Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
Jesus' words in Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus' words in Matthew 5:18-20; also in Luke 16:17
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments
Matthew 19:16-17 and Mark 10:17-19
Normative Christianity is the result of a Jewish movement being rationalized thru Graeco-Roman eyes.
The Graeco-Romanization of the Jesus movement began after his death, particularly with the Gentile mission and doctrines of Saint Paul. It continued after Saint Paul with additional doctrines developed by the (non-Jewish) church fathers in the different cities of the Roman empire (particularly Justin Martyr and Origen).
With saint Paul (who never actually met Jesus in the flesh), we see the introduction in the 50's of several new concepts not explicitly found in the Torah:
a) That upon Jesus' death, God has inaugurated a new period ("The Last Days") during which the 'new law' of Jeremiah 31:31 was beginning to be administered by God to all people who sought communion with God by confessing Jesus as God's appointed to provide eternal salvation.
b) That Jesus is not only earthly Messiah (which includes the title "Son of God", just as King David was called "Son of God"), but also a eternally existing being thru whom God has created the universe and thru whom the present age ("The Last Days") will be brought to closure, with Salvation or Damnation to each person. [Note: during Saint Paul's mission, we do not yet have at this point the deification of Jesus into "God the Son". The deification of Jesus is not a Pauline concept and it would only develop after the 70's or 80's, many years after Saint Paul's death in the 60's].
c) The notion that salvation is a gift of God now achievable outside the previous Torah covenant, which was mandatory only until Jesus' death and resurrection. Therefore, Paul preaches that during "The Last days" the Israelites are no longer compelled to follow the Sinai commandments, or at least that following those commandments is no longer a prerequisite for Salvation and acceptance into the World to Come. Furthermore, according to Paul, for Gentiles, who never were required by God to adhere to the Sinai commandments, adopting the Sinai commandments is actually tantamount to rejecting the Salvific gift that God is graciously offering thru the manifestation of Jesus' death and resurrection. According to Paul, seeking Grace thru Jesus, if done sincerely, will enable the miraculous imparting by God of a new law of Love of Neighbor (same as Leviticus 19:18), yet without the ritual requirements of the Sinai Law.
Neither Saint Paul nor the Jewish communities of the Jesus movement in Israel ever consider Jesus as God or a part of God. However, it was only a matter of time before the pagan Greek way of thinking would take Paul's innovations one step further and into polytheism. Indeed, thru doctrines developed by the Church Fathers (esp Justin Martyr in 150 CE and Origen in 250 CE) between the years 80 and 250 in cities like Alexandria Egypt, Smyrna, Antioch, Rome, and other cities, we can witness the earliest writtings that begin calling Jesus a god. What may be amazing to readers today is that, despite the fact that the Roman Christianity after 390 CE would ratify the doctrine of the Trinity, by the year 325 CE (when the current Christian canon was assembled by the Graeco-Roman bishops under Constantine's leadership) there was sharp disagreement regarding whether Jesus was/is God or not (the debates are known today as 'The Aryan controversy', after the priest Arius who led the charge against Jesus being considered the same or part of God). In fact, Emperor Constantine, who in 325 CE led the conferences of bishops for assembling the canon, vacilated back and forth numerous times regarding the divinity of Jesus. In today's NT canon (which resulted from the conference of 325 CE), with the exception of one instance in John 1:1-18 (the author of John wrote that gospel in 90 CE and never self-identifies as John), nowhere do we find any reference to Jesus as being God (quite the contrary; click here for details ). None of the letters from the church fathers of 100 CE to 250 CE (many of which elevate Jesus to God status) made it into the NT canon. However, following the compilation of the canon, the Aryan controversy raged for more than 50 years, during which alternating creeds succeeded each other, some in favor and some against the deification of Jesus. The final creed (still not part of the official NT canon) settled the fate of the Roman empire's new religion as a Trinitarian faith.
