such roots and medicinal stones as may cure their distempers…?. They are long-lived also; insomuch that many of them live above a hundred years by means of the simplicity of their diet…?. Although they were tortured… that they might be forced… to eat what was forbidden them, yet could they not be made to…?. [T]here is another order of Essens, who agree with the rest as to their way of living, and customs, and laws, but differ from them in the point of marriage, as thinking that by not marrying they cut off the principal part of human life…?. (The Wars of the Jews, tr. Wm. Whiston, Book II, 8:2-13, p. 476, ff. My comments are in brackets.)
The Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.-c. 50 C.E.), said of the Essenes:
There is a portion of those people called Essenes, in number something more than four thousand in my opinion, who derive their name from their piety, though not according to any accurate form of the Grecian dialect, because they are above all men devoted to the service of God, not sacrificing living animals, but studying rather to preserve their own minds in a state of holiness and purity. (Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, Every Good Man is Free, XI (75), p. 689.)
Of the Essenes, Plinius the Elder allegedly said in his Natural History:
… [T]hey ate only fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, grains, nuts, legumes, germinated seeds and grains, and tender, small, ‘baby’ greens, taken fresh from the gardens and orchards right before their meals…?. (Quoted from Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, The Essene Way: Biogenic Living, p. 95.)
As you will see below, there is considerable evidence that Jesus came from an Essene family and was himself an Essene vegetarian.
The Therapeutae were Pythagorean Jewish Essenes living in Egypt. Eusebius, an orthodox Christian historian, mentioned them in his Church History, which he wrote around 325 C.E. Eusebius was a confidant of Constantine, the first pro-Christian emperor, and worked with him to synthesize and stabilize orthodox Christianity. Eusebius refers to the Therapeutae as “our ascetics,” thus making it appear that by his day at least some Therapeutae had accepted Jesus as messiah. Relying on and quoting from the Jewish historian Philo, who was a contemporary of Jesus, Eusebius says of them:
[Philo] says that they are called Therapeutae and their womenfolk Therapeutrides, and goes on to explain this title. It was conferred either because like doctors they rid the souls of those who come to them from moral sickness and so cure and heal them, or in view of their pure and sincere service and worship of God…?. He lays special emphasis on their renunciation of property, saying that when they embark on the philosophic life they hand over their possessions to their relations, then, having renounced all worldly interests, they go outside the walls and make their homes on lonely farms and plantations well aware that association with men of different ideas is unprofitable and harmful. That, apparently, was the practice of the Christians of that time…?. Similarly, in the canonical Acts of the Apostles it is stated that all the disciples of the apostles sold their possessions and belongings and shared them out among the others in accordance with individual needs…?. “The community is… very strong in Egypt… and especially in the Alexandrian area…?. It is situated above Lake Mareotis…?.” [They] absolutely refuse to touch wine or any flesh food, drinking nothing but water and seasoning their bread with salt and hyssop. (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 2:17, 50 ff., referring to (Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (73), p. 705.)
Note, that even the orthodox Eusebius admits the close similarities between the Therapeutae and the first Christians.
According to Philo, the Therapeutae opposed slavery:
… [T]hey do not use the ministrations of slaves, looking upon the possession of servants or slaves to be a thing absolutely and wholly contrary to nature, for nature created all men free.” (Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (71) p. 704.)
Essenes rejected animal sacrifices and therefore would have taken a critical approach toward verses in the Old Testament which allowed it. Likewise, the Judeo-Christian Ebionite authors of the Clementina, apparent successors of the Essenes and Therapeutae, took the approach that the text of the Hebrew Bible had been tampered with. (The Clementine Homilies, 2:51-52, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 238.)
Many beliefs and customs of the Therapeutae and the Essenes were derived from or are similar to those of the Buddhists: There were orders of males and females, and the two lived separately. Worldly goods were renounced. There were morning and evening prayers. They had no slaves. There were novices and full members. And they were all vegetarians. Around 240 B.C.E., King Asoka of India sent Buddhist missionaries to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Corinth, and other Mediterranean cities. (Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten, The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, p. 67, 180 ff.)
A major difference between Buddhists (along with many Christian orders) on the one hand and Essenes (like the Pythagoreans before them) on the other hand was that Buddhists and many Christian monks were mendicants, begging for their keep, while Essenes and Pythagoreans and some Christian orders formed cooperatives and were self-supporting.
This is a good point to introduce Epiphanius of Salamis (315-403 C.E.), ultra-orthodox Cypriot bishop and author of the Panarion, which means pharmacopeia or medicine cabinet, an intolerant refutation of all known heresies. Epiphanius lived and traveled in the Levant for the last 42 years of his life, and so his Panarion, if read critically, merits attention. Epiphanius was sloppy. He knew no Hebrew. He failed to understand the subtle differences between the various Judeo-Christian groups—Essenes, Therapeutae, Nasaraeans, Nazoraeans, and Ebionites. Epiphanius treats them all as separate groups just because the different names existed. Fortunately, he mechanically quoted from documents he found heretical. He claims to have interviewed Judeo-Christians, although some scholars claim he got all his information from reading the Clementina and earlier heresy fighters.
In the Panarion Epiphanius says the Nasaraeans were a pre-Christian Jewish sect which existed beyond the Jordan. I propose they were that group of Essenes which married, referred to above. Epiphanius says they rejected the authenticity of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, referred to by Christians as the Pentateuch, believing that the text had been compiled or rewritten after Moses’ day and had been tampered with. They believed that the passages dealing with animal sacrifice and others were added by later editors. Regarding the Nasaraeans, Epiphanius says:
They were Jews by nationality…?. They practiced Judaism in all respects… but they did not introduce fate or astrology. They too recognized the fathers in the Pentateuch from Adam to Moses…?. But they would not accept the Pentateuch itself. They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received legislation—not this legislation, however, but some other. And so, though they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, they would not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with it. They claimed that these books [the Torah] are fictions, and that none of these customs [meat eating and sacrifices] were instituted by the fathers. (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., 18, Book I, pp. 44 ff; my comments are in square brackets.)
Note that the Ebionite writers of the Clementina took the same critical approach regarding the Pentateuch, which would imply that the Ebionites were intellectual descendants of the Nasaraeans which Epiphanius wrote about. (The Clementine Homilies, 2:51-52.)
According to Epiphanius, the Nasaraeans were one of the seven Jewish sects which were in Jerusalem up to the conquest of the city in 70 C.E. (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., 19:5:6, p. 47.)
It is probable that the Essenes and the Nasaraeans were the same sect and that Jesus came from the Essene/Nasaraean tradition and was himself an Essene/Nasaraean.
After writing about the Essenes, Epiphanius writes about the Ossaeans, without specifying how they differed from the Essenes and Nasaraeans:
This, then, is the Ossene sect, which livest the Jewish life in Sabbath observance, circumcision, and the keeping of the whole Law. Though it is different from the other six of these seven [Jewish] sects, it causes schism only by forbidding the books <of Moses> like the Nasaraeans. <One text> [Matthew 12:5] will be enough to expose its foreignness to God, since the Lord plainly says, “The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath.” But what can this profanation of the Sabbath be except that no one did work on the Sabbath, but the priests broke it in the temple by offering sacrifice, and profaned it for the sake of the continual sacrifice of animals? (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., 19:5:1-2, p. 47. Sections in square brackets are my interpretations. Sections in angles are Frank Williams’ interpolations of text that has been lost.
Something is missing in Epiphanius’ argument about the Ossaeans or the edition of his work that has come down to us, and that probably was a statement that the Ossaeans, like the Nasaraeans, opposed the Temple sacrifices and this was the aspect of the “books of Moses” that they disputed. This is a reasonable conclusion to draw since the rest of the quotation made of Matthew 12:5 includes the most explicit statement of Jesus in the New Testament against the sacrificial system:
I tell you, something greater than the temple is there. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:6-7.)
I will go into a detailed analysis of this verse below and show that the “guiltless” is a reference to the animals being sacrificed and that Jesus and all the Judeo-Christian sects, except perhaps for the Pharisees and priests who joined the Way, opposed the temple sacrifices. (See the section of this book entitled Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 176.)
Epiphanius says the Ossaeans were guilty of “… forbidding the books <of Moses> like the Nasaraeans.” This refers to their critical view that many Torah passages had been changed or added. (Compare The Clementine Homilies, 2:51-52, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 238.) The “Nasaraeans,” “Essenes,” “Ossaeans,” and “Ebionites” may have been different names for the same or overlapping group at different times or in different places.
THE NAZORAEANS, JESSAEANS, AND ESSENES
Jesus was perhaps referred to as a Nasoraean or Nazoraean during his life. (Matthew 2:23.) His followers were referred to as Nazoraeans long before they were referred to as Christians, and they were first referred to as Christians outside of Jerusalem, in Antioch. (Acts 11:26, 24:5.) Perhaps the same group is referred to as Nasoraean before Jesus’ death and Nazoraean after it. Epiphanius has much to say about the Nazoraeans:
After these come Nazoraeans, who originated at the same time or even before, or in conjunction with them or after them [probably referring to the Nasaraeans and Essenes]…?. For this group did not name themselves after Christ or with Jesus’ own name, but “Nazoraeans.” However, at that time all Christians were called Nazoraeans in the same way. They also came to be called “Jessaeans” for a short while, before the disciples began to be called Christians at Antioch [Acts 24:5]. But they were called Jessaeans because of Jesse, I suppose, since David was descended from Jesse…?. But because of the change in the royal throne, the rank of king passed, in Christ, from the physical house of David and Israel to the church…?. James, called the brother and apostle of the Lord, was made the first bishop…?. [H]e was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year, as scripture says the Law commanded the high priests…?. He was allowed to wear the priestly mitre…?. [I]n Philo’s [c. 20 B.C.E.-c. 50 C.E.]… book entitled “Jessaeans,” you may discover that, in his account of their way of life and hymns, and his description of their monasteries in the vicinity of the Marean marsh, Philo described none other than Christians. For he was edified by his visit to the area—the place is called Mareotis—and his entertainment at their monasteries in the region…?. I mean the Nazoraeans, whom I am presenting here. They were Jewish, were attached to the Law, and had circumcision…?. [E]veryone called the Christians Nazoraeans…?. [Acts 24:5]… In those days everyone called Christians this because of the city of Nazareth [an error, in my opinion]…?. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew…?. They are different from Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law—circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest—they are not in accord with Christians. As to Christ, I cannot say whether they… regard him as a mere man—or whether… they affirm his birth of Mary by the Holy Spirit…?. Today this sect of the Nazoraeans is found… near Pella… [f]or that was its place of origin, since all the disciples had settled in Pella after they left Jerusalem…?. Not only do Jewish people have a hatred of them; they… three times a day when they recite their prayers in the synagogues… curse and anathematize them…?. They have the Gospel according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 112-119; see Glen Allen Koch, A Critical Investigation of Epiphanius’ Knowledge of the Ebionites, 1976, p. 198 f. The comments in square brackets are mine.)
One scholar says the Nazoraeans believed in the full divinity of Jesus. (Bellarmino Bagatti, tr. Eugene Hoade, The Church from the Circumcision: History and Archaeology of the Judaeo-Christians, p. 30 ff.). This is unlikely.
Epiphanius does not say the Nazoraeans were vegetarians, however, he classes them with the other Jewish sects, and he equates the Nazoraeans with the Jessaeans and mentions that Philo wrote that they had a center at Mareotis. According to Eusebius, Philo had been referring to the Essenes and the Therapeutae, and they “… absolutely refuse to touch wine or any flesh food.” (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 2:17, p. 53.)
I know of no book by Philo entitled “The Jessaeans” or “The Essenes,” however, Philo does describe the Essenes in Every Good Man is Free” and Hypothetica.” And Eusebius quotes extensively from Philo’s description of the Therapeutae in his Church History. Epiphanius is saying that the Judeo-Christians were referred to as Nazoraeans and then Jessaeans, and it would be reasonable to conclude that “Jessaean” is another word for “Essene.” (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 2:17, p. 50 ff., www.ccel.org, referring to Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (73), p. 705.)
Further, Epiphanius, in his discussion of the Ebionites, whom he clearly states were vegetarians, makes this side comment about the Nazoraeans:
… Ebion… has… the viewpoint of the Ossaeans, Nazoraeans and Nasaraeans…?. For Ebion was contemporary with the Nazoraeans and, <since he was> their ally, was derived from them.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:2:1, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120. Sections in angles are Frank Williams’ interpolations of text that has been lost.)
Epiphanius thus implies that the Nazoraeans and Jessaeans of his day were vegetarians.
EBIONITES VS. NAZARENES
Church Fathers Ignatius (died c. 107), Justin Martyr (died c. 165) Ireneus (died c. 202), Tertullian (died c. 220), Hippolytus (died c. 236), Origen (died c. 253) Eusebius, (died c. 341), Epiphanius (died c. 403), and Jerome (died c. 420) used numerous names for the various Judeo-Christian sects, including Essenes, Ossaeans, Jessaeans, Therapeutae, Nasaraeans, Nasoreans, Nazarenes, and Ebionites. The names of these groups and groups to which these names applied changed over time, and the Church Fathers may have had inaccurate or incomplete ideas regarding their names and beliefs. Some of these names may overlap. Except for Epiphanius, the Fathers primarily refer to Ebionites and Nazarenes, although they do not use them consistently.
Ignatius condemned the Ebionites as those who think “… the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God and… to consist merely of a soul and a body.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, p. 83, www.ccel.org/fathers.html.) Ireneus said the Ebionites considered Paul not to have been an apostle. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, 3:15, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, p. 439, www.ccel.org/fathers.html.)
Hippolytus said Nazarenes considered the Torah binding only on Jews while Ebionites considered it binding on all. (“Nazarenes,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com, quoting from Comm. In Jes. 1:12.) Origen referred to the “twofold sect of the Ebionites,” both of which were Torah observant, the first of which considered Jesus’ birth to have been ordinary and the second of which affirmed the virgin birth; my theory is that the first came to be called “Ebionite,” while the second came to be called “Nazarene.” (Contra Celsum, 5:61 Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 570.) Eusebius also referred to two Ebionite sects and says that both rejected Paul and considered him an apostate from the Law. (The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 27:3-6.) Jerome suggested that the Nazarenes accepted Paul and believed in the virgin birth of Jesus. (“Letter 112 to Augustine,” and “On Isaiah 9:1-4,” both quoted by Ray A. Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, p. 53, 64.)
Epiphanius lived in the Levant and apparently interviewed Ebionites. He said they derived their name from their heretical leader Ebion, which is incorrect. He said that the same sect was known as Nazoraean before the fall of Jerusalem and as Ebionite thereafter. That they observed the Torah and made visits to the ritual bath when they became unclean. That they did not eat meat. That they rejected the virgin birth story and believed Jesus to have been born of Joseph and Mary by natural intercourse. That they believed certain gnostic heresies (an accusation frequently made, even by modern scholars, but for which I find no evidence). That they believed Jesus was a prophet who was called son of god only because he lived a virtuous life. That Jesus declared that he came to abolish the sacrifices. That Jesus did not eat the Passover lamb (Matthew 26:18) and taught his followers not to eat meat. That they rejected certain parts of the Hebrew Bible. That they believed that Paul converted to Judaism to marry a high priest’s daughter and, when rebuffed, turned against Judaism. That they were “scum.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:1:1, 30:2:1, 30:3:1, 30:16:5, 30:16:9, 30:18:4-7, 30:22:1, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, Section II, p. 119-151.)
… Ebion, the Ebionites’ founder… has the Samaritans’ [gnostics’] repulsiveness, the Jews’ name, the viewpoint of the Ossaeans, Nazoraeans and Nasaraeans… and the badness of the [gnostic] Carpocratians. Ebion was contemporary with the Nazoraeans and, <since he was> their ally, was derived from them.… [H]e said that Christ was generated by sexual intercourse and the seed of a man, Joseph…?. [T]his sect repudiates celibacy…?. They got their start after the fall of Jerusalem…?. They too accept the Gospel according to Matthew… in the Hebrew language… [which says regarding John the Baptist]… “… his meat… was wild honey [Mark 1:6], whose taste was the taste of manna, as a cake in oil”… to… substitute “a cake in honey” for “locusts”!… But they use… Clement’s so-called Peregrinations of Peter… and lied about Peter… saying that he was baptized daily for purification as they are. And they say he abstained from living flesh and dressed meat as they do, and any other meat-dish—since both Ebion himself, and Ebionites, abstain from these entirely. [Regarding Jesus] they say… that he came and instructed us <to abolish the sacrifices>. As their so-called Gospel says, “I came to abolish the sacrifices, and if ye cease not from sacrifice, wrath will not cease from you.” They say… that Christ is prophet of truth and Christ; <but> that he is Son of God by promotion…?. Nor do they accept Moses’ Pentateuch in its entirety…?.When you say to them, of eating meat… [and why Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ate meat and sacrificed animals] he will answer, “Christ has revealed this to me…?.”… But how can their stupidity about eating meat not be exposed out of hand? In the first place, the Lord ate the Jewish Passover… the flesh of a sheep…?.Christ actually said, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” But they misled themselves by writing in meat and making a false entry, and saying, “Have I desired with desire to eat this Passover with you?” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.22.5, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120 ff., 138.) Sections in square brackets are my interpretations. Sections in angles are Frank Williams’ interpolations of text that has been lost.)
Regarding the Nazarenes, Epiphanius said they accepted the New Testament, implying that they accepted Paul’s writings. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29:7:2, 29:7:6, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, Section II, p. 117-118.)
Although the terms are not used consistently by the Fathers, I choose to use the term Ebionite to refer to the group which was vegetarian and more observant of the Law. I assume the Ebionites were the authors of the core of the Clementina. (See the section of this book entitled Simon Peter, the Clementina, p. 102.) So my view of them is as follows: They were vegetarians, and they believed Jesus had been a vegetarian. They regarded Jesus as messiah and the prophet whom Moses predicted would come after him and complete his work. They regarded him as fully human and not a deity. They rejected the virgin birth story. They believed the Hebrew Bible had been tampered with. They regarded Paul as an apostate and heretic. They kept the Sabbath and lived a Torah-observant life. My hypothesis is that the Ebionites were descended from Essenes and Therapeutae who accepted the messiahship of Jesus, and they most closely reflect the beliefs of the earliest Judeo-Christians. They got their name not from a man named Ebion, as the heresy fighters accused, but from the “Poor” (Ebionim in Hebrew) of Jerusalem. (Acts 2:42-47, 6:1, 7:11; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; see the two sections of this book entitled Four Wings of the Jerusalem Church, Two of them Vegetarian, p. 145, and Stephen, Hellenist, Foe of the Sacrificial System, p. 98.)
My conclusions regarding the less observant of the Judeo-Christians, which I choose to refer to as Nazarenes, is as follows: They were probably not vegetarian except when they fasted but did keep kosher. They were half way orthodox in their christology. They believed in the virgin birth. They held to a relatively high christology, but did not believe Jesus was god in the Catholic sense. They believed that Jesus had been created by god the father, whereas Catholics came to regard Jesus as “only begotten” (John 1:14,18, 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9, 5:1; Revelation 1:5) and “uncreated,” that is, eternally pre-existent with the father. Some Nazarenes may have followed Paul, as do today’s naive “Jews for Jesus,” and some may have rejected him. They differed from orthodox Christians outwardly in that they kept the Sabbath and lived a Torah-observant life. My hypothesis is that this group descended from non-vegetarian Pharisees and priests in Jerusalem who accepted the messiahship of Jesus, that they branched off from the Ebionites, and that some of them may have gradually come to accept some of Paul’s teachings. Many of them converted to Islam. Moslem teachings regarding Jesus appear to derive from the Nazarenes, in fact Islam can possibly be explained as the prophet Mohammed’s refinement of Nazarene Christianity. (See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134; Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 3:27:3-6; Jerome, Letter 112, Jerome to Augustine, 4:13; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102075.htm; Ray A. Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity; “Nazarene,” “Ebionites,” and “Gospel of the Ebionites,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1957 ed.;”) “Ebionites,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979, Vol. III, p. 768.)
When I refer to “Ebionites,” I mean those Judeo-Christians who remained vegetarians, rejected Paul, and compiled the Clementina. When I refer to “Nazarenes,” I mean those Judeo-Christians who were perhaps not originally vegetarian and who gradually adopted some Catholic and Pauline doctrines and later merged into Islam in great numbers.
JESUS, BRANCH OF DAVID, NAZARITE
Why was Jesus referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth?”
After returning from Egypt, Joseph “…came and lived in a city called Nazareth. (Nazareth in Greek, n-ts-r-th in late-Talmud Hebrew.) This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:23, Nazoraios in Greek.) The word Nazoraios is translated sometimes as “of Nazareth” and sometimes as “Nazarene,” depending on the passage and which New Testament version is consulted. (Matthew 2:23, 26:71; Luke 18:37; John 18:5, 18:7, 19:19, Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 22;8, 24:5, 26:9.)
However, the editor of Matthew made a serious blunder: There is no Old Testament prophecy that the messiah would be called a Nazarene or come from Nazareth! Nazareth is not even mentioned in Hebrew Bible or in the early Talmud, and some scholars suggest the town did not even exist in Jesus’ day.
The Jerusalem Christians were referred to as “the Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 22:4,14, 22) and as Nazarenes (Nazoraios, Acts 24:5). Even Paul is referred to as a Nazarene. (Acts 24:5.)
Jesus was also called Nazarenos in Greek, which like Nazoraios is translated sometimes as “Nazarene” and sometimes as “of Nazareth.” (Mark 1:24, 10:47, 14:67, 16:6; Luke 4:34, 24:19.) It is reasonable to ask if Jesus was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus the Nazarene” and whether he was called “Nazarene” for some reason other than that he was from Nazareth.
Further complicating the picture is the fact that Jesus was consecrated a Nazarite at his birth (sometimes spelled “Nazirite,” n-z-r in Hebrew, not n-ts-r). One who took the Nazarite vow was to drink no wine, leave his hair uncut, not touch dead bodies and in other ways avoid ceremonial uncleanliness, and be committed to god. Jesus was said to have been dedicated as a Nazarite—although the term “Nazarite” is not used—before he was born: “… he shall drink no wine nor strong drink…” (Luke 1:15.) Men who felt they were drinking too much often took the Nazarite vow, an ancient version of Alcoholics Anonymous. (“Nazarite,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
A Nazarite was not required to be a vegetarian, however, many were, including Jesus and James his brother. According to Eusebius: “[James] was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.” This is probably a reference to the public baths which the Romans built in Jerusalem, probably not a reference to the ritual bath or mikvah, which James certainly would have used.” (Church History, 2:23:5.) So perhaps Jesus was originally called “Nazarite,” not “of Nazareth.”
Complicating the picture even more is the hypothesis that Jesus was the netser or branch (n-ts-r in Hebrew.) Netser is a term found in Isaiah 11:1, which says
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch [netser] shall grow out of his roots.
Jesse was the father of David. Netser is a shoot or branch. The Talmud uses the same n-ts-r root when it refers to Christians as Notsri. The Isaiah prophesy then would mean not that the messiah would come from Nazareth but that he would be a descendant of David. (Cf. the word tsemach, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12, Isaiah 4:2, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15, likewise translated as “branch.”)
Jesus was of the Davidian dynasty, so there would have been Davidians before him. Recall that Epiphanius said there were “Nasaraeans” even before Jesus and the Nazoreans, and the group he describes sounds like the Essenes or Ebionites. Maybe Epiphanius should have said there was a Netzer movement before Jesus. This is more evidence that Jesus was not “of Nazareth” but part of the branch of David, that is, a descendant of David and of the Davidian dynasty. (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., 18-19, p. 42-48, 29:6:1, p. 116.)
The of-Nazareth-Nazarite-Netzer confusion is like the many other mistakes that gentile New Testament editors and writers made. They had never known Jesus or the original apostles. They were unlearned in Hebrew. They had never seen the original Judeo-Christian Hebrew gospel. They relied on oral transmissions of lengthy memorized Sunday sermons crudely translated into Greek, which they transcribed and made into the four gospels we know. Editors revised them in Rome around 150 C.E., responding to the New Testament which Marcion had collected and brought to Rome. (See the section of this book entitled Marcion—Follower of Paul, Catalyst of the Canon, p. 131.)
JOHN THE BAPTIST
Because the teachings and behaviors of John the Baptist are so similar to those of the Essenes, it is probable that John the Baptist was an Essene or was influenced by them. The Slavonic (Old Russian) edition of Josephus’ The Jewish Wars contains an account of a prophet that almost certainly is John the Baptist, although John is not mentioned by name:
At that time a man was going about Judea remarkably dressed; he wore animal hair on those parts of his body not covered by his own. His face was like a savage’s. He called on the Jews to claim their freedom, crying: “God sent me to show you the way of the Law, so that you can shake off any human yoke: no man shall rule you, but only the Most High who sent me.” The man was brought before Archelaus and an assemblage of lawyers, who asked who he was and where he had been. He replied: “I am a man called by the Spirit of God, and I live on stems, roots, and fruit…?.” Wine and other strong drink he would not allow to be brought anywhere near him, and animal food he absolutely refused—fruit was all that he needed. The whole object of his life was to show evil in its true colours. (Josephus: The Jewish War, tr. G.A. Williamson, p. 397-398.)
Archelaus ruled from 4 B.C.E. to 6 C.E. In this account John, assuming this is John, would have been an adult at the time when he and Jesus were said to have been born according to Luke. (1:36, 60.) Irenaeus (died c. 220) contends that John and Jesus were born at least 20 years earlier than the often unreliable Luke says, and that Jesus was crucified in his fifties. (Cf. Charles P. Vaclavik, The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ, p. 73 ff.; Irenaeus Against Heresies, 2:22:6, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, p. 392, www.ccel.org/fathers.html.) In John (8:57) Jesus’ critics question his authority by remarking “You are not yet fifty years old,” which would imply he was certainly older than thirty.
The Slavonic edition was a translation of an early version of Josephus’ work from the original Hebrew or Aramaic into an old, south Russian dialect. The original Hebrew or Aramaic version has been lost. Josephus’ writings were distributed widely. Translations that had been exported outside the borders of the Roman empire were not exposed to censorship by the “Great Church” or the Roman censor, so the Slavonic edition contains information which was edited out of Western versions. (See Robert Eisler’s The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, p. 133, ff., for a fascinating account of the censorship process as it was applied to the writings of Josephus.) This story from the Slavonic edition of Josephus is consistent with Luke 1:15, in which it was said of John, “… he shall drink no wine nor strong drink.” However, it is not fully consistent with Matthew 3:4 which says, “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Regarding John’s diet, Upton Clary Ewing, quoting in part from Dr. Edgar Goodspeed, says:
The gospels say John’s food was locusts and wild honey…?. Some have interpreted this to mean the bean of the honey locust or the carob tree.
It appears, however, that the gospel report is in error due probably to a mistake in copying. A quotation from the Aramaic gospel of Matthew, (probably the first gospel written) and preserved by Epiphanius, describes the food of John the Baptist as “wild honey and cakes made with oil and honey.” [Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:13:4, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, Section II, p. 130.] These cakes were probably made with wheat or barley meal, a staple food of the Essenes. Here, again, if John lived in the desert, where else would he have obtained food of this kind but from the kitchens at Qumran?
[Quoting from Goodspeed:] “The Greek word for oil cake is ‘enkris;’ the Greek word for ‘locust is ‘akris.’”
Thus it becomes quite clear how a mistake, intentional or otherwise, could have been made in copying of the original Greek manuscript. (Upton Clary Ewing, The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 82-83, quoting in part from Dr. Edgar Goodspeed, History of Early Christian Literature.)
The Essenes were known for making bread in an unorthodox manner. They believed in eating food raw as much as possible. They sprouted grain and mashed it into cakes, which they baked in the sun. Perhaps this is how the Israelites made manna in the desert. (Edmond Szekely, The Essene Gospel of Peace, pp. 40-41.) Perhaps this odd looking bread inspired someone to refer to it as locusts. Or perhaps the reference was made as an intentional slander.
What would have been John’s attitude to the sacrificial system of the Jerusalem Temple? One can infer that he would have opposed it. It is often said that the role of animal sacrifices was the forgiveness of sins. However, Hyam Maccoby’s explains that sins were forgiven through repentance and that the sacrifice was only for final reconciliation, that is atonement. (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, p.31-32; “Atonement,” JewishEncyclopedia.com.) John “appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4.)
Following the destruction of the Temple, Christians followed John’s tradition. (Acts 18.25.) In post-Temple Judaism, sins were forgiven through prayer, which would include repentance, instead of the sacrifices and instead of baptism. Note that some early Christians were hemerobaptists, meaning that they were baptized frequently, even daily, for forgiveness or to be ritually clean. (See The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, 30:15:3, Book I, Section II, p. 131.)
STEPHEN, HELLENIST, FOE OF THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM
Stephen, one of the first Jerusalem Christians, made enemies who plotted his downfall. We read in Acts 6:11-7:60:
Then they secretly instigated men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses [perhaps that the Torah had been tampered with] and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses, who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place [the Jerusalem Temple] and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs [perhaps regarding animal sacrifices] which Moses delivered to us.”… And Stephen said: Our fathers… in their hearts [remembered] Egypt, saying to Aaron, “Make for us gods to go before us…?. And they made a calf in those days [Exodus 32], and offered a sacrifice to the idol…?. But God turned and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “Did you offer to me slain beasts and sacrifices, forty years in the wilderness, o house of Israel?… I will remove you beyond Babylon”… [I]t was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands…?. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?… Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…?. (The words in brackets are my comments.)
Bear in mind that what we are reading is someone’s incomplete or redacted notes of what Stephen said, perhaps a bad translation from a Hebrew Acts of the Apostles. There are large gaps that we have to try to fill in. Stephen is saying that the sacrificial system of Israel was in some way illegitimate. He points out that god condemned the sacrificing of animals to the golden calf (Acts 7:41), and he puts the sacrificial system of Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple in the same class.
Stephen asks (Acts 7:42) “Did you offer to me slain beasts and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness…?” quoting Amos 5:25. (See Jeremiah 7:21 ff.) The surprising answer to this question was “No.” The legend is clear that during the forty years after the Israelites left Egypt there was no animal sacrifice, except for the sacrifices made to the golden calf, which were condemned. (Numbers 11:4-33, 15:1, 25:2; Exodus 32:6.) A better translation of this sentence would be: “You didn’t offer slain beasts as sacrifices during your forty years of wandering in Sinai, did you? Of course not. Then why are you offering them now?” Stephen is making reference to that ideal time in the desert when Moses tried to return the Israelites to the plant-based diet of Eden. He is saying that the sacrificing of animals in his day was being done in imitation of the idolatrous sacrifices of neighboring nations, just as was done in the case of the golden calf.
Stephen refers to the previous destruction of the Jerusalem Temple at the hands of the Babylonians and the exile of the Jews to Babylonia. (Acts 7:43.) He thus renews Jesus’ threat that the Temple could be destroyed again if changes were not made. The change would be a reorientation of the religion: Instead of one centered on appeasing an angry god who demands bloody sacrifices, it would be one centered on living by high ethical standards. (Matthew 9:13, 12:7.) Stephen is saying what Jesus had said: Unless the sacrificing of animals was stopped, the Temple would be destroyed and the Jews would be exiled from Jerusalem.
Finally, Stephen suggests that the Temple priesthood had killed other prophets who had delivered this same message, which would have included Jesus (Acts 7:52) and the Teacher of Righteousness, who had lived and been slain around 100 years before Jesus. (Michael O. Wise, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Christ.) All of this would indicate that Stephen believed Jesus too had opposed the sacrifices and was killed for it. Jesus had referred to himself as a prophet, and others had referred to him that way too. (Matthew 13:57, 14:5, 21:11, 21:46; Luke 24:19.)
Who would have wanted Stephen dead? The Romans would have wanted anyone dead who claimed that Jesus was or had been messiah, which translates into Latin as “king.” However, there is no mention of Roman involvement, which most scholars presume was necessary for any execution to take place. The stoning of Stephen reads like a lynching.
The Herodian puppet dynasty, selected and propped up by the Romans, would also have wanted Stephen dead. Likewise, so too would the Sadducees and upper level priests, for they received a share of the meat and leather as their salary for their work as animal buyers, inspectors, keepers, slaughterers, and resellers. The livelihood of the Temple Sadducees and priests was grounded on the sacrificial system, and Stephen like Jesus wanted to shut down the sacrificial system. Stephen was allegedly delivered to the “council,” the Sanhedrin, for a hearing or trial, and he was questioned by the high priest. (Acts 6:12, 7:1.) The carnivorous Saul, later known as Paul, participated in the killing of the vegetarian Stephen. (Acts 8:1, 20:22.)
How extensive was the sacrificial system? Worshipers bought cattle, sheep, goats, and other animals, along with oil, wine, and grain as Temple sacrifices. From ten to twenty people would share one sacrificed animal in the case of a Passover lamb. (The Complete Works of Josephus, tr. William Whiston, Wars of the Jews, 6:9:3, p. 588.) A few animals were burnt whole, but even of these the priests received the skin, of great value as leather. Of most sacrifices, only part was burnt; part was given to the people who brought or purchased the animal; and the rest became the property of the priests. Although rabbis had careers and did not accept salaries from synagogues, Paul, justified the payment of salaries to ministers, asking rhetorically: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?” (1 Corinthians 9:13.) The Levites—the only one of the twelve Hebrew tribes that had not been assigned land—served as priests and received a tenth of all income, the “tithe.” This would include every tenth animal. (Leviticus 27:32.) Likewise cereal offerings and all the leather became the property of the priests in their entirety. (Leviticus 7:9; “Sacrifices,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 4, p. 155.)
There were thousands of animals slaughtered at the Temple each year, and one can presume that these constituted a lucrative source of meat for the kosher market. The priests had a monopoly on the kosher sacrificing of animals. Any observant Jew who wanted to eat the kosher meat of large animals could only obtain it from the Levite slaughterers.
W. Robertson Smith pointed out in his important book Religion of the Semites that in Old Israel all slaughter of large animals was sacrifice: “People could never eat beef or mutton except as a religious act.” (William Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 1927, as quoted by Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings, 176.)
Stephen was a Hellenist, a Judeo-Christian who probably had grown up outside Judea, perhaps in Egypt, who probably spoke Greek as his first language and probably spoke Aramaic or Hebrew less well. Stephen was appointed as one of seven Hellenist deacons who were responsible to distribute charity to the Hellenist poor in Jerusalem. Most theologians look at Stephen’s speech and classify such Hellenists with those who rejected all Hebrew tradition, including circumcision and food laws. (E.g., Brown & Meier, Antioch & Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity, p. 6.) To the contrary, as will become clear below, it was the renegade Paul who opposed Jewish tradition, not the Hellenists.
Note that Stephen spoke favorably of circumcision, which would indicate he was not opposed generally to Hebrew tradition. (Acts 7:8,51.) Nor did Stephen or the Hellenists say anything against kosher food restrictions; it would have made no sense for them to favor circumcision but oppose kosher. Stephen was against killing animals for sacrifices and presumably opposed to using them for food. Stephen probably preached a vegetarian version of kosher and an end the lucrative sacrificial system. Like Jesus, he probably was killed for doing so.
According to Philo, as quoted by Eusebius, there were two major Essene centers, one by the Dead Sea and the other in Egypt near Alexandria. The Essenes in Egypt were known as the Therapeutae. I suggest that the Hellenists of Acts (6:1, 9:29) were Greek-speaking, vegetarian Therapeutae who had accepted Jesus as the messiah. Eusebius said the Therapeutae were Judeo-Christians and that they ate no flesh food and drank no wine. (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 2:17, p. 50 ff., http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.html, referring to Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (73), p. 705.) The Hellenists of Acts would fit that description well.
Stephen and the Hellenists, and by implication the Therapeutae, were very loyal to the part of the law which they believed derived from Moses, including Moses’ attempt in the desert of Sinai to return the Hebrews to a vegetarian form of kosher. According to Stephen’s speech, the Hellenists, and presumably the Therapeutae, were opposed to the Temple sacrifices. They were thus not anti-Torah but strongly in favor of Torah rules such as circumcision and keeping the Sabbath strictly. That theologians can conclude that Stephen and the Hellenists opposed Jewish tradition generally shows they are not paying attention to what they are reading.
Later, Paul debated with the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29), and they allegedly sought to kill him, although it is not clear whether these were Hellenist Judeo-Christians or Hellenist Jews who had not accepted Jesus as the messiah. Bear in mind that at this point the new Christian movement was still just one of many pre-rabbinic Jewish sects. If the Hellenists, whether Jewish or Judeo-Christian, had been opposed to all Hebrew tradition, why would they have had any quarrel with Paul, who was himself very much opposed to Hebrew tradition? Paul taught that circumcision was of no significance (1 Corinthians 7:19) and that it was acceptable to eat meat offered to idols, as long as those who would be offended by the eating of such meat did not learn it was being eaten. (1 Corinthians 8.) It makes much more sense to presume that the Hellenists were Essene Therapeutae who strongly favored observance of the Jewish law—except for animal sacrifice—and that they disliked Paul because he opposed strict observance.
What change in customs did Stephen advocate? That the Temple sacrifices be terminated and probably that Jews and the new Judeo-Christians adopt a diet free of meat.
Before leaving Stephen, I should mention that there are scholars who object to the suggestion that the Sanhedrin would have taken part in a lynching of the kind described in Acts. The Sanhedrin had a long tradition of procedural fairness, and a majority of its members were Pharisees, who protected the Judeo-Christians at other times. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:65 ff., Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 94; Luke 13:31; Acts 5:35 ff.) It would have been unlike the Sanhedrin to charge Stephen with one crime—saying “that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14)—and then stone him for another reason, that he accused them of killing other prophets and failing to keep the law. (Acts 7:52-53.) There is also the suggestion that the story of the lynching of Stephen may be a doublet of the two stories of the lynching of James. Paul tried to kill James. Perhaps Acts is covering this up by changing “James” to “Stephen.” (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 521.)
LIQUIDATION OF THE VEGETARIAN COMMUNE OF JERUSALEM
After Stephen was stoned, we read:
Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul laid waste the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1-3.)
Stephen’s Judeo-Christians, opposed to the Jerusalem sacrifices, had become an economic threat to the priests, Sadducees, and Herodians who profited from the system and who did not want it changed. Further, these followers of Jesus were messianists, apparently willing to foment a war with the Romans. So they were killed or driven out. Paul says:
I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9-11.)
Note that Paul says he persecuted and killed Nazarenes in Jerusalem before he persecuted them in foreign cities. He is describing the liquidation of the Nazarene commune of Jerusalem. If Paul voted for their death, and he took part in the lynching of Stephen, did he also participate in the attempted assassination of James? This would be too terrible a thing for the writer of Acts to admit, so maybe this is why we have a story of Stephen’s assassination and not James’.
Why were James and some of the apostles not driven out of Jerusalem? Perhaps because they did not press publicly for an end to the sacrifices.
The liquidation of the Jerusalem commune sounds like the destruction of the Pythagorean vegetarian communes centered around Croton in southern Italy around 510 B.C.E. Vegetarian communists have generally been poor at defending themselves again the capitalist “cattleists.” Recall that the word “capital” derives from the word “cattle.”
Clement of Alexandria (150-215) believed the eating of meat to be of no significance and probably ate meat himself, and so he was an objective witness when he reported the following: “[H]appiness is found in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh.” (The Instructor, 2:1, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II, p. 241; http://www.ccel.org/fathers.html).
ALL THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS
The orthodox Eusebius of Caesarea, author of the History of the Church, and partner with Constantine in the consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church, provides this information regarding the “disciples of Jesus”:
From the men as they stand, surely any sensible person would be inclined to consider them worthy of all confidence; they were admittedly poor men without eloquence, they fell in love with holy and philosophic instruction, they embraced and persevered in a strenuous and a laborious life, with fasting and abstinence from wine and meat … . (Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel, 3:5, www.earlychristianwritings.com/fathers.)
SIMON PETER, THE CLEMENTINA
Peter and his brother Andrew were the first of Jesus’ apostles:
And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them,” Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-17.)
This is a dynamic way to begin the gospel story, but it is likely that this and all the other the fish stories in the New Testament were added for astrological reasons. (See the section of this book entitled What About the Fish Stories? More Tampering with the Texts, p. 191.)
Relevant to the vegetarian theme is the story of Peter’s dream in which both kosher and non-kosher animals are let down from heaven in a great sheet. The voice tells Peter to kill and eat these, but he refuses. He is admonished, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” (Acts 10:15.) Peter immediately is called to go so see Cornelius, a Roman centurion in Caesarea. Cornelius is “a devout man who feared God,” meaning that he attended synagogue as a ger toshav, a semi-convert to Judaism. This would be an unlikely status for a Roman lieutenant, especially one posted in Caesarea. That cohort was notorious for baiting and brutalizing Jews.
Peter accepts Cornelius as a convert and then reports back to the other apostles, who initially resist but later agree that gentiles should be accepted. The point of the aphorism “what God has cleansed, you must not call common” is clearly that gentiles should not be excluded. Later the other side of the aphorism comes to be accepted too, that all foods are clean and keeping kosher is irrelevant, certainly something that the apostles would not have agreed with. (Cf. Matthew 7:19; Mark 7:1 ff.; Romans 14:14; see the sections of this book entitled Did Jesus Keep Kosher or Declare all foods Clean? p. 197, and What About Allegations that Jesus was a Belly-Slave? p. 197.)
More information about Peter is found in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, also known as the Clementina, which includes the Recognitions of Clement, the Clementine Homilies, the Epistle of Peter to James, and the Epistle of Clement to James. (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf08.html.) The Clementina contains or is a reworking of more ancient Ebionite sources. It purports to be written mostly by Clement, but there are short letters by Peter and James the brother of Jesus. Clement travels with Peter, reports on Peter’s debates with Simon Magus, and finds his long lost family. (Cf. Acts 8:9 ff.)
Epiphanius in his Panarion (30:15:3), quotes from the Periodoi Petrou, in English the Journeys of Peter. The Periodoi Petrou was an Ebionite or Judeo-Christian book which we can presume was censored by the Roman censor working under the early Christian emperors and which no longer exists as such. Parts of the Periodoi Petrou are presumably incorporated into the Clementina. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:27-72, 3:75, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 121-134.) Hiding the Periodoi Petrou within the Clementina along with other Judeo-Christian writings evidently made their survival possible. As part of his condemnation of the Ebionites, Epiphanius says:
Therefore in the Periodoi the whole has been changed to suit themselves. They have spoken falsely about Peter in many ways: that he baptized himself daily for purposes of purification even as they also do; and that he abstained from that which had life in it and from meats, even as they do; and from all other food prepared from flesh…?. (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, 30:15:3, Book I, Section II, p. 131; The Recognitions of Clement, 1:27-72, 3:75, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 121-134.)
It does not occur to Epiphanius that perhaps the Periodoi Petrou was right, that Peter was a vegetarian, and Epiphanius’ carnivorous orthodoxy had lost touch with the true Jesus tradition.
The Clementina purports to have been written by Clement, the third bishop of the Roman church, who was allegedly appointed by Peter. Scholars assume that the Clementina is pseudepigraphal and was assembled into its present form in the late Second Century or early Third Century. The core material appears to be much older. Rufinus, friend of Jerome, who died around 410 C.E., translated the Recognitions from Greek to Latin. He admits that he edited and cut out and discarded sections he did not understand or with which he disagreed. While the Homilies survives in Greek and Latin, the Recognitions survives only in Rufinus’ Latin translation. (Rufinus, Presbyter of Aquileia; His Preface to Clement’s Book of Recognitions, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 75, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf08.vi.ii.html.)
While it is clear that material has been added by later editors, those additions usually occur in separate paragraphs, while the core, older material apparently has been left mostly untouched. The result is that the core material was hidden and preserved. The author’s quotations of Peter appear to reflect genuine ancient traditions. We are very fortunate the Clementina survived because it fills in many gaps in the mostly blacked out history of the first three centuries of Christianity.
The Clementina should have been burned by the censors because it contains material that is clearly inconsistent with the orthodox Christianity which developed among Gentile Christians. My theory is that the Clementina survived because it centered on Peter, supported the primacy of Peter among the apostles, affirmed Peter’s connection with the Roman church, and therefore buttressed the primacy of the Roman church and the Papacy. Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, and too a lesser extent John, do the same. (Matthew 4:18, 14:28, 16:16-18, 17:1 and parallels; John 13:23.) The Clementina may also have survived because the Roman church was not founded by Paul but by someone working directly under James and the church in Jerusalem. (See Acts 18:2.) I suggest that the Roman church was originally Judeo-Christian, and the entire church or a group of Judeo-Christians within it, would have had some sympathy for the Judeo-Christian Clementina. It was probably minority Judeo-Christian scribes of the Roman church, maybe in the Second or Third Century, maybe around 150 when the Roman church was putting the canon together in response to the canon of Marcion, who edited the Clementina into is present form, starting with Ebionite books as the core and then surrounding and embedding them within more orthodox materials. The Roman church probably had a Judeo-Christian group within it up until the time of Pope Victor (c. 189-199). Theodotus the cobbler and his successor Theodotus the banker claimed that the apostles taught that Jesus was a human, adopted by god as his son at his baptism. Victor excommunicated Theodotus the cobbler. (Eusebius, Church History 5:28; Epiphanius, Panarion, 54; Hippolytus, Philosophumena 7:35, 10:23; “Monarchians,” Catholic Encyclopedia, www.NewAdvent.org.)
