A drop of ink can make a million think
The Historical Jesus:  What the Scholars are Saying
The Historical Jesus:  What the Scholars are Saying

The Historical Jesus:  What the Scholars are Saying



       Part 1 –  The Identity and beliefs of the Apostolic Church

Robert D. Brinsmead


The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries was one of the greatest events in human history. It changed the world for the better and led to enormous improvements in the human condition. It unlocked the rational powers of the human mind to triumph over superstition and ignorance. Basing arguments only on the established authorities (argumentum ad verecundiam) was now rejected for arguments based on empirical evidence. This gave birth to the age of science and a new age with the freedom to inquire into matters heretofore closed to human investigation by the authoritarian keepers of sacred traditions. It became inevitable that the rational principles of the Enlightenment would finally get around to an inquiry into religious traditions, including Biblical literature.

The quest for the historical Jesus, as distinct from the Christ of religious faith, began in earnest at the dawn of the 19th century. It began to inquire whether the actual historical Jesus of Nazareth was altogether the same as the Christ of orthodox Christian faith.  Some of the early pioneers met stiff opposition. They were treated as pariahs and outcasts even in their academic circles.  But the quest proved to be unstoppable.  After two hundred years the quest for the historical Jesus is now stronger than ever. There have been some massive advancements in acquiring better historical, archaeological, and literary information about the times of the historical Jesus.

The scholars involved in the quest come from many backgrounds – Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and those who can’t be labelled except as being historians. It is quite remarkable that on so many of the major issues, there is more consensus than disagreements. This is demonstrated below in the collection of statements which I have called What the Scholars are Saying (Part 1).

This documentation covers the matter of the apostolic church in terms of its leadership and beliefs. The collection of statements from a variety of scholars discloses some startling historical facts that have been buried for two-thousand years. They also disclose that this apostolic church had an entirely different view on why Jesus was killed than came to be given in the orthodox Christian view. The conclusions reached by many of the scholars come down to this one-liner:  It is better to listen to what Jesus said rather than to what is said about him. This is because two- thousand years of Christology (theories and speculations about the status of Christ) have only served to obscure his teachings.

Real scholars are not Apologists who try to defend a “truth” they already possess. Being human like the rest of us, scholars are as prone to be biased like the rest of us, but they do make a conscientious effort to resist any confirmation bias and go where the evidence leads, using those well-known tools of literary criticism that are fruits of the Enlightenment.


 At the end of the day, we all have to make up our own minds, but all the hard digging scholars have done in specialized fields can at least help us to make an informed judgment based on evidence – like all good heirs of the Enlightenment.

[ All statements cited in the following compilation by various scholars are presented without quotation marks, but the sub-headings in bold print are my own . All words within the kind of square brackets used here are my own editorial comments].

       John Painter, Just James, the Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition

The Gospel of Mark has a negative view of the family of Jesus

Mark…is not positively inclined to the leadership role of the family of Jesus in the early church. Mark is not more sympathetic to the leadership of the twelve. They are not identified with the eschatological family and are even more stringently criticized in Mark 3:20-21. [In a footnote Painter cites J.D. Crossan for holding the same conclusions]…

The treatment of the natural family may well signal a rejection of James and his successors. Might it be that Mark looks to Paul as the one who manifests the leadership arising from the eschatological family? There is a strong case for seeing Mark as a pro-Pauline Gospel because the Pauline gospel is understood more adequately in Mark than in any other Gospel. p.30-31

Set in the Markan framework the reference to the family being outside (3:31-32) takes on a more negative sense, especially in the light of 4:11. The family members now emerge not simply as outside the company of 3:32 but as “outsiders.”  Yet this Markan evaluation of the family is not really any more negative than the view of the twelve that emerges in Mark 4. The twelve were supposed to be the “insiders,” but by their failure to understand the parable of the soils they showed themselves to be the “outsiders” (4:10,13). p.31

Mark leaves the reader with a negative view of the family. p.34

John the Baptist belonged to the wider family of Jesus

According to Luke’s understanding, John the Baptist also belonged to the wider family of Jesus. p.37

James was the towering leader of the earliest church

…it is necessary to recognize him as a towering figure in the earliest church. p.1

In the traditions recorded by Eusebius, (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen), James was the first bishop of the Jerusalem church. p.4

Although the point of the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke was to affirm the significance of Jesus, they had the effect of minimizing the importance of the family, apart from Mary. p.4

James is cancelled and the family are depicted as unbelievers


James the brother of Jesus is not mentioned by name in Luke. p.39

Our study so far has argued that the evidence used to document the unbelief of the family, the brothers in particular, will not bear the weight of the case that has been built on it. p.41

In Acts the family of Jesus appears among his followers, and James is portrayed as the leader of the Jerusalem church. There is nothing to suggest that this view represents a radical change with the Jesus movement. There is no evidence of a “conversion” of James from unbeliever to follower, nor is it clear that Peter was the first the leader of the Jerusalem church, giving way to James only after a decade or so of leadership…James in mentioned, and without identifying him as the brother of Jesus [either in Luke or Acts]…means that the reader is not prepared for the appearance of James in Acts 12:17. p.42

Paul identifies James as the leading pillar of the Jerusalem church

[Acts 12:17 has Peter sending a message of his release from imprisonment, saying, “Announce these things to James and the brothers.”] That this refers to James the brother of Jesus, not James the son of Alpheus, is confirmed by Paul.  He identifies James the brother of the Lord as one of the apostles and the first of the three pillars of the Jerusalem church (Gal 1:18-19: 2:9). Later tradition also names this James as the first bishop of the Jerusalem church. This information cannot be gleaned from Luke-Acts. The reader may well ask whether Luke intends to obscure this or expects his readers to be aware of the connection. The singling out of this James by name is an indication of his prominence in the Jerusalem church. p.43

Tension between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles obscured

The account in Acts has obscured the conflict between the Hebrews and the Hellenists and leaves no trace of tensions between Paul and Barnabas or Peter and James. Such tensions are apparent in Gal 2:11-14, as are the greater tensions between Paul and Peter and Paul and James.  p.49

The Jerusalem decree [Acts 15] may be a creation of Luke…Paul shows no awareness of the content of the decree in his letters. His own views are contrary to those expressed in the decree. p.52

Acts is not plausible, presenting an over simplified account of the situation. p.56

Was James a Nazirite like his cousin John the Baptist?

Eusebius quoted Hegesippus as follows: “Control of the Church passed together with the apostles, to the brother of the Lord,  James, whom every one from the Lord’s time till our own has named the Just, for there were many Jameses, but this one was holy from birth; he drank no wine nor intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head.” p.122

When Paul was arrested, James and the elders made no representation on his behalf… his relationship with James and the elders was less than cordial. p.57

Luke tends to remove tensions between Paul and the Jerusalem Church

Luke’s account is so driven by his tendency to remove tensions between Paul and the Jerusalem church that the actual historical sequence is no longer recoverable in Acts. p.59


Matthew asserts the role of Peter over the family of Jesus on the one hand and Paul on the other

Matthew is an expression of the Petrine tradition, reinforcing Petrine leadership against the tradition that sought to reinforce the leadership of the family of Jesus and against the Pauline understanding of Christianity.…Matthew sets the authority of Peter and the twelve over the authority of the family of Jesus. In this Peter is seen in opposition to the authority of James and his successors…Nevertheless Mathew preserves more adequately than any other source the way James interpreted the teaching of Jesus. pp.89,90

Testimonies to the leadership of James are numerous.

The leadership of James in the Jerusalem church from the beginning gives weight to the view that the family of Jesus were followers of Jesus during his ministry. There is no doubt that Mark was critical of the role of the family. Mark was critical also of the twelve… but Mark’s critique of the natural family and the twelve does not simply develop out of the teaching and practice of Jesus. It reflects his attitude to the leadership struggles going on in the church of his day. p.97

Hegesippus claims that leadership in the post-ascension church “passed to James the brother of the Lord and the apostles.” p.124

Eusebius concludes as follows: “This account is given at length by Hegesippus, but in agreement with Clement. Thus it seems that James was indeed a remarkable man and famous among all for righteousness, so that the wise even of the Jews, thought that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem immediately after his martyrdom, and that it happened for no other reason than the crime that they had committed against him.” p.130

According to Eusebius, Josephus confirms the assertion that the siege of Jerusalem was a consequence of the crimes against James: “And indeed Josephus did not hesitate to write this down in so many words: ‘These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus who is called Christ, for the Jews put him to death in spite of his great righteousness.’ p.132

Symeon, cousin of Jesus (son of Clopus, brother of Joseph) was elected leader

[Painter cites Eusebius as saying that after the death of James, the apostles and disciples unanimously elected Symeon son of Clopas and cousin of Jesus to be a leader or bishop of the Jerusalem church. (p. 144) Symeon was said to be of the family of Jesus because, according to Hegesippus, Clopus was the brother of Joseph, father of Jesus]. p.144

The unanimous decision taken was that Symeon the son of Clopas was worthy of the throne of Jerusalem. In this case Eusebius has stressed the formal character of the decision. All of the surviving apostles, disciples, and members of the family of the Lord gathered in Jerusalem to take counsel together to judge who was worthy, and to the tested approval of all it was agreed that Symeon was worthy of the throne of Jerusalem. p.145

Family of Jesus retained leadership of the Jerusalem church

Symeon was chosen because he belonged to the natural family of Jesus. In the earliest Jerusalem church the family of Jesus provided the leadership.  From the first, James was the natural leader in that church. When he was martyred he was succeeded by another, though more distant, member


of the family, confirming the importance of the leadership of the family of Jesus in the Jerusalem church. p.153

Symeon himself was martyred in the reign of Trajan. p.157

Historically, it seems certain that the Sadducean high priest Ananus [same High Priestly family mentioned in the Gospels as involved in the death of Jesus] was instrumental in bringing about the death of James. p.158

The role of James and the family became obscured in Catholic tradition

[ Painter cites The Gospel of Thomas,12: “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?’  Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’]  The recognition of the leadership of James and the veneration of the family of Jesus signal that this tradition originated in a form of Jewish Christianity with a continuing memory of the role of James and the family. p.163

Pauline opposition to the authority of James, the disappearance of the Jerusalem church, and the emergence of Peter as a more ecumenical transformation of the James tradition seem to have led to the suppression of James in the emerging Catholic tradition.. This was made easier by Luke’s attempt to obscure the conflicts within the early church in his accounts in Acts.  His harmonization obscured the leadership of James by assimilating the roles of Peter and James, but the cracks in this treatment appear when his account is read in the light of the letters of Paul. p.178

The Gospel of the Hebrews is another witness to James

[Painter says that the existence of this Gospel is supported by Papias, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome] p.183

The quotation important for our study is fragment no. 7 which was preserved by Jerome. “The Gospel called according to the Hebrews which was recently translated by me into Greek and Latin, which Origen frequently uses, records after the resurrection of the Saviour: ‘and when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from the hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said, Bring a table and bread! And immediately it is added: He took the bread, blessed it and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him; My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep.’”

…It is implied that James was present at the last supper…The point of the passage quoted is to place James in a preeminent place among the disciples of Jesus…Already it sets James apart from all the others…he first went to James and appeared to him…This fragment is important for the study of James because it portrays James as belonging to the circle of the disciples of Jesus during his ministry and those present at the last supper. It puts in question the notion that James joined the believing community only after the resurrection of Jesus and the appearance of Jesus to him…Nevertheless, the tradition of the first appearance to James runs contrary to the witness of the Gospels.  pp.184-185


The NT Book of James was not written by the brother of Jesus

What counts most strongly against the recognition of the epistle as a work of James the brother of Jesus is that it is unattested until 180 CE when Irenaeus quoted James 2:23…Not until the mid-third century is the work appealed to as scripture. p.235

The vast majority of modern scholars question the authenticity of the letter, although its authorship by James the brother of Jesus is not without significant defenders. p.239

James did not travel outside Jerusalem

Nowhere in the New Testament is there evidence to suggest that James travelled outside Jerusalem to spread the mission to Jews of the diaspora or to Gentiles. p.239

Painter’s summary of how the New Testament tends to ignore James

James is unjustifiably ignored in the New Testament sources…The negative view of the family of Jesus during the ministry of Jesus is unjustified….Mark is critical of both the family and the twelve in order to elevate whoever does the will of God, and may well have Paul in mind…The tradition of reading the New Testament that has prevailed until modern times is dominated by the legitimating the authority of Peter and the twelve. Consequently the negative attitudes to them in Mark and John tend to be moderated. This has not been the case for James. The grounds upon which the case for thinking that James was opposed to the mission of Jesus during his lifetime will not bear the weight of scrutiny. There is no more reason for thinking that James was a convert only after the resurrection of Jesus than for thinking that this was true of Peter. The view that James came to leadership after the forced departure of Peter is groundless…

The fortunes of James, and his influence in the church at large, were largely bound up with the fate of the Jerusalem church. All the evidence suggests that James focused his attention and energies on the life and growth of that church, although this did not preclude the impact of his influence from extending beyond those borders. pp.271-272

James is undisputedly recognized as the first bishop of the Jerusalem church…James was the leading authority of Christian Judaism, and there is evidence of conflict with the emerging Great Church. Because Christian Judaism became alienated from the Great Church quite early, the authority of James fell into other hands. p.274

          Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, Editors, The Brother of Jesus

James was the leader of Jesus Movement

James emerges as the leading figure in the Jerusalem church. This perception of James is strengthened by paying attention to traditions about James outside the New Testament…

James emerges as the first leader of the Jerusalem church, the successor of his brother. In this role he was effectively “his brother’s keeper.” p.24


 [According to a fragment from the lost Gospel to the Hebrews, as translated by Jerome] James is presented as the first believing witness to the risen Jesus, he is also portrayed as one who was present at the Last Supper. pp.29,30.

[According to the Gospel of Thomas] “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James, the righteous for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’” p.33

[According to Eusebius] “This James whom the people of old called the Just because of his outstanding virtue, was the first, as the record tells us, to be elected to the episcopal throne of the Jerusalem church.” p.33

[According to Clement in his Outlines] “After the ascension of the saviour, Peter, James, and John did not claim preeminence because the saviour had specially honoured them, but chose James the Just as the bishop of Jerusalem.” p.33

[According to the evidence drawn from Eusebius, Clement, Hegesippus, the Gospel of Thomas, a careful reading of the Paul’s letters (Galatians and Corinthians) and the book of Acts, and the Pseudo-Clementines, a late fourth century work of Jewish Christians but drawing on sources of the second century, the essayist says] the leadership of James should not be denied, being too firmly entrenched in a wide variety of traditions. p.45

Family were followers of Jesus during his ministry

James and the brothers of Jesus were followers of Jesus during his ministry…Their reported presence among the believers in Jerusalem immediately after the resurrection confirms their participation in the Jesus movement from the beginning. p.57

Eusebius…makes the point that, after the destruction [of Jerusalem], the apostles and disciples of the Lord assembled with the family of Jesus, presumably in Jerusalem. There Symeon, son of Cleopas and cousin of Jesus, was unanimously appointed the second bishop of Jerusalem in direct succession to James. p.59

NT Gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem

Apart from the letters of Paul, the writings of the New Testament come from the period following the destruction of Jerusalem, and emanate from the church of all nations. Thus they do not represent the perspective of the earliest church in the period in which James and the Jerusalem church were dominant…With the destruction Jerusalem, the dominant role of the Jerusalem church came to an end. p. 59-60

When, in the second century, the view developed that Mary had not only conceived as a virgin but had remained a virgin, the status of James and the brothers was significantly downgraded. p.61

We can be reasonably sure that James was already a follower of Jesus before he saw him risen from death, as were all other recipients of resurrection appearances with the exception of Paul, who himself admits the exceptional nature of his case (I Cor. 15:8)…contrary to the usual view, James was among the disciples who accompanied Jesus and learned his teaching, at least for a significant part of Jesus’ ministry(Richard Bauckham). p. 109


But in James’s view, Gentiles remain Gentiles; they are not to be identified with Israel (Bruce Chilton). p.144

The meaning of Nazarene does not indicate a place

Indeed my suggestion that James was a Nazirite, and saw his brother’s movement as focused on producing more Nazirites, enables us to address an old and as yet unsolved problem of research. Jesus, bearing a common name, is sometimes referred to as ‘of Nazareth’ in the Gospels, and that reflects who he was specified in his own time. There is no doubt but that a geographical reference is involved (see John 1:45-46). But more is going on here. Actually, Jesus is rarely called ‘of Nazareth’, or ‘from Nazareth,’ although he was known to come from there.  He is usually called ‘Nazoraean’ or ‘Nazarene.’ Why the adjustive, and why the uncertainty in spelling? The Septuagint shows us that there were many different translations of “Nazirite” that reflects uncertainty as to how to convey the term in Greek. (That uncertainty is not in the least surprising, since even the Mishnah refers to differing pronunciations [see Nasir 1:1]) Some of the variants are in fact very close to what we find used to describe Jesus in the Gospels.

In the Gospel according to Mark, the first usage is in the mouth of a demon, who says to Jesus (Mark 1:24)

                            We have nothing for you, Nazarene Jesus!

                            Have to you come to destroy us?

                            I know who you are – the holy one of God!

In this usage, “Nazarene” in the first line clearly parallels “the holy one of God” in the last line.  The demon knows Jesus’ true identity, but those in the synagogue where the exorcism occurs do not. And they do not hear the demons, because Jesus silences them (so Mark1:25). This is part of the well-known “Messianic secret” in Mark.

For James and those who were associated with him, Jesus’ true identity was his status as a Nazirite. (Bruce Chilton) p.156

James was the most prominent leader in Christendom.

James the Just was, in the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his own death [62CE], the most prominent and widely respected leader in Christendom. p. 185

                Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus

James the brother of Jesus has been suppressed in the NT re-write of history

Once the New Testament reached its final form, the process of James’ marginalization became more unconscious and inadvertent but, in all events, it was one of the most successful rewrite- or overwrite-enterprises ever accomplished.  James ended up ignored, an ephemeral figure on the margins of Christianity, known only to aficionados. But in the Jerusalem of his day in the 40’s to 60’s


CE, he was the most important and central figure of all – the ‘Bishop’ or ‘Overseer’ of the Jerusalem Church…This [rewrite or overwrite] was necessary because of the developing doctrine of the supernatural Christ and the stories about his miraculous birth. p.xviii

Because of James pre-eminent stature, the sources for him turn out to be quite extensive, more for any other comparable character, even for those as familiar to us as John the Baptist and Peter.  In fact, extra-biblical sources contain more reliable information about James than about Jesus.  p.xix

In fact, taking the brother relationship seriously may turn out to be one of the only confirmations that there ever was a historical Jesus. p.xx

James is suppressed but provides the best insight into what Jesus might have been like.

It is through the figure of James that one can get a realistic sense of what the Jesus of history might have been like. p.xxix

James is mentioned in the Gospels, but here the material is marred by doctrinal attempts either to defame the family and brothers of Jesus or to disqualify them in some manner. p.xxviii

Who would have known the character of Jesus better? His closest living relatives, who according to tradition were his legitimate successors in Palestine, and those companions accompanying him in all his activities? Or someone who admits that he never saw Jesus in his lifetime, as Paul does… Furthermore, it is claimed that the doctrines represented by James and the members of the Jesus family generally were defective in their understanding of Paul’s Christ Jesus and inferior to boot. p. xxix

It will transpire that the person of James is almost diametrically opposed to the Jesus of Scripture and our ordinary understanding of him. p.xxxii

…The highly Hellenized Movement that developed overseas, which we now call ‘Christianity’, was, in fact, the mirror reversal of what actually took place in Palestine under James. p.xxxiii

James is not only the key to a re-evaluation and reconstruction of Jewish Christian history and the Jewish-Christian relationship, he is also the key to the Historical Jesus. The solution to this problem has evaded observers for so long primarily because they have attempted to approach it through the eyes and religious legacy of James’ archrival and sometime religious ‘Enemy’, Paul.  it is through James, Jesus spiritual heir and actual physical successor in Palestine, that we are on the safest ground in approaching a historically accurate semblance of what Jesus himself, in so far as he actually existed, might have been like. p.8

James the Just in early Christian traditions

Origen gives the tradition as follows:

“So great a reputation among the people for Righteousness did this James enjoy, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in Twenty Books, when wishing to show the cause what people suffered so great misfortunes that even the Temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the Wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ.”


Then he adds:

“The wonderful thing is, that though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the Righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of what had been done to James….”

Jerome. too, gives us a version of this tradition about James:

“This same Josephus records the tradition that this James was of such great Holiness and repute among the people that the downfall of Jerusalem was believed to be on account of his death”. pp. 234-235

James, ‘Holy from his Mother’s womb’, was a Nazarite

By Eusebius’ testimony – and also Jerome’s- Hegesippus goes on… ‘He[James] was holy from his mother’s womb.’ p.238

Nazirite/Nazarene are related terms

In the context of the way Eusebius and Jerome use the term ‘Holy’ as descriptive of James…one might also use the equivalent of ‘consecrated ‘.. or ‘set aside from his mother’s womb.’..the notion of ‘being consecrated’ or ‘separated’ (‘set aside’) is the basis of what generally goes by the term ‘Nazirite’, which is based on the same root as ‘Nezer’. In fact, this is the way Epiphanius understands the term as he applies it to James. He even calls James ‘a Nazirite’, by which he specifically means consecrated, thereby signalling the Hebrew sense of the underlying root…

Interestingly, when speaking of James as ‘a Nazirite’, Epiphanius gives John the Baptist as another example ‘of these persons consecrated to God’.  In doing so, he cites Luke 1:15, which pictures the Angel predicting that John ‘will drink neither wine nor strong drink’. p.240

Jesus the Nazarene does not indicate a geographical location of his birth

It was Matthew who first spread the misconception that the title ‘Jesus the Nazoraean’ should in some manner relate to ‘Nazareth’, by quoting the prophecy; ‘He shall be called a Nazoraean’               (Nazoraios) which, closing his narrative of Jesus’ early years, he associates with ‘withdrawing to parts of Galilee (Galilaias) and going to live in a city called Nazareth (Nazaret)’ (2:22-23). This cannot be the derivation of the term, as even in the Greek, the spelling ‘Nazareth’ and ‘Nazoraean’ differ substantially…The problem is that there is no scriptural passage , ‘he shall be called a Nazoraean’ in the Old Testament.” [Eisenman then goes on suggest that there are OT passages that speak of Samuel or Samson being dedicated from their “mother’s womb” as a Nazirite, and that Matthew may have seen in such passages a prophecy of Jesus]. p.243

[On page 248 Eisenman says that the existence of a town called Nazareth in this period “cannot be confirmed.”]