Yet, separate from the development of Christianity in the Graeco-Roman empire, reality is that the original Jesus movement was a Israelite movement intent on setting the forces in motion to bring forth God's Kingdom to Earth, and not a movement of heavenly salvation exclusively-thru-Jesus (things pioneered by Saint Paul). Also, it was certainly not a movement daring to depict the nature of God (as a dyad or trinity, which were things pioneered by the Church fathers from 100 CE until Athanasius in 325 CE).
Historical and Scriptural references that reveal the Jewish nature of the original Jesus movement:
This section will define a "canon" of sorts. Our intention here is to document the sources (either NT scriptures or historical sources) that give us a glimpse into the original (i.e. Israelite) Jesus movement as it existed separate from the evolution of Gentile Christianity outside Israel. For this we will draw from sources such as: historian Flavius Josephus ("Antiquities of the Jews" and "The Wars of the Jews" written around between 80 and 90 CE), Eusebius ("History of Church" written in 324 CE), and others.
First some background: Jesus lived in a period when Israel had recently lost its sovereignty once again, this time to Rome. Sixty years before Jesus' birth, Roman General Pompeii was asked for 'help' by one of the two Macabbean (aka Hasmonean) contenders to the Kingship and High Priesthood of Israel at that time. This event marked the beginning of the end for ancient Israel, for it eventually led to Roman domination, the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem in 135 CE, starting a 2000 year period of dispersion. At any rate, by the year 60 BCE, the Macabbean dynasty had reached a state of utmost decline. It was a far cry from the original Maccabean leadership that had gained independence for Israel from the Greek Syrians in about 160 BCE. Matthias and his sons Judas Macabee ("Macabee" was his nickname, which means "Hammer"), Eleazar, Johannan, and Simeon waged a brave war against the Greek Syrian Seleucid empire of Antiochus Epiphanes, winning independence for Israel after almost 100 years of domination (dating back to Alexander the Great's conquests). However, the subsequent generations of the Maccabean dynasty devolved into a tyrannical state, which even adopted the very Greek practices that Matthias had fought against. They also took over the office of the High Priest, even though they were not of Levitical/Aaronic descent. (It was such a major aberration that probably gave cause to the self-exiled community that created the Dead Sea Scrolls). At any rate, in the 60's BCE, a dispute erupted between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, two Maccabean brothers contending for High Priesthood and Kingship. They were sons of Alexander Janneus who was son of Johanan Hyrcanus who was son of Simeon who was son of Matthias. Hyrcanus, under the advice of a astute Idumean power broker named Antipater, called for Roman General Pompeii to assist him in overcoming Aristobulus. This triggered Rome's involvement. Pompeii intervened, exiling Aristobulus and establishing Hyrcanus, but he also converted Israel into a part of the Roman empire. As it turns out, this Antipater would prove to be a manipulator of major proportions. Within one generation, Antipater's sons (Herod, Philip, Phasaelus) had become Rome's client rulers over Judaea, Samaria, Galilee, and surrounding areas east of the Jordan, and the Maccabean dynasty had been completely displaced by the Herodian dynasty. Antipater's son Herod (aka Herod the Great) was a megalomaniac, cruel, and paranoid ruler, who murdered his own wife Mariam (a Macabbean princess herself) and many of his own sons. He also murdered Hyrcanus, the man who had confided in Herod's own father Antipater. Herod murdered Hyrcanus even as Hyrcanus held the title High Priest and King of Judea. His power was then consolidated, and this even with Rome's blessing. As a Idumean, Herod was a nominal Jew (Idumeans had been conquered and forcibly converted to Judaism by one of the Maccabean Kings) and Judeans and Galileans were constantly on the verge on rebellion against this Roman client king. Herod [aka Herod the Great] reigned 34 years and died after a reign of barbarous cruelty. It was approximately upon the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, that Jesus was born in Galilee.
Herod the Great was succeeded (with Rome's blessing) by his sons; Archelaus inherited his father's title of King of the Jews and ruled over Judah and Samaria; Herod Antipas inherited rule over Galilee; and Herod Philip inherited rule over Trachonitis and the neighboring lands east of the Jordan. As documented by Josephus, and other historians, these children of Herod the Great would prove to be no less barbarous than their father and certainly equally adept to touting the Roman line. As Roman oppresion drove the Jews to poverty and desperation, Israel became more and more a tinderbox waiting to explode. In fact, the entire period of Roman rule from 60 BCE to 70 CE is replete with insurrection attempts and messianic figures, all vying for the deliverance of Israel from the hand of Rome and the advent of the Kingdom of God.