The Clementina refers to “the enemy.” A scribe made a marginal note that “the enemy” was Paul. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:70-71, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 95 f.; Epistle of Peter to James, 2, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 215.) I will discuss this below in the section dealing with Paul, p. 116.
In the Clementina Peter gives a compressed version of the history of the Hebrews:
In the twelfth generation [after Adam], when God had blessed men, and they had begun to multiply, they received a commandment that they should not taste blood, for on account of this also the deluge had been sent…?. In the fourteenth generation one of the cursed progeny first erected an altar to demons, for the purpose of magical arts, and offered there bloody sacrifices. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:30, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 85.)
… [F]rom their unhallowed intercourse spurious men sprang…?. God, knowing that they were barbarized to brutality, and that the world was not sufficient to satisfy them…, that they might not through want of food turn, contrary to nature, to the eating of animals, and yet seem to be blameless, as having ventured upon this through necessity, the almighty God rained manna upon them, suited to their various tastes; and they enjoyed all that they would. But they, on account of their bastard nature, not being pleased with purity of food, longed only after the taste of blood. Wherefore they first tasted flesh. (The Clementine Homilies, 8:15, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 273.)…
Meantime they came to Mount Sinai…?. [W]hen Moses had gone up to the mount, and was staying there forty days, the people, although… manna [had been] given to them from heaven for bread… which kind of food was turned into whatever taste any one desired,… when Moses stayed in the mount, made and worshipped a golden calf’s head… [and] were unable to cleanse and wash out… the defilements of old habit. On this account, leaving the short road which leads from Egypt to Judaea, Moses conducted them by an immense circuit of the desert, if haply he might be able… to shake off the evils of old habit by the change of a new education. When… Moses… perceived that the voice of sacrificing to idols had been deeply ingrained into the people from their association with the Egyptians and that the root of this evil could not be extracted from them, he allowed them indeed to sacrifice, but permitted it to be done only to God, that by any means he might cut off one half of the deeply ingrained evil, leaving the other half to be corrected by another, and at a future time; by Him, namely, concerning whom he said himself, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise unto you, whom ye shall hear even as myself [Deuteronomy 18:15]…?.” [W]hen the fitting time should come… they should learn by means of the Prophet that God desires mercy and not sacrifice [Hosea 6:6, Matthew 12:7, 9:13]…?. And in order to impress this upon them, even before the coming of the true Prophet, who was to reject at once the sacrifices and the place [the Jerusalem Temple], it was often plundered by enemies and burnt with fire, and the people carried into captivity among foreign nations… that… they might be taught that a people who offer sacrifices are driven away and delivered up into the hands of the enemy, but they who do mercy and righteousness are without sacrifices freed from captivity…?. [L]est… they might suppose that on the cessation of sacrifice there was no remission of sins for them, He instituted baptism by water amongst them, in which they might be absolved… being purified not by the blood of beasts, but by the purification of the Wisdom of God. (Recognitions of Clement, 1:35-39, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 87-88. My comments are in square brackets.)
Peter’s argument was that Jesus was the true prophet whom Moses had predicted would come someday to finish his work (Deuteronomy 18:15 ff.), end the animal sacrifices, replace it with baptism as a new method of reconciliation or atonement with god, and lead the Israelites back to their original vegetarian diet. (Recognitions of Clement, 1:55, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII,
p. 92.) The earliest Christians claimed Jesus was that prophet:
Then one of them, named Cleopas [brother of Joseph], answered him … “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word …. (Luke 24 18-19.)
Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.” (Acts 3:22.)
This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.” (Acts 7:37.)
Scores of times the gospels say that such and such was done to fill this or that prophesy. (E.g., Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, etc.) However, Jesus being the prophet foretold by Moses is the main prophesy from the Hebrew Bible that applies to Jesus; all the others are trivial. Christianity quickly forgot this prophesy because Paul’s and John’s converts regarded Jesus as much more than prophet.
Animal sacrifice is mentioned and commanded in many parts of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, referred to by Christians as the Pentateuch. However, the Judeo-Christians believed that animal sacrifice was not part of the original teachings of Moses and had been added by later editors. Clement asks Simon Peter:
Wherefore tell me what are the falsehoods added to the Scriptures…?. Then Peter answered:… Learn then, how the Scriptures misrepresent Him in many respects, that you may know when you happen upon them…?. [Many examples are given and then this one:] If [the Scripture says that] He is fond of fat, and sacrifices, and offerings, and drink-offerings…?. (The Clementine Homilies, 2:41, 44, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 237.)
The Jewish sacrifices ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. The fact that the Clementina criticizes the sacrificial system without any mention that it had been ended may indicate that its core material was been written before 70 C.E.
As part of a discussion regarding falsehoods having been added to the scriptures, Simon Magus asks Peter: “How, then, is the truth to be ascertained…?” Peter responds: “Whatever sayings of the Scriptures are in harmony with the creation that was made by Him are true, but whatever are contrary to it are false.” (The Clementine Homilies, 3:42, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII,
p. 246.) Peter seems to be saying that the only authentic sections of Old Testament scripture are those which conform to some higher standard inherent in the logic of creation, in effect an environmental and ethical standard. He explains how the law delivered by Moses was changed:
The law of God was given by Moses, without writing, to seventy wise men, to be handed down…?. But after that Moses was taken up, it was written by some one, but not by Moses…?. And… about 500 years [later] it is found lying in the temple which was built [2 Kings 22:8], and after about 500 years more [Nehemiah 8] it is carried away, … [the temple] being burnt in the time of Nebuchadnezzar it is destroyed; and… being written after Moses, and often lost…?. (The Clementine Homilies, 3:47, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 247.)
In the Clementina, Simon Peter says that Jesus taught his followers that they were falsehoods in the Hebrew Bible and that they should question the authenticity of each passage:
As to the mixture of truth with falsehood, I remember that on one occasion He [Jesus], finding fault with the Sadducees said, “Wherefore ye do err, not knowing the true things of the Scriptures, and on this account you are ignorant of the power of God” [a reference to Matthew 22:29]. But if He cast up to them that they knew not the true things of the Scriptures, it is manifest that there are false things in them. And also, inasmuch as He said, ‘Be ye prudent money-changers,’ it is because there are genuine and spurious words. (The Clementine Homilies, 3:50, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 247.)
Peter is saying that Jesus taught his followers to search out false passages in the Hebrew Bible just like counterfeit money. Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah had said the Hebrew Bible had been tampered with: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us?’ But behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.” (Jeremiah 8:8.)
Likewise, Jesus flatly contradicted certain Old Testament laws, such as those which allowed the swearing of oaths and divorce for any reason. He opposed both. (Matthew 5:31-37, James 5:12, Deuteronomy 24:1 ff., Leviticus 19:12.)
In the same section, Peter applies the logic of a higher standard to the introduction of animal sacrifice:
He then who at the first was displeased with the slaughtering of animals, not wishing them to be slain, did not ordain sacrifices as desiring them; nor from the beginning did He require them. For neither are sacrifices accomplished without the slaughter of animals…?. But how is it possible for Him to abide in darkness, and smoke, and storm… who created a pure heaven, and created the sun to give light to all. (The Clementine Homilies, 3:45, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 247.)
This last quotation is a reference to the stark difference between the life-oriented mother goddess of the pre-Hebrews on the matristic side and the coming of the war, storm, and volcano god worshiped by the patriarchal invaders. (See Exodus 19:16 ff., Jeremiah 7:21-26.)
Peter, debating with Simon Magus, says:
But that He is not pleased with sacrifices, is shown by this, that those who lusted after flesh were slain as soon as they tasted it, and were consigned to a tomb, so that it was called the grave of lusts [a reference to Numbers 11:34]. He then who at the first was displeased with the slaughtering of animals, not wishing them to be slain, did not ordain sacrifices as desiring them; nor from the beginning did He require them. For neither are sacrifices accomplished without the slaughter of animals…?. (The Clementine Homilies, 3:45, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 247.)
The Gnostics pointed out that the god of the Hebrew Bible did things which were not becoming of a just god. The response of the semi-gnostic Marcion was to completely rejected the Hebrew Bible. The Gnostics on the other hand took it literally and added the theory that there was a good god above the evil Jehovah god of the Bible. Ebionites sidestepped this issue in the Clementina simply by saying that the Hebrew Bible had been tampered with and should not be taken at face value. The critical Tubingen School and F.C. Bauer were inspired by the Clementina.
Peter is presented as having eaten a vegetarian, Pythagorean diet. According to the Clementina, Clement offered to become Peter’s personal assistant:
Peter laughed and said: “And do you not think, Clement, that very necessity must make you my servant? For who else can spread my sheets, and arrange my beautiful coverlets? Who will be at hand to keep my rings, and prepare my robes, which I must be constantly changing? Who shall superintend my cooks, and provide various and choice meats to be prepared by most recondite and various art…? But perhaps, although you live with me, you do not know my manner of life. I live on bread alone, with olives, and seldom even with pot-herbs; and my dress is what you see, a tunic with a pallium; and having these, I require nothing more…?. For we—that is, I and my brother Andrew—have grown up from our childhood, not only orphans, but also extremely poor, and through necessity have become used to labour, whence now also we easily bear the fatigues of our journeyings. (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 158; Clementine Homilies, 12:6, Vol. 8, p. 293.)
Fishing would have been an unlikely occupation for an adopted Essene orphan Peter. So stories in the New Testament and in the Clementina that the apostles had been fishermen, may be later additions. (See Matthew 4:18; The Recognitions of Clement, 1:63, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 94. See the section of this book entitled What About the Fish Stories? p. 191.) Peter is presented in the Clementina as having been an orphan. The Essenes adopted orphans and brought them up as their own children (The Wars of the Jews, tr. Wm. Whiston, Book II, 8:2-13, p. 476, ff.), as later did the early Christians. (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 158.)
In the Clementina, Peter spoke well of the vegetarians of India:
There are likewise… in the Indian countries, immense multitudes of Brahmans, who also themselves, from the tradition of their ancestors, and peaceful customs and laws, neither commit murder nor adultery, nor worship idols, nor have the practice of eating animal food, are never drunk, never do anything maliciously, but always fear God. (The Recognitions of Clement, 9:20, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 187; also 9:27, p. 189.)
King Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries around 240 B.C.E. to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Corinth, and other Mediterranean cities. (Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten, The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, p. 67, 180 ff.)
Thus, according to the Judeo-Christian Clementina, Peter was a vegetarian, and he was a vegetarian because Jesus had been a vegetarian. Peter regarded Jesus as the true prophet predicted by Moses and messiah but said not a word about him being a god or part of a godhead or trinity. Peter believed Jesus wanted to end the sacrificial system and by implication the eating of meat.
Peter is treated as a transitional figure in Acts, bridging the gap between Stephen in chapter 7 and Paul in Chapter 13. It is Peter who first turns to the gentiles, and Paul only follows in Peter’s path. The author of Acts implies that Peter was a predecessor and partner of Paul, thus giving legitimacy to Paul’s anti-Jewish mission.
The author of 2 Peter gives Paul faint praise:
So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
(2 Peter 3:15-16.)
Everywhere else in the New Testament, the term “scriptures” refers only to the Hebrew Bible, never to the New Testament itself. (Mark 12:10; Acts 1:16; James 2:28; 1 Peter 2:6.) Only around 150 C.E. did the Roman church assemble the New Testament as we know it, doing so in response to Marcion who had introduced his New Testament, and thus create new “scriptures.” The fact that this passage counts the writings of Paul as on a par with “the other scriptures,” would indicate that 2 Peter was written very late and for the purpose of making it appear that Peter and Paul were allies. Even Catholic theologians question whether 2 Peter was written by Peter. (“Epistles of St. Peter,” Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11752a.htm.) Likewise, it is unlikely that 1 Peter was written by Peter. It reads like the Pastoral Epistles, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, written around 150 C.E. in Rome, advising wives to obey their husbands, slaves to obey their masters, and all to obey rulers.
Simon Peter is last mentioned in Acts 12:17 and 15:14, and the New Testament gives no hint as to where he went or what happened to him. It is not known where and how either Peter or Paul died, but the legend is that they were both crucified in Rome, which would add to Rome’s claim to be the seat of the church. Likewise, the Clementina, because it gives prominence to Peter, would have strengthened Rome’s claim, and this is perhaps why such otherwise heretical books were not burned.
JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS
Christianity started off as just one of many Jewish sects. Members of “the Way” worshiped in the Temple, led by Peter, John, and James (Jacob in Hebrew). (Acts 2:46, 3:1.) Except for certain conflicts such as those involving Stephen, which were probably engineered by the high priest, Herodians, and Sadducees, James’ Nazarene-Ebionites were accepted by the majority of Jews, including the Pharisees. The pervasive anti-Jewish and anti-Pharisee invective running through most New Testament books is completely absent in the Clementina, as it is absent in the books of James and Revelation—other Judeo-Christian books—which would indicate that the core of the Clementina goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.
At one point in the Clementina James reaches out to orthodox Jews and engaged them in a reasoned dialog over whether Jesus had been the messiah and the prophet whom Moses had predicted would complete his mission. The conflicting positions are reported. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:43, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 89; see Deuteronomy 18:15.)
After one such dialog, the majority of the priests and others at the Temple are on the verge of accepting James’ proposition. At the last minute Saul of Tarsus makes an impassioned case to the contrary. He paints James as a blasphemer and leads an attack on him. Someone, probably Saul, throws James down from a high place on the Temple steps. James is presumed dead, and is carried home. He survives, but he has broken one or both of his legs. Later it is remarked that he walks with a limp. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:50-71, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 90-96.) Many years later, around 62 C.E., James is assassinated, beaten over the head with a fuller’s clothes washing club, as reported by Eusebius and Josephus. (The Complete Works of Josephus, tr. William Whiston, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1, p. 423; Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, Book 2, Chapter 23, p. 58.) Some scholars believe there is conflation between the story of the assassination of Stephen and the stories of the attempted assassination of James and the later actual assassination of James. (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 521.)
Jesus and James were both said to have been born Nazarites, and the first-born was often dedicated as a Nazarite, so either Jesus or James could have been first-born. (Luke 1:15; (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29:3:9-29:4:4, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 112-119.)
The original Christian “church” was the Ebionite synagogue in Jerusalem. After Jesus’ death, his brother James became its first president or “bishop.” (Acts 1:14, 12:17, 15:5, 15:13, 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19, 2:9; “James,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, Vol. 2, p. 793.) James and the leadership of the Jerusalem church were vegetarian. Pharisees soon joined the Judeo-Christian “church” (Acts 15:5), and they might have been meat eaters. Priests jointed too (Acts 6:7), and it is probable they would have been meat eaters, because the priests sacrificed animals in the Temple and received meat as part of their salary.
James, called the brother and apostle of the Lord, was made the first bishop immediately. Actually he was Joseph’s son, but was said to be in the position of the Lord’s brother because they were reared together. For James was Joseph’s son by Joseph’s <first> wife, not Mary…?. [H]e was of Davidic descent because he was Joseph’s son, <and> that he was born a Nazarite—for he was Joseph’s firstborn, and hence consecrated. But I find further that he also functioned as a priest in the ancient priesthood. For this reason he was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year, as scripture says the Law commanded the high priests…?. He was allowed to wear the priestly mitre…. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29:3:9-29:4:4, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 112-119. Sections in angles are Frank Williams’ interpolations of text that has been lost.)
Epiphanius’ theory that James was the son of Joseph by a prior wife, later echoed by Jerome, is a ruse he uses to defend the late-appearing doctrine that Mary had been a lifelong virgin and never had any children other than Jesus. However, his report that James was allowed to serve as high priest of an alternative vegetarian cult in the Temple is a detail which would appear authentic.
The 2nd Century Judeo-Christian historian Hegesippus, whose books were lost or perhaps destroyed by the Roman censor, was quoted by the early 4th Century historian Eusebius, who wrote before the book burning began, as saying of James:
Control of the Church passed to the apostles, together with the Lord’s brother James… called the Righteous… holy from his birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil…?. [H]is garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the [Jerusalem Temple] Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees… so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s…?. [T]he Scribes and Pharisees made James stand on the Sanctuary parapet and shouted to him:… “[W]hat is meant by “the door of Jesus.”… He replied… “He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power…?.”… So they went up and threw down the Righteous one… and began to stone him…?. Immediately after this Vespasian began to besiege them…?. So remarkable a person must James have been… that… the… Jews felt that this was why his martyrdom was immediately followed by the siege of Jerusalem…?. (Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, Book 2, Chapter 23, p. 58.)
Note that Hegesippus and Eusebius say James was “… holy from his birth… and ate no animal food.” The implication is that he was a vegetarian from birth, which would imply that he grew up in a vegetarian Nasoraean or Essene family. The Temple priests of the Jerusalem Temple wore wool or linen, but the high priest wore only linen on the Day of Atonement when he entered the Holy of Holies. (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 311.)
Eusebius was wrong in saying that the scribes and Pharisees goaded James and then stoned him. Maybe he misquoted Hegesippus. Josephus says it was the high priest Ananus who assassinated James, and it was the Pharisees who complained to Roman authority and had Ananus removed. (The Complete Works of Josephus, 20:9:1, tr. William Whiston, Antiquities of the Jews, p. 423.) Recall that the Pharisees, including the famous Gamaliel, several times protected Jesus and his followers. (Luke 13:31; Acts 5:35 ff.; The Recognitions of Clement, 1:65 ff., Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 94.)
Eusebius was wrong on another point: James was assassinated around 62 C.E., well before the first revolt in 66 C.E. and the siege of Jerusalem which began in 68 C.E. However, perhaps they meant to say that the events leading up to the siege began immediately after James’ death. Josephus makes it clear that after James’ was killed, there was a breakdown in authority. (The Complete Works of Josephus, tr. William Whiston, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1, p. 423.) The wealthy, pro-Roman, Jewish leadership was trying to restrain independence-minded messianists and protect their own lucrative positions. No doubt they believed Jews would lose a war for independence.
A succession of anti-Jewish laws passed by Nero (54-68 C.E.), including a law requiring erection of his statute in the Jerusalem Temple, along with insults committed by Pilate, touched off rebellion. Although Nero was assassinated by his own guards before the statue was actually erected, it was too late to turn the tide of growing rebellion in Jerusalem. Zealots took Masada. There was a pogrom of some 20,000 Jews at Caesarea—where Cornelius and his cohort had been stationed earlier. (Acts 10:5.). Back in Jerusalem there was constant murder and counter-murder. A messiah-king was selected but soon murdered. The Jewish leadership, Herodians and Sadducees, those who had cooperated with the Romans and been kept in power by them, finally decided to switch sides, from pro-Roman to anti-Roman, but it was too late for that, and the more radical majority swept them aside. Rebellion was underway.
James, the brother of Jesus, in his abstinence from wine and animal food, his wearing of linen instead of wool, his not shaving his beard or cutting his hair, his pacifism, and his opposition to oath taking (cf. James 5:12), was like the Pythagoreans, the Essenes, John the Baptist, and his brother Jesus.
Stephen and James—and Jesus as we will soon see—, in attacking the sacrificial system, made a direct threat to the income derived from that system. Probably, these three prophets were stricken down by the hand of First Century slaughter house greed.
The church as we know it has misunderstood much of what these prophets stood for because it was descended from the gentile, meat-eating side of Christianity that Paul and John had constructed. We pretty much ignore evidence that Jesus and his early followers were vegetarians just as we ignore the evidence they were non-drinkers. We like to eat meat and drink alcohol, so we just ignore evidence that Jesus would not have approved of such things.
SAUL OF TARSUS, PAUL OF ANTIOCH
One who proposes that John the Baptist, James, Stephen, Matthew, Peter, Andrew, and Jesus were vegetarians must deal with the fact that Paul—who wrote most of the New Testament and whose disciples wrote most of the rest—was not. The explanation is simple: Paul was not a vegetarian and had little sympathy for vegetarianism. He was out to convert gentiles who were not vegetarians. The vegetarianism of Jesus was an inconvenience, so Paul jettisoned it.
The vegetarian Ebionites, descendants of the original Jewish Christians, regarded Paul as a heretic, an apostate from the Law, and referred to him as “the enemy.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:26:2, Origen, Against Celsus, 5:65; Eusebius, Church History, 3:27:4, Clement, Recognitions, 1:70,73.)
Paul taught that vegetarians were “weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-13.) He began a process that gradually eliminated vegetarianism from Catholic Christianity, although it survives in a limited form in Orthodox Christianity. Paul pioneered a version of Christianity that undermined Jesus’ work in general.
Paul was a thoroughly Hellenized Jew who grew up in Tarsus, a Roman colony in what is now southern Turkey. He was subject to gnostic and mystery religion influences, and such groups were not necessarily vegetarian.
It is said that Paul was a “tentmaker,” however, a better translation of the word in question would be “leather worker.” Tents were made of leather or felt. Church Fathers referred to Paul as a leather worker. (Acts 18:1-3; “Tentmaker,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962.) This is not the kind of trade a vegetarian would take up. It is said that Pythagoras wore shoes of bast, the fiber of the hemp plant, and I would assume such shoes were an available alternative to leather shoes in the First Century.
Paul was single around 56-57 C.E., and there is no indication he ever married, although he asserted the right to marry because Peter and Jesus’ brothers were married. (1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 9:4-6.) Paul had a nephew living in Jerusalem who warned Paul of a plot to kill him. (Acts 23:16.)
Paul suffered from some “bodily ailment,” for which he was scorned and despised. (Galatians 4:13-15.) He had a “thorn” “in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass” him. Sometimes he was beside himself. (2 Corinthians 5:13, 12:7.) His “bodily presence” was “weak,” “and his speech” was “of no account.” (2 Corinthians 10:10.) Paul illness may have been epilepsy. (“Saul of Tarsus,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
Paul was a profoundly unhappy, even tortured man, consumed by feelings of guilt:
… I do not understand my own actions.… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.… I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15-24.)
Paul bore the “marks of Jesus” on his body. Maybe he exhibited the stigmata. (Galatians 6:17.) Maybe this is a reference to scars received from beatings. (2 Corinthians 11:24-25.) Paul said, “… I pommel my body and subdue it…?.” (1 Corinthians 9:27.) The term “pommel” in Greek is hupopiazo, which means “beat black and blue.” He flagellated himself.
The author of Acts has Paul say he was from Tarsus, however, Paul in his epistles, although he has many opportunities to do so, never mentions where he was from. (Acts 9:11,30, 11:25, 21:39, 22:3; Philippians 3:5.) In Jerusalem in Paul’s day it would not have been a good thing to be from Tarsus. If he were pretending to be an observant Jew, the fact that he was from a pagan city would be best left unmentioned. But in the 150s C.E., when Acts was probably given its final editing in Rome, the reverse would have been true. Greeks and Romans converting in droves would have related better to someone more like them. This may be why Paul omitted this detail in his epistles, while the final editor of Acts included it.
Paul claimed to be a Pharisee. (Philippians 3:5.) According to Acts, Paul studied under Gamaliel the Elder, grandson of Hillel, one of the greatest of all Pharisees (Acts 22:3, 26:5), although Paul does not make this claim in his epistles. Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin not to persecute the Judeo-Christians (Acts 5:35 ff.), so how is it that Paul persecuted, even killed Judeo-Christians? I conclude it is unlikely that Paul studied under Gamaliel or really was a Pharisee. My theory is that after Paul became a follower of Jesus and a believer in the resurrection—which was one of the main tenets of the Pharisees—he retroactively classified himself as having been a Pharisee before his conversion.
If Paul studied in some Pharisee school in Jerusalem, he apparently had little success, for he took work as a policeman for the high priest. (Acts 9:2, 26:12.) Maybe Paul just needed a paying job. The high priest was not a Pharisee, but a Sadducee. Pharisees had to work with Sadducees, because both were members of the Sanhedrin or “council,” and in Jesus’ day Pharisees actually outnumbered Sadducees there. Pharisees were anti-Roman, although they were discrete about it, while Sadducees were pro-Roman quislings and supporters of the pro-Roman Herodian dynasty. The other option for Pharisees was to go live in the desert with he Essenes.
Paul was himself a Herodian. He admits as much when he said, “Greet my kinsman Herodion.” (Romans 16:11.) He also greets the family of Aristobulus (Romans 16:10); there were Herodians named Aristobulus, including one of the sons of Herod the Great. Further, the author of Acts says that in around 48 C.E. in Paul’s home base church at Antioch, there was a prophet or teacher named “Manaen, who was a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch,” a reference to Herod Agrippa II. (Acts 13:1.) Paul had a craving to be a good Roman and to Romanize his church.
Possibly Paul had studied in a Pharisee synagogue school in Tarsus as a child—presumably most or all synagogues outside Palestine were Pharisee—and maybe that was why he felt he could call himself a Pharisee. On the other hand, he was part of an extensive Herodian clan—some of whom lived in the Tarsus area. Paul, at least before he became a follower of Jesus, would have been a supporter of the Herodian dynasty, the Sadducees, and the upper level priests who were all interested in keeping the peace with Rome. Paul was a pseudo-Pharisee. The writer of Revelation condemned those who claimed to be Jews but were not, and it is my theory that he was referring to Paul. (Revelation 2:9; see the section of this book entitled John the Apostle, Author of Revelation, Foe of Paul, p. 149.)
The Herodians came from Idumea, which lies to the south of Israel. The Idumeans were given the choice by their Maccabean Jewish conquerors of converting to Judaism or leaving their territory, and so it is said they were forcibly converted, although this point is debated. Many Jews considered them not to be genuinely Jewish. Jews were forbidden to have a foreigner rule over them, and Herod (probably Agrippa I) was concerned about not being Jewish. He was reassured by an assembly that he was in fact Jewish. (M. Sota 7; Robert Eisenman, “Paul as Herodian,” www.depts.drew.edu/jhc/eisenman.html.)
According to the writer of Acts, Paul moved to Jerusalem as a young man. However, the Ebionites said he did not go there until he was grown. They said he was the son of Greek parents, that he converted to Judaism so he could propose marriage to the daughter of a high priest, but that his suit was rejected. (Epiphanius, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., p. 132, 30:16.8-9.)
The writer of Acts says Paul was a “young man” at the time he guarded the coats of those who killed Stephen. (Acts 7:58.) But he began his police work immediately thereafter or had already begun it. (Acts 8:1,3.) This would imply he was not so young after all. The writer of Acts also says that Paul cast his vote against those he was arresting. (Acts 26:10.) It is not clear what kind of vote he could have had and in what court. It is unlikely that he would have been a member of the Sanhedrin. If he voted at all, he most likely voted in the high priest’s private police court.
Eisenman suggests the possibility that Paul had been born a Jew and that he did not convert, but that his parents or one of his Herodian ancestors had converted. Clearly the Idumean Herodians had converted, and one Herodian, Herod the Great himself, did marry a daughter of a high priest, specifically one of the daughters of the Maccabean priest-kings. The Herodians and all their allies were Roman quislings. Perhaps this is why Paul worked so hard to build a type of Christianity that was friendly to Rome and even anti-Jewish.
Paul claimed to be of the seed of Abraham, an Israelite, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee, and of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:5; Acts 23:6, 26:5.) Diaspora Jews generally were said to be of the tribe of Benjamin. Perhaps Paul claimed to be of the tribe of Benjamin because his namesake King Saul was of that tribe. (1 Samuel 9:1; Acts 13:21; Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 298.) Perhaps Saul adopted the name Paul in honor of Sergius Paulus, one of his first converts. (Acts 13:7, 9.)
Paul identified strongly with gentiles and occasionally slipped and referred to himself as a gentile. (Galatians 3:14.)
The writer of Acts says Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen by birth. As such, Roman authorities could not have scourged him without trial. (Acts 22:28.) However, Paul also claims “Five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25; Acts 16:22.) If Paul had been a citizen from birth, why did he not use his citizenship to avoid previous beatings as he toured the eastern Roman Empire? I question whether Paul could have been a citizen of Rome by birth and also a citizen of Tarsus. (Acts 21:39.) And it does seem odd for a Roman citizen to become a follower of the Jesus the arch anti-Roman.
It was probably shortly after the assassination of Stephen that James the brother of Jesus addressed an audience at the Temple and seemed to be on the verge of convincing his listeners that Jesus was the messiah. However, “the enemy” interrupted and personally led an attack on James, throwing him headlong from the top of the Temple steps. “A marginal note in one of the [Clementina] manuscripts states that this enemy was Saul.” James survived, but one or both of his legs were broken. He walked with a limp thereafter. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:70-71, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 95 f.; Epistle of Peter to James, 2, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 215; Acts 9:1, 22:6 ff., 26:12 ff.) Paul’s attack on James is not mentioned in the New Testament.
The killing of Stephen and the attack on James were apparently part of a systematic expulsion of the Nazarene-Ebionite commune from Jerusalem. (Acts 2:44, 4:32, 8:1.) Apparently Paul had been designated to lead this work. “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Saul was “… breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women…?.” (Acts 8:3, 9:1, 22:3, 26:11.)
Perhaps the Nazarene-Ebionites had become so numerous that they were becoming a threat to the high priests, Sadducees, Herodians, and Romans. It could have been Ebionite communism that threatened them (Acts 2:44) or their boycott of the sacrificial system—which was highly profitable to the establishment. It could have been their vegetarianism and their proselytizing of others to become vegetarians. It could have been their belief that Jesus had been the messiah-king and that he would be resurrected or reincarnated and expel the Romans from Palestine.
Paul either volunteered or was drafted to travel to other cities and even foreign countries, including Syrian Damascus, to track down those Jews who believed Jesus had been the messiah-king. He says, “I persecuted them even to foreign cities. Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.” (Acts 26:11-12.) According to the Ebionite Clementina, it was none other than Simon Peter that Paul was pursuing. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:70-71, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 95 f.)
What right did the high priest have to pursue alleged Jewish heretics outside of Jerusalem? Some scholars argue that because Judaism was a Roman chartered religion or ethnic group, its leaders in Jerusalem had authority throughout the Roman empire to regulate Jewish affairs. Because the Nazarene-Ebionite Judeo-Christians—initially the only Christians—were considered a Jewish sect by the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman Empire, this would have given the Jerusalem high priest jurisdiction over the new Judeo-Christians. Whether the high priest’s power extended to Damascus is debatable. Damascus may have been outside of Roman territory around 37 C.E. when these events probably took place, as discussed a few paragraphs below. (Acts 9:1.)
According to the writer of Acts, It was on the road to Damascus that Saul met Jesus in a vision in which he was blinded. (Acts 9:3). In that brief encounter Jesus told Paul to go to Damascus, where he would be given further instruction. Ananias, who was a “disciple” and a “devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews,” was sent to Saul. (Acts 9:10, 22:12, 26:12 ff.) The Acts story of Paul’s conversion is brief and garbled. Paul does not tell the story of his conversion in his epistles.
Paul began preaching in Damascus immediately after his conversion and quickly acquired his own disciples. (Acts 9:25.) I find it amazing that most theologians fail to find this amazing. Paul had to escape in a basket let down by a rope from a window in the walls. Was he fleeing from “the Jews” or from “the governor under King Aretas”? (Acts 9:23; 2 Corinthians 11:32.) Paul was an associate of Ananias the Jew, who was well spoken of by all the Jews, so why would the Jews of Damascus have pursued him? Was it a sect of Jews other than Ananias’ presumably Pharisee sect which was pursuing him? Was it the Jerusalem Herodians and Sadducees, that is, Paul’s former employers, who were after him?
Probably around this time, King Aretas of Petra had broken free of Herod Antipas and Roman domination and had taken control of Damascus. Presumably Aretas would not have allowed Roman quislings to carry out a manhunt in his city. Was it Aretas himself who was pursuing Paul—because Aretas saw Paul, incorrectly, as still acting as a pro-Roman agent? (“Aretas,” Easton Bible Dictionary, www.ccel.org/ccel/easton/ebd2.Aretas.html.)
The writer of Acts said Paul spoke Hebrew (Acts 21:40, 22:2.), but most likely this means he spoke Aramaic, which was then the common language both of Palestine and Asia Minor, including Tarsus. Whenever Paul quotes from the Hebrew Bible, he quotes or paraphrases from the Septuagint Greek translation, even when there is a significant difference in the meaning. (E.g., 1 Corinthians 15:55 and Hosea 13:14; Romans 11:26 and Isaiah 59:20; www.septuagint-interlinear-greek-bible.com.) A Pharisee would have studied the Bible in Hebrew, not in translation and would never have based his arguments on a Greek translation. Paul probably knew little if any Hebrew, which would mean that he was not much of a Pharisee, and is unlikely to have studied under Gamaliel, who taught only advanced students and in Hebrew.
If Paul had been a Pharisee, why would he have gone to work for the Sadducean Herodian high priest as one of his policemen? Pharisees were actually sympathetic with the early followers of Jesus and even protected them. (Luke 13:31; Acts 5:35 ff.; The Recognitions of Clement, 1:65 ff., Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 94.) After the high priest Ananus assassinated James, it was the Pharisees who complained to Roman authority and had Ananus removed. (The Complete Works of Josephus, 20:9:1, tr. William Whiston, Antiquities of the Jews, p. 423, http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/JOSEPHUS.HTM.)
The hateful things Jesus is quoted as saying about the Pharisees in the New Testament were probably added much later when Paul’s missionaries were in competition with Pharisee missionaries for converts, or perhaps Jesus condemned the Sadducees and Herodians, instead, and maybe later, after Sadducees and Herodians no longer existed, editors redirected Jesus’ statements to apply to Pharisees. This is clear, for example, in Mark 3:6, where it is said that the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians to destroy Jesus. Pharisees and Herodians were avowed enemies and would never have made common cause. But Sadducees and Herodians would have. The original text, which probably said “Sadducees and Herodians” was probably tampered with.
I suggest elsewhere that this final editing and the introduction of the anti-Jew and anti-Pharisee invective, occurred around 150 C.E. in Rome, in response to Marcion who brought his collection of New Testament books there. Our New Testament was compiled and edited to counter Marcion’s. (See the section of this book entitled Marcion—Follower of Paul, Catalyst of the Canon, p. 131.)
Jesus and his Davidian relatives believed that a messiah, “king” in Hebrew, descended from David, would evict the Romans and form the next dynasty. Paul’s Herodians thus would have been rivals of the Davidians. Before Paul’s conversion to the Jesus movement, he worked for the Sadducees and the high priest to arrest the early Davidian followers of Jesus.
On the road to Damascus, Jesus gives a completely religious and non-Davidian commission to Paul. According to the writer of Acts, Jesus makes this garbled statement:
I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:15 ff.)
Paul was converted to a non-political version of Christianity that would allow him to continue to be loyal to Rome. Paul was a different type of Christian than Jesus and his Davidian followers. One example of the difference is that Paul—or later editors of his letters—allowed his Christians to keep slaves, something Jesus would not have done. Ephesians 6:5 ff., Titus 2:9, Philemon 15; see the section of this book entitled Slavery—Another Cover-up p. 133.)
In a real sense, Paul was not a good Jew or a good Pharisee or a good Christian. He did not come from the same Essene or Pharisee sect Jesus came from. Paul claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but he completely reinterpreted who Jesus had been.
New Testament reports of Paul’s relationship with the Jerusalem apostles are contradictory. On the one hand, the writer of Acts says that immediately after his conversion Paul went to Jerusalem where he “… went in and out among all them at Jerusalem…?.” (Acts 9:26-29.) On the other hand, referring to the same time period, Paul himself says,
… [N]or did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:17-19.)
This is one of many examples of the contradictions between Acts and the writings of Paul and should serve as a warning to read Acts and Paul’s epistles critically. Between the two, one would generally presume Paul’s epistles to be more accurate, except where Paul had a reason to shade the truth. Why would the stories be different? In the 50s and 60s, Paul in his epistles had to show his independence and direct revelation to stand up against the teachers who had come from James and who were stealing his converts. The situation was much different when Acts was being edited into its final form in Rome around 150 C.E. The writer of Acts needed to give Pauline Christianity legitimacy, and so he would have wanted to smooth over all differences and show that Paul’s authority really did derive from the Jerusalem leaders.
Thus, a lot of stories in Acts may be less than accurate. The writer of Acts even contradicts himself: Did those traveling with Paul on the road to Damascus hear the voice but see no one? Or did they see the light but not hear the voice? (Acts 9:7 vs. 22:9.) The writer of Acts has Paul say he studied under Gamaliel, but Paul never makes this claim in his epistles. (Acts 22:3) There is an eight year time gap between Acts 12:1-23 (Herod Agrippa I died in 44 C.E.) and Acts 13:1 (Herod Agrippa II, became tetrarch of Trachonites in 52 C.E. and king of Galilee in 55 C.E.). I am amazed that traditional theologians are not amazed by this. Was there something in the Judeo-Christian Acts that Luke left out?
Paul headed west across Asia Minor, preaching his own version of the gospel to gentiles who had gnostic and mystery religion tendencies, converting them in large numbers. (See Eileen Pagels, The Gnostic Paul.) Paul claimed he was the apostle to the gentiles while Peter was the apostle to the Jews. (Romans 1:5; Galatians 2:7.) While he often approached Pharisee Jews in their synagogues, he was generally unsuccessful in winning them over. (Galatians 2:8; Acts 19:9.)
Paul claimed to have received his own version of Jesus’ teaching independent of the Jerusalem leadership:
Paul an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…?. [T]he gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.… But when he who had set me apart before I was born (Jeremiah 1:5), and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia…?. (Galatians 1:1-17, written around 55 C.E.)
Paul had personal revelations. He was “… caught up to the third heaven… and… heard things that cannot be told.…” (1 Corinthians 12:2-9.)
Paul claimed to be an authoritative, inspired second founder or prophet of Christianity. He equated himself with the prophet Jeremiah, who also had been set apart before he was born. (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15.) Paul openly demeaned the Jerusalem leadership, referring to them as “superlative apostles” and the “circumcision party.” (2 Corinthians 11:5,13, 12:11, Galatians 2:12, both written around 55 C.E.)
Why was Paul so influential? Because he was a dramatic although often illogical writer. Because he wrote a lot. Because he had disciples who copied and circulated his writings. Because he wrote very early in Christian history. Because his readers knew little about Judaism, had not met the founders, and so were unable to see how un-Jewish and un-Nazarene was his logic. All four of the gospels in our New Testament were given their final editing by gentiles who were in agreement with Pauline theology. As a result, it is hard now to get a picture of what pre-Pauline Christianity was like if you only look at the New Testament as we know it.
Anyone who is seriously committed to following Jesus must first know who Jesus was. To know that he must study all sources of information about Jesus and factor in the extreme twist Paul put on Jesus’ original message. It is possible for one to be a Christian and not a Pauline Christian, although such Christians are exceedingly rare these days. They might be referred to as “Ebionite Christians.”
PAUL, MYSTERY RELIGIONS, GNOSTICISM
Paul’s theology was a synthesis of three religions: He drew on Judaism for its grounding in history and in part for its ethical values. (Paul supported slavery; Pharisees, Essenes, and Jesus opposed it.) He drew on the mystery religions for his theology of the remission of sins through the dying and rising god and the sacrament of eating the body and blood of god. He drew on gnosticism for it’s philosophy regarding original sin, the contending forces of evil and good in the world, salvation by grace and not by ethical actions, and for his incipient anti-Semitism. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.) Christianity—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—remains even today a semi-Jewish, incipiently anti-Semitic, semi-gnostic, semi-mystery religion.
First, let’s look at the mystery religions: They were originally agricultural. The community prayed for fertility at planting time and celebrated abundance at harvest time. They were local religions, with each city state having its own god or goddess. All townspeople were members. As city states were absorbed into nations, they opened themselves up to outsiders, with some mystery religions becoming international. Membership became optional, and one could join as many mystery religions as one could afford.
The same themes ran through all the mystery religions: The god was slain by an enemy or died, which symbolized Winter. Blood was shed, which symbolized fertilization. The god rose, which symbolized new growth in Spring.
A Mystery-Religion was a Sacramental Drama which appealed primarily to the emotions and aimed at producing psychic and mystic effects by which the neophyte might experience the exaltation of a new life.” S. Angus, The Mystery-Religions: A Study in the Religious Background of Early Christianity.)
Initiates learned secret rites and secret knowledge, through which they achieved union with their god, were in their god, and were born again—aspects in which the mystery religions overlapped with gnosticism.
Typical was the religion of Attis of Phrygia, which was close to Paul’s home town of Tarsus. Paul evangelized there. (Acts 18:23.) Attis was worshiped as Adonis or Tammuz in Syrian Antioch, which was Paul’s missionary headquarters. (Acts 14:26.) Tammuz was the actual name of the god, while Adonis meant “lord” and was his title.
Cybel, the Great Mother, was miraculously impregnated and gave birth to Attis. There were different stories as to how Attis died. In a festival on the Spring equinox, his effigy was tied to a tree or cross. His priests flayed themselves and shed blood. His effigy was placed in a tomb. There was fasting and the eating of a sacramental meal. Night fell. The tomb was opened, and Attis rose. “The resurrection of the god was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave.” A bull was slain over a grate, and his blood flowed through it down into a pit or tauroboleum where the initiate was baptized in blood, his sins were washed away, and he was born again. Men who wanted to be priests had to emasculate themselves. (James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, Chapter 34, www.bartleby.com/196.)
Persian Mithraism was an offshoot of Zoroastrianism. Paul’s home town of Tarsus was a western center of Mithraism from the time of Pompey. Only men could join Mithraic churches, and the cult was strongest among soldiers. Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25 in a cave attended by shepherds. Mithra sacrificed himself, was buried in a tomb, and was resurrected after three days. Cult members partook of a eucharist where bread and wine symbolized his body and blood. There were seven ranks in Mithraism, and “father” was the highest. The Mithraic day of worship was Sunday. (Matthew 23:9; Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, pp. 182 ff.; “Mystery Religions,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1979; Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, “Greek Mysteries and Eastern Religions,” p. 235 ff.; Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, “Mystery Religions,” p. 790 f.; Marvin W. Meyer, ed., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts; Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra.)
Paul’s Christianity was similar to other mystery religions such as those of Isis and Osiris, Eleusius, Dionysus or Bacchus, and Orpheus. However, there here were significant differences too: The mysteries generally had little ethical theory, theology, literature, or history. They were generally crude and gruesome compared to the story of Jesus. Thus, most Christian scholars insist that Paul could not have copied from them.
To the contrary, Paul’s story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of his blood would have resonated with Paul’s pagan audience. They would have seen it as a new and improved version of the mysteries. It was more sophisticated, and it was backed by the ancient Hebrew Bible. Greeks valued things ancient. Followers of the mystery religions loved to join new mystery religions and would have been drawn to Paul’s Christian mystery religion.
Next, let’s look at gnosticism. Until the 1900s scholars regarded gnosticism as having arisen as a heresy within Christianity. It has become clear that the seeds of gnosticism predate Christianity. Gnosticism is “of Chaldean origin, as suggested by Kessler … and definitively shown by Anz. … Gnosticism was Jewish in character long before it became Christian.” (“Gnosticism,” “Cabala,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
Pythagoras in the 6th Century B.C. considered god as something that could be known through reason, and thus would not be called gnostic. The same could be said for Judaism generally. Plato agreed with Pythagoras but suggested that understanding god by reason was difficult and that one needed a guide. Posidonius took the position that knowing god was “… something transcending conceptual thought and eluding intellectual grasp.” Philo of Alexandria—who greatly influenced Paul and the Church Fathers—agreed. Through this process Greek religion and gentile Christianity opened themselves to gnostic ideas coming from the East through such religions as Mithraism. (S. Angus, The Mystery-Religions: A Study in the Religious Background of Early Christianity, p. 56.)
Gnostic religions or sects had complex theologies and stressed ethics. They generally included some or all of the following beliefs and teachings: God cannot be understood through ordinary reason but only through transcendental knowledge. This world is under the sway of evil. A good god or gods and an evil god or gods are in cosmic struggle with each other. Good and evil are roughly equal in power, though good will win in the end, when the earth will be destroyed.
Gnostic religions said humans were under the sway of the evil god or gods and that Adam’s original sin tainted all humanity. Judaism never accepted original sin theology, which first appears in the Christian 2 Esdras 3:10. Judaism regards the creation story as part of “esoteric lore.” (Encyclopedia Judaica, “Creation,” 1997 CD edition.) Gnostics would say that as god and the devil fight their cosmic battle, humans fight a battle between the spirit and the flesh, a fight humans can win only if they achieve transcendent knowledge. There is nothing humans can do to win the battle; they must rely on grace.