Christians of all ages have generally thought Jesus ‘the Nazarene´ denoted a geographical notation, misunderstanding the ideological implications of the terminology. p.250

James is eliminated from the story by Luke


[Eisenman reviews evidence from the Gospel of Hebrews (the Palestinian tradition) that Jesus first appeared to James to break bread and giving him to eat. He then claims that Luke’s story of Jesus appearing to Cleopas (uncle of Jesus) and an unnamed person (whom he suggests is James) so that James is “eliminated in the redaction process” and thereby “conveniently rubbed out in the Lukan redaction.” p.763  Then Eisenman goes on to say that in the Nag Hammadi literature, “James is clearly ‘the Beloved Disciple.’] p.763

Paul accuses James and the Jerusalem Church of not discerning the Lord’s body in the Supper

Paul is actually calling down the blood-libel accusation of being ‘guilty of the blood’ of Christ on his opponents, particularly, seemingly those within the Movement or ‘Church’ itself, even the very Leadership itself, including James, who do not interpret ‘the cup of the Lord’ or ‘see through to the body of the Lord’ in the spiritualized manner he does. p.765

All the NT Gospels have an anti-Semitic mindset

With rare exceptions, the point of view is almost always anti-Semitic, pro-Gentile, anti-national, and pro-Roman…John, while differing markedly as to specific historical points and development, still comes from the same Hellenistic, anti-Semitic mindset – even more extreme. p.793

….the Gospels as we have them – whoever produced them – at their core are just too anti-Semitic to have been produced by anyone other than Gentiles. p.800

 James and the family of Jesus were consistently written out of the story

The Gospels just cannot present the real James as an Apostle, brother and principal successor of Jesus – despite the fact that this is absolutely attested to without embarrassment by no less a witness than Paul himself – because of their anti-family, anti-national, and anti-Jewish or Palestinian Apostle orientation, the family of Jesus already having been presented as distinct from Jesus’ true followers and real believers and therefore, the need for this fictional James the brother of John and the fictional nomenclature ‘Zebedee’. p.846

Once James has been rescued from the oblivion into which he was cast, abetted by one of the most successful rewrite enterprises ever accomplished – the Book of Acts (and one of the most fantastic) – it is necessary to deal with the new constellation of facts the reality of his being occasions. It will also no longer be possible to avoid, through endless scholarly debate and other evasion syndromes, the obvious solution to the problem of the Historical Jesus – the question of his actual physical existence as such aside – the answer to which is simple. Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus p. 963    

[These final words constitute the confronting theme of Eisenman’s massive study on James, the Brother of Jesus: “Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus.”]

                        Keith Akers, The Lost Religion of Jesus

Jewish Christians detested Paul


The Jewish Christians detested Paul, whom they regarded as an apostate. p.14

Jewish Christians saw Jesus as the anointed Prophet

{In their view] Jesus was a prophet who came to reform the Mosaic law- to return the people to the original law of God which had been given to Moses but then distorted by those who followed after Moses. p.14

[ Jewish Christians regarded Jesus as an anointed one, which word in the Hebrew scripture also means messiah. As such, “Christ” is seen not as a one off anointed one, but one who has often appeared in ancient times, and also that all believers are anointed as ‘Christs’] p.28

The Ebionites [ post-70 Jewish Christians] are not the only Jewish Christian group in the first centuries of Christianity but were the most important. The Ebionites are mentioned by more of the church fathers than any other such group…There are other groups usually classified as “Jewish Christian” – namely the Elchasaites, the Nazoraeans, and the Ossaeans…all of these groups were similar to the Ebionites on at least these three points: they adhered to the Jewish law, they were vegetarian, and they rejected animal sacrifice…the Ebionites are the best and most important representatives of early Jewish Christianity.” pp.29,30

Ebionites were condemned by the Great Church

No one has a problem with identifying Jesus and his followers as Jews in the first century; but, by the fourth century, those Ebionites and other Jewish Christians who still claim allegiance to the Jewish law, in however Christianised form, find themselves condemned as heretics by the church and condemned to oblivion by scholars.” p.30

Anti-Sacrifice was an essential feature of the Ebionites

The Ebionites unequivocally condemned one of the central aspects of Judaism, namely the practice of animal sacrifice; and they kept their grievance against animal sacrifice in their traditions long after the practice of animal sacrifice had ended when the temple in Jerusalem, the site of the sacrifices, was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. They also condemned some of the Jewish scripture as being false texts – not part of the law of God but the creation of human scribes. These are hardly the actions of a group whose defining characteristic was Jewish legalism.  Loyalty to the law of Moses did not mean blindness to everything being broadcast as part of the Jewish tradition in the first century. p.33 [In other words, they read the scriptures critically, and in this they were the early pioneers of what is now known as the literary or historical criticism of the Bible].

Two essential features of the Ebionites

I argue in this book that Jewish Christianity in the first century (Jesus and his first followers) was the direct spiritual ancestor of Jewish Christianity in the fourth century (the Ebionites)…Jewish Christianity is a single continuous entity, defined by two characteristics: loyalty to the Jewish law and acceptance of Jesus as the prophet of this law. Perhaps the Jewish Christians distorted or elaborated on the tradition in some ways; but in the end it was the Jewish Christian Ebionites, and not the gentile Christians, who most faithfully preserved the traditions handed down to them by Jesus. p.33

Claims about priestly additions to Moses are now endorsed by contemporary scholars


Their view that the sacrificial system did not originate with Moses and was falsely attributed to Moses was unorthodox but, it should be noted, hardly without justification – many scholars believe the same thing. pp.33-34 [Ed. note: see Richard Friedman’s highly acclaimed classic, Who wrote the Bible? as a scholarly endorsement that the elaborate sacrificial cult was added to the Law centuries after Moses].

The view of the Christian churches, that Jesus was understood better by his gentile followers than by those who actually share his religion, is highly questionable. p.34

 Some of the Ebionite traditions go back to the Essenes and even to Pythagoras

Philo states that the Essenes rejected animal sacrifices, despised wealth, and lived communally, did not make oaths, and rejected slavery…Josephus agrees on all these points…Porphyry and Jerome go further and say that the Essenes were vegetarian…Philo describe the Essene opposition to war in simple and moving terms: the Essenes refused to attend to “any employment whatever connected with war.” p.38

[Akers says that Essenes should not be confused with the Qumran community who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. This community supported animal sacrifice and was not pacifist in that it supported achieving its goals through violence and warfare. It also encouraged slavery, and supported the making of oaths. The Qumran were therefore more like an unrepresentative offshoot of the Essene movement].

The Essenes had no private property at all. p.38

Josephus states flatly that the Essene lifestyle and the Pythagorean lifestyle were the same. [Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher of the 6thcentury BCE]

Pythagoras was an opponent of slavery; he taught his disciples to avoid oaths, that their language should be such as to render them worthy of belief even without oaths…he was an opponent of the materialism or the pursuit of wealth and luxury…he counselled against seeking revenge or doing harm to one’s enemies; he also did not wear wool, wearing a white robe of linen instead.  Most importantly, he was a vegetarian and condemned animal sacrifices; he ordered his closet disciples to abstain from all animal food and from wine. This sounds enough like the Essenes and the early Christians that it is hard to resist the conclusion that there is an ideological or organizational connection somewhere between these groups.” pp. 39-40

The Jewish Christians did not drink wine, did not eat meat, despised wealth, were pacifists, and opposed animal sacrifices. The Jewish Christians prohibited oaths (Mathew 54:37). p.40

…Jesus or the Jewish Christians may have been heavily influenced by their [these] ideas. We lack any direct testimony linking the Essenes to Jesus. p.41

Ebionites believed John the Baptist was a vegetarian

The Ebionites did not think that John [the Baptist] ate insects! The Ebionites were vegetarians and, therefore, denied that John the Baptist, a favorite Christian hero, ate locusts.  p.42

John the Baptist offered water baptism to replace blood sacrifice


For John the Baptist, baptism was an alternative to animal sacrifice…This contrasts with the later church’s doctrine of the atonement, in which it is Jesus’ death that achieves forgiveness of sins, much as animal sacrifices were supposed to do in the Old Testament.  Later in the New Testament, the shedding of Jesus’ blood atones for sin as a replacement for animal sacrifice…

The rejection of animal sacrifice, or at the very least an alternative to animal sacrifice, must have existed before Jesus’ death, rendering the whole concept of an atonement superfluous. What Jesus’ death is supposed to have replaced, was already replaced when John baptised Jesus. p.43

Jesus became Son of God by adoption at his baptism

The Ebionites chose the moment of Jesus’ baptism by John as the key moment in which Jesus became God’s son, rather than the moment of Jesus’ birth. Jesus became God’s son by being “adopted” by him (a ‘spiritual birth’ so to speak) rather than being literally fathered by God and born of a virgin. This idea is called adoptionism. p.46

The original Ebionites rejected the idea of the virgin birth and thought that Jesus was the human offspring of Joseph and Mary. p.48

Ebionites were defined by poverty

The main Jewish Christian group was called the “Ebionites” – a name derived, as we have already seen, from the Hebrewebionim meaning “the poor. The Jewish Christians who thought of themselves as followers of the true prophet (Jesus), therefore, did not conceive of themselves as merely giving to the poor, being nice to the poor, or defending the poor: they were the poor…

The Ebionites claimed their spiritual descent from the time when the primitive church really was sharing everything in common from that pivotal event when the followers of Jesus “were of one heart and soul.” The followers of Jesus laid everything they owned at the feet of the apostles, and everyone received according to their need (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35). pp.49-50

Ebionites read scripture critically, especially in the matter of violence and sacrifice

The Ebionites condemned many of the texts in the Jewish scripture as false texts: they believed they were not inspired by God but were false and shouldn’t be part of the scripture at all…if the Ebionites believed that sacrifice or warfare was wrong, how do we explain the existence of commands in Jewish scriptures to offer animal sacrifices and commands to engage in bloody warfare? Commands to make animal sacrifices are found throughout Leviticus, and accounts of wars sanctioned by God are found throughout Joshua.

 The problem of dealing with troubling passages in scripture is an old one. One answer, taken by both the Jewish philosopher Philo and the Christian writer Origen, is to call troubling passages allegorical. Thus, Origen (who was a pacifist) interprets much of the violence in the Old Testament wars of Joshua as allegories, so that the “extermination of our enemies means destroying wrath, lust, melancholy, and other vices…

The Ebionites were not alone in feeling uncomfortable about these texts. However, they did not take this allegorical path…[They claimed that] the written tradition (the Jewish scriptures) had been corrupted by false texts. pp.77-78


[Ed. Note: These Jewish Christians engaged in what we now call “literary criticism”, and in this they judged scripture by the teaching of Jesus who rejected both violence and the retaliatory justice “an eye for an eye.”(Matt. 5:38) Jesus also repeatedly said, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” (Math.9:13; 12:7).  He forgave sin freely quite apart from the rite of sacrifice].

Gandhi noted that “the only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teaching as nonviolent are Christians.” p.89

Pacificism was clearly a part of Jewish Christianity. p.92

Jewish Christians were against the cult of sacrifice

In the Recognitions…in a celebrated passage describing a speech by James, the brother of Jesus, delivered in the temple seven years after Jesus’ death, James denounces animal sacrifices and predicts the destruction of the temple. p.92

Opposition to the cult of sacrifice was always a central feature of Jewish Christianity

…the distinctive origin of Jewish Christianity lies to a large degree in its opposition to animal sacrifice. p.101

[ Ed. note: Keith Akers seems to suggest that this opposition to sacrifices sprang from an ethic of vegetarianism. Or was it the reverse, namely, that the opposition to the cult of sacrifices as a means of obtaining forgiveness was the reason for vegetarianism?  i.e., No sacrifice in that ancient culture meant no meat to eat. Akers appears to turn this issue back-to-front. He seems to make vegetarianism the cause of the opposition to sacrificing rather than making the opposition to sacrificing the cause of the vegetarianism].

The Temple protest of Jesus was all about his opposition to the cult of sacrifice

Jesus was attacking the practice of animal sacrifice. “I came to abolish sacrifices,” says the Ebionite Jesus, “and unless you cease sacrificing, my anger will not cease from you.” (Panarion 30.116.5) Now there is a pronouncement explosive enough to cause the temple hierarchy to want Jesus crucified. p.113

The primary practical effect of the so-called “cleansing of the temple” was (in John) to empty the temple of the animals that were to be sacrificed, or (the synoptics) to drive out those who were taking them to be killed or were selling them to be killed.  We must remember that the temple was more like a butcher’s shop than any modern-day church or synagogue. “Cleansing the temple” was an act of animal liberation. p.117

 [Ed. Comment: Akers’ book is brilliant in presenting the evidence that it was Jesus’ passionate protest against the institution of sacrificing at the temple which led directly to his being put to death. Unless Jesus’ ultimate concern in his temple protest was that forgiveness of sin is always freely available and needs no atoning sacrifice (as if our alienation from God and one another is something that it can be bought or sold), then Jesus would be giving his life for no higher cause than being some kind of Pythagorian reformer or animal liberator].


… the whole sacrifice business was a fraud anyway, God never having required sacrificing.  Now here is something almost worth being crucified over! p.118

[Akers goes on to make the point that in Jesus’ dispute with the chief priests who challenged his right to stage his protest, he asked them about John the Baptist?  Why did he bring John into the dispute? Because it was John who initiated the movement against blood sacrifices]. p.118

At every juncture, it is the priests who are seeking to have Jesus killed. It is not the Romans (yet), nor the “multitude” who are after Jesus; indeed, Jesus seems to be protected by the “multitude.”

…The priests want Jesus killed, and even after Jesus is dead, they want to destroy his followers. Is all this effort simply to safeguard some dishonest moneychangers?  It is much more plausible that Jesus’ objection to the practice of animal sacrifice itself, and that his actions during the volatile Passover week were the immediate and most important cause of his death. p.119 

Leadership of James followed the death of Jesus

According to Eusebius, James assumed his position of leadership immediately following Jesus’ death (Ecclesiastical History 2.1,2, 7.19), and received leadership of the Jerusalem church directly from his brother, Jesus.

Eusebius quotes Hegesippus to illustrate what kind of person James was: “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.” p.163 

The death of James was at the hands of Ananus, the high priest (son of Ananus, father in-law of Caiaphas who condemned Jesus to death)

Josephus, however, straightforwardly blames the high priest…Ananus…He had brought James the brother of Jesus and some of his companions before him, accused them of breaking the law, and had them stoned to death (Antiquities 20.9.1)…once again showing the continuity of opposition between the followers of Jesus and the priests in the temple. p.167

…the killing of James was an action that did not have support of most of the Jews. Josephus, Eusebius, and Origen all agree on this point…Josephus states that Jerusalem was destroyed as punishment for the murder of James, an innocent man. p.168

Eusebius describes James as a vegetarian who would not even wear wool (Ecclesiastical History 2.23. 5-6), implying that James was perhaps less than enthusiastic about the slaughter of animals in the temple. p.168

Ebionites and the Jerusalem church

It is practically indisputable that the Ebionites – whatever one may think of their later development – captured a number of essential points about the history of early Christianity. The themes of the rejection of animal sacrifice, endorsement of vegetarianism, and the adherence to the leadership of James were not latter sectarian quibbles from the second and third centuries.  All of these appear at the very earliest stage of Christian history and are acknowledged as such, even when they are


opposed by Paul and by later orthodox writers. The Ebionite portrayal of the history of the church has a power that cannot be denied. p.170-1

Ebionites and the Family of Jesus

…if we follow the succession of church leadership from James, we find that it goes to other relatives of Jesus, the ‘desposynoi’…who become the founders of Ebionism… Hegesippus tells the story of how some of the grandsons of Judas (another brother of Jesus) were arrested and brought before Domitian, who after interrogating them released them as harmless; Hegesippus remarks in passing that these grandsons “ruled the church,” both because they were relatives of Jesus himself and because they were witness to the faith (Ecclesiastical History 3.20.1-8)…These relatives lived both in Nazareth (in Galilee) and in Cochaba,  a town on the east side of the Jordan river (Eusebius, Ecclsiastical History 1.7.14)  Ephiphanius reports that two groups of Jewish Christians (Ebionites and Nazoraeans) also lived in the town of Cochaba, and indeed that Ebionism began in Cochaba….the relatives of Jesus settle in precisely the village where the heretical Ebionites originated…If one tried to draw a true line of “apostolic succession” from Jesus to James and his successors, this line goes directly to the Ebionites…The most obvious explanation is that Jesus’ family was part of the earliest Christian church, that that some of the relatives of Jesus, the successors of James, then became the leaders of the Ebionites. p.178-80

The Jewish Christians had Jesus own relatives among their number, and thus an unbroken chain of tradition extending back to Jesus himself. p.184

There was “no room in the inn” for the message of the Jewish Jesus in either Judaism or Christianity. p.I85

[Akers says that Jewish Christianity developed a large popular support during the time of James’ leadership. For a time it indicated that it could have become the future of Judaism.  It was not until about 85 CE that it was rubbed out as an alternative to Rabbinic Judaism. One of the factors in this  rejection of the intra-Jewish Jesus movement  was its pacifism in the face of the war with Rome. The tide of support turned against Jewish Christians when they were increasingly regarded as traitors to Judaism].

The evidence indicates that the Nazoraeans – if in fact they were different from the Ebionites at all – were doctrinally similar to the Ebionites, Elchasaites, Nasaraeans, and Ossaeans….All the Jewish Christin groups, though splintered into rival sects, agreed with the Ebionites on the fundamental points of favouring vegetarianism and rejecting animal sacrifice. p.183-4

How the Jewish Christians’ response to Marcion was better than the Church’s response

[Akers shows how the Jewish Christians/Ebionites neither accepted Marcion’s total rejection of the Old Testament, nor the total inspiration of all scripture which was formulated by the church in response to Marcion in about 135 CE.  The Jewish Christians/Ebionites read the OT critically, rejecting “false texts”. They neither accepted the violent images of God in the Scripture, nor the texts which supported animal sacrifices].


Both the orthodox church and the Ebionites rejected Gnosticism…the Ebionites differed from the gnostics on two critical points: the Ebionites accepted the law of God as the law of the Creator of the universe, and thought of the Creator and the creation as fundamentally good. p.195-7

[The pastoral letters attributed to Paul were] concerns for the church a hundred years after Paul lived – the most likely date for their composition. The ‘pastoral’ letters also specifically repudiate many of the gnostic doctrines that Marcion attributed to Paul…Acts, which was written later than either the authentic letters of Paul or the synoptic gospels, also bears the imprint of the struggle with Marcion.  p.197-8 

[ Ed. note: These second century NT writings, which also included 2 Peter, countered Marcion by composing letters in the name of Peter and Paul declaring that every bit of Scripture was inspired of God. This literary device may have scuttled Marcion, but in the coming centuries it saddled the Church with texts of Scripture used to support violence, intolerance, slavery, subordination of women, religious persecution, anti-Semitism, and more].

No Original Sin in Jewish Christianity and the Christhood of all believers

Jewish Christianity rejected all ideas of “original sin,” simply because Jewish Christians accepted the Jewish framework in which humans are created in the image of God and are, therefore, not inherently depraved or sinful…The first sin is not due to eating a mythical “apple” but rather due to the consumption of meat, among other things, long after the Garden of Eden…The Ebionites affirmed that they themselves were “able to become Christs” (Hippolytus, Refutations of all Heresies 7.22), and thus proclaimed the Christhood of every believer.”p.201

Ebionites…owned everything in common. p.210

Jeffrey J, Butz, The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity 

James has been marginalized

After years of research, I have come to the conclusion that the role of James in the early church has been marginalized over the centuries – both consciously and unconsciously – and continues to be repressed today. p.xi

It is, above all, the Jewishness of Jesus and James that was a major reason for James’s leading role in the early church being suppressed. p.xv

…Jesus not only had siblings, but that some (if not all) of his brothers played significant roles in the leadership of the early church. In fact, James was considered by many early Christians to be the first “bishop” of the church, the successor to Jesus following the crucifixion, making James in essence the first “pope”. Not Peter as Catholic tradition has maintained. p.10

Josephus actually discusses James at greater length than Jesus. p.16


Many early church Fathers also discuss James, including Clement, Eusebius, Hegesippus, Jerome, and Origen. James is also highly regarded – indeed revered – in many of the apocryphal books that were excluded from the New Testament…There are also references to James in the now highly regarded Gospel of Thomas. p.16

James was the most influential leader in the church for more than a generation

James is looked to as the apostle par excellence by early Christian sects such as the Ebionites and Elkesaites. p.16.