One of those rebellious figures was Yohannan the Immerser (Ioannes Baptiste in Greek, or John the Baptist). The term "Baptiste" is Greek for "Immerser". His practice of Immersion in water is not a Christian innovation as most people today might imagine. Rather, immersion in water is a ritual of purification mandated many times in the Torah. A immersion pool is known as a Mikvah and immersion in water continues to be practiced in Judaism today. Archaeological evidence from Qumran (home to the Dead Sea scrolls) clearly shows the extremely important role that immersion played in daily religious life. In the late 20's CE, Yohannan began a mission which included a call to Righteousness and Repentance with a warning of imminent re-entry of God in human history to judge humankind, establish the rule of God on earth, and destroy the Roman oppresors and their puppets, King Herod and the High-Priest dynasty of Annanias. Yohannan's movement continued to grow and became noticed as a threat by King Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great). To make matters worse, Yohannan actively denigrated Herod Antipas for his doubly unlawful marriage to Herodias (a niece of Herod Antipas and undivorced wife of his brother Herod Philip). Here is what Flavius Josephus records regarding Yohannan the Immerser:
Areta, the King of Arabia Petrea and Herod [Antipas] had a quarrel, on account of the following: Herod [Antipas] the tetrach had married the daughter of Aretas and had lived with her a great while; but when he [Herod Antipas] was once at Rome, he lodged with Herod [Philip] , who was his brother, but not by the same mother, for this Herod [Philip] was the son of the High Priest Simon's daughter. However he [Herod Antipas] fell in love with Herodias, Herod Philip's wife, who was the daughter of Aristobulus their brother and she was the sister of Herod Aggrippa the Great. This man [Herod Antipas] ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them, upon which request, since she accepted, a agreement was made for her to change her domicile and come to him as soon as he should return from Rome; yet one article of this marriage agreement was that he [Herod Antipas] should divorce Areta's daughter. .... So Aretas made this the first reason of his enmity with Herod [Antipas]... So they raised armies on both sides and prepared for war and sent their generals to fight instead of themselves; and, when they had joined battle, all Herod [Antipas] 's army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were from the tetrarchy of [Herod] Philip, joined with Aretas' army [against Herod Antipas' army, in revenge for Herod Antipas having courted Herod Philip's wife Herodias]. ... Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod [Antipas]'s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John that was called the Immerser; for Herod [Antipas] slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to Immersion; for the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him ... not only for the forgiveness of some sins but for the purification of the body, supposing still that the soul was purified beforehand by acts of righteousness. Now, when others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod [Antipas] , who feared that the great influence John had over the people might put into his [John's] power an inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advice), thought it best, by putting him [John] to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man [John] who might make him [Herod Antipas] regret it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod [Antipas] 's suspicious temper, to Macherus ... and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this [Herod Antipas'] army was sent as a punishment upon Herod [Antipas] , and as a mark of God's displeasure with him.
Yohannan's movement continued after his death, even separate from what would later become Jesus' movement. Saint Paul refers to a preacher Apollos who carried the message of Yohannan's movement, without knowing that of Jesus. By the year 620 CE followers of John the Baptist were still known, and they are referred to as 'Sabeans' several times in the Q'ran ('Saba' is the Aramaic word for 'Immersion in water'), e.g. : Q'ran 2:62: "Those who believe,and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever believes in God and the last day and does good, theyshall have their reward from their lord, andthere is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve." Even today in the 21st century they can be found in Iraq. They are also sometimes referred to as Mandeans.
It is believed from the NT scriptures that the Jesus' movement began from within John's movement and took on its own independence, especially after John's death. In spite of numerous attempts in the synoptic gospels to de-emphasize John at the expense of Jesus, John's movement must have been so important that even the synoptic gospels accept that Jesus arose from that movement (Jesus being immersed by John) and even document a blood relationship between the two leaders (their mothers being cousins).
