10 Unexpected Facts About Early Christianity

I shared an article written by Candida Moss on my personal Facebook page today, and couldn’t help but write an accompanying diatribe about underlying facts that inform my interpretation of articles and books such as these. I thought I’d modify it and post here, as well.


This is a more superficial glance into early Christianity than I usually give here, and it also avoids straying too much from scholarly consensus…but I still think these facts make it much more difficult to believe the traditional narrative remembered about early Christianity:

1. The Gospels aren’t written in the right language. Most of the earliest manuscripts are in Greek, but some exist in other languages, as well, such as the Egyptian Coptic language. There were rumors of early Gospel manuscripts written in Aramaic and Hebrew, but no such manuscript has ever been found
2. The Gospel authors didn’t use the right version of the “Old Testament”. References to the Old Testament in the Gospels were readings from the Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. One would expect the Gospels to make reference to the Hebrew Old Testament, but they don’t.
3. Despite it appearing first in the New Testament, Matthew was not the first Gospel written. Rather, the first Gospel appears to be Mark, or some version of it. This is to say, the first Gospel lacked a virgin birth. Some early Christian sects were adamant that Jesus was not born of a virgin. The earliest manuscripts of Mark also lack a resurrection.
4. According to some of the earliest Christian writers, Christian sects tended not to use multiple Gospels; rather, they used a single Gospel (AH iii.11.7). The Gospels were not compiled into a multi-text “canon” until the late 2nd century. Some combinations were “harmony Gospels”, but the prototype for the current New Testament was assembled by a bishop named Irenaeus, Circa 185.
5. The earliest Christian to compile a multi-text canon was named Marcion, a native of Northern Turkey. One might expect Marcion was an ardent follower of the Jewish Apostles, but he was not. Rather, he saw the Apostles, such as Peter, James, and John, to be inferior to the person he considered to be the true revealer of Christian knowledge, the Apostle Paul. Marcion’s name translates to “Little Mark.”
6. Despite the geography referenced in the New Testament, there is not much evidence Christianity was actually popular around Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark even seems unfamiliar with geography, having Jesus walk some 50 unnecessary miles on foot to a city called Tyre.
7. Christianity was very popular in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, before it moved into Rome.
8. According to some early Bishops, some Christian sects believed Jesus lived 100 years earlier than tradition states. There is also a Jewish anti-Christian text called the Toldoth Yeshu which makes reference to Jesus living at this time.
9. There was a contemporary and competitor of Jesus, named Simon – a magician, who referred to himself as “the Standing One”. Some “radical” scholars in the late 19th and early 20th century believed that the person we remember as the Apostle Paul was actually an encryption of this Simon. Many words were written about Simon by early Christian writers, and he even shows up in the New Testament, in Acts of the Apostles 8. Though the Paul=Simon theory never became popular consensus, one can build an interesting narrative around it.
10. There are references throughout Mark’s Gospel to magic. Jesus is clearly a magician in Mark. He uses saliva to restore hearing and sight to people who were without. Such practices were common for 1st and 2nd century magicians. An interesting detail about the Gospel of Matthew is that it removes such magical references. This makes sense, given what we know about the Matthew community; in particular, they were more attached to the day’s Jewish Orthodoxy than was Mark’s community. The rest of Christianity followed suit, but it makes the question of who originally authored and used Mark much more intriguing.

Implications of the Simon-Jesus Parallels

In my previous post, I discussed parallels between the Simon Magus traditions and scenes in the Gospel of Mark. The most significant parallel in my mind comes with the woman in Tyre who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. I argued this woman was dual cast as Helen and Mary Magdalene. She makes a pithy argument on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus cured her. The subtext hiding in this anecdote is that Jesus took an extraordinarily inefficient by-foot route, traveling some 50 miles out of his way. This trip, which observers have noticed over the centuries, is nonsensical in most contexts; however, it makes more sense given various assumptions:

  1. Mark’s author was unfamiliar with the local geography. This admittedly is the most plausible explanation.
  2. Jesus was attempting to get out of Dodge. This is plausible if the Gospel Jesus character was, as I suspect, influenced by the so-called Egyptian, who Josephus wrote eluded Jerusalem law enforcement after causing riots. Incidently, Paul is accused of being this Egyptian by a Roman commander in Acts 21:38.
  3. The whole Gospel story was constructed to intertwine Simon Magus traditions with Jesus traditions.

Recall the implication of Mark’s Gospel: the Spirit is the centerpiece. Jesus is a slave (δοῦλος) to the Spirit, just like Paul is in Romans 1:1, Gal 1:10, and 1 Cor 7:22. An implication is that Jesus cannot be held to account by the local rulers, because the Spirit acted on his behalf, which meant Jesus was crucified an innocent man; this violation of nature caused the rulers to fold in on themselves (Mk 3:26), which eventually causes the temple veil to tear, thereby removing the barrier between Earth and heaven.

In this context, or at least this version of the story, the Spirit passes to Simon of Cyrene. That is what the Basilideans believed, anyway.

The leap I make is that I think that a lot of groups believed similar things. This transient spirit is detectable even in the Orthodoxy. For example, when Simon the magician attempts to buy the Spirit from Peter in Samaria in Acts 8, the implication hiding underneath is that the Spirit is transferrable under the appropriate circumstances – it was not Simon’s audacity to attempt to purchase the Spirit which would have rung with early readers; rather, it was an inappropriate manner of transfer – one where appropriate initiation had not been done.

This is why I believe the notion of the Paraclete was such a critical component of the early theology: He who possessed the Spirit was the new leader. The leader gets to direct the movement of the religion. This explains why Matthew’s Gospel minimizes Simon of Cyrene; it seems to me the instance where Jesus’s servant chops off the high priest’s servants ear (Mthw 26:51) reflects the official Spirit transfer in Matthew. John’s Gospel recognizes Jesus’s ear-lopping servant as Peter, which I think early Matthew readers would have recognized as well; this action was compelled by the Spirit, which implies that Peter became the Paraclete, and was subsequently innocent of the act which the Spirit compelled.