There is a divine spark within us which can be activated by knowledge or “gnosis.” The Christ came as emissary of the good god to deliver this knowledge. Those chosen are fortunate; those not chosen are without hope. The next step is Augustine’s predestination theology.
Gnostics taught that god must be good. But no good god could have created our rotten world of ours or done all the wicked acts attributed to him in the Hebrew Bible. So the good god must have created a lesser god or gods, a demiurge, who in turn created this world and has governed it so badly. Jehovah was such a demiurge. Jesus was son of the good god, not the son of Jehovah.
Jehovah’s Jews were either his unwitting dupes or his evil coconspirators. The Torah was given by the evil god or by inferior angels, and thus the Torah is bad, imperfect, or temporary.
Thus, it is probable that gnosticism grew first as a parasitic cancer on Judaism: Gnostics accepted the Hebrew Bible as essentially true, but they focused on those passages in which god criticizes Jews for their backsliding and says he rejects them. Gnostics turned the Jewish heroes of the story into villains. Adam, Abraham, and Moses were demoted to irrelevance; non-Jews such as Cain, Seth, Enoch, Ishmael, and Melchizedek were elevated. Perhaps gnosticism got its start among the Samaritans, who knew the Hebrew Bible well and who resented the Jews for refusing to accept the validity of their religion.
For absolute Gnostics, law of any kind was evil, including the Torah. Rules of behavior were rejected. Those who achieved mystical knowledge of god would spontaneously do good as they defined it. There was little that humans could do to better this evil world; humans should shift the focus to preparation for the next world. Gnosticism was anti-utopian and bred apathy. Jesus would have agreed with none of the Gnostic theories listed above. Paul agreed with most.
Gnostic ideas flourished among the Greeks, particularly in dualistic mystery religions such as Mithraism. Ancient Greeks had lost their sovereignty to the Romans, and the rebellious Jews were on the verge of converting the entire Greco-Roman world to their exclusivistic, utopian religion. So Greeks tended to resent Jews.
This brings us to Paul. Paul would be classified as a moderate or partial Gnostic or semi-Gnostic or a Gnostic who later backtracked in part. Paul did not follow the more extreme gnostic theory that there was a good, superior god and an inferior Jehovah. However, while Pharisees regarded the Torah as permanent and delivered by god himself, Paul demeaned the Torah as temporary and given by angels (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2; cf. Acts 7:53; Deuteronomy 4:12, 36) or by the “elemental spirits of the universe.” (Galatians 4:3,9; Colossians 2:8,20.)
Paul taught that one achieved a special relationship with god by having gnosis or knowledge of god, and not by right behavior. (Romans 3:28, 5:1; Galatians 2:16.) “… [A]mong the mature we do impart… a secret and hidden wisdom of God…?.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7.) Paul held that a Christian was free to do anything: “All things are lawful for me.” (1 Corinthians 6:12.) Apparently Paul was later shocked by how libertine his gnostic converts had become, and so he had to backtrack and condemn their immoral behavior. (Galatians 5:19.) In doing so Paul began a process of Christian lawmaking that resulted in a body of canon law just as extensive as the Talmud, although not as internally consistent.
Paul regarded the Torah as setting such high standards that no one could follow it, and thus that the Torah made everyone a sinner. (Galatians 3:10.) To the contrary, the Hebrew Bible taught was that it was feasible to follow the Law:
For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14.)
The Law recognized that humans would fail, but it taught that sin could be forgiven through repentance. (Isaiah 1:27.) John the Baptist and Jesus emphasized repentance and taught that if enough people repented, the earthly and just kingdom of god would be realized. (Mark 3:2, Matthew 4:17.) But Paul mentioned repentance only twice and obliquely. (Romans 2:4, 2 Corinthians 7:10.) Paul taught that one must rely on grace for a salvation that was apparently once-for-all. (Romans 5:15 ff., 7:14 ff.) It was probably one of Paul’s disciples who wrote that no repentance would be allowed after an especially serious sin. (Hebrews 6:4.)
Paul believed the world was evil. He was dualistic, believing the world was under the control of the devil, referred to as the “god of this world.” (Ephesians 5:11 ff.; 2 Corinthians 4:4.)
Paul taught that one who possessed knowledge (gnosis) was free to eat any food, including the meat of animals offered to idols, whereas one who lacked knowledge had a weak conscience and would be offended by seeing gnostic Christians eat such food. (1 Corinthians 8.) Paul directly defied James, who had forbidden eating the meat of animals sacrificed in pagan temples. (Acts 15:20.)
From the mystery religions, Paul derived the theory that Jesus made a cosmic trade—his life and blood to wash away the inherent sin which afflicted all humans because of Adam’s sin. (Romans 5:12-20, 1 Corinthians 15:22.) There is absolutely nothing in the Old Testament or Talmud which supports or even mentions the theory of original sin. (“Original Sin,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) The Hebrew maxim, one Jesus would have followed, was:
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:20.)
Paul’s gnostic and dualistic theory was that good and evil were approximately equal in power and were in an even battle with each other. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Ephesians 6:11-13.) This theory finds no grounding in Judaism—or the teachings of Jesus and the Judeo-Christians—but came instead from gnosticism and Zoroastrianism. While there is a Satan in the Old Testament, he is god’s agent who is authorized to test humans, as in Job. (See “Dualism,” “Satan,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
Paul believed that one was saved by having a salvific experience which tapped into the power of the cosmic trade—Jesus’ suffering for our sins. (Romans 10:9-13.) Good deeds would follow, but they were the result of salvation, not its cause. (Romans 3:28, 11:6.) Contrast this with Jesus’ explicit statement that the one who would have a part in the world to come would be the one who behaved ethically and who did good to those in need. (Matthew 25:31-46.) Likewise, James held that a mechanical emphasis on salvation by faith alone—apart from ethical behavior—was misplaced, and he openly criticized the faith-only position. (James 2:14.) The theory of the cosmic trade was apparently an attempt to make some sense of the death of Jesus and apparently not part of original Judeo-Christian teaching. It is completely missing in the epistle James wrote.
To buffer the most gnostic of Paul’s statements, the Roman church wrote or reworked other books which were written in Paul’s name—1 & 2 Timothy and Titus—known as the Pastoral Epistles. This is probably when Acts was edited and put into the form we have it, written to make it look like Paul had been on good terms with the Jerusalem church and that his work grew out of and was authorized by that church. In the end Paul and his disciples did not Christianize the Romans so much as the Romans Romanized the original Judeo-Christian gospel. (“Gnosticism, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962; “Gnosticism,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979; “Gnosticism,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1958; Everett Ferguson, “Gnosticism, Hermetic Literature, Chaldaean Oracles,” Backgrounds of Early Christianity; Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, “Gnosticism.” See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources. p. 134.)
I should clarify at this point that the fact that modern Christianity incorporates gnostic and mystery religion tendencies does not thereby condemn it, provided Christians understand these tendencies, interpret them symbolically, and put them in proper perspective. It is true, as the mystery religions taught, that we can all benefit from profound transformation. And it is true, as the gnostics taught, that we are engaged in a titanic struggle against evil, although it is not some remote devil we struggle with but the unrestrained profit motive which blinds individuals and corporations to ethical considerations.
WHAT JESUS TAUGHT
Jesus was a utopian prophet who taught a method for achieving the moral perfection of humanity now on earth—not later in heaven. (Matthew 3:2-3, 4:16-17.) That the world can be returned to its original Edenic status in which peace and justice will prevail. (Matthew 6:9-15.) That there is one god and no devil-god who has control of this world. (Mark 12:29 ff.) That one suffers only for his own wrong doing and not for the sins of Adam. (Ezekiel 18:20.) That humans are not inherently evil and not tainted by inherited sin. (Matthew 18:1-6, 19:13-15.) That resurrection-reincarnation will happen on some level—the two perhaps being one and the same. (John 1:21, 25; Matthew 14:2, 16:14; Antiquities of the Jews, tr. Whiston, The Complete Works of Josephus, 18:1:3, pp. 376-377.) That humans have free will. (Ibid.) That the Jewish law is good and that it is not hard for people to follow it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Matthew 11:28-30.) That the righteous among the gentiles “will have a part in the world to come.” (“Laws—Noachian,” www.JewishEnclopedia.com.) That all gentiles should follow the seven laws of Noah, including the seventh law, which forbids cruelty to animals. (Acts 15:20.) That rulers should be just. That Israel and other countries should have been liberated from Roman oppression. That no man should lord it over another, meaning that slavery is wrong. (Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (71) p. 704; The Clementine Homilies, 8:19, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 274.)
Jesus taught a method for stopping the cycle of violence that plagues our reality. He taught, as part of his method, that we should do unsolicited good deeds. That we should not return evil for evil if not doing so will stop the cycle of violence. That we should even respond to evil with good if doing so will stop the cycle of violence. (Matthew 5:38 ff.) This theory is better explained in the Medieval Gospel of Barnabas:
Fire is not extinguished with fire, but rather with water; even so I say unto you that
ye shall not overcome evil with evil, but rather with good. (Gospel of Barnabas 18, http://barnabas.net/.)
Jesus was apparently not an absolute pacifist. He employed violence to stop the animal sacrifices in the Temple. He did not necessarily teach that we should “turn the other cheek” if that would mean our deaths, although some went to such pacifist extremes. He taught that the kingdom of god would be established on earth when humans become morally worthy (Matthew 4:17), but apparently he acknowledged that a degree of violence would be needed in taking political power. (Luke 22:38.) He taught that animals were “innocent” and should be shown “mercy.” Jesus’ approach was ethical and behavioral. (See the sections of this book entitled Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 176, and Jesus and the Right Treatment of Animals, p. 186; see Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21 ff., Proverbs 21:3, Matthew 9:13, 12:7.)
To the Judeo-Christians, Jesus was the prophet Moses had predicted would come and complete his work. Moses had attempted to make Israel a lawful and ethical people, and that included reintroducing to the Israelites the vegetarianism of Eden, which had prevailed from the time of Adam to Noah. (Recognitions of Clement, 1:35-39, 55, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 87-88, 92; Deuteronomy 18:15 ff.; Acts 7:42; Amos 5:25; Jeremiah 7:21 ff.; see the sections of this book entitled Judaism and the History of Food, p. 51, and Moses. p. 62.) The Judeo-Christians said they were vegetarians because Jesus taught them to be vegetarians. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.22.5, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120 ff., 138.)
Jesus probably taught what his brother James taught, the Royal Law or the Law of Liberty, that one who did charity and showed mercy would receive mercy from god but that one who did not do charity and did not show mercy would be judged strictly. (James 2: 8-13; Matthew 6:12, 7:2, 25:31-46.)
WHAT PAUL AND JOHN TAUGHT
The emphasis of Paul and John was much different: They taught that the moral perfection of humanity was impossible. That we are tainted by inherited sin. (Romans 5:12-18, 7:14-8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:22.) That there is a devil-god which is almost as powerful as the father-god. That the world is under the control of the devil-god whose control will end only when the messiah-god returns and puts an end to evil through a final war. (John 8:44, 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 2:2, 6:11-16; 1 John 3:8-10, 4:3, 5:19.) That humans do not have free will and that all is predestined. (Romans 8:28-30.) That there is no such thing as reincarnation or a second chance. That we die and wake up in heaven or hell. (Hebrews 9:27.)
Paul and John taught that inherently sinful humans can only get forgiveness and go to heaven when they die if they believe unquestioningly a set of doctrines about just exactly who Jesus was or is. (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Romans 10:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, 1 John 4:2-3.) That Christians can own slaves and that Christian slaves should be obedient to their masters. (Colossians 3:2, 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18.) That Rome was good and that the Jews were wrong to rebel against Rome. That Jews carried the greater responsibility in the decision to execute Jesus than did the Romans. That the blood of Jesus was on Jewish hands. (Matthew 27:5, John 19:7,12.) That we must endure the injustices of this world, give up on trying to reform this world, and prepare for the world to come. That animals are completely unimportant and that we can eat any animal at all and treat them as we please. (1 Corinthians 10:23 ff.)
The view of Paul and John was not ethical or behavioral but cosmological and mystical.
In reshaping the story, Paul, John, and their followers dropped two of Jesus’ most prominent themes—that Jews should stop sacrificing animals at the Jerusalem Temple and that they and we should return to the vegetarian diet of the time of Eden. They added the cosmic sacrifice theme, and they pushed Jesus’ ethical teachings, including his teachings about how we should treat animals, into the background.
PAUL, JAMES, AND THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
Paul came into conflict with the Jerusalem church because he and his gnostic and mystery religion converts were not interested in accepting circumcision, keeping kosher or eating a vegetarian diet, or accepting restrictions on eating meat slaughtered as part of pagan sacrifices. Around 49 to 53 C.E. Paul—according to Acts—went up to Jerusalem and, in what is known as the Jerusalem Council, struck a compromise with James the brother of Jesus and the other leaders of the Jerusalem church regarding these issues. According to the author of Acts, James ruled:
… [M]y judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood…?. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25; cf. Genesis 9:3-4; Leviticus 3:17; Deuteronomy 12:16.)
Paul’s version of the ruling of James is much different from the version in Acts:
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.… [W]hen they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised… James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:1 ff.)
Paul heard what he wanted to hear, that he was the exclusive apostle to the gentiles, that he was free to redefine what Christianity should mean for gentiles. However, James did not give Paul an exclusive franchise over gentiles. Presumably James’ missionaries could still go forth and give gentiles the option of becoming fully Jewish. Nor did James rule that converts should not be circumcised, only that circumcision was not required. (Acts 15:1,20 ff.)
Paul took James’ ruling to mean that gentiles not only did not need to become Jewish but also should not become Jewish. Most Christian scholars still follow this interpretation. Again the scholars are just not paying attention. What James in fact was saying was that gentile followers of Jesus were not required to become full converts to Judaism, but that at minimum they had to accept the seven laws of Noah and become semi-converts. Further, implied in becoming semi-converts was the probability that they or their offspring might eventually become full converts. The semi-convert was one who associated himself with a synagogue on a formal basis and with rabbinic approval, without being circumcised and without becoming fully Jewish. (See Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16.) He was referred to as god fearer or ger toshav, literally “domiciled alien.” The semi-convert kept at least the seven Noachide laws.
Note the “no greater burden” theme, which I believe refers to holding to a vegetarian diet as much as one was able. (See the section of this book entitled The Burden Theme, “Bear What Thou Art Able,” p. 158, and the section entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157; see The Teachings of the Apostles, 6:2-3, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 378; www.earlychristianwritings.com; Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25; Revelation 2:19-25; The Recognitions of Clement, 4:36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 142-143.)
The Acts 15 account of the Jerusalem Conference was allegedly written by Luke, physician and traveling companion and ally of Paul, although it was probably revised as late as 150 C.E. by the Roman church, then formulating a canon in response to Marcion’s canon. (See the section of this book entitled Marcion—Follower of Paul, Catalyst of the Canon, p. 131.)
James was saying that gentile converts to Ebionite Christianity would not be required to convert to Judaism per se, but that they should observer certain rules, which probably are the seven laws of Noah: They should abstain from unchastity, remain sexually pure, which included not entering into incestuous marriages, as was the practice of the despised Herodian monarchy. They would not be allowed to eat the meat of animals sacrificed to idols or the meat of animals “strangled,” which is probably a reference to the Talmudic prohibition against raising, working, and killing animals in a cruel way. The rule against eating things “strangled” might have been another way of stating the prohibition against eating blood, because an animal strangled or cut or torn apart and eaten piece by piece would not be properly drained and would certainly contain blood. (Sanhedrin 56; Judaism 101, “Treatment of Animals,” www.jewfaq.org/animals.htm.)
The ancient “kosher kill” had to be quick and painless. The shochet relaxed the animal, got him to lie down, knelt beside the animal, reached around its neck, and then made a quick and continuous slice to the throat back and forth along the same line with a perfectly sharp knife.
James said gentile converts should refrain from “blood.” Generally “blood” is taken to refer to consuming the blood of a food animal or eating meat that has not been drained. However, it more likely is a prohibition against murder and assault. (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17, 7:26, 17:10 ff.; Deuteronomy 12:15-24, 15:23; 1 Samuel 14:21 ff., Ezekiel 33:25; Judith 11:12; Clementine Homilies 7:4; Jewish Encyclopedia, “Blood,” “Noachian Laws,” www.jewishencyclopedia.com.)
Compare the more complete list of the laws of Noah as found in the Clementina:
Wherefore observe the greatest caution, that you believe no teacher, unless he bring from Jerusalem the testimonial of James the Lord’s brother.… For there is one true Prophet, whose words we twelve apostles preach…?. He has commanded us to go forth to preach, and to invite you to the supper of the heavenly King, which the Father hath prepared for the marriage of His Son, and that we should give you wedding garments, that is the grace of baptism…?. But the ways in which this garment may be spotted are these: If any one withdraw from God the Father and Creator of all, receiving another teacher besides Christ, who alone is the faithful and true Prophet… these are the things which even fatally pollute the garment of baptism. But the things which pollute it in action are these: murders adulteries, hatreds, avarice, evil ambition. And the things which pollute at once the soul and the body are these: to partake of the table of demons, that is, to taste things sacrificed, or blood, or a carcass which is strangled, and if there be aught else which has been offered to demons. (The Recognitions of Clement, 4:35-36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 142-143.)
Note that in Acts James is made to quote from the Septuagint and not the Hebrew version of Amos 9:11-12. The meaning is quite different: Whereas the Septuagint and Acts say “… that the rest of men may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by my name…”, the Hebrew says “…that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name.” James would not have rendered his decision in Greek nor have misquoted the Hebrew, an indication that this account was rewritten by the followers of Paul. (www.septuagint-interlinear-greek-bible.com.)
Written records regarding the early Christian period are meager. No doubt, a wealth of documentation was lost in the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the conquest of the city in 70 C.E., its complete destruction in 135 C.E., and the book burning initiated by emperor Theodosius in the late 300s. On some points Acts is all we have, and we are lucky we have it. Without it, we would be even more lost when it comes to reconstructing the history of those times. However, because it is error-prone we must read it critically.
The Noachian or Noachide laws, apply to all humanity, because according to the Genesis legend, all humanity is descended from Noah. The laws of Noah did not require circumcision and presumably did not require a vegetarian diet. The laws of Noah can be inferred from Genesis 9, and they require of all people, including non-Jews, that they:
1) not commit idolatry;
2) not commit blasphemy;
3) establish courts of justice;
4) not commit bloodshed;
5) not commit incest and adultery;
6) not commit robbery; and
7) not eat flesh cut from a living animal.
The seventh law was allegedly added after the flood when humans were given license to eat meat. The phrase is a “term of art” which stands for the prohibition against eating the flesh of animals raised, worked, and killed in a cruel way. I presume the Acts prohibition against things strangled is another version of the seventh law. An animal sacrificed in a pagan temple might be killed in an inhumane way. The Koran (5:3) prohibits eating the flesh of a strangled animal.
The writer of Acts does not mention all the Noachide laws, probably because he was a gentile who had never heard of them. But the writer of Acts is probably drawing his information from an older Judeo-Christian document or his recollection of it, and it should be clear that it is the Noachide laws that the older document was referring to.
The Noachide laws do provide gentiles with a “plan of salvation” and a place in the world to come. (Jewish Encyclopedia, “Noachian Laws,” www.jewishencyclopedia.com.
However, Paul did not like the compromise which Acts says was worked out at the Jerusalem Conference. Around 56 C.E., Paul openly defied James and the Jerusalem apostles and wrote:
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience…?. If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (But if some one says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience sake—I mean his conscience, not yours—do not eat it.) For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples?… Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks… just as I try to please all men in everything I do…?.
(1 Corinthians 10:23 ff.)
Paul shows himself to be a religious chameleon, saying:
… as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”…?. However, not all possess this knowledge [gnosis]. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table [eating meat] in an idol’s temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food [meat] offered to idols? And so by your knowledge [gnosis] this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall. (1 Corinthians 8: 4-13. I have added the words in brackets.)
In Jerusalem the priests had a monopoly on the sale of meat, certainly including cattle, sheep, and goats, and theoretically including fowl, but probably not including fish. Jewish government, although under Roman supervision, was a theocracy, and animals had to be slaughtered according to the laws of kosher by the priestly caste. Likewise, I would presume that in Corinth the pagan Temples had a similar monopoly on the slaughter of large animals and the sale of their meat. Except for small animals such as fish and maybe fowl, I would presume that idol meat was the only meat available.
Paul was willing to tolerate and even conform to the vegetarians of his day, but he regarded vegetarianism as of no consequence and vegetarians as weak in faith. He says in Romans 14:1 ff., written around 57 C.E.:
As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him…?. I known… that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died…?. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.
Paul’s approach was that his converts could sneak over to the pagan temple, there to eat or buy meat secretly, hoping that a vegetarian Christian or one obeying James’ rule against eating meat offered to idols would not see them. However, if a vegetarian spotted them, according to Paul’s ruling, they would have to quit eating idol meat. The approach was impractical. Paul was teaching his followers deception and hypocrisy, an early version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Around 61 C.E., when Paul was in jail in Rome and had broken completely with James, Paul wrote: “…let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (Colossians 2:16.) Paul was in radical rebellion against the ruling of James at the Jerusalem conference and any part of Jewish or Judeo-Christian food laws. Some scholars say Colossians was written pseudepigraphally by Paul’s disciples after he died, but these ideas evidently did go back to Paul himself.
Jesus referred to the animals as “guiltless.” (Matthew 6:26, 10:29. See the section of this book entitled Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 176.) He would have said: “Make peace with the animals.” Making peace with the animals and not eating them or torturing them was probably one of the teachings Jesus felt most strongly about.
But Paul, claiming to have had his own private revelation (1 Corinthians 9:1, 11:23, 15:8; 2 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 1:12,15), claiming, in effect, to be a prophet or a successor messiah, one whose revelation was superior even to that of Jesus, cleverly undermined the vegetarianism of the original Christians. He changed the gospel and single-handedly redirected Christianity along a different trajectory. Paul made such statements in the context of his conflict with the leadership of the Jerusalem church who ate no meat and drank no wine. Note that this was clearly not a debate just regarding not eating meat offered to idols or blood. Paul’s debate was with Judeo-Christians who advocated vegetarianism. (Romans 14.)
According to Paul, the “circumcision party” hounded him constantly and worked to convince his converts to adopt strict Hebrew practices. (Acts 15:1.) Of Peter, Paul says:
… when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:11-12.)
Perhaps the men from James came to inform Peter that James had seen Paul’s writings and now realized that Paul was teaching that idol meat could be eaten and circumcision had no value for anyone, even Jews. Paul apparently was teaching that gentiles should never be circumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18), meaning they should never convert fully to Judaism. (Romans 2:25, Galatians 5:2-6.) Instead they should convert to Judaism “light,” the new Pauline version of Christianity. This may represent the moment when Paul and Peter broke. Maybe Peter not only quit eating with the gentile Christians of Antioch but also with Paul. Perhaps Paul was called back to Jerusalem to give an explanation. (Acts 21:21.) Note that the subject is eating, but the men from James are referred to as the “circumcision party.” Thus, circumcision was not the only issue; diet was an issue too, and the term “circumcision party” probably also meant “vegetarian party.” Perhaps the term “circumcision party” was more of an epithet than an accurate description.
Paul said that people of the “circumcision party” had come from “James” and had influenced Peter not to eat with the gentile Christians. Perhaps the “men from James” did not oppose conversion of the Gentiles but did oppose eating with them unless they became at least semi-converts—which would be consistent with Acts 15. (The Recognitions of Clement, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, 1:19, p. 82; 2:72, p. 116-117; 7:29, p. 163, 7:6, p. 158.)
Circumcision was painful in the days before anesthetics and perceived to be a dangerous operation for an adult male in Bible times, and it is reasonable that a gentile would prefer to become a semi-convert to Judaism instead of a full proselyte. He would presumably circumcise his male children as they were born and make them fully Jewish. I would assume that this is what James was saying about circumcision: Male converts to James’ Ebionite movement need not be circumcised, but it would probably have been understood that their sons would. Again, bear in mind that the first Christians were Jews and that Christianity for several decades was merely one of many Jewish sects.
Jewish custom presumably prohibited a Jew from eating in a non-kosher home. Would a semi-convert god fearer have adopted kosher practices? Would there have been tension over a Jew eating in the home of a god fearer who kept a kosher kitchen? I would assume not. Likewise, there would never be a problem with a gentile eating Jewish kosher food in a Jewish home.
We know from other sources that James and Simon Peter ate no flesh food. (See the sections of this book entitled Simon Peter, the Clementina, p. 102, and James, Brother of Jesus, p. 108.) The Ebionites, apparently the descendants of James’ Jerusalem church, were vegetarian, as appears from the Clementina. However, according to Acts, James ruled that full conversion to Judaism and circumcision were not to be required of gentile converts, and presumably neither would vegetarianism. The account in Acts 15 then means that James handed down a ruling that was contrary to his personal principles, to the Jewish teaching that the messiah and the messianic era would be vegetarian, and to what later Ebionites believed as evidenced in the Clementina. (See the section of this book entitled Ancient Judaism Challenges Modern Judaism, p. 65.)
HOW DOES ONE EXPLAIN THESE DIFFICULTIES?
Perhaps the Jerusalem Church was made up of several tendencies, one being the vegetarian Essene Christians, which included the top leadership, and another being Pharisee Christians and priest Christians who may have been meat-eaters. Perhaps James did not have complete control over the Jerusalem church. I would presume he had control over the Essene wing and probably the Hellenist wing. (See the section of this book entitled Four Wings of the Jerusalem Church, Two of them Vegetarian, p. 145.) Maybe James was not in control of the Pharisee or priestly wings. Perhaps the Pharisee Christians were more strict than James in requiring full conversion to Judaism and it was they who sent out representatives who were teaching gentile converts that they had to keep all the Hebrew laws, including circumcision. Maybe these Pharisee Christians were less strict regarding vegetarianism but very strict regarding circumcision. Maybe Pharisees and priests were vegetarians only on Mondays and Thursdays. (Luke 18:12; see the section of this chapter entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157.) Eventually Jewish Christianity split into two wings, the Ebionites who were vegetarian, and the Nazoreans, who were not vegetarian, except on fast days. Their dietary differences may have been one or the reasons for their split. Also, some Nazoreans adopted gnostic theories, such as the theory that Jesus only seemed to die on the cross; Ebionites did not. (See the section of this chapter entitled Ebionites vs. Nazarenes, p. 93.)
According to the ruling alleged made by James (Acts 15:19 ff.), gentile converts would not have to be circumcised, but they would not be allowed to eat meat from the pagan temple butcher shop or the meat of an animal that had been strangled, that is, killed in an inhumane way. Would these gentile semi-convert Christians also have had to clean their homes and kitchens to meet kosher requirements? Was James creating a new class of kosher in his ruling, for example, could gentile Christians eat pork but only if the pig were killed in a relatively painless way? If the gentile Christians did not have access to kosher meat, would they thereby have been required to become vegetarians by default? Presumably they would be able to eat fish, which could be slaughtered by any fisherman and did not have to be slaughtered by a shochet. This would correlate with the custom of the gnostic heretic Marcion, who was a vegetarian except that he ate fish on religious holidays. (Tertullian Against Marcion, 1:14, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, p. 281.)
Perhaps there was a Jerusalem sect of Judeo-Christians who believed that it was not sufficient for a gentile Christian to be a god fearer and that outright circumcision and full conversion was required. Josephus mentions that there were gentiles who were forcibly circumcised in Jerusalem in 66 C.E. at the beginning of the uprising of the Jews against the Romans. (The Life of Josephus, tr. Whiston, The Complete Works of Josephus, 23, p. 6; Robert Eisenman, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, p. 317.) The Maccabean Jews had conquered the Idumeans and allowed them to keep their land provided they convert and become circumcised, so it is said they were forcibly converted. Under pressure from the “circumcision party,” Paul’s disciple Timothy, the uncircumcised son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father, was circumcised. (Acts 16:3.)
Many Roman pagans admired the monotheism of Judaism. Around 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire was Jewish, 20 percent in the Levant, and presumably many of these had become Jewish by conversion. Unlike today’s Judaism, which discourages conversion, the Judaism of the First Century aggressively pursued converts. (Matthew 23:15.) While becoming a god fearer would have been a good first step, ultimately circumcision was necessary for one to become fully Jewish. This would have been a difficult step for grown men to take but not for their new born sons.
As a relevant aside I would add that because around one out of every seven baby boys has some serious defect of the foreskin, and because any non-circumcision policy would require regular reexamination as boys mature and could require surgery later in life, I believe it is not an unreasonable policy to circumcise all boys—using anesthetic, of course. (http://www.moheljoel.com/faq.htm.)
Paul and others operating out of Antioch, made the rounds preaching their new theory that gentile Christianity was the true Judaism and that semi-convert god fearers and others could become “Jewish” by becoming Christian, skipping circumcision and conversion to Judaism altogether. Some Greeks would have liked this, because Greeks generally considered circumcision to be an abhorrent mutilation.
The Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15 occurred around 49 – 53 C.E. 1 Thessalonians is probably Paul’s first epistle, written shortly before the Jerusalem Conference, and in it Paul shows no tension with the Jerusalem leadership. The theology of 1 Thessalonians is much simpler and more primitive than in the rest of Paul’s epistles, and the christology is lower. Galatians was written around 52-54 C.E., after the Jerusalem Conference, and I presume that to be so because Paul describes what appears to be the Jerusalem Conference in Galatians 2:1-10. In Galatians Paul shows he has rebelled against Jerusalem.
Paul says that a person who undergoes circumcision would be bound to keep every detail of Jewish law and that conversion to Christianity would offer such a person no advantages. (Galatians 5:2-5.) Where he got such a strange theory I don’t know. Paul loses all control and says, “I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12.) A more literal translation would say that they should “completely amputate their penises.” What had happened was that “… certain men came from James… false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom.” (Galatians 2:4,12.) Paul was losing out to missionaries from James who offered his churches the option of full conversion to Judaism or semi-conversion according to Noachide law. Paul referred to them as “dogs.” (Philippians 3:2.)
Paul apparently believed that circumcision was meaningless for Jews who accepted Jesus, and because he held that all Jews should accept Jesus, his position would have been that Jews therefore should no longer circumcise males and ultimately that Judaism should cease to exist. Was Paul saying his own circumcision had been meaningless? His clear statement is that those who were not circumcised should not be circumcised. Would that include Jewish infants who were not yet circumcised? (Acts 21:21; Romans 2:25-29; 1 Corinthians 7:18-20; Galatians 6:11-15; Philippians 3:2-6; Colossians 2:11; Titus 1:10.)
According to the Clementina, Peter wrote to James:
[G]ive the books of my preachings to our brethren, with the like mystery of initiation, that they may indoctrinate those who wish to take part in teaching; for if it be not so done, our word of truth will be rent into many opinions. And this I know, not as being a prophet, but as already seeing the beginning of this very evil. For some from among the Gentiles have rejected my legal preaching, attaching themselves to certain lawless and trifling preaching of the man who is my enemy [a term which clearly refers to Paul. See The Recognitions of Clement, 1:70-71, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 95 f., p. 215]. And these things some have attempted while I am still alive, to transform my words by certain various interpretations, in order to the dissolution of the law…?. But these men, professing, I know not how, to know my mind, undertake to explain my words, which they have heard of me, more intelligently than I who spoke them, telling their catechumens that this is my meaning, which indeed I never thought of. But if, while I am still alive, they dare thus to misrepresent me how much more will those who shall come after me dare to do so! (Epistle of Peter to James, 2, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 215. Comments in brackets are my own.)
Maybe it was true that Paul was teaching that Jews should cease circumcising their sons, for as late as 58 C.E., Paul returned to Jerusalem, and the circumcision party accused him, saying “…that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” (Acts 21:21.) Paul then took a vow and participated in a purification ritual to prove that he still kept Jewish custom. One can presume that out in the mission field Paul ate non-kosher meat including meat offered to pagan gods. (1 Corinthians 10:23 ff.) Thus, his taking this vow was a hypocritical act. Paul was regarded by many as a traitor to Judaism and Judeo-Christianity. Certain “Jews” wanted him dead (Acts 22:22), perhaps also including Jews who had accepted Jesus as messiah.
If James had forbidden the eating of all meat, this would have been an easy solution to the problem of Judeo-Christians and semi-convert, gentile Christians eating together: A meat-free diet would have been kosher by default. Perhaps this is what James did. It is what Peter did: According to the Ebionite Clementina, Simon Peter would not initially allow Clement, an uncircumcised gentile, to pray, live, or eat with him and his party:
But this also we observe, not to have a common table with Gentiles, unless when they believe, and on the reception of the truth are baptized, and consecrated by a certain threefold invocation of the blessed name; and then we eat with them.” (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:19, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 82; 2:72,
p. 116-117; 7:29, p. 163.
Note, however, that this is not a case of Peter eating just anything in a gentile home. It is a case of a gentile, semi-convert, god fearer eating what Peter ate in Peter’s home or around Peter’s campfire, which we know was a vegetarian diet as prepared by Peter and his vegetarian group. (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Vol. 8, p. 158.)
There is one additional possible source of information regarding James’ ruling at the Jerusalem Conference, and that is the Didache, one of the oldest Christian documents, a revision of a previously Jewish document, which states:
For if thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou are able that do. And concerning food, bear what thou art able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly on thy guard; for it is the service of dead gods. (The Teachings of the Apostles, 6:2-3, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 378.
The Didache, in the version which has come down to us, possibly evolved from a ruling from James. Not eating meat sacrificed to idols is the minimum one should do, but what would be the “whole yoke of the Lord” if not to refrain from eating meat entirely? Again note the “no greater burden” theme. (The Teachings of the Apostles, 6:2-3, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 378, www.earlychristianwritings.com; Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25; Revelation 2:19-25; The Recognitions of Clement, 4:36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 142-143; see the section of this book entitle Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157, and The Burden Theme, “Bear What Thou Art Able,” p. 160. The rule not to eat things “strangled” referred to the rule against eating the meat of animals tortured or painfully killed.
Perhaps the Didache indicates that Paul and the author of Acts, a follower of the Pauline line, did not tell the correct version of James’ ruling regarding dietary restrictions. Perhaps James really said what the Didache seems to say, that his followers should avoid meat altogether, but if they could not, that they should at least avoid meat from pagan temples and from animals raised, worked, and killed inhumanely.
Obviously, this is a very complex issue, and given the effectiveness of the Roman censor at destroying Judeo-Christian books, there is not enough data available to resolve it with any certainty, although it is certainly possible to go much further than conventional theologians go.
HILLEL AND SHAMMAI
In Jesus’ day Pharisees were divided into two houses or schools, the more conservative house of Shammai (died around 30 C.E.) and the more liberal house of Hillel (died c. 10 C.E.). Beth (house of) Shammai was dominant up until the fall of Jerusalem and the Council of Jamnia around 80 C.E., when Beth Hillel formed what is today’s rabbinic Judaism. Both houses believed that the laws of Noah were binding on gentiles, but they differed in this regard: Beth Hillel believed that gentiles who lived by the laws of Noah would have a part in the world to come, but Beth Shammai believed that even gentiles who followed the laws of Noah would not. (Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus, 1985, p. 75.)
Falk suggests that on the few occasions in the New Testament where Pharisees are presented in a favorable light (Mark 12:28 ff.; Acts 5:34) the reference is to the more liberal, minority Hillelites, including Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel. All other references to Pharisees are to the dominant Shammaites. (Falk, p. 80.) The other possibility is that in the original Hebrew gospel it was the Sadducees and Herodians who were in tension with Jesus, and it was later gentile editors, who changed the reference to the Pharisees and that the editors did this because gentile Christians and Pharisees were in competition for converts at the time the gospels were edited.
On one occasion Shammaites attacked Hillelites and murdered several of them. (Falk, p. 57.) Many Hillilites withdrew into the desert and became Essenes. Eighty or eighty pairs of Hillilites were sent out to convert gentiles to follow the laws of Noah. Falk suggests that Jesus was a Hillelite and could have been part of this mission. (Falk, p. 115, 139, 140.)
This sheds light on the controversy discussed in Acts 15. “Some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” came to Antioch and said gentile Christians had to keep the whole law. (Acts 15:5.) The controversy was presented to James who made the Hillelite ruling that it would be sufficient if gentile Christians kept the laws of Noah. (Acts 15:20.)
MARCION—FOLLOWER OF PAUL, CATALYST OF THE CANON
Jews had been in rebellion against the Romans since Pompey conquered Palestine in 63 B.C.E. They revolted in 66-70 C.E. Egyptian Jews revolted again in 115-117 C.E. under Lucwas (Leucas Andreas) and actually took control of Alexandria, Cyprus, and Cyrene in Libya for a year. They revolted a final time in 132-135 C.E. under messianic claimant Bar Kokhba—said to have been spurred in part by a Roman law prohibiting circumcision. Bar Kokhba’s rebellion was well-planned and initially expelled the Romans from Palestine. The Romans won in the end and this time razed all of Jerusalem, not just the Temple. Several hundred thousand Jews were killed or enslaved.
Jewish resistance against the Roman slaveocracy had failed. It had become clear that Jews, which made up 10 percent of the Roman Empire and 20 percent in the Levant, had lost their effort to convert the Roman Empire to their religion. Jews were hated for the trouble they had caused. Gentile Christians wanted to distance themselves from Jews so they could continue Paul’s effort to take the Empire for his pro-Roman version of Christian Judaism.
At this crucial time, Marcion appeared. A devoted follower of Paul, this wealthy shipping magnate, had left behind his native Sinope, in Pontus, in what is now northern Turkey. He was the son of a bishop, and his father may have excommunicated him for trifling with young women. He arrived in Rome around 140 C.E., at a time when Rome’s bishop had died. Marcion made a large donation to the church and perhaps expected to be appointed bishop. Marcion brought with him the first New Testament, made up of a shortened version of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles—all edited where necessary to agree with Marcion’s theology.
Marcion completely denied the authority of the Hebrew Bible and eliminated from his New Testament any positive reference to Judaism. Marcion considered the Jehovah god of the Hebrews to be an inferior god; Jesus was the son of a higher, good god. Jesus was chrestos, good, not christos, messiah. In 144 C.E. the Roman church excommunicated Marcion and refunded his donation. He proceeded to build his own extensive church, which was later absorbed into Manichaeism, which was later driven underground by the Roman church with the help of the Christian emperors. The Albigenses were descended from surviving Manichaeans.
Marcion was a vegetarian except that he was said to regard sea food as “the more sacred diet,” by which some presume that fish was the only meat he ate on feast days or perhaps the only meat he ate at any time. (Tertullian Against Marcion, 1:14, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, p. 281.)
More relevant to my topic is the fact that Marcion arrived in Rome with a Christian Bible. The Roman church had only a Hebrew Bible, and because of Marcion it realized that it needed a Christian Bible. Marcion popularized the writings of Paul at a time when the Roman church perhaps either did not know of them or did not regard them as authoritative.
The Roman church was probably founded by Judeo-Christians under direct supervision of James, brother of Jesus. Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome around 50 C.E., and this included members of the Ebionite church there. (Acts 18:2.) Presumably some returned later. During Marcion’s years the Roman church was trying to consolidate its position as the ruling gentile church and rewriting its history to show it was the rightful successor to the Jerusalem apostles. Acts and Eusebius’ History of the Church should both be read as attempts to prove this case.
This is probably when the New Testament books were assembled, rewritten, and edited into their current form, and when stories that would strengthen the Roman church’s claim to supremacy were added. (E.g. Matthew 16:18-19.) This is probably also the time when the gentile church, wanting to prove itself not Jewish so it could be accepted by Romans, introduced hateful anti-Pharisee and anti-Jewish libels into the New Testament, along with passages that exculpated the Romans from the killing of Jesus. (Matthew 23:26; Luke 11:37-54.)
This is probably when the Pastoral epistles—1 & 2 Timothy and Titus—were written in Paul’s name to undo the quasi-gnosticism that runs through Paul’s writings, to refute the teachings of Marcion and other gnostics, to authorize the monarchial bishop system, to preclude women from positions of leadership, to allow ministers to be salaried, to allow Christians to drink wine, to allow Christians to own slaves, to make it clear that the wealthy were welcome to join, to denounce circumcision, and to make it clear that Christians were to obey their Roman rulers and not rebel like the troublesome Jews. (1 Timothy 2:11-15, 3:1-7, 5:17-19, 23, 6:1-2, 17, 20; Titus 1:5, 7, 10, 14, 2:9, 3:1, 9.) The Petrine Epistles appear to serve the same purpose and may have been written at the same time. (1 Peter 2:13,18; 3:1; 2 Peter 3:16.) The Pastoral Epistles condemn the vegetarians who enjoin “…abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving…” as teaching “…doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5; cf. Colossians 2:16.) Hippolytus (died c. 236), relying on a different version of 1 Timothy, quotes Paul as condemning those who teach abstinence from “meats.” (Hippolytus, the Refutation of All Heresies, 8:13, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5, p. 124.)
It is only after Marcion that Church Fathers such as Irenaeus around 180 C.E. refer to the four gospels and to Paul’s writings by name and as accepted books. (“Marcion,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1958; Charles B. Waite, History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two Hundred, 1881, p. 239 ff.) I should also mention that the Muratorian Canon, the first known list of the canon as such, was issued as a response to the work of another threatening heretic, Montanus.
PRO-ROMAN WHITEWASH, ANTI-JEWISH SLUR
By far the most conspicuous aspect of the New Testament is that it ignores the Roman occupation of Palestine. Liken it to a story written in 1943 in France which makes no mention of the Nazi occupation, as Hyam Maccoby suggests in his Revolution in Judea: Jesus and the Jewish Resistance. Things had not been so bad for the Jews during the years of Herod the Great, 40-4 B.C.E. Herod mostly kept the Romans out. A shrewd trader, he made fortunes trading spices, and frequently paid all the taxes Judea owed Rome on his own.
However, from around 6 C.E., Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, who were little more than gangster tax collectors. Procurators made a census of all property. They had to deliver a tax quota to Rome, but they were free to tax as much extra as they wanted and could and keep the excess for themselves. Their underlings on down the line had quotas and overtaxed as well, down to the tax collectors in the field, the “publicans.” These thugs could call in Roman soldiers to brutalize anyone who did not pay up. Tax farmers extorted so much that men committed suicide or were sold into slavery. Jews hated the introduction of Greco-roman games into Jerusalem, invasions of the Temple, and other insults. Sometimes, they rebelled and were slaughtered. However, there is only one hint of this in the entire New Testament: “There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” (Luke 13:1.)
The explanation for this whitewash is that the New Testament was put into its present form outside of Judea, away from the founders who knew the real story, by gentile Christians who were third-generation members of the church Paul had built. Paul had been a Roman citizen. Paul wanted a church that was pro-Roman. In the Pauline New Testament Pilate is made to wash his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death. (Matthew 27:24, Luke 23:4-24.) Responsibility was shifted to the Jewish people generally. “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25.) Paul, or disciples of his who rewrote his books, began the christ-killer libel. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.) There was fierce competition between Paul’s Christians and Pharisee missionaries, and this explains the anti-Jewish and anti-Pharisee invective that runs throughout much of the New Testament.
Hebrews had been slaves to the Egyptians, and each time they celebrated the Passover, they remembered this. Under the law of Moses, Jews could and did enslave both Jews and gentiles, however, in each case, there were stringent restrictions, and slaves had significant rights. Hebrew ownership of Hebrew slaves ended with the fall of Judea to the Babylonians around 586 B.C.E. It was said that Judah was carried away into captivity because the rich, after releasing their Hebrew slaves, re-enslaved them. (Jeremiah 34:8 ff.) One of the reasons why Herod the Great was hated was for his reintroducing the enslavement of Hebrews by Hebrews. (“Anti-Slavery Movement and the Jews,” www.JewishEncylopedia.com.)
Hebrew ownership of gentile slaves continued to Jesus’ time, but such slaves could not be sold into foreign lands, did not work on the Sabbath, and had basic rights such as clean bedding and the right to eat the same food as their masters. They were invited to convert to the Hebrew religion and were invited to the Seder. (Exodus 12:44, 20:10, 21:1-21; Leviticus 25:29 ff., Deuteronomy 23:16 ff.; Job 31:13-14; “Slaves and Slavery,” www.JewishEncylopedia.com.)
The Essene Therapeutae of Egypt opposed slavery. Philo says of them:
… [T]hey do not use the ministrations of slaves, looking upon the possession of servants or slaves to be a thing absolutely and wholly contrary to nature, for nature created all men free.” (Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (71) p. 704.)