Perhaps the most important non-Christian historical reference we have to Jesus comes from historian Josephus Flavius in his 'Antiquities of the Jews' (18.3.3 63-64). Josephus was a young Galilean general who participated in the war against Rome (66 CE to 70 CE), but surrendered when defeat was imminent and was then adopted by general Vespasian and moved to Rome, from where he wrote his 'Antiquities of the Jews' and 'The wars of Jews', documenting in Greek the history of Israel until the defeat in 70 CE at the hands of Rome. Partly because of Josephus' accounts on Jesus, Graeco-Roman Christian communities have copied Josephus' works for posterity, but unfortunately there appear to have been interpolations inserted sometime between 100 CE and 300 CE, which reflect dogmas of Graeco-Roman Christianity. However, a recent discovery in 1970's by Medieval Arabic literature historian Shlomo Pines, give us another citation, which appears in the work on tenth century scholar Agapius, quoting from a earlier Arabic source. We provide both versions here.
The first version is the text received through the Graeco-Roman communities. We know that whatever interpolations took place, they happened before 324 CE because the same text appears quoted by Eusebius in his 'History of the Church' written in 324 CE (Eusebius was the Gentile Christian Bishop of Caesarea from 313 to 339 CE):
Now there was about this time [Josephus is referring to the time of Pilate's procuratorship of Judaea] Iesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works -- a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was Christos; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the fivine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.
The second version is from Agapius' copy, discovered recently:
There was about this time a man called Iesus. His conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from amongst the Jews and the Gentiles became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was possibly the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.
The reader will notice that Agapius' quote does not blame "the principal men amongst us [Jews]" for Jesus' crucifixion. Nor does it state certainly whether Jesus "was the Christos". Knowing that Agapius was a Christian, it is very unlikely that we would have purposely curtailed these two sentences if they indeed had been present in his Arabic version. For this reason it is believed that Agapius version is more faithful to Josephus' original.
The original Jesus movement, focused on Jesus as the traditional prophet and Davidic Messiah that would bring the advent of God's Kingdom on earth for Jews and Gentiles, and an end to Israel's oppression under Rome. As with John the Baptist, Jesus' method to bring God's Kingdom focused on Repentance and two commandments which he deemed most important (Love of God, and Love of neighbor), not unlike the prophets Micah, Isaiah, and others. When Jesus' died, as recorded not only in the NT, but also in Josephus above quote, his followers reported that he had appeared to them three days after, and alive. As we will see below, his followers, led by Jesus' brother James, expected his imminent return and with that the advent of the Kingdom of God.
Amazingly (and much de-emphasized by normative Christianity thru the centuries) we find that Jesus' immediate family (particularly his siblings and cousins) formed a key part of the leadership of the Jesus movement, especially after Jesus' crucifixion. From the NT we know that Jesus had four brothers named Yaakov (Iakobos in Greek, James in English, Iago in latin, Diego and Sant-Iago in Spanish), Yosef (Joseph, nicknamed Joses), Shimon (Simon or Simeon), and Yehudah (Judas, also known as Judas the twin, or Judas Thomas (where Thomas is Aramaic for 'Twin'). Jesus also had several sisters, including one named Salome. Here are the quotes from the NT:
Mark 6:3 : Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?"
Mark 15:40 : There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
Mark 16:1 : And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
Matthew 13:55 : Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?