“After the ascension of the savior, Peter, James, and John did not claim pre-eminence…but chose James the Just as Bishop of Jerusalem.” Clement of Alexandria, Hypostases. p.65

The conflict between James and Paul

F.C. Baur was the first to propose, in the early 1800s, that there was outright opposition between Paul and the pillar apostles. p.71

The growing animosity between Paul and the Jewish Christians comes even more sharply into focus in the account of Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem, where his very presence in the Temple sparks rioting in the streets by the Jewish Christians, and Paul has to be taken into protective custody by a Roman tribune. On the very steps of the Temple, the growing animosity between Paul and Jerusalem comes to a shocking head. p.85

A Pauline or Jacobine Jesus?

Jesus may have been much more Law conformist than the Pauline tradition has led most Christians (and Protestants especially) to believe. p.94

James was a resident of Jerusalem for 32 years 

…for at least thirty-two years – from the time of Jesus’ death until his own death, which can reliably be dated in 62, James was a permanent resident of Jerusalem. p.95

James was always Believer

James could not have become a believer post-resurrection. He would never have gained authority over Peter and the other apostles so quickly, especially if he had been a nonbeliever while Jesus was alive. p.100

The distinctive teachings of Jewish Christianity

[ James could have been one of the twelve according to Butz – Eisenman affirms it. This is the claim of the Apocryphon of James and the Apocalypse of James which claims James and Jesus were full blood brothers nourished by the same mother’s milk]. pp.126-128

The ground-breaking work on the nature of Jewish Christianity, Patristic Evidence for Jewish Christian Sects, by A.F.J. Klijn and G.J. Reinink, identifies five distinct Jewish Christian communities that existed in apostolic times: the Ebionites, the Elkesaites, the Nazoreans, the Cerinthians, and the Symmachians.  Though there is some diversity in the beliefs of these groups, James Dunn has


identified three common characteristics that warrant placing each community under the umbrella label of “Jewish Christian”:

  1. Faithful adherence to the Law of Moses.
  2. The exaltation of James and the denigration of Paul
  3. A Christology of “adoptionism”- they all believed that Jesus was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary and Mary and was “adopted” by God as his Son upon his baptism by John. p.131

The most important scripture for the more staunchly Jewish Christian communities was the aptly named Gospel of the Hebrews. Unfortunately, no copies of this gospel are extant today…That the Gospel of the Hebrews was originally written in Hebrew is certainly significant, as all four of the canonical gospels were written in Greek, perhaps indicating that the Gospel of the Hebrews could be earlier than the canonical gospels. [ Butz goes on to quote a portion of this lost gospel which was translated by Jerome wherein it states that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to James and that James was present at the Last Supper]. p.133

…if the first followers of Jesus – including the apostles and Jesus own family – were thoroughly Jewish in their belief and practice and opposed to Paul’s interpretation of the gospel, then just what is “orthodoxy” and what is “heresy.”  Is Christianity, as it has come to be practised for close to two millennia, in fact based on a heresy?  And is the “heresy” of Jewish Christianity in fact the original orthodoxy? … these questions are being addressed more and more by scholars, and if we want to learn the truth about Jesus and James, we must address them too. p.138-9

“…believe no teacher, unless he brings from Jerusalem the testimonial of James, the Lord’s brother…”  St. Peter Preaching at Tripolis, Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions. p. 142 [ Ed. note:  Perhaps this throws some light on why Paul strenuously objected to demands that he produce a written testimonial of support from James or the Jerusalem apostles. See 2 Corinthians 3]

Jesus did not intend to start a new religion

[After affirming the thoroughly Jewishness of Jesus, Butz states]  …the last thing Jesus wanted to do was start a new religion. p.248

All of the evidence we have uncovered attests to the fact that James and the apostles retained their Jewish practice and belief.  p.148

Conflict between Paul and James and the Jerusalem church

In fact, it could be said that the purpose of almost all of Paul’s letters was to counteract the authority, beliefs, and practices of James and the Jerusalem church. p.149

…they [Jewish Christians] did not regard the death of Jesus as atoning for their sins. p.151

[Ed. note: This statement by Butz simply reflects the overwhelming consensus among the scholars that Jewish Christianity attached no soteriological significance to the death of Jesus].


Simply put, we know that Paul faced opposition. That opposition was, in fact, the impetus for the writing of almost all of his letters. Now, if we look at the situation objectively -just based on a common sense approach to these basic facts – who else could these opponents possibly have been other than Jewish Christians, and not just any Jewish Christians, but the apostolic leadership itself. p.159

The Jewish Christians…thoroughly rooted in the teaching of James and the other apostles, thought of the Pauline churches as the heretics. p.162

Paul’s teachings are being seen by a rapidly growing number of modern scholars and writers as a distortion of what Jesus taught, and the development of the Christian church as a travesty of the original Jewish beliefs and teachings of Jesus. p.172

James was a Nazirite who died at the hands of the same priestly family who had Jesus killed

Mainstream Anglican scholar Bruce Chilton, one of the organizers of the International Consultation on James, has come to the conclusion that James was indeed a Nazirite, that he most likely had some connection with this strict sect…For James and those who were associated with him, Jesus true identity was his status as a Nazirite. p.164

[ Butz relates how both Jesus and James were put to death at the instigation of high priests who were related by marriage. Jesus was handed over to the Romans under the leadership of the high priest, but James was stoned under the orders of the high priest without Roman consent. Butz cites John Dominic Crossan as saying, “That both brothers, Jesus and James, should be done away by Caiaphas and his brother-in-law Ananus is surely more than mere coincidence.” p.164-5]

                       Jeffrey J. Butz, The Secret Legacy of Jesus

The siblings of Jesus were full-blood siblings

It cannot be emphasized enough that whenever siblings of Jesus are mentioned in the New Testament, nowhere does it ever imply that they are anything other than full-blood siblings of Jesus. p.13

James was so highly respected in Jerusalem generally, that his killing aroused a huge protest

…when James was unjustly executed by the new high priest Ananus in the year 62, high raking Pharisees in Jerusalem protested to Rome, resulting in Ananus’s abrupt removal from office. p.57 [ Butz cites a comment on this by J.D. Crossan: “We need to think more about James and how he reached such status among Jewish circles that…his death caused the High priest to be deposed after only three months in office.” p.16]

The Jerusalem church was a Nazarene synagogue

Under James’s leadership, the original followers of Jesus were not even called Christians…Jesus’ original Jewish followers were known as Nazarenes…Many scholars now make the argument that the name Jesus of Nazareth was a mistranslation of the original phrase, Jesus the Nazarene, and that it did not


refer to the town of  Nazareth at all… In Hebrew, Jesus and his disciples were called the Notsrim which can be translated as “keepers,” or “preservers.”pp.57,58

…the Jerusalem Church was indeed a synagogue…the Nazarene synagogue, or Yachad, was just one of numerous synagogues in Jerusalem. p. 72 [Ed. Note: The words church and synagogue are derived from the same Greek word, ecclesia].

After the year 70 the Nazarenes began to be called Ebionites

…the Ebionites and the Nazarenes are one and the same. p. 124

But the critical year of 70 CE is as good a marker as any to indicate the transition from Nazarene to Ebionite… p. 137

But in the aftermath of the year 70, tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians only heightened.  The Ebionites accused Paul’s Christians of apostasy for having abandoned the original Torah-based teachings of Jesus and James. p.140

The Ebionites are formally denounced for the first time in the writings of the church father Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (ca. 130 200 CE (Against Heresies), the first great heresy hunter… [He writes] “They practice circumcision, persevere in the observance  of those customs which are enjoined by the law.”  Irenaeus also notes that thy pray facing Jerusalem. p.141

The actual reason we have no direct records of the Ebionites after the year 70 is that their writing were suppressed and burned by the heresy hunters, including their most precious gospel, commonly called the Gospel of the Hebrews p. 142

The Ebionites fled to Pella under the direction of Bishop Symeon [cousin or brother of Jesus who was elected to replace James] sometime around 66, set up (or reconstituted) their auxiliary base at the Wadi Cherith for about eight years, and then at least a contingent led by Bishop Symeon returned to reestablish a permanent base on Mt. Zion, likely around the fourth year of the emperor Vespasian in either 73 or 74 CE. p.144.

While Symeon continued to provide overall leadership of the Ebionite Yachad from Jerusalem, both Hegesippus and Julius Africanus confirm that the Desposyni [the relatives of Jesus] presided over the Ebionite communities in the Diaspora. p.152

According to Eusebius, the third persecution under Trajan, resulted in the martyrdom of Bishop Symeon, who was accused of being both a Christian and a Davidide. p.162

…the Ebionites were increasingly despised by both Jews and Christians… Not only were the Ebionites disenfranchised from emerging Christianity, but after the year 90 they were also barred from the new Jewish synagogue system that replaced the temple. pp.166-167

[Jerome translated the Gospel of the Hebrews into both Greek and Latin, and although that too has been lost, a portion of it as translated by Jerome still survives] …it makes the remarkable claim that James was present at the Last Supper!. This would mean that James was one of the twelve, and not a later convert who did not believe in Jesus during his lifetime, as it traditionally claimed by the Church.  p.180 


The memories of the Desposyni were too dangerous for the newly emerging Catholic Church

The reason why these church fathers had no interest in seeking out any remaining Desposyni is obvious. The Desposyni retained memories (dangerous memories for the leaders of the newly emerging Catholic Church) that the origins of Christianity were quite different from what the Church was proclaiming.  The Desposyni were an embarrassing reminder that Jesus had a family that included brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, and this was quite contrary to the new dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Not only that, but these relatives of Jesus were among the first and most important leaders of the Jerusalem Church. Their existence belied the claim of the Church of Rome that Peter was the first pope. The Desposyni were skeletons in the closet of the Roman Church that could not be let out.  The new breed of heresy hunters, including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius, did their utmost to ensure that the key to that closet door would be thrown away forever. p.187

[ Butz outlines three groups of Jewish Christians: the Elkesaites who embraced Gnosticism, the Nazoraeans who moved toward the Catholic faith, and the Ebionites who remained the main group. p. 193.  He then lists the Top 10 ideas of the Ebionite: 1. Jesus the true prophet promised Moses.  2. Jesus is not God – Christ entered him at baptism. Adoptionism. 3.   Jesus was not pre-existent. 4. The  whworld has been given over to Satan. 5. The value of poverty.  6. The practice of vegetarianism and rejection of animal sacrifice. 7. The claim there are false texts in Scripture Matt. 15: 9, 13; Ezekiel 20:25 Jer.7, 8.  8. Baptism is necessary. 9. Jewish Law is still in force. 10. Paul is a false apostle. p.195- 208]

[According to Eusebius, a minor group of Ebionites did believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, but not his preexistnce as God. p..214. Butz calls them Nazoraeans to distinguish them from the original Nazarenes. pp. 215-217.]

[Ed. note:  This piece of history may help to explain how Muhammad, who incorporated a number of Ebionite traditions into his teachings, taught that Jesus had a virgin birth without being divine. Muhammad’s teacher, Waraqa, was a priest of an Ebionite sect in Mecca known as Nostrania, a sect to which Muhammad’s family clan had belonged for several generations. The name of the sect was obviously derived from the labels originally give to Jewish Christians –  Nazarene or Notzrim. See Joseph Azzi, The Priest and the Prophet, perhaps the best book every written on Muhammed’s family tree].

[Butz suggests that the book of Matthew was written by the Nazoraens in Syria, causing a split from the Ebionites, pp. 217-2-9]

 Like the Ebionites, Muslims believe there are errors and distortions in the Torah as well as the gospel. p. 240

                                     Barry Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian

The Jesus movement was not the same as the Christ movement


This Christ Movement [of the Hellenizers and Paul] came to cover up the original teachings of Jesus…the original message of Jesus and the Jesus Movement, Jesus’ earliest followers in Jerusalem, became switched for a different religion…The Christ Movement replaced the original Jesus Movement …there was an important shift away from the teachings of Jesus to those about the Christ. That is, beliefs about the person of Jesus conceived of as a Christ came to obscure what he said and did. Thus, the religion of Jesus, the one Jesus practiced and taught, became transformed into a cult about the Christ…

Paul’s religion was not the religion of Jesus…the divine Gentile Christ was switched for the human Jewish Jesus.  A religion about the Christ substituted for the teachings of Jesus… It was a huge switch   – the Christ for Jesus, Paul’s religion for Jesus’, and the Christ Movement for the Jesus Movement, the Christ Movement for the Jesus Movement…Simply put, Jesus got upstaged by Paul. pp. 2-6

James was a Nazirite

James, in fact, was a Nazirite or ‘super Jew,” like his cousin John the Baptist. As we said, a Nazirite was a Torah-observant Jew who had taken a special vow of dedication to God. Their rabbi was Jesus, and it was his interpretation of Torah that commanded their allegiance…

As James, so Jesus. The best indication of what Jesus of the 20s actually taught is likely to be James. His brother. James knew the man and what he stood for. He knew that Jesus knew and practised Torah as they did…James is the best clue we have today concerning the beliefs and practices of the Jesus of history. p.98

The Ebionite view of Jesus

Jesus was fully human, they thought, born in the usual way, having Mary as his mother and Joseph as his father. Their preferred gospel text was the Gospel of Matthew, written in Aramaic but without the virgin birth story, which like Luke, includes a virgin birth narrative. In fact, they did not accept the virgin birth story at all since this mythology does not find its roots in Jewish thinking.  So, unlike later Christians, they did not see Jesus as a divine being. Nor did they think that Jesus “preexisted” his human form in any fashion. That is, he was not God incarnate…According to Ebionite sources, Peter even referred to Paul as “the man who is my enemy.” (Letter of Peter to James 2:3). pp.100-101

Christology replaced the teaching of Jesus

[The cult of the person of Jesus as the Christ Jesus developed after his death] These beliefs originated from the Christ Movement led by Paul. The image of Jesus changed dramatically over the course of just over one hundred years. Jesus became seen as a divine being holding cosmic importance.  Along with that development went another: a repudiation of his Jewish heritage…The image of Jesus changed radically, while his roots within Judaism were forgotten.  By the mid-second century, Christian leaders were touting Jesus as an incarnate saviour who redeemed humanity by his death and resurrection. Who he was thought to be came to obscure what he had taught and practiced. This represents a remarkable shift in emphasis – away from the religion of Jesus and toward a religion about Christ. pp.103-104

[ The Creeds say nothing about teachings of Jesus] pp.104-5.


This is one of the greatest mysteries of the New Testament and early Christianity: how a Gentile God came to replace a Jewish Jesus. p.108

Most Jews of the Diaspora were vegetarians due to sacrificial traditions

As in all ancient societies, meat was only available through the temples, as a sacrifice. There were no convenience or grocery stores around the corner selling meat.  If someone wanted a meat meal, they would have to take an animal to a temple to be sacrificed. The problem for Jews living in the Diaspora was that the only nearby shrines were those dedicated to Roman, Persian, or Egyptian gods, notably to Dionysus, Mithra, and Isis, among a host of other lesser- known beings.  Eating meat from these sources would involve these deities in the dinner, and this would be idolatrous. In practise, therefore, most observant Jews in the Diaspora would have been vegetarians. pp.112-3

Paul’s teaching facilitated assimilation into a Hellenistic culture

Paul accomplished by argument what Antiochus Epiphanes had tried to achieve by force:  a religion detached from Torah, assimilated into common Hellenistic culture. p.115

Paul unleashed a powerful new religious dynamic within the world of his time.  It was appealing and inviting. p.129

The Jesus of history disappears in Paul’s thought

In reading Paul’s letters, it is surprising how little is made of anything that comes from the Jesus of history.  There is not much in Paul’s writing that would give us grounds for thinking that Jesus had anything important to say. As we have noted, Paul disclosed only that Jesus was born, was Jewish, and died. Moreover, he did not ground his own message in the teachings, observances, or sayings that come from the religion of Jesus.  There are no parables, no Lord’s Prayer, or no Sermon on the Mount. There is nothing that would reflect the relationship one would expect from a disciple of a rabbi. There is just what Paul says he got mystically from the Christ whom he claims reveals himself to him.  Devoid of linkage to the Jesus Movement and to Judaism generally, Paul’s Christ Movement would have appeared suspiciously like a Hellenistic mystery religion. p.146

Jesus was not the message of Jesus

So the claim that Jesus had come to found a church now appears somewhat questionable. Nor did the parables of Jesus focus on Jesus himself, other than a teacher, preacher, and teller of stories. That is, they did not erect an elaborate belief system as a condition of membership in the Kingdom. The parables of Jesus do not reinforce the need for such beliefs as his preexistence, special virgin birth, divinity, role as the crucified Christ, or savior of humanity.  This highly elaborate ideological superstructure is missing from the parables of the Kingdom… So the institution of a structured church and complex belief system about the person of Jesus are not vindicated by a critical study of the parables. p.133


James is overshadowed by Paul

Moreover, the Conventional Model ignores the significant role of James and his leadership in Jerusalem from the 30s to the early 60s.  Why was he so overshadowed by Paul?  We didn’t hear much about James ten or twenty years ago.  Why has his story only now resurfaced? p. 133

The Jesus movement and the Christ movement become fused in the book of Acts

…there were two rival and parallel movements in the 6os: the Jesus Movement in Israel, and the Christ Movement in the Diaspora. They were not the same religion: one came from Jesus; the other came from Paul. One was within Judaism; the other was not. One focused on the teachings of Jesus; the other focused on the figure of Christ…The Jesus Movement, for instance, had to vie with other forms of Judaism in Israel. This was not the competitive forum for the Christ Movement, however, which had a different sphere of operation.  The Christ Movement strove for converts against Roman mystery religion while competing with Diaspora Judaism for the God-fearer segment of its congregation…

Paul’s primary focus was on what the mystical Christ of experience had conveyed to and through him. That represented a distinctive source of information: direct encounter with the Christ.  He received and conveyed a message no one in the Jesus Movement had ever heard or expressed. As a result, his beliefs differed as did his practices…the two Movements were not “branch operations” of one common enterprise p.134

In linking the Christ Movement to the Jesus Movement, what the writer of Acts has succeeded in doing is fusing together two separate religions. p.138

The New Testament reflects Proto-Orthodoxy

The gospel writings did not create the church. Rather, these influential documents are the church’s creation – and not the church as a whole but only one faction with the early Christian clustering of communities. The present New Testament reflects the writings preferred by the Proto-Orthodox, the heirs of Paul’s Christ Movement. p.149

[NT is not without some Jewish Christians perspectives, as in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and the Book of James. Outside the NT, in the early second century the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (which was like a catechism for new converts), was a document of Jewish Christianity. See Wilson pp.151–8]

The idea of a virgin birth was not rooted in Jewish thought…The virgin birth concept was Gentile in origin. p.218

The Christ of Paul, revealed in private visions, replaced the historical Jesus

The religion of Jesus and his earliest followers became upstaged as an imaginative and startlingly new religion entered the arena – Paul’s Christ Movement.  Shunning the Jesus Movement leaders, he crafted his own cult.  He took as his source of inspiration mystical communiques from the Christ – not the teachings of the Jesus of history or the practices of Jesus’ earliest followers in Jerusalem. He thought he enjoyed a separate and special pipeline to the divine, receiving different information and insights than others of his time. The mystical Christ, however, a dying-rising savior, shared many of the same characteristics as other figures well known within the Roman world through the cults of Dionysus, Isis, and Mithras. Paul’s group was not a form of Judaism but a separate Hellenized religion that paid no attention to the teaching of Torah or Jesus. p.238

Paul built his view of Christ on models found outside Judaism, in the mystery religions of the time. The Christ is like Dionysus or Mithras or many other figures – heroes who die and rise again to save


humanity and whose followers can achieve salvation through participation in the hero’s life and death. When Christos translated Mashiach, it transported the concept from a Jewish environment into a vastly different world. p.247

The transformation brought about by the Christification process was so successful that the religion of the historical Jesus was replaced by the cult of the Christ.  In so doing, the early church “killed off” the historical Jesus, focusing, instead, on the worship of the Christ. The myth of the Christ was so effective that it is very difficult now to reconstruct the contours of the authentic teachings, sayings, and doings of the historical Jesus. p.248

[Wilson makes the point that what became mainstream Christianity knocked off all competition from all other versions of Jesus, and all expressions of the old pagan religions galore. p.254]

Christianity also closed down the schools of Greek philosophy – the Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, Pythagoreans, Sceptics, Epicureans, and Hedonists, whose ancient centres dotted the Mediterranean world…Gone, too, were the vast temple complexes of the ancient mystery religions – Isis, Dionysus, Mithras, and myriad others.  Every major competitor was eradicated by the new Christianity…except for one competitor: Judaism. p.254

What we have today in Christianity is largely Paulinity, a religion about the Gentile Christ that covers over the message of the Jewish Jesus of history…Going forward, we need to recover the humanity and Jewishness of Jesus at the popular level, not just in acadamia…

In other words, we should endeavour to focus again on the message, not the messenger. p.256

Recovering the Historical Jesus means reading the New Testament with critical awareness

We are now familiar with many of the problems involved in the quest for the Jesus of history – that he wrote nothing and that the sources are later, representing third- or fourth-generation writings. There are also inconsistencies in their depiction of Jesus, and both Matthew and Luke take it upon themselves to “correct” Mark, making additions and deletions to suit their own agendas….The gospels themselves were written after Paul, and, to some extent, they too show evidence of Christification, especially the Gospel of John…The Christification layering process is to be found within the pages of the New Testament itself, with Paul’s Christ superimposed on the Jesus of history. That means that as we read the gospels, judgments have to be made concerning what might reflect what Jesus himself actually could have said and did, versus what authors forty or eighty years later wanted him to have said. p.258