Likewise, Pharisees opposed slavery. Josephus says of them: “[T]hey do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit…?.” Antiquities of the Jews, tr. Whiston, The Complete Works of Josephus, 18:1:3, pp. 376-377; see The Wars of the Jews, tr. Whiston, The Complete Works of Josephus, 2:13:6, p. 483.) Only the Sadducees, holding mechanically to the Law of Moses, and aligning themselves with the Romans, who appointed them to their positions as high priests, favored slavery.
The Ebionites, writers of the Clementina and intellectual descendants of the Essene Jerusalem Christians, opposed slavery. The Ebionite Simon Peter of the Clementina claimed that slavery had been forbidden from the time of Noah. The ethic was “… that you lord it over no man; that you trouble no one, unless any one of his own accord subject himself to you…?.” (The Clementine Homilies, 8:19, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volt 8, p. 274; Philo Judaeus, C.D. Yonge, tr., The Works of Philo, On the Contemplative Life, IX (71) p. 704.)
It would be impossible for one to own a slave and follow the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12.)
Pythagoreans, Essenes, and Pharisees all opposed slavery. Jesus was either a Pythagorean Essene or a Pharisee—the two were very similar. So although there is no surviving canonical passage where Jesus specifically stated that he opposed slavery, it is hard to imagine that he did not. It is likely that his statements against slavery were edited out by gentiles who rewrote the gospels to make them more attractive to slave-holding Greeks and Romans.
Paul was a different type of Christian than Jesus and his Davidian followers. Paul and his disciples allowed their Christians to keep slaves. (Ephesians 6:5 ff., 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:2,9, Philemon 15.) To the Pythagoreans, Essenes, Pharisees, Jesus, the Jerusalem Christians, Peter, and the Ebionites, this would have been unthinkable.
Slaveholding Christians such as those of the antebellum South quoted Paul’s words. Had Paul not interfered with the development of Judaism and Jesus’ Ebionite movement, it is possible that slavery might have been outlawed much earlier than it was.
INFORMATION FROM MOSLEM-NAZARENE SOURCES
The late Dr. Shlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem translated numerous Moslem documents pertaining to the Judeo-Christians. Among these are the writings of Abd Al-Jabbar, Mutazilite (believing in free will) philosopher who died around 1024-5, and who wrote “The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Mohammed.” Therein, he condemned Orthodox, Nestorian, and Jacobite (monophysite) Christians, three varieties of Pauline Christianity, for deviating from the Torah and the true teachings of Jesus.
Throughout, Al-Jabbar makes arguments against Pauline Christianity that are not Moslem but are Jewish or Judeo-Christian in orientation, for example, he faults Paul for not following the Torah, although Moslems too reject the authority of the Torah. This would indicate that he was reworking Judeo-Christian materials. I quote from Dr. Pines, who is quoting from Al-Jabbar, who in turn is summarizing what he learned from or about the Judeo-Christians. Words in parenthesis are those of Dr. Pines, and those in brackets are my own.
After him [the death of Jesus], his disciples were with the Jews and the Children of Israel in the latter’s synagogues and observed the prayers and the feasts of (the Jews) in the same place as the latter. (However) there was a disagreement between them and the Jews with regard to Christ.
The Romans (al-Rum) reigned over them. The [presumably Pauline] Christians (used to) complain to the Romans about the Jews…?. And the Romans said to the [presumably Pauline] Christians: “Between us and the Jews there is a pact which (obliges us) not to change their religious laws. But if you would abandon their laws and separate yourselves from them, praying as we do (while facing) the East [towards the sun, while Nasoraeans knelt towards Jerusalem, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., 19:3:6, p. 46; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1:26], eating (the things) we eat [Romans 14:1 ff.; 1 Corinthians 8: 4-13], and regarding as permissible that which we consider as such, we should help you and make you powerful…?.
The [presumably Pauline] Christians answered: “We will do this.” (And the Romans) said: “Go, fetch your companions [presumably the Judeo-Christians], and bring your Book.” (The [presumably Pauline] Christians) went to their companions, informed them of (what had taken place) between them and the Romans and said to them: “Bring the Gospel, and stand up so that we should go to them.” But these ([presumably Judeo-Christian] companions) said to them: “You have done ill. We are not permitted (to let) the Romans pollute the Gospel. In giving a favorable answer to the Romans, you have accordingly departed from the religion. We are (therefore) no longer permitted to associate with you…” and they prevented their (taking possession of) the Gospel or gaining access to it. In consequence a violent quarrel (broke out) between (the two groups). [The presumably Pauline Christians]… went back to the Romans and said to them: “Help us against these [presumably Judeo-Christian] companions of ours before (helping us) against the Jews, and take away from them on our behalf our book.” Thereupon (the [presumably Judeo-Christian] companions of whom they had spoken) fled the country. And the Romans wrote concerning them to their governors in the districts of Mosul…?. Accordingly, a search was made for them; some were caught and burned, others were killed.
(As for) those [presumably Pauline Christians] who had given a favorable answer to the Romans they came together and took counsel as to how to replace the Gospel…?. (Thus) the opinion that a Gospel should be composed was established among them.… “Everyone among us is going to call to mind that which he remembers of the words of the Gospel and of (the things) about which the [presumably Judeo-] Christians talked among themselves (when speaking) of Christ.”
It is easy to understand why Judeo-Christians wanted to keep their books out of Pauline Christian hands. Consider the changes gentile Christians editors made to the two versions of the Didache, which was originally a Jewish and Judeo-Christian book. (See the section of this book entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157.)
Dr. Pines summarizes what Al-Jabbar and his sources had to say of Paul:
Paul… at first helped the Jews against the Christians. However,… he changes sides, helps the Christians and tells them to separate themselves from the Jews and to associated with peoples hostile to the Jews.…
Paul… says to the Jews that he spent fourteen days with God in heaven [2 Corinthians 12:2], who gave him many injunctions and told him “many shameful things about you [Jews], which I will not tell you.”… [T]he Jews were amazed at these stupid tales and took him to the companion of Caesar…?. [Acts 21:28; 25:2,12.] The king… sent him instead to Constantinople [which Al-Jabbar or his source confuses with Rome]. There he associated with the Romans and tried to stir them up against the Jews.…
[Paul] denied validity to the laws of Moses…?.
Paul spoke to the Romans of the asceticism, the grace and the miracles of Jesus and people listened to him. However, if one considers that he denied the religious teachings of Christ and adopted those of the Romans, one must come to the conclusion that the [presumably Pauline] Christians became Romanized, whereas the Romans were not converted to Christianity. It was in consequence of Paul’s anti-Jewish propaganda that the Romans [later?], led by Titus, marched against the Jews…?.
[Backtracking,] Nero, found out what kind of a person Paul was… and asked him about circumcision. Paul expressed his disapproval of this rite… but had to admit that Jesus and the apostles were circumcised. And he was found to be circumcised himself. Thus, the king discovered that Paul encouraged the Romans to practice a religion opposed to the religion of Christ. The king ordered him to be crucified.
Gentile Christians did turn Judeo-Christians over to the Romans: Eusebius says that Hegesippus said that Simon, descendant of Clopas, brother of Joseph (Luke 24:18), leader of the Judeo-Christians following the assassination of James, was “informed against by the heretical sects” and was tortured to death by the Romans in 107 C.E. at 120 years of age. Eusebius says Hegesippus was of “Hebrew stock” but appears to regard him as orthodox, although it is Hegesippus who tells us that James was a vegetarian and preserves most of what we know about him. Who could these “heretical sects” have been who betrayed Clopas to the Romans if not the Pauline Christians? (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, 2:23, 3:32, 3:39, 4:22.)
Dr. Pines notes that Al-Jabbar says of Constantine that he was a leper, that he turned against the Roman religions because they considered a leper unqualified to be king, whereas the Christian religion did not so discriminate. (Shlomo Pines, “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According to a New Source,” Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Vol. 11, No. 13, 1968, reprinted in Shlomo Pines, Studies in the History of Religion, ed. Guy Stroumsa, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, ISBN 965-223-830-9, www.JewishAustralia.com; see S.M. Stern, History and Culture in the Medieval Muslim World, which reprints the following two journal articles: “Quotations From Apocryphal Gospels in Abd al-Jabbar,” Journal of Theological Studies, N.S., 18, Oxford, 1967, and “Abd al-Jabbar’s Account of How Christ’s Religion was Falsified by the Adoption of Roman Customs,” Journal of Theological Studies, N.S., 19, Oxford, 1968.)
My hypothesis is this: The break between the gentile Christianity of Paul and the original Ebionite Judeo-Christianity occurred early and was complete. The two groups were in competition for converts. Gentile Christians hated circumcision. They hated Judeo-Christian vegetarian dietary restrictions and loved meat; the best place to buy cheap meat was in the pagan temples. Gentile Christians did not have copies of the Ebionite gospel because Judeo-Christians refused to share it with them. Pauline Christians had to recreate their own gospel based on what they could remember of oral translations of Hebrew or Aramaic originals, perhaps lengthy, memorized Sunday sermons presented in translation. Being unlearned in Hebrew, they quoted from the Septuagint and not from the Hebrew Bible. For all these reasons the four canonical gospels and Acts are chronologically disorganized and contradictory.
It is often said that Islam is an Arab version of Judaism. It would be more correct to say that it is Nazarene (not Ebionite) Christianity as reinterpreted by the prophet Mohammed. Moslems and the later Nazarenes agree on most points: That Jesus was born by virgin birth. Mary was very special. Jesus was a prophet and not a god. Paul was a heretic. Some Moslems believe and some Nazarenes believed that Jesus survived crucifixion and departed to the East. Because Moslems have such high regard for Jesus and Mary, Moslem friends often tell me, “I am both a Muslim and a Christian.”
The later Nazarenes did not eat pork, nor do Moslems, and neither group was or is vegetarian. However, it is said that there are vegetarian Shiite and Sufi groups. (If you have any information about vegetarian Muslim sects, e-mail me.) Although the Koran specifically allows the eating of meat, it forbids cruelty to animals and requires that slaughter be as painless as possible.
The Koran is very clear on this point, requiring that animals live and die without suffering. If all meat eaters followed original Koranic halal practices or original Talumdic kosher practices of slaughter, a trillion cries of terror and pain among domesticated animals could be avoided. We would be healthier; the world would be improved ethically, and we would be one step closer to achieving a peaceful world.
We have no indication that Mohammed was a vegetarian, but it is clear that he strongly opposed cruelty to animals. However, the important question is not what Mohammed said in the Koran but what he would say today. I doubt the prophet would look with favor on the modern factory farm system. (See www.islamicconcerns.com; see the section of this book entitled Ebionites vs. Nazarenes, p. 93.)
The oldest known copy of the Medieval Gospel of Barnabas is written in Italian. It contains anachronisms that indicate it was composed or revised or translated in the 1600s. There was a Spanish version of it but it disappeared. Barnabas draws on and is a synthesis of all four gospels. One hypothesis is that the book was compiled and kept alive and brought from Palestine to Europe by Carmelite monks who were fleeing Palestine under pressure from Moslem conquerors. The Carmelite Order is the only Catholic order which is older than Christianity, tracing its identity back to Ezekiel and the Rechabites. Barnabas is popular today among Moslems, although it is unlikely that Moslems had access to it before it appeared in Europe. In Barnabas Jesus is the true prophet like Elijah who predicts the coming of a messiah, who turns out to be Mohammed, who is mentioned by name. In Barnabas Judas carries Jesus’ cross and dies in Jesus’ place, and Jesus soon ascends into Heaven, which is what most Moslems believe about Jesus. However a minority of Muslims believe Jesus survived the cross and lived a long life in Kashmir.
Barnabas has gotten little attention from Christian scholars, and most dismiss it as a 17th Century Moslem fraud. However, it contains versions of accounts in the canonical gospels which are much fuller and more comprehensible. Some sections may go back to the later non-vegetarian Nazarenes and perhaps to the original Hebrew gospel. Barnabas merits consideration if for no other reason than that it is much better written than the four canonical gospels. (R. Blackhirst, “Barnabas and the Gospels: Was There an Early Gospel of Barnabas?” Journal of Higher Criticism, R. Blackhirst, “Herbs and Wild Fruit: Judas Maccabee and Reflections of Rechabitism in the Medieval Gospel of Barnabas,” http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/Blackhirst_Barnabas.html; Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, (Appendix 3) p. 295-299, www.answering-islam.org/Barnabas/saleeb.html; www.barnabas.net.)
WHY OUR PICTURE OF JESUS IS CLOUDED
There are several factors which cloud our view of who Jesus was and what he said: He was apparently not himself a writer, although he probably was the author Matthew 25:34-48 and the Lord’s Prayer of Didache 9:5. There were Judeo-Christian writings, but they were kept secret and apparently later destroyed. Peter in the Clementina spoke of having written secret writings. (Epistle of Peter to James, 1, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 215.) Abd Al-Jabbar said that the Judeo-Christians hid their writings from the Pauline Christians. (See the previous section.) His sayings went through a stage where they were transmitted orally by gentile Christians, and thus they evolved. This is why, for example, there are three versions of the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2; Didache 9:5.)
Jesus spoke in allegories and parables and gave the keys to understanding them only to his closest students. (Matthew 13:10 ff., Mark 4:11-12, John 16:12, 25.) Origen and Clement of Alexandria said there were exoteric and esoteric teachings, “secret traditions of the true knowledge.” (Origen, Origen Against Celsus, 1:7, Roberts & Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 399; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 1:12, 5:9, Roberts & Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 312, p. 457.) Perhaps these esoteric teachings included the Hebrew gospel which the Judeo-Christians would not share with the Pauline Christians. Perhaps there are others, books we will never know.
It is possible that Jesus and his followers were students of the mystical and secret kabbalah. The Essenes, probably the sect into which Jesus was born, studied a “twofold philosophy of” … “the contemplation of God’s being and the origin of the universe.” (Philo, Quod Omnis Probus Liber, xii.; (“Gnosticism,” “Cabala,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) The bottom three sefirot of the kabbalistic tree in descending order are Yod, Yesod, and Malkuth, which in reverse order are “the kingdom, the power, and the glory” of the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-15. Although these words are missing from the oldest versions of Matthew, they are to be found in Didache 9:5, which is probably older than Matthew.)
Jesus’ followers believed in an early end of the era and the early beginning of his messianic era; and perhaps for that reason saw little point in taking down his words. He said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.” (Mark 13:30.) On the other hand, perhaps he was referring not to his return but to the coming conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
Around 66 C.E. when zealots took over Jerusalem, one of the first things they did was to burn the archives to destroy mortgages and notes, so their debts could not be collected. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, ed. Whiston, II, 17:6, 491.) Probably their fires also burned other records which would have told us more about Jesus. Herod earlier had burned books of genealogy because he could not claim Jewish descent and likewise wanted Jews in general also to be unable to document theirs. (Eusebius, Church History, 1:7.)
Paul was the writer who wrote the most, and he wrote very early. He had almost nothing to say of the life or teachings of Jesus. Instead he turned Jesus into a silent icon and expounded his own teachings, not those of Jesus. Paul never met Jesus except in visions such as his conversion on the road to Damascus and his later extended vision. (Acts 9:3, 22:6, 26:12; 2 Corinthians 12:2 ff.)
As I have pointed out elsewhere, the break between the gentile Christianity of Paul and John and the original Ebionite Judeo-Christianity occurred early and was complete. Paul’s Christians did not have copies of the Ebionite gospel and had to recreate their own gospel based on pieces of the gospel they could remember. (See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134.)
Before the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the original Judeo-Christians fled Jerusalem to Pella. In a state of disorganization, they lost their position of authority over the rest of the church. At various times they were on the run from the Romans, for they were headed by a Davidian dynasty that could have claimed political power. Although they returned at some point and, according to Eusebius, had bishops in Jerusalem, they were finally expelled along with all other Jews with the destruction of the entire city in 135 C.E. From 70 C.E. on, the gentile church went its own way and freely redefined who Jesus had been.
The writer of Luke said “many” others had written gospels. (Luke 1:1.) The four gospels in the New Testament were probably stitched together from lengthy memorized sermons, which had been delivered at gentile Christian meetings on Sundays and written down at some point. It was easy to confuse the commentary with the words supposedly being recited. Our four gospels highlight issues being debated at the time of their composition, for example, the heated arguments Christians were having with Pharisees. They were probably put into final form around 150 C.E. in Rome in response to the challenge presented by the books Marcion brought to Rome. (See the section of this book entitled Marcion—Follower of Paul, Catalyst of the Canon, p. 131.)
Mark is the oldest of the four extant orthodox gospels, but there was an earlier version of Mark, referred to as Proto-Mark. It is from Proto-Mark that the Synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, copied. This is why in a few cases the readings in Matthew and Luke are sometimes older than the readings in Mark. (Compare Mark 6:3 with Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22; and John 6:42. Also compare Mark 7:19 with Matthew 15:10-20 and Luke 11:41.)
Eusebius told what Papias had reported he learned from the presbyter John about how Mark, who allegedly had been Peter’s interpreter, composed his gospel: Mark did not translate from a Hebrew or Aramaic original of Matthew but “wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings.” (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 3:39, p. 103 f.) This would support what Abd Al-Jabbar reported. (See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134.)
The apostle Matthew allegedly wrote the first gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic. Eusebius wrote that Papias had said, “Matthew collected the oracles (logia) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted as best he could.” (Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 3:16:39, p. 104.) However, Symmachus the Ebionite (who flourished c. 200 and was famous for having translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek), wrote “pamphlets… in which he inveighs against the Gospel according to Matthew.” (Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, 6:16:17, p. 194; “Symmachus,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) He was probably attacking the Pauline version of Matthew that we read today, which is an entirely different book from Matthew’s Hebrew original. Today’s Matthew is not a translation from the Hebrew Matthew but a composition pieced together by Greeks who had never seen the Hebrew original but who relied solely on Proto-Mark and other oral traditions such as Q (the sections of Matthew and Luke which are very similar to each other and do not appear in Mark.)
Gentile Christians were aware that their religion had started off as a sect of Judaism, but they had become ashamed of its Jewish roots. The Jews were trouble makers; they had revolted against the Roman slaveocracy in 68 C.E., 112 C.E., and 132 C.E., and Rome fought long and costly wars to subdue them. All the books of the New Testament, except for James, Jude, and Revelation, are gentile books. In many cases the gentile redactors knew so little about Judaism and Jewish Christianity that they forgot to edit out texts which conflicted with their revisionist aims. (E.g., Acts 7:42; Matthew 12:6-7.)
The gospels are bitterly anti-Jewish. They followed the theory set forth by Paul and the writer of Hebrews that gentile Christianity had supplanted Judaism and become the true Judaism.
And Jewish, Judeo-Christian, and heretical gentile Christian books were destroyed by the Roman censor after Christianity became the state religion. (See the section of this book entitled Censorship, p. 85.)
However, we should not give up hope of clearing the cloudy glass that obscures the historical Jesus. Combing through existing gospels, epistles, and writings of the Church Fathers turns up a wealth of evidence, and that is because the editors and censors did not understand the significance of certain information, such as the speech by Stephen, or Jesus’ statement regarding his preference for mercy and not sacrifice, and failed to do a complete job of rewriting and purging such texts.
New sources of information about Jesus and early Christianity are uncovered from time to time, such as the Nag Hamadi and Qumran writings. It is possible that books confiscated by the Roman censors may yet be found in ancient monasteries. Edmond Bordeaux Szekely claims to have read a Judeo-Christian gospel in the Secret Vatican archives, although the Vatican denies the existence of any secret library. (http://asv.vatican.va/home_en.htm.) There may be information to be found among the Nestorians, the Assyrian Christians of Iran. They lived outside Roman jurisdiction and so their writings were not subject to the censorship that wiped out so much of the Judeo-Christian writings in the West. The climate of parts of Egypt, the Arabian desert, Iraq, Iran, and the area around the Dead Sea is so dry that old books such as the Dead Sea Scrolls may survive there, still undiscovered.
Likewise, information may be found in the Slavic countries. Robert Eisler cites evidence that some of the oldest Judeo-Christians fled north to escape Roman persecution. A Jewish form of Christianity flourished there until the beginning of the Second Millennium, when the Slavic Old Russian church switched sides, dropped its Judeo-Christian sympathies, and accepted the orthodoxy of Constantinople. The newly orthodox Russian church persecuted the non-orthodox, who fled west, where they perhaps joined or formed the nucleus of the unitarian movement. Or they may have converted back to Judaism, swelling the ranks of Ashkenazic Judaism. The writings of Josephus were heavily censored in the West, while the Old Slavonic version was not. It appears to be a translation from a more complete and uncensored Aramaic original and appears to contain much historical information not contained in Western editions. (See Robert Eisler’s The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, which I highly recommend for those interested in the origins of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.)
The historical Jesus remains in large part obscured. It is impossible to know with absolute certainty Jesus’ position on eating animal food. However, there are some related issues of we can be certain: Jesus’ associates and disciples were vegetarian—John the Baptist, James his brother, Peter, Andrew, and Matthew, in fact all his disciples, as Eusebius affirms. (Proof of the Gosple, 3:5.) The Ebionite movement itself was vegetarian. Jesus opposed the sacrificing of animals and led a revolt that temporarily stopped the sacrifices. It was commonly believed that the messiah-king was to reinaugurate the vegetarian era and stop the sacrifices; a vegetarian messiah-king was expected. And gentile Christianity kept to a two day per week vegan fast for the first 800 years, as Orthodox Christians do to this day.
Given such evidence, a theory that Jesus ate a conventional meat diet would be hard to construct.
RISE AND FALL OF THE JERUSALEM CHURCH OF JAMES
The first Christian “church” was the “church” in Jerusalem, although it was not called a church. It was a group of synagogues whose members were Jews who believed Jesus had been messiah-king and also the prophet Moses had predicted would come and complete his work. Jesus had referred to himself as a prophet. (Luke 4:24, 13:33-34; Matthew 10:39-42.) Gentile editors forgot to purge such references in the New Testament. (Matthew 14:5, 21:11, 21:46; Luke 24:19; John 1:21-28, 4:19, 44, 6:14, 7:40, 7:52, 9:17; Acts 3:22-23, 7:37; see Recognitions of Clement, 1:45, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 89).
Members of the Jerusalem church referred to themselves as Nazaraeans instead of Christians. They continued to worship in the Temple. (Acts 2:46, 11:26, 24:5.) The church’s president or bishop was the vegetarian James. Its members were all Jews, full converts to Judaism, or semi-convert god-fearers. (Acts 6:5, 15:5-20; “History of Judaism,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979, Vol. 10, p. 315.) They were communists, in a non-Marxist sense, pooling all their assets. (Acts 4:32.) There is no reference to their having had any priesthood. They followed Hebrew law and custom. They believed Jesus was son of Joseph and Mary by normal intercourse. The Judeo-Christians were relative pacifists—preferring always a peaceable approach except where their life was in danger or the life of their nation. They would have been willing to fight if Jesus had returned to set up his earthly kingdom. They were teetotalers, and their communion included water instead of wine, or a mixture of water and wine, as was common in the early history of gentile Christianity. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, 5:1:3, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, p. 527; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.xi.i.html.)
Jesus had taught a solution to the most fundamental problem—how to bring justice, peace, and observance of high ethical standards to the world and how to stop the cycle of violence. (Matthew 5:38-48; see the section of this chapter entitled Understanding What Jesus Stood For, p. 202.)
Jesus and John the Baptist before him opposed animal sacrifice. They taught “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mark 1:4; Matthew 28:19; see Recognitions of Clement, 1:35-39, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 87-88.) After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., a reorganized rabbinic Judaism declared that prayer substituted for animal sacrifices. It had long been an option. (I Kings 8:46-50.)
Early Christians struggled to assign some meaning to the suffering and death of their prophet and messiah-king. It was probably the gentile Christians of Antioch who proposed the theory that Jesus had made a cosmic trade—his blood to wash away the original sin of an inherently sinful species. This trade was a common theology among the Greek mystery religions, but one totally inconsistent with Judaism. Moses had offered to die for the Israelites, but god refused his tender. (Exodus 32:30 ff.) The writings of Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:22-26) accepted the cosmic trade concept. Too, Judaism and Jesus knew nothing of the original sin theory.
Whereas baptism and prayer were effectual only to forgive past sins, the cosmic sacrifice forgave all sins and gave everlasting life to all. However, to obtain access to this complete forgiveness, one had to believe the correct doctrine. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all would now live forever—the believers in heaven, the unbelievers in hell. The majority who do not believe would be better off if the cosmic-messiah-redeemer had never come.
Belief in salvation by faith led to the development of a fixation on believing the correct faith or doctrine, along with the fear that if one believes the wrong faith or doctrine, one will burn in hell forever. This fixation has bedeviled Christianity. The focus in Judaism, on the other hand, has always been more on right behavior than on right doctrine. If one tries to live a law abiding and ethical life and sincerely repents of the sins he commits, he is acceptable in god’s eyes. In Judaism even an atheist can have a place in the world to come—if he lives an ethical life. This is presumably what Jesus and the Jerusalem Church of James believed. The orthodox scribes in Rome in the 150s, when editing the New Testament as we know it, forgot to edit out certain crucial passages that were inconsistent with their Pauline theory of salvation. Jesus and James taught that the one who did acts of mercy for the hungry, the wrongly imprisoned, the widowed, the orphaned, and single mothers—those who lived an ethical life—would have a place in the world to come. (Matthew 25:35-46; James 2.)
As gentile Christianity developed in Antioch and Ephesus and quickly became the Christian majority, it diverged from its Hebrew origins—for example, allowing wealthy slave owners and members of the Roman army to become Christians. The anti-Roman sentiments of the original Judeo-Christians were suppressed; the Romans were exonerated for the crucifixion of Jesus. The Jews as a group were blamed for it instead (Matthew 27:24-25), an error which shows how far from the facts the final editors of the gospels had gone. If Jews participated in killing Jesus, it was probably the same small Herodian, Sadducean, and priestly sects which later killed Stephen and James, not the Jews as a whole or the Pharisees, from whom today’s Judaism is descended.
When the four gentile gospels in our Bible were written and finally edited, a series of bloody Roman wars against the Jews (66-72 C.E, 115-117 C.E., and 132-135 C.E.) were raging or had just ended, and Jews were despised by many for making trouble and costing the lives of so many young Roman soldiers. Gentile Christians set out in their gospels to trace their origins to Judaism but at the same time to disassociate themselves from Judaism. The first Vatican in Jerusalem had been destroyed or scattered, and so the Gentile Church was free to go its own way and completely redefine Christianity.
Gentile Christians, freed after the destruction of Jerusalem from supervision by the church of James, adopted ideas from Mithraism, eventually declaring Jesus to be an actual god who had been born miraculously on December 25, the birthday of Mithra. They introduced the drinking of wine in the communion. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident: The Origin and Development of the Essene-Christian Faith, p. 182 f.) They also allowed the eating of meat at least on certain days. (See the section of this book entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 184.)
Eusebius says the Jerusalem Christians heeded Jesus’ prophesy regarding the destruction of the city (Matthew 23:37, 24:2, 16, 34) and wisely fled at some time before the Roman armies of Vespasian and Titus surrounded the city. (The Complete Works of Josephus, tr. William Whiston, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, 9:3, p. 587; see Matthew 5:9, Luke 14: 31-32; Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, Book 3, 5:3, p. 68.)
If Eusebius was right, the Jerusalem church escaped to Pella, which lay to the east of the Sea of Galilee, and after the Jewish War returned to Jerusalem. With James dead, the surviving apostles and disciples and the “heirs,” the Desposyni, Jesus’ family, met and selected Simon, son of Clopas, who probably had been Joseph’s brother, to succeed to the leadership. Simon died at 120 years of age while being tortured by the Romans under Trajan around the year 107 C.E. We can assume Simon was also a vegetarian. (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, Book 3, 32, p. 95.)
However, scholars such as Hyam Maccoby (Revolution in Judea) suggest that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem remained there, fought the Romans and mostly were killed off. His reasoning is that if the Jerusalem church had survived as a group, even though it had relocated, it would have retained its position over Christendom as the first Vatican it was, just as the rabbis of Jerusalem retained their leadership of world Judaism despite their relocation to Jamnia in 70 C.E. The problem with this theory is that mainline Judaism was a licensed and recognized religion or ethnic group. Judeo-Christianity, on the other hand, was an upstart offshoot of Judaism. Its adherents believed that their messiah-king would return and overthrow Roman rule, and so they were the subject of Roman persecution during this period and on the run from time to time. This is why the Jerusalem church lost control over gentile Christianity. (See the section entitled Later Followers of Jesus Refused to Fight the Romans, p. 184.)
THE FAMILY OF JESUS, THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN CALIPHATE
Jesus had brothers named James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, and unnamed sisters. (Mark 6:3.) There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that they were anything but his full brothers and sisters by Joseph and Mary. Except for the virgin birth stories awkwardly stitched onto the beginning of Matthew and Luke, there is no other shred of evidence in the New Testament that Jesus was anything other than the legitimate and natural-born son of Joseph and Mary, who were married before Jesus was conceived.
Our Gospel of Mark says that Jesus had been a carpenter: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3.) However, Origen (writing around 245-250) insists that “… in none of the Gospels current in the Churches is Jesus Himself ever described as being a carpenter.” (Origen Against Celsus, 6:36, Anti-Nicene Fathers, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Vol. IV, p. 589, www.newadvent.org/fathers/04166.htm.) The original version probably asked, “Is this not the son of the carpenter Joseph and Mary…?” In parallel passages Jesus is referred to as “Joseph’s son” or as the “carpenter’s son.” (Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22; John 6:42.) Proto-Mark probably said Jesus was “Joseph’s son” or the “carpenter’s son.” The writers of Matthew and Luke copied from Proto-Mark. The editor in Rome in the 150s changed the text of Proto-Mark as he prepared the final Mark but forgot to change it in Matthew and Luke.
Here the motive of the editor who did the revision was to de-emphasize Joseph as the physical father of Jesus and the account that Jesus had brothers and sisters in order to support Jesus’ status as having been the son of god. The change was probably made in the time of Marcion around 150 or when Constantine asked Eusebius to prepare a hundred copies of the Bible around 325, after Origen’s day. The first Judeo-Christians never regarded Jesus as having been sired by a deity or being a deity. To them he was the adopted son of god in the same sense that each king of Israel had been adopted as god’s son and thus his authorized representative. (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; Mark 1:11; Acts 10:38, 13:33; Hebrews 1:5, 5:5.) Jesus probably believed, once he accepted his messiahship, that he was god’s authorized representative and adopted son. Jesus may have learned carpentry, but probably his first profession was that of physician, as it appears that he first came to fame as a healer. (John M. Allegro, Physician, Heal Thyself.) Perhaps he was a follower of Pythagoras and the Pythagorean physician Hippocrates.
The story of the virgin birth was taken from mystery religion sagas and grafted onto the Jesus story apparently to make it more appealing to gentiles and to explain to them how Jesus was “son of god.” For Jesus to be son of god, Mary would have had to abstain from sex with Joseph at least until after Jesus was born. And so she did in the virgin birth stories added to the beginning of Matthew and Luke. However, elsewhere Jesus is simply the “son of Joseph” or “son of the carpenter,” with no mention of a virgin birth. (Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22; John 6:42.) In Matthew 1:25 Joseph did not “know” Mary until after Jesus was born, implying that he did have sex with her after Jesus was born. The Catholic teaching that Mary was a perpetual virgin and never dirtied herself with sex is post-Biblical.
Paul apparently knew nothing of the virgin birth, for he did not mention it, although the theory would have supported his cosmic messiah theology. John too knew nothing of it, although it would have supported his preexistent logos theology.
In order to protect the virgin birth story, Eusebius, Constantine’s assistant in the consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church, rationalized away the plain statements in the gospels that Joseph was the physical father of Jesus by suggesting that Joseph had fathered Jesus’ brothers and sisters through a prior marriage. (Eusebius, Church History, 1:7.) The Protoevangelium of James had said the same.
Jesus and James were both said to have been born Nazarites, and the first-born was often dedicated as a Nazarite, so either Jesus or James could have been first-born. (Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:15; Epiphanius, Panarion, 29:3:9-29:4:4, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 112-119.)
There were tensions between Jesus and his friends and family. They went out to seize him, allegedly believing he was “beside himself.” (Mark 3:21, 3:31; John 7:3-10.) On the other hand, the family was disappointed in him for not proclaiming himself more aggressively. (John 7:3.)
Eusebius said there were 15 known Judeo-Christian bishops of Jerusalem, with their line ending in 135 C.E., at the time Bar Kokhba was defeated, and when all Jews, including Judeo-Christians, were banished from Jerusalem. At that point Markus appears as the first gentile bishop of a completely gentile Jerusalem church. The Judeo-Christian church apparently survived for several hundred years more, for in the time of Constantine, there was again a Nazaraean church in Jerusalem. (Eusebius: The History of the Church, tr. Williamson, 3:11, 3:32, 4:6, 5:12, pp. 79, 95, 108, 157; Bellarmino Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision, p. 9 ff.) Epiphanius says that by the time of the Council of Caesarea in 196 C.E., “the bishops of the circumcision had disappeared,” meaning the Gentile bishops had excluded them from their communion. (Patrologia Graeca 42:355-56, as cited by Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision, p. 10.) Eusebius said that about this time Theodotus the carpenter, a Judeo Christian, was expelled from the Roman church. (Church History 5:28.)
The kinsman of Jesus, the Desposyni, or heirs, continued to rule as a caliphate over all the Judeo-Christian synagogue churches. According to Jesuit scholar and novelist Malachi Martin, they were last heard from in 318, when they appeared before Pope Sylvester in Rome to demand that the bishoprics of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Alexandria be returned to them, cities where apparently there were many Ebionite Christians. Sylvester firmly declined. Roman soldiers then drove the Desposyni off their farms and out of their churches and hunted them down and tortured and killed them. (Malachi Martin, S.J., The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church, p. 40 ff.) Martin cites no authorities for anything in this fascinating book. There is not one single footnote. I find no verification for this assertion elsewhere. Martin is now dead. If you know where Martin got such information, please send me an e-mail.
THE DA VINCI CODE
Dan Brown’s suggests that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, that they had a daughter, that a long secret line of Merovingian rulers was descended from her, and that direct descendants of Jesus and Mary survive to this day. Some theorize that Jesus was married because celibacy would have been uncommon for any Jewish man and especially for a rabbi. While this was true of most Jews, it was not true of the Essenes, among whom celibacy was allowed and valued. James, brother of Jesus, was celibate for life, and so it is not unreasonable that Jesus could have been celibate too. The gentile Christians were completely out of touch with Ebionite Christians who would have known the details of Jesus’ life.
Brown is correct in saying that Jesus was first regarded as a prophet, that the Catholic Church “stole Jesus from his original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power.” He is correct in saying that the Catholic Church burned books which contradicted Nicene orthodoxy. However, he gets a lot of the details wrong.
Brown says that until Constantine called the Council of Nicea, Christians considered Jesus a mere prophet. No, the christological inflation began with Paul and was almost complete by the time of John, author of the Gospel of John. What happened at Nicea was that theories that Jesus was only slightly less than fully divine were denounced.
Brown blames Constantine for the book burning, but it was under Theodosius, half a century later that it began. Brown says Constantine shifted the Christian day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday. Constantine did make Sunday an official holiday, however, Christians in the West had long before abandoned the Sabbath, while Christians in the East observed both days.
Brown has much to say about how Jesus and Mary Magdalene formed a family and had a daughter, about how Mary and their daughter fled to France where they were sheltered by Jewish families and later intermarried with royalty, and how the Roman church has constantly pursued them and their secret books. Brown goes a galloping off on this unlikely and unprovable story.
But Brown completely misses another, equally amazing, but true story about the real family of Jesus, the Desposyni, descended from Joseph and Mary and from Jesus’ full brothers, sisters, and uncles. A much more plausible fantasy novel would tell a story of Judeo-Christians descended from Jesus’ known relatives who went into hiding and who might survive today, perhaps in possession of the original gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic.
Brown has much to say about Leonardo, but not one word about an aspect of Leonardo that was very important to him, his vegetarianism. One researcher says that only two of 50 biographies of Leonardo even mention his vegetarianism. Nor does Brown, when he mentions the Albigensian Cathari, alleged guardians of the grail tradition, say anything about their vegetarianism.
I have no special information regarding the Priory of Zion, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, or the Masons. Brown’s information regarding these groups may be as slipshod as his information about the other items outlined above. The Da Vinci Code is just another novel with a tiresome chase scene.
FOUR WINGS OF THE JERUSALEM CHURCH,
TWO OF THEM VEGETARIAN
According to my hypothesis, the original wing of the Jerusalem “church” under James were the Hebrew Essene of the same vegetarian orientation as Jesus. They were observant Jews who believed that animal sacrifice was not a requirement in Judaism and moreover that an end to the sacrificial system was the immediate goal of the messiah and his followers. Another goal was to return the world to the vegetarian diet of Adam. Another was to break the cycle of violence and return the world to the state of relative peace that prevailed before the invasions of the patriarchs. Another was to end political repression: They wanted to break free of the Romans and establish a Davidian kingship, although they believed that kingship would come only when the Jewish people were morally worthy.
I presume that Essene converts to Christianity, although extremely observant in their own way, took a critical approach to the Old Testament, because their heirs, the Ebionites, actually rejected as later additions those sections of the Torah—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—which required animal sacrifice:
But that He is not pleased with sacrifices is shown by this, that those who lusted after flesh were slain as soon as they tasted it, and were consigned to a tomb, so that it was called the grave of lusts [Numbers 11:34]. He then who at the first was displeased with the slaughtering of animals, not wishing them to be slain, did not ordain sacrifices as desiring them; nor from the beginning did He require them. For neither are sacrifices accomplished without the slaughter of animals, nor can the first-fruits be presented. But how is it possible for Him to abide in darkness, and smoke, and storm (for this also is written), who created a pure heaven and created the sun to give light to all…?. (The Clementine Homilies, 3:50, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 247, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc2.v.xv.v.html.)
The Ebionites stressed being “good money-changers,” meaning that one should examine writings critically and disregard what is spurious. (The Clementine Homilies, 2:41, 44, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 237; Ibid., 3:42, p. 246; Ibid., 3:47, p. 247.) We can presume that the Judeo-Christian Essenes and the Nazoraeans before them took the same attitude.
There was a second group of Jerusalem Christian, the Hellenists. (Acts 6:1, 9:29.) Stephen was a Hellenist. These were Judeo-Christians who probably had grown up outside Judea, who spoke Greek as their first language, and who spoke Hebrew and Aramaic only as second languages. It is likely that some or all of these Hellenists were from Lake Mareotis in the Nile delta near Alexandria, where there was a large colony of Greek-speaking Essenes. My hypothesis is that Stephen and the Hellenists were Therapeutae, a Greek speaking branch of the Essene movement, which was vegetarian. Paul participated in the killing of Stephen, and Hellenists tried to kill Paul. (Acts 8:1, 9:29. See the sections of this book entitled The Therapeutae, p. 88, and Stephen, Hellenist, Foe of the Sacrificial System, p. 98.)
The third group would have been those Pharisees who became Christians. (Acts 15:5.) Pharisees Christians might have been vegetarian only on fast days. (Luke 18:12; see the section of this chapter entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157.) They stressed strict observance of Torah—the first five books of the Bible—and Talmudic tradition, including requirements that animals be sacrificed and meat eaten on the Sabbath—although Jewish scholars say meat eating was and is optional. For Pharisees not to follow these customs would have violated their conscience. The church was growing, and non-vegetarians such as Pharisees joined. Pharisees were more numerous than Essenes. It is not clear how many Pharisees and other Jews in the Diaspora accepted Jesus as Messiah.
The observant Pharisee would have believed that at minimum he should be allowed to eat meat on the Sabbath because it was a day of festival. One was to be happy on the Sabbath, and Talmudists had a hard time imagining how a person could be happy without eating meat. Their interpretation of the Talmud required that they eat at least a tiny morsel of meat of a definite minimal size on the Sabbath.
A fourth wing would have been the priests who joined the Ebionite movement. (Acts 6:7.) The apostle John was probably a priest. (John 18:15.) Some priests were Pharisees; some were Sadducees. Because priests had a stake in the animal sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple, we would presume they would not have been entirely sympathetic to the vegetarianism of the founders, but that they would have kept the two days per week vegetarian fast. (See Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157.)
I suggest that James and the other leaders of the mother church either chose not to make vegetarianism a strict requirement for all its members or that they lacked complete control over the new Judeo-Christian “church.” Converts of Essene, Pharisee, Hellenist, and even gentile background were being born again, filled with the Holy Spirit, an experience which inspired confidence and was viewed as validating even gentile and meat-eating converts as authentic. The leadership of the mother church was probably unable to exclude or reform these meat eaters, especially after the dispersion of the Jerusalem church and the disruption of its leadership in 70 C.E. Remember too that the Jerusalem “church” was still a sect of Judaism and that its members were still worshiping in the Temple. (Acts 2:42-46.) There could have been various sects of messianic Judaism.
I suggest that the leadership came up with a rule that exhorted all followers of Jesus to abstain completely from meat. I suggest that the rule could not be rigidly enforced, however. The rule which the Jerusalem leadership did try to enforce rigidly was that, at minimum followers of Jesus should not eat meat offered to idols and animals strangled, that is worked or killed in a non-humane way. The Didache might reflect this rule:
And concerning food, bear what thou art able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly on thy guard; for it is the service of dead gods. (The Teachings of the Apostles, 6:2-3, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 378; www.earlychristianwritings.com.)
The same theme, “bear what you are able,” appears elsewhere. (Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25; Revelation 2:19-25; The Recognitions of Clement, 4:36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8,
I suggest that the Jerusalem leadership encouraged or required all to be vegetarian at least two days each week on Jewish fast days as a reminder of Jesus’ vegetarianism and the eventual goal of the messiah, which was a completely vegetarian diet. Jews had a long standing tradition of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12), and such a two day per week fast, with no food at all until 3 p.m. and no meat the entire day, would have been acceptable to Pharisee and priest Christians. Information on what Jews did and did not eat in the period leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and in the two centuries thereafter is hard to find. The Talmud makes no mention of Jews fasting two days each week, and Jewish reference books simply cite Luke 18:12 when discussing pre-rabbinic fasting. (See Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157.)
James led the Jerusalem Church only from around 30 C.E. to 62 C.E., and after that date the Judeo-Christian church was disorganized and on the run from the Romans. The surviving uncles, brothers, and nephews of Jesus were pursued off and on. After Jerusalem’s destruction, Pharisee Christians probably outnumbered Essene Christians, and soon gentile Christians outnumbered them both. It gradually became easy to ignore the earliest Jewish Christians and their vegetarianism.
THE JUDEO-CHRISTIANS, BETWEEN THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL
The vegetarian James, the brother of Jesus, was assassinated in 62 C.E., Eusebius says that at some time before Jerusalem was besieged in 68 C.E., the Jerusalem church en masse fled Jerusalem. Some scholars question Eusebius’ account and say the Judeo-Christians would have stayed and died with their fellow Jews. (Hyam Maccoby, Revolution in Judea.) However, Jesus had not returned, and the Judeo-Christians would have been unlikely to fight for any other messiah, just as they refused to fight for Simon Bar Kokhba in 132 C.E. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., as Jesus had predicted. (Matthew 24:15; Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, 3:5, tr. G.A. Williamson, p. 68.) The conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the burning of the Temple undercut the authority of the Judeo-Christian leadership. Jerusalem had been the church’s first Vatican, and from the death of James in 62 C.E. there was a leadership vacuum.
The Judeo-Christians had problems on both flanks. The rapidly-growing gentile Christian church soon outgrew it and began to go its own way. The gentile church rejected Judeo-Christian teachings and customs: the idea that Jesus was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary; the teaching that gentiles ought to obey at least the laws of Noah, including the 7th Commandment against cruelty to animals.
The Jewish leadership, on the other hand, at various times and in various regions sometimes tolerated and sometimes shunned Judeo-Christians. Under Roman law, they held legal jurisdiction over any Christians who still held themselves out to be Jews. Paul had been a zealous persecutor of Judeo-Christians before his conversion, taking orders from the high priest. (Acts 9:1 ff.)
The chief priest of Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin court had ruled over Judaism throughout the Roman Empire, collecting a tax of one shekel per year per Jew. After the conquest, the Romans still collected the tax but kept it; the Sanhedrin was dissolved; and there were no more high priests. Shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Pharisaic Rabbis obtained permission from Vespasian to set up an academy at Jamnia (Jabneh), not far from Jerusalem. Judaism was reformulated as the rabbinic Judaism we know today. The Rabbis had to make a decision about the Christians. Judaism had experienced a monumental disaster, and without its Temple, it had to define itself clearly.
The rabbis, always open to the possibility that a messiah would appear, had tolerated the Judeo-Christians for a time. (Acts 5:34.) However, the gentile Christians were making exaggerated claims about Jesus, adopting from mystery religions such as Mithraism the theory that Jesus was god incarnate. To the rabbis this was idolatry—treating something or someone as god who was not god. Gentile Christians claimed that Jesus had been born of a virgin, as other religions claimed of their saviors—Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and the mystery religions such as the cult of Dionysus. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, pp. 154, 182 ff., 470.) The idea of the spirit of god having physical intercourse with a human woman was unthinkable to Jews.
