The Other Jesus

The scholarly consensus is that the Gospel of Mark was written Circa 70CE.  Matthew and Luke were written in the following decades,  appending Mark’s core, which we might call the proto-Gospel.  It is likely the earliest Matthew and Luke Gospels lacked familial lineages, and those competing lineages were added in the subsequent decades as Christianity evolved, and as disagreements arose concerning Jesus’s background.

Let us borrow this framework for a speculative exercise.

Given Mark’s priority, along with the actual content of the Gospel and assertions made by early church fathers about who were using these Gospels, we can derive that the earliest Gospel theology was adoptionistic.  In this theology, the Christ Spirit descends onto Jesus, and influences his behavior, which purportedly gets him crucified.  Based on early consumers’ interpretations of the Synoptic Gospel, given by Irenaeus in Against Heresies (AH i.24, AH i.26), coupled with content within Mark’s Gospel, this crucifixion allows Jesus to trick the world’s rulers by causing them to kill a spiritually pure man.  This error causes the temple veil to tear, and provides a pathway to heaven which had been blocked since the 2nd temple was erected, and access to the holy of holies was limited to the Aaronic high priest (and prohibited to others who ought to have rightful access to this room).

Adoptionism And The Transient Spirit

Early Ebionites and Nazarenes, often presumed to be the same group, used a Matthew-like Gospel which lacked the virgin birth.  According to early adoptionists (AH i.25), Jesus’s soul was steadfast and pure; this allowed for the Christ’s trick: it descended onto Jesus and completely overtook him, which kept the man’s Spirit pure while the Christ Spirit acted on his behalf.

One variable in the Gospel centered around the matter of who received the Spirit after Jesus died.  To Mark’s readers, it was Simon of Cyrene.  Of course, there is a benefit to anyone who claims to be Simon of Cyrene (or the subsequent Spirit recipient); that subsequent Spirit holder gets to manage the religion’s direction.  Given Mark’s pro-Paul sentiments, we might presume that Simon of Cyrene was a cipher for the Apostle Paul.  Therefore, Paul was the recipient of the Christ Spirit – a detectable theme within Paul’s authentic writings (Gal 1:1, Gal 1:12, Gal 4:4, Gal 4:19, 1 Cor 15:8, Phillipians 2:17).

Enter the Ebionites

The Ebionites hated Paul.  This is clearly attested by Irenaeus (AH i.26.2).  We also see subsequent anti-Paul sentiments in later Ebionite texts, notably the pseudo-Clementines, which equated Paul with Simon the Magician from Acts 8.

The Ebionites, therefore, had a dilemma.  Mark’s Gospel was written before they could construct their own Gospel.  Mark must have become popular.  For the Ebionites, Mark’s emphasis is on the wrong character. An implication of the Christ spirit bouncing to Simon of Cyrene was that Simon was the real star.  The Gospel readers fall in love with Jesus, and then turn to the new Jesus, Simon of Cyrene, after Jesus the man is crucified.

According to the Ebionites, the first Gospel was based in the wrong time, drew attributes from the wrong historical figures, and gave spiritual inheritance to a charlatan.  Rewriting the Gospel would have been time consuming, expensive, and would have required scribal skills not common in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

The earliest Ebionite and Nazarene responses to Mark would have been to make small edits.  As the Gospel traveled to Nazarene communities, it underwent modifications to undercut Simon of Cyrene – removing details about Simon’s sons, and omitting that he was returning from the field, a cipher for the “New Jerusalem”, when he was grabbed by Roman soldiers.

Later Nazarenes were more overt in their responses to Mark.  They injected a virgin birth and had Jesus give long diatribes which undercut magical underpinnings pertinent to Christians who were deeply initiated into the mystery.  They also reintegrated Mosaic law into their Gospel.

The Nazarenes replaced the historical figures who were the basis for the Gospel Jesus.  Instead of using attributes taken from Josephus in his descriptions of Jesus ben Ananias and the Egyptian, the Nazarenes remade their Jesus in the image of Jesus ben Pandera.  The Nazarene Jesus was active a century earlier than Mark’s Jesus.  Even in Mark, those characters were backdated 15-20 years prior to the root characters’ actual time, perhaps for numerological purposes – putting Jesus’s death 40 years prior to the temple’s destruction was a reuse of the number 40, which was in relation to the number of years Jesus came after the Genesis account of the creation of the earth – 4000 years.

