Traditional consensus gives us an approximation of Christianity’s advent: Jesus ministers in Judea, and collects followers who would later become known as the Ebionites. Several of Jesus’s original followers scatter throughout the Diaspora and collect followers of their own. A renegade Pharisee, oppressor-turned-ally, Paul, takes the message to the Gentiles, who toss out the sacrilegious Paganism which permeates their land, and become initiates into Paul’s mystery. In subsequent centuries, Christians have run-ins with various emperors, until finally Constantine sees “the truth” and adopts Christianity on everyone’s behalf.
Anyone, from the staunchest atheist to the most zealous Christian, can accept this narrative and be roughly in-line with historical consensus.
It Doesn’t Work
There are problems with this narrative, though. Lots of them. For example, why are there no Hebrew Christian writings? Did Jews in Judea not write religious texts? That’s ridiculous! Qumran is full of scrolls written in Hebrew by the same type of people, who lived at the same time in roughly the same place as the earliest Christians.
And those Ebionites, who correlate to characters in the Gospels and epistles, resembling the earliest Jesus-followers, as well as “the poor” and “the saints of Jerusalem” Paul wrote about in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, evidently used a Matthew-like Gospel, which implies they relied on Mark, a text written by an author who was clueless about Judean culture and geography.
Even if we presume Matthew’s author had actually stepped foot in the geographic area the Gospel discusses, we still have the problem that the text was clearly written in Greek (decades after Jesus’s supposed ministry). Scholars point out that the traditions described in the Gospels must have had a Hebrew origin; therefore, evidently, it is economical to presume that the Greek Gospels were simply written versions of earlier Hebrew oral traditions. This is complete and utter bullshit.
The most economical formulation derived from this detail is not that there was a mysterious, long-lost Hebrew Gospel story circulating throughout the Diaspora. Rather, the most economical presumption is that the Gospels were written by Diaspora Jews, who lived varying distances from Judea!
Paul also does not assert that the Ebionites were the earliest Christians. Rather, according to Paul, Cephas was the earliest (or at least earlier) Christian, followed by 512 people. Finally, James, the figurehead for the Ebionites, received the Spirit (1 Corin 15).
Paul gives us the person he sees as the first Christian: it’s Cephas! He also tells us where Christianity goes astray: when the law-abiding Ebionites started to influence Cephas and his eating habits (Gal 2).
Cephas and Cerinthus
Consider one of my speculations, that Cephas and Cerinthus are one-in-the-same. I made this case a few months ago, although I didn’t invent the idea. One of the most remarkable passages in Irenaeus’s tome against the heretics is in AH i.26, when he describes Cerinthus and the Ebionites. The remarkable feature of that passage is that the Ebionites were similar to Cerinthus in all but one detail, the matter of the Earth’s creator (and by extension, the most high).
We learn from Irenaeus that the Ebionites had a staunch reverence for Jerusalem, similar to the way modern Muslims might revere Mecca. Notice that Irenaeus’s assertion does not imply the Ebionites lived in Jerusalem. In fact, it is quite more reasonable to presume they did not.
This presumption ties in with early Christianity’s concern for the New Jerusalem, which I think was the concern from the very beginning of Christianity, and which springs up inside and outside of the eventual Orthodoxy.
Cerinthus had a Demiurge (a lower creator of the Earth); according to Irenaeus, Cerinthus’s Demiurge was inferior angels, rather than the most high. This is the most explicit contrast we can find between Cerinthus and the Ebionites.
We are also told from various church fathers that Cerinthus used a sans virgin-birth Gospel of Matthew; Irenaeus implies that Cerinthus used something he might have recognized as the Gospel of Mark (AH i.26.1, AH iii.11.7).
Cerinthus, The Ebionites, and Matthew
Consider the speculation here:
If Cephas and Cerinthus are the same, and Cerinthus used a Gospel which resembled Mark and Matthew, and Cephas preceded James and the Ebionites, then we must presume that Cerinthus’s Gospel precedes anyone who was a native Hebrew speaker (if we presume Cerinthus was not a native Hebrew speaker – several church fathers put him in Roman Asia and Egypt). Rather, the impulse to Judaize Jesus came once Cerinthus’s theology took hold among Jews who had more reverence for the mother land than the earlier Christians did.
The fact that Cerinthus is likewise linked with (and purported to be the author of) Revelation is consequential here, as Revelation, like the Ebionite concern, gives insight into what New Jerusalem was. New Jerusalem was the return of the proper lady to the temple, and the purge of the whore of Babylon (which I think was the Babylonian influence on the 2nd temple, along with the temple which separated the Holy of Holies within it).
Pseudo-Tertullian gives corroboration to my point:
[Cerinthus’s] successor was Ebion, not agreeing with Cerinthus in every point
There are problems with the validity of the above statement, notably the notion that Ebion was a historical figure (he probably was not, although it is not entirely implausible that Ebion was James). Pseudo-Tertullian draws on Irenaeus to formulate his opinion, which means he may have been making a similar inference I am.
However, this chronology of Cerinthus and the Ebionites strikes me as more plausible, given my earlier presumption that the earliest Christianities were written by Diaspora Jews, and were eventually taken up by proto-Matthew communities which were much more attached to their Judaism than their earlier counterparts were.
In this theory, Cerinthus takes his proto-Synoptic Gospel, along with the deeper mystery text, proto-Revelation, throughout Asia and into Syria, coming into contact with various Nasaraene communities, who were likewise concerned with the restoration of the lady to the holy land. Many Nasaraenes, including the Montanists, were indeed concerned with creating a new holy land, since Jerusalem became increasingly uninhabitable for Jews between 70CE and 140CE.