Gentile Christians claimed that Christianity had supplanted Judaism and that they had been the true Jews. These were claims the Rabbis rejected, and although Judeo-Christians rejected them too, the rabbis apparently chose to condemn the Judeo-Christians along with the gentile Christians. Around 100 C.E., Rabbi Gamaliel II added a prayer to the liturgy, the Birkat-ha-Minim. It cursed the minim or heretics. It is not clear who is being referred to by the word minim, Judeo-Christians, Pauline Christians, or Christians generally. Jews would have had no jurisdiction over gentile Christians because they made no claim to being Jewish. So minim probably refers to the Judeo-Christians. The Judeo-Christians held to no un-Jewish notions about Jesus, but were presumably shunned because of what the gentile Christians believed about Jesus. Nevertheless, Judeo-Christians could not say this prayer, so it effectively excluded them from the synagogues.
Judaism had long been a missionary religion, and it had made enormous numbers of converts and semi-converts among the gentiles. Now gentile Christians were in direct competition with rabbinic Jews and with Judeo-Christians for those converts. Non-Christian Pharisee missionaries and gentile Christian missionaries were bitter rivals in the period after 70 C.E. Presumably Ebionite Jamesian missionaries would have been out of the picture. It was during this period that the gentile gospels were first being collected and written down, although they would be further edited later, and this is probably one reason why they contain such hateful condemnation of the Pharisees and the Jews generally. Compare the book of James, written much earlier by James the brother of Jesus, which contains no such anti-Jewish slurs. Another reason for the anti-Judaism of the gospels is that gentile Christians wanted to disassociate themselves from Jews who had risen up against Rome so frequently.
All religions had to receive a Roman license to practice freely, own property, and receive inheritances. Judaism was such a legally recognized religion or nationality, and it remained so after 70 C.E. It continued to be the only nationality or religion which was exempt from the requirement that its members sacrifice to the pagan gods. Judaism was recognized to be ancient, and Greeks and Romans had a degree of respect for ancient things. When the gentile and Jewish Christians were excommunicated by the Jewish leadership, they lost the protected status the Jews enjoyed. Christians became subject to Roman prosecution for “atheism,” their rejection of all the gods except their own. (James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism, p. 62, 77 ff., 85 ff.)
The rebellion of 66-70 C.E. had arisen spontaneously. It briefly had a messianic claimant, but he was killed early on. It’s leaders fought among themselves as much as they fought the Romans. Around 115 C.E. under Hadrian, there was a major revolt in Alexandria, Cyprus, and Lybia led by Lucwas (Leucas Andreas). In 132-135 C.E. under Trajan, there was a much better organized Jewish revolution led by Simon Bar Kokhba, who was declared by the noted Rabbi Akiba, to be the messiah. The Judeo-Christians refused to fight, as they had in 66-70 C.E. “Bar Kokhba, leader of the Jewish insurrection, ordered the Christians alone to be sentenced to terrible punishments if they did not deny Jesus Christ and blaspheme Him.” (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, 4:8, tr. G.A. Williamson, p. 111.) I assume that Judeo-Christian were deeply disappointed that the fellow Jews they so admired could treat them so badly.
With the second conquest of Jerusalem in 135 C.E., the city was leveled, rebuilt as a Roman city, and renamed Aelia Capitolina. A gentile Christian church was set up with a gentile bishop, Markus. Emperor Hadrian exiled all Jews from this new city, including the Judeo-Christians. (Bellarmino Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision, p. 6-9; James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue, a Study in the Origins of Anti-Semitism, pp. 92 ff.) The Judeo-Christians were marginalized and ignored by the orthodox church. Later would come the confiscation of their books and their synagogue-church properties under the Great Church as reorganized and supported by emperors Constantine and Theodosius.
Gentile Christians quickly came to outnumber Judeo-Christians. Whereas, in the early years of Christianity, James had sent out supervisors (Galatians 2:12; Acts 15:2) and all Christendom had referred its questions to the mother church in Jerusalem, gentile Christians now had nowhere to turn. The gentile church went in a dozen different directions doctrinally. The Roman church had not yet assumed the place the Jerusalem church had held and would not do so for centuries. Judeo-Christians had at first regarded gentile Christians as heretics. The tables were turned and gentile Christians came to regard Judeo-Christian as heretics who foolishly kept to the Jewish law and refused to eat flesh food. Some Judeo-Christians returned to Judaism. Some joined the gentile Christian movement and lost their Jewish identities after a few generations. In the 600s C.E., many converted to Islam, possibly those who had come from the Pharisee and priest wings of the movement.
In Canon 2 of the Council of Gangra in 340 C.E., the bishops, by this time gentiles only, condemned those who taught vegetarianism. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident: The Origin and Development of the Essene-Christian Faith, p. 635; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.viii.iii.iii.i.html; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3804.htm.)
JOHN THE APOSTLE, AUTHOR OF REVELATION, FOE OF PAUL
It is easy to write off the book of Revelation as the incomprehensible ravings of a man who was extremely angry about something, although it is not clear what. However, a few things about it are clear. There are numerous references in Revelation to events occurring soon, including Jesus’ return. (1:1, 2:16, 3:9-11, 11:14, 22:6, 7, 12, 20.) The number 666 or 616 is used probably to refer to Nero (13:18), who was assassinated in 69 C.E. Others say this is a reference to Paul. These factors call for an early date to the book, before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Revelation is written in the worst Greek of any New Testament book, and it includes definite pro-James, pro-Peter, anti-Paul statements. These factors make it probable that it was written by a Jewish Christian and not a gentile Christian. It is highly unlikely that it was written by the same John who wrote the gospel of John because the gospel is written in excellent Greek and presents a very different theology.
Bearing this in mind, let’s review selected passages, noting the phrases in italics:
[To the Ephesians, where Paul had evangelized, 2:2-4:] [Y]ou cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false…?. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first…?.
[To the church at Smyrna, 2:9:] I know… the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
[To the church at Pergamum, 2:14-15:] [Y]ou have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality…?.
[To Thyatira, 2:20-25:] [Y]ou tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols…?. But to the rest of you in Thyatira who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; only hold fast what you have, until I come”…
[To Philadelphia, 3:9:] Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not… bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you.
Recall that James had ruled that gentile Christian converts were not to eat meat from sacrifices in the pagan temples. (Acts 15:20, 21:25.) Paul went about teaching that there was no problem eating meat offered to idols. (1 Corinthians 8; Compare Genesis 9:3-4; Leviticus 3:17; Deuteronomy 12:16;The Recognitions of Clement, 4:36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 142-143.) Paul scoffed at James’ ruling that gentile Christians should not eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul had said,
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience…?. (1 Corinthians 10:23 ff., 8:4-13; Romans 14:1 ff.)
The John who wrote Revelation condemns Paul’s position. He refers to those who taught it was acceptable to eat idol meat as not Jews in actuality but instead a “synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9, 3:9.) Recall that Judeo-Christians denied Paul was really Jewish. The writer of Revelation is almost certainly damning Paul. (Revelation 2:2,14,20.)
Note the “no greater burden” theme, which I believe means that Christians should try to be vegetarians or be vegetarian at least two days a week, but in any case not eat animals killed inhumanely or as part of pagan sacrifices. (See the sections of this book entitle The Burden Theme, “Bear What Thou Art Able,” p. 158, and Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157. The Teachings of the Apostles, 6:2-3, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 378; Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25; Revelation 2:19-25; The Recognitions of Clement, 4:36, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 142-143.)
The story of Balaam is a reference to Numbers 25:2, the point where some Israelites ate meat, perhaps for the first time after their 40 years of vegetarian wandering in the wilderness of Sinai.
I suggest that an editor substituted “Jezebel” as a code word for “Paul,” Just as the term “enemy” was substituted for “Paul” in the Clementina. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:70-71, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 95 f.; Epistle of Peter to James, 2, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 215.) Jezebel was queen of Israel under Ahab, a worshiper of Baal. She slew all the prophets of Jehovah she could find and put out a death warrant for Elijah. (1 Kings 18-19.) Likewise, before his conversion, Paul took part in the assassination of Stephen and the attempted assassination of James. He arrested Judeo-Christians on behalf of the Temple priests. (Acts 8:3.)
The author of Revelation taught that Jesus would return to reign a thousand years and that Jesus’ followers who had died would be reincarnated. (Revelation 20:4.) This would constitute a statement that it is possible to achieve justice here on earth and that our work here on earth is not solely to prepare for the next life. (Romans 5:12-18, 7:14-8:2, 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Ephesians 2:2, 6:11-16; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 3:8-10, 4:3, 5:19.) Paul and his disciples opposed the concept of reincarnation. (Hebrews 9:26-28.) A possible return of the messiah-king would constitute a threat to Rome.
There are numerous references in Revelation to white hair, white robes, white garments, a white stone, a white horse, a white cloud, a white throne. (1:14, 2:17, 3:4, 3:5, 3:18, 4:4, 6:2, 6:11, 7:9, 7:13, 7:14, 14:14, 19:11, 19:14, 20:11.) Recall that the Essenes wore white robes and that this white theme appears frequently in connection with Jesus. (Matthew 17:2, 28:3; Mark 16:5; John 20:12, Acts 1:10; The Complete Works of Josephus, tr. William Whiston, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.3, 2.8.7, p. 476 f.) Recall that the Essenes were vegetarian. All such factors would indicate that the John who wrote Revelation had Essene and vegetarian sympathies and was very bitter about what the renegade Paul was doing to his church.
JOHN THE ELDER, AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
The Gospel of John is different from any other book in the New Testament. In it Jesus speaks with the perfection and polish of someone who wrote ornate speeches in advance of delivering them. The book reads like a theological poem. The Greek is perfect koine or conversational Greek. Parts of it exhibit the simplest Greek of the New Testament. John was the first book of the Bible we studied in first year Greek back in college. Intermixed with the theological poetry is a narrative which contains details which are sometimes more believable than those found in the Synoptics.
Scholars agree that John was written around the year 100 C.E. in Ephesus. Few, however, seem to be aware that the book was written specifically to refute the gnostic Cerinthus. Cerinthus claimed that the supreme and good god created Jehovah, who was an inferior god or demiurge. Jehovah in turn created the world and did the evil things mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus was not the son of Jehovah but was son of the supreme, good god. (“Cerinthus,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1958, p. 258; “Cerinthus,” Catholic Encyclopedia, www.newadvent.org.) Church Father Irenaeus (120-202) said of the author of the Gospel of John:
John, the disciple of the Lord… seeks… by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men… and persuade them that there is but one God, who made all things by his Word; and not, as they allege, that the Creator was one, but the Father of the Lord another…?. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, 3: 11, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 426.)
Jerome (342-420) says regarding the author of the Gospel of John:
When he was in Asia, at the time when the seeds of heresy were springing up (I refer to Cerinthus, Ebion, and the rest who say that Christ has not come in the flesh),… he was urged by almost all the bishops of Asia… to write more profoundly concerning the divinity of the Savior, and to break through all obstacles so as to attain to the very Word of God… with a boldness as successful as it appears audacious. [H]e replied that he would do so if a general fast were proclaimed… and when the fast was over… being filled with revelation, he burst into the heaven-sent Preface; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jerome, Prefaces, The Commentaries, “Matthew,” Schaff and Wace, eds., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI, p. 495, www.ccel.org.)
Note that the Gospel of John comes to a logical conclusion at the end of chapter 20 and that chapter 21 appears to have been added later. Chapter 21 contains a lengthy fish story in which Jesus has cooked fish and tells his followers where to catch more fish. The number of fish caught is 153. This number has Pythagorean, mathematical significance. (See the section of this book entitled What About The Fish Stories? More Tampering with the Texts, p. 191.) John the Elder wrote the book to affirm the full divinity of Jesus and refute gnosticism and docetism (the theory that Jesus only “seemed” to die). Maybe whoever added chapter 21 wrote it also to refute vegetarianism.
THE GNOSTIC CHRISTIANS
Gnosticism (from gnosis, knowledge) existed before Christianity. Aspects of it were present in Judaism, Pythagoreanism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. To some extent Jesus himself was gnostic, speaking in cryptic parables which he explained only to his closest followers. Orthodox Christianity had high regard for gnosis for mature Christians, as a reading of Clement of Alexandria will show.
Gnosticism grew like blackberry vines among so-called heretics. Gnostics believed in a series of levels of gods, referred to as aeons. Gnostics said there was a primary, uncreated god above all, who created a demiurge, who then created lesser gods. There were two to 30 to 365 different levels of gods. The uncreated god was always good, while lesser, created gods were often evil. Some gnostic Christians considered the god of the Jews to be an evil demiurge, a lower level, created god, and Jesus to be a lower level but good god. Jesus was the logos of the uncreated, good god. He was sent to overcome the demiurge. The gnostics had a valid point: Jehovah had ordered and allowed some really brutal things.
Gnostics tended to interpret certain fundamental Christian doctrines symbolically. Jesus’ death and resurrection did not really happen; they were symbolic of the death of our former selves and our rebirth as enlightened ones. The gnostic systems of Carpocrates, Basilides, Saturninus, Marcion, Valentinian, Theodotus, Noetus, Sabellius, and Manes varied greatly. Orthodox Christian theologians were frustrated by their inability to put their finger on the endlessly mutating varieties of gnostic theology. Gnostics continued to receive new inspiration and continued to elaborate new theories. Gnostics refused to submit to the structure which orthodox bishops were imposing. Christianity from the beginning broke into dozens of disunited sects, and orthodox theologians vigorously opposed heresy, particularly gnostic heresy. When Christianity became the official Roman religion, the state expropriated the property and books of Manichaeans and other gnostics, exiled some, and murdered others.
At the same time the orthodox church struggled against gnostic heretics, it struggled to stabilize its own position as to who Jesus had been. The orthodox Christians varied as much in their christological views as did the gnostics, and so the two struggles were part of the same theological war. To what extent was Jesus god or human? Were his divine and human natures separate or united? Resolution of these debates came with such councils as those of Nicea and Constantinople and their exceedingly complex and abstract doctrines. The resolution of the christological debate produced two results: the orthodox Christian church as we know it and the end of the gnostic Christians and the Judeo-Christians.
In our tolerant day, we would class the gnostics as just another New Age movement. In their personal behavior, the gnostics generally lived pious lives and were highly ethical, making great provision for the poor. Some were communists, although not in the Marxist sense. Some rejected sexuality to varying extents. Some gnostic groups were vegetarian, having learned this diet from the Judeo-Christians. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, pp. 532-561.) Gnostics copied much from the Ebionites, to the point where orthodox Fathers confused the two groups and incorrectly accused the Ebionites of being gnostic. Regarding the gnostic Christians who followed Saturninus and Basilides the heresy-hunter Irenaeus said:
Many of those, too, who belong to his school, abstain from animal food, and draw away multitudes by a feigned temperance of this kind. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, p. 349, 26:2, p. 349.)
Regarding the gnostic Christian Encratites, Irenaeus said:
Springing from Saturninus and Marcion, those who are called Encratites (self-controlled)… have also introduced abstinence from animal food, thus proving themselves ungrateful to God, who formed all things. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, p. 353, 28:1.)
Tatian, who assembled the Diatessaron, a four-column, running comparison of the gospels, which was destroyed in the West (probably because it contained none of the genealogies of Matthew and Luke) and which exists only in Persian translation, was a leading Encratite. Hippolytus (died c. 236 C.E.) described the teachings of the Brahmins and said that Tatian derived his theories from the Indian gymnosophists. (Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies, 1:21 and 8; Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten, The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, p. 63, 67, 179, 235.)
Regarding the gnostic Christian Empedocles, heresy fighter Hippolytus said:
[H]e affirms that marriage and procreation are from Satan. The majority, however, of those who belong to this (heretic’s school) abstain from animal food likewise, and by this affectation of asceticism (make many their dupes). (Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5, p. 110, Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 7: 16.)
In his denunciation of Empedocles, Hippolytus said that Marcion had derived his gnosticism from Empedocles and added:
[O]n account of such an arrangement on the part of destructive Discord of this divided world, Empedocles admonishes his disciples to abstain from all sorts of animal food. For he asserts that the bodies of animals are such as feed on the habitations of punished souls. And he teaches those who are hearers of such doctrines (as his), to refrain from intercourse with women. (Ibid., p. 111, 7:16.)
Orthodox Christians declared Gnostic Christians to be heretics, and vegetarianism to be one of their heresies. Gnostics went underground and reappeared later as the Bogomiles, Manichaean Cathari, and Albigenses.
THE MANICHAEANS, BOGOMILES, CATHARI, ALBIGENSES
Mani (216-277 C.E.) grew up in what is now Iraq, under the influence of Zoroastrianism and Mithraism. He was at first a member of the vegetarian Elkasite sect, which was akin to the vegetarian Essenes. He left the Elkasites and founded his own religion, Manichaeism. He wrote his own scriptures and traveled extensively, spreading his teachings. Among the Manichaeans there were two classes of adherents, the elect who were strict vegetarians, nondrinkers, and celibates, and the hearers, who were not held strictly to such standards. The hearers’ goal was to support the elect and aspire to join the elect or to be reincarnated as the elect. Their moral standards were high. Manichaeism spread as far east as China and throughout the Roman Empire. It attracted a large following, threatening the position of the young Orthodox Church. St. Augustine was a Manichaean for nine years before he became a Christian.
The Manichaeans taught that “… the object of… religion was to release the particles of light which Satan had stolen from the world of Light and imprisoned in man’s brain, and that Jesus, Buddha, the Prophets, and Manes had been sent to help in this task.” (“Manes and Manichaeism,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1958 ed., p. 848 f.) Mani taught that this evil world could not have been created by a good god but must have been made by some opposing force. The orthodox church was threatened by such dualistic views.
Marcion’s church merged into Manichaeism. The newly Christianized Roman Empire and the orthodox church persecuted the Manichaeans brutally, expropriating their property and killing them, and they had mostly disappeared in the West by the 400s. In the Near East they were largely absorbed into Islam. However, Manichaeism survived in China until the 1300s. In part so as to win over Manichaeans, Christianity adopted from Manichaeism such doctrines as original sin, “… human depravity, prevenient grace, absolute predestination, purgatory, lay indulgences, an unmarried priesthood, and holy monachist orders…?.” (Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 560 f., 605 f.)
The Bogomiles were a neo-Manichaean sect which prevailed in the Balkans from the 900s into the 1400s. They opposed the priesthood and the centralization of the Greek Orthodox Church and many of its basic doctrines, including baptism, the eucharist, and church buildings. Like the Manichaeans, they were dualists, vegetarians, and nondrinkers.
The Cathari (in Greek “the pure”) were another neo-Manichaean, dualistic sect that flourished in France and Italy in the 1100s and 1200s. They were also known as Albigenses after the town of Albi in southern France, which was one of their major centers. They set up their own church organization with bishops and a liturgy. They believed that the world was evil, that “[m]an was an alien and a sojourner in an evil world; his aim must be to free his spirit, which was in its nature good, and restore it to communion with God.”
There were two classes of Cathari, the perfect and ordinary believers. The perfect practiced a strict vegetarianism, refusing “… meat, milk, eggs, and other animal produce…?.” (“Albigenses,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1966 ed., pp. 30 f.; see Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 547 ff.; www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/3827.) One source says the “perfect” may have eaten fish. (www.newadvent.org/cathen/01267e.htm.)
The “perfect” were greatly admired by Catholic laity because they lived upright lives, in contrast with many dissolute Catholic priests. The Cathari movement attracted many converts. The Church and the state were threatened. A crusade was declared in 1208, and by 1244 the Cathari’s last stronghold in the Pyrenees was taken and they were killed or scattered. A permanent Dominican Inquisition was established to completely eliminate them, which was largely accomplished by the 1300s, however, a few survived in the Rhineland. (“Bogomiles,” Vol. II, p. 117, “Albigenses,” Vol. I, p. 201, “Cathari,” Vol. II, p. 639, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 ed.; “Albigenses,” p. 30 f, “ “Bogomiles,” p. 182, Cathari,” p. 247, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1958 ed.; Colin Spencer, The Heretic’s Feast: A History of Vegetarianism, p. 136 ff.)
Epiphanius says the Elkasites were a Judeo-Christian sect which grew out of the Ossaeans. They were founded, according to Epiphanius, by a man named Elxai, and are classed by some as gnostic. Elkasites were practicing Jews who accepted Jesus as the messiah. They regarded the Holy Spirit as female or feminine. Regarding the Elkasites sect, Epiphanius says:
And mark the fraud’s insanity! He bans burnt offerings and sacrifices, as something foreign to God and never offered to him on the authority of the fathers and Law, and yet he says we must pray towards Jerusalem, precisely where the altar and sacrifices were—though <he> rejects the Jewish custom of eating meat and the rest, and the altar, and fire as being foreign to God! (Epiphanius, Panarion, 19:1:4, 19:3:5-7, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 44-46. Sections in angles are Frank Williams’ interpolations of text that has been lost.)
THE PROLIFIC, ORTHODOX JEROME
St. Jerome (c. 337-420) traveled east of the Jordan, learned Aramaic and Hebrew from Jewish hermits, and came to know the Essenes and the Nazoraeans of Antioch. Later he served as personal secretary to Pope Damasus, and he translated the New Testament into its definitive Latin version, the Vulgate. Jerome was a thoroughly orthodox Latin Church Father. He extolled vegetarianism and appears to have been a vegetarian himself, although he did not insist that all Christians be vegetarians. He said, “We do not deny that fish and other kinds of flesh, if we choose, may be taken as food; but as we prefer virginity to marriage, so do we esteem fasting and spirituality above meats and full-bloodedness.” (Against Jovianus, II, 17, Schaff & Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, p. 401; http://newadvent.org/fathers/30092.htm.)
Jerome tells of the diets of the vegetarians of his day. He lauded the Coenobites, monks who ate only bread, pulse, greens, and salt, and said the Essenes ate in a similar way. (Letter XXII, 35, Schaff & Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, p. 38.) He states:
The superstitious Jews reject certain animals and products as articles of food, while among the Indians the Brahmans and among the Egyptians the Gymnosophists subsist altogether on porridge, rice, and apples.” (Letter CVII, 8, Schaff & Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, p. 193; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001107.htm.)
Jovianus opposed asceticism and favored meat eating. Jerome disagreed and wrote of his debates with Jovianus:
He should know that just as divorce according to the Saviour’s word was not permitted from the beginning, but on concession of Moses to the human race, so too the eating of flesh was unknown until the deluge. But after the deluge, like the quails given in the desert to the murmuring people, the poison of flesh-meat was offered to our teeth…?. At the beginning of the human race we neither ate flesh, nor gave bills of divorce, nor suffered circumcision for a sign. [A]fter the deluge, together with the giving of the law which no one could fulfill, flesh was given for food, and divorce was allowed to hard-hearted men, and the knife of circumcision was applied, as though the hand of God had fashioned us with something superfluous. But once Christ has come in the end of time,… we are no longer allowed divorce, nor are we circumcised, nor do we eat flesh, for the Apostle says, “It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine [Romans 14:21].” For wine as well as flesh was consecrated after the deluge. (Against Jovianus, I, 18, Schaff & Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, p. 360.)
Diogenes maintains that tyrants do not bring about revolutions in cities, and foment wars civil or foreign for the sake of a simple diet of vegetables and fruits, but for costly meats and the delicacies of the table. And, strange to say, Epicurus the defender of pleasure, in all his books speaks of nothing but vegetables and fruits…?. Persons who feed on flesh want also gratifications not found in flesh, but they who adopt a simple diet do not look for flesh…?. The invalid only regains his health by diminishing and carefully selecting his food, i.e., in medical phrase, by adopting a “slender diet.” The same food that recovers health, can preserve it, for no one can imagine vegetables to be the cause of disease…?. Dicaearchus in his book of Antiquities, describing Greece, relates that under Saturn, that is in the Golden Age, no one ate flesh, but every one lived on field produce and fruits…?. Xenophon… asserts that they supported life on barley, cress, salt, and black bread. Both the aforesaid Xenophon, Theophrastus, and almost all the Greek writers testify to the frugal diet of the Spartans…?. Eubulus… relates that among the Persians there are three kinds of Magi, the first of whom, those of greatest learning and eloquence, take no food except meal and vegetables…?. Euripides relates that the prophets of Jupiter in Crete abstained not only from flesh, but also from cooked food…?. Orpheus in his song utterly denounces the eating of flesh…?. But [after the Deluge] when God saw that the heart of man from his youth was set on wickedness continually,… He… gave them liberty to eat flesh; so that while understanding that all things were lawful for them, they might not greatly desire that which was allowed, lest they should turn a commandment into a cause of transgression. (Against Jovianus, II, 11-15, Schaff & Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, p. 396-399.)
The historian Diodorus Siculus equates the age of Greek patriarch Chronos with the time of Saturn: Chronos
… went into many parts of the world and persuaded all, wherever he went, to justice and integrity of heart; and therefore, it is brought down as a certain truth to posterity that in the time of Saturn (Chronos) men were plain and honest, free from all sorts of wicked designs and practices; yea that they were then happy and blessed. (Henry Bailey Stevens, The Recovery of Culture, p. 100, quoting from Diodorus Siculus.)
Jerome’s apparent vegetarianism is laudable. He recognizes it as a healthier diet, however, he does not appear to base his vegetarianism in respect for animals. He supports fasting, by which he means vegetarian fasting, but he rejects the rationale of Pythagoras and his doctrine of the transmigration of souls. On the other hand, according to Szekely, it was Jerome who delivered the Essene Gospel of Peace to the “secret” Vatican Library, and thus one would presume that Jerome understood the moral implications of a vegetarian diet. (Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, The Discovery of the Essene Gospel of Peace, p. 15 ff.)
Chrysostom (c. 347-407 C.E.) served as orthodox bishop of Constantinople from 398-403 C.E. and before that as preacher in Antioch—which had been Paul’s home church. He spoke favorably of Christian vegetarian ascetics:
No streams of blood are among them, no dainty cookery, no heaviness of head. Nor are there horrible smells of flesh-meats among them, disagreeable fumes from the kitchen…?. With their repast of fruits and vegetables, even angels from Heaven, as they behold it, are delighted and pleased. (Quoted by Upton Clary Ewing, Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 148.)
Unfortunately, Chrysostom was also a rabid anti-Semite. Up until his day, Jews and Christians of Antioch were friends. Christians frequented synagogues to celebrate important days of the Jewish calendar. They called on Jewish physicians. They often took their disputes to Jewish courts. Chrysostom changed all that. He declared it the duty of Christians to shun and hate Jews and declared it a sin even to treat them with respect. (“Adversus Judeos,” i.; ed. Migne, i. 848; “Chrysostom,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
EARLY CHRISTIAN FASTING AND THE DIDACHE
Fasting was practiced by the ancient Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, Indians, and others. (“Abstinence,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.) Fasting was endorsed by John the Baptist and Jesus. (Matthew 3:4, 6:16, Mark 1:6, 2:20, 9:29.) It was practiced by the early Christian church. (Acts 13:2 and 14:23, 2 Corinthians 11:27.) There is the suggestion that Jesus’ disciples, unlike the disciples of John, did not fast, but that they would fast after Jesus’ death. (Mark 2:18 ff.) However, Jesus did fast for forty days in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13.)
A fast can be a complete abstinence from all food and water or from all food or from only certain foods. For reasons stated below, it is fairly clear that the early Christian fast was a vegan fast, in which no meat, milk, eggs, or wine was consumed, but only vegetables. Although the Judeo-Christians became an ever-shrinking minority within churches around the Roman empire, the vegan fast of the Judeo-Christians was continued to varying extents by gentile Christians.
One of earliest surviving Christian documents is the Didache. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, pp. 434 ff.) The Didache appears in two versions. The shorter is known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. (Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 377-382.) I have added the words in square brackets as my best interpretation of what was intended by the writer. I quote from the shorter version:
But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week [Mondays and Thursdays, Jewish fast days]. But do ye fast on the fourth day [Wednesday], and [in addition] the Preparation [Friday]…?. (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. 8:1-2, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 379.)
The longer version is imbedded in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. It is worthwhile to compare it:
But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week [Mondays and Thursdays, Jewish fast days]. But do you either fast the entire five days [leading up to the Sabbath, Monday through Friday], or on the fourth day of the week [Wednesday], and [in addition] on the day of the Preparation [Friday], because on the fourth day [Wednesday] the condemnation went out against the Lord, Judas then promising to betray Him for money; and you must fast on the day of the Preparation [the sixth day, Friday], because on that day the Lord suffered the death of the cross under Pontius Pilate. But keep the Sabbath [the seventh day, Saturday], and the Lord’s day [the first day, Sunday] festival; because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection. But there is only one Sabbath to be observed by you in the whole year, which is that of our Lord’s burial, on which men ought to keep a fast, but not a festival. (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 7:23, which quotes the Didache, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 465 ff.
Note that the longer version includes the option of fasting Monday through Friday and in addition on the one Sabbath of the year which occurs during Holy Week. Both versions probably derived from an earlier original. I suggest that at some point the choice was this: 1) fast Monday through Friday and one Saturday per year, plus during additional fasting periods such as Lent; or 2) fast Wednesday and Friday and one Saturday per year, plus during additional fasting periods.
Note the reference to hypocrites fasting on the second and fifth days, Mondays and Thursdays; Jews fasted on those days. The Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18:12 claimed to be righteous because he tithed and fasted twice each week. (“Fasting and Fast Days,” Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 6, p. 1193, 1971 ed.). This reference, combined with the predominantly Jewish character of the Didache, would indicate that it was originally a Jewish document which was rewritten by Judeo-Christians and again by a sect which regarded Jews as
It is clear from the Didache that fasting was common among early Christians, but the Didache does not itself specify what food was not to be eaten as part of the fast. It is clear from other sources that when one fasted, he completely abstained from all food for part of the day and from animal-based food the rest of the day. Although the custom was gradually abandoned in the Catholic West,
in the Greek and other [Eastern] Churches the practice of abstinence (xhrojagia, [xerophagia], ‘dry food’) is far more rigid. It extends to all Wednesdays and Fridays of the year, all days of the Major [Lent] Fast including Sundays, and several other periods, bringing up the number of days of abstinence to about 150; and not only meat, but fish, eggs, milk, cheese, oil, and wine are also forbidden. (“Abstinence,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 8; see also “Fasts and Fasting,” p. 495.)
For early gentile Christians the days of Lent, approximately 40 days leading up to Easter, were days of fasting:
During the early centuries the observance of the fast was very strict. Only one meal a day, taken towards evening, was allowed, and flesh-meat and fish, and in most places also eggs and lacticinia [milk-based foods], were absolutely forbidden. From the 9th cent. onwards the practice began to be considerably relaxed…?. Fish was allowed throughout the Middle Ages, and from the 15th cent. abstinence from lacticinia came to be more and more generally dispensed. (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Lent,” p. 797, citing H. Thurston, S.J., Lent and Holy Week (1904) and J. Dowden, The Church Year and Calendar (1910), pp. 79-85.)
In recent centuries Catholics abstained on Fridays from all meats except fish. Even this restriction was abrogated by the Vatican II council in the 1960s. Orthodox churches continue the vegan fast to varying extents.
A wealth of information regarding diet in Jesus’ day can be found on the Internet in Jerome H. Neyrey’s article entitled Reader’s Guide to Meals, Food and Table Fellowship in the New Testament: http://www.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/meals.html:
Meat and poultry were expensive and rarely eaten by peasants. Most people ate it only on feast days or holidays, though temple priests ate it in abundance. Livestock kept solely to provide meat was unknown in Roman Palestine and was later prohibited by the Talmudic sages. Fish was a typical Sabbath dish.
THE BURDEN THEME, “BEAR WHAT THOU ART ABLE”
There is more to be learned from the Didache, quoting again from the shorter version:
For if thou art able to bear all the yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able that do. And concerning food, bear what thou art able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly on thy guard; for it is the service of dead gods. … But do ye fast on the fourth day [Wednesday], and [in addition] the Preparation [Friday]…?. (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. 6:1-3, 8:1-2 (Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 379.)
The author appears to be saying that one should abstain from meat altogether, but if he could not, he should avoid it as much as possible, and at minimum, one should not eat meat sacrificed to idols. This inference is reasonable because it is only a few sentences later that the advice is given to fast two days per week, and we know from other sources that the fast was from animal-based foods. My theory is that everyone was called on at least to be a part-time vegetarian.
Early vegetarian requirements were gradually eliminated. In the longer and later version of the Didache, this advice to “bear what thou art able” is completely replaced with instruction to “Go your way, and eat the fat [meat?], and drink the sweet [wine?], and be not sorrowful.” (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, 7:20, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 465 ff.) Once again we have a clear example of editors tampering with the texts. (My comments are in square brackets.)
Note the “no greater burden” theme of Acts, which I propose is a corollary of the “bear what thou art able” theme, which appear to refer to abstaining from meat:
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. (Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25. Cf. Revelation 2:24.)
The minimum burden being imposed is to avoid blood (assault and murder), eating things strangled (tortured and painfully executed animals), and unchastity. Perhaps “bear what thou art able” was originally part of James’ ruling. If it were, it would imply that he was challenging gentile Christians not to eat meat at all but if they were unable to do this, they were to eat as little meat as possible and only meat obtained without pain to the animal and thus at all times at least obey the Noachide rules.
PLINY REFERRED TO THE CHRISTIANS’ DIET
In the last few years of his life, Pliny the Younger (53-113 C.E.) served under Roman emperor Trajan (who ruled from 98 to 117 C.E.) as governor of Bithynia in what is now northwest Turkey. In one of his letters he questioned whether he should carry out the Roman policy of executing Christians for simply being Christians. Christianity and Judaism had divorced each other, so Christianity was no longer the legally recognized religion or nationality that Judaism was. Christians refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, an act of disloyalty. Sacrificing was a perfunctory matter, which simply involved going to a temple and throwing a pinch of incense and perhaps some wine into the fire and obtaining a certificate of having sacrificed. Jews also refused to sacrifice, however, Jews and only Jews had the right to refuse, because Roman law exempted them from this requirement. The emperor ruled with the gods’ authority. One of his titles was pontifex maximus, and to refuse to recognize the Roman gods was to refuse allegiance to the Roman state. Pliny says of the Christians:
They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not do to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. (Letters of Pliny the Younger, Book 10, Letter 96, quoting from the Loeb edition; www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pliny1.html. See also Eusebius, Church History, 3:33.)
“Food of an ordinary and innocent kind,” cibum promiscuum tamen et innoxium, could very well be vegetarian food. Innoxius and its cognates are variously translated as “that does harm to none, not guilty, blameless, innocent,” “free from noxious animals,” “unharmed, unhurt, uninjured,” “harmlessly, without harm,” “blamelessly, innocently.” (Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary.) This might refer to vegetarian food. However, I should add that the term “innocent” could refer to the blood libel that Christians killed and ate infants as part of the eucharist. (Tertullian, The Apology, 2, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, p. 18.)
MODERN DAY CHRISTIAN VEGETARIAN FASTING
The Wednesday and Friday vegetarian fast of ancient Christianity survives to the present in orthodox Christian sects, particularly Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches. To a lesser extent, Greek Orthodox Christians also keep the vegetarian fast. Observant members of these churches are strictly vegetarian not only on Wednesdays and Fridays but also during Lent and many other periods during the year. Observant orthodox Christians eat absolutely no meat, milk, or eggs half the year. (D.J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, xxxii.)
Seattle has a thriving Ethiopia and Eritrea Town south of Seattle University. I enjoy visiting its numerous restaurants, which every day of the week offer strictly vegetarian food cooked in pots and pans in which only vegetables are cooked. Ethiopians and Eritreans generally eat meat when it is not a fast day. They refuse ever to eat pork. Ethiopian Christians claim they are descended from African Jews (known as Beth Israel or Falashas) who at some point converted to Christianity. (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, p. 70.) When Christians eat with Muslims in Ethiopia, they eat only vegetarian food, apparently because of different customs regarding slaughtering of animals.
Most Christians in the west are completely unaware that Christians of old ever kept a vegetarian fast, despite the undeniable fact that it was a significant part of ancient Christianity. There is no mention of it at all in the online Catholic Encyclopedia. (www.newadvent.org.) It is incredible that Western Christianity could so completely abandon and forget this ancient custom. On the other hand, it illustrates an important point: There is a tendency to ignore and de-emphasize vegetarian traditions. People who want to eat meat pass over obvious historical facts that do not complement their gustatory preferences.
WHAT DID JESUS EAT AT THE LAST SUPPER?
This a book about the history and theology of food. Jesus allegedly ate lamb at the Last Supper, and so I will go into great detail about the Last Supper.
The Last Supper is presented in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as part of a Passover seder. (Matthew 26:20-29, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:14-19.) Jesus allegedly said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you…,” which normally included roasted lamb. (Luke 22:15.)
However, Epiphanius says that the Judeo-Christians said that Jesus taught them not to eat the flesh of animals and warned the Jewish leaders that they had to stop sacrificing animals in the Jerusalem Temple to avoid its destruction. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.22.5, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120 ff., 138.) The Ebionite version of the gospel reads like this:
“[T]he disciples say, ‘Where do you wish that we should prepare for you to eat the Passover?’ And he then replies, ‘I have no desire whatsoever to eat this Passover meat with you.’” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.22.5, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120 ff., 138.)
Another translator interprets this as a question in which Jesus asks ironically, “Have I desired with desire to eat this flesh of the Passover with you?” (“Gospel of the Ebionites,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, Vol. 2, p. 5-6.)
It is relevant to bear in mind that the Talmud advises against eating meat unless there is an overwhelming desire for it; the phrase is “to desire with desire” which means “lust for.” Jesus had no desire for the lamb and therefore did not eat it. (See the section entitled Mining The Legends Of Genesis, p. 51.) People who eat meat generally love it and crave it and have a hard time understanding that vegetarians really have no desire for it at all.
Note that the Last Supper in John is clearly not a Passover seder, for it occurs a full night before Passover begins. (John 13:1, 18:28.)
Generally the term “eat the Passover” is considered to be a direct reference to eating the Passover lamb. How could Jesus be a vegetarian and eat the Passover lamb? First, although pesah in Hebrew refers to the “passing over” of the angel, and is generally taken to refer to the lamb sacrificed, the exact derivation of pesah is problematic. It is not certain that pesah originally referred to lamb meat. (“Passover,” Encyclopedia Judaica, 1997 CD-Rom Edition.)
Next, note that in the descriptions given of the institution of the Lord’s Supper or eucharist, there is no mention of the apostles buying a slaughtered lamb from the temple priests, or the group eating lamb. Only bread and wine are mentioned. Jesus does not say, “Take, eat, this lamb is my body. Take, drink, the blood in this lamb is my blood.” In the New Testament the bread is or represents the body of Jesus, but if lamb had been on the menu, lamb could have represented his flesh. (Luke 22:19.) In rewriting the story of the Last Supper, gentile editors, under the influence of the carnivorous Paul, added the bread-body and wine-blood symbolism but forgot to integrate lamb. Perhaps there was no lamb on the table at all.
Probably Jesus was an Essene or came from some similar vegetarian sect, whose Passover meal did not include lamb. Pharisees and priests joined the movement later, and they would probably not have been vegetarians. (Acts 6:7, 15:5.) Paul converted thousands of non-vegetarian gentiles. Paul was not a vegetarian and had no sympathy for vegetarians, accusing them of being weak. (1 Corinthians 8: 7; Romans 14:2.) The gospels were edited and put in final form by non-vegetarian gentiles who were disciples of Paul. It is easy to understand how the vegetarianism of Jesus and the meatlessness of the Last Supper would have been de-emphasized and then dropped from the story altogether.
WHAT DID JESUS SAY AT THE LAST SUPPER?
This is a good place to give due credit to Hyam Maccoby—who died in 2004—and his insightful and usually accurate Paul and Hellenism. This book is unfortunately out of print, so you will have to request it through inter-library loan. Maccoby has the best big-picture outline of the Last Supper to be found, better than the more orthodox work of Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. However, Maccoby, like Jeremias, misses the vegetarian theme entirely. He says nothing about the writings that say that Jesus specifically rejected eating the Passover lamb. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.22.5, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120 ff., 138.) He regards Jesus as having been a good Pharisee. Essenes and Pharisees were similar sects, both having been descended from the pre-Maccabean Hasidim. Essenes were vegetarians while Pharisees were not vegetarians except perhaps when they fasted two days each week (Luke 18:12), and some Essenes chose celibacy, while Pharisees believed strongly in having a family. Both sects adopted orphans. (“Essenes,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
For centuries before Jesus’ day, Jews had been saying prayers over their meals, whether at Passover or other feasts or on the Sabbath. In these meals a blessing known as the kiddush (sanctification) was said. The first blessing was always said over the wine, and the kiddush included the blessing for the wine and for the day. Depending on whether the kiddush was said at Sabbath or Passover or Yom Kippur, the prayers would differ, but the first prayer would always be said over the wine—except in the rare case where wine was lacking, in which case it would be said over the bread. Other blessings would follow, including the blessing over the bread. (See “Kiddush” and “Lord’s Supper” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (www.JewishEncyclopedia.com).
A Sabbath kiddush would begin with a quotation of Genesis 2:1-3:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.
Next would follow the blessing over the wine:
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-gafen.
Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Wine would be drunk.
Next would follow the prayer for the Sabbath, the washing of hands, and the prayer for the washing of hands. Then the loaves would be broken and pieces passed to all.
And then would follow the blessing over the bread:
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground.
Jesus may have said these very words with his followers. (See the Jewish Virtual Library at www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Shabbat2.html.)
However, according to the New Testament as we have it, Jesus also said at the Last Supper: “This is my body” and This is my blood” and “Eat it” and “Drink it.” Would Jesus the committed Jew (Matthew 5:17) have said such things? If Jesus had been a vegetarian, not only would he not have eaten the lamb—as discussed in the previous section—he would not have used such images. Nor would he have done so if he had been committed to stopping the sacrificial cult in the temple.
A Comparison of The Various Eucharistic Accounts
I will quote the various accounts relating to the eucharist so you will not have to flip around from book to book in the New Testament and the Church Fathers to compare them. Note that eucharistic passages in Matthew and Mark are almost identical, with significant differences in italics. Note that there is a short and long version of Luke, based on different ancient manuscripts; the extra section of the longer version is in brackets. The Didache is included because it contains what I believe to be the oldest version of the Eucharist.
But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus. First, as regards the cup: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Then as regarding the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord hath said: Give not that which is holy to the dogs.
And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled…. (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles 14:1-3, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 379-378.)
1 Corinthians 5:7:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (Note that this time Paul mentions the cup first.)
1 Corinthians 11:23-30:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. [See Exodus 24:8; Jeremiah 31:31.] Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”… [A]nd they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve.… And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”… [A]nd they prepared the Passover.… Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”… [A]nd they prepared the Passover. And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body [which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”] (The extra wording of the long version of Luke is in brackets. The long version is found in most manuscripts, but the short version is found in several important manuscripts, including Codex D Beza, Marcion, and Tatian.)
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.… They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them… “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
John 13:1-5, 18:1, 19:14,31
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father…, Jesus… rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.…
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.…
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover…?.
Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?
Customarily it is contended that Jesus ate lamb because the Last Supper was a Passover seder, and lamb is normally part of the Passover seder. In the previous section I pointed out that the Judeo-Christians did not believe Jesus ate lamb at his Passovers. The Essenes before them observed Passover without lamb, and Jesus either was probably an Essene or of similar persuasion.
Further, it is not even clear that the Last Supper was a Passover. The gospels themselves disagree on this very important point. The Synoptics state explicitly that Jesus ate the Passover on his last night. In John there is a Last Supper, but John states explicitly that it occurs one night before the Passover and therefore cannot have been a seder. Also, in John, Jesus is taken down from the cross as Passover is beginning, not as it is ending, a point I will cover below. (John 13:1-5, 18:1, 19:14,31.) There is nothing special about John’s Last Supper—no blessing at all. However, in John, Jesus says very early in his ministry, three years before the Last Supper, that his followers were to eat his flesh and drink his bood, and he loses many disciples as a result. (John 6:33–59.) Further, in 1 Corinthians, Paul presents the Last Supper as part of a meal, without identifying it as a Passover meal.
To fully understand this section, the following background information may prove helpful: In the Jewish calendar the day begins at sunset. Months in Judaism can have 29 or 30 days, because the lunar month is around 29.5 days. Thus, a 12-month year would have fewer than 365 days, and leap months are added four out of every 13 years. Judaism thus has a lunar-solar calendar, meaning that there is an attempt to keep the lunar year in sync with the solar year by adding leap-months in some years. Compare Islam which follows a strictly lunar calendar, with no attempt to add leap-months, so a given month such as Ramadan falls earlier each year.