Here is what historian Josephus tells us about Jesus' brother James:
And now [Nero] Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus [Governor of Judea] , sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. Now [at this time also,] the king [Herod Agrippa] decided to deprive Joseph [also called Cabi, son of Simon (also former High Priest himself)] of the highpriesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity to on the son of Ananus [called Anas in NT. Anas was a former high priest and father in law of Joseph bar Caiaphas who was high priest during Jesus' time]. This son of Ananus was also called Ananus. Now the report goes, that this elder Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons [and a son in law, Joseph bar Caiaphas, who collaborated with Pilate to put Jesus to death] who had all performed the office of high priest to God, and he had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened with any other of our high priests. But the younger Ananus ... was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent. He was also of the sect of the Saduccees [Zadukim in Hebrew] , who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews... . When therefore Ananus was of this disposition, he thought that he now had a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority] . Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he [Ananus bar Ananus] assembled the sanhedrin of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was Iakobos [Iakobos is Greek for Jacob, which is James in English] and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned. But those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens [of Jerusalem] , since they were most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done [by Ananus] and sent to the king [Herod Agrippa] requesting him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for what he had already done was not to be justified. More so, some of them went also to meet Albinus [Nero's newly appointed Governor of Judea] , as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrin without his consent; whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus and threatened that we would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him when he had ruled as high priest only three months, and put in place Jesus bar Damneus as high priest.
Church historian Eusebius also writes, in his History of the Church (written between 300 and 324), about the events related to James. He draws from existent works of Clement of Alexandria, Egypt (from 150 to 215), from Hyppolytus (the most important third century theologian of gentile Christianity; lived from approx 170 to 236), and from Hegesippus (a second century Jewish Christian and historian):
Eusebius, in 'History of the Church', chapter 2:
Then there was Iakobos, who was called the Lord's brother; for he too was named Joseph's son ... This Iakobos, whom the people of old called the Just because of his outstanding virtue, was the first, as the records tell us, to be elected to the episcopal throne of the Jerusalem Church. Clement [of Alexandria] , in his "Outlines", book six, puts it as follows: "After the ascension of the savior, Peter, James the son of Zebedee and John the son of Zebedee did not claim pre-eminence because the savior had specifically them, but chose James the Just as Bishop of Jerusalem." In book seven of the same work, the writer [Clement] makes this further statement: "James the Just, John [the son of Zebedee] and Peter were entrusted by the Lord after his resurrection with the higher knowledge. They imparted it to the other emmisaries [apostolos] , and these emmisaries to the Seventy, one of whom was Barnabas. There were two Jameses: one the Just, who was thrown down from the parapet [of the Temple] and beaten to death with a fuller's club; and the other James who was beheaded." James the Just is also mentioned by Paul when he writes, "Of the other emmisaries I saw no one except James the brother of the Lord." (Historia Ecclesiastica 2.1.2-2.1.5; Williamson translation).
Eusebius, in 'History of the Church' 2.23.3-2.23.18 (including quote from Hegesippus' 'Memoranda' (dated 150 to 180 CE)):
Control of the church passed together with the apostles, to the brother of the Lord, Iakobos, whom every one from the Lord's time until our own has named "The Just", for there were many Iakobos, but this one was holy from birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil, and he took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place [Holy of Holies] , for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so much so that his knees became as hard as a camel's, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. Because of his unsurpassable righteousness he was called 'The Just' and Oblias, or 'Zaddik' and 'Ozleam' ["Bulwark of the people"] fulfilling the declarations of the prophets regarding him.
Representatives of the seven [Jewish] sects already described by me asked him what was meant by 'the door of Iesus', and he replied that Iesus was the Savior. Some of them came to believe that Iesus was the Christ: the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in one who is coming to give every man what his deeds deserve, but those who did come to believe did so because of Iakobos. Since therefore many even of the ruling class believed, there was an uproar among the Judeans and scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Iesus as the Christ. So they collected and said to Iakobos: "Be good enough to restrain the people, for they have gone astray after Iesus in the belief that he is the Christ. Be good enough to make the facts about Iesus clear to all who come for the Passover Day ... So make it clear to the crowd that they must not go astray as regards to Iesus: the whole people and all of us accept what you say. So take your stand on the Temple parapet, so that from that height you may be easily seen, and your words audible to the whole people. For because of the Passover all the tribes have come together, and the Gentiles too.
So the scribes and Pharisees made Iakobos stand on the Sanctuary parapet and shouted to him: "Just one, whose word we are all obliged to accept, the people are all going astray after Iesus who was crucified; so tell us what is meant by 'the door of Iesus'." He [James] replied as loudly as he could: "Why do you question me about the Son of Man" I tell you, he is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the great power, and he will come on the clouds of heaven." Many were convinced and gloried in Iakobos' testimony, crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!". Then again the scribes and the Pharisees said to each other: "We made a bad mistake in affording such testimony to Iesus. We had better go up and throw him down, so that they will be frightened and not believe him." "Ho, Ho!", they called out, "even the Just one has gone astray!", fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: " 'Let us remove the Just one, for he is unprofitable to us.' Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works."
So they went up and threw down the Just one. Then they said to each other, "Let us stone Iakobos the Just,", and began to stone him, as in spite of his fall he was still alive. ... Then one of them, a fuller, took the club which he used to beat clothes, and brought it down on the head of the Just one. Such was his martyrdom.
James is historically recorded as the first leader of the Jesus movement after Jesus' death. At that time the Jesus movement was thoroughly a Israelite movement, with negligible of Gentile followers. According to the epistles of Saint Paul (written between 45 and 60 CE), it is James who organizes the missions to the different communities around Israel, after the year 33 CE. Saint Paul records James as remaining in Jerusalem, while others like Shimon Cephas (Simon Peter) and Barnabas are chartered to spread the news of Jesus to the mainly-Jewish communities inside and around Israel. As is well known (and document by Paul himself), Paul became involved with the Jesus movement sometime after Jesus' death, actually as a persecutor of the Jesus followers, dragging them out of their houses and leading them to be stoned. In this he was following instructions from the High Priest Joseph Bar Caiaphas, who continued his vendetta against the Jesus movement. Paul also records that upon one of his trips to Damascus, while persecuting the followers of Jesus, he has a revelation and converts to being a follower Jesus. He moves to Arabia for several years and returns with a mission: to preach his revelation of salvation thru Jesus, a mission which he focuses on the Gentiles. This version (whose differences we mentioned in the beginning of this article) triggers serious disagreements with the Jerusalem Church led by James. Amazingly, it is actually thru Saint Paul's letters that we know of this serious conflict and of the utmost importance that James had in the Jesus movement. Paul in Galatians chapter 2 acknowledges Iakobos' (James') role as a pillar of the Jerusalem church. In this quote Paul documents his conflict with the original Jesus movement, now in the hands of James the Just. From this epistle we have the most clear documentation that James the Just was actively contravening Pauline practices of enticing Jews to forego the Law. Notice also Paul's sarcasm with respect to the leadership of the Jerusalem church :
Galatians 2:1-21 : Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us-- we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) --those leaders contributed nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas [Peter] and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" We ourselves are Jews by birth and not "Gentile sinners"; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2:1-21 NRSV)
Eusebius further relates the succession of the movement after James' death ('History of the Church', 3.11.1): After the martyrdom of Iakobos, and the capture of Jerusalem which instantly followed [four years later] , there is a firm tradition that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord who were still assembled from all parts together with those who, humanly speaking, were kinsmen of the Lord - for most of them were still living and they all took counsel together concerning whom they should judge worthy to succeed Iakobos and to the unanimous tested approval it was decided that Simeon bar Clopas, mentioned in the Gospel Narrative, was worthy to occupy the throne of the Jerusalem see. He was, so it is said, a cousin of the savior, for Hegesippus relates that Clopas was the brother of Joseph.
Eusebius relates persecution of Jesus' relatives as part of Domitian's general persecution on all descendants of David (HE 3.19.1 - 3.20.7) : Domitian ordered the execution of all who were of the family of David, and there is an old and firm tradition that a group of heretics accused the descendants of Jude, the brother, according to the flesh, of the savior, alleging that they were of the family of David and related to Christ himself. Hegesippus relates this as follows: "Now there still survived of the family of the Lord the grandsons of Jude, who was said to be his brother according to the flesh, and they were informed against as being of the family of David. These, the prosecutor brought before Domitian Caesar. For he was afraid of the coming of Christ as Herod also. He asked them if they were descended from David and they admitted it. Then he asked them how much property they owned or how much money they controlled. They replied that they possessed only nine thousand denarii between them, half belonging to each, and this they said, was not available in cash but was the estimated value of the thirty nine plethora [roughly half an acre] of land on which they paid their taxes and lived by their work." They showed him their hands, putting forward as proof of their toil the hardness of their bodies. ... On hearing this, Domitian did not condemn them, but despised them as simple folk, released them, and decreed an end to the persecution against the church. When they were released they were the leaders of the churches, both because of their testimony and because they were of the family of the Lord and remained alive in peace which lasted until Trajan. This we learn from Hegesippus.
Eusebius, in 'History of the Church' 3.32.1-3.32.6, quotes from Hegesippus regarding the death of the second leader of the Jerusalem Church, Jesus' cousin Simon bar Clopas during Trajan's reign (98 - 117 CE): After Nero and Domitian, we have also been informed, that in the reign of the emperor [Trajan] , whose times we are now recording, there was a partial persecution excited throughout the cities in consequence of a popular insurrection. In this we have understood also that Simeon died as a martyr, who, we have shown, was appointed the second bishop of the Church at Jerusalem. To this the same Hegesippus bears testimony, whose words we have so often quoted. This author, speaking of certain heretics, superadds that Simeon indeed about this time having borne the accusation of Christian, although the was tortured for several days, and astonished both the judge and and his attendants in the highest degree, terminated his life with sufferings like those of our Lord. But it is best to hear the writer himself, who gives the account as follows: "Of these heretics,", says he, "some reported Simeon son of Cleophas as a descendant of David and a Christian; and thus he suffered as a martyr, when he was one hundred twenty years old, in the reign of the emperor Trajan, and the presidency of the consul Atticus." The same author says that as search was made for the Jews that were of the tribe of David his accusers as if they descended from this family were taken in custody. One might reasonably assert that this Simeon was amond the witnesses that bore testimony to what they had both heard and seen of our Lord, if we are to judge by the length of his life, and the fact that the gospels make mention of Mary the daughter of Cleophas, whose son Simeon was as we have already shown. But the same historian says that there were others, the offspring of one of those considered brothers of the Lord, whose name was Judas, and that these lived until the same reign after their profession of Christ, and the testimony under Domitian beforementioned. He writes thus: "There are also those taht take the lead of the whole church as martyrs, even the kindred of our Lord. And since profound peace came to every church they survived until the time of Trajan Caesar, until the time of the son of the Lord's uncle, the before mentioned Simeon bar Clopas, was similarly accused by the sects on the same charge before Atticus the consul. He was tortured for many days and gave witness so that all, even the consul, were astounded that at the age of one hundred and twenty he could endure it, and he was ordered to be crucified.
Eusebius relates the succession of the Jerusalem Christians after Simon bar Clopas' crucifixion (HE 3.35): Simeon also having died in the manner shown above, a certain Jew named Justus [Zaddik, in Hebrew] succeeded him in the episcopate of Jerusalem. As there were great numbers from the circumcision, that came over to the Christian faith at that time, of whom Justus was one.
And again Eusebius (HE 4.5.1-4.5.4): We have not ascertained in any way, that the times of the bishops in Jerusalem have been regularly preserved on record, for tradition says that they all lived but a very short time. So much however, I have learned from writers, that, down to the invasion of the Judeans under Adrian, there were fifteen successions of bishops [episkopos, which means 'overseers'] in that church, all which it is said were Hebrews from the first, and received the knowledge of Christ pure and unadulterated; so that in the estimation of those who were able to judge they were well approved, and worthy of the episcopal office. For at that time the whole church under them, consisted of faithful Hebrews who continued from the time of the apostles [apostolos, which means 'emmisaries'] until the siege that then took place [under emperor Hadrian in 135 CE] . The Judeans then again revolting from the Romans, were subdued and captured, after very severe conflicts. In the meantime, as the bishops from the circumcision faded, it may be necessary now to recount them in order, from the first. The first, then, was Iakobos [James] called the brother of our Lord; after whom, the second was Simeon [bar Clopas] , the third Justus, the fourth Zaccheus, the fifth Tobias, the sixth Benjamin, the seventh John, the eighth Matthew, the ninth Philip, the tenth Seneca, the eleventh Justus, the twelth Levi, the thirteenth Ephres, the fourteenth Joseph, and finally the fifteenth Judas. These are all the bishops of Jerusalem that filled up the time from the apostles until the abovementioned time, all of the circumcision.
Epiphanius of Salamis, in his Panarion, mentions a Judah Kyriakos, great grandson of Jude as last Jewish Bishop of Jerusalem, that lived beyond Bar Kokhba's revolt.
After the defeat by Hadrian of the Bar Kochba rebellion in 125 CE, the split between those of the circumcision and the gentiles was complete. The Jewish church based in Jerusalem ceases to exist (as do all other Jewish institutions, now that Jerusalem is forbidden to Jews and renamed Aelia Capitolina, with a new temple to Jupiter built on the Temple Mount). Gentile communities in Israel begin to grow and develop their gentile churches, led by gentile bishops. Judaism is transformed too. The Essenes, Saduccees, and Zealots are now completely vanished (a process that started with the first Jewish-Roman war defeat of 70 CE) and only Pharisaic Judaism is able to adapt to the new circumstances. Pharisaic Judaism moves its seat of activity to Safed, north of Jerusalem (granted permission by Rome after the efforts of Yohannan ben Zacchai in 70 CE). Jewish Christianity moves its seat of activity outside of Jerusalem too; to Pella a city east of the Jordan river. At this point in time the rift is complete between Jewish Christianity and Judaism. After two defeats it is evident to the Jews that Jesus did not in fact return to instate the Kingdom of God in Israel. Quite the opposite, Israel lies in ruins, non existent as a political or religious institution. Furthermore, the Jesus movement has spread significantly among those very Gentiles that have just partaken in the destruction of Israel. And their brand of Christianity is Pauline, not of the circumcision (i.e. Pauline Christianity being one that denigrates the importance of the Law, and requires faith in Messiah as a pre-requisite for salvation). After 135 CE, mainly Pharisaic Judaism and Gentile Christianity exist in Israel. They are enemies. Gentiles denigrate the law and are the destroyers of Israel. Jews are Christ-killers who refuse to integrate into Rome peace. Jewish Christians fade into a small isolated group, seen as heretical by the other two groups. They call themselves the Ebionim (The Poor). This is very probably a term which they have used from the very time of Jesus. It is now evident that they are neither accepted as 'Jews' by mainstream Jews, nor as 'Christians' by mainstream (gentile) Christians. Thus, the original Jesus movement becomes heretical to all parties involved.
Thru the hostile writings of Gentile Christianity, we can still gain a understanding of the beliefs of the Ebionites and Nazarenes, which apparently continued as a small and banned group at least into the year 324 CE, when Eusebius (bishop of Cesarea, Palestine) writes his History of the Church.
Irenaeus (170 CE) in Against the Heresies, 1.26 : Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavor to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practice circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.
Eusebius (324 CE) in History of the Church 4:27: The spirit of wickedness, being unable to shake some in their love of Christ, yet finding them susceptible to impressions in other respects, brought them over to his purposes. These are properly called Ebionites by the ancients, as those who cherised low and average opinions of Christ. For they considered him a plain and common man, and justified only by his advances in virtue, and that he was born of the Virgin Mary [here it is Eusebius who calls Mary a Virgin, not the Ebionites] by natural generation [i.e. not thru a virginal birth] . With them the observance of the law was altogether necessary, as if they could not be saved only by faith in Christ and a corresponding life. Others, however, besides these, but of the same name [Ebionim] , indeed avoided the absurdity of the opinions maintained by the former, not denying that the Lord was born of the Virgin by the Holy Ghost, and yet in like manner not acknowledging his pre-existence, though he was God, the word and wisdom, they turned aside into the same irreligion, as with the former they showed great zeal to observe the ritual service of the law. These indeed thought on the one hand that all the epistles of the apostles ought to be rejected, calling him [Paul, the author of the majority of the NT epistles] an apostate from the law but on the other only using the gospel according to the Hebrews, they