The Ebionites And The Chronology Con

The Consensus

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.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

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

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.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

11 thoughts on “The Ebionites And The Chronology Con”

  1. I agree though that the Gospels are originally written in Greek for two reasons agreed by both conservative and liberal scholars:
    1. Most early extant copies of the New Testament are in Greek.
    2. These extant copies bear no sign of being a translation from Hebrew.

    Though there are few scholars who made their case that the gospels are written in either Hebrew or Aramaic the language allegedly spoken by Jesus. I think the Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the champions of the Aramaic origins of the gospels which is just based on the Syriac Peshitta where the lesser known Lamsa Translation is translation from. The case made by the JW’s is that the Diatessaron is a unification gospel commonly attributed to Tatian which apologists date around early second century which I don’t buy. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/wp20140901/syriac-peshitta/

    Then there’s the late Christian apologist Maurice Casey whom Bob Price mention once in a Bible Geek years ago that he made the case that Hebrew originals can be extracted from the Greek manuscripts. I’m probably not phrasing his argument correctly so I could be wrong.

    I would agree that the canonical Mark is written by someone who is not cognizant of Judea. Luke however I might have reservations if it’s actually written by a diasporic Jew. I think modern day scholars such as Joseph Tyson [Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle] who made the case that Luke was a from an earlier, heretical text that was appended later by Christians.

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    1. Great insights, and I appreciate your comment. Luke really is the wildcard here, and I am open to the idea that UR-Luke has priority, but I also see clear cases where Matthew is directly responding to Mark. So Tyson says that proto Luke wasn’t a Jewish/Christian text?

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      1. I think along those lines he’s saying that the proto-Luke isn’t a pro-Jewish Christian text like what we have now. I haven’t read Tyson’s book though upon reading the Amazon description, his dating of both Luke-Acts at 120-125 CE/AD is way too early but I do agree with him that Luke-Acts came into existence as a polemical response to Marcionite Christianity. Here’s an interesting summary from Amazon about Tyson’s book:
        Tyson looks particularly at the portrait of Paul as a devoted Pharisaic Jew. He contends that this portrayal appears to have been formed by the author to counter the Marcionite understanding of Paul as rejecting both the Torah and the God of Israel. Tyson also points to stories that involve Peter and the Jerusalem apostles in Acts as arguments against the Marcionite claim that Paul was the only true apostle.

        The one in bold is definitely something I concur with.

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  2. One thing I find curious about Peter/Simon/Cephas is the determination of the Gospel writers to convince us that that they are the same person with three different names.
    Now you are adding Cerinthus to it – that makes four!

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    1. I’ve been able to refine my position to say that Cephas and Cerinthus are the same figure (as they are figures of some association with Paul/Marcion), but Simon Peter appears to be a configuration of two, maybe three, separate figures. The first is James, brother of John. The reason for this is the connection with Jacob and the Bethel Stone (Peter or petra being rock), but also that Simon Peter is Simon Magus’s most vocal opponent, the position here is that of James against Paul/Marcion.

      The second figure, it goes with out saying, is the Cephas/Cerinthus character in Paul’s epistles.

      Simon Peter and Simon Magus themselves appear to be the figure divided to serve the aims of the church. Effectively they exercised all of the heretical (anti-empire) beliefs and used Simon Magus as a scapegoat, while championing Simon Peter as the first Pope of the Roman Church.

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      1. I note that “Peter” is mentioned in Galatians and seems to be a separate person here.

        It is funny you mention the Bethel stone – I am aware that this is the stone that held the name of God from which Yeshu read and stole from the temple. Do you have any good leads to suggest Peter is linked to this apart from his name and him being the rock upon which the church was built?

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  3. @Gorden Rouse

    Not that I’m aware of. I originally made the connection with James (Jacob) being the true heir of Christ’s authority. But upon looking at the composite nature of Peter, I simply conjectured that the two represented the same idea. Peter may also be alluding to Deuteronomy 32.