Each Jewish month begins on the new moon. The new year begins in the Spring on the 1st day of Nisan, which is always a new moon. Passover begins as the 14th day of Nisan is ending and the 15th is beginning at sunset, which is always a full moon. The 15th of Nisan always falls after the spring equinox. Christians observed the Jewish Passover for centuries until, under Constantine’s iron fist, the Great Church adopted the pagan date for Easter as the date on which Christians would celebrate Easter as the Christian Passover. Yes, there was an Easter long before the time of Jesus; the pagan Easter was a celebration of Ishtar and estrus. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and for church purposes March 21 is always considered to be vernal equinox, although the equinox can fall on March 21 or 22. However, if the full moon actually falls on March 21, Easter will be deferred to the Sunday following the next full moon. (“Passover,” The Jewish Encyclopedia, www.JewishEncyclopedia.com; http://support.sas.com/kb/25/993.html; http://antiochian.org/midwest/Articles/Holy_Week_and_Pascha/The_Date_of_Pascha.htm.)
The slaying of the lambs occurs during the day which leads to the beginning of Passover at sunset. In the Synoptics the sun sets and Thursday becomes Friday. It is what we would call Thursday night. Passover begins, and Jesus eats the Passover meal. He goes to the Mount of Olives and is arrested. He is interrogated by the high priest Passover night, at a time when observant Jews would normally be at home celebrating the Passover with their families.
The next morning, on the day of Passover itself, Jesus is tried by Pilate and crucified. The Passover is ending as Jesus is placed in the tomb just before sunset. The Passover in the Synoptics begins Thursday evening (remember that days began at sunset), and Jesus is crucified on the following Friday morning and buried just before sunset as the Friday Passover is ending and the Sabbath is beginning. The Passover can fall on any day of the week, and in the Synoptics this Passover falls on Thursday evening and Friday, the day before the Sabbath.
However, in John, all these events occur 24 hours earlier. Jesus goes to the garden and is arrested after a supper which is clearly not a Passover seder. (John 13:1, 18:1.) He is tried by Pilate and crucified on the day before Passover. As Jesus is being buried, the Passover is beginning. The Passover can fall on any day of the week, but in John’s account Passover falls that year on Friday evening and Saturday, the Sabbath, “a high day.” (John 19:31, 42.) Jesus dies on Friday afternoon and is buried just as the Passover Sabbath is beginning, not as the Passover is ending and Sabbath is beginning as in the Synoptics. In both the Synoptics and in John Jesus dies on Friday, but in the Synoptics Friday is Passover and the day before the Sabbath, whereas in John, Saturday is both Passover and the Sabbath.
The Passover lambs were slaughtered between noon and sundown on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which would have been Thursday in the Synoptics and Friday in John. (“Passover,” The Jewish Encyclopedia, www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.) Jesus is crucified at either the third hour or the sixth hour, 9 a.m. or noon, and dies at the ninth hour or 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:25.) The Synoptics place emphasis on Jesus instituting the eucharist as a new Passover seder, while John places emphasis on Jesus himself being the new Passover, the “Lamb of God,” for in John Jesus dies as the Passover lambs are dying. In John, John the Baptist is quoted as saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36; see 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:12, 7:14, 12;1, 13:8.)
This is not the only outright contradiction between the Synoptics and John. For example, the Synoptics place Jesus’ cleansing of the temple just before his capture, whereas John places it three years earlier. (John 2:13 ff.) I point out these basic contractions to make it clear that the gospels as we know them are not historical treatises, but theological sermons. They were written down and edited many years after the events happened by gentiles who had an imperfect understanding of Judaism, who did not have access to the original Judeo-Christian gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic, who were in competition with Jews to make or retain converts, and who in part wanted to disassociate themselves from Judaism because the Jews had revolted against Rome.
The Synoptic editors show confusion regarding the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They present the first day of that feast as being the day before Passover when the lambs were slain. (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7.) But clearly it began the morning after the first night of Passover. (Ezekiel 45:21; Leviticus 23:5 ff.; Numbers 28:16 ff.; Joshua 5:10 ff.; Ezra 6:19, 22.)
The gospels also disagree in their use of the term “Day of Preparation,” which in the Synoptics means preparation for the Sabbath, but which in John means preparation for both the Sabbath and Passover, perhaps because in John the Passover and Sabbath occur on the same day that year. (Matthew 27:62, 28:1; Mark 15:42, 16:1; Luke 23:54, 56; John 19:14, 31, 42.)
In Mark and Luke Jesus is crucified on the Passover, which begins Thursday evening and continues through the following Friday. The day of crucifixion is said to be the “Day of Preparation” for the coming Sabbath. (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54) One has to wonder why Mark and Luke do not refer to the day of crucifixion as the Passover instead of the day of Preparation for the Sabbath. In any case Mark and Luke make it clear that after Joseph of Aramathea’s visit to Pilate to get Jesus’ body, nothing happens between the burial and resurrection except the Sabbath, which is observed. (Luke 23:56.) There is only a 36 hour period that passes between Jesus death and his resurrection.
Matthew adds a scene that Mark and Luke omit, a meeting with Pilate the “next day” to set up security and prevent the body from being stolen: “Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate.” (Matthew 27:62.) Matthew can’t be referring to a day of Preparation for the Passover, because that has passed, so he has to be referring to the day of Preparation for the sabbath. Thus, the “next day” “after the day of Preparation has to be the sabbath. So why didn’t Matthew simply say the meeting occurred on the sabbath? Matthew may be pushing the day of Jesus’ crucifixion back one day to Wednesday evening and Thursday. Really he is just tampering with the text for dramatic effect.
The fact that the gospel writers cannot agree among themselves whether the crucifixion occurs the day before the Passover or actually on the Passover or on Thursday or Friday, makes it legitimate to examine the eucharistic words critically and even question whether Jesus ever said, in the context of a Passover meal, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” and “Eat it” and “Drink it.”
The Components of the Last Supper
Maccoby breaks the words of the Last Supper into three component parts: apocalyptic words, eucharistic words, and words of institution. In the apocalyptic words Jesus says that he will not eat such a meal with them again until the kingdom has come. In the eucharistic words Jesus says the bread and wine are or represent his body and blood. In the words of institution Jesus says we are to eat and drink the bread and wine. The accounts vary widely in the inclusion of these components and in their order.
Apocalyptic words refer to future religious events, good or bad. There are various versions of the apocalyptic words:
As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom. (Didache. 9:1-5.)
I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. (Mark 14:25.)
I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29.)
I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. (Luke 22:18.)
Matthew, Mark, and Luke include apocalyptic words, but John and Paul omit them entirely, as I will discuss below.
The term “eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving,” but in Christian theology the term refers to the bread and wine being or representing the body and blood of Jesus. There are various versions of the eucharistic words:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. Note that in this case Paul mentions the wine first.)
This is my body which is for you.… This cup is the new covenant in my blood. (Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.)
This is my body.… This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mark 14:22.)
This is my body.… This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28.)
This is my body. (Luke 22:19, short version.)
This is my body which is given for you.… This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20, long version.)
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:35, 48-51.)
Although the Didache makes reference to a “eucharistic thanksgiving,” it contains no eucharistic words in the theological sense: Thanks is given, but there is no statement that bread and wine are body and blood. The obvious conclusion is that the eucharist of the Didache pre-dated the addition of the bread-wine-body-blood theme. John and the short version of Luke make no mention of the wine-blood symbolism, sticking with the body-bread symbolism only.
Words of institution instruct believers to eat the bread and wine in a ceremony. The accounts contain various versions of the words of institution:
But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus: First, as regards the cup:… Then as regarding the broken bread:… But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord…?. (Didache 9:1-5.)
And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. (Didache 14:1-3.)
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.)
Do this in remembrance of me…?. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. (Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.)
Take. (Mark 14:22.)
Take, eat… Drink of it, all of you. (Matthew 26:26.)
Take this, and divide it among yourselves. (Luke 22:17, short version.)
Take this, and divide it among yourselves…?. Do this in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:17-20, long version.)
John includes no words of institution. The words of institution in Paul and Luke are the most highly developed, for they include the admonition to take the eucharist in memory of Jesus.
The Order of the Components—Paul’s Source
Note the order of the components: wine-bread in the kiddush, wine-bread in the Didache, Passover-wine-bread in the short version of Luke, Passover-wine-bread-wine in the long version of Luke, and bread-wine in Matthew, Mark, and Paul. If the Last Supper had been a Passover or a Sabbath or any other festival, then wine would appear first. The only time in Jewish custom when wine was not taken first was when there was no wine, and then it would not be bread-wine but just bread. Why would the wine-bread order in the kiddush, and the Didache, have been changed in Paul, Matthew, and Mark to bread-wine and in the short version of Luke to Passover-wine-bread and Passover-wine-bread-wine in the long version of Luke, essentially a doubling of the bread-wine pattern?
Maccoby says it is because bread-wine was the order in the communion meal of the mystery religions. The mystery religions began as harvest festivals, in which grain and bread had natural priority. Paul was under the sway of the mystery religions, which included a communion in which there was bread and a liquid, which represented body and blood. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around 56 C.E., long before the gentile gospels were written, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke followed his lead. In John the order is flesh and blood. (John 6:53,56.)
Note further that the long version of Luke follows Paul in referring to a “cup after supper.” Luke includes two cups, one apocalyptic and one eucharistic, while Paul includes only one eucharistic cup. There was a final cup following Sabbath or festival meals, but it was not a kiddush cup. (Maccoby, Paul and Hellenism, p. 105.)
Maccoby’s theory is that the apocalyptic words—containing no body-blood symbolism— formed the original version of the Last Supper, as in the case of the Didache, which contains only apocalyptic words and no eucharistic words. Likewise, the short version of Luke, contains apocalyptic words and almost no eucharistic words, only “This is my body.”
Maccoby’s theory is that Paul drew the eucharistic words from the mystery religions he had known in Tarsus, which was the center of the worship of Perseus, a successor god to Mithras, who had been born of a virgin. (David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, 1989, p. 40 ff.; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 71, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 234.) Maccoby believes the editors of the Synoptics later awkwardly grafted Paul’s eucharistic words onto the original Last Supper, which contained only apocalyptic words. In the case of the long version of Luke, apocalyptic words were said over or in reference to Passover and wine, and then eucharistic words were said over bread and wine. According to Maccoby, there is a doubling of the bread-wine in Luke so as to retain the original apocalyptic words and add the eucharistic words which Paul introduced.
Likewise, Maccoby suggests that it was Paul who introduced the words of institution, directing that Christians eat the Lord’s Supper regularly. Maccoby says that before Paul the eucharist was not a sacrament, but only a memorial meal, as it was in the Didache. Paul turned it into a new sacrament which gave forgiveness of sins. He thus made the Christian Church into a religion apart from Judaism.
Jesus acknowledged that he was a prophet (Matthew 10:41, 13:57, 14:5, 21:11; Luke 7:39, 13:33; Acts 3:22-23, 7:27) and son of man (Matthew 8:20, 9:16, 16:33, 19:28; Acts 7:56.) He was initially uncertain whether he was messiah-king but eventually accepted this role. (Matthew 16:16, 16:20, 26:63-64; Mark 9:41, 12:35; Luke 9:20; John 1:41, 4:25). It is in Paul, John, and in the eucharistic passages in the Synoptics that Jesus is presented as god or having godlike qualities. It is Paul or his disciples who make him pre-existent lord (Colossians 1:15-16) and John who makes him the logos who was god from the very creation. (John 1:1-14.)
In Judaism nothing is god but god. Jews have a problem with the trinity because it elevates Jesus to status as god. Jesus would have had the same problem, because he only regarded himself as prophet, messiah, and son of man, neither of which is divine. Likewise, a eucharistic ceremony in which a piece of bread or a drink of wine become the body and blood of Jesus makes the bread and wine into a piece of divinity, and again is idolatry. (Maccoby, Paul and Hellenism, pp. 124-126.)
Idolatry is to be avoided because it focuses attention on something which should not be the focus of attention, and it also distracts attention from the thing which should be the focus of attention.
No Eucharist in Acts
The bread-body-wine-blood analogy is conspicuously absent from Acts, where you would most expect to find it:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayer … . And all who believed were together and had all things in common … . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts … . (Acts 2:42-46; see 20:7.)
Instead, Jesus’ followers continue to meet together in private homes and “break bread” in what was a meal, not just a small wafer of bread and sip of wine. They worship in the Temple, something they would not have been allowed to do had they instituted a new sacrament. The bread-body-wine-blood eucharist never became part of Judeo-Christian custom. It is most likely that the memorial meal of the Judeo-Christians was free of such allusions and resembled the meal described in the Didache.
Blood, Human Sacrifice
Note that in none of the Jewish prayers quoted above is the bread or wine said to represent the body or blood of a person or an animal. At Passover, the flesh of the lamb represented the body of that animal, and the blood had been drained and was not drunk. The bread and wine eaten in the kiddush did not represent flesh or blood. One thing Jews never consumed was the blood of any animal. (Leviticus 7:26-27.) A religions ceremony in which the eating and drinking of bread and wine were said to be analogous to human flesh and blood would have been repugnant to a First Century Jew and thus to Jesus. Jews had renounced human sacrifice some 1,500 years before in the time of Abraham and Isaac. (Genesis 22.)
Body and Blood? Flesh and Blood?
Paul refers to the “body and blood” of Christ, however, according to Maccoby, a Jew speaking Hebrew would refer not to “body and blood” but to “flesh and blood.” “Flesh and blood” is a common and natural Hebrew phrase, whereas “body and blood” is not. In Hebrew one would never eat “body,” but would eat “flesh.”
The Dying and Rising God, Eating the God, the Lord’s Supper
In the mystery religions the god was murdered and was raised, as in the case of Attis, Osiris, and Dionysus. Frequently there was a sacramental meal in which the flesh and blood of the risen god were eaten or drunk, or in which bread and a liquid, symbolic of the flesh and blood were eaten and drunk. The early Christian heresy fighters were concerned about the similarity between the mystery religions and the Christian sacraments. Their explanation was that the devil had created these similarities in advance of the rise of Christianity. Justin Martyr (110 – 165 C.E.) said:
For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them… delivered unto us… that Jesus took bread, and… said “This do ye in remembrance of me, this is my body… and… having taken the cup… said “This is my blood…?. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. (The First Apology of Justin, 65-66, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 185; see The First Apology of Justin, Vol. 1, 54, p. 181.)
Justin follows the order which Paul and the writer of Luke follow in 1 Corinthians and in Luke: Body is mentioned before blood. However, Paul’s “Lord’s Supper” term is conspicuously absent, and it completely disappears from history. “Eucharist” (thanksgiving) and “communion” are used instead. No other New Testament writer or Church Father uses the term “Lord’s Supper.” Maccoby suggests it was abandoned because the term “Lord’s Supper” was probably the term used by the mystery religions to refer to their sacramental meal. (Paul and Hellenism, p. 117; Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra, p. 92.)
Tertullian (c. 145 – c. 220 C.E.) said:
By whom is to be interpreted the sense of the passages which make for heresies? By the devil, of course, to whom pertain those wiles which pervert the truth, and who, by the mystic rites of his idols, vies even with the essential portions of the sacraments of God…?. Mithra… celebrates also the oblation of bread and introduces an image of a resurrection…?. (On Prescription Against Heretics, 50, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 263 f.)
Maccoby points out that it was customary in the mystery religions to speak of eating the god:
In the Eleusinian mysteries, the initiated became deified (entheoi) by partaking in a meal which represented the body of Dionysus. In the mysteries of Attis, a meal of bread and liquid, representing the body of the god, enabled the initiate to participate in his passion and resurrection…?. In Latin poetry, it is a commonplace to speak of eating Ceres (meaning bread) or drinking Bacchus (wine), and this is not just a poetical trope, but the poetical residue of sacraments in which these foodstuffs were regarded as divine. (Paul and Hellenism, p. 125.)
Paul, Recipient of Redefining Revelation—Author of the Body-Blood Eucharist
Paul openly states his source of information regarding the Last Supper: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…?.” (1 Corinthians 11:23.) Paul is not saying he was present at the Last Supper or that he received his tradition from those who were there. He is saying that he received a special revelation directly from god or Jesus. He also says:
Paul an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…?. [T]he gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.… But when he who had set me apart before I was born [Jeremiah 1:5], and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me [literally “in me” in Greek], in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia. (Galatians 1:1-17.)
When Paul says god revealed his son “in me,” it becomes clear that he viewed himself as a second-generation Christian prophet, even an incarnation of Jesus, a source of authority independent of and superior to Jesus’ original apostles or even Jesus himself. Paul lashed out at the “superlative apostles” of Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 7:19, 11:5, 12:11; 2 Corinthians 11:5,13, 12:11; Philippians 3:2.) Jews do not drink blood, nor do they eat human flesh, which are by definition unclean, but by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around 56 C.E. he was teaching the very un-Jewish analogy of bread and wine with flesh and blood. Did this teaching go back to the Judeo-Christians, to James, to Jesus? It is probable that Paul pioneered this teaching.
Even orthodox Catholic authorities admit that the Nazaraeans had no eucharist per se in which bread and wine symbolized or were transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus. (See Willy Rudolf’s analysis of the Didache in The Eucharist of the Early Christians, p. 1-23.)
If Jesus did not say “this is my body” and “this is my blood,” what did he say? If these words were not part of the earliest agapé and eucharist, what words did the earliest Judeo-Christians say? The Didache, quoted above, may give us the answer. It may reflect traditions older than those of Paul. In it there is a eucharist which makes no reference to blood or flesh. Note the reference in the Didache to Jesus only as servant. Note the fact that in the Didache the wine is taken first, as in the Kiddush.
The conclusion seems inescapable: That Jesus never made the cannibalistic bread-wine-body-blood analogy, that the entire concept of him being a replacement sacrifice for the animals in the temple was developed later by gentile Christians such as Paul, John the Elder who wrote the book of John, and the author of Hebrews, all of whom were under the sway of the mystery religions. Paul wrote his epistles long before the Synoptics and John were written, so it is probable that the writers who edited and compiled the final version of the gospels as we know them learned the bread-body-wine-blood analogy from Paul or his disciples and added it to their apocalyptic Last Supper.
A More Powerful and Ancient Eucharist
Should Christians conclude that their religion is meaningless if the bread and wine are not the body and blood of Jesus, if Jesus did not make the cosmic sacrifice, and if Jesus is not god? To the contrary, a religion which accurately remembers Jesus would be more powerful because it would be true to Jesus’ purpose. It would have a solid foundation. The current eucharist could be retained but its evolution and symbolism explained. The eucharist of the Didache could be utilized as an occasional alternative. Such a Christianity would call on Jesus’ followers to complete Jesus’ actual mission, which was not to serve as a sacrificial lamb, but to urge humanity to complete the messianic project of stopping the cycle of violence, including the violence against the animals. That’s more of a challenge than believing a creed, performing a ceremony, and getting a pass to enter heaven at death.
Because there are so many signs that the story of the Last Supper has been tampered with, “we have a right to ask one question still.” Was there a Last Supper at all?
Recall that Jesus or some militant group working alongside him took control of the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus did not just overthrow a few money changers’ tables. He expelled all the animal dealers, those who carried out the sacrifices, and all the animals from the Temple mount. Presumably the Temple police or the Romans intervened to restore the status quo and arrest the rebels. Mark relates that “… Barabbas was then in custody with the rebels who had committed murder in the rising.” (Mark 11:15) Did Jesus retreat and avoid arrest, or was he arrested along with Barabbas and the rebels? Note also, as Hyam Maccoby points out, that “Jesus Barabbas” (literally, “son of the father,” could have been another name for Jesus of Nazareth. (Revolution in Judaea, 164, 190.)
Maybe Jesus went straight from the insurrection at the Temple to a Jewish or Roman jail. Jesus obviously ate many devotional meals. Maybe one of those meals was moved to the end of his life as a literary and theological device designed to state that Jesus not only died as a sacrifice to replace the animal sacrifices, but that he also explained the symbolism though a sacramental meal a few hours before his death.
Breaking of Bread and Agapé, as a Religious But Not Sacramental Meal or Meals
Jesus’ early disciples in Jerusalem took their meals together on a daily basis. “Breaking of bread” is mentioned frequently in the New Testament.” (Luke 24:30; Acts 2:42,46, 20:7,11; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:23, 11:33.) Perhaps Jesus taught his apostles the Lord’s Prayer in the context of one of these fellowship meals. (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4.) It is possible that this “breaking of bread” later came to be known as the agapé or love feast, which is referred to only once by name in the New Testament, without enough context to determine what the writer means by the term. (Jude 12; cf. 2 Peter 2:13.)
The earliest Christians kept Jewish customs and worshiped in the temple. (Acts 2:42-46.) Even gentile Christians kept the Sabbath and in many areas probably did so until the time of Constantine and Theodosius. Gradually they began to worship on Sunday as well as on Saturday. Probably as the Sabbath was ending at sunset on Saturday and Sunday was beginning, they would observed the Lord’s Day in remembrance of the resurrection, which, unlike the bread-wine-body-blood eucharist, was part of the original core of Judeo-Christian beliefs. (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2, Revelation 1:10, Didache 14:1, Barnabas 15:9, Ignatius to the Magnesians 9:1.)
Sunday came to be the day when the eucharist, as a sacramental meal separate and apart from the agapé was observed. (Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, 67, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 185.) Probably the eucharist and the agapé separated even before Paul’s bread-wine-body-blood themes were added to the eucharist, and I say this because it appears in the Didache that the eucharist was a separate sacramental event from the agapé, even though the Didache omits the bread-wine-body-blood themes. (See Richard Peterson, “From Sabbath to Sunday, Passover to Easter and Dedication to Christmas—Some Historical Background,” Family Restoration Magazine, Number 17, April, 2003, www.familyrestorationmagazine.org/tishrei/tishrei017.htm.)
I suggest that as Christianity spread into the gentile world, and as gentile Christianity distanced itself more and more from Jewish Christianity, the bread-wine-body-blood themes of Paul were grafted into the more simple eucharist of the type found in the Didache.
Further, it appears that in Paul’s day the eucharist, with its bread-wine-body-blood theme, was occurring immediately after the agapé fellowship meal. In 1 Corinthians 11:23 it is clear that the eucharist is part of a meal because there is reference to the cup being taken “after supper.” However, there was misbehavior, and so Paul suggested that those who wanted to eat and drink a lot should do so at home. (1 Corinthians 11:34.)
THE AGAPÉ AS FELLOWSHIP MEAL AND CHARITABLE FEEDING
It appears that the “breaking of bread” may have included feeding hungry believers. Distribution was made according to need. (Acts 2:45.) Elsewhere it is said that “… widows were neglected in the daily distribution” and so deacons were appointed to take care of them. (Acts 6:1.)
It is a challenge to determine whether the breaking of bread was an event separate from the charitable feeding and whether the term “agapé” originally referred to the breaking of bread or to the charitable feeding or to both. Jews and early Christians—Jewish and gentile—were strongly committed to caring for the needy, especially widows and orphans. (Dr. Marvin Wilson, “Jewish Roots and Compassionate Community: Orphans in Biblical Society,” Family Restoration Magazine, Number 7, July, 2002, www.familyrestorationmagazine.org/tishrei/tishrei07.htm.)
As churches grew in size, the intimate agapé meals of the early days, often held in homes, grew into major feeding occasions. At some point the agapé and eucharist were separated, with the eucharist becoming a sacramental meal where a token amount of bread and wine were eaten, and with the agapé becoming a separate, charitable and/or fellowship meal. Ignatius (died c. 107) referred to them as two separate events, which were to be carried out only with supervision of the bishop. (Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 8:2, Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Volume II, p. 308, www.ccel.org/fathers.html.) We learn from Justin Martyr, writing around 150 C.E., that the eucharist was a sacrament allowed only to the baptized. Justin implies that small amounts of bread and wine were taken and that they were taken “not as common bread and common drink.” He makes no mention of the “agapé.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 65-67, Roberts & Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I; cf. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 2:1, Roberts & Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, p. 237 ff.; Tertullian, Apology 39, Roberts & Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, p. 46 f.) This separation of the Eucharist from the agapé probably occurred at different times in different locations.
The Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem pooled their assets, as was the pattern with the Essenes. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45.) Likewise, they shared their food and ate together as a group. “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts….” (Acts 2:46.)
Taking meals together and feeding the poor was central to early Christianity. (Acts 2:42-47, 6:1, 20:11; 1 Corinthians 11:20-34; Jude 1:12.) It is mentioned that Paul took a meal as part of a Sunday worship service: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them…?.” (Acts 20:7.) Pliny mentioned that Christians met before light on a certain day of the week and afterward ate “food of an ordinary and innocent kind.” (Letters of Pliny the Younger, Book 10, Letter 96, quoting from the Loeb edition; www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pliny1.html.)
However, Paul was unhappy either with the entire concept of meals taken as part of worship services or with excesses which occurred. There was perhaps a lack of sharing of food by some along with gluttony or drunkenness by others. Paul suggested that his followers should take their meals at home. (Acts 11:20-22.) The communal meal in Paul’s day was both Eucharist and agapé combined. The two gradually became separated.
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the churches set up a vast system of soup kitchens, orphanages, and homes for widows (and perhaps unwed mothers?). Pagans were amazed at the scope of Christian charity. (Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings, 178; William Edward Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, 1869, vol. ii, p. 84, cited by Roberts & Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 425.)
In 363 or 364 C.E. the Council of Laodicea, in Canon 28, prohibited the use of the churches as soup kitchens: “It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord’s Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches [to recline and eat] in the house of God.” However, the agapé was not abolished and continued to be observed in places other than in the church itself, for Canon 27 decreed: “Neither they of the priesthood, nor clergymen, nor laymen, who are invited to a love feast, may take away their portions, for this is to cast reproach on the ecclesiastical order.” (www.reluctant-messenger.com/council-of-laodicea.htm.) Church records are spotty. The reason for moving the agapé out of the church was not made clear. Apparently the agapé was relegated to private homes or to a separate building. Apparently the poor were using the agapé like a modern food bank, carrying away food for home consumption. Forbidding even laymen from carrying food home would have greatly reduced its effectiveness as a means to take food to those poor who were working or too sick to attend.
I speculate that if Jesus, James, Peter and the other founders of Judeo-Christianity were vegetarians, their agapé would have been vegetarian too. Once such a tradition was in place, it might have survived the transition as the church became almost entirely gentile. Gentile Christians continued the agapé, and I suggest that they may very well have continued it as a vegetarian meal held in the church and later in a separate hall.
This is all the more likely because the Orthodox church has continued the Wednesday and Friday vegan fast of the Didache right up to the present, although Catholics abandoned it centuries ago. It would seem likely that if Christians ate only vegan food when they were fasting for religious reasons that they would observe the same eating restrictions in the agapé meal itself. (See the section of this book entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 157; http://www.scrollpublishing.com/store/LoveFeast.html.)
I speculate that the Council of Laodicea moved the agapé soup kitchens out of the churches for several reasons: First, a newly rich and privileged church leadership had forgotten Jesus’ teachings regarding feeding the hungry. Second, that leadership, with its newly acquired pagan temples converted into churches wanted them to be solemn and proper. Third, the leadership might have been attacking Christian vegetarianism itself. Getting vegetarianism out of the churches would have been the first step in getting rid of the vegetarian fast and eventually getting rid of vegetarianism entirely. The attack worked in the West, for Catholics have totally forgotten the vegetarian fast. The Orthodox have not: Go to a Coptic Church and you will find literature that reads like something you would find at an EarthSave meeting.
I like the concept of the agapé as a sacramental meal. I view ordinary eating as a sacramental act. Food gives us strength to do god’s work. We should eat food that strengthens us, food which was gotten without inflicting cruelty on god’s other creatures.
THE MESSIAH WAS TO BE VEGETARIAN AND END THE SACRIFICES
The messiah in Hebrew tradition was to be a vegetarian and lead the world back to a vegetarian Eden. For Jesus not to have been a vegetarian would have undermined his claim to be the messiah. (See the section of this book entitled Ancient Judaism Challenges Modern Judaism, p. 65.)
After the destruction of the First Temple around 586 B.C.E., many Israelites where taken from Palestine in captivity to Babylon. There the writer of “Third-Isaiah” (Isaiah 56-66)—probably a student of the school or tradition of Isaiah, which survived him for several generations—questioned whether the Temple should be rebuilt and whether the sacrificial system should be reinstituted. Justice was said to be more important to god than either animal or vegetable sacrifices. The writer gave his vision of the world the messiah would create:
I will rejoice in Jerusalem…?. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
… for the child shall die a hundred years old [perhaps because he would eat a good diet]…?. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox… they shall not hurt or destroy [slay animals for sacrifices] in all my holy mountain [a reference to Mount Zion, the site of the Temple]…?. Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?… But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a cereal offering like him who offers swine’s blood…?. (Isaiah 65:19-66:3; comments in square brackets are mine.)
“Third-Isaiah” appears to be saying explicitly that the sacrificial system should not be reinstituted. Such teachings exemplify the resurgence within Judaism of the philosophy of a matristic pre-Hebrew religion that had not sacrificed animals and had been vegetarian.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says (5:1): “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”
The Talmud says that in the messianic time all sacrifices except the thank-offering will cease. (Pes. 79a; Lev. R. ix., xxvii.)
JESUS QUOTED THE VEGETARIAN HOSEA,
OPPOSED THE SACRIFICES
Jesus explicitly endorsed the anti-animal-sacrifice theme of the prophets. Hosea had said, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6; see Amos 5:21 ff. and Proverbs 21:3; Sibylline Oracles 2:96, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/.) Jesus refers to this theme (Matthew 9:13) when he says: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” He refers to it again in Matthew 12: 1-7:
[H]is disciples were hungry and they began to pluck ears of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read… in the law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
Matthew clearly intends for “the guiltless” to refer to Jesus’ apostles, and to say that the apostles were guiltless for foraging for food on the Sabbath, for the same term, “guiltless,” is used (Matthew 12:5) to refer to the priests who, according to the Judaism of the day, were said to be “guiltless” of violating the Sabbath by doing the work of sacrificing animals, and who in doing so did not profane the Sabbath.
However, it appears that the gentile redactor of our canonical Matthew purposely changed the context of the original Judeo-Christian gospel or the Proto-Mark he worked from in order to change the reference and original intent of the term “guiltless.” I suggest that originally there were two episodes which were later fused together by the redactor, an episode about the disciples plucking grain and another in which Jesus said the sacrificed animals were “guiltless.” I suggest that Jesus’ original defense of the animals and his opposition to the sacrifices was edited out by non-vegetarian Pauline redactors. I suggest that these two episodes were stitched together into the one we have and any reference to the animals being guiltless was expunged.
If only Matthew 12 is read, the redactor’s cover-up of Jesus’ original meaning appears successful. However, bear in mind that Jesus was quoting from Hosea 6:6 so it would make sense to read Hosea:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her…?. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. [Hosea 2:14 ff. According to legend, the time in the wilderness was a vegetarian time for the Israelites. See Exodus 16:15, Numbers 11:7.]… And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me for ever… in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. [Hosea 2:18 ff.]… For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. [priestly garments, Hosea 3:4]… [F]or the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness…; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air; and even the fish of the sea are taken away. [Hosea 4:1-3] [W]ith you is my contention, O priest…?. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. [Hosea 4:4-6]… For I desire steadfast love [mercy] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6]… Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning. Were I to write for him my laws by ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing. They love sacrifice; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them. [Hosea 8:11-13]… When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning incense to idols. [Hosea 11:1-2. This is a suggestion that the Israelites adopted the sacrificing of animals from the other tribes of Palestine.] O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God…?. Take with you words and return unto the Lord. Say unto him, Take away all iniquity and turn towards kindness; so will we render the fruit of our lips. [Hosea 14:2, translated by Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus, 492, as “the bullocks of our lips.” Comments in brackets and bold italics are mine.] Hosea condemned the priests outright for sacrificing and rejected them as his priests. (Hosea 4:4-6). Jesus was quoting from Hosea and therefore endorsing the greater message of Hosea. Therefore, in Matthew, Jesus was condemning the sacrifices as did Hosea.
The issue in Hosea does not concern priests who sacrifice animals on the Sabbath and are excused for working on the Sabbath but priests who sacrifice animals and are rejected as god’s priests for doing so. (Hosea 4:4-6.) There is no discussion in Hosea of priests being guiltless for performing sacrifices. Hosea refers to making a “covenant” with the animals. The only other parties in Hosea who were connected with the sacrifices and thus available to be referred to as “guiltless” were the animals who were sacrificed.
My theory is that Jesus actually quoted extensively from Hosea and originally said that the priests did profane the Temple with their sacrifices and were rejected as god’s priests for doing so. Christianity expanded into the Greek-speaking gentile world, and an oral gospel was recited in church, a poor translation of the original Hebrew gospel, which Judeo-Christians withheld from Pauline Christians. Even Pauline Christians had heard that Jesus had said “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” so the non-vegetarian redactors felt they could not just delete the statement. In Matthew 9:13 the redactors apparently stripped away everything but the simple statement, which is surrounded by ideas which do not relate at all to sacrifice or mercy. In Matthew 12, instead of deleting the reference, the redactors explained away its significance. They wrapped the story of the apostles’ violation of the Sabbath by harvesting grain around the quotation from Hosea. The only problem is that they forgot that people could go back and read Hosea and there would find the actual context of the statement.
What we are probably reading in our canonical Matthew is a commentary made in a sermon by a Pauline preacher who is explaining why it is acceptable to eat meat despite Jesus’ well-known quotation from Hosea and his well-known reference to the animals as “guiltless.” I suggest that this Pauline commentary was heard so often that it came to be thought of as part of Jesus’ teaching and was added to the Greek version of the gospel as such.
Further, the fact that Jesus referred to the animals as guiltless and referred to making a “covenant” with the animals (Hosea 2:18), combined with the fact that he tried to stop the sacrifices and the fact that he apparently was a vegetarian, may indicate that he was an ethical vegetarian, not just a “technical” vegetarian such as the Maccabees, who objected because proper sacrificial procedures or calendar were not being observed. (See the section of this book entitled Jesus and the Right Treatment of Animals, p. 188.)
And there is one more passage where Jesus condemned the temple sacrifices, which is worth quoting in full:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34.)
The scribe asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment. In response Jesus first recited the Shema, the Jewish statement of strict monotheism. (Deuteronomy 6:4.) Note that the Shema is eliminated from the parallel versions found in Matthew 22:34 ff. and Luke 10:25 ff., perhaps because it conflicts with the Johanine and Pauline theory that Jesus is god.
The scribe follows by stating that Jesus is right in saying that god is one and that loving god and loving one’s neighbor is more important that sacrifices. (Mark 12:33.) However, Jesus is not quoted as having previously disparaged the sacrifices. It would appear that the redactor eliminated Jesus’ condemnation of the sacrifices but forgot to eliminate the scribe’s reference to Jesus’ condemnation of the sacrifices.
Most scribes can be presumed to have been Pharisees. Note that the scribe and Jesus have a warm exchange, with the scribe observing that Jesus had answered well and with Jesus complementing the scribe on being close to the kingdom of god. However, when Matthew and Luke copy from Mark or from Proto-Mark, they leave out these warm remarks and add that the scribe was trying to trick Jesus.
So here we see three instances of tampering with the text. First, Matthew and Luke omit Jesus’ recitation of the Shema. Second, Mark (in part) and Matthew and Luke omit Jesus’ condemnation of the sacrifices. And third, Matthew, and Luke change the scribe’s admiration for Jesus into an attempt to trick him.
Finally, this section validates my thesis that studying the history of food, foodways, is an important tool for studying theology and history in general. It is a different lens through which to do analysis.
JESUS STOPPED THE ANIMAL SACRIFICES IN THE TEMPLE
We all know the story of Jesus “cleansing” the Temple. Jesus overturns a few tables, and preachers always refer to this as merely a statement against the commercialization of religion. However, it is obvious even from a simple reading of the New Testament that there was much more involved. Look first at the Synoptic version of the story:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow any one to carry anything [including sacrificial animals] through the temple. And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers. And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching [that the sacrificial cult had to end]. (Mark 11:15-19; compare Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48, my comments in square brackets.)
It is important to compare the account of this incident in John:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:13-20.)
I find it amazing that almost everyone overlooks the scope of this “cleansing.” So I will list, point by point, what Jesus did in the Temple. My comments are in square brackets:
Jesus reprimanded the money changers and those who sold pigeons. [Mark 11:17; John 2: 16.] “He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” [Mark 11:15.] “He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” [John 2:15.] He “began to drive out those who sold and those who bought [presumably animals and money] in the temple.” [Mark 11:15; Matthew 21:12; cf. Zechariah 14:21.] “He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business… and… drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple…?.” … And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away….” John 2:14-16.] Moreover, “he would not allow any one to carry anything [presumably animals and money] through the temple,” establishing a blockade against bringing in animals to be sacrificed. [Mark 11:16.] He engaged in a teaching session and debate either with the vendors or with the chief priests and scribes. [Mark 11:15-19.] With all animals driven from the temple there could be no sacrifices. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus and his followers took over the Temple and shut down the sacrificial system for a few hours or a few days. This was a violent attack by one who had entered the city on a donkey, part of the kingly, messianic coronation custom.
There is an important piece of evidence to be found in the story of the release of Jesus Barabbas. (Matthew 27:15 ff.; Mark 15:6 ff.; Luke 23:13 ff.) In Matthew, Barabbas is referred to only as “… a man of some notoriety.” In Luke he “… had been put in prison for a rising that had taken place in the city, and for murder.” However, in Mark “… Barabbas was then in custody with the rebels who had committed murder in the rising.” In Greek the definite article is used twice, which would indicate there had been a previous reference to the rebels and the uprising. However, there is no story in Mark of a previous rebellion or uprising, unless this is a reference to the cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15) or to some other uprising which the redactor chose to cut out of the story.
There were two others crucified with Jesus, and they, like Barabbas, who was allegedly granted amnesty in Jesus’ place (Mark 15:15), were referred to as “robbers” (Mark 15:27), a customary term for rebels at that time. This could indicate that, at that Passover time, when many Jews were in the city, a Zealot revolt had broken out and had been suppressed.
My hypothesis is that Jesus himself led or inspired or was drawn into an uprising. Jesus’ aim was to put an end to the sacrificial system and establish a new, bloodless system of worship. Jesus Barabbas could have been one of those who joined in, with or without Jesus’ authorization.
Consider also the competing theory of Hyam Maccoby (Revolution in Judaea, 164, 190) that Jesus Barabbas (literally, “son of the father,” was another name for Jesus the Nazarene and that the juxtaposition of the two was an artificial literary device to heighten the blame on the Jews for requesting the release of a murderer and the execution of Jesus and accepting his blood on their heads.
To introduce competing theories, I should mention the story in which Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, (c. 10-80 C.E.) issued a protest some time after Jesus’ death that the vendors were overcharging—by a factor of 25—for a pair of pigeons, which was the poor person’s sacrifice. One could argue that Jesus was merely protesting the gouging on the price of pigeons and not the fact itself that animals were being sold and sacrificed. (Craig A. Evans, “Opposition to the Temple: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” James H. Charlesworth, ed., Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 238 f.) However, Jesus drove out all the vendors and all their animals, including the pigeons, which would be contrary to this limited interpretation. Moreover, if it had been Jesus’ position that there should be no sacrifices, then he would have intended there to be no sales of animals. Thus, any price paid would have been robbery, and the offense against the poor would have been even greater.
There are two stories here. The first is that Jesus shut down the entire sacrificial system for some unstated period of time. The second is that every theologian I have read starts and ends with the “overturning the money changers’ tables” part of the story and interprets this as a case of Jesus making a statement against the commercialization of religion. It shows the theologians at times fail to pay attention. Again, this section shows the importance of applying foodways analysis in doing theological and historical analysis.
JESUS SAID THE TEMPLE WOULD BE DESTROYED UNLESS THE SACRIFICES WERE STOPPED
In John Jesus made his comment regarding destruction of the Temple and rebuilding it in three days: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19.) In Mark he said: “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2.) His adversaries later accused him of threatening to destroy the Temple. (Matthew 26:61, Mark 14:58.) He never explicitly stated that he would destroy the Temple or that others should destroy it; he only predicted that it would be destroyed.
However, the Second Temple had been built by Herod, son of an Idumean father, whose ancestors had been forcibly converted to Judaism, and a Nabatean Arab mother. If Herod had not been through a proper conversion ceremony, the fact that his mother was not Jewish meant that he was not a Jew. Thus, one of the prerogatives of the messiah would have been to tear down the existing temple and build another. (Hyam Maccoby, The Myth-Maker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, p. 75.)
The general interpretation of Jesus’ boast that he would rebuild the Temple in three days is that he was referring to the “rebuilding” or resurrection of his body in three days. It is easy to understand how gentile Christians, many years later, writing and editing the four gospels we have, would have reinterpreted his statement in this way. Such an interpretation would serve the purpose of preachers trying to convince people of the truth of the resurrection.
However, it is more likely that Jesus was predicting the destruction of the Temple and its rapid replacement with the original Israelite place of worship, the Tabernacle or moveable Tent of Meeting, in which the Israelites worshiped while wandering in Sinai. They could journey from place to place, unload its component pieces from wagons, and erect it within a few days. Recall that the legendary forty years of wandering in Sinai was an ideal time when there was no animal sacrifice and the Israelites ate manna instead of meat. (Exodus 16:15, Numbers 11:7; see the section of this book entitled Meat Eating Allowed Only After the Deluge, p. 58.) Thus, Jesus’ prediction or threat was that unless the sacrifices were ended, the Temple would be destroyed and replaced with a moveable and vegetarian Tabernacle.
During Jesus’ trial, witnesses claimed that he threatened to destroy the Temple. (Matthew 26:61.) According to the Ebionites, Jesus said, “I came to destroy the sacrifices, and if ye cease not from sacrificing, the wrath of God will not cease from you.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:16:2, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 132.) Did the prophecy that there would be no end to the wrath of god equal a threat that the Temple would be destroyed? Apparently it did, and it proved to be accurate: The Temple priests would not end the sacrifices voluntarily, so the Romans destroyed the Temple and ended it for them.
Gentile money had to be changed into Hebrew shekels because it bore pictures of the emperors. Such pictures were considered to be violative of the Second Commandment against idolatry, which included a rule against making any image of any animal, including the human animal. (Exodus 20:4.) But why would changing money be such a bad thing? It would not, unless Jesus saw it as a part of the system of selling sacrificial animals.
Before the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., a small, wealthy elite of Sadducees and priests, had a big financial interest in the meat and leather produced by the sacrificial system. They inspected the animals brought to be sacrificed, executed them, butchered their carcasses, cleaned up the blood, sold the excess meat and leather in the kosher market, and took their share of the meat plus all the leather and all the cereal offerings to eat or resell. They would have been very threatened by Jesus’ efforts to put them out of business, and it is easy to understand why they would have been happy to have the Romans do away with him.
JESUS AIMED TO TAKE POLITICAL POWER
The Hasmondean-Maccabean family led the revolt against the Syrian Greeks (168-164 B.C.E.) and won Israel its last long-term independence until 1948. The Romans moved in with Pompey’s conquest in 63 B.C.E. They appointed pro-Roman Herod the Great to be king. Herod was an Idumean half-Jew who married a Maccabean princess and proceeded to kill his Maccabean in-laws and his Maccabean wife. The Herodians, Sadducees, and the top level priests who benefited from the status quo, favored cooperation with the Romans, if only to avoid a Roman attack. In turn, the Romans kept the Herodians in power and appointed the kings and high priests.
Their rivals were the Davidians, those who favored the restoration of the descendants of David to the throne and wanted the Romans out. Jesus was a descendant of David, perhaps the primary heir of David in his day. The ruling Herodians would have been glad to see such a rival eliminated.
Jesus went up on a mountain and was secretly coronated using Israelite coronation terms. (Luke 9:28-35.) He appointed his own Sanhedrin court of 72 and sent them throughout the countryside to prepare the people for the coming of the earthly kingdom of god. (Luke 10:1.)
When a man was anointed king or messiah, his head was anointed with oil. Jesus was anointed with very expensive spikenard oil, valued at 300 denarii, the denarius being a day’s wages for a laborer. However, in the New Testament it is Jesus’ feet that were anointed, and the anointing was said to have been done to prepare Jesus for his burial. The original tradition probably involved anointing on his head, and this is probably another case of tampering with the text. (Matthew 20:2, 26:7 f. and Mark 14:3 f., John 12: 3-5.)
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the way kings took power, and this said to have been done to fulfill the prophesy of Zechariah 9:9:
… Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.” (Matthew 21:1ff., which quotes from the Septuagint version of Zechariah 9:9.)
The gentile redactor of Matthew was so ignorant of Hebrew that he did not understand that Hebrew poetry comes in doublets, referred to as Hebrew parallelism, where almost everything is repeated. He was not aware that the ass and the foal of an ass were one and the same animal. He presents Jesus as somehow riding astraddle two donkeys.