…early Christian texts tended to cover over the involvement of Jesus’ family in his mission. This was due to the desire of the Christifiers to downplay the role or James and the Jesus Movement in favor of Paul’s religion; James would have none of the Christ cult beliefs and practices. p.260

A human Jesus. This is not a modern invention. It is the original Jesus. That was precisely how his earliest followers – including his brother – understood him. It is only Paul, the Christifiers, and their successors who thought otherwise. p.261

Neither Jesus, his brother nor his disciples were Christians


…Jesus, his mother, his brothers, his disciples, and Mary Magdalene …were not initiators of a new religion, and they were never, ever Christians. They remained Jewish throughout their lives.  These individuals were, however, the victims of the Christifiers who remade the image of Jesus into a Gentile God, stripping him of his Jewish identity and humanity, with powerful consequences that still reverberate today…

In these astounding parables [of Jesus] the message of the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with an elaborate infrastructure of belief about a Christ figure, worship of Jesus as divine, baptism, communion, belonging to the one true church, or assent to creedal statements that precisely affirm the correct Trinitarian formula thrashed out by a committee of select bishops in the fourth century. That superstructure simply does not exist in Jesus’ message.  It was the creation of the later Christifiers. pp.262-3

The Lord’s prayer is not uniquely Christian

[The Lord’s prayer in the Sermon on the Mount] is not directed to Jesus, but to God.  It is not said “through Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” …this one is addressed directly to God, not through an intermediary. P. 261

      James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity

Paul, the real founder of orthodox Christianity, was in conflict with James and the apostles

Not only do I believe Paul should be seen as the “founder” of the Christianity that we know today, rather than Jesus and his original apostles, but I argue he made a decisive bitter break with those first apostles, promoting and preaching views they found to be utterly reprehensible.  And conversely, I think, the Jerusalem church, as well as Peter and the other apostles, held to a Jewish version of the Christian faith that faded away and was forgotten due to the total triumph of Paul’s version of Christianity; Paul’s own letters contain bitterly sarcastic language directed even against the Jerusalem apostles. He puts forth a starkly different understanding of the message of Jesus – including a complete break from Judaism. p. 6

The book of Acts obscures the original version of Christianity

Our primary source for the story of the origins of the Christian Church was written by an anonymous devotee of Paul decades removed from the events he purports to narrate.  Some scholars have even called the book of Acts the great “cover up” and as we will see, this language might be considered relatively mild…the author of Luke-Acts knew precisely what he was doing, and his deliberate obscuring of the original version of “Christianity before Paul” is one of our great cultural losses.  So long as the portrait of Paul in Acts prevails, it obscures for us the Christianity of Jesus and his earliest followers. p. 9

The source of Paul’s Gospel was his independent visionary episodes


Paul’s relationship with the original apostles was sporadic and minimal. He is emphatic about this point, swearing with an oath to his followers that the gospel message he received directly from Christ  came as a heavenly revelation and was not in any way derived from consulting with, or receiving authority from, the original Jerusalem apostles (Galatians 1:16-18).  Paul spoke of the Jerusalem leadership sarcastically, referring to James, Peter and John as the “so-called pillars,” and “those reputed to be somebody,” but adds, “what they were means nothing to me” (Galatians 2:6,9) p.18

Paul’s conflict with the Jerusalem apostles became bitter

Sometime in the mid to late 50’s A.D., Paul made a clear and decisive break with the Jerusalem establishment. In one of his last writings, an embedded fragment of a letter now found in 2 Corinthians, he declares “I am not the least inferior to these super-apostles,” and ends up calling them “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11: 5, 13). He had become terribly bitter against his fellow Jewish Christians whom maintained their Jewish faith…

Most scholars have interpreted this bitterly denunciatory language as directed against a group of unnamed Jewish opponents, not the Jerusalem apostles.  I think this is mistaken. The radical nature of the break that took placed between Paul and the original apostles is so threatening to our most basic assumptions about Christian origins that it is easy to think that it just can’t be true, but the evidence is there…After all, the entire New Testament canon is largely a post-Paul and pro-Paul production. pp.18-19

Paul’s Jesus Christ is not the Jesus of History

Jesus will always be the centre of Christianity, but the “Jesus” who most influenced history was the “Jesus Christ” of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus…All of us, whether Christian or not, whether wittingly or unwittingly, are heirs of Paul, since the parameters of Christ and his heavenly kingdom created by Paul were what shaped Christian civilization. p.21

James, the brother of Jesus, was written out of the story

Paul calls him “James the brother of the Lord,” and it is James, not Peter, who takes over leadership of the movement following Jesus’ death…in later tradition he is called “James the Just” to distinguish him from the other James, the Galilean fisherman, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, and one of the twelve apostles…

The Roman Catholic Church looks to Peter while the Protestants have focused on Paul, but James seems to have been deliberately marginalized…

…the original apostolic Christianity that came before Paul, and developed independently of him, by those who had known and spent time with Jesus, was in sharp contrast to Paul’s version of the new faith. This lost Christianity held sway during Paul’s lifetime, and only with the death of James in A.D. 61, followed by the brutal destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 did it begin to lose its influence as the centre of the Jesus movement.

The source of Paul’s gospel was his ecstatic visions


…the form of Christianity that subsequently developed as a thriving religion in the late Roman Empire was heavily based on the ecstatic and visionary experience of Paul. Christianity, as we came to know it, is Paul and Paul is Christianity. The bulk of the New Testament is dominated by his theological vision…It is difficult for one to imagine a version of Christianity predating Paul…The original apostles and followers of Jesus, led by James and assisted by Peter and John, continued to live as Jews, observing the Torah and worshipping in the Temple at Jerusalem, or in the local synagogues while remembering and honoring Jesus as their martyred Teacher and Messiah.  They neither worshipped nor divinized Jesus as the Son of God, or as a Dying-and-Rising Saviour, who died for the sins of humankind. pp.24-25

James took over the leadership of the church after the death of Jesus

Since the late 1990s there have been over a dozen major scholarly studies of James published. Prior to this, to my knowledge, not a single major scholarly study of James had even been published…

The author of Acts surely knew, but was not willing to state, that James took over the leadership of the movement after Jesus’ death. In his early chapter he never even mentions James by name and casts Peter and John, the other two “pillars,” (according to Paul in Galatians 2:9,12) as the undisputed leaders of the Jesus followers, effectively blurring out James entirely.. His major agenda in the book as a whole is to promote the centrality of the mission and message of the apostle Paul…This suppression of James is systematic and deliberate…”  p. 29

This makes it all the more strange that the first time James is ever mentioned by name in Luke-Acts is when he mysteriously is presented as the undisputed leader at the Jerusalem council of A.D.50- twenty years after the death of Jesus!..With no introduction, after everyone had spoken, James declared his “judgment” on the matter!!!; (Acts 15:13-21). Luke does not even identify James as Jesus’ brother. James just appears, suddenly, never mentioned by name before, and he is in charge of the entire movement, rendering a formal decision like a judge presiding over a Jewish court of law…

The irony of Luke-Acts portrayal of James is quite amazing. James is mentioned only twice, both times in the book of Acts in an account that stretches over a thirty-year period. James is not even identified as Jesus’ brother, yet those two scenes [Acts 15 and 21], separated by ten years, offer us the strongest kind of historical evidence that James presided over the Twelve as leader of the Christian movement.” pp.34

[After citing the Gospel of Thomas, Clement of Alexandria of late Second Century, Eusebius the first great church historian of the fourth century, Hegesippus, a Christian Jew of the early second century, plus Jewish Christian literature in a corpus of literature gathered together in the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, Tabor says:]

Jesus passes to James his successor rule of the Church;  James is widely known by the surname “the Just One because of his reputation for righteousness both in his community and among the people; and Peter, John, and the rest of Twelve, as well as Paul, look to James as their undisputed leader…It is quite remarkable that the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, who had no affiliation with the Christian movement, relates the death of James, not recorded in the New Testament, in some detail. Josephus reports that the Jewish people viewed James’s death at the hand of the Jewish Sanhedrin,


led by the high priest Ananus, with such disfavor that their protest caused Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, to have Ananus removed from his priestly office after only three months. p.38

James’ association with the historical Jesus is superior to Paul’s Christ of visionary experience

Although James has been all but written out of our New Testament records he nonetheless remains our best and most direct link to the historical Jesus. However one evaluates Paul’s “Gospel,” it is nonetheless a fact that what Paul preached was wholly based upon his own visionary experiences, whereas James and the original apostles had spent extensive time with Jesus during his lifetime… the difficulty we face is that Paul’s influence within our New Testament is permeating and all pervasive…Mark’s story of Jesus is almost wholly Pauline in its theology, namely Jesus as the suffering Son of God who gave his life as an atonement for the sins of the word…

1 Peter, a document one might expect to reflect an alternative perspective, is an unabashed presentation of Paul’s ideas under the name of Peter.  Paul’s view of Christ as the divine, preexistent Son of God who took on human form, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and was resurrected to heavenly glory at God’s right hand becomes the Christian message. In reading the New Testament one might assume this was the only message ever preached and there was no other gospel. But such was not the case. If we listen carefully we can still hear a muted original voice – every bit as “Christian” as that of Paul. It is the voice of James, echoing what he received from his brother Jesus. p.39

[Tabor does find echoes of the teachings of Jesus in both the epistle of James and the Didache, or Teachings of the Twelve Apostles.  In neither of these sources are there anything that repeats the distinctive Pauline theme of forgiveness and salvation through Christ’s blood atonement. Tabor says that the Didache was written no later than at least some of the NT documents.pp.39-47]

The original gospel is not about the person of Jesus but the teaching of Jesus

For James, the Christian message is not the person of Jesus but the message that Jesus proclaimed. James’s letter lacks a single teaching that is characteristic of the apostle Paul and it draws nothing at all from the traditions of Mark or John. p.44

The most amazing thing about the Didache…is that there is nothing in this document that corresponds to Paul’s “Gospel” – no divinity of Jesus, no atonement through his body and blood…there is no emphasis whatsoever upon the figure of Jesus apart from his message…Paul had his own fiercely independent “Gospel,” which contrasted sharply to the Christianity of Jesus, James, and their earliest followers. p.46-47

The four Gospel are anonymous productions written after the generation of the apostles

It comes as a surprise to many people familiar with the names of Matthews, Mark, Luke, and John to learn that all four are anonymous productions, written in the generation after the apostles, and based on a complex mix of sources and theological editing. Scholars are agreed that none of the gospels is an eyewitness account and the names associated with them are assigned by tradition, not by an explicit claim by the authors. In other words, the names themselves are added as titles to each book but are not embedded in the texts of the works themselves.  Each gospel writer had his own motive and purposes in telling the Jesus story in a way that supported his particular perspectives.  None of them is writing history but all four can rightly be called theologians. From a distance their differences might be minimal, but once carefully examined they are quite significant, revealing a process of mythmaking that went on within decades of Jesus’ death. p.71


Paul’s gospel was not the message of Jesus

Paul never quotes directly a single teaching of Jesus…As we have seen, the “Gospel” for Paul was not the message that Jesus preached, or anything Jesus taught, but rather the message of what the man Jesus had become… This reflects and reinforces his view that the revelations he has received from the heavenly Christ are far superior to anything anyone received from the earthly Jesus. p.132-3

The idea of eating the body and blood of one’s god, even in a symbolic matter, fits nothing we know of Jesus; or the Jewish culture from which he comes. p.151

Paul’s differences with James and the mother church at Jerusalem were never healed 

Things came to a confrontation sometime around A.D. 55-56.  Our first evidence of the tension is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but the full extent of the Paul’s break with the Jerusalem leadership comes out in 2 Corinthians 10-13…

In the early nineteenth century, the German scholar Ferdinand Christian Baur, who is the “father” of critical studies of Paul, had proposed that Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians 10-13 were none other than James, Peter, and the Jerusalem Twelve…I believe that Baur was essentially correct. What we find in these chapters is Paul’s completed repudiation of the Jerusalem apostles and his determination to operate independently in the future, without regard to their approval and directives. pp.217-18

Tabor points out four distinctive teachings of Jewish Christians who became known as Ebionites

Despite their diversity there seem to be four general ideas that Jewish-Christian groups agreed upon: the eternal validity of the Torah of Moses, the acceptance of only the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew [ in which there was no virgin birth], the complete rejection of Paul as a heretic and apostate from the Torah, and the belief that Jesus was a human being, born of a mother and a father, chosen by God but not divine. The best known group, and the one that drew most fire from orthodox Pauline circles, were the Ebionites.  They most likely got their name from the Q teaching of Jesus: Blessed are you poor ones (Hebrew: ‘evyonim),” a designation that appears dozens of times in the Psalms and Prophets as a description of God’s true people in the last days. Irenaeus, one of the earliest sources on the Ebionites, describes them as follows:

“They use the gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the Torah…they practice circumcision, persevere in those customs which are enjoined by the Law, and are so Judaic in their style of life that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.” (Against Heresies 1: 26.2)

The main issue that arises with regard to the Ebionites is whether their ideas represent a largely unbroken perspective and orientation stemming back to Jesus, James, and the original Jerusalem apostles, or whether they are a later sect of Jewish Christianity that radicalized itself in the second and third centuries.  Given what we have seen in Paul’s own letters, including his charge that the apostles who oppose him are “servants of Satan,” it is certainly plausible to assume that the Ebionites represent a link to the Jerusalem apostles, at least in their main ideas…

A much more positive view of the Ebionite “gospel” is now embedded in the fourth-century documents we call the Pseudo-Clementines, which are made up of two major parts, the Homilies and the Recognitions. A document embedded in the whole called the Kerygmata Petrou, or the Preaching of Peter, is particularly valuable in this regard. This document claims to be a letter written


by Peter to James the brother of Jesus. Peter complains that his letters have been interpolated and corrupted by those influenced by Paul so that they have become worthless. He urges James not to pass along any of his teachings to the Gentiles, but only to those members of the council of the Seventy whom Jesus had appointed.  Paul is sharply censored as one who put his own testimony based on visions over the certainty of the direct teachings that the original apostles had from Jesus. The argument that Peter makes is quite telling.  He suggests that if people follow someone like Paul, who claims to have had visions of Jesus, how might one know he was not actually communicating with a demonic spirit impersonating Jesus? In contrast, if one goes by what Jesus actually taught to the original apostles, there is no possibility of such deception.

Scholars do not consider these materials to be authentic first century documents, but they do appear to reflect later legendary versions of the very disputes that did occur during the lifetime of Paul, Peter, and James. They preserve for us some memory of the conflict of which Paul’s letters provide only dim and one-sided glimpses. What is particularly striking about the Pseudo-Clementines is the strong emphasis on testing everything by James: “Believe no teacher unless he brings from Jerusalem the testimony of James the Lord’s brother.” (Recognitions w:35). p.234-5

[in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul rejects that he has any need for testimonial letters to endorse his ministry].

                Patricia A. Williams, Where Christianity Went Wrong

Jesus was not an Apocalyptic prophet

The crucial issue is whether Jesus is primarily a prophet of the end time or primarily a reformer…[my] conclusion is that Jesus is a reformer who mocks the Jewish dream of the end time…[this] throws light on other issues as well. p.19

The authors of the four Gospels are anonymous

…almost everyone knows that anonymous people wrote the Gospels, the names have been added to them long after their composition. p.20

True scholars try to be unbiased researchers rather than apologists

…scholarship means research by trained historians, biblical scholars, and theologians, but only if they begin their research without knowing what conclusions they will reach…Apologists begin research already knowing the conclusions they will reach because they already know what the truth is, a truth usually given them by their particular Christian denominations.  They do their research in order to show others that the truth they already have can be derived from the relevant materials, usually the Scriptures. p.37  

Jesus sometimes uses hyperbole in his teaching, but rarely speaks about himself

In the synoptics, Jesus speaks in short, pithy, sometimes very funny sayings, filled with wild exaggerations like someone’s eye having a log in it and camels going through needles’ eyes. Jesus also reverses social expectations, justifying tax collectors and condemning Pharisees. Jesus rarely speaks about himself, but he says a lot about the empire of God. His mission takes one year. p.38- 9


The Gospels have disagreements

The synoptics and John disagree with each other over many other details…Disagreements also occur among the synoptic Gospels…

While he[Jesus] is alive, no one writes down Jesus words or records his deeds…After his return is delayed and after the Romans destroy Jerusalem in 70 CE, someone in the second generation after Jesus’ death composes the first Gospel.  The author composes with the expectation that Jerusalem’s destruction is now the sign of Jesus’ immediate return. This Gospel, later attributed to Mark, is in the present tense in Greek, with constant use of the word “immediately”. Time hurries on. No time to write a lot, at leisure.  Barely time to get the story down at all.

Thus, a gap exists between Jesus and the Gospels.  Jesus speaks Aramaic, the Gospel writers Greek…The Gospels appear after the destruction of Jerusalem. pp: 40,41

Paul’s gospel results in the virtual disappearance of the historical Jesus

The earliest source for scholars’ knowledge of Jesus is Paul, who writes during the 50s, close to the death of Jesus and before the destruction of the Temple…Paul evinces no interest in Jesus’ life, neither his deeds nor his sayings. This is because Paul believes he has his own, private, revelation(s) directly from the resurrected Jesus…Paul’s gospel is of Jesus’ descent from heaven, death, and ascent back to heaven. In Paul, the historical Jesus, man of Galilee, preacher of the empire of God, disappears. Paul is not much help to scholars who seek to paint an accurate portrait of the life of Jesus. pp.42-43

John the Baptist offers forgiveness without sacrifices at the Temple

John announces forgiveness of sins outside the Temple system, without requiring sacrifice. p.46

The kingdom of God is present rather than imminent

If the imminence of the end time is Jesus’ central message, twenty long centuries have proved him wrong. p.66

[Williams argues that Jesus “mocks” the widely held Jewish belief of the end time – such as the victory of Israel over the national enemies, the vindication of the righteous and the punishment of their opponents]

Thinking Jesus believes in the dream of the end time is one place Christianity goes wrong. p.67

Jesus rejects the need for any sacrifice

If Jesus thinks sacrifice for sin unnecessary, Christianity has been arrogant to contradict him. This is another place where Christianity has gone wrong.” p.68

Jesus rejects the dream of the End Time

[Williams likens Jesus’ post-baptism wilderness experience to a transforming New Death Experience which leads him to begin a ministry separate from John]  

So, when Jesus returns from the desert, he does not rejoin John.  He has seen differently, and he returns to preach a different message. He still speaks of the empire of God, but it is not the empire envisioned by John or


the Essenes in the dream of the end time. Rather, he speaks of a tiny, hidden, but precious empire, worth giving up everything else to acquire, here and now, as Jesus himself has done.  Jesus has cut John’s message in two.  Like John, he preaches the forgiveness of sins and brings forgiveness to those who come to him, without requiring sacrifice. But he rejects the other half of the message, the sudden advent of God in wrath to establish an empire of the repentant at the end of time. Moreover, he rejects the whole idea of it as an empire similar in many respects to that of Rome around him, just has he rejects the idea of resurrected life as similar to the lives around him.

Jesus not only proclaims a different empire, he mocks specific, familiar elements of the empire of the end time.

The depth of the chasm that separates Jesus’ thought from the dream of the end time appears in his preaching. When he contrasts the righteous person with the sinner, he reverses the dream’s stereotypes, condemning the righteous Pharisee and condoning the sinful tax collector….Many of Jesus’ stories mock the dream of the end time, whose fiery judgment separates people into two groups, vindicating the righteous, and condemning the unrighteous to everlasting death and torment…Jesus life mocks the dream…His mockery of the dream makes many Jews angry, no matter what their faction, for the dream of the end time in one guise of another heralds the liberation, purification, and restoration of Israel that almost every Jew desires…If Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he does so in mockery of the Davidic hero and coming Messiah who will raise a mighty army of the righteous to liberate the land. Men on donkeys are unlikely to defeat Roman legions. Moreover, Jesus tells the Jews to love their enemies rather than to drive them out of the Holy Land…Jesus makes his entreaty for peace because he knows the cosmic holy war dreamed of by the militants will never come.  God’s empire is already here. Jesus’ plea for peace also accords with Jesus’ stance against violence…His mockery of the dream angers almost every faction…He leaves this life as a witness that God’s empire is present and available now. pp.75-80

[Williams accepts the straightforward meaning of Jesus coming to be baptized by John for the remission of sin, believing that all human beings are sinners.  Hence his saying in Mark 10: 18, “Why call me good? There is none good but One, that is God.”]