The Nazarene Jesus is remembered in several places throughout the historical record.  For instance, Epiphanius of Salamis gives the Nazarene Jesus as being active in the time of Alexander Jannaeus:

For the rulers in succession from Judah came to an end with Christ’s arrival. Until he came <the> rulers <were anointed priests >, but after his birth in Bethlehem of Judaea the order ended and was altered in the time of Alexander, a ruler of priestly and kingly stock.

There is similar attestation in a later Jewish source in the Toldoth Yeshu:

In the year 3671 in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah…[Joseph tricks Miram and rapes her]…Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother.

The anti-Christian polemicist Celsus, by way of Origen, was aware of a similar tradition:

…when Mary was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera

It is difficult to know whether Jesus ben Pandera is the root character at the basis of the original Christianity.  My own speculation is that he is not, given the fact that the Ebionites were so far behind on the construction of their own Gospel, coupled with a slavish reliance on Mark.  What seems most likely, in my opinion, is that the Ebionites were later adopters of Christianity, and encountered it as they were forced to leave their holy land as the Jewish-Roman wars raged.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

8 thoughts on “The Other Jesus”

  1. In your first para you use the phrase “Circa (sic) the 1st Jewish-Roman war.” Wasn’t the first Jewish-Roman war when the Romans conquered Israel/Judah? The war you mention would be the first major Jewish insurrection. (To be followed by the second in 132 CE, to be followed by …).

    As always a fascinating account.


    1. For the past several decades, scholarly consensus is that Mark was written sometime in the years following 70CE. Recent inclination is to put Mark later, but I was referring to the war that started in the late 60s.

      My assumption is that Mark was written between 115 and 140.


  2. I was working on a very long comment but decided it is getting to far down the track of my personal theory which is ironically becoming a bit like a 2nd century gospel in that it cherry-picks different ideas from people who have done far better research than myself!

    But the thing I need to say is that the book of Matthew is in my considered opinion little to do with Ebionites except in the sense that it was written to look like it was. I understand the Occham’s razor approach in suggesting the Ebionites adapt their Gospel from Mark, but I don’t think that makes much sense if the Mark gospel is offensive to them, and the idea that cut and paste is somehow less work than writing their own version is not convincing to me.

    So let me suggest an alternative. The Ebionites do not really exist except in legend. If they do exist they are probably just Essenes and their gospel is Isaiah 53 and the book of Daniel, and perhaps the other messianic texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I suspect Isaiah 53 is a paraphrase of an earlier Alexandrian gospel or a longer Isaiah that we have now lost. I think there are quotes in the New Testament from this gospel, and I think it is lyrical and written in the third person like the ‘Suffering Servant’ passage. An example being “He came not to call the righteous but sinners” as quoted in the Epistle of Barnabus. Note that the epistle does not attribute this to Jesus!

    The gospel of Matthew is just an attempt to recreate what later Christians believe was the original Jewish gospel. It is to Judaism what a Hawaiian pizza is to Italian cuisine.

    The idea that Christianity begins with a Jerusalem church makes having a ‘Jewish’ gospel very important. It is then important that this group is romanticized and portrayed in a good light. However, Acts manages to both glorify them and denigrate them within a few chapters.

    If James was really the leader of a Jerusalem church, then the Book of Matthew should put James on the pedastool above Peter and John, but James is given three possible personas – the son of Alpheus, the son of Zebedee and in the most confusing of all he is described as the brother of Jesus alongside judas, Jospeh, Simon and the son of Mary, but later James and Joseph are sons of Mary – the mother of Zebedees sons?

    The best part of Matthew is in my opinion is the Sermon on the Mount (beatitudes). It is apparently found in Budhism. It fits nicely with a movement that calls itself ‘The Poor’, but its origin is elsewhere.

    I suggest this theory will make your life much easier – the Ebionites are red herrings, mostly ficticious and a dead end. Most importantly, we should not equate them with Nazarenes who are the true proto-Christians that are despised by the Jews.


    1. One issue with this assumption is the pseudo-Clementines, which look quite Ebionite…

      I’ve struggled with the Ebionites a great deal. One idea I’ve entertained is that they were not nearly as Judaized as is purported – this would be fairly compatible with your contention that they didn’t exist at all. The trouble is that we eventually got the God of Judaism reintegrated into Christianity, a detail which is curious in both (critical) mainstream and in my theory as well, as it would appear that the majority of the sects (and by extension, individual Christians) had a lower Demiurge which was responsible for the Earth’s creation.