Again and again, Jesus is presented as telling his followers he was doing what he was doing to fulfill prophesy. (Matthew 3:15, 5:17.) Was he intentionally building his case for being messiah king? Nathaniel declared him to be the “king of Israel.” (John 1:49.) The crowds chanted, “Hosanna to the son of David.” (Matthew 21:9.) He forcibly took over the Temple and temporarily eliminated animal sacrifice from the cult. (John 2:15.) His followers were to rule and judge the twelve tribes. (Matthew 19:28.) Thus, I conclude that Jesus and his dynastic family wanted to take political power.
I should add, however, that Jesus’ emphasis appears not to have been on taking power through force alone. Apparently it was to be moral force. Apparently he believed that for the messiah to come, for him to be validated as messiah, and for his Ebionite Judaism to become the predominant sect of Judaism and an example to other religions, it would first be necessary that Jews become morally worthy. Thus he preached repentance and high ethical standards, instead of empty conformity to ritual and the sacrificial cult. (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6.) He was to be a messiah of peace; he must have known of Zechariah 9:9-11, which states that the messiah would “… cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations …?.”
JESUS, KILLED FOR SEDITION BY ROMANS, ASSISTED
BY QUISLING PRIESTS
The Roman leadership had good reason to do Jesus in. He had declared himself to be messiah, which translates into Greek and Latin as “king.” Jesus is presented in various New Testament passages as a pure pacifist, however, supporters of his Davidians messiahship included those who were ready to go to war to overthrow Roman power in Israel. Simon, one of the apostles, was known as a Zealot, and the brothers James and John were called Sons of Thunder. (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13; Mark 3:17.)
Jesus was a very popular holy man and healer who was cheered by large crowds as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey—part of the custom by which ancient kings of Israel claimed their thrones. (Matthew 21:10.) One must then ask who was in the crowd that later shouted for Jesus’ crucifixion? How could the masses cheer him one day and call for his death the next? (Matthew 27:22.) The complete lack of any explanation made in the New Testament illustrates my point that the stories we have about Jesus are a puzzle with many of the pieces removed by later editors. However, if one assumes that Jesus was part of a revolutionary movement that aimed to end the sacrificial system, it is easy to infer that there were two different crowds, the first being Davidian supporters and the second being Herodian and Sadducean opponents, including priests who feared and hated Jesus because he had tried to shut down their butcher shop economy and might precipitate a war with the Romans. It was probably only this small minority which opposed Jesus. Today’s rabbinic Judaism is descended from the Pharisees, and there is no evidence they had any quarrel with Jesus. (Consider Acts 5:34.)
LATER FOLLOWERS OF JESUS REFUSED TO FIGHT THE ROMANS
Eusebius, orthodox church historian, said that when Jerusalem rose against the Romans in 66 C.E., the Nazoraeans refused to join the rebellion and left the city, settling in Pella, a town across the Jordan in Perea. (Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, Book 2, Chapter 23, p. 58.)
Scholars such as S.G.F. Brandon doubt the truth of Eusebius’ claim, contending instead that most of the Judeo-Christians would have remained in Jerusalem, taking up arms against the Romans and perishing with the rest. Brandon says this is why Jerusalem lost its status as Mother Church. He says that Judeo-Christians did not accept pacifism until after the fall of Jerusalem. (S.G.F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots: A Study of the Political Factor in Primitive Christianity, p. 208-217.)
Brandon points out correctly that the rabbis who set up their new academy at Jamnia succeeded to the position of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. (Brandon, p. 216, n. 4.) He reasons that if the Jews had been able to move the leadership center of their community and retain authority, the Jerusalem Judeo-Christians should have been able to do the same, and the fact that Jerusalem Judeo-Christians lost their authority means that they vanished in the fall of Jerusalem.
I respectfully disagree with Brandon. Judaism was an ancient, respected, and legally recognized religion, and the Pharisees of Jamnia had used their connections to obtain explicit authorization from the Romans to reorganize. Christianity, on the other hand, was an upstart religion, a breakaway sect of Judaism, one with no Roman recognition, and one which believed that a messiah-king would soon return and perhaps lead another rebellion. Further, Eusebius says Hegesippus lists the bishops who succeeded James, 15 bishops and/or presbyters, all of them descendants of Jesus’ family. He says the Judeo-Christians returned to Jerusalem at some point following 70 C.E. (Eusebius, Church History, III: 22, 32, 35, V:12.)
The Judeo-Christians refused to participate in the well-organized uprising of Bar Kokhba in 132 C.E., for which they received the contempt of the Jewish rebels and were persecuted. (Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, 3.5, 4:5, 4:8, tr. G.A. Williamson, p. 68, 107, 111; www.ccel.org/fathers.html.) Why did they refuse to fight for Bar Kokhba? Because Bar Kokhba declared himself to be messiah, and he was not the reincarnation of Jesus or Jesus returned from heaven or even a follower of Jesus. If the Judeo-Christians refused to fight for Bar Kokhba, it is reasonable that they would have refused to fight in 66 C.E. when there was a messianic claimant for only a short period until he was killed by an opposing faction. That claimant was also not Jesus or a follower of Jesus, so the Judeo-Christians would not have fought for him.
In the revolt of 66 C.E., the zealots overthrew the Sadducees and Herodians, and brutality and murder escalated. Josephus described their methods. (The Complete Works of Josephus, 20:9:1, tr. William Whiston, Antiquities of the Jews, p. 423; http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-18.htm.) Judeo-Christians would have been unlikely to fight along side such people. They would have been waiting for Jesus to return, take charge as messiah, and give them guidance in this very confused situation.
Backtracking, Jesus decided after much equivocation to accept status as messiah-king. (Matthew 16:16, 16:20, 26:63-64; Mark 9:41, 12:35; Luke 9:20; John 1:41, 4:25). But his methods were different. Jesus wanted to become messiah-king by bringing Israel to a higher moral plane as a first step, including ending the sacrifices. When the revolt came, the sacrifices had not ended. Jesus had not returned. The Jerusalem Christians remembered that Jesus had prophesied that the city would be destroyed if the sacrifices did not end. It appeared to them that destruction was imminent. (John 2:13-20.) So they left.
Assuming the descendants of Jesus did flee Jerusalem and did survive the war, why did they lose their status as leaders of world Christianity? My hypothesis is that because they were of the same Davidian line as Jesus and were heirs apparent to the throne, they would have been a threat to Roman rule. They would have been on the run from the Romans from time to time and thus disorganized. Eusebius says the “heirs,” the Desposyni, Jesus’ family, met and selected Simon, son of Clopas, who probably had been Joseph’s brother, to succeed to the leadership. Simon died at 120 years of age while being tortured by the Romans under Trajan around the year 107 C.E. Eusebius slipped and recounted that Simon was betrayed by certain “heretical sects.” Abd Al-Jabbar tells the same story. Who else would have been more likely to betray Simon than Pauline Christians in league with the Romans? (See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134; and Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G.A. Williamson, Book 3, 32, p. 95.)
JESUS WAS PRECEDED, SURROUNDED,
AND FOLLOWED BY VEGETARIANS
Those who preceded Jesus in his tradition—Pythagoreans, the Essenes, the Therapeutae, and John the Baptist—were vegetarian. Pythagoras and the Jews were both taken in captivity to Babylon around the same time, and they could have learned from each other. Essenes and Therapeutae later might have known that Pythagoras was among their intellectual ancestors.
Those who surrounded Jesus while he was alive and who continued his tradition—the Nazoraeans and the Jerusalem church, his brother James, probably his cousin Simon, Simon Peter, Matthew, all the “disciples of Jesus,” and the Ebionite Judeo-Christians for four hundred years—were vegetarian. Various eastern orthodox sects were, and still are, vegetarian up to half the year.
The case for Jesus being a vegetarian is strengthened by the fact that there are many teachings in addition to vegetarianism that these groups—Pythagoreans, Essenes, Therapeutae, the original Nazarenes, and the Ebionites—had in common. Within each group there were those who chose to live in communes and share assets and income. The Pythagoreans denounced the moral blindness induced by wealth, and so did the Essenes. Jesus warned against the worship of the false god Dollar, known as “Mammon.” (Matthew 6:19 f., 24.)
All of these groups favored an optional celibacy. All of these groups were noted for their physicians and healers. Regarding oath-taking, Hebrew tradition required only that when an oath was taken it be honored. (Leviticus 10:12, Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 23:23.) However, like the Pythagoreans and Essenes, Jesus took the position that one should not make oaths at all. (Matthew 5:33-37.) His brother agreed. (James 5:12.)
All of these groups were pacifists or relative pacifists. Jesus’ teaching about not returning evil for evil (Matthew 7:12) is consistent with his project to return the world to its original state of peace: His theory apparently was that one should not return verbal or physical insult when doing so would stop the cycle of violence. As Pythagoras opposed taking revenge, Jesus said one should turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39.) However, Jesus did use violence temporarily to end animal sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple and did authorize carrying weapons, and perhaps would have used force to take over rule of Israel. (Luke 22:38.) Some Essenes were involved in the war against Rome. Even a pacifist will take up arms when that is his only option. All pacifism is relative.
In the New Testament gospels, men and angels wearing white robes appear several times. When Jesus is transfigured, his garments become white. (Matthew 17:2.) When the women come to the empty tomb, they encounter either “a young man… dressed in white robes” (Mark 16:5), an angel wearing “raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3), or “two angels in white.” (John 20:12.) As Jesus disappears into heaven, the apostles find two men wearing white robes standing by them. (Acts 1:10.) Why is the symbol of white robes so strong? The Essenes wore white linen robes. (The Complete Works of Josephus, tr. William Whiston, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.3, 2.8.7, p. 476 f.) Probably white is strongly emphasized because Jesus had Essene friends and was himself an Essene.
Pythagoras was known as “the Man.” Although the term “Son of Man” appears in the Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Daniel, Jesus’ repeated references to himself as the “Son of Man” may be his acknowledgment of Pythagoras as his intellectual ancestor.
There is mention of women serving as presidents of synagogues in Jesus’ day. (Bernadette J. Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue: Inscriptional Evidence and Background Issues, cited in Anthony J. Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community, p. 17.) Jesus treated women as worthy disciples and teachers. (Luke 8:2 f., 10:38 ff.) According to our orthodox New Testament, women in the early church did not occupy chief leadership roles but did serve as deaconesses and prophets. (Acts 1:14, 2:17, 18:26, 21:9; Romans 16:1.) Among the gnostic Christians, women often held leadership positions. In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene (17:18-18:15; http://www.gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm), Peter, Andrew, and Levi acknowledge that Mary had been closer to Jesus than they had been and that he had revealed teachings to her that he had not revealed to them. (See Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan, pp. 67-68.) It was Paul and his followers who required women to be submissive and silent in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-36; 1 Timothy 2:12.)
The Buddha accepted women on an equal footing with men. So too did the Jains. Among the sky-clad (naked) ascetics of the Digambara Jains there were sky-clad women ascetics. Pythagoras admitted women to his academy and to positions of responsibility on an equal footing with men, although later Pythagoreans did not afford women quite the same high status as did Pythagoras. Pythagoras’ wife and daughter were noted scholars and writers.
The gentile Christian church in the West, for its first 800 years fasted from meat and all other animal-based foods two days each week and during Lent and other periods. Certain eastern Christian sects such as the Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches still do this. Devout Greek Orthodox Christians do so as well.
Given the fact that there was such a strong vegetarian tradition among Jesus’ predecessors, contemporaries, and heirs, a meat-eating Jesus would be hard to explain. (See the section of this book entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache. p. 157.)
JESUS AND THE RIGHT TREATMENT OF ANIMALS
Robert Eisenman suggested that Judas Maccabeus, the Essenes, and John the Baptist refused to eat meat not because they saw anything morally wrong with it, but because they believed the proper personnel were not conducting the sacrificial system. I assume he would apply the same logic to the vegetarianism of Jesus and James. Were the Essenes, John the Baptist, Jesus, and James ethical vegetarians? Or were they vegetarians like Judas Maccabeus, for technical reasons only?
The Hasmondean Maccabees became not only kings but also high priests. According to Eisenman’s approach, the proper high priestly family of Aaron was not presiding over the Temple sacrifices, and without valid sacrifices being offered, the eating of meat should not have been allowed. Eisenman makes the same argument about Noah and about the Israelites during their wandering in Sinai: They were vegetarians because no sacrificial system had been set up. (Genesis 8:20, 9:3; 2 Maccabees 5:27; Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 265 ff., 275 ff., 293.)
In evaluating whether Jesus would have been a vegetarian for such technical reasons only and not because he opposed cruelty to animals, review what the prophets Jesus quoted from had said:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9.)
A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. (Proverbs 12:10.)
The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (Psalms 145:9.)
And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety. (Hosea 2:18.)
Consider what Jesus himself said:
And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7.)
Regarding this last quotation, see the section of this book entitled Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 176, where I demonstrate that the “guiltless” were the sacrificed animals. To say the animals were guiltless is to make an ethical argument against their sacrifice, not just a technical argument.
Simon Peter, debating with Simon Magus, said that god did not wish animals to be slain, which would indicate he was an ethical vegetarian:
But that He is not pleased with sacrifices, is shown by this, that those who lusted after flesh were slain as soon as they tasted it, and were consigned to a tomb, so that it was called the grave of lusts [a reference to Numbers 11:34]. He then who at the first was displeased with the slaughtering of animals, not wishing them to be slain, did not ordain sacrifices as desiring them; nor from the beginning did He require them. For neither are sacrifices accomplished without the slaughter of animals…?. But how is it possible for Him to abide in darkness, and smoke, and storm… who created a pure heaven, and created the sun to give light to all. (The Clementine Homilies, 3:45, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 247.)
According to the Clementina, Peter said, “I live on bread alone, with olives, and seldom even with pot-herbs…?.” (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 158; Clementine Homilies, 12:6, Vol. 8, p. 293.) Peter spoke well of the vegetarian Brahmans of India. (The Recognitions of Clement, 9:20, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 187; also 9:27, p. 189.)
The seven Laws of Noah included the prohibition against eating flesh cut from a live animal, a term of art which refers to the rule against raising, working, and killing animals in a cruel way. (Jewish Encyclopedia, “Noahian Laws,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
Recall that part of James’ ruling at the Jerusalem Council was that gentile converts “abstain from… what is strangled…?.” (Acts 15:19-20, 28-29, 21:25.) This again is almost certainly a term of art which refers to the same rule against raising, working, and killing animals in a cruel way. Judaism has long prohibited cruelty to animals even when it allowed their killing as a concession to man’s inability to quit eating meat. (Genesis 9:3-4; Leviticus 3:17; Deuteronomy 12:16. See the section of this book entitled Paul, James, and the Jerusalem Council, p. 122; Sanhedrin 56; Judaism 101, “Treatment of Animals,” www.jewfaq.org/animals.htm.)
Judeo-Christians were flatly opposed to killing animals for food: The messiah they expected was to be vegetarian and return the world to a vegetarian Eden. They believed the killing of animals for food to be unethical. Jesus considered the animals to be innocent or guiltless. I conclude that Jesus and his Judeo-Christian successors were ethical vegetarians, not temporary or “technical” vegetarians.
SZEKELY AND THE ESSENE GOSPEL OF PEACE
Edmond Szekely (died 1979) published the Essene Gospel of Peace in 1937. Szekely spoke ten modern languages and was a master of classical Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. He was an admirer of Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Benedict (c.480-c.550), and Jerome (c. 342-420), all of whom had been inspired by the Essenes and followed certain Essene traditions.
Szekely claimed that he obtained access to the books of a “secret” Vatican Library, miles of old documents not open to the public. (Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, The Discovery of the Essene Gospel of Peace.) There he said he found and translated from Aramaic, what he said were genuine Essene writings dating from the period after the death of Jesus. He said these Essene documents came to the Vatican library through St. Jerome and through the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. According to Szekely, these Essene writings have also survived in Old Slavonic in the Royal Archives of the Hapsburgs, having been taken there by Nestorian Christian priests of central Asia, who were fleeing west from the armies of Genghis Khan (whose dates are 1162-1227).
In the Essene Gospel of Peace Jesus is presented as a healer who often is surrounded by the sick. He teaches followers to fast completely on Saturdays (which customarily is not a Jewish fast day but a feast day), generally to eat only twice each day (an ancient Jewish custom), and to chew food slowly and prayerfully. Jesus opposes eating meat and drinking wine. He prescribes raw foods, with an emphasis on young sprouts, and opposes eating cooked foods. He includes instructions in how to sprout grain and make it into bread by baking it in the sun. Jesus stresses meditation among the trees, deep breathing, basking in the sun, and bathing daily. Except for the stress on a vegetarian diet, the most unusual features, and the only ones which the orthodox might find unusual, are a stress on an Earthly Mother to complement the Heavenly Father and the use of the term “Son of Man” as a reference not to Jesus but to all humans. In the Essene Gospel of Peace, Jesus says:
[A]ll must be born again of sun and of truth, for your body basks in the sunlight of the Earthly Mother, and your spirit basks in the sunlight of the truth of the Heavenly Father.… For truly, no one can reach the Heavenly Father unless through the Earthly Mother. (p. 18.)… For the spirit of the Son of Man was created from the spirit of the Heavenly Father, and his body from the body of the Earthly Mother. (p. 19.)…
And many unclean and sick followed Jesus’ words…?. They put off their shoes and their clothing, they fasted, and they gave up their bodies to the angels of air, of water, and of sunshine. (p. 24.)…
It was said to them of old time, ‘Honor thy Heavenly Father and thy Earthly Mother, and do their commandments…?.’ And next afterward was given this commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill…?.’… For I tell you, from one Mother proceeds all that lives upon the earth. Therefore, he who kills, kills his brother…?. [H]e who kills, kills himself, and whoso eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats of the body of death…?. (p. 36.) You do not… transgress the law if you kill the wild beast to save your brother’s life…?. But he who kills the beast… for its flesh, or for its hide, or yet for its tusks, evil is the deed which he does, for he is turned into a wild beast himself. (p. 38.)
God commanded your forefathers: Thou shalt not kill.’ But their heart was hardened and they killed. Then Moses desired that at least they should not kill men, and he suffered them to kill beasts…?. But I do say to you: Kill neither men, nor beasts, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. (p. 39.)…
[P]repare not your foods with the fire of death, which kills your foods, your bodies and your souls also… . Moisten your wheat, that the angel of water may enter it…?. And the blessing of the three angels will soon make the germ of life to sprout in your wheat. Then crush your grain, and make thin wafers, as did your forefathers when they departed out of Egypt…?. Put them… beneath the sun… and leave them there until the sun be set [a different but quite plausible interpretation of the manna of Exodus 16]…?. (p. 40.)… So eat… the fruits of the trees, the grain and grasses of the field, the milk of beasts and the honey of bees…?. (p. 41.)
[I]f you mix together all sorts of food in your body, then the peace of your body will cease…?. Eat only when the sun is highest in the heavens, and again when it is set. (p. 42.)… And chew well your food with your teeth… [a]nd eat slowly, as it were a prayer you make to the Lord.… On the seventh day [Fasting on the Sabbath would seem a very un-Jewish behavior] eat not any earthly food, but live only on the words of God…?. (pp. 43-44.)… And take no delight in any drink, nor in any smoke from Satan…?.(p. 45.)
The idea that the Holy Spirit is a woman has been suppressed in the authorized New Testament, however, the notion is present in ancient Judeo-Christian gospels, which were destroyed and survive only in quotations made by orthodox theologians. For example, Origen, quotes from the Gospel of the Hebrews, although in a disparaging way:
If any one should lend credence to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, where the Savior Himself says, “My mother, the Holy Spirit took me just now by one of my hairs and carried me off to the great mount Tabor,” he will have to face the difficulty of explaining how the Holy Spirit can be the mother of Christ when it was itself brought into existence through the Word. (Commentary on John, 2:6, www.newadvent.org/fathers/1015.htm; see Origen’s Homily on Jeremiah 15:4 and Jerome’s Commentary on Micha 7:5-7; see A.F.J. Klijn, Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition, p. 7, 52 ff.)
Origen was wrong. Although spirit is masculine in Latin, spiritus, and neuter in Greek, pneuma, it is feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic, ruach or rucha. Every time Jesus talked about the holy spirit, he and his listeners were thinking “she.” An enormous amount got lost in translation. The original trinity was the father, the mothering spirit, and the sons and daughters of god. (See Jewish Encyclopedia article on “Trinity,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.
Further, in the oldest known Christian hymns, the Odes of Solomon, written in Syriac in the First Century, the word “spirit” is feminine, and there are numerous references to the spirit as “she.” (James Hamilton Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: The Syriac Texts, 11:2 at p. 52, 19:2 at p. 82, 35:1 at p. 126.)
I have a friend who knew Edmund Szekely and had his complete confidence. My friend says that Edmund’s students have gone to the Vatican Library and asked to see the Essene Gospel of Peace. They have been told that there is no such gospel. (www.vatican.va/library_archives/vat_secret_archives/docs/index.htm.) My friend says the Vatican librarians would not allow Szekely to copy the Essene Gospel and that he utilized his photographic memory to bring his translations out. In response to that, I must say that if he had brought out the original Aramaic instead of just his translation of it—even just a few sentences—, the case for the genuineness of the Essene Gospel would be stronger. My friend says that Szekely had his own reasons for writing for the layman and not adding numerous references and footnotes to his books. I suggest that Szekely’s Gospel be read as his best estimation of what Ebionite Pythagorean Jewish Christians believed and how they worshiped and lived. I suggest that Szekely cast it as a pseudepigrapha or an apocrypha, as a comment on the accepted books of the Bible, many or most of which are written in the name of heroes of years before. As such, his Essene Gospel is worth reading.
I would theorize that it is possible that Szekely disguised the location of the manuscript so as to protect the identity of the librarian who made it available to him and to protect the book itself from censors.
Does the Essene Gospel of Peace contain the actual words of Jesus? Is it an apocryphal composition created in the first centuries of our era by Judeo-Christian Essenes and Ebionites which accurately reflects their beliefs but does not contain the actual words of Jesus? Or is it a composition created out of whole cloth by Szekely based on writings about the Essenes by Josephus, Philo, and Pliny?
Szekely was a modern day prophet. He traveled the world, established a neo-Essene center in Mexico, knew the intellects of his day, and lived a fulfilling life, the kind others only dream of. He authored several dozen books, all of them worthy of reading, particularly his biographies. (International Biogenic Society, Box 849, Nelson, BC, Canada V1L-6A5.) I look forward to the rediscovery of the Essene Gospel in the original language. Until that happens, the Essene Gospel merits both consideration and an degree of skepticism.
IS THERE AN INDIAN TRADITION OF A VEGETARIAN JESUS?
Radical German theologian Holger Kersten (Jesus Lived in India) reports on legends from India, which say Jesus went to India after surviving his crucifixion and lived to an old age in Srinagar, Kashmir, where he says a tomb of Issa the Jew survives to this day. Hugh J. Schonfield (The Essene Odyssey, p. 98 ff.), explored theories that the Issa of Kashmir was the Jesus of Nazareth and concluded there was no connection between the two, although he does not cover all the issues Kersten raises.
Russian Nicolas Notovitch, apparently a vegetarian, claimed that in 1887 he visited the monastery of Hemis in Leh, which is in the eastern part Kashmir that once was part of Tibet. He said he had heard that the Buddhist monks had manuscripts which told of the Jewish prophet Issa—as in Iesus or Jesus. Notovitch alleged that monks read to his translator from the Buddhist manuscripts in the Pali or Tibetan language, and that his translator translated in turn to Notovitch, who took notes, apparently in Russian or French. The story in the manuscripts purports to be based on reports brought back from the Levant by merchants shortly after Jesus’ death. The book makes for good reading.
In the Buddhist gospel of Notovitch the prophet Issa stated to the people of Kashmir, “Not only must you desist from offering human sacrifices, but you must immolate [burn] no animal to which life has been given, for all things have been created for the benefit of man.” (Notovitch, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, p. 37.)
However, Tibetan Buddhists carefully list all known books on Buddhism and a book about Issa is unknown to them. Further, Tibetan Buddhists obtained their Tibetan translations out of Sanskrit, not Pali. A Professor Archibald Douglas investigated the story and found that Notovitch had never visited the monastery or interviewed the monks. Notovitch was exposed, and he confessed. It appears that being a vegetarian does not prevent one from being a fraud. (John Davidson, The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of His Original Teachings, p. 136 ff.) Notovitch’s book continues to sell with no disclaimer included.
WHAT ABOUT THE FISH STORIES?
MORE TAMPERING WITH THE TEXTS
Various New Testament passages would imply that Jesus was not a vegetarian. Jesus made analogies using fish (Matthew 7:10), told his followers where to catch fish (Matthew 17:27), fed fish to his audience (Matthew 14:17, 15:36; John 6:9), performed a miracle with a fish (Matthew 17:27), selected apostles who were fishermen, told those apostles he would make them “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19), and cooked and ate fish after his resurrection (Luke 24:42, John 21:9).
One might argue that Jesus and the Essenes were fish vegetarians. Paul mentioned that fish flesh was different from other meat. (1 Corinthians 15:39.) Marcion was a vegetarian except that he was said to regard sea food as “the more sacred diet,” by which some presume that fish was the only meat he ate on fast days or perhaps the only meat he ate at any time. (Tertullian Against Marcion, 1:14, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, p. 281.)
However, my theory is that the many New Testament references to fish were not part of the original tradition but were added later—for astrological and mystical reasons or to make a statement that meat eating was acceptable.
Examine the last two chapters of the gospel of John. It is clear that the 20th chapter constitutes a logical ending for the book and that the 21st chapter—the one containing the story of Jesus after his resurrection telling the apostles where to fish and cooking fish—appears to be a coda that was added later. There was a numerological reason for adding the 21st chapter, as discussed a few paragraphs below.
Consider the stories of the feeding of the 5,000 men (not counting women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:17, Mark 6:38) and the story of the feeding of 4,000 men with seven loaves and a few fish. (Matthew 15:34, Mark 8:6.) Fish was not originally on Matthew’s menu: Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130 to 202), relying on versions of the gospels older than the ones later canonized by the Roman church, and from which we read today, twice states that the multitude was fed with bread only. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, 2:22:3, 2:24:4, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Volume I, p. 391, 395.
Further, these fish stories are similar in structure to the story of Elisha feeding 100 men with twenty loaves, and in that story there is no mention of any fish. (II Kings 4:42.) Just as many stories in the New Testament are modeled after Old Testament stories (Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:54, 26:56, 27:9, 27:35), it is possible that the New Testament stories about Jesus feeding the multitude derive from the Elisha story.
Examine the stories themselves. In one story Jesus holds and blesses the loaves and the fish but gives only the loaves to his disciples. (Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-39; see Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-21; Luke 9:12-17.) John too refers to the feeding of the 5,000, and he too mentions five loaves and two fishes. However, a few verses later, Jesus rebukes some who have followed, saying “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:1-14, 26.) It appears that the editor who added the fish to the menu at the beginning of these stories forgot to add it in subsequent references, a sign the text was tampered with, and in an amateurish way.
Peter and Andrew were said to be fishers. Jesus called them to be “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18 ff.; Mark 1:17.) Jesus implied that a fish would be a good gift. (Matthew 7:10.) Jesus gave fishing tips to Peter. (Luke 5:1 ff.) I suggest that these fish stories too were later additions. In the Clementina Peter states that his diet included only bread, olives, and pot herbs. (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 158; Clementine Homilies, 12:6, Vol. 8, p. 293.)
Most readers of the New Testament are naively trusting when it comes to the validity of the text, however, there are clear signs of tampering, and generally the tampering occurs when a certain doctrine needs to be stressed or when a certain heretical doctrine needs an authoritative rebuke. In a time when there were few books, the Roman church, supported by the state censor, could change them all and thus change the flow of ideas.
In John 21 the resurrected Jesus is barbecuing fish on the lake shore, waiting for his apostles. He tells his followers where to catch more fish. The number of fish caught is 153. When two circles overlap such that the circumference of each touches the center of the other, the ratio of the height to the width of the part of the two circles which overlap is 153:265, which Archimedes referred to as the “measure of the fish,” and which probably goes back to Pythagoras. “It is… the nearest whole number approximation of the square root of three and the controlling ratio of the equilateral triangle.” Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? p. 40; David Fideler, Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism, p. 108.) The overlapping circumferences of the two circles, plus a continuation of the fins, produces the fish symbol which represents Christianity. The fish is fatter and shorter than the skinnier and longer fish usually portrayed on the back of “Christian cars.”
MORE TAMPERING: ASTROLOGY, FISH SYMBOLISM,
AND SON OF GOD
In relation to fish generally, it is important to bear in mind the significance of astrology to almost all philosophies and sects in Jesus’ day. It was by way of astrological analysis that the Zoroastrian priests from Persia—the Magi or Wise Men—were said to have located the child Jesus. Johannes Kepler calculated that in May, October, and December of 7 B.C.E. there were conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of Pisces. (Hugh Schonfield, The Pentecost Revolution, p. 46.) Pisces was a popular Jewish symbol, one with messianic overtones. Jupiter and Saturn were symbols of highest rulership. This approach to the magi story—although the entire story may be apocryphal—squares with the aspect of the story in which the magicians did not go directly to Bethlehem but went first to Jerusalem to inquire as to where the new born Jewish king might be found. It does not square with the part of the story in which the star stood like a beacon over the house where Jesus was staying with his parents (Matthew 2: 1-9), which was probably a separate addition, made by an editor who did not understand the astrological significance of the story.
Just as we today we sing songs about entering the astrological Age of Aquarius—the water carrier and thus the symbol of peace—, people in Jesus’ day were celebrating their entry into the new Age of Pisces, the age of the fish.
The astrological ages each last roughly 2,150 years and are based on the earth’s wobble—like a spinning top—which causes the North Pole to point to different areas of the sky, making a full circle in roughly 25,800 years. The zodiacal eras proceed in the opposite order of the months of the zodiac that appear in the newspaper.
Before the era of Pisces the fish, was the era of Aries the ram, c. 1930 B.C.E. to c. 221 C.E. Various religions during that period chose the ram as symbol or object of sacrifice. Jesus was called the “lamb of god.” (John 1:29, 36, Acts 8:32, Revelation 5:6, 8, 12). The Aryans were invading Iran and India and the Hyksos were invading Egypt shortly after 2000 B.C.E. The Hyksos were the “shepherd kings.” They introduced horses and chariots to Egypt, and this is the point when the Egyptians developed an organized military system. (Henry Bailey Stevens, The Recovery of Culture, p. 101, citing James Harvey Breasted, A History of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 193, 319.) There may be a linguistic connection between the terms Aries (“ram” in Latin) and Aryan (“noble” in Sanskrit).
Before the era of Aries was the era of Taurus the bull, c. 4080 to 1930 B.C.E. (Peter Lemesurier, The Nostradamus Encyclopedia, p. 62.) This was the time when cattle herding, horseback riding Aryan and Semitic patriarchs were invading the Near East and Old Europe. Around 3000 B.C.E., the bull was being worshiped by the highly influential cults of Isis and Osiris. The bull was believed to bring the inundation of the Nile. Images of the bull are common in temples built in this period. Osiris, worshiped as a bull, was killed and resurrected, and his worshipers drank blood and later a liquid symbolic of blood. However, beginning around 2000 B.C.E., as the era of Aries was dawning, Osiris began to be represented as a ram. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 10 f.) Religions changed with changes in the zodiac.
The era of Pisces in Latin was the Age of Ichthus in Greek, both words meaning “fish.” The sign of Pisces was understood by astrologists to refer to the Jews. Christians, originally a Jewish sect, adopted the symbol of the fish and made the Greek letters into an acrostic that summarized Christian teaching: “Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior.” The letters correspond to the following words:
I i ihsous Iesous Jesus
Ch c cristos Christos Christ
Th q qesu theou of God
U u uios huios the son
S s soter soter savior
The orthodox would argue that the true doctrine regarding Jesus begat the adoption of the acrostic. The critic would argue that astrology begot the acrostic, which in turn begat the doctrine.
The fish was a symbol of divinity among the Phoenicians, and so they refused to eat fish, just as Hebrews refused to eat pork. Jews had long utilized fish symbolism. Joshua, Moses apprentice, was the “son of Nun,” which means “son of fish.” “Joshua” in Hebrew is “Jesus” or “Iesous” in Greek. (Gedaiahu G. Stroumsa, “The Early Christian Fish Symbol Reconsidered,” Messiah and Christos: Studies in the Jewish Origins of Christianity, p. 199 ff.)
In what sense did the Judeo-Christians, the original Christians, consider Jesus to be the son of god? This question is relevant to our inquiry because it tests two arguments: whether the Judeo-Christians had a consistent theory about Jesus as an ethical teacher and opponent of animal sacrifice and meat eating, and whether the stories of Jesus eating fish were added as part of revisionist efforts to deify him.
The Judeo-Christians regarded Jesus as the prophet predicted by Moses and messiah but not as the son of god in the divine sense. Epiphanius interviewed them and said of them:
… [T]hey say that this is why Jesus was begotten of the seed of a man and chosen, and thus named Son of God by election, after the Christ who had come to him from on high in the form of a dove…?. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:16:3, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, Section II, p. 132.)
Judeo-Christians believed god adopted Jesus as his son at the time of his baptism, as discussed below.
The Clementina, also referred to as the Pseudo-Clementine Literature, because it is attributed to Clement of Rome, appears to be a revision of early Judeo-Christian documents. In the story, Clement a convert to Judeo-Christianity, spends time following Simon Peter and recording his speeches. In the Clementina, Jesus is referred to repeatedly as messiah and true prophet. (Recognitions of Clement, 1:45, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 89). Even the writer of Luke and Acts says the early Judeo-Christians—including the apostles—referred to Jesus as a prophet. (Luke 24:19, Acts 3:22.)
Israelites generally were called the sons of god. (Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:6, 32:18.) When kings were inaugurated in ancient Israel, they were anointed, meaning that sacred oil was poured on their heads. Moshiah in Hebrew—just as christos in Greek—means “one anointed.” All the kings of Israel and Judah were thus messiahs. As a part of the coronation ceremony it was declared, as in Psalms 2:7, “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” and as in 2 Samuel 7:14, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” Each Hebrew king was the adopted son of God; however, there was never any suggestion that the king was supernaturally conceived, as was the belief regarding certain divinely begotten Egyptian, Greek, and Roman kings, the gods of the mystery religions, Zoroaster, and even the Gautama Buddha. (John Hick, The Myth of God Incarnate, “Jesus and the World Religions,” p. 174.)
The Judeo-Christians taught that at the time of Jesus’ baptism a voice from heaven said, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased” and “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.” (Mark 1:11; Acts 10:38, 13:33; Hebrews 1:5, 5:5; cf. John 1:14,18, 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9, 5:1; Revelation 1:5.) The Judeo-Christians had no virgin birth story; for them Jesus was the natural born child of Joseph and Mary. (Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22; John 6:42; see The Family of Jesus, the Judeo-Christian Caliphate, p. 142.)
There is evidence that the original versions of the Gospels were tampered with on this point: The gospels in the version we today have say, regarding Jesus after his baptism: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22.) But early Pauline Christian father Justin Martyr (who died around 165) quotes from an early version of Matthew which includes the additional words, “This day have I begotten thee.” These words would indicate that Jesus was not a son of god until he was adopted at his baptism. (Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho, 88, 103, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 244, 251, www.newadvent.org/fathers/0128.htm.)
Editors and censors excised the offending sentence, “This day have I begotten thee.” They probably did this at the same time as they tacked the virgin birth story onto the beginning of Matthew and Luke. They did not do a complete job, for they forgot to excise the same phrase in Hebrews and Acts: “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.” (Hebrews 1:5, 5:5; Acts 13:33.) St. Augustine discusses this issue, in great detail. (Reply to Faustus the Manichean, XXIII, 2, www.newadvent.org/fathers/140623.htm.)
As gentile Christians expanded into the Roman world, they modeled their concept of Jesus as son of god after the pagan concept of the king as son of god, for example, Alexander, and the trinitarian teachings of Mithraism regarding the father, mother, and son gods.
Tertullian (died c. 220) referred to Christians as “little fish.” (Tertullian, On Baptism, 1:3.) Gentile Christians came to observe Jesus’ birthday on December 25, which had been the birthday of Mithra (“Feast and Festival,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., 1979, Macropaedia, 7:202.) Followers of Mithraism had a communion of bread and wine and observed Sunday as their holy day. They had stories involving a virgin birth and visitations of shepherds. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 182 ff.)
This long discussion about astrology, theories about the son of god, and tampering with the text is relevant to my main point for three reasons: First, there was good reason for those who compiled and revised the gospels in Greek to expand the fish symbolism in order to strengthen their doctrine of Jesus as a deity, and thus there is no good reason to have any confidence in the authenticity of the New Testament fish stories.
Second, the fact that the text has been tampered with allows the possibility that the Judeo-Christian gospels originally contained even more material which referred to Jesus as opponent of cruelty to animals and vegetarian in diet.
Third, the elevation of Jesus to cosmic sacrifice and god co-equal with the father crowded out the original story of Jesus as son of man, prophet like unto Moses, messiah-king, and vegetarian teacher of peace and mercy, including mercy to animals.
The Great Church deified Jesus, something he definitely would not have wanted. At the same time it forgot the most important aspect of Jesus, his ethical teachings. And this is how the Church came to worship a hollow caricature of Jesus.
MORE TAMPERING: JESUS’ BIRTH
The original Judeo-Christians believed Jesus was messiah and true prophet but not deity. They had no virgin birth legend. They believed Jesus was the natural-born son of Joseph and Mary, born after they were properly married, and that they together were parents to five sons and at least two daughters. (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22; John 6:42; Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.22.5, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 120 ff., 138; see the sections of this book entitled Ebionites vs. Nazarenes, p. 93, and The Family of Jesus, the Judeo-Christian Caliphate, p. 142.)
Paul makes no mention of the virgin birth, and he surely would have mentioned it if he had known of it, because his goal was to prove the cosmic significance of Jesus. (Colossians 1:15 ff., Ephesians 3:11.) Mark, the oldest of the four surviving orthodox gospels, and John, the latest, make no mention of the virgin birth. Passages in Matthew (1:23) and Luke (1:27) which tell the virgin birth story appear only at the beginning of those books. The first two chapters of Matthew and Luke are followed by the story of John the Baptist, while Mark, the oldest gospel, begins with the story of the Baptist. The virgin birth story appears to have been tacked onto the beginning of Matthew and Luke.
If the virgin birth was not part of the original story, where did it come from? The gentiles, which the Pauline church had set out to convert, were under the influence of Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and other mystery religions, and adherents to these religions could not conceive of a savior figure who was not a god or born of a god. Birth stories in which the deity impregnated the woman were thus a necessary element if the gospel were to be attractive to gentiles. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 87, 462 ff., 470.) Once the church had come to regard Jesus as an actual god or the son of a woman impregnated by god, there would have been theological motivation for redactors to eliminate the fatherhood of Joseph from Mark 6:3, leaving the word “carpenter” in the text but changing the reference from Joseph to Jesus. Compare Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22, and John 6:42, where Jesus is the “carpenter’s son” or “Joseph’s son.”
The Judeo-Christian Ebionites were a pre-rabbinic sect of Judaism, just as were the Pharisees, immediate ancestors of the rabbinic Judaism of today. They spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, and in those languages “spirit” was ruach or rucha, a feminine word. The mystical kabbalah referred to the ruach as shekinah. Soon Pauline Christianity took root at Antioch, a city founded by Greeks, and from there spread throughout the Greek speaking world. The Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma, a neuter word. Christianity moved west to Rome, where in Latin the word “spirit” is spiritus, a masculine word. Thus, it was easy for the Pauline church to put the holy spirit through a theological sex-change operation and transform her from female to male.
Gentile Christianity evolved a godhead in which the father, son, and holy spirit were all male. With the spirit now male, it was possible to develop the teaching that Mary was “with child of the Holy Spirit,” and “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,” and “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:35.) Only a male holy spirit could have impregnated Mary. Such a teaching could only have developed outside Palestine among people who were ignorant of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judaism in general. In the Hebrew and Aramaic, which Jesus and his first followers spoke, the idea of a female holy spirit impregnating Mary would have been linguistically impossible.
As I point out elsewhere, both Judeo-Christianity and Judaism had a trinity in which there was 1) god the father, 2) god the mothering spirit, and 3) the sons and daughters of god. We are all made in the image of god and are god’s sons and daughters and are part of the trinity. All the kings of Israel were messiahs and were considered adopted sons of god, as I discuss elsewhere. Jesus is the exemplary child of god which Christians are to imitate.
Early gentile Christians longed to worship god as a mother. So they began to elevate Mary to special status and adopted the teaching that she was a lifelong virgin. In 431 at the Council of Ephesus it was decreed proper to revere Mary as theotokos or god-bearer. There was dancing in the streets.
WHAT ABOUT ALLEGATIONS THAT JESUS WAS A BELLY-SLAVE?
Jesus is also quoted as saying:
For John came neither eating [meat?] nor drinking [wine?], and they say, “He has a demon;” the Son of Man came eating [meat?] and drinking [wine?], and they say, “Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matthew 11:18. My comments are in square brackets.)
It is not clear from this cryptic passage whether Matthew was merely reporting the slanders of his enemies or agreeing with them. The Ebionite Judeo-Christians flatly contradicted the “blasphemy” that Jesus had been “…a gluttonous man and a belly-slave….” (The Recognitions of Clement, 1:40, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 88, www.newadvent.org/fathers/080401.htm.) Further, Luke said that Jesus would be a Nazarite, and Nazarites do not drink wine. (Luke 1:15.)
DID JESUS KEEP KOSHER OR DECLARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?
According to Mark, the Pharisees criticize Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat “with hands defiled, that is, unwashed.” (Mark 7:1 ff.) After a discussion of other matters, Jesus returns to the subject of defilement and says:
…[T]here is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him. And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and they defile a man. (Mark 7:14-23; emphasis added.)
Compare the same story as related by Matthew. Again the Pharisees criticize Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands first. Jesus counter-attacks by saying that the Pharisees wheedle out of their duty to support their parents financially in their old age and thus fail to “honor” them, thus breaking a much more serious law. Notice the subtle differences with Mark’s version:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man. (Emphasis added. Matthew 15:10-20; compare Luke 11:41.)
Was Jesus saying that any food could be eaten—as Mark reports—or that any food otherwise kosher could be eaten without washing hands first—as Matthew reports? Jesus’ emphasis in Matthew was on his opposition to the evil people say and do, not a carte blanche authorization for people to eat just anything, including meat or non-kosher food. The reference to food entering the stomach was originally a reference to food which was unclean because it was eaten with unwashed hands, not unclean because it was meat or non-kosher meat.
The editor of Mark leaves the hand washing question behind for ten verses, and a new subject is begun when Jesus calls the people to him again. The editor then adds the parenthetical statement, “Thus he declared all foods clean” to suit his own objectives: Perhaps the editor was a part of Paul’s anti-vegetarian wing of the church and wanted to show that vegetarianism and keeping kosher were no longer important. (Acts 10:14, Romans 14:14.)
In Matthew the issue is whether eating food that is otherwise kosher but eaten with unwashed hands could make a person unclean, and the answer is no, whereas in Mark the issue is whether eating non-kosher food, including unclean meats, could make a person unclean, and the answer is no. The declaration that all foods are clean appears only in Mark and is not repeated in Matthew or Luke, which would indicate that the redactor who turned Proto-Mark into Mark, a person unsympathetic with the vegetarianism of the Judeo-Christians, tampered with the text, adding this sentence to Mark but forgetting to add it to Matthew and Luke.
In doing critical analysis about this and other issues, take into account several factors:
1) The four gospels we have to day were put into writing by followers of the anti-vegetarians Paul and John or their disciples, compiled from memorized sermons based on what gentile preachers could remember of a Judeo-Christian gospel, which they had heard but had no copy of.
2) Most or all the books in our canonical New Testament passed through a Pauline, anti-vegetarian filter. See 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul claims there was no problem with eating idol meat, and Romans 14:14 where he says all foods are clean. Compare these to James’ ruling at the Jerusalem Council where gentile Christians were told not to eat meat offered to idols or animals “strangled,” using a term of art that means treated, worked, or killed inhumanely (Acts 15:20) and the guideline in the Didache that believers were to be on their guard against eating idol meat. (The Teachings of the Apostles, 6:2-3, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 378; www.earlychristianwritings.com.) See Acts 10:14 where Peter receives a vision in which he is told to eat meat that is not kosher, and compare this with Judeo-Christian sources which say Peter ate only vegetables. (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 158; Clementine Homilies, 12:6, Vol. 8, p. 293.)
3) Editors of New Testament books revised and altered them shamelessly, but in some cases editors either forgot to excise certain passages inconsistent with other excisions or could not excise them because they were too well known for editors to alter or delete them.