If Jesus does not consider himself sinful, he is an appalling hypocrite. Jesus considers himself sinful, so at his baptism he confesses, trusting God’s mercy and compassion. p.91

Jesus calls the righteous to repent, the Pharisee who has kept the law, the elder brother who has obeyed his father, and the early laborers who have worked hard all day for their wage.  He asks them to repent their exclusiveness, their lack of compassion and generosity, and their condemnation of others. p.92

Jesus proclaims forgiveness of sin apart from any need of a sacrifice

Jesus’ behaviour angers and frightens the Temple authorities. They may well have already been angry because Jesus, like John the Baptist, proclaims forgiveness of sins outside the Temple system. p.106

Repeatedly, Jesus declares that God has forgiven sins without requiring sacrifice.  In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-14), the father (God) forgives the son immediately and orders a banquet of welcome for him…  If Jesus does not consider sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sins, we are foolish at best and arrogant at worst to interpret his own death as a sacrifice for sin… Jesus does not die for the forgiveness of sins…Jesus forgives sin without requiring sacrifice or Temple. pp.111,112

 Jesus parodied the need of a pascal lamb or any kind of sacrifice

Jews abhor the idea of consuming blood because they think the blood of an animal belongs to God.  To drink human blood, even symbolically, would be not only loathsome but also blasphemous…Earlier, I have argued that Jesus often mocks the dream of the end time.  Perhaps he also mocks the Temple sacrifices, which he, like John the Baptist before him, considers unnecessary. Perhaps, while eating supper with his disciples after the Temple incident, Jesus mockingly raises the bread and says, “This is my sacrifice, the body I bring to break at God’s altar.  Perhaps later he raises the wine, mockingly saying, “This is my sacrifice, the blood I bring to spill at God’s altar.”  Or words to that effect…He breaks the bread in lieu of killing an animal and drinks the wine


instead of pouring out blood…. Such a parody of sacrificial worship, using Jesus typical techniques of exaggeration and reversal is quite funny, as Jesus’ sayings and actions often are. Moreover, it is life affirming, as Jesus’ banquets have always been…

The meat people eat in the first century is sacrificed meat.  To a Jew, to sacrifice is to kill as kosher, so the meat is pure, acceptable to God as an offering, to Jews as foods. Jesus’ kosher banquet of bread and wine does not need priests to kill it. It does not require Temple rites. To the temple authorities, priests all, this mockery  and repudiation is highly insulting. Maybe this mockery is what Judas betrays. p.114

Jesus does not anticipate his sacrificial death at the final supper.  He does not die as a sacrifice for sins. He believes God has forgiven our sins already, without sacrifice. p.115

Jesus preached about a kingdom already present and spread out upon the face of the earth

The dream of the end time magnifies factionalism and arrogance.  The dream says God sides with the righteous and will fling the fullness of divine wrath upon the wicked in a devastating war.  In the end, God will vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked…[Jesus] does not speak of the empire of God as arriving in a wrathful war with the righteous or repentant saved and the wicked damned…He speaks of God’s empire as small, hidden, precious, and present now, worth all a person has now, in this life. However, he is aware that not everyone sees it and that some who do see it think it evil…

Jesus thinks the end time dream is a hallucination, and he begs the dreamers to open their eyes to the empire of God spread all around them, precious, present, and accessible now. God’s empire as Jesus sees it is a reverse image of the empire dreamed of by the factions.  The dream speaks of hating once’s foes.  Jesus calls people to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. The dream speaks of war and destruction. Jesus calls for peace and bounteous growth, like that of a mustard seed springing into leaf or yeast making bread rise.  The dream is of exclusion. Jesus is inclusive. The dream cries for the vindication of the righteous.  Jesus tells of the exoneration of sinners. The dream longs for God’s justice. Jesus trusts God’s mercy.  p.116-119

It is the righteous, those who feel they are right, who are in peril

The righteous are those who work hard, obey the law and follow the rules.  According to Jesus, people who consistently do these things risk overlooking the empire of God. The righteous are those who believe their group has the truth and right way of doing things and all others are wrong.  According to Jesus, people who believe these things are in grave danger of missing the empire of God…and possibly have rejected it as evil. p.134

Christianity goes wrong about two weeks after Jesus’ disciples believe he is resurrected. It goes wrong in the Holy Land as his Jewish disciples equate the resurrected Jesus with the Messiah figure of Daniel 7, then with the earthly Messiah figure of David.  It goes wrong in the Greek and Roman cities and towns as his Gentile disciples think of him as the true emperor who has ascended to the gods, and as they equate that figure with the logos, the creative word and wisdom of God.

When these concepts are attached to Jesus, they invert his message.  They turn Jesus into the savior of the world and a sacrifice for sin.  In stark contrast, Jesus’ message is that people do not need a saviour, and salvation does not require a sacrifice.  God is present and available, here and now, and forgives the sins of those who ask, without priestly mediation and without sacrifice. p.147

                       Patricia A. Williams, Doing Without Adam and Eve

John and Jesus reject Sacrifice


All the Gospels attest that Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, reject the need for atonement. Both ignore the method of atonement practiced by first-century Jews (and Gentiles), animal sacrifice by a priest in the Temple or temples). According to all the Gospels, John the Baptist proclaims God’s forgiveness outside the Temple, baptizing the penitent in the cleansing waters of the Jordan. Jesus pronounces forgiveness without resorting to any rituals. All the Gospels show John the Baptist and Jesus disdaining atoning sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins.  For Christians, the fact that Jesus dismisses the need to atoning sacrifices should reveal that atoning sacrifices are unnecessary.

…long before the death of Jesus, Jewish prophets cry that the blood of sacrifices avails us nothing (Isa.1:11; Jer. 6:20; Amos 5:21-24). Jesus stands in the mainstream of a long and powerful Jewish tradition…

Conventionally, religious Jews respected the Temple and supported it financially. They went to Jerusalem for the great festivals and bought unblemished animals in the Temple for sacrifice. The Gospels never show Jesus or his followers participating in Temple sacrifices. Rather, Jesus famously overturns the tables of the moneychangers whose work made Temple sacrifice possible.  Jesus angers Temple authorities rather than supporting and respecting them. p.184-188

There is no reason for us to think of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. p.185

 As I explain below, his death occurs because his behaviour threatens the power and prerogatives of those in authority. During most of his ministry, Jesus ignores the Temple. His mentor John the Baptist did the same. Both forgave sins outside the traditional structures of sacrifice and finance. By doing so, both men must have angered Temple authorities. Each person accepting forgiveness outside the Temple is one less person purchasing animals from the Temple’s flocks and herds and giving a portion of the sacrificial meat to Temple priests.  By ignoring the Temple, John the Baptist and Jesus undermine the structures of religious power and wealth in first-century Judaism. p.191

                              Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Jewish Christianity

Acts of the Apostles was written by the victorious party

…A literary work which is based upon a variety of sources, traditions, and fragmentary reminiscences, and which actually represents the accepted views of Christian beginnings held by only one of the parties of early Christianity, namely, the victorious party. p.3

Ebionites were the name given to Jewish Christians

The claim that Jesus was the messianic Son of man was, however, open to other interpretations, one of which was provided by the Jewish Christians, or Ebionites.  They acknowledged neither the divine sonship nor a preexistence nor a virgin birth…they held completely different ideas concerning what constituted the cardinal points of the gospel message. p.8

Ebionim or “Ebionites” is a re-hebraized ancient title of honor which the remnant of the primitive church adopted, probably after their flight from Jerusalem, on the basis of Jesus beatitudes concerning the “poor”        ( Matt. 5:3; Luke 4:18; 6:20)…Later the hatred and satire of opponents reduced “Ebionite” to a nickname and term of abuse…so that the Jewish Christians themselves avoided it. p.11

James was the leader of the Jerusalem church

The Jewish Christian legends, reported by Hegesippus and preserved by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (2,23,6), made him a vegetarian, a teetotaller, and an ascetic, in accordance with their own style of life: they claimed that he prayed so long in the temple for the forgiveness of the sins of his people that his knees


became calloused like those of a camel. Because of this excess in intercessions, he seems to have been honoured as a kind of paraclete and to have received the honorary titles ho dikaios (“the righteous”) kai oblias. p.20

[ According to Jewish Christian history] It is not Peter, as in Luke’s presentation, but James the brother of Jesus, who appears as head of the community. He is made Bishop of Jerusalem by Jesus himself (Rec. 1.43).  Peter has to submit to James annual reports in writing concerning his speaking and other activity…Holding the highest office and the highest teaching authority, he issued testimonia (letters of accreditation) indicating that one who had been approved (probatus) was “fit and faithful for the preaching of the word of Christ.”…Accordingly, there was in this literature a kind of monarchical episcopacy, as it must have existed in the Transjordan Ebionite community in the second century, and it was claimed that this kind of episcopacy prevailed in the era of the primitive church…Others, such as Theodore Zahn, have spoken of James as “the Pope of Ebionite fantasy.” pp.39-40

Since there is a series of independent testimonies from the ancient church – and not merely the Hegesippus tradition – which regard James as the first bishop of the Jerusalem, this was not necessarily an invention. p.40

Jewish Christians were against the cult of sacrifice

 One must not, however, see in these Stephen-Hellenists of Acts 6-7 mere antinomians; rather, their critical stance toward the law was related solely to the laws pertaining to the cult and sacrifice, as Luke’s version of the speech makes clear.  In any event, this resulted in Stephen’s martyrdom, for the persecution of the Stephen-Hellenists by the Jews was “an absolutely necessary act of national and religious self-defence” (Schmithals, Paul and James p.26].  See Footnote, p.43

[Schoeps points out that in the Ebionite tradition recorded in the Recognitions 1, it was not the speech of Stephen that unleashed a period of persecution against the Hellenist Jewish Christians, but a speech by James which] gave expression to the anti-cultic tendency of Jesus’ gospel, which has been suppressed by Luke. p.46]

Paul claimed an expanded view of an apostle.

Paul thus advocates an expanded idea of apostleship which also includes those who have received a special commission from the risen Christ. [the Homilies argue against apostleship based on visions as opening up to  uncertainty and confusion]. p.50

 The Ebionites rejected bloody sacrifice as crass paganism

Jewish Christianity clearly knows as little of a supernatural birth as of soteriological interpretation of Jesus’ death on the cross, such as the view which regarded Jesus as a vicarious atoning sacrifice. Since they rejected bloody sacrifices altogether as crass paganism, the Ebionite Jesus can neither have taught this nor by his death have put his seal on it – in contrast with the primitive church preserved in l Corinthians 15:3. On the same basis they celebrated the Lord’s Supper as a mere remembrance of table- fellowship with Jesus and replaced the cup of blood with a cup of water (according to Irenaeus and Epiphanius)…Another result of the belief in the mere humanity of Jesus (psilanthropism)  was that even that which the Great Church regarded as self-evident, viz., the sinlessness of Jesus, was not accepted by them, since their gospel allowed Jesus himself to admit unwilling sins or sins of ignorance. Consequently, the Clementines know no other Christology than the adoptionism of the appellatio (“calling”) to divine sonship of the one who was born as a man. [Footnote 3 cites F. Scheidweiler who says, “In all probability, we have before us in the Christology of the Ebionites the original conception of Christ.” p.62

The frustration of these [apocalyptic] expectations – the delay of the Parousia – did not have the same result among the Ebionites as it did on the Catholic side in the consolidation of the institutional church.  It meant rather that with the slackening of eschatological tension in the fourth and fifth centuries the Ebionite movement came to its end.  The delay of the Parousia made possible the development of the Catholic church, but the Ebionite communities which derived from the primitive church in Jerusalem were not able to survive this brute fact since they had deliberately remained at a more primitive state of Christology, a stage based on the expectation of the Son of man. p.65


Ebionites said the bloody animal sacrifice was abolished by Jesus

Of primary importance [to the Ebionites] is the bloody animal sacrifice, abolished by Jesus.  According to Recognitions 1.35 ff, the real point of Jesus’ mission is the annulling of the sacrificial law combined with complete loyalty to and affirmation of the rest of the Mosaic law. Animal sacrifice, it is claimed, was permitted on a temporary basis by Moses only because of the people’s hardness of heart; Jesus abolished it and replaced the blood of sacrificial animals with the water of baptism. Thus the logion of Matthew 5:17 reads in the Gospel of the Ebionites, with a characteristic alteration: “I have come to annul sacrifice, and if you will not cease to sacrifice the wrath will not turn from you.” It is not impossible that the historical Jesus once uttered a statement of this kind, for such a saying would not be found in their gospel without some basis.  At least some of the Jewish Christians must have understood Jesus’ policy of not changing anything in the law as not covering the regulations concerning bloody animal sacrifice…

Accordingly, one must consider the possibility that in this respect the Ebionites were actually orthodox pupils of Jesus who rejected the sacrificial cult so emphatically because their master had already done so. Lohmeyer thought that there was a firm connection between Jesus’ struggle against the cult and the attitude of the first Christians.

Whether or not one agrees with Lohmeyer, the Ebionites’ appeal to Jesus on the question of sacrifices may have had some basis in fact. In any event, the reason the Ebionites were bound to reject emphatically the Pauline soteriology, which conceived of Jesus’ death as a bloody, atoning sacrifice, becomes even clearer. In their view, Christianity had been freed from the Jewish sacrificial worship not through the universally efficacious sacrifice of the Son of God, as the church which followed Paul believed, but rather through the water of baptism whereby Jesus had extinguished the fire of the sacrificial cult.

Concerning the genesis of this Ebionite antipathy toward sacrifices it may only be noted here that in Jesus’ day there was probably still a hazy recollection that the sacrificial legislation was the product of Josiah’s reform and of the exilic age and had been inserted into the Mosaic legislation for the first time under Ezra. [Schoeps goes on to suggest that in this the Ebionites were forerunners of modern literary criticism of the Pentateuch which contends for later additions to the Law of Moses]. p.82-3

Ebionite rejected of monarchy and the Davidic heritage of Jesus

…the Ebionite hostility toward the Israelite monarchy is made explicit. In their eyes, Solomon was discredited primarily because he had built the Temple. Their opposition to King David was based not only on revulsion for adultery, regarded as one of the worst sins, but also on a certain tendency toward pacifism that was related to their aversion to war and bloodshed which they denounced as the result of false prophecy (Hom. 3.25). A further result of this aversion may also have been that Jesus never appears in the Ebionite testimonies as the “Son of David.” Both the infancy narratives and the genealogy are missing from their gospels…The restoration of the throne of David was no longer associated with the Ebionite conception of the Son of man.  p.87

[Ebionites rejected the OT’s depictions of God that appeared to be unworthy, stories of patriarchs eating meat, polygamy, etc.  They rejected the account of the Fall of Adam and any prophecies deemed false, all illustrations of their reading the Scripture critically. p.88-93]

They were convinced that they were judging the law on the basis of Jesus himself; they saw in his life and teaching the real fulfillment of the Mosaic law.  What was of divine origin, he confirmed; what was not, he annulled. p.97

The Ebionites were vegetarian

The Ebionites required abstinence from meat, and this was apparently related to their rejection of the bloodshed involved in animal sacrifice. p.99

 The names Nazorean, Nazarenes-, Notzrim were not related to a place


[These were the names used or given to the early Jewish Christians. See Acts 24:5] This name, long used in Syria to designate Christians in general, was probably not derived from the place of Nazareth, but should be considered as a substantive formed from the root nsr meaning “to keep,” “observe,” so that those who bear the name are to be thought of as “observers of secret traditions.” p.11

Poverty was a cherished virtue

The “better righteousness” of the Ebionites is further manifested in their cherishing of that virtue which their name reflects: poverty…The practice of having no property, i.e., poverty with respect to this world’s goods – the so-called primitive Christian “love-communism” – had already been established briefly with full compliance in the earliest period of the primitive church in Jerusalem under the slogan “all things in common” (4:325:11). Apparently, the view that the end of history was imminent made any kind of earthly possession seem unimportant and unnecessary…Apparently, the social conditions of the later Ebionites were extremely impoverished and wretched. p.102

The Rechabites, Essenes and Ebionites were in opposition to the sacrificial cult

[All these groups perceived that] the Mosaic origin of the cultic laws is a fiction, or, to employ Ebionite terms, the product of false periscopes. In spite of overstatement in the declarations of Amos 5:25 and Jeremiah 7:22 that God did not command any sacrifices at the time of the exodus from Egypt, these statements show an awareness that the regulated sacrificial cult was a recent institution introduced by the priests. Actually, the cult was relatively unimportant up to the time of Jeremiah, and it was by no means regarded as the result of divine revelation. And in Ezekiel we find the devastating statement that the sacrificial system has statutes which are “not good,” and “commandments by which they cannot continue to live” (20:25 f.). This seems to me to be the ultimate origin of the Ebionite doctrine of the false pericopes. pp.118-9

The Rechabites had a negative attitude toward the sacrifices and the Temple, an attitude which can also be seen in the Essenes and which finally recurs in Ebionitism as a developed theory.

I have discussed elsewhere the sources which suggest the possibility of a genealogical relationship between the Rechabites and the Essenes.  It is much more certain that there was a relationship between the Essenes and the Ebionites, as Epiphanius affirms…Philo and Josephus –who have knowledge of the Essenes only for the last fifty years of their approximately two-hundred-year existence –depict the Essenes as people who dwell in the cities on the periphery of the Holy Land, who abhor property and riches and who therefore employ a kind of community of goods.  They have a high regard for abstinence from pleasures, prescribe daily washings for purification, and revere the lawgiver Moses most highly, next to God himself.  Moreover, they seem to have rejected animal sacrifice and to have had reservations about the Jerusalem Temple…I am of the opinion that the beliefs of the Rechabites, Essenes and Ebionites were in fact historically related…

I am convinced that it can be demonstrated with certainty that the Ebionites offered frontline opposition to the powerful movement of pagan Gnosticism. pp.119-121.

[Ebionites saw Jesus as “the prophet” to restore law of Moses by purging it from false additions and corruptions.p.134]

                   Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God

Jesus did not use the term “Christ” in reference to himself

Mark’s seven occurrences [of the word “Christ”] do not include a single example of Jesus using the term with reference to himself, and the word “Christ” does not occur in Q. That takes us straight to two of our main conclusions:  Jesus does not apply the term “messiah” to himself, and the early church applied it to him


abundantly…We must therefore accept the radical view that passages such as Mark 8.29-30 and Mark 14.61,62 were produced by the early church. pp.41-43

The title “the Christ” was not used by Jesus, but it became central to the Christian community before Luke wrote his Gospel. p.99

Son of Man does not function as a title

The Aramaic term bar nash(a), “son of man”, was a normal term for “man”: further, it now seems clear that it was not also a title in the Judaism of the time of Jesus…In the Gospels, however, the term “son of man” does not function as normal term for “man” at all: it functions as a title, and it generally refers to Jesus alone.  Jesus cannot have used the term like this. pp.47

We must conclude that Mark 14.62 and other “son of man” Parousia sayings were produced by the early church. In these sayings, “son of man” is a title. p.54

Jesus lived as a Jew under Jewish Law and kept the sabbath

Jesus attended the synagogue on the sabbath (Mk 1.21ff)…His disciples likewise observed the sabbath…We must conclude that Jesus and his followers upheld the observance of the sabbath. pp.70,71

From being a Jewish prophet to becoming a Gentile God took time

It took some 50 or 60 years to turn a Jewish prophet into a Gentile God. Cultural change was as important as the passage of time. To analyse Christological development against this background of cultural change, I use a three-stage model.  In the first stage, the Christian community was Jewish, a subgroup within Judaism, as the Jesus movement had been.  In the second stage, Gentiles entered the Christian community in significant numbers, without becoming Jewish.  In the third stage, Christianity is identifiable as a Gentile religion…Moreover, all our New Testament documents were written when stage-two of Christological development was in full bloom… this [third]stage was reached when Johannine Christians were thrown out of the synagogue, and that this was a direct cause of the evolution of belief in the deity and incarnation of Jesus. pp.97-98

Resurrection belief was not based on the resurrection stories of the four Gospels

The belief that Jesus had risen from the dead was held at a very early date, but this belief was not based on the resurrection appearances now found in the four Gospels… There is no mention of an empty tomb [in the earlier reports]. The resurrection narratives in our Gospels cannot be factual reports, for they do not coincide with each other, and they contain internal inconsistencies…These discrepancies are too great to have resulted from accurate reporting of a perceptible event. pp. 98-99

The deity of Jesus was not in dispute either in in Acts or in Epistles of Paul

The disputes extant in Acts and the epistles are about halakha [Jewish term for right living practices] rather than Christology, and if there had been a general perception among Jewish members of the communities that other Christians were hailing Jesus as fully God, there would have been disputes severe enough for us to hear of them. p.115

The consequent decline in the observance of the Jewish Law in the Christian community drastically increased the requirement for a higher Christology. p.138

Jesus was now [in the Fourth Gospel] a figure so elevated that observant Jews such as Jesus of Nazareth and the first apostles could not believe in him. p.159

Belief in the deity of Jesus was only possible in a Gentile environment

…the deity of Jesus is a belief which could have developed only in a predominantly Gentile church. p.169


The deity of Jesus is, however, inherently unJewish. p.176

                Geza Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

All Gospels were written in Greek by anonymous authors and addressed to a non-Jewish audience

Our four Gospels…were composed in Greek; they are not translations from a Semitic original. It is true that we learn from the second-century Papias, quoted by the church historian Eusebius in the fourth century, that the evangelist Matthew was acquainted with a collection of Aramaic sayings of Jesus…

Mainstream scholarly opinion holds the Gospel of Mark to be the oldest [of the Four Gospels]. It was addressed to a non-Jewish audience shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. pp.x,xi

The identity of the fourth evangelist is uncertain.  He is held by Christian tradition to be identical with the apostle John, son of Zebedee, but this claim is not backed by any solid historical evidence. This Gospel has little in common with Mark, Matthew and Luke and the doctrinal development contained in it points to a period after the Synoptics in the beginning of the second century AD (roughly 100 – 110). The bulk of the long, rambling and repetitious speeches of Jesus included in John reflect the ideas of an author steeped in Hellenistic philosophical and mystical speculation, who reshaped the portrait of Jesus two to three generations after his death. The writer can scarcely be identical with the apostle John who is described in the Acts of the Apostles as an ‘uneducated, common man’ (Acts 4:13). The violent antisemitism of the fourth evangelist makes it even questionable that he was a Jew. p.xii

There are differences in Mark, Matthew, and Luke to illustrate the growing status of Jesus