      Your idea certainly is intriguing that Matthew was written simply to mimic an imagined theology…but I struggle with why such a text would have been integrated into the canon.

      My general assumption about Matthew is that its prototype form was originally Cerinthian, and represented the earliest robus proto-Synoptic Gospel. It would have then traveled to more Judaized users, and this is where the split between Matthew and Mark occurred – this assumption solves the similarities and contrasts between Matthew and Mark fairly well, but again, my assumption is probably well outside of consensus. But it does explain the anti-Marcionite (Paul) tone in Matthew, while simultaneously having Matthew rely on Mark…


      1. I have tried to follow this up a bit. Firstly, when I say the Ebionites did not exist – I will clarify that I mean there was no ‘Jerusalem’ Ebionite Church run by James. There are three Jame’s in Matthew, one persona is an attempt to match Josephus’s James who was brother of jesus son of Damneus. The James of Josephus may have been an Essene, but that is for Eisman to argue. Every effort I have made to put Paul and James in Jerusalem comes up against problems with too much silence from Antiquities and too many contridictions in Acts. Maybe James son of Alpheus is the James who runs a powerful congregation in Alexandria? The Alexandrian Jews have a history associated with the exiled Honian priesthood. They will claim their line goes back to the high priest Joshua (Jesus) from the return from Exile. They will also remember the fate of Onias The Circle Drawer who might be the ‘Suffering Servant’ from Isaiah.
        They are certainly not ‘Ebionites’ as in ‘The Poor’.
        I suspect James versus Paul has its origins in Alexandria as well.

        The only things that happens in Judea of importance are the Egyptian and Thaddeus/John the Baptist. The Egyptian (from Alexandria no doubt) tried to take the position of High Priest by force, but the Sadducee’s convinced the Romans to intervene.

        We need to draw our focus from Jerusalem a bit, as Alexandria is where most of the jewish proto-Christians come from, as well as many gnostics and in betweens. When early Church fathers talk about a ‘Hebrew’ gospel that is now lost, they seem to be referring to something from Alexandria (I have not followed that up, so it still just a ‘Wikipaedia’ fact!). I suspect that much of the old testament is also written in Alexandria – those parts which are critical of the Jerusalem priesthood. Note that most of the criticism against the temple in the Prophets is not about ‘The Queen of Heaven’, as all the surviving canonical works support the expulsion of Asherah. The main thrust of the criticism is an issue quite contemporary: eating meat!
        Having settled the issue of Asherah, the issue of animal sacrifice and eating meat is the big divider. On the pro-vegetarian side we have Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah, on the omnivores side we have the books of Moses (beginning with the Cain and Abel mythology). It is interesting that this meat issue is part of the Paul versus James versus Peter narrative also. The lines of this battle are curious, as the Jerusalem priesthood is on the same side as Paul! Peter (the Antioch Church?) sits on the fence?

        Something exciting I did find thanks to Wikipaedia today is the possible origin of the term ‘Ebionites’ :

        2 Kings 24:14

        “He carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the [poorest people] of the land were left.”

        So this would mean the Ebionites are those ‘foreign wives’ that Ezra told the new arrivals to divorce, and they are the angry locals (NIMBYs) who are not happy about a Zoroastrian temple being built where they have been worshiping the ‘Queen of Heaven’ for hundreds of years!
        The Ebionites I propose are a legend but one based on real history.

        So, is there a motivation to re-create an ‘Ebionite’ gospel that fits into the orthodox canon?
        The fact is that Matthew made it into the canon, so there must have been an argument for having an Ebionite/Hebrew gospel to support the Jerusalem heritage theory. The question then is, why did they not use the Alexandrian ‘Hebrew’ gospels they say they had? In the end we have the ‘Hawaiian Pizza’ gospel of Matthew which pays tribute to the Ebionite legend. (but without the ham!)


    2. A lot of the sermon is also found in Roman stoicism (specifically Epictetus) and in Plutarch’s biographies, as already figured by Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga in Verklaring van het evangelie naar Mathaeus.


  3. I just finished listening to your interview with Miguel Conner and it’s amazing. Now that I think about it, I think the authors of Matthew and Luke wanted to bring back the female aspect/Sophia from pre-deuteronomic Judaism to their version of Christianity. I forgot which book it is but along it is the contention that Yahweh originally had a female consort but thanks to the sexism of kings Hezekiah and Joshiah, it was purged out and the patriarchal Mosaic Judaism was the instead put into writing in the middle of the first millennium BCE.

    Liked by 1 person

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