4) The four canonical gospels and Acts were written at a time when gentiles were competing with Pharisees and Judeo-Christians for converts, and this would explain why the gospel writers would quote Jesus as saying such hateful things about Jews and Pharisees. Compare James, probably written by Jesus’ brother and thus probably written before 62 C.E., when James was murdered, which contains no such anti-Jewish or anti-Pharisee language.
5) Mark is the older of the gentile gospels, and normally Matthew and Luke copy from Mark. This is a case where Matthew and Luke copied from a Proto-Mark that was older than the version of Mark we now have. Later Proto-Mark was edited into the Mark we know, which includes the language about Jesus declaring all foods clean. (See www.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/meta-4g.htm.)
VEGETARIANISM BANNED BY THE CHURCH
“In the reign of [Emperor] Theodosius there were so many heretics among the clergy and monks in Egypt that the Patriarch Timothy made eating meat compulsory on Sundays, to flush out the vegetarian Gnostics!” (S.N.C. Lieu, Manichaeism, Manchester University Press, 1985, p. 146; Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, Penguin Books, 1986, p. 602, both cited by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? 246.)
JESUS, ALTERNATE HYPOTHESES
Modern writers who reinterpret Jesus suffer from a common tendency to presume that their heroes share their beliefs. They tend to focus only on those aspects of the highly contradictory tradition about Jesus which fit their preconceptions. I fear I am doing the same, and I constantly ask myself if I am finding in my research only the results I want to find. It is for this reason that I read with greatest eagerness writings which disagree with my thesis.
So I carefully consider alternative interpretations: Maybe Jesus was not an Essene, was not a vegetarian, and enjoyed eating meat without thinking of the ethical implications involved. Maybe despite this, the Essenes for some reason—it is hard to imagine what it would be —admired him and joined his cause in large numbers, quickly developing a sizeable sect of their own within the early Judeo-Christian movement. Once Jesus was dead, they were free to redefine Jesus according to their own vegetarian preconceptions of what the messiah should be. Maybe these Judeo-Christian vegetarians kidnapped the memory of Jesus and refashioned him into a vegetarian. The main problem with this hypothesis is that it would not explain why the vegetarian Essenes admired Jesus and joined his movement in the first place.
Orthodox theologians propose a different alternative hypothesis. They say that the apostles immediately adopted Paul’s teachings and practices (!) and then “re-Judaized,” meaning they backslid and readopted Jewish practices dietary habits, including vegetarianism, along with a low christology. This theory is improbable to the point of absurdity.
Such alternative hypotheses would assume that theology evolves from the complex to the simple, when it always runs the other way, from the simple to the complex, with Jesus starting out as true prophet and messiah and then growing in stature to physical son of god and then full deity. The alternative hypotheses would assume that religions do not drop teachings which are inconvenient such as dietary restrictions.
Not sacrificing and eating animals was at the core of the original pre-Hebrew religion. The messianic era was to be a time when animals would not be sacrificed or treated cruelly or eaten. There was an ancient vegetarian tendency within Judaism that had resurfaced and was strong in Jesus’ day. Jesus was the intellectual kin of vegetarian groups that preceded him. His apostles avoided flesh food as did the members of his “church” for some 400 years. So I find these alternate hypotheses to be improbable.
THE ONLY HYPOTHESIS WHICH RINGS TRUE
What is much more likely is that the memory of Jesus the vegetarian Essene was kidnapped by Paul, who had never met Jesus except on the road to Damascus and in his other visions. Paul and others set up churches in Antioch and other Greek cities, finding success among gentiles who were followers of Mithraism and other mystery religions. This was the early point where a mutant version of Christianity sprang to life, a new branch only remotely related to the original tree. This would explain why we have so little information about Jesus: because the gospels and most of the epistles were written by Paul or his followers, people who had never spent any time with Jesus or with those who had known him. Some Jews and some semi-converts to Judaism were converted to Christianity in Antioch and other gentile cities, and so Jewish values flowed into early gentile Christianity, but these people had not known Jesus or his followers either. The vegetarianism of Jesus and his original followers was demoted in importance by these meat-eating converts, although they continued to fast from meat two days each week and during other holy days. The original Jewish church was marginalized and gradually eliminated. So too were Jesus’ teachings about setting up a Jewish kingdom with him as its head, about evicting the Roman slaveocracy from Palestine, about bringing peace to the world, and about treating animals with dignity.
As I mention elsewhere, the four gospels we have are highly fragmented and disconnected—because they were pieced together from lengthy memorized Sunday sermons which were later written down and then heavily edited. The Jesus that remains in our canonical gospels is a stick man drawn in black and white. Just as in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, it is not clear in the gospels why Jesus does what he does. However, if we presume that he was a Davidian messiah-king and communist who shut down the sacrifices for some period of time and thus threatened the meat and leather business of the Sadducees and priests, the picture of Jesus comes into focus takes on depth and color. Some argue that my hypothesis that Jesus was a vegetarian messiah cannot be proved. I admit I cannot prove it with 100 percent certainty. However, it is the only hypothesis that is internally consistent. All the other hypotheses—including the New Testament as we have it today—make no sense whatsoever and can be proved at a zero percent level of certainty. Further, even if I cannot prove with certainty that Jesus was a vegetarian, I can still prove that many people around him were vegetarian, that he aimed to put an end to the killing of animals as part of Jewish religious ritual, and even that he temporarily stopped the sacrificing of animals in the Temple.
Finally, I can prove that there existed a messianic movement before and after Jesus that called its followers, and still calls us, to avoid cruelty to the animal kingdom. The Seventh Law of Noah was very important to Jesus’ group. Jesus was not a historical aberration. He was part of a movement which stretches from Genesis to Revelation, from Old Europe before the Aryan invasions to Pythagoras, to the Hebrew prophets, to the Buddha, to the Judeo-Christians, to the anti-slavery movement, to Tolstoy, to Gandhi, and to those today who try to rouse us awake from our moral slumber and treat both humans and animals ethically.
ANCIENT CHRISTIANITY CHALLENGES MODERN CHRISTIANITY
In Roman times most cultures had no welfare agencies for the aged, the disabled, the poor, single mothers and their children, or orphans. Roman parents wanted mostly male sons and no more than one daughter, and they routinely “exposed” infant daughters. They left them by the roadside, there to be eaten by dogs, pigs, or vultures. The lucky few were adopted by Jews, Judeo-Christians, or gentile Christians. (The Wars of the Jews, tr. Wm. Whiston, Book II, 8:2-13, p. 476, ff.) Peter and Andrew were said to have been adopted. (The Recognitions of Clement, 7:6, Roberts and Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 158.)
In Roman society women had few rights. Due to rampant infanticide of girl babies, there were 130 or 140 men to every 100 women. Girls were typically married off at 12, even before puberty, and put to work in polygamous households. A woman’s property was controlled either by her husband or, when he died, her sons. As I say elsewhere, the Romans were one of the most vicious of Aryan tribes, and worthy of no admiration.
Among Christians women had essentially the same rights as among Jews. Women were not forced to marry. Women converted to Christianity in large numbers. These sects adopted exposed babies, which were mostly girls. Not surprisingly, among Christians there was a 60-40 ratio of women to men. Some of these women married pagan men, and usually they converted them or at least raised Christian children. (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 65, 73-94, 95-128.)
Unmarried Christian women formed an order of widows, which I presume also included unwed mothers and their children. The women of this order cared for each other, for orphans, and for other needy people. (Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 3:11, 5:3-16; Romans 16:1-2.) These women were present when male clergy met with women. For sake of modesty, they assisted with baptisms at a time when adult baptism by immersion, in the nude, was the norm. Widows were told to take orders from the deaconesses. (“Deaconess,” and “Widows,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1966 ed., p. 377, p. 1457.)
In 165 C.E. and 251 C.E. there were plagues—probably smallpox and then measles—which killed up to a third of the population of the Roman Empire each time. Those who could do so left affected cities, including the physicians and pagan priests. However, the Christians stayed, and they cared for their own sick plus as many sick pagans as they could. Food, water, and shelter can save most of those who would otherwise die in such plagues. Among pagans probably only two-thirds survived, while among Christians and those they cared for perhaps 90 percent survived. These events all contributed to the rapid increase in the number of Christians within the empire.
Churches were used as soup kitchens. Pagan Romans were amazed at the enormous scale of Christian charity. (William Edward Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, 1869, vol. ii, p. 84, cited by Roberts & Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 425.) Christians were simply following Jesus’ teaching regarding caring for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. (Matthew 7:12, 25:31-46.)
HOW CHRISTIANITY WENT WRONG
Originally Christianity had been grounded in the ethical and theological teachings of Judaism; all the original Christian leaders had been Jews. Jerusalem had been the first Vatican. Disagreements were submitted to the mother church, and her rulings kept the church unified. (Acts 15.) However, following the assassination of James in 62 C.E., the first Christians fled Jerusalem. There was no church which had authority over the Christian movement as a whole. The Roman bishop had not yet gained authority over other sees. With its rudder lost, early Christianity fragmented quickly into dozens of bickering sects.
The division came because of theological quibbles over just who Jesus had been and the nature of Jesus’ relationship with god. Had James survived and had his successors not been on the run from the Romans, such questions could have been resolved by those who had known Jesus. The division weakened the church to the point where most Christians in the Levant converted to Islam in the Seventh Century.
The sect which evolved into what today is considered orthodox Christianity, had good organizational skills. It wrote and rewrote documents which supported its views, but it only won out over the many other sects after Constantine (who ruled from 307 to 337 C.E.) made Christianity at first one of many legal religions and then the official state religion. The sect he chose was the orthodox sect from which almost all Christian denominations today are descended.
Constantine himself was a member of the cult of Sol Invictus, the indomitable sun. He converted to Christianity only on his death bed, baptized by an Arian, not an orthodox Christian. He was not an admirer of Jesus but of Christian monotheism and the father god of the Christians.
Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople and gave the luxurious Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome. Emperor Theodosius (378-395 C.E.) shut down pagan temples and non-orthodox Christian churches. Presumably this was when Buddhist missionaries were sent packing back to India. Theodosius transferred assets—buildings, furnishings, cash, and jewelry—from pagan temples and non-orthodox churches to the orthodox church. It became legal for people to leave their property at death to the orthodox church. Paganism and non-orthodox Christianity, including Judeo-Christianity, were banned, meaning their churches had to go underground and could not own property or receive inheritances. The only other legal religion within the Roman Empire was Judaism, and it was held in check through rigid restrictions.
Thus was the Church unified. However, the unity came at a terrible price: Overnight the Church went from poor and persecuted to wealthy and powerful. It began to lose its original values. Aggressive people sought positions of leadership in the church. Church offices, including the papacy itself, were bought and sold. The love of money, according to the early Christians, was one of the roots of evil
(1 Timothy 6:10), and it undermined the movement Jesus had founded. Books were censored, rewritten, or burned. Values changed to the point where the Council of Laodicea in 363 C.E. decreed that churches could no longer serve as public feeding facilities. The agapé was kicked out of the church building. This represented a huge change in the culture and mission of the Church. At a time when it was at its richest, it turned its back on the poorest.
Thus, step-by-step, much of Jesus’ early teachings were lost or suppressed, including his teachings about the importance of right eating and the right treatment of animals as part of his method for making this a peaceful world.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT JESUS STOOD FOR
Thanks to modern research tools and methods, more is known now about Jesus now than at any time since the First Century. In the light of this growing body of knowledge, what should those who consider themselves part of the tradition of Jesus do as his followers?
Instead of focusing on finding the right doctrine about unknowable things, churches should focus on rediscovering the enlightening ethical core of Jesus’ teachings. Instead of preparing for the next world, they should focus on changing this world. They should work out very carefully what they should be doing to stop the cycle of violence and bring about Jesus’ messianic peace. (Matthew 25:35-46; James 2.)
Churches are powerful organizations well situated to accomplish great things. They should maintain their customs, liturgy, and doctrines in order to retain their consciousness of their origins. As books should never be burned, the story of how we got where we are should never be erased. It is possible to recite the old liturgy and prayers and treat them as true on an allegorical level while applying new knowledge about the ethical teachings of Jesus on the level of action. Those who become enlightened about the ethical core of Jesus’ teachings should not form new churches or switch denominations. They should encourage their churches to become more aware of the core ethical teachings of Jesus and to live them out, as the Catholic Church chose to do at the Vatican II Council in the 1960s. For the sake of continuity, one should stick with the religion of his parents.
Christian theory about the messiah is similar to Jewish theory. (See the section of this book entitled Ancient Judaism Challenges Modern Judaism, p. 65.) Both allow for two approaches to the messiah: According to the first, an individual messiah will come or Jesus will return—at a time when all appears hopeless and the moral level of society is at its lowest—and initiate or reinitiate the messianic era. According to the second theory, the messianic era will come gradually through the efforts of people of messianic purpose, and the messiah will appear or reappear at the end and announce that the work has been accomplished. Jesus believed that he or his messianic movement would take power when people were morally worthy. He said much about our becoming morally worthy and little about doctrine. Therefore, we who follow him should dedicate ourselves to the process of making ours a morally worthy species.
Moses taught that one should love his neighbor as himself. (Leviticus 19:18.) Rabbi Hillel (c. 50 B.C.E. to c. 10 C.E.) said “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now go forth and learn.” (Jacob Neusner, Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity, p. 64; Leviticus 19:18; Shabbat 31a.) Jesus taught the Golden Rule—”… whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, 25:31-46.) This grows out of the Mosaic rule to “… love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18, James 2:8.) While Hillel’s rule says we should not take negative actions towards others, Jesus’ rule, like the rule of Moses, says we should do unsolicited good deeds for others and thus goes further. Those actions include more than just supplying food and clothing; they include working to promote justice, to build an economy that is oriented towards helping the needs of people, and returning our physical environment to the pristine condition of the legendary Eden. Carrying forward the teaching of Moses regarding loving your neighbor and doing unsolicited good deeds is Jesus’ first great contribution in the field of ethics.
Jesus suggested that one should turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:38-48.) Most Christians do not understand how to fit this most central of Christian principles into the violent facts of our world. Should we allow a criminal to kill us or our family or tyrants to subjugate us? Apparently part of the theory was not written down or was lost. I theorize that what Jesus was saying was that we should not return the violence or the insult if our not doing so would stop or ratchet down the cycle of violence. We should absorb instead of return. If your wife slaps your face, it is best not to slap her back. As the Gospel of Barnabas said, you do not put out a fire by adding more fire. Just as Pythagoras taught that we may kill animals which attack us (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 15, line 95 ff., Loeb Classical Library, p. 370 ff.) Jesus would have made clear that if one is attempting to kill or injure us, we may and should defend ourselves. Why didn’t the New Testament make all this clear? Again because it was compiled out of the memorized sermons constructed by gentile Christians who had never known Jesus or those who knew him, who had been cut off from the original group and had no access to the original writings. They wrote down the snippets they could remember, often not understanding their significance.
Jesus sought to stop the cycle of violence. He spoke of methods to be employed, and he probably also spoke of the scope of the effort. For it to work at all, it would have to work on all levels. We cannot expect to stop violence between nations if we do not also put a stop to violence between individuals or violence against wives or children or violence against animals. We should work to stop violence not just on a political level, but also on a personal and family level. We must also put a stop to school yard violence, rape, incest, the neglect of orphans, the abuse of prisoners, and the terrorization and painful execution of animals. That’s because all of these set in motion events that tend to perpetuate and increase levels of violence and to lead to social imbalance, crime, and war. Jesus’ teachings about how to stop the cycle of violence are his second great contribution in the field of ethics.
Most Christians consider Jesus to have been great because he made the cosmic sacrifice—his life for our sins. Most acknowledge but put less emphasis on a second basis for his greatness, his ethical teachings.
The eucharist celebrates the cosmic sacrifice. Christians eat the body and blood of Jesus instead of burning them. Jesus is referred to as the “lamb of god. “ (John 1:29, 36, Acts 8:32, Revelation 5:6,8,12.) However, In the oldest version of the blessing for the communion, there is no blood mentioned:
Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup: We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. And concerning the broken bread; We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom…?. (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles 9:1-5, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, p. 379-378; www.earlychristianwritings.com.)
James knew Jesus personally, and in his book he made no mention of Jesus’ blood being shed for our sins, no mention of his blood replacing the blood of the animals sacrificed in the temple, no mention of a eucharist in which we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood. Jesus made a great sacrifice. I acknowledge that. However, it is not at all clear that he shed his blood to wash away sins. The theory of the cosmic sacrifice is christological, that is, part of the speculation about who Jesus had been.
Instead, I propose that the Law of Liberty of James was probably closer to Jesus original teaching. James said:
If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. [For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “do not commit adultery,” said also, “Do not kill.” If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law.] So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2: 8-13.)
Jesus had taken the same approach, saying that those who would have a place in the world to come would be those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, oppose abuse of prisoners, and clothe the naked. (Matthew 7:2, 25: 31-46.)
It is my theory that the words above in brackets (James 2:10-11) were added later by Paul’s disciples, perhaps in Rome around 150 C.E., when the first New Testament was assembled in response to the New Testament Marcion had put together. I suggest they were added to make James appear to agree with Paul. These words follow closely Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:10 ff., where Paul paraphrases from the Septuagint instead of quoting from the Hebrew original of Deuteronomy 27:26. (www.septuagint-interlinear-greek-bible.com.) The theory that a violation of one law would automatically make one guilty of violating all other laws of the Torah, laws one had not violated, is very un-Jewish.
I suggest the following hypothesis: Early followers of Jesus anguished over why he had died and whether there was any meaning to his death. This is a natural inquiry when a good man is killed. The founders recalled Jesus’ demand that the animal sacrifices be stopped, and his threat that if they were not, the Temple would be destroyed. “I came to destroy the sacrifices, and if ye cease not from sacrificing, the wrath of God will not cease from you.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:16:2, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, tr. Frank Williams, Book I, p. 132; Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58.) The priests would not stop the animal sacrifices. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans; the sacrifices were forever ended.
Early followers saw that Jesus was willing to give his life to stop the killing of animals as part of religious service. It was easy to reword this to say that Jesus offered his life in place of the animals’ lives. Jesus allowed his blood to be shed. The animals had shed their blood. The animals’ blood had served to atone for sins. Therefore, Jesus blood served to atone for sins in the same way. This appears to be the leap of logic that led to the cosmic sacrifice theory. The leap was probably made by gentile Christians outside of Jerusalem, perhaps in Antioch.
There was only one Jesus, and Jesus’ blood was only shed once. After 70 C.E. there were no more animals being sacrificed. So Jesus’ sacrifice had to have been a once-for-all-time sacrifice. It was a superior and more potent sacrifice for the same reason. This is the logic set forth in the book of Hebrews, which may have been written by Paul’s traveling companion Barnabas or perhaps Apollos of Alexandria, but certainly by someone who would have agreed with Paul completely.
All this requires another big leap of logic—that humans are a tainted, inherently evil species, one that needs some kind of general forgiveness. There is nothing in the Hebrew Bible, Talmudic thinking, or in Jesus’ teachings which would imply this. Jews regard the story of Adam’s fall as part of esoteric lore. (Encyclopedia Judaica, “Creation,” 1997 CD edition.) It requires another leap—that God is angry and needs to be mollified. This is Paul’s theory. (Romans 3:25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 7:27, 9:12,26,28, 10:10,12; Matthew 20:28.) And another leap—that the blood of an animal and then of Jesus will mollify god’s anger. And another—that Jesus as one part of the godhead would come to earth and sacrifice his life to mollify the other part of the godhead.
Paul brought the cosmic sacrifice into the centerpiece of his theology and set in motion the development of what became orthodox Christian theology. It runs counter to what the prophets and Jesus himself said, that god just does not want any more sacrifices, not even the sacrifice of the prophet and messiah-king Jesus, his adopted son here below. God rejects the entire sacrificial approach. Instead, god just wants us to show mercy, which means to behave ethically and act justly.
And Jesus extends the concept of showing mercy to include the animals: He clearly refers to the animals as being guiltless and asks that we show mercy to the guiltless:
I tell you, something greater than the temple is there. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12: 6-7.)
He was quoting from the vegetarian Hosea:
… For I desire steadfast love [mercy] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6.)
Hosea wanted us to stop killing animals generally. Jesus temporarily stopped the sacrifices in the temple. This led immediately to his being arrested and killed. It is more logical to conclude that Jesus shed his blood to change the way we treat animals than as a cosmic sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus did make a huge sacrifice. Was it to make a bold statement, an appeal across time? But an appeal across time to do what? The result Jesus accomplished was that Jews and Judeo-Christians would no longer be able to say that their religion advocates, endorses, encourages, or requires the killing of animals as a part of religious ritual or for food. The result was that vegetarianism became the recommended path for Judaism and Judeo-Christianity. This theory makes far more sense than the cosmic sacrifice theory.
I have several concrete suggestions to make to the churches:
First, they should challenge their members to be serious historians and theologians. One who is called to serve Jesus and follow his example must know who Jesus was and what he stood for. The New Testament we read was twisted and mangled to serve Roman purposes. Jesus said we should be “‘prudent money-changers,’ meaning that there are ‘genuine and spurious words’ in the Scriptures.” (The Clementine Homilies, 3:50, Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, p. 247.)
Second, the churches should reinstitute the agapé, the vegetarian love feast, and do more to feed the hungry and help the poor. The agapé was effectively banned in 363 or 364 C.E. when the
Council of Laodicea prohibited the use of the churches as soup kitchens. (Canon 27, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3806.htm, www.reluctant-messenger.com/council-of-laodicea.htm; Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings, 178; William Edward Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to
Charlemagne, 1869, vol. ii, p. 84, cited by Roberts & Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII,
p. 425.) Because governments have the greatest access to money, the churches should pressure governments to help the hungry and the poor.
Third, churches should reestablish the ancient order of widows and orphans. Federal and state governments lavish money on the wealthy but neglect single mothers and their fatherless children. Democrats and Republicans cut spending on the backs of the poor and require single mothers to leave their infants with baby sitters or in daycare centers and go to work for minimum wage. This is not only an immoral policy, it is also uneconomic, because children of poverty grow up to earn little, pay little in taxes, become involved in crime, and produce the next generation of fatherless children.
Through a new order of widows and orphans, churches should step into the breach and create centers where single mothers could share their child care duties so they could earn a living and get an education. The churches should also work to find husbands and fathers for these women and children, as they did in ancient times. The church should teach that it is a mitzvah or blessed act for a man to marry a single mother and be a father to her children. (See 1 Timothy 5:1-16, which, bear in mind, was written well into the Second Century, and which therefore reflects a degree of reaction against abuses of the system.)
Fourth, the church should restore the Wednesday and Friday vegetarian fast of ancient Christianity (and of today’s Greek, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches) and encourage Christians to “bear what they are able” and try to be as vegetarian as they can. According to Christian teaching, to be a Christian is to be Christ-like. Jesus was a vegetarian, so that means Christians should imitate him.
Fifth, the church could continue with the customary language of the eucharist but include the eucharistic language of the Didache as an occasional alternative or addition in order to teach the historical development of the eucharist.
Sixth, the church should adopt various Jewish holidays and practices as a way of delving more deeply into its Jewish roots. It might revive the custom of the first Christians of circumcising their boys and treat it as an optional sacrament. Around one out of every seven boys has a defect of the foreskin which will require continuing observation and often surgery. General circumcision is just good policy. Administered with local anesthetic it is painless.
Seventh, seminarians should take up the study of rabbinical teachings. It is impossible to understand Jesus without studying the Talmud. Christianity claims to be the true Judaism, and it should learn as much about Judaism as possible. This is not to say that Christians should convert to Judaism. Judaism does not ask members of other religions to convert, only to establish lawful societies and strive for the highest ethics.
Eighth, christology—the study of who Jesus was in relationship to god—should be demoted to a pursuit of historical interest only. The trinity should be regarded as just one of many theories about who Jesus was. Why should the faithful fight over a completely speculative issue, when in just a few years, when they die, they can ask Saint Peter? The church should not require that Christians believe that Jesus was a god, coequal with the father. The Judeo-Christian belief that he was son of man, true prophet who aimed to complete the work of Moses, adopted son of god, and messiah-king should be a sufficient confession to make.
Ninth, as I set explain more fully in the chapter of this book entitled Population Explosion and a Plant-Based Diet, p. 231, love making should be considered sacramental, as a way of showing love, being loved, and accepting that you are loved. It is even a way of knowing god.
Tenth, I would suggest that eating itself should be regarded as sacramental. Every meal should be an agapé. In eating we strengthen our bodies or weaken them. We increase or decrease our abililty to complete our calling. Through our food choices, we either show mercy to other species or we assault them. We either show respect to the physical environment, or we pollute it. Our food choices are of major ethical significance.
WORSHIP OR FOLLOW? IDOLIZE OR EMULATE?
It is only fair to say something of my own religious and ethical evolution. My mother was Catholic and my father was Lutheran. My grandparents on my mother’s side were Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox Lebanese immigrants. I was baptized Catholic as a baby. My Protestant Dad led us to the Lutheran Church and then into the Church of Christ, an ultra-fundamentalist Southern denomination which teaches that every word of the Bible is “fully verbally inspired” and that the New Testament is a comprehensive manual of doctrine and practice. No musical instruments are allowed in worship because the New Testament only says to “sing.” The Church of Christ considers itself to be the only true faith. It’s goal is to reproduce the original Christianity. It succeeds in reproducing the original Pauline Christianity of around 100 C.E., which was a far cry from the religion of the original Jerusalem followers of Jesus.
When I was a first grader, my father accepted a call to preach in the Arkansas farming village of Aubrey, not too far from Memphis. Baptism had to be by immersion. Dad took converts down to the lake and dunked them. In summer he used an oar to kill water moccasins; in winter he used it to break ice. In the Church of Christ, you get to know the Bible extremely well. I memorized the names of all the Books of the Old Testament and New Testament, the twelve apostles, and the twelve tribes of Israel. Even today I can recite them all, Old and New, apostles and tribes, in one breath. Church of Christ people are very talented musically. Their hymnals are written in do-re-mi shaped notes, which makes reading and transposing music really easy. Church of Christ people are very scholarly in their own literalist way. Studying the basics with them helped me put the pieces together later.
In the Overture to this book I told the story of the peak experience I had at church camp as a teenager. I perceived a calling that night to follow truth where ever it led me and not to fear the truth I might discover. I presumed that the study of religion would help me discover what was most important. I turned down engineering scholarships to attend Harding College, a Church of Christ school, where the a cappella chapel singing sounded like angelic hosts. I majored in Bible; as a back-up plan I took a minor in business and economics, including a typing course. I joke even today that, with four and a half college degrees, the most useful course I ever took was typing.
I continued my theological studies at Abilene Christian University, a respected, conservative seminary in Texas, where my advisor was Everett Ferguson, noted scholar of earliest Christianity. I had ambitions to teach comparative religions and history of religions on the college level, so after my first year, I applied to Princeton Theological Seminary to complete my divinity degree. I was accepted and awarded a scholarship.
While on sabbatical, living then in Canada and waiting to transfer, I spent months reading the critical theologians. My conservative training had not prepared me for my discovery that the New Testament was highly self-contradictory and had been heavily edited and tampered with. (See the section of this book entitled A Critical Approach Builds a Better Foundation, p. 51.) I concluded that the Bible was not inspired and that it was unreliable as a source of religious or ethical truth. I also concluded that the study of religion in general was not a path that could lead to an understanding of what was wrong with the world and how to put it right.
I experienced a deep crisis of faith. I recall the moment in April, 1971, as I sat at my desk, looking out at Cultus Lake in British Columbia. I let go of my belief that I had a source of truth in the Bible and replaced it with the realization that I would have to broaden my studies and look elsewhere. I remember the implications double and quadruple and ripple outward exponentially through my mind. It was a fearful experience because I was giving up the assumptions I had relied on, the certainty I had known. But it was also exciting in that I felt myself being freed from the fear that had always nagged me, that maybe I did not believe the correct doctrine and therefore was not “saved by faith.”
I never concluded that there was no god or that Jesus was not somehow special. What I concluded was that the Bible was unreliable and thus that there was no way to know anything with certainty regarding the Christian faith and matters of theology, and therefore that a just god would not condemn me for believing unorthodox theories or not believing at all.
I decided I was on my own, truly free to follow my quest for truth wherever it led me. It was another of those dizzying peak experiences.
I called Dr. Ferguson and he offered to counsel me, though I did not tell him the extent of my crisis. For some reason I never called him back, probably because I was confused and saddened over the loss of my calling. I had wanted to become a university professor and teach comparative religions and the history of religions. I wrote Princeton and told them I would not be joining them in the fall. I felt it would be dishonest of me to attend seminary as a doubter. It didn’t occur to me that many or most educated seminarians would share my doubts.
I was lost, confused, and depressed. I went back to college and majored in psychology in an attempt to understand myself as a non-religious person. I needed to reorient myself in a world which I had decided was secular. I chose law as a new path that might lead to answers as well as empower me to “do unto others” and do unsolicited good deeds for those who need them the most. That part of Jesus’ teaching I was still sure of and was still committed to follow. In that sense I never renounced my original calling. I felt that law might enable me to recover a different version of it.
I went to law school at the University of Washington. Several courses I found fascinating: constitutional law, history of law, and comparative law. But I must say that I found the majority of my classes frustrating and unsatisfying. The professors did not generally explain the material but mostly just asked questions. They called it the Socratic method. I had to sit there and listen to law students who did not yet know what they were talking about. Some professors humiliated us with harassing questioning. I had hoped law would be as stimulating as seminary, but I found it mostly to be an intellectual wasteland.
Their so-called Socratic method was very un-Socratic. I knew about Socrates. Yes, he used the question and answer method, but I assume he did not use it exclusively. I assume he used it with advanced students who already understood where he was going with his line of questioning. Law schools idolize Socrates. They are not multi-disciplinary in their educational methods.
I was fascinated with environmental law, my new calling. But pro-environment cases were hard to get for a newly hatched attorney. So, to make a living I became a real estate lawyer, later a mortgage broker. However, the study of ethical, environmental, economic, psychological, and theological issues has remained my real calling. My hope is to create a unified theory describing what is wrong with our reality and how to make it work better. Most seem to accept that the way things are is the way things should be. I regard our reality as irrational, morally chaotic, even mad in some ways. I speculate sometimes that I am living in Purgatory. I refuse to believe that this world represents the best humans can do.
Reading Freud (for example, Moses and Monotheism) and David Bakan (Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition) led me to the kabbalah (Gershom Sholem, Kabbalah), from which Freud borrowed all his major ideas. If Freud had been a more thorough student of the Talmud, he would not have made some of the mistakes he made. That led me to Judaism.
I attended classes with rabbis. I went to synagogue on Friday nights. I learned prayers in Hebrew. I dated Jewish girls. I speculated about converting, and I might have taken that step if I had married Jewish.
Judaism puts primary emphasis on ethics and law, not on doctrinal correctness. A Jew can be a heretic, even an atheist, if he is morally upright. Judaism does not denigrate the worth of other religions or deny their validity. It holds that the righteous in all faiths will have “a place in the world to come.” It has a policy of not seeking converts—although in Jesus’ time it actively sought them.
Of all religions I found Judaism to be the most tolerant and ecumenical. I also found it to be the most rational and the least superstitious. Many legal concepts embedded in the Talmud have been incorporated into modern law. I found Judiasm to be consistent and accurate in many areas: law ethics, psychology, philosophy, and theology.
Having said so many good things about Judaism, I must include some criticism. The old Jewish wisdom was that Israel should not be reestablished as a state until the messiah returns, because, I presume, a messiah’s genius would be needed to accomplish such a project peacefully. Retaking its ancient land has involved Israel in conflict with Palestinians who have lived there for centuries. Israel had the United Nations on its side, but Palestinians nevertheless were offended by what to them looked like another European Crusade. The Palestinian claim is not as old as the Jewish claim, but it is still a claim and has some merit.
At times the two sides have been close to a two-state solution where each would acknowledge the rights of the other. However, radical Moslem groups such as Hamas and Hezbolah deny Israel’s right to exist. No compromise would seem possible. Israel does not deny the right of Palestine to exist, but a determined rump group of Israelis would. I refer to settler fundamentalists who would expel the Palestinians. Like Christian fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists idolize the Hebrew Bible. They regard every word of it as being straight from god and absolutely true. They take literally the prophecy of Moses that the territory of Israel “… shall be from the wilderness and Lebanon and from the … Euphrates to the Western sea.” (Deuteronomy 11:24, Joshua 1:4, Exodus 23:11.) Israeli extremists are contemptuous of Palestinians as nobodies. The refer to Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land.” But they overlook that the Bible is contradictory on this point, for before god made the promise to Moses, he made the same promise to Abraham and his descendants, which included Ishmael, father of the Arabs and Moslems. (Genesis 15:18; 21:13.) God assigned to Israel land now possessed by Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. (Numbers 34.) Would the settlers have Israel declare war and take the east bank of the Jordan from Jordan?
The tiny settler parties have disproportionate power in the Israeli Knesset. That is because Israel has a constitutional problem: Under its proportional representation system, a party need only get 1.5 percent of the votes nationwide to win seats in the Knesset. So there are many parties in the Knesset, and generally none wins an outright majority. Larger parties need small fringe parties to form a government, and so the settler parties become the tail that wags the dog. In return for their support of the government, the government expands the settlements and takes Palestinian land.
Radical Palestinians have attacked Israel with suicide bombings, kidnappings, and rockets. Israel has replied with land confiscations, destruction of orchards, construction of walls which cut Palestinians off from their own land, and collective punishment, such as bulldozing homes of the families of Palestinian terrorists. The two sides are engaged in a primitive blood feud. Does the feud prove the absurdity of the Jewish or Moslem religion or the absurdity of fundamentalist fringe groups in all religions?
Palestinians would have achieved their own state long ago had they employed instead the methods of Jesus or Martin Luther King. Non-violent protest can be more effective than violent protest because it arouses less opposition, disarms the other side, and anticipates the peace sought. Taking up arms makes no sense for poorly armed Palestinian groups who stand no chance against Israeli might. In many ways Palestinians have been poorly led and have played their cards badly.
Groups such as Bat Shalom and Peace Now, composed of both Israelis and Palestinians, have worked out peace plans. Unfortunately, extremists on both sides oppose peace and have disproportionate influence over those more moderate. Extremists on both sides believe they have something to gain by keeping the war going. They are jointly responsible for preventing peace from arriving. There will be no peace until each side acknowledges the right of the other to have a place to live in Israel-Palestine, each with adequate water and other resources.
Israel is too lawful a country to kill or expel all non-Jews, and it would be foolish for it to do so, for having non-Jews living next door to Jews shields Israel from the nuclear weapons that Israel’s Arab and Moslem neighbors will certainly acquire someday. Jews and non-Jews are condemned to live together.
A simple peace treaty between the two sides would not be enough. Only an alliance would keep the peace. The two sides should agree to promote each other’s interests: Israel should agree to promote Palestine’s economic interests in the West, and Palestine should agree to promote Israel’s economic interests in the Arab and Moslem East. Each would market the other’s goods and services. Each would prosper. Instead of a two-state solution, there might be a three-state solution, with Gaza a separate country from the West Bank.
Moslems and Christians should loudly denounce the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion for the fraud that it is—an 1890s Russian reworking of an anti-Napoleonic tract from the 1860s. This hateful booklet is a best seller throughout the Moslem and Arab world, were probably most believe it was truly written by Jewish elders.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are brother religions. They derive from the same patriarch Abraham. However, they behave like a dysfunctional family. It is important that each “re-adopt” the others and accept their legitimacy. When any two of these brothers quarrel, the third should claim the right to step in and mediate. The Jews and Moslems are quarreling: It is then the duty of Christians to intervene. The teachings of Jesus are clear on this point: His followers should be peace makers. Helping Jews and Moslems to stop fighting is consistent with Jesus’ theories about “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I discovered Gustavo Gutierrez’ book, A Theology of Liberation. I learned that the Vatican II council had remade Catholicism, converting it into an ethical movement that follows Jesus instead of just worshipping him, moving it closer to Judaism. Gutierrez reawakened my interest in Jesus, not as a god but as a prophet and ethical teacher. I was making a long circle away from and back to Jesus.
Before 1979 I had understood the importance of radical reform in our relationship to the physical environment, but I had never realized how our treatment of animals is inseparably intertwined with the environment. I met Paul that year. He was back from Afghanistan where he had served in the Peace Corps. He and his friends rolled out as the Russians rolled in. Paul opened my eyes to just how badly animals are treated in factory farms. I immediately quit meat—I had already cut down for health reasons. Soon I came to realize that milk and egg production are intertwined with meat production, just as cruel, and just as bad for the environment. By 1981 I was a committed vegan.
I spent ten years as a completely unaffiliated vegan before I happened to attend an EarthSave potluck where “my eyes bugged out” at the book table when I saw the title of Charles Vaclavik’s book, The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ. In all my years of studying theology, it had never once occurred to me until that moment that Jesus might have been a vegetarian. It was never even mentioned, not one single time, in all those lectures I attended and all those theology books I had read that Jesus, his disciples, those who preceded him, and those who followed him rejected the eating of flesh food. It is a glaring omission and a testimonial to how people avoid truths they find inconvenient.
I began writing this book in 1994, first as a manual for an EarthSave Toastmasters group I lead, later as a way of testing whether Dr. Vaclavik’s thesis was true. Around the same time I started falling in love with Emelyn. She is Catholic, and we were married in the Catholic Church. We negotiated a contract, and part of our contract was that we would respect and try to merge our religions. I agreed to attend mass with her on Sundays. She agreed to respect our house as the one place in the world where no animals would be cooked, because this is an important part of my “religion.” And, as a further concession in her favor, I agreed to take her out frequently to carnivorous restaurants.
Early in our marriage Emelyn quit milk products. After a few years she announced she would no longer eat beef and chicken. She became a “pesca-ovo-vegetarian.” She occasionally eats fish and eggs.
An important aside: At my urging Emelyn has eaten flax oil regularly. I believe this diminished her natural craving for meat and helped her to make her transition.
Emelyn and I and her parents attend mass together. While in church I meditate about my own issues. I ponder how I can deal with my anger management problem and become more patient. (Try humor therapy: Laugh when you feel angry.) It is a family ritual: church and then a seaweed gathering picnic on the beach afterward.
We often attend a Dominican church. It was the Dominicans who presided over the Inquisition against the gentle, morally upright, and vegetarian Albigensians, and handed over those who refused to recant to the knights to be roasted alive! I ponder these and other outrageous things the Catholic Church has done throughout its history. I mostly forgive the Church because it has renounced its sins along with its Pauline anti-semitism. I calculate how each aspect of Catholic belief and practice can be reinterpreted symbolically in ways consistent with Jesus’ original teachings. I ponder how the vision of Jesus might be accomplished and the world might become a place of peace and justice.
Some ask me why I continue with the Catholic Church given its many flaws? The Roman church was probably founded by Nazarenes working under James the brother of Jesus. It was probably originally Ebionite, and even after it became Pauline it allowed Ebionites to be members until they were excommunicated around 189. So I reclaim the right to be an Ebionite within the Roman church. I may be a minority of one, but I have as much right to be there as anyone else. Further, I think I should stick with the church I was raised in and try to reform and enlighten it, rather than quit it and join another, at least until I am excommunicated. And my hero Pythagoras did advise us to pay respect to the gods of the land. There is no Ebionite church, and I have no other place to meditate and revere the good.
Emelyn used to encourage me to wear my old, wide leather Clarke shoes to mass so I would look nice, but I decline. I insisted on wearing my REI sandals instead. “I will not go before the Lord wearing leather,” I jest. Pythagoras wore “shoes of bast,” but they have gone out of style. I recently stumbled on some conventional looking non-leather dress shoes. Hint: Shop at Big 5 Sporting Goods and Payless Shoes. (See http://www.rawganique.com/footwear.htm.
Had I not married Emelyn, I would not have returned to the Catholic Church. I would have remained independent of organized religion. But I feel comfortable as a Catholic because it was my first church, because it is not a Bible worshiping, fundamentalist denomination, because it allows and encourages critical theological thinking—provided such thinking is supportive and not destructive of faith—, and because after Vatican II it places highest emphasis on ethics and right behavior.
I hope Catholics will agree with me that I have not rejected Jesus but rediscovered him. For the Church to accept the right treatment of animals as an integral part of its teaching might lead to the belated accomplishment of Jesus’ messianic mission.
It is my theory that Jesus was a vegetarian prophet who taught a method for achieving peace and justice and that there was a tradition before and after him that embodied those same values. If I ever lose faith in Jesus as prophet, I will still have faith in and be committed to those values and to that tradition. I count myself as a follower of Jesus because he shared those values. I choose not to worship but to follow Jesus, not to idolize but to emulate him, which is what I think he would want.
THE IGNORED ISSUE, MORAL BLIND SPOTS, A UNIFIED THEORY
If a project to civilize the world is to succeed it is imperative that all factors be considered. When the suffering of animals is left out, the project is incomplete. Insensitivity to animals is a blind spot. Within the shadows behind that blind spot lurk other blind spots which poison and defeat the civilizing project. The same thing is true of other moral blind spots: For most of the last 6,000 years, since the conquest of the Aryan Invaders, most people believed slavery was acceptable. Most believed women should not have status independent of men, were not worthy to own property, and were simply inferior. In holding to such twisted beliefs one will inevitably think in twisted ways about other things. Such blind spots darken other areas around and behind them. We got closer to a lawful and ethical world when we declared slavery and the disenfranchisement of women to be wrong.
But we continue to have a blind spot regarding the animals. I watched (February 22, 2005) a PBS special about torture; I was amazing that there was not one word said about how humans torture animals and how our insensitivity to the animals enables us to torture humans.
The systematic terrorization of our food animals is the great ignored issue. Lawmakers and religious leaders alike say little or nothing about it. The only intellectually honest positions to take are first, to oppose the killing of all animals for food or second, to devise a method of rearing and killing then that is painless to them and harmless to the environment. We do neither. For us to tolerate and defend the torture of animals in factory farms we must make ourselves insensitive and think in twisted and irrational ways. We can civilize the world and create an ethical-legal-economic-environmental-religious unified theory only when we factor in the suffering of animals.
THE 11TH COMMANDMENT:
HOW DOES THE MESSAGE OF JESUS APPLY TODAY?
In teaching a method of stopping the cycle of violence, would Jesus have said, “Now, come watch me show you how to teach your children to be peaceful as we confine animals in small, claustrophobic, filthy, stinky, cages and feed them foods that are unnatural for them and make them sick, and make them eat and drink and lie down in their own excrement, and kill them in frightening and painful ways”?
Violence against animals is on the same continuum with violence against humans. Would a person of the ethical awareness of Jesus have said that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” would apply only to humans but not to other species? Would he not have taught that we should do unto other species as we would have them do to our own? In effect, would Jesus not have taught an Eleventh Commandment? And was it not suppressed from the New Testament as we have it? (Matthew 12:6-7.)
To be Christlike is to take moral responsibility for the world. Christians will not meet this challenge with doctrinal quibbles over christology but with actions designed to bring peace and justice. A study of Jesus in relation to these issues shows that Jesus assembled a coherent approach for bringing peace to a world that is morally chaotic and that humane treatment of animals was part of that approach.
Because his immediate followers and their writings were rubbed out, it is difficult to be absolutely sure who Jesus was. However, we know enough about him to know that he was unique in history. He rang a bell that continues to reverberate. He taught high ethical standards. He wanted to end the cycle of violence and injustice. He taught specific methods of stopping the cycle: by returning good for evil when doing so can stop the cycle and by doing unsolicited good deeds. He wanted legal reform as well, for he opposed the brutal slaveocracy of the Romans. He taught that the poor, women, children, and prisoners should be protected. (Matthew 25:31-46.) And he had a vision of a messianic era of peace that included peace towards animals. He took over the Temple and stopped the animal sacrifices and was killed for doing so.
The quest for the historical Jesus is a worthy one. At the end of this quest we do not find a Jesus of doctrinal quibbles or a Jesus who focused on finding an innocuous inner peace.
We find instead a Jesus of action who challenged injustice and illegality and sought an end to poverty, war, slavery, subjugation of women, abuse of children and prisoners, and violence in general. We find a Jesus of compassion, ethics, and right-living, all of which extend not just to other humans but to the animals as well. As I say elsewhere, we do not find a Jesus who wanted to be worshiped but one who wanted to be followed.
It is often said that Jesus was a failed messianic pretender, such as Jesus Bar Kokhba, because he did not succeed in bring peace to the world. Even after 2,000 years, I would suggest that this might be a hasty judgment. We who are part of Jesus’ tradition may yet complete his work. Is there a time limit on how long a true prophet and messiah-king has to achieve results? Christians should not give up but should rechannel their efforts in the ethical direction in which Jesus pointed us.
It is not too late for us to learn what Jesus was challenging us to do and do it.