[ On the occasion of healing an epileptic boy]: The disciples of Jesus, after their failure to expel a demon from the dumb boy, were challenged by local scribes. Jesus apparently did not know what the debate was about, nor was he aware of the length of the boy’s illness, and consequently had to inquire. Such questions are typical in the account of Mark, who had no scruples in admitting lack of knowledge on the part of Jesus (cf. Mark 9:33) By the time Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels, an imperfection of this kind could no longer be attributed to the Son of God. In consequence, they omitted the questions…

‘And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, What were you discussing on the way’? Mark again depicts Jesus as ignorant of the thoughts of his disciples.  As before, the question is omitted in Matthew and Luke.  In fact Luke (9:17) explicitly denies any lack of knowledge on Jesus’ part: ‘Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts.’ This is a later attempt to rectify the tradition of Mark. pp.19,20

Jesus was not anti-Pharisee

…the anti-Pharisee slant must come from a source later than Jesus.  p.54

The Gospels, written by Palestinian outsiders, were sometimes ignorant of Jewish culture

…imprisonment for debts was not part of the Jewish legal system. [This gloss about imprisonment for indebtedness] is more likely to belong to the cultural and social framework of the Gentile church than to the authentic pronouncements of Jesus. p.91

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is not truly representative of the real Jesus


…the selfish wise virgins and the cold and heartless bridegroom do not reflect the ideas of kindness and benevolence which typify the piety taught by Jesus; rather they are a travesty of his teaching on generosity and confident prayer. p.149

Mark does not understand the Jewish laws of divorce

As for Mark’s reference to a woman divorcing her husband, it envisages a legal context alien to the world of Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries in which a woman could not initiate divorce proceedings. p.181

Jesus did not argue his teaching from the Bible

…the Old Testament did not play an important role in the preaching of Jesus: he did not argue his doctrine from the Bible.  Compared with the Scripture-based teaching style of the Pharisees and the scribes this is quite remarkable. p.212

Son of Man is not a title

[ “Son of man” (bar nasha) as used in the Aramaic sense]: It is highly unlikely, therefore, that Jesus used ‘son of man’ as a title. p.236

The phrase ‘son of man’ can be a circumlocutional reference by a modest speaker of himself.  p.238

…the Son of man …came to give his life as a ransom for many’, words added by Mark and Matthew to the original logion preserved in Luke which reflect ‘the redemption theories of Hellenistic Christianity.’ p.241

[Vermes says that the apocalyptic Son of Man taken from Daniel 7 was applied to Jesus by the early church, including Jewish Christianity, but was not the perspective of Jesus.  See pp.252-3]

Messianic claims of early church have an astonishing lack of biblical proof

Bearing in mind that the crucifixion of Jesus was perhaps the greatest difficulty which the early church had to overcome in proclaiming him as the Messiah promised to the Jews, the absence of detailed biblical proof concerning this essential doctrine is astonishing. p.215

The focus of the Lord’s Prayer is the kingdom of God, not the return of Christ

The fact that the object of the supplication is to bring about the Kingdom of God, and not the return of Christ (the Parousia), clearly distinguishes Jesus’ perspective from that of the early church. p.225

The Passover Meal in the Synoptics is not compatible with what is written in John

It is also remarkable that the Gospel of John contains no report of a Passover meal shared by Jesus with the apostles. This is no doubt due to the fact that according to the Fourth Gospel the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus took place the day before the feast, and consequently there could not be any question of Jesus partaking in a real paschal dinner. John specifies that the Jewish dignitaries who handed over Jesus to Pilate refused to enter his palace, the praetorium, so as to remain ritually clear so that they ‘might eat the Passover’ (see John 18:28)…Of course, if the chronology given by John is correct, the meal which Jesus had on the evening before his death was not a Passover supper. Consequently, the words allegedly spoken during it were uttered by him in different circumstances on another occasion, or are largely the product of the early church…

If Jesus was crucified the day before the Passover, he could not have taken part in a seder meal; he was dead by then, and consequently the story must be a later creation of the church. pp.302, 306

The Parousia idea did not originate with Jesus

The Parousia idea represents a later stage of doctrinal development in the early church. p.340


Peter, the rock, was an invention of Matthew

The episode of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is contained in all three Synoptic Gospels, but his appointment to be the rock does not figure in either Mark or Luke.  Their silence on something as important as Peter’s nomination as head of the ekklesia strongly intimates that Matthew 16:17-19 must be a secondary accretion.  The lack of any mention of the church in the other Gospels, including John, also points in the same direction. In short, the words about Peter’s promotion should be credited not to Jesus, but to Matthew or his editor in AD 80 or later. p.362

The Church, mentioned only in Matthew, was not a concern of Jesus

The word ekklesia (church) is absent from Mark, Luke and even from John…On the basis of the verbal statistics – no mention of ekklesia in three out of the four Gospels and a mention in only two passages in Matthew – we may safely conclude that Jesus himself left no teaching about a church. Neither did he employ any other term to denote a corresponding institution…In brief, there is no evidence to support the idea that the foundation of the church was among the major concerns of Jesus. p.365

The ministry of Jesus lasted for only a year

With a single Passover recorded in the Synoptics, the public career of Jesus has to be of a maximum of one year’s duration. Indeed, it is not out of the question that it may have lasted less than twelve months. p.370

The Gospels present a Hellenized version of Jesus

…the Synoptic Gospels in their present form consist of an adjusted, supplemented, and corrected version, a thoroughly revised edition, of the original message of Jesus. The words, idioms, and images which a first-century A.D. Galilean master addressed to his compatriots and co-religionists were rephrased in the Gospels to suit a totally different public, imbued with Hellenistic thought, in the Greek-speaking part of the Roman empire.  To cater for the requirements of this new audience and readership, ideas foreign to Jesus were introduced into the Gospels. Consequently it is up to us now to differentiate between the genuine and the accrued message.  p.372

The use of form criticism shows how many sayings attributed to Jesus were originated by the church

[Form criticism is about reconstructing the Sitz im Leben, or life situation of the church when the Gospels were written].  “…it ipso facto leads to the rejection of the genuineness of a substantial amount of material attributed to Jesus by the evangelists. These teachings were to undergo numerous mutations after his death in the course of their transmission first to Jews in the Holy Land, later to diaspora Jews, and finally to Gentiles, both inside and outside Palestine. These mutations constitute a kind of continuously widening spiral in time and through changing cultures. p.374

Therefore, it is wiser to lower one’s aim and try to reconstruct, not the ipsissima verba, but the general gist

of his message. p.375

Jesus preached only to Jews

[Citing Matt.15:24; 10:5-6 15:26:7:6; Mark 2:27] There Jesus bluntly asserted that his mission was exclusively intended for Jews…He gave the same pro-Jewish directive to his apostles too….In these unequivocal utterances Jesus is presented as the champion of absolute Jewish exclusivism…the view that Jesus ministered only to the lost sheep of Israel, and instructed his disciples to do the same is the historically correct alternative.  Disturbing though this may sound to the uninformed, the order to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the nations, must be struck out from the list of the authentic sayings of Jesus. pp.376-380

The teaching of Jesus was not the teaching of a fully evolved Christianity

Compared with the dynamic religion of Jesus, fully evolved Christianity seems to belong to another world. With its mixture of high philosophical speculation on the triune God, its Johannine logos mysticism and Pauline


Redeemer myth of a dying and risen Son of God, with its sacramental symbolism and ecclesiastical discipline substituted for the extinct eschatological passion, with its cosmopolitan openness combined with a built-in anti-Judaism, it is hard to imagine how the two could have sprung from the same source.  p.415

Look for the teaching of Jesus rather than a teaching about Jesus

 [Vermes concludes The Authentic Gospel of Jesus with this simple yet powerful one-liner:]  ‘Look for what Jesus himself taught instead of being satisfied with what has been taught about him.’ p.417

                   Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus

The Gospel of John is third generation writing and highly evolved

…the so-called Gospel of John is something special and reflects not the authentic message of Jesus or even the thinking about him of his immediate followers but the highly evolved  theology of a Christian writer who lived three generations and completed his Gospel in the opening years of the second century A.D…It is obvious to anyone acquainted with the doctrinal traditions of the church that the theological understanding of Jesus – who he was and what he did – by historic Christianity ultimately depends on the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul. p.8

I subscribe therefore [in view of evidence of first fragments of this Gospel and citing of it] to the opinion held by mainstream New Testament scholarship that the work was published in the early second century, probably between the years 100 and 110…The same majority opinion considers the identity of the author unascertainable. p.11

2 Peter makes Paul’s writings part of Scripture

The Second Letter of Peter…dating to A.D. 125 if not later… [says that] the letters of Paul…are referred to as “Scripture” (3:15-16).  In all the other books of the New Testament, and even in later Christianity, only the Old Testament bears this title. p.121

 Christology evolved over time in a complex process

The fact that Jesus was admired, or suspected, as a potential Messiah started a complex process of theological speculation, which in the course of three centuries culminated in the elevation of the carpenter from Nazareth to the rank of the second person of the triune Godhead, the Holy Trinity. p.257

       Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels

Jesus was neither the Christ nor the Jewish bogey-man

If, after working his way through the book, the reader recognizes that this man, so distorted by Christian and Jewish myth alike, was in fact neither the Christ of the Church, nor the apostate and bogey-man of Jewish popular tradition, some small beginning may have been made in the repayment to him of a debt long overdue. p.17

Carpenter can mean a learned man


Now those familiar with the language spoken by Jesus are acquainted with a metaphorical use of ‘carpenter’ and ‘carpenter’s son’ in ancient Jewish writings.  In Talmudic sayings the Aramaic noun denoting carpenter or craftsman (naggar) stands for a ‘scholar’ or ‘learned man’.  p.21

[ Vermes says that Jesus has the identity of an exorcist, healer, and teacher]

[ Galileans were regarded by other Jews as unsophisticated provincials. p.57]

Jesus was a Galilean Hasid

[Galilee produced a number of charismatic holy men or Hasidim – examples of these being Honi and Hanina ben Dosa who, like Jesus, became legends in that age. pp.69-78] Jesus of Nazareth takes on the eminently credible personality of a Galilean Hasid. p.83

Son of Man was not a title

…in Galilean Aramaic the son of man occurs as a circumlocutional reference to the self…there are also instances in which the avoidance of the first person is motivated by a reserve and modesty. p.168

The biblical Aramaic idiom, ‘one like a son of man’, in Daniel 7:13, though not individual and Messianic in its origin, acquired in the course of time a definite Messianic association. However, none of the interpretative sources employ it as a title, or place it on the lips of a speaker as a self-designation. The clear avoidance of the titular use, even when the subject is a precisely defined person, cannot be attributed to hazard, and the only rational explanation that springs to mind is that bar nasha was found unsuitable for titular usage because it was too commonplace, and possibly because of its occasionally pejorative meaning… p.176

Since the ‘son of man’ is not a Greek phrase, but Aramaic, if it is to make sense at all it must be Aramaic sense. pp.177

[Ed. note: Vermes is regarded as somewhat of an authority on the meaning and usage of son of man.  Maurice Casey (already cited) takes the same position, which may be summarized as saying that the term son of man as frequently used by Jesus is simply a modest circumlocution of himself like saying “this man”.  It was his later followers who turned “son of man” into a Messianic title].

 The OT and Jewish meaning of the term, son of God

Whereas every Jew was called son of God, the title came to be given preferably to the just man, and in a very special sense to the most righteous of all just men, the Messiah son of David. p.195

The gulf between son of God and God could have been bridged only in a Gentile environment

A final word must be said about the bridging of the gulf between son of God and God.  None of the Synoptic Gospels try to do this. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to contend that the identification of a contemporary historical figure with God would have been inconceivable to a first-century AD Palestinian Jew.  It could certainly not have been expressed in public, in the presence of men conditioned by centuries of biblical monotheistic religion. Paul, the Jew from Tarsus at home in the Greco-Roman world, shies away from it…

It was not until Gentiles began to preach the Jewish Gospel to the Hellenised peoples of the Roman empire that the hesitation disappeared, and the linguistic brake was lifted…

When Christianity later set out to define the meaning of son of God in its Creed, the paraphrase it produced – ‘God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, consubstantial with the Father’ – drew its inspiration, not from the pure language and teaching of the Galilean Jesus, nor even from Paul the Diaspora Jew, but from the Gentile-Christian interpretation of the Gospel adapted to the mind of the totally alien world of pagan Hellenism. pp.212-213

Seed of David and Virgin Birth are incompatible


The conflict between the story[of the Nativity] and its purpose is obvious:  on the one hand, the divinely conceived child of a virgin mother, and on the other, the wish to prove Jesus’ legitimate Davidic descent as set out in the genealogical table.  For it is clear that if Joseph had nothing to do with Mary’s pregnancy, the intention prompting the reproduction of the table is nullified, since Joseph’s royal Davidic blood would not have been passed on to Jesus.  Even more perplexing, Matthew’s table of ancestry differs from Luke’s, not insignificantly, but to such an extent that the two lists are mutually irreconcilable. Taking into account the child’s virgin conceptions, what can have been the point of such involved calculations….no biblical reason existed for inventing a virgin birth since it was not, and never had been, believed in biblical or inter-Testamental Judaism that the Messiah would be born in such a way. p.215

The earliest Semitic version of Matthew, the Old Syriac Gospel found in a monastery on Mount Sinai, is based on a text emended in this way; nevertheless, it manages to reassert that Joseph was the father of Jesus. “Matthan begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Joseph. Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary, the virgin, begot Jesus who is called the Messiah (AT).” p.216

A final argument directly in favour of the paternity of Joseph is that the Ebionites, the Palestinian Judeo-Christians whom the Gentile Church declared heretics, accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but maintained that his conception was a natural one and that he was his parents’ real son. p.217

Vermes’ estimate of Jesus:  He excelled even the Prophets but makes no Messianic claims

No objective and enlightened student of the Gospels can help but be struck by the incomparable superiority of Jesus. As Joseph Klausner wrote in the final paragraph of his famous book, Jesus of Nazareth, published in its original Hebrew edition exactly fifty years ago [ from when Vermes cited this in 1973]:

“In his ethical code there is a sublimity, distinctiveness and originality in form unparalleled in any other Hebrew ethical code; neither is there any parallel to the remarkable art of his parables.”

Second to none in profundity and insight and grandeur of character, he is in particular an unsurpassed master of the art of laying bare the inmost core of spiritual truth and of bringing every issue back to the essence of religion, the existential relationship of man and man, and man and God.

It should be added that in one respect more than any other he differed from his contemporaries and even his prophetic predecessors. The prophets spoke on behalf of the honest poor, and defended the widows and the fatherless, those oppressed and exploited by the wicked, rich and powerful. Jesus went further. In addition to proclaiming these blessed, he actually took his stand among the pariahs of his world, those despised by the respectable.  Sinners were his table-companions and the ostracised tax-collectors and prostitutes his friends…

Whereas he explicitly avoided the title ‘Messiah’, he was very soon invested with it, and in the Christian mind has since become inseparable from it.  By contrast, although he approved the designation ‘prophet’, this was one of the first of his appellations to be discarded by the Church, one that has never since been readopted. pp.223-224

                        Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew

Christology obscured the human Jesus

Today as in past centuries, the believing Christian’s main New Testament source of faith lies, not so much in Mark, Matthew and Luke and their still sufficiently earthly Jesus, as in centuries of speculation by the church on the theological Gospel of John with the eternal Word become flesh, and perhaps, even more on the letters


of Paul with their drama a death, atonement, and resurrection. The Christ of Paul and John, on the way towards deification, overshadows and obscures the man of Galilee. p. 210

There was no deification of Jesus or virgin birth among the first Jewish Christians

…Judaeo-Christianity of the first vintage… followed the teaching of Jesus without such ‘Christian’ accretions as the doctrine of the virgin birth or the deification of Christ.  These people were unpopular both in the Jewish camp, and among the members of the Gentile church; though they probably remained closest to Jesus, the Jews considered them as Christians and the Christians as heretics. p.213

Jesus was not the founder of Christianity

Shortly before his death, the great British New Testament scholar, C. H. Dodd, produced an excellent little book on the life of Jesus.  But if the thesis developed in the present study is even partly true, the title Dodd chose, The Founder of Christianity (1970), must be judged a misnomer. Though admittedly not totally unconnected, the religion of Jesus and Christianity are so basically different in form, purpose and orientation that it would be historically unsafe to derive the latter directly from the former and attribute the changes to a straightforward doctrinal evolution.

It would seem no less unjustifiable to continue to represent Jesus as the establisher of the Christian church (or churches?)…A great challenge, perhaps the greatest of them all, which Christianity of the Pauline-Johannine variety has therefore still to confront does not come from atheism, or agnosticism, or sheer materialism, but from within, from the three ancient witnesses, Mark, Matthew and Luke, from whom speaks the chief challenger, Jesus the Jew…

But it would seem also that muted sounds are audible in Jewish scholarly circles suggesting that the antique taboo on Jesus, mistakenly held responsible for Christian anti-Semitism, is beginning to fade and that hesitant steps are being made to re-instate him among the ancient Hasidim in fulfillment of Martin Buber’s ‘prophecy’: ‘A great place belongs to him in Israel’s history of faith.’

Nor is this all. For the magnetic appeal of the teaching and example of Jesus holds out hope and guidance to those outside the fold of organized religion, the stray sheep of mankind, who yearn for a world of mercy, justice and peace lived in as children of God. p.214- 215

[Vermes was a NT scholar who devoted much of life to the study and writing of a serious of books about the historical Jesus.  He was obviously an enormous admirer of the historical man. He would agree, however, with the Jewish Christians in not subscribing to the doctrine of the absolute sinlessness of Jesus.  Vermes finds a flaw in his Jewish chauvinism. Jesus did not preach to Gentiles or allow his disciples to preach to them either. And who could forget what he is reported to have said to the Gentile woman who begged from him a healing favour: “It is not right to take the children’s’ bread, and throw it to the dogs”( Matthew 15:26). Then there are some reporting of outbursts of impatience or anger, or perhaps an element of ill-timed rashness in his Temple protest at the time of the Passover when even the Romans were on edge in anticipation of any civil disturbance].

The humanitarian spirit and piety of Jesus has never been never totally lost in Christianity


…in fairness, it must be emphasized that notwithstanding all its alien dogmatic and ecclesiastical features, Christianity still possesses fundamental elements of the piety of Jesus, such as his emphasis on purity of intention and generosity of heart, exemplified in a Francis of Assisi who relinquished wealth to serve the poor, and even in our century, an Albert Schweitzer, who abandoned fame to heal the sick in God-forsaken Lambarene, and a Mother Teresa who, age-old, cares for the dying in the filthy streets of Calcutta…the magnetic appeal of the teaching and example of Jesus holds out hope and guidance to those outside the fold of organized religion, the stray sheep of mankind, who yearn for a world of mercy, justice and peace lived in as children of God. pp.214-215

                      Geza Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism

Jesus was not a Christian

Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian. It implies a renewed quest for the historical figure reputed to be the founder of Christianity. p.1

Galileans were regarded as unsophisticated provincials

In Jerusalem, and in Judaean circles, they had also the reputation of being an unsophisticated people.  In rabbinic parlance, a Galilean is usually referred to as Gelili shoteh, a stupid Galilean. He is presented as a typical ‘peasant’, a boor, a ‘am ha-arez’, a religiously uneducated person. p.5

 Jesus exhibited some Jewish chauvinism

Jesus was a Galilean Hasid: there, as I see it, lie his greatness, and also the germ of his tragedy. That he has his share of the notorious Galilean chauvinism would seem clear from the xenophobic statements attributed to him. As one review of Jesus the Jew puts it, interestingly enough, by the Gardening correspondent of the Financial Times! – ‘Once he called us “dogs” and “swine” and he forbade the Twelve to proclaim the gospel to …Gentiles.’ p.11

Judaeo-Christians questioned the authenticity of the Gentile Christ

Another historical consideration remains, involving the question of why the Judaeo-Christians, the first of Jesus’ followers, withdrew so relatively fast from the main body of the church.  Rarely confronted, this problem is nevertheless of methodological importance because the most likely reason was that the Ebionites became convinced that they were witnessing in the Hellenistic communities a fatal misrepresentation of Jesus, a betrayal of his ideals, and their replacement by alien concepts and aspirations. p.26

Neither social reformer, political revolutionary, or founder of an ecclesiastical body

He was not a social reformer or nationalistic revolutionary, notwithstanding recent claims to the contrary. Nor, provocative though it may appear to say so, did the urgency of his religious vision allow any place for founding, organizing, and endowing with permanency an ecclesiastical body of any sort. p.50

There are parables attributed to Jesus that are not genuine

[e.g., the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in Matt.25:1-13] Did Matthew or his later editor not realize that his parable is a travesty of Jesus’ teaching on generosity and confident prayer contained in the same gospel? p.51

Son of God in Hebrew or Aramaic cannot mean a deified person

To the Greek speaker in Alexandria, Antioch or Athens at the turn off the eras, the concept huios theou, son of God, would have brought to mind either one of the many offspring of the Olympian deities, or possibly a


deified Egyptian-Ptolemaic king, or the divine emperor of Rome, descendant of the apotheosized Julius Caesar.  But to a Jew, the corresponding Hebrew or Aramaic phrase would have applied to none of these.  For him, son of God could refer, in an ascending order, to any of the children of Israel; or to a good Jew; or to a royal Messiah; and finally, in a different sense, to an angelic or heavenly being.  In other words, ‘son of God’ was always understood metaphorically in Jewish circles.  In Jewish sources, its use never implies participation by the person so-named in the divine nature.  It may in consequence safely be assumed that if the medium in which Christian theology developed had been Hebrew and not Greek, it would not have produced an incarnation doctrine as this is traditionally understood.