The Spirit hopping in Mark can be reasonably decrypted with some help from Irenaeus, who discusses the Carpocratians in AH i.25. The Carpocratians bear resemblance to, and indeed probably were, Marcionites. Irenaeus writes that Carpocrates believed “Jesus was the son of Joseph,” and “…he differed from [other men]…that his soul was steadfast and pure.” This is a match to the Paraclete, whose crimes are forgiven because they were the Spirit’s responsibility. The admission Irenaeus inadvertently makes is that Jesus “…perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God.”

In other words, the Carpocratians believed that significant events occur in other realms. In other words, Jesus’s actions were not on Earth. They were in a realm between the unbegotten God and Earth. This is why I think Paul’s claim that God set him aside from his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15) is so important. Paul is laying claim to the Paraclete.

He received the Spirit prior to his birth; therefore, the anomalous magician in Mark 9:38-40 is a reference to Paul, who acted independently of Jesus and his apostles. This demon-casting magician beat the Apostles to the punch. While those inferior apostles were still in Jerusalem trying to receive the Spirit from Jesus, Paul was out wielding the Spirit.

Irenaeus goes on that “some of [the Carpocratians] declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty, maintain that they are superior to his disciples.” Irenaeus uses the examples of Peter and Paul, whom Carpocratians believed themselves superior to. However, if we remove Irenaeus’s example of Paul, then we [finally] have an adequate explanation for Marcion, who believed Paul was superior to the apostles who supposedly heard Jesus’s words directly.

Again, Marcion must have seen Paul as this anomalous magician who received the true Spirit, rather than the inferior Spirit which Jesus granted his apostles (Mk 3:14-15).

If we extrapolate further, relying on this “sphere of the unbegotten God”, we can adequately understand the relationship between the Spirit and the Paraclete. Whoever possesses the Spirit gleans insight into the “sphere of the unbegotten God.” Therefore, the Paraclete is Jesus Christ. The traditions which fed into the various Jesus mysteries were actually attributes of Paraclete claimants.

This, I think is what some early Christians found so appealing about the so-called Egyptian, who claimed he could knock down the temple walls with his words, just like Jesus claims in all the Gospels. The Egyptian proselytized in Jerusalem, pissed off the authorities, and escaped, presumably to another major metropolis, such as Rome or Alexandria. While the dunce apostles remained in Jerusalem, the Egyptian was busy bouncing around the empire, spreading the word and casting out demons.

And the impulse to replace Simon of Cyrene’s Spirit transference with the Peter ear chopping incident: this was an attempt by the Jamesians – for the Peter group, James was the 1st generation Jesus Christ on Earth. For the Paul group, the Egyptian/Simon/magician was.

Helen and Mary

There is a compelling case to be made that the writer we remember as the Apostle Paul, his 6 or 7 authentic works anyway, had a different name which his disciples recognized. The Orthodox response would be that this alternate name is Saul.

I do not think this is the case.

Rather, as I have written on this blog (and “radical” scholars have noticed for well over 100 years), I believe this alternative name was Simon. About a year ago, I wrote a sort of tongue-in-cheek post about how I imagine the Christian mystery was originally implemented as a dramatic depiction, where characters in the proto-Gospel, something like the modern Gospel of Mark, were doppelgangers (Platonic ideals) of their real-life personas. I also made this case in a post where I argued that the cross-bearer in Mark 15, Simon of Cyrene, was the doppelganger for the the writer underlying the Apostle Paul.

There are many implications in this theory. The most obvious one was that early Gospel consumers, based on the modern contents of Mark, as well as what we glean from early heresy hunters about who consumed Mark, were adoptionistic, and that the Spirit which was encapsulated by Jesus in the Gospels was the more important aspect of the story than was the human who had the Spirit. Jesus was simply a slave to the spirit in this context.

Another implication is that we have a discernible system: this Spirit is transient and leaves the human prior to their death, as it (perhaps) did when the Spirit went from John the Baptist to Jesus during the baptism. The fact that the Basilideans believed the Christ Spirit bounced to Simon of Cyrene makes clear that some sects believed the Christ would exist in perpetuity within the community. This, I think, eventually (perhaps originally) gave rise to the notion of the Paraclete, a concept which predates Christianity, but is explicitly found in modern Christianity in John’s Gospel (Jn 14:16).

Following this train of thought, we can assume Mark’s author(s) and consumers were familiar with (and indeed revered) the Apostle Paul; given that Paul was a later successor of Jesus, it is not much of a leap to presume Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person, and that Simon of Cyrene is simply a fiction used in the Gospel to demonstrate that the rogue Paul/Simon received the Spirit after Jesus.

Incidentally, we have a hostile polemic waged within the Ebionite pseudo-Clementines (and Acts) against a messiah-claimant who antagonized Peter and John and who advocated faith over acts, mirroring Paul’s conflict with Cephas in Galatians 2. Peter’s antagonist in the pseudo-Clementines (and the Acts of Peter) was named Simon, and was recognized by his followers as a powerful magician.

This Ebionite sect, we can also presume, modified the earlier Mark-like Gospel, and changed it to assert a priority of law-adherence and a disdain for magic; magic in particular was highlighted in proto-Mark, but is absent in this modified Gospel, which would be recognized as a proto-Matthew. Matthew also converts the proto-Gospel from an easy-to-perform Greek drama into a more literary endeavor with extended speeches.

The detail which helped clarify this theory for me was an interview Miguel Conner (Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio) did in 2016 with author John Munter, who argues that Jesus Christ was Simon Magus!

In the “Paraclete model” to which I subscribe, which assumes the Gospel was originally part of the “lesser mystery” – a drama performed by church leaders, and which was designed to demonstrate who received the Spirit after Jesus died, several parallels become clear between Simon and Jesus.

One such parallel is that we see instances where Jesus performs magical acts common for the time in Mark, such as using saliva to restore vision and hearing. Matthew’s Gospel removes these magical acts, as any law-abiding Jewish author would.