    There may also be a meaningful significance to Moses bringing forth water from a rock, and the water and blood that effused from Jesus from the cross (I think Justin draws a parallel on this. Can’t remember.) But this is the baptism of the new Covenant, after Christ declares the end of the old Covenant. The baptism promoted by Paul is through the water and blood that issued from Christ upon the cross, because this was the new Covenant.

    One thing to note about Yeshu is that he supposedly brought his teachings and magic from Egypt, meaning that it was from the Temple in Alexandria that he learned this from. Something I read not too long ago is that the name Magdalene means Tower, which is interesting because Josephus describes the Egyptian Temple as being a tower.

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    1. The Yeshu legend I was referring to was the one from the ‘Toledot Yeshu’. In this, he gets his powers from stealing God’s name from the stone in the Temple (which is meant to be the Bethel Stone). This legend is a bit different to the Talmud version where he gets it from studying magic in Egypt. This former legend I think relates to Basilidean gnosticism where the power is derived from the name – and this of course is an Egyptian based sect.
      I note also Basiledes does have a link with Peter, so maybe there is a connection here?

      The Toledot Yeshu legend also includes Simon (son of Cephas) being a pharisee who infiltrates the Nazarene sect and teaches them to become pacifists and create their own traditions. In order to gain the confidence of the Nazarenes, Simon steals the name of God in the same manner as Yeshu a generation before and performs miracles before the Nazarenes.

      This cools the conflict between Jews and Nazarenes. This conflict I believe is the war between Galileans and Samaritans mentioned in Antiquties 20:6 and Luke 9:52. (Although in Luke the roles are reversed).

      I think there is a core legend then that Simon is a magician who gets his power from a rock. The ‘rock’ part is not so much a name as a title, ie Simon of the Rock. Hence why the latter part can become Cephas or Peter depending on the language of the telling. However by the time the epistles and gospels were written, the legends have diverged so much that no one is sure who is who anymore. The Gospel writers try to unify Simon and Peter again, yet Simon Magus needs to be given a separate persona, so too Simon the Zealot, Simon the Tanner and Simon of Cyrene. I am not sure if Simon Bar Kochba fits into this Simony mess at all?

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      1. As far as accounts of ben Stada are concerned, I limit myself to only the Mishna and Tosefta, along with Celsus. The Toledot Yeshu is too influenced by a deliberate and conscious effort to discredit Christianity (though, as Schonfield notes, it is perhaps modeled on a lost Gospel/Acts source).

        One other thing to note is that the information about Simon Magus is almost identical to Yeshu ben Stada, leading me to suppose that the two are in actuality the same.

        Now, identifying this has caused me some trouble, as he too could be a composite construct. But Yeshu ben Stada should not be thought of as a name, but as a title, a derogatory approximation of Ishu, the Standing One.

        I think the figures to look at and scrutinize are, Lukuas-Andreas, Julian (also named Simon), and his brother Pappus.

        Right now I’m getting at the Ebionites being supporters of Simon bar Kochba, with the Nazarenes reviling him. This makes the Christ in GEbionites analogous to bar Kochba. Also peculiar bar Kochba being associated with another James (Akiva) figure. Also strange how Julian is the Roman equivalent to Yohanan/John. So we potentially have our brothers Zebedee here.

        There’s a lot of threads that are being cut and tied off, but it seems to start with the teachings and declarations of Yohanan ben Zakkai.

        But the rock insofar as the Simon Peter figure goes, I have theorized that it’s actually based on Elagabalus, the Syrian sun god of the sacred Mount. It could also have to do with Gerizim, which tradition holds was the actual location of Eden and after the fall the top of which was assumed up to Heaven. Peter could just be the personification of this idea.

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  4. @Tim
    Have you listened to the latest Bible Geek episode? It’s a good interview between Bart Ehrman and Bob Price. I may not agree with Bart’s few contentions like the early date of Revelation at 90 AD/CE and Tacitus but he made excellent points on why the mainstream Christian persecution is overhyped.

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