                                BY THE CHRIST MOVEMENT OF PAUL                                                         

                                                                     Robert D. Brinsmead

Identifying the Apostolic Church

The Apostolic church was formed in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (See Acts 2). The founding members were a core group who had heard and followed the teachings of Jesus prior to his death. Among them were the family of Jesus (including at least his mother and brothers), plus the apostles who had been hand-picked by Jesus himself to witness his life and teachings.

The members of this group were all devout Jews who had no intention of leaving Judaism, much less did they have in mind the founding of a new religion.  This group came to be called a church, but they could just as well be called a synagogue because both words simply mean an assembly or congregation.  For the next 40 years this Jerusalem church, which soon grew to have thousands of Jewish adherents, enjoyed the revered status of being the mother church among all the house churches (gatherings) that soon began to spring up around Palestine and abroad.  

Some scholars are now calling this first generation of church history “the dark age” of the church because its real identity and status (especially of James and the family of Jesus) soon came to be quite intentionally buried and remain buried until recent times. The reasons why James, the family of Jesus, and the apostolic church came to be written out of the story of the church needs to be clearly understood and identified.

In the first place, the person whom the apostles unanimously elected to lead the church was James, the brother of Jesus. Not Peter or John!  James was a towering figure who presided over the mother church to make decrees for the guidance of all the other churches that were scattered throughout Palestine and abroad for a whole 32 years, that is, until his untimely martyrdom in the year 62 CE. Even Peter and Barnabas trembled and changed their course of action in response to a delegation from James who arrived in Antioch (See Galatians 2).  More than this, by the time of his death, James was probably the most widely respected figure among the whole population of Jerusalem and Judea. The siege of Jerusalem by the Romans which soon followed his execution was widely attributed to his unjust killing. In response to the general protest over his execution, the High Priest responsible for ordering his death was summarily dismissed from office by the intervention of the authorities appointed by Rome.  That gives us some indication of the level of regard even the general population had for the man who was called James the Just. 

Immediately after the death of James, Symeon was unanimously elected as the leader of the Jerusalem church.  He was known as a cousin or brother of Jesus. This illustrates how that not only James, but the family of Jesus continued to play an important leadership role in the apostolic church.  One would never know this by reading the New Testament Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles – all written by unknown churchmen after 70 CE.  The reasons for this suppression of their role in the apostolic church will become obvious when we look at what this apostolic community believed.


Up until the outbreak of the Jewish war with Rome in 70 CE, so many thousands of Jews had joined the Jerusalem church (see Acts 21:20) that it seemed possible that the Jesus movement might have gone on to become the dominant force within Judaism.  Far from having any intention of leaving Judaism to start of new religion, these Nazarenes aspired to make Judaism that “light on the hill” to attract all nations according to the prophecy of Isaiah 2:1. (Compare this prophecy with the words of Jesus to his followers in Matthew 5:14).  

However, when the war with Rome appeared on the horizon, the Jews in general favoured military resistance. The pacifist Nazarenes, following the teachings of Jesus about non-violence, were accused of being traitors. Support for the Jesus movement began to wane. In the post-70 reconstruction of Judaism, with no temple or priesthood surviving the devastation, the Rabbinic party gained the ascendancy. They began expelling the Nazarenes (whom they called the Notzrim) from their synagogues around 90 CE.

At the same time, the Nazarenes were being condemned as heretics by the Gentile Church which by now was well on the way toward establishing a new mother church in Rome. Clement was enthroned as bishop of Rome in the last decade of the century.  By this time also, the mainstream of the Nazarenes were becoming known as Ebionites, a term meaning “the poor ones.” They were also being called “Jewish Christians.” Although this term is still widely used and may be acceptable for identification purposes, we must remember that these people never called themselves “Christians,” a word that could only be derived from the Greek language rather than from the Hebrew or Aramaic language of the Jews. But whatever we call them, Ebionites or Jewish Christians, they claimed to be direct descendants of the apostolic church in Jerusalem.  Among them were the Desposyni, the direct descendants of the Jesus family. They too found no home within the Christian Church.

The Faith and Practice of the Apostolic Church at Jerusalem

James was a Nazirite like his cousin John the Baptist. He neither drank wine nor ate meat. Nazirites were also called Nazarenes, both words being derived from the same Hebrew word that signifies a dedication to God by a special way of life. Later churchmen such as the unknown author of Matthew’s Gospel created some literary confusion by implying that the word Nazarene was derived from the name of an insignificant village called Nazareth where Jesus grew up. The unknown churchmen who wrote the New Testament Gospels (all in the era after the destruction of the Jerusalem church in 70 CE) were non-Palestinians who were writing in Greek to make Jesus as appealing as possible to a Gentile audience within a Greek culture.

All the members of this apostolic church of Jerusalem were devout Jews who worshipped at the temple in Jerusalem and continued to live according to Jewish law except for one thing – as followers of the teachings of Jesus, they did not participate in the sacrificial cult (More on this later). 

The real historical shock – of seismic proportions for the entire Christian religion – is to discover (after two thousand years of history) – what “the apostolic church” believed and taught.  It did not believe that Jesus was a divine being. It did not believe that he was either pre-existent or virgin born. These followers of Jesus believed he was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary, the son of God by the kind of adoption that is open to the entire human family.  Nor did this apostolic church believe or teach that Jesus was the Christ who died for their sins, or that there was any more soteriological significance to the death of Jesus than the death of John the Baptist, James, or anyone else.  Neither did this believing community commemorate the death of Jesus with bread and wine as a sacrament or a symbol of eating his body and drinking his blood.  To put the matter bluntly, there was nothing distinctively Christian about the beliefsor practices of the apostolic church.


 It should be sobering to reflect that in the great Christian world of the Western civilization, for more than a thousand years, it was a heresy punishable by death to believe what the apostolic church at Jerusalem believed. We should not forget that Protestant Geneva, under the leadership of John Calvin, had the brilliant physician/theologian Michael Servetus burned at the stake because he did not believe that Jesus was God.

To state what should now appear obvious, it was an enormous embarrassment to the great Church which developed after 70 CE that the descendants of the apostolic church at Jerusalem, including the descendants of the family of Jesus (the Desposyni), found their spiritual home among the Ebionites. They never joined the great Christian Church. By the end of the first century, just 70 years after a wholly Jewish church had formed on the Day of Pentecost, not one Jewish person was found among the leaders of the Christian Church. Those who got to write up the history and teachings of the Christian Church wrote James and the Desposyni out of the story. As a well-known saying puts it, it is the victors who get to write the history. 

Up until 70 CE, the mother church at Jerusalem was very much in the ascendency of the Jesus movement.  A scattering of house churches raised up by Paul was not only small in comparison, but only one stream of thought among many other streams of thought that were developing from the original Jesus movement. No one could have predicted how quickly the Jerusalem church would lose the ascendency and almost disappear from history after the catastrophic 70 CE event, and then how quickly Paul’s teaching would emerge from the pack to make him the real founder of a new religion called Christianity. Within a few years, there was not a single Jewish descendent of the apostolic church among the leaders of the great Church.  

To give an illustration of what an astounding metamorphous this was, consider how two religious movements arouse in USA in the first half of the 19th century. These were the Mormons and the Seventh-day Adventists.  By the end of that century, as we would expect, the leaders of both these religious movements were still Americans.  It would be hard to imagine that within 70 years the headquarters of either religion would be in a foreign country, speaking another language, with neither of them having one single American person being among its leaders. Of course, such a thing did not happen.  Yet this is what happened in the case of the apostolic church in which all the founding members were Palestinian Jews. By the end of that century the mother church was not in Jerusalem but Rome, speaking a language other than the language of the founders of the Jesus movement, and with not a single Jewish person among its leadership. Rather than this appearing like a natural growth and development of the original Jesus movement, it appears more like the original Jewish movement had been hijacked to become a new Gentile religion.  

It was nearly two hundred years ago that the German scholar, Frederick Baur, drew attention to the tensions which developed between James and Paul being far more serious than a surface reading of the New Testament documents would indicate. Baur argued that the so-called “super-apostles” whom Paul denounced in his Corinthian letters, especially 2 Corinthians 3 and 11, were none other than James, the brother of Jesus, and the other Jerusalem apostles. That view appeared to be so shocking, that it was not until the more recent research into James was undertaken, that Baur’s view of things has appeared to be credible.

This schism between James and Paul (and the communities they represented), came down to three issues: (1) the source of their teaching (2) the focus of their teaching, and (3) the reason behind the death of Jesus.  

1.The Source of their teaching


The leaders of the apostolic church led by James had been disciples of the historical Jesus. The source of their teaching was simply what they learned from him during the period of his public ministry.   

In the case of Paul, it was quite different. He declared that his teaching was not something he received from any human source – certainly not from the historical Jesus whom he never met, nor from any of the apostles who had been his disciples. To cite his own words, “I must make it clear to you, my friends, that the gospel you have heard from me is no human invention.  I did not take it over from any man; no man taught it me; I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” “I shall go on to tell of visions and revelations granted by the Lord. I know a Christian man who fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of it, I do not know – God knows) who was caught up into Paradise, and heard words so secret that human lips may not repeat them.”(Galatians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 12:1:4)  Concerning his teaching about the Lord’s Supper, he says:  “The tradition which I handed on to you came to me from the Lord himself.” (1 Corinthians 11: 23). The Jerusalem apostles were at that last Supper with Jesus, and it would be too easy to assume that Paul received his information about the Supper from the disciples who were there.  But no, Paul tells us that his teaching about the Supper came directly to him from the Lord himself.

So, the source of Paul’s doctrine, according to Paul himself, was his own private revelations that came to him in visionary epiphanies or trances.  Unlike the teachings of James and the apostolic church at Jerusalem, Paul had little interest in what the historical Jesus had to say (2 Corinthians 5:16). His focus was on visionary things about the heavenly or post-historical Jesus who had the status of Christ.

Jewish Christians were known to argue against Paul’s teaching on the grounds that private visionary experiences were not as safe as the teaching which had come directly from the mouth of the historical Jesus.

2. The content of their teaching

In the whole history of what came to be called Jewish Christianity, the focus was always on the teaching of Jesus.  Very little was ever said about his person or details about his life.  There was absolutely no Jesusolatry (the veneration or worship of Jesus) in either the apostolic church or the heirs of that church, for that would have been anathema in any Jewish community.  A prime example of their writings is Sayings Gospel Q which is considered to be the earliest writing about Jesus by his Jewish followers. Except for a brief mention of Jesus doing some exorcisms and a few modest healings, Q is simply a collection of his most memorable sayings, indicating that the most impressive thing about Jesus to the authors of Q was what he said. In the Q, nothing is said about him being the Christ, and nothing is said about his death on the cross. 

Even when Sayings Gospel Q was used as a source for the parables and aphorisms found in Matthew and Luke at least a generation later, these parables and aphorisms still leave the distinct impression that the Teacher does not direct attention to himself. The gospel of Jesus does not become the gospel about Jesus.

With Paul, however, it was entirely different. Whereas the Jewish community of the Q had nothing to say about Christ or the death of Jesus, Paul never stops talking about either. That was his gospel.  In his own words, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) “Christ died for our sins…” (I Corinthians 15:3). “Christ… gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age…If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” (Galatians 1: 3,8).


Paul obviously thought that the insights which came to him in his visionary flight to Paradise meant that his insights into this heavenly Christ superseded what the Jerusalem apostles could have learned at the feet of the earthly Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:16).   

If Paul talks about Jesus, it is always Jesus Christ. It is almost as if Christ becomes his second name when in fact it is a title and a status.  Christ is a Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word for Messiah. Although the Hebrew word simply means one who is anointed by God’s spirit (who might be a prophet, priest, king, or anyone else) it came to be associated with the expectation of a warrior King like David who subdued the national enemies, or even another warrior like Judas Maccabees who expelled the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes from Palestine in the second century BCE.  In the Greek, the word Christ more easily takes on the broader status of a cosmic Lord, King, Ruler, and Saviour who has universal dominion – all very monarchical terms invoking the imagery of a Roman Caesar. It could be said that Jesus could not have been invested with a more fearsome and terrifying title than this heavenly Christ who would soon return to wreck unimaginable vengeance and terror upon most of mankind for rejecting his authority.  Turning the gentle, nonviolent Jesus into the warrior Christ was all a part of Paul’s Christology which would work out to create so much tyranny and bloodshed when Christianity became the only tolerated religion in the Western world of Greco-Roman civilization.

Yet for all Paul’s elevation of Jesus to the status of Christ, he did not ever say that Christ was God. It needs to be recognized, however, that Paul’s Christology had started a process that would make the full deification of Christ inevitable. That process would take another 300 years before Church Councils and Confessions declared that Jesus Christ was God in the highest sense, the second member of the Blessed Trinity. By this time the Christian religion had evolved into a religion which was not only separate to Judaism, but hostile to both Judaism and to Jewish Christianity.

From the start, Christology was an imaginative, speculative, and a myth-making process in which each speculation led to another. The first step in formulating this elaborate Christology was taken when Paul declared that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3).  As repeated in a litany of Pauline sayings:

              “Christ…gave himself for our sins.” (Galatians 1:3

              “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is

               written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)

               “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement.” Romans 3:25

               “He was delivered over to death for our sins…”  Romans 4:25

               “He did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.”  Romans 8:32

                “One died for all, and therefore all died…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” 

                  2 Corinthians 5:14,21

This teaching of Paul was essentially apocalyptic. This is a word which means an unveiling or disclosure of secrets relating to the end of the world.  Anyone who had seen Jesus being crucified could have seen nothing more from what was visible, namely, the gruesome execution of an innocent man, a thing that happens all too often in this world.  It required nothing less than an unveiling or disclosure of a divine secret to see that the cross was the altar upon which God offered up his Son as an atoning sacrifice to redeem the human race that became separated from God in the Fall of Adam at the dawn of history. In Paul’s apocalyptic view of things, the Fall of man and the downward spiral of history is fundamental to his view that the death of Christ is a stupendous end of the world event (Hebrews 9:26) in which God calls the world to Judgment in the person of the one


who has become its Second Adam. By his atoning death on God’s supreme altar of sacrifice, he pays the full toll of retributive justice on account of human sin.

When that view of the death of Christ was combined with his rising from the dead, it created the confident expectation of the imminent return of the glorified Christ to consummate the final end of the world. In all, this may have been a brilliantly crafted, out-of-this-world apocalyptic myth, but it was not the down-to-earth teaching of the historical Jesus who never trafficked in apocalyptic myths.

Paul’s teaching about Christ dying for sins led on to other speculative things such the absolute sinlessness of Christ’s earthly life to give value to his sacrifice. That led on to speculations about his virgin birth in the generation after Paul (Matthew 1; Luke 1). For the sacrifice to be of infinite value, it led to the view that the one making this sacrifice would need to be a pre-existent divine person, i.e., Son of God in more than just an adoptive sense.  There was no end to erecting this elaborate Christology until, in the fourth century, Church Councils and Confessions declared that Christ was “God of very God,” and therefore God Almighty in the highest sense. When in 451 CE the Council of Chalcedon nailed down the doctrine of the hyperstatic union of the divine and human natures of Christ in one person, the entire edifice of Christology was complete. Thereafter the Church would allow nothing to be added to this Christology and nothing could be taken from it. It was a 400-year journey which turned a Jewish prophet into a Gentile God.  

This kind of Christology became not just a faith worth dying for but a faith worth killing for. By the time this edifice of Christology was complete, the great Christian Church was ready to start shedding blood in defence of every aspect of this Christology. More than a thousand years later, the brilliant physician Michael Servetus was brought to trial in Protestant Geneva for questioning this orthodox Christology. John Calvin asked Servetus if he would confess that Jesus was “the eternal son of God.”  When Servetus replied, “I believe that Jesus was the son of the eternal God,” he was sentenced to be burned at the stake. In Pogroms, Inquisitions and Crusades, millions of people were slaughtered on the Church’s altar of Christology.  Voltaire drew the conclusion that if a group of people start out believing that God will severely punish those who don’t believe what they believe, they will eventually be willing to assassinate those who don’t believe what they believe.   

This Christological journey was one that the apostolic church under the leadership of James did not take, and Jewish Christianity after James could never take. If it was only a matter of confessing that Jesus was a man “anointed of God”, which translates as Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek, then the Jewish believers might be called Christians in that limited sense.  But when Gentile Christianity went down this road that led to the veneration of Jesus as God Almighty, it was a road that no Jew who recited the Shema daily could ever take.  

The two factions of the early Christian movement, represented by James and Paul, inevitably became two irreconcilable religions.

From beginning to end, Christology was the product of the Hellenist imagination. It was speculative, apocalyptic, and turned a Jewish prophet into a mythical figure from another world. Starting with Paul, the whole process of making Christology central tended to cast the teachings of the historical Jesus into the shade. When the Creeds of the Church were drafted in the third century, they were all about Christology. No mention was made of the teachings of Jesus in any of the great Creeds of the Church.

In his book Honest to Jesus, Robert Funk makes this brilliant summary: “The narrative gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John], provided the incipient creed, as formulated by Paul, with a historical redeemer, although the evangelists [who followed Paul] set that figure in a mythical


narrative frame. The narrative gospels – the ones included in the New Testament – can therefore be understood as counterbalancing the mythical gospel of Paul. Yet they are also a compromise: they combine a historical figure with a mythical redeemer.  Nevertheless, without them, the Christ figure might well have been conceived as entirely mythical, without any anchor in history.”  p. 256.

3.The reason behind the death of Jesus

As shocking as it may appear to anyone steeped in Christian tradition, the apostolic church, led by James for more than a whole generation, did not teach that Jesus was the Christ who died as a bloody sacrifice to atone for our sins. Neither did the Jewish Christians who succeeded the Jerusalem church teach anything like this.

This raises the question, What was the reason behind the death of Jesus?

To address this question, we need to start with John the Baptist, the cousin and mentor of Jesus.

John was widely regarded as a prophet, and the first one to emerge in Judaism for over four hundred years. John lived an austere and simple life in the desert. He never shaved his head or drank wine because he was a dedicated Nazirite “from his mother’s womb”- just like the OT prophet Samuel.   John also had a lot in common with the Essene sect of Jews who also lived an austere kind of life in the desert.  The Essenes shared their few things in common and were committed to non-violence. Most significantly for our inquiry, they distrusted the temple priesthood at Jerusalem and were against the institution of animal sacrifices.

This appears to be the reason why neither John nor the Essenes ate meat. As the common culture of that world had existed for centuries, no Jew or Gentile would eat meat unless the animal had been ritually slaughtered as an offering to whatever god was being worshipped. For the Jews, the only place an animal could be sacrificed according to priestly law, introduced in the time of King Hezekiah, was at the temple in Jerusalem. The temple at Jerusalem was not just a place of worship like a church.  It was also like a great smelly abattoir where animals were regularly offered up to God and slaughtered for food and other acts of worship. The blood, thought to contain the life, could not be eaten because it belonged to God.  A portion of the flesh, however, was given to the priest, and the rest became available to be eaten by the party who brought the animal as an offering.  Those who did not sacrifice did not eat meat, although fish and fowl were excepted. When Paul wrote his letter to the Roman Christians around thirty years after the death of Jesus, he acknowledged that the Jewish Christians there did not eat meat (See Romans 14).

John went further in his protest of animal sacrifices than merely refraining from eating meat. He commenced a ministry of baptism in the Jordan River “for the remission of sin.” (Mark 1:4) The site was not very far from the great temple in Jerusalem where animals were regularly slaughtered for the remission of sin, according to priestly law (see Hebrews 9:22). John substituted water for blood, and people began to flock down to the Jordan valley for John’s baptism instead of going up to the temple at Jerusalem with a sacrifice. If this outrageous protest of John was not arrested, the entire cult of sacrificing animals which supported the prestige and power of the priesthood – not to mention their treasured meat supply – would have been in serious jeopardy.  

John’s prophetic ministry carried on where the prophets of the Old Testament prophets left off. They also enraged the priesthood when they said things like this:

“The multitude of your sacrifices- what are they to me? Says the Lord. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, or rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and


lambs and goats.  When you come to meet with me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing me meaningless offerings!” Isaiah 1:11-13

“Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them… Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”  Amos 5:22-24

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil.  Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” Micah 6: 6-8

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Hosea 6:6

These great prophets of the 6th to 8th century were not just objecting to the sacrificial cult on the grounds that the rituals were being used as a substitute for moral rectitude; they were also protesting that the sacrificial rituals had been greatly multiplied and added to the law of Moses by conniving priests seeking to enhance their prestige and power. (See Jeremiah 7:21-23; 8:8; Amos 5:25; Ezekiel 20:25. See also Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?) A memory of this prophetic protest, for which some of the prophets lost their lives, was never entirely extinguished in the four hundred years since the voice of the prophets was silenced. The Essenes who rejected the sacrifices at the temple were the proof that the protest of the prophets remained like the simmering emblems of a fire.

 The point not to be lost is that John the Baptist carried on where the OT prophets left off.  He was against the cult of animal sacrifices.  John gave real teeth to his protest when he began his innovative public ministry offering a ritual of water in the place of a ritual of blood for the remission of sins.