Another parallel is with the mysterious “unnamed demon-caster” scene in Mark 9:38-40, where John complains of an unauthorized individual casting demons. In my mind, either Mark never resolves this thread, or he resolves it with Simon of Cyrene, who must have been pre-ordained prior to receiving the Spirit. This unnamed demon caster is an anomalous magician operating under the radar and independently of the Jerusalem disciples, just like Simon Magus (and Paul).

In my mind, this unnamed “character of prominence” theme common throughout all the canonical Gospels forces me to re-examine any prominent, short-lived, and unnamed characters in the Gospels. When we look at Christianity through the lens of a mystery religion, it becomes clear that these characters help to advance attributes of the mystery, and probably had deeper underlying symbolic meaning, probably as celestial pointers, with Jesus as the sun.

When we consider the logistics of a mystery religion which performed dramatic depictions, we must allow for a limitation: there were only so many community members who could put on such a drama. This seems especially the case among early Christians, who according to Pliny the Younger, were discouraged from participating in such fringe religions via torture and death. One solution to this logistics problem is to have characters in the drama perform multiple roles. As long as those roles are unnamed and short, the audience does not invest too much into the relationship between a particular role and that role’s actor.

Another unnamed character in Mark is the Syro-phoenecian woman who begs Jesus to cure her daughter after his 50 mile trek to Tyre (Mark 7:24-30). Jesus throws a mean-spirited insult at the woman and her child, referring to them as “dogs” (Mk 7:27). The woman responds with a pithy quip, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus was amused by the woman’s response, and as far as I can tell, this is the only instance where Jesus changes his mind in the Gospel (readers: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

Consider this analogue between this scene and Simon Magus’s biography from Irenaeus in Against Heresies i.23:

Now this Simon…Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phœnicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind…

This “first conception” of Simon’s mind, Helena, was also his Ennoia, which is analagous to Sophia, who herself was an emanation within the Pleroma in various Gnostic systems. In other words, Helen was simultaneously a shadow of the Platonic ideal – an archetype of the mother and wife.

It is odd that versions of this trope were so common in different Gnostic systems in the subsequent centuries. This oddity could be explained by the pervasive claim that Simon Magus was indeed the “father of all Christian heresy”. However, it is also explained if we presume this trope was original to the Christian mystery.

In the modern Orthodoxy, the name Mary is simultaneously associated with the mother and female companion. This idea permeates through various heterodoxical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, where Peter complains about Mary’s presence, and Jesus responds “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.”

I brought this idea of the parallel between the mother and Helen up to Miguel Conner on his Facebook page about a week ago, and he said “Could be, but wasn’t the woman Jesus called a dog a pagan?”. My impulse was to look to the Greek text, as translations tend to obfuscate original intent. The translation of the adjective for the woman is usually Greek, rather than Pagan (sometimes translated as Gentile); an interesting corroboration is that the Greek term for Greek, the term used in the Gospel, is Hellenis.

When we get to Mark 14, we get a named character, Simon, a leper, who put Jesus up and offered him a seat at his table (Mk 14:3). Again, we have a prominently featured unnamed woman who comes to visit Jesus at Simon’s home. She proceeds to pour expensive oil on Jesus’s head while the apostles protest. Jesus rebuked them, saying that they will always be stuck with the poor (ie Ebionites), but will only have Jesus for a short while. Jesus goes on to say that this unnamed woman will be celebrated forever (Mk 14:9).

How can the reader parse Jesus’s curious claim that this unnamed woman will be remembered forever?

The Gospel never bothers to mention her again beyond this scene. Again, the solution is that this was part of the mystery, and the mystery’s congregants, if they didn’t recognize her by her actions or by Jesus’s words, they would recognize her by the fact that she visited Simon’s home! Anointing Jesus would have rung clear as a bell, as well, as this was a ritual the high priest did prior to entering the Holy of Holies.


My subsequent speculation is that this unnamed woman from Mark 7 appears again in John’s Gospel (John 8) as the woman “caught [or taken or seized] in adultery”. In this scene, we get Jesus’s famous disregard for Mosaic law when he tells the Pharisees “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. When we allow for the fact that adultery for a woman included being widowed AND marrying a man other than her husband’s brother (Deut 25), this scene might be an obfuscation of Jesus defending his own wife’s honor (and life)! The fact that Jesus called those same Pharisees sons of “murderers” later in the chapter (Jn 8:44) would have made this link obvious for early readers who were on the lookout for unnamed and prominent characters.

Lucifer and Satan

I’d never really considered the distinction between Lucifer and Satan prior to a few months ago, but stumbled onto a detail which makes the distinction clear and coincides with my working theory on Christianity’s roots.

The primary entry point for the discussion on Lucifer, the “fallen angel” in various traditions, is Isaiah 14:12:

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn [morning]!
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

The morning star is the key here. It is a reference to Venus, which shines brightly in the morning, and as such garnered much attention among worshipers in antiquity, as natural elements were often associated with deities at this time (something which is plainly evident in Sethian Gnosticism, as well as various Greek myths).  April Deconick describes this paradigm in the 13th Apostle:

To reinvigorate the soul, the human being must live in accordance with the most important virtues, relying on reason to subdue the sours desires and emotions. Once the psyche was rehabilitated and released from the body at the moment of death, it would be pure enough and strong enough to ascend through the seven planetary realms and reunite with the Good.

The implication is that the 7 planets stood between the soul and its reunification with the Good.  When considered in the context of Neo-Platonism, which had the material realm as an imperfect shadow of the perfect realm, we get a clearer picture of how Gnostics integrated pre-Gnostic Christianity and Platonism.

When Isaiah’s Hebrew was translated to Latin, the term morning star was translated as Lucifer. Therefore, Lucifer=Venus=Isaiah’s fallen Angel=son of the morning.

This concern for a fallen object from heaven is repeated in Revelation 12, which contains the story of the Lady chased from heaven by the 7-headed red dragon. The dragon’s chase triggers a war in heaven, uniting heaven’s angels to fight on the lady’s behalf (Rev 12:7). The dragon swung its tail and knocked stars from the sky (Rev 12:4). Eventually the dragon fails to capture the lady or her newborn child, so he turns his attention on the woman’s other children, who were the keepers (eg Nasar).

Revelation 13 has the beast rising out of the waters, and subsequently receiving rendered authority from the dragon. This rendering of authority from the Demiurge to the Cosmocrator (Satan) is parallel to the Valentinian view of it, which Irenaeus describes in AH i.5:

[The Valentinians] represent the Demiurge as being the son of that mother of theirs (Achamoth), and Cosmocrator as the creature of the Demiurge. Cosmocrator has knowledge of what is above himself, because he is a spirit of wickedness; but the Demiurge is ignorant of such things, inasmuch as he is merely animal.

There were various “Gnostics”, perhaps a later iteration, who saw a differentiation between the creator of the earth and the ruler of the earth. The ruler of the earth was Satan. This distinction is not so apparent in other heresiologist descriptions of the archons.  However, it is quite analagous to Alexandrian/Sethian Gnosticism, which had multiple defined rulers of the material realm.

This raises the following questions: Is Lucifer the same as Satan? Was this always the case?

Venus is the clue here.

In Sumerian myths, Inanna was Venus. Inanna became Ishtar to the Akkadians. She eventually became Astarte and Asherah (Astarte and Asherah are sometimes considered sisters). The abstract form of the Lady had several associated symbols, including the dove.

We find a likely reference to the dove, not just in the dove-holy-spirit, which manifested in Jesus after his baptism (Mk 1:10), but also in Songs of Solomon 6. Consider the following excerpts:

Where has your beloved gone, most beautiful of women? My beloved has gone down to his garden…You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem…Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate…but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her.

It is easy enough to imagine the recipient of this poem was a human person; however, it is also easy to imagine that this is an obfuscated reference to the queen of heaven (Asherah, etc), given the reference to the garden (a Nasar/branch reference, Agony in the garden), as well as the veil which halves the pomegranate, a reference to the temple veil which separates heaven and earth. Comparing the lady to Jerusalem is a not-so-subtle reference which occurs throughout texts, including Revelation, which has the lady triumphantly returning in New Jerusalem, like an adorned bride (Rev 21:2).

Songs also calls this lady the “only daughter of her mother”, which rings parallel to the spiritual adoptionism so apparent in the Gospel of Mark, which not only has the man Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit, but also has analogues where men, pigs, and other objects receiving malevolent Spirits which only Jesus, his inner circle, and the mysterious demon caster in Mark 9:38-40, have the ability to cast out.

A symbol which represented the divine lady throughout various cultures was a star within a circle, which represented Venus. Below (left) is an image of Venus’s orbital pattern over the course of 8 years, which explains why the symbol would look as such. Also consider the image to the right, which has inscribed a pentagram within the orbital pattern.


In Isaiah 14:12, the lament goes that the son of the dawn, which was the morning star, has fallen. As such, we have a mother-son relationship, where interestingly enough, Venus becomes the son of the morning (thus the morning is the mother).

A closer reading of Isaiah 14 renders its intent more obvious. Consider Isaiah 14:3-4

On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon

Though Isaiah was supposedly written in the 8th century BCE, it has long been noted that much of the content of Isaiah matches what would have been written during and after the time of Josiah, who is remembered as the king who purged Asherah idols from the temple in the late 7th century.

This passage is in reference to the Jewish captivity in Babylon following the 6th century BCE invasion. According to this tradition, Jews were held in captivity by the Babylonians. Isaiah 14:3-4 is saying that the Jewish people will taunt the king of Babylon with a prolonged monologue, which includes the reference to the morning star. Isaiah 14 dwells on this star for a time:

Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch

Some dishonest apologist might see the above passage as a reference to Jesus! The “rejected branch” seems again a reference to the Nasar (the keepers, the branch, the children of the Queen). To Isaiah, there was Venus (or perhaps her son), who caused the earth to shake and kingdoms to tremble. The kings received a funeral, but the son is a rejected branch, dead and without tomb.

However, throughout Isaiah 14, one gets to suspect that there is a specific human(s) at whom this lament is intended.  My own speculation is that this detail was an early version of that same Spiritual adoptionism that is present in early Christianity:  the notion that Spirits can come in and out of humans.

One place this spirit lived was in the temple.  The temple’s most holy room was the Holy of Holies, where no one was allowed, except for the high priest one day per year.  This room came to represent God’s place on Earth, and was therefore ripe for similar spiritual association.

In 2 Esdras 9-10, we see a reference to the lady as the holy city, and her

The Septuagint refers translates Lucifer (Hebrew Helel) as heōsphoros, which means “bringer of dawn”. This is in reference to the notion of morning star, and that Venus is most easily seen at dawn and dusk; however, there is a parallel Pliny the Younger gives in his description of Christians in Central Turkey in the early 2nd century:

[Christians] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god…

The Solomon Problem

Theory review:  The earliest Christians remembered and altered an older version of Judaism which was more Henotheistic than the day’s Orthodoxy.  This version had less concern for Moses’s law, and at the root of their mystery, had a deep concern for Asherah, the Queen of Heaven, who they remembered as, among other things, the tree.  Accordingt to the Old Testament, Asherah was prominently featured for much of the 1st temple period in Solomon’s temple. The Nasar were the keepers of this older memory.  It is not a coincidence then that Nasar also means branch in Hebrew (the written ancient Hebrew had no vowels, which allowed for much modulation between the written and spoken language).  Branches are children of trees.  This movement had lived for hundreds of years, particularly throughout the Diaspora.  Jewish Orthodoxy countered this movement by rewriting the Pentateuch, and in particular, bastardizing an older tradition that gave reverence to the tree by contrasting two separate trees in Eden.  The tree of Wisdom (Asherah was Wisdom) became associated with the serpent, and was altogether obsolete (the root of humanity’s fall).  Wisdom was contrasted with the tree of life, which was a metaphor for Moses’s law.


For people who remembered the Queen of Heaven, they saw her as a Spirit which underlay the Holy City, and they awaited her return, perhaps expecting a male counterpart to be their proxy to her.  This is represented in 2 Esdras 9-10, as well as Revelation 21.  This is part of why there was so much concern for the New Jerusalem among early Christians.

There are various problems with this theory; one of the biggest problems is what I call the Solomon problem.  Solomon is not remembered kindly in texts found at Nag Hammadi – the very texts which one would intuitively expect to remember Solomon kindly, if this theory were true.

Consider this excerpt from the Apocalypse of Adam:

Solomon himself sent his army of demons to seek out the virgin. And they did not find the one whom they sought, but the virgin who was given them. It was she whom they fetched. Solomon took her. The virgin became pregnant and gave birth to the child there.

Here is an excerpt from the Testimony of Truth

…and his son Solomon, whom he begat in adultery, is the one who built Jerusalem by means of the demons, because he received power. When he had finished building, he imprisoned the demons in the temple.

Why should we see such a poor opinion of Solomon in these texts?  These authors seem to equate Solomon to the dragon who chased the crowned lady from heaven (Rev 12).  One might chalk this up to evolution within the mystery over centuries and disparate cultures.  Pre-Deuteronomists met post-Deuteronomists, and eventually the later Jewish Orthodoxy’s views won out.

Another possibility is that, in Christianity’s evolution, a dualism emerged which required material makers to be on the dark side.  Indeed we see in Gnostic thought that Sophia gave rise to the Demiurge, who was responsible for material creation.  She then became trapped by him.  In other words, it might be that Solomon, the creator of the Holy and revered temple, represented material, while the lady of the temple represented Spirit – the Wisdom emanating from heaven.  Her wisdom was blocked as the Moses sect came to control the 2nd temple.

Wisdom’s stifling explains why Jesus had to be offered up (in the process, tricking material’s rulers).  The trick that was played (offering up a spiritually pure man), caused a rift in the material realm.  The temple veil tore, and it opened up a pathway that had previously been closed by the Aaronic (Moses) priesthood.


Most Christians Don’t Believe It

I recently took my family to Universal Studios in Florida.  My 9 year old son LOVES Harry Potter…LOVES it!  He’s read all the books in the series, including the peripheral books – The Cursed Child, Quidditch Through The Ages, and whatever else he can get his hands on.

The sole destination for him in this trip was Harry Potter world.  Rides, attractions, and other features of the Universal theme park(s) were a very distant second.

We walked past the “night bus”, featured in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, complete with a driver and the talking shrunken head with the Jamaican accent, so we decided to stop and take a picture.


The driver’s commitment to his character was impressive – he never broke character and was always “in” the Harry Potter universe.  He spoke with a blue collar British accent.  If not for our geography, I might have believed that he was a British bus driver.

As I took the picture, he asked me if I was from the Daily Prophet, the most widely-read magical newspaper. According to Pottermore, the Daily Prophet is delivered daily to nearly every wizarding household in Britain.

I replied, “of course”.

He looked at me in stunned disbelief.  “Really?” he asked.

“To be printed in tomorrow’s edition,” I responded.

The driver looked like he’d won the lottery, boastful of his upcoming minute of fame.  He played his role very well.

Fast forward a few weeks to Easter dinner at my in-laws’ house.  The family was there to celebrate the death and rising of their lord and savior, commemorating the “historical” event where Jesus rose from the dead to alert his closest followers that he’s the new boss (Mthw 28:18-19).

As I was at this perfectly lovely family gathering, stuffing my face with mashed potatoes and ham (Jesus’s favorite pork product, dontcha know?), I found myself remembering the stunned look on the night driver’s face when he learned he might be featured in the magical newspaper.

The driver looked the way people look when they grapple with unlikely things.

Yet here we were, in a house jam-packed with mostly Protestant Christians (save for that one atheist in the corner with a plateful of forbidden meat), there to celebrate one of the most holy days of the year, and the kids are looking around the house for the baskets the Easter bunny strategically placed, while the adults talked about sports, cars, hunting, and the other things that are discussed at virtually every single other family gathering, regardless of the holy ambiance.  No one had a hint of stunned disbelief or reverence for the unlikely holy day which served to save their eternal soul.

If they really believed these things, they would be going ape-shit.  They would literally be unable to contain their excitement in the knowledge that their lord and savior conquered death on their behalves.

But they don’t believe it.  Not really.  They’ve repurposed Jesus into a meek and mild buddy figure – a stuffed animal or dashboard hula girl.  Jesus is the better version of themselves who rescues them from their conflicted nature.  He listens to them when no one else will.  He’s the moral ideal who works on their behalf in a world full of dark wizards.

But they don’t really believe what Christianity asks them to believe.  They believe a sweetened condensed version which ignores dangerous implications, and recasts Jesus as a modern and fun-loving gameshow host who, in contrast with the historical Jesus (assuming there was one), actually knows where the sun goes at night.

They live in the modern world where the supernatural serves no purpose except to expose the ignorance of the person arguing that it must exist.  But like Harry Potter,  I’m afraid these ideas belong in the fiction section.

Simon Of The Queen

Simon of Cyrene featured prominently among early Christians.  My main contentions about him are as follows:

  1. Prior to his scene in Mark 15, Simon was earlier in the field, which was a reference to the “New Jerusalem
  2. He was a cipher for the Apostle Paul
  3. He was believed either to have been crucified in place of Jesus, or to have received the Christ Spirit prior to Jesus’s crucifixion
  4. His forced labor by the Romans was allegorical for Paul’s slavery to the Spirit
  5. His role as the cross bearer was necessary because it gave a plausible way for a non-Apostolic tradition to travel outside of Judea (Mark’s Gospel paints the Apostles as know-nothing dunces, and this polemical characterization was surely by design).

The New Jerusalem was the place where the Spirit would return to Earth; the current holy city was a stand-in for a more divine promise which would replace the ruined Jerusalem.  In Revelation, the city was a bride adorned for her groom (Rev 21), and she replaced the scarlet-clad harlot, who had previously replaced the mother of the messiah (Rev 12).  New Jerusalem would house the lady who was purged from the 1st temple, and who was chased out of heaven by the dragon in Revelation.

Mark’s Gospel seems to have several allusions to underlying historical references.  In this framework, we can analyze is why particular choices were made in the Gospel.  For instance, why does Jesus go out of his way to travel to Tyre (Mark 7:24-30)?  If we liken Paul to Simon Magus, we might presume Jesus went to Tyre to pick up Helen, who was from there.

Why does Jesus call Peter Satan (Mark 8:33)?  This is simply one more reference to the anti-apostolic sentiment pervasive across Mark.

Cyrene:  Why was Simon the cross-bearer from Cyrene?

Early Christians had a penchant to link their mysteries to female Greek mythological figures.  Apelles, the Marcionite, had a female companion named Philumene, who was presumably named after Philomela – the Greek character who was raped by her brother-in-law, and later chopped her sister’s baby and fed him to her assailant (the boy’s father).  Irenaeus made no secret that Simon Magus’ Helen was named after Helen of Troy.  Both these figures prominently featured birds – Philumene turned into a bird after her assailant chased her.  Helen met Zeus when he was transformed into an eagle.

In Greek mythology, Cyrene was a female figure.  She was the daughter of Hypseus.  The Greek term Κυρήνη means “sovereign Queen”.  Cyrene married the sun God Apollo and had two sons.  Simon’s hometown, Cyrene, Libya was named after her.  Her final fate was to become a water nymph, and eventually integrated with the waters there.


We must leave open the possibility that this portion of the story is true.  Another possibility is that Cyrene was a formulated pointer – the famous church father Tertullian was from Libya, and so it might be the case that this portion of the story was in reference to Tertullian (more likely one of his Libyan predecessors).  Cyrene may have also been reference to events of the day.  Cyrene was the site of a violent Jewish uprising against Greeks and Romans there around 115CE.

In the more likely scenario, though, most obscurities in the Gospels were carefully selected subtle references to deeper elements of the mystery.

Paul and The New Jerusalem

The utmost priority in early Christianity was the creation of a “New Jerusalem.”  For some, this New Jerusalem was perhaps a city-in-waiting in heaven, while for the Montanists, it was in central Turkey .

Our entry point for this insight is the Book of Revelation, which has a heavenly woman chased to Earth (Rev 12:1-6), mimicked by a Babylonian whore who collaborated with that same dragon that chased the divine lady (Rev 17:5-7).  The scarlet-clad harlot was later removed and replaced with the lady returning as the New Jerusalem – the bride adorned for her bridegroom (Rev 21:1-23).

The lady’s children were branches, keepers of a mysterious law which diverged from Moses’s law.  The reference to keepers and branches/children make the following clear:

  1. The lady might be symbolized as a tree
  2. The children of the lady were Nasar – Nasarenes

In the Gospel, Simon of Cyrene bears Jesus’s cross (Mark 15:21).  He is the rendering of an earlier foreshadowing – the Earthly advocate who casts demons on behalf of the Christ (Mark 9:35-40), the last apostle, but will be first in the kingdom of heaven.  Simon helps to advance Jesus’s death march so that Jesus can be killed; Jesus’s death causes the temple’s Babylonian veil to tear, which opens a previously closed pathway to heaven (see also Philo of Alexandria, Questions on Exodus 2.91).  In this theory, the pathway had been closed since the Aaronic priesthood had replaced the Melchizadek priesthood after Solomon’s temple was destroyed (a few decades after the Yahweh group gained control over competing temple groups, notably the Asherah [Queen of Heaven] worshipers, whose ideals are described in the Book of Jeremiah [Jer 7:18, 11:12, 44:18]).

Simon was in the field prior to his forced labor – in a sense, this forced labor made him a slave to Christ, which reinforces the notion that Simon of Cyrene was a cipher for the Apostle Paul, who likewise claimed to be compelled to actions he did not necessarily intend (1 Cor 9:17, 1 Cor 7:22, Rom 6:18).  Simon’s field was symbolically recognized as the place where the “New Jerusalem” would reside.  2 Esdras 9-10 gives us less curated symbolism than Christianity does:

So I went, as he directed me, into the field that is called Ardat…When I said these things in my heart, I looked around, and on my right I saw a woman; she was mourning…her clothes were torn, and there were ashes* on her head…While I was talking to her, her face suddenly began to shine exceedingly… she suddenly uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound.  When I looked up, the woman was no longer visible to me, but a city was being built…The woman whom you saw is Zion, which you now behold as a city being built

[my note: her torn clothes symbolized the destroyed temple, and the ashes were remnants of incense burned for her]

Paul encrypts the notion of the New Jerusalem in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 4:24-26):

These things are being taken allegorically: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

Paul speaks allegorically here, like Jesus did in Mark 4:11.  For Paul, there are two mothers, which represent Moses’s law, along with another, more divine law.  As in Revelation, two women are contrasted.  The 2nd temple was concerned with Moses’s law, as it was built after the Deuteronomic reform, which was Moses-centric from the beginning.  In Paul’s allegory, Hagar, the maid who was compelled to bear Abraham’s son before he conceived Isaac with Sarah, was the Earthly holy city – a stand-in until a divine promise is fulfilled.

God promised Abraham a legitimate son, and when he was born, Abraham and Sarah kicked Hagar and her son Ishmael to the curb, robbing them of an inheritance and depriving them of significant possession, while they wandered the desert looking for a new home and their next meal.

This story was an allegorical construction, designed to differentiate God’s chosen people from inferior stand-ins.  This notion of dichotomies in ancestry is indeed a common trope in Judaism – Seth vs Cain, Shem and Japhteh vs Ham, etc.  Paul is saying that sons of Isaac are chosen, but sons of Ishmael are slaves, and he equates Christians with the sons of Isaac.

We might presume that, to Paul, there is a heavenly holy city which will replace the current one, just as in Revelation.  The city was a woman – the true wife of Abraham, whose religion was replaced by Yahwists after Josiah’s reforms.

A coincidence?

The Jerusalem Talmud relays that 80,000 priests joined the Babylonians and fought against Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform during the Babylonian invasion.  These priests, who preserved the old ways of the first Jewish temple, later settled in Arabia, where Paul curiously claims he went immediately after converting to Christianity (Gal 1:17).  According to this story of the 80,000 priests (certainly an inflated number) attempted to settle with the Ishmaelites in Arabia, but were not welcome.

Is it a coincidence that Paul uses allegory to describe Ishmael’s descendents (Arabians) as the inferior stand-ins – not the true sons of Abraham?

Why so hard to glean?

Explicit reverence for aspects of this reconstructed Nasarene philosophy are difficult to find in Paul’s writings, although they are not entirely invisible.  For instance, Paul refers to his followers as “the temple” in 1 Corinthians, surely tapping into a (proto) adoptionistic framework which has the Holy Spirit descending on the elect.  Yet, Paul is  quite subtle and cryptic when alluding to secret elements.

Why is this?  Paul’s cryptic words are the earlier versions of Jesus’s words (indeed wrote in reverence to Paul, the Paraclete) in Mark 4:11, when Jesus tells his inner circle that his words will be allegory:

Christianity was a mystery cult. 

The deepest secrets in this religion were not written; they were oral!  Tertullian documented that Valentinians were looked upon with suspicion by general congregations because they had deeper mysteries which were not available to the average Christian.  The link here is that Valentinus was said to be a later disciple of Paul’s secret teachings (via Theudas).

Revelation alludes to this mystery when an angel compels the narrator to eat the scroll in Rev 10:9.  The words taste sweet but turn the stomach sour.  Tertullian alludes to this in Against Valentinus, where he writes that initiated Valentinians receive “the entire mystery of the sealed tongue”.

According to Revelation, the secrets underlying the prophesy give the person who ate it the ability to traverse nations and speak in different languages, similar to the Montanists who are described by Eusebius:

And he [Montanus] became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning

The Queen of Heaven Revisited

It has been over a year since I had an epiphany that convinced me that early Christianity was a reworking of an ancient Queen of Heaven cult.  There were a variety of clues that led me to this conclusion.

Queen of Heaven

The first indication of this is Mary, the Queen of the Universe and mother to Jesus.  Mary was analogous to the Gnostic Sophia in that Mariamne means rebel, and Sophia’s actions which gave rise to the universe were a form of rebellion.  With these figures, we have a mythological underpinning linked to the notion of the divine feminine, which is likewise pervasive across other myths.  Both Sophia and Mary managed to give birth without the expected male counterpart.

There is a curious phenomenon in early sects which I think builds a bridge to this notion of the divine feminine.  There were women in several heretical Christian sects who were very high ranking; according to early heresiologists, including Irenaeus and Hippolytus, these women were centerpieces in their respective cults.  When I first read about these high ranking women, I wondered if there was correlation between Mary’s archetype, in their respective Christian communities – the mother and bride, so to speak.  In his tome, Hippolytus has the Naassenes (arguably a corruption of the term Nasarenes) revering Mariamne, a disciple of James.  One tempting speculation is that those Naassenes saw James as Jesus Christ!  This presumption is compatible with the early adoptionistic notion that the Christ descends onto a man.  The name of the man would then be subject to change once he received the Spirit, as indicated in Acts of the Apostles, when Saul became Paul after receiving the Spirit.

The Paraclete

Early Christian leaders, such as Simon Magus, Apelles, Montanus, and others, saw themselves as the Paraclete – that is to say, they were the current owner of the Christ Spirit, which facilitated communication between the human host and heaven’s spokespeople.  The early sects had the male Paraclete and his bride – the high ranking woman, who heresiologists often purported shared her name with a Greek mythical character (Helen, Philumene, Charis); an implication is that early Christian communities had 2 Paracletes: one male and one female.  This notion is substantiated in descriptions of Elxai, who had one male and one female 96 mile tall spirit in the sky; this Elchesite framework is compatible with Irenaeus of Lyon’s description of the Ebionites (AH i.26.2), who believed the Christ Spirit descended onto Jesus in the form of a dove.  Epiphanius of Salamis wrote that Elxai had Ebionite and Nasarene followers, which hints at an equivalence:  the Ebionites were Nasarenes.  When we integrate the Naassene framework which had James and Mariamne occupying similar roles as other Paraclete pairs, coupled with a presumption that the Ebionites were early James followers, we seem to have a parallel framework between all these mentioned sects: Male and female leaders who represented material versions of the Holy Spirit, which later became known as the Paraclete.

Hebrew Roots

Both terms, Ebionite and Nasarene, are rooted in Hebrew.  Ebion means poor, which makes the Ebionites candidates for Paul’s poor, whom Paul begrudgingly promised to deliver cash in Galatians 2:10.  Irenaeus of Lyon wrote that the Ebionites hated Paul!  We might presume Paul’s own claim to the Paraclete undercut James’, which could have given rise to Ebionite resistance.

Nasar is Hebrew for to keep, guard, or preserve.  In Acts 24:5, Paul is accused of being the “ringleader of the Nazarenes”*.

*Note:  I believe this was an obfuscation, as the earliest Nazarenes probably resembled the Ebionites in their distaste for Paul.

Another implementation of this Hebrew word is Netzerite, which means branch (Isa 11:1, 60:21).

This word modulation is a critical element of the language, and provides much explanatory power in the inclination to link concepts together in the literature.  Branches are children of trees.

This relationship to the tree, in the context of the parent/child relationship, is relevant.  Ancient Hebrew did not have vowels, and therefore branch and keep were the same written wordנצר

The Johannine Texts

A reference the keepers is found in Revelation 12:17, which equated those keepers of the law with the children of the heavenly woman chased from heaven by dragon.  This is a clear reference to the Hebrew term Nasar.  Those children were likewise the siblings of the messiah – they are the brothers and sisters.  A parallel in another Johannine (John community) canonical text, the Gospel of John, was that the unnamed mother of Jesus gave authority to Jesus which catalyzed his magical powers in John 2:4-9.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus’s mother received Jesus’s disciple as an adopted son before Jesus died on the cross (John 19:25-27).

My first assumption about the woman from Revelation 12 was that it was a reference to Sophia, the Gnostic Wisdom aeon who catalyzed the disconnect between the material realm and the highest heaven.  This assumption is corroborated by Irenaeus of Lyon, who claimed that the Valentinians (who had a robust creation story which included Sophia) were vociferous consumers of the Gospel of John (AH iii.11.7).  It is no stretch to presume that the Gospel of John and Revelation would have been used in conjunction during the 2nd century; in other words, the Valentinians probably consumed Revelation.  That Irenaeus also stated that the Valentinians believed Sophia gave birth to the Logos (AH i.11.1) amplified my presumption that the divine lady, who stood in the sun with her feet on the moon and stars in her hair, was a rethinking of Sophia.


Despite the links between the lady from Revelation, who was chased to Earth (Rev 12:1), but eventually returns like a bride adorned for her bridegroom* (Rev 21:2), this story was also reminiscent of a Canaanite tradition, which had Asherah imprisoned by the sea God Yam.  In this story, Asherah’s son, Ba’al, battled a red 7-headed dragon in order to free his mother from imprisonment.  In the Valentinian story, Sophia was likewise imprisoned – trapped as a result of her creation, Yaldabaoth, awaiting the cross of the Logos to disarm the archons (Col 2:14-15).

*Note:  Rev 21:2 is in reference to the new holy city; however, other texts make a clear equation between the crowned lady and the restoration of the city – the two were synonymous (2 Esdras 9:38, 2 Esdras 10:27).

I started to wonder if all 3 of these traditions shared the same root.  This matter is likewise intriguing in that Judaism and the Canaanite religion shared similar history and genetics.

The Purge of Canaanite Elements

Most Jews and Christians today would be surprised to learn that Judaism prominently featured characters who were featured in the Canaanite religion.  1 Kings 15 describes King Asa, who purged Asherah from the temple.  His attempts were not permanently successful.  The term Asherah occurs many times across the Old Testament, but the impression we get is that there were cultists in the 1st temple era who blasphemed by worshiping Asherah, a feminine tree idol.  King Josiah burned the wooden pole which represented Asherah in 2 Kings 23:6.  The impression of Asherah in the Old Testament is that a frivolous cult insisted on worshiping her, despite her unholiness.  Passages that describe this time in Jewish reconstructed history make it clear that the Asherah idol was also referred to as the Queen of Heaven (Jer 44:18).

The Losing Side

Josiah’s purge of the Asherah pole and related artifacts was not without pushback.  Throughout Jeremiah, there were people who resisted Josiah’s new Orthodoxy.  Women in the Book of Jeremiah lament that their failure to burn incense, bake bread, and pour out wine for the Queen of Heaven brought on Jerusalem’s destruction and its people’s expulsion from their holy land.

There is also non-canonical literature which makes reference to Josiah’s purge.  1 Enoch describes the “Apocalypse of Weeks”, which gives chronological history as the writer saw it.  Here is 1 Enoch 93:7-8

And after that in the fifth week, at its close, The house of glory and dominion shall be built for ever.  And after that in the sixth week all who live in it shall be blinded, And the hearts of all of them shall godlessly forsake wisdom

In 1 Enoch, the 5th week had a house of glory built, but by the sixth week, the house’s inhabitants were blinded, and they abandoned Wisdom. The fifth week represented the construction of Solomon’s temple, and the sixth week was Josiah’s reform.

What precipitated this abandonment?  Recall it was Josiah’s so-called Deuteronomic reform which purged the Queen from the temple and Orthodoxy.  The Deuteronomic reform was so-named because the “long lost book of the law” which Hilkiah discovered during his renovation was actually major portions of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy 4:6 represents such abandonment:

Keep therefore and do [the commandments]; for this is your wisdom and your understanding…

In other words, Moses was inserted into the Jewish Orthodoxy, and he (and his law) replaced an older theology which included worship of the Queen of Heaven.  Wisdom was formerly the Queen, but Moses replaced  it with his law.  Another obvious Moses insertion is Exodus 6:2-3

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.

The Tree

The idol that represented Asherah was the Asherah Pole, which was a large, carved tree.  In other words, the tree was a symbol of the lady.  The notion of a particular spirit living within a living thing, so often found in Christianity, is present in this Jewish tradition as well.

2 Chronicles 15:16 describes an event where King Asa, some 250 years before Josiah, cut down the tree his mother worshiped, and burned it.

There is a Gnostic text, On The Origins of the Earth, which has Sophia Zoe (Eve) breathing life into Adam and then going to live in a tree.

She put mist into [the archons’] eyes and secretly left her likeness with Adam. She entered the tree of knowledge and remained there

The Gnostic text refers to the lady entering the tree of knowledge (in Eden).  We get a competing assertion in Proverbs 3:

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding…She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed…By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;

1 Enoch 26.1 remembers a cut tree as well:

And from there, I went to the middle of the earth, and saw a blessed,well watered place, which had branches which remained alive, and sprouted from a tree which had been cut down.

We have the notion of the lady entering the tree, with some disagreement about which tree it was, knowledge or life.  My assumption is that the lady was originally the tree of life, and the reference to knowledge was a later Gnostic inversion.

A Speculation about the Eden Story

An implication of the lady’s adherents equating her to the tree of life is striking, and fits within the context of the Deuteronomic reform, which injected Moses into the Orthodoxy, simultaneously removing the lady and her periphery:  The Eden story is a corruption of an earlier tradition.  

The lady was Wisdom, and this earthly wisdom was replaced by the law (Deut 4:6), which also became Wisdom.  That is why she became Sophia in the Gnostic traditions.  Sophia was Wisdom, who was a later iteration of the Queen of Heaven.  The most plausible explanation of these data,  at least in my mind,  was that the tree dichotomy in the Eden story replaced an earlier formulation.

It is not a surprise then that Epiphanius of Salamis describes the Nasaraenes as a Transjordan quasi Jewish group which practiced Jewish customs and celebrated the holidays,  but rejected the Deuteronomic canon and believed they had the “true” writings of Moses (Panarion “But they hold that the scriptures of the Pentateuch are not Moses’ scriptures, and maintain that they have others besides these”).

Interestingly enough, Epiphanius relayed that the term Nasaraean means rebels, similar to the reference to Mariamne and Sophia!

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.