John was the cousin and mentor of Jesus who joined John’s reformatory movement when he too underwent John’s baptism for the remission of sins. For the authors of the New Testament Gospels, this was an embarrassing historical fact that did not sit comfortably with their narrative of a sinless Christ who was sacrificed for the sins of mankind.  Jewish Christians, however, always took this baptism of Jesus at the hands of John “for the remission of sin” at face value and without the least embarrassment. Including the apostolic church led by James, the brother of Jesus, Jewish Christians never believed in the myth of Jesus’ absolute sinlessness. They took at face value the words of Jesus himself, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good – except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

It should be transparently clear that Jesus embraced John’s rejection of animal sacrifices. He never brought an animal to be sacrificed at the temple, nor did his disciples do that either. What was surprising is that he went further than John in that he forgave sin readily and unconditionally without either a blood sacrifice or a water baptism (John 4:2).  He was the profligate forgiver of sin. He not only readily forgave the sins of those who simply asked, but he forgave the sins of people before they asked (Matthew 9:2; Luke 19:5; 23:34). That was the whole point of his eating with “custom collectors and sinners,” for in that culture, one would not eat with those who were not forgiven.

 In his parables and aphorism, Jesus never suggested that a sacrifice was required as a condition of forgiveness or acceptance with God.  Whether it was his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6), he said that the children of God should not practice an “eye for an eye” kind of retaliatory justice because God does not practice that kind of justice. “Be merciful,


therefore, just like the Most High is merciful” was his kind of restorative justice.  Again and again during his ministry, Jesus repeated the words of the Old Testament prophet, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13; 12:7)

According to the three Synoptics Gospels, Jesus attended the Passover celebration only once during his short public ministry. The annual Passover Supper or Seder was a huge event in the Jewish calendar when each household would eat a sacred meal to celebrate the departure of their Hebrew ancestors from their bondage in Egypt.  Each family would eat a lamb that had been sacrificed and sprinkle its blood above the door posts of the house.

Jesus, true to form, celebrated this Passover meal in which there was no body or blood of a sacrificial lamb.   His mentor John the Baptist had not participated in the animal sacrifices at the temple and neither had Jesus at any time in his public ministry. Just as John the Baptist had replaced blood with water, Jesus replaced eating the meat of a sacrificed animal with bread and its blood with a cup of wine. Or was it the Ebionites maintained, a cup of water?  It was all part of his rejection of the cult of sacrifice.

 The reason why the authors of the three Synoptic Gospels had to duck and weave around the historical facts of this Supper was for the same reason they were constrained to duck and weave their way around the historical facts about Jesus’ baptism by John “for the remission of sin.”  They had all embraced Paul’s myth of the Christ whose death was a sacrifice for the sins of the world. We say “myth” because the historical Jesus had consistently taught by his words and actions that God requires no sacrifice. Not to be deterred, writing around fifty years later, Matthew writes: “He took the cup [of wine]…saying…This is my blood of the covenant  which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.” (26:27,28). Here Matthew was citing Paul’s account of the Supper written a generation earlier.  And where did Paul get his information regarding what Jesus had said at the Supper?  He could have asked James, the brother of Jesus, or others who were at this Supper. No, for Paul did not get this information from any human source but directly from God in one of his visionary epiphanies (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).

This is how Paul’s mystical or mythical version of the Supper got tacked on to what should have remained a simple historical version of what happened.  Instead of that, what we get is a mystical doctrine of the Supper totally at odds with both the teaching and practice of the historical Jesus, and for that matter, contrary to John the Baptist and the great Old Testament prophets who all railed against the claim that any bloody sacrifice, animal or human, was ever required by God to access forgiveness of sin (Isaiah 1:11,18; 55:7; 43:25: 44:22; Psalm 51:16; 103:3; Micah 6:-8: 7:18-19). Never in any of the prophetic literature is forgiveness of sin conditional on making a sacrifice because forgiveness proceeds only from the loving kindness (hesed), faithfulness (emunah) and saving justice (tsedaqah) of God. It is only in the priestly literature, which the Jewish Christians claimed was corruptly added to the Law of Moses, that forgiveness of sin is conditional on a bloody sacrifice (Leviticus 4).  Here is the core reason for the conflict between priest and prophet in the OT era.

In the one and only time Jesus visited the temple during in his public ministry, he staged a protest that was serious enough to get him arrested and killed. All three Synoptic gospels agree on that. On this fateful day, Jesus took his passionate protest one step further than John the Baptist’s protest beside the Jordan River. Jesus took this long-simmering protest against the sacrifices right into the precincts of the temple itself – and right at the most sensitive time of the Passover festival when crowds of people made even the Roman authorities nervous of any public disturbance, especially by Galileans.  As Vermes puts it, Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time to put on his public protest.  Let us once and for all get rid of the red herring accounts of what this protest was all about. It was a passionate protest against the animal sacrifices. During his ministry Jesus had preached the


gospel of unconditional forgiveness, “without money, without price,” and most all, without a sacrifice.

Think this very basic issue through:  

Did Jesus go up to the temple in Jerusalem to become a sacrifice, or to protest any need for a sacrifice?

 All the historical facts indicate it was the latter. It had to be a protest consistent with the whole tenue of his teaching and practice which proclaimed this:  God does not want a sacrifice. The OT prophets said it. John the Baptist said it. And no one said it more clearly than Jesus in both word and action.

The fourth Gospel comes nearest to telling what happened in this temple protest when it says “he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle.” (John 2:15).  Yet all four evangelists skirt around the core issue of the temple protest by suggesting that Jesus was protesting the way the animals to be sacrificed were being sold and money was being exchanged for the coin of the temple. This would be like saying that when Martin Luther protested the sale of Indulgences, he was only protesting the way the Indulgences were being sold rather than the sale of Indulgences in the first place. Any bad institution will produce bad conduct for sure, but the way to deal with a tree that bears corrupt fruit is to lay the axe at the root of the tree. In the case of Jesus, the corrupt tree was a very old one.  It was the cult of sacrifice.

The NT evangelists very deftly avoided the real issue of the temple protest by suggesting that the issue which attracted the protest of Jesus was some corrupt merchandising of animals to be sacrificed. They put the side-issue in the room of the real issue. Yet the evangelists were unable to identify the real issue because all of them had embraced Paul’s grand narrative that Christ himself had become the supreme sacrifice for sin.  

Whether one is a theologian or a scientist, one must either adjust one’s grand narrative (worldview/religion) to fit the facts or adjust the facts to fit the narrative. The evangelists simply did what most of us do:  they adjusted the inconvenient facts about the historical Jesus to fit Paul’s grand narrative of the mythical Christ.

The way all four Gospels tell the story leaves the impression that the corrupt trading of animals in the precincts of the temple was the reason for Jesus’ protest rather than the revolting institution of slaughtering animals for the remission of sins. As the true protégé of the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus was utterly and passionately opposed to the cult of sacrifice. That was what his protest in the temple was all about.

That brings us back to that basic question: Did Jesus die to become a sacrifice for sin, or was he put to death because he made a protest against the cult of sacrifice?  

An Excursus on the History of Sacrifice

No advanced human consciousness such as exhibited by Jesus could entertain for a moment that such a wretched, stinking and barbaric practice as sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of sin was worthy of anything except total rejection. Yet the message declaring that the death of the Christ was the supreme sacrifice for sin had the effect of investing all of those wretched, stinking and barbaric OT sacrifices, most of which had been added by the priests in scurrilous circumstances, with the sacred significance of foreshadowing the supreme sacrifice of Christ.


In his book, Human Sacrifice in History and Today, Nigel Davies documents how the revolting practise of human sacrifice once existed, in one form or another, in every continent on earth. Sometimes it was slaves, prisoners or captives who were burnt alive or cruelly slain as offerings to please the gods – gods who were nothing except a projection of primitive man’s lust for violence and bloodshed.  Sometimes it was children, especially firstborn children, who were butchered on altars or thrown as screaming victims into fiery pits such as Topheth in the worship of Baal or Molech. It was a widespread custom to bury children alive under the foundation of buildings in an act of worship of imaginary divinities. If famine, pestilence, or war became a threat to a community’s existence, then a more valuable offering, someone higher in rank, was deemed necessary as an offering to appease the gods.  That might be a firstborn son, someone noble in rank, or in the most extreme circumstances, even the king himself would shed his blood in a sacrifice to save his people.   

Then above and beyond all these human sacrifices, the human religious imagination created myths about gods who suffered by being hacked to pieces by sinister opponents or torn to pieces by wild beasts; and then these dying gods would be raised again, sometimes on the third day, to share their victory with their adoring worshippers. Some of these mythical heroes were virgin-born (or women impregnated by the gods) godmen who suffered, died, and rose again. The names of some of these gods were Osiris in Egypt, Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Baal who was often confused with Israel’s Yahweh, Adonis in Syria, and Dionysus in Greece; and some of these mythical virgin-born heroes, too numerous to mention, were Heracles and Apollo in Greece, Mithra in Persia and Romulus in Rome. Most of these myths featured sacrifices which glorified bloodshed and violence.

As human consciousness developed and advanced, especially in the hub of civilization in the Near East, animals began to be substituted for humans on the sacrificial altars – just as Abraham was said to do when he sacrificed a ram in the place of his son. There was hardly a tribe or a city that did not offer bloody sacrifices of either humans or animals of some kind long before Moses or the Hebrew nation existed, making it certain that the Hebrews borrowed the practice of sacrifice from their pagan neighbours. 

In the culture of that world, the custom of sacrifice was as ingrained as deeply as the lust for violence and bloodshed. After the Hebrews escaped from Egypt, they were not ready to give up the practice of sacrifice altogether. It was the view of the Jewish Christians (now supported by the best literary scholarship), that Moses had permitted only a very rudimentary ritual of sacrifice as a concession to human weakness – just as Jesus said about the laws of Moses permitting divorce.  As for human sacrifice, that never fully died out among the surrounding nations, including the Hebrew nation, until the time of the Exile in the 6th century BCE. The Old Testament prophets sometimes cried out against the continuing practice of offering children to Baal in the fiery pit of Topheth right up until the time of the Babylonian Exile.  More than that, the prophets complained that the priests were multiplying sacrifices and adding to the law of Moses to enhance their own prestige and power (See Jeremiah 7:21-22; 8:8; Amos 5:25 and Ezekiel 20:25).    

The age of the great Hebrew prophets was an age that witnessed a huge advance in human consciousness. The cult of sacrifice was devalued, if not totally rejected, as a hindrance to moral and humanitarian reform. This awakening to a more humane consciousness was felt across the whole Near Eastern cradle of civilization. Persia was being swept by the more enlightened teachings of Zoroaster, Greece by enlightened philosophers such as Socrates and Pythagoras.  Pythagoras rejected the sacrificing of animals and eating of meat. He even wore linen garments instead of woollen ones as part of his protest.  Some of these thinkers were killed for their rejection of human superstition and ignorance, just as some of the Hebrew prophets were killed by a priesthood jealously guarding their hegemony.


Against this dark and revolting background of violence and bloodshed associated with the cult of sacrifice, what else could the spirit of one of the most gentle and non-violent persons who ever walked the earth do but want to wipe the revolting cult of sacrifice from the face of God’s earth?  

It was an appalling mistake to turn the protest of Jesus about sacrifices into the myth of his own sacrificial death. That, as Patricia Williams says, is “where Christianity went wrong.”   

  1. In the first place, this view of the death of Jesus invested all the sacrifices in the Old Testament, including the ones added by the conniving priests, with the sacred significance of foreshadowing the death of Christ. Instead of sweeping this whole evil history of sacrifice away, it glorifies that barbaric institution by turning it into a sacred typology.
  2. In the second place, turning the death of Jesus into a sacrifice to atone for sin is contrary to the teaching of Jesus who taught that God requires no atoning sacrifice. On that basis he urged his listeners not to engage in an “eye for an eye” kind of retaliatory justice. “Then you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (See Matthew 5:36-48; Luke 6:2-36)     
  3. In the third place, if the particularly violent death of Christ was required as a sacrifice for sin, then God’s remedy for evil was an act of supreme violence. We could say the same thing about the doctrine of Christ’s return to earth which is the reverse side of a blood-soaked atonement. His return is also said to be an apocalyptic event of unimaginable violence for all the inhabitants of the world except a remnant of believers. In both scenarios – the first and second comings of Christ – God’s final solution to the problem of evil is said to be violence. This is inimical to the historical Jesus whose non-violence inspired the non-Christian Gandhi. He once quipped that the only people who can’t see that Christ was non-violent were Christians. Of course, the Christ that Gandhi was referring to here was the historical Jesus rather than the mythical Christ of Paul and the book of Revelation.  

Paul even taught that the pre-existent Christ who was present with the Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness was violent.  The only conclusion we can draw from Paul is that Christ, as the Angel of the Covenant, was the one who executed about 30,000 Israelites for different kinds of disobedience during their journey to the Promised Land. (See 1 Corinthians 10:1-22). In Paul’s theodicy, the divine remedy for evil is violence – whether in the Wilderness years, the act of atonement in the death of Christ, or the return of Christ to take vengeance against all unbelievers (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9) – an event which seems to put all the violence of the Old Testament on steroids.  This is all totally at odds with the whole spirit and teaching of the historical Jesus whose non-violent ethics were based on his non-violent view of God (Matthew 5:36-48; Luke 6:27-36).

Conclusion:  The Major and Minor Themes of the Christian Religion

Christianity exists like a piece of music which has a major chord and a minor chord; or like a document which presents a majority report and a minority report. 

The major feature of Christianity is all about Christology.  Starting with Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice to redeem mankind from the Fall of Adam, it proceeds from that to his pre-existence, virgin-birth, sinless life, ascension to the right hand of God to be the only mediator between God and humanity, his Godhood in the highest sense and his Second Coming.


The full package of Christology was four hundred years in the making, and by the time it was complete, acceptance of this doctrine of Christ was advanced more by the edge of the sword than by persuasion. For over a thousand years, questioning any aspect of the Church’s Christology was punishable by death. During that long period when the Church reigned supreme throughout Christendom, as Hans Kung put it, the Church made more martyrs than it ever produced from its own ranks.

Paul was so taken up with the myth of Christology that he said almost nothing about the historical Jesus and his teachings. He tells us that Jesus was born of “born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4) and died by crucifixion, but nothing about his life or teaching in between.  Paul evidently thought he had received a more advanced revelation of the heavenly Christ and therefore had little interest in the earthly Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:16).

It is the same with all the great Confessions which the Church drew up in the fourth century. The only thing that the Apostles Creed says about the historical Jesus is that he was born of the virgin Mary and died under Pontius Pilate. Nothing is said about the life and teachings of Jesus between his birth and death. Very Pauline indeed!  All the Confessions of the Church are the same. They are all about Christology and have not a word to say about the teachings of Jesus.

If it were not for the three Synoptic Gospels, the Christian religion would have little more history to it than the myths of the dying and rising divinities of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the rest of the ancient world.

The four Gospels of the NT were all written after the Roman destruction of the Jewish world of Jesus and his apostles in 70 CE. They were penned in Greek by unknown authors who lived in countries foreign to the land and language of the Jews.  But more importantly, all four Gospels were written by Christians who had embraced Paul’s view of things. Given that this was their grand narrative, it was inevitable that they would massage whatever information they could gather about the life of Jesus to fit that mythical framework. Every good storyteller – and the evangelists were great story-tellers – will tend to embellish or massage the details of a story to fit the theme of the story.  What we get in the Gospels, therefore, is a compromise somewhere between myth and history.

Yet the Gospels were brilliantly composed by some elite churchmen of rare literary skills.

We say “elite” because they were written in an age when only three percent of the general population could even read or write, to say nothing of being able to a compose a work of literary excellence.

 It is especially true of the three Synoptics Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) that they gather up enough of the parables and aphorisms of Jesus to reveal a teacher of extraordinary wisdom and wit.  He sometimes can use hyperbole in a way that is quite funny – and unforgettable for that reason – such as sayings about camels going through the eye or a needle, removing the log out of your eye before trying to remove a speck from another’s eye, casting pearls before swine, straining at gnats and swallowing camels, not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing, giving to everyone who wants to have a lend of you without hoping to get anything back (ouch!), and lots more. Then there are some amazing examples of his conviviality (Crossan calls it commensality, meaning classless dining), deep understanding and empathy of the human condition, compassion for the poor, the sick and those on the margins of society, and such high moral sentiments and spiritual insights that we may know we are in the presence of an extraordinary mind. Yes, we can be grateful that this much of the historical Jesus was preserved in the NT Gospels.


Then, as Thomas Jefferson said, mingled with the parables and sayings of a brilliant mind, there is the clearest evidence that these sublime utterances are mingled with material from inferior minds. Yet, as Jefferson pointed out, if one listens to discern the voiceprint of the authentic Jesus, it is not so hard to pick out the diamonds from among the dung.

Most importantly, the unforgettable parables and sayings of the historical Jesus don’t sound anything like Paul’s heavenly Christ. In the words of Robert W. Funk: “The gospel of Jesus is not mythological. The major mythic themes of the kerygma [message of the early church] and creed are missing from his pronouncements…The language of Jesus is exhaustively focused on the mundane, the ordinary, the non-mythological… [Jesus] does not appear to resort to anything outside the domain of his secular lifeworld: his message does not traffic in mythology at any level.” (The Incredible Creed, May-August 1997)

Leo Tolstoy puts it more bluntly: “We must first understand that all the stories telling how God made the world six thousand years ago, how Adam sinned and the human race fell; and how the Son of God, a God born of a virgin, came on earth and redeemed mankind; and all the fables in the Old Testament and in the Gospels, and all the lives of the saints with their stories of miracles and relics – are nothing but a gross hash of superstitions and priestly frauds. Only to someone quite free from this deception can the clear and simple teaching of Jesus, which needs no explanation, be accessible and comprehensible. That teaching tells us nothing about the beginning, or about the end of the world, or about God and His purpose, or in general about things which we cannot, and need not know…it is only necessary to treat others as we wish them to treat us. In that is all the Law and the prophets, as Jesus said.”

There is a silver lining, however, to be seen in Paul’s theological myth that has always tended to cast the teachings of Jesus into the shadows. If it were not for the success of this myth in capturing the Greco-Roman world, any record of the teachings of Jesus might have been lost.

In his book, Paul and Jesus, James Tabor argues that Paul has made a greater impact on Western Civilization than any other person in history, including either Plato or Jesus.  Paul must be credited with forging “the most compelling myth known to mankind.” (Maccoby).  While it was never a compelling myth to the Semitic world of Jews or Arabs, it was ideally suited to capture the Western World of Greco-Roman civilization, which in Paul’s day, was a Greek-speaking world steeped in Greek culture. Here was a culture that was steeped in myths about dying and rising divinities, and virgin-born godmen (or women impredgnated by gods) achieving miraculous healings (Asclepius), exhibiting extraordinary wisdom (Plato), founding the eternal city (Romulus) or bringing the peace and prosperity of the Pax Romana to the world (Caesar Augustus). Then there were the mystery religions with baptismal initiations in which the devotees could share in the death of the god, or in cultic meals where the worshippers would eat the body and drink the blood of a venerated god.

For a Gentile world growing tired of the old gods and mystery religions, Paul had a newly minted dying and rising divinity whose death one could share in baptism, whose flesh could be eaten and whose blood could be drunk, as in Mithraism for example. None of this would be anything but repugnant to a Jewish culture, but to a Gentile culture, here was a freshly minted Christ “who looked suspiciously like he had just stepped out of a Greek myth” (Geering). By placing his myth of Christ in the historical context of Judaism, Paul gave it something the old myths had lacked – a real historical context. His Christ was a real dying and rising divinity who had recently appeared in Palestine, and his recent sacrifice for the sins of the world and resurrection from the dead guaranteed that he had become the Lord who will soon return in power and glory to consummate the end of the world. What did such a gospel need except some reports of some spectacular miracles? In an age of


primitive ignorance and superstition, one had to offer signs and wonders if one expected to be heard in the crowded religious marketplace (Mark 16:17; Romans 15:18,19).

On the other hand, the mundane teaching of Jesus, which he refused to back up with any signs and wonders (Mark 8:11-12), would never have captured the attention of the Greco-Roman world.  Without Paul’s compelling Christ myth, the teachings of Jesus would have looked as appealing as a root out of the dry ground and could have become buried in the sands of history.  

Yet there have always been some Christians who have lived more in the spirt of that minority report. They have thought that living out the humanitarian spirit of “the good Samaritan” and the Sermon on the Mount is far more important than the theology of Paul and theories of the blood atonement.

Since the genie of the Enlightenment has escaped into the field of literary and historical criticism, the quest for the historical Jesus has continued unabated. It is becoming hard to find a scholar who has engaged in the quest for the historical Jesus who has not concluded that the Christ of faith is not the historical Jesus. What has been found is simply this:  the historical Jesus said nothing about Christ, nothing about the Christian religion, and gave us a model prayer in which there is nothing distinctively Christian.  

When Gandhi was once asked what the main thing was that prevented the teachings of Jesus reaching the people of India, he simply replied, “Christianity!” A religion which proclaims that Christ is the only path to God smacks of an exclusiveness, intolerance, and hostility to other people’s expression of faith. It sounds so embarrassingly arrogant in our everyday world where we rub shoulders with people of other faiths or no faith. Making exclusive religious claims is certainly not a way to win friends and influence people in our Global Village.

On the other hand, it might be time for Christians themselves to bring that minority report out of the basement and take another good look at the teachings of Jesus.  We may even be surprised to find there are Jews like Vermes, Hindus like Gandhi, and atheists like Jack London who became switched on to what Jesus had to say.  As Vermes puts it, “The magnetic appeal of the teaching and example of Jesus holds out hope and guidance to those outside the fold of organized religion, the stray sheep of mankind, who yearn for a world of mercy, justice and peace lived in as children of God.” (The Religion of Jesus the Jew, pp.214-215) Or as Stephen Mitchell puts it, “Here, in the essential sayings, we have words…that can shine into a Muslim’s or a Buddhist’s or a Jew’s heart just as powerfully as into a Christian’s. (The Gospel According to Jesus, p.7)

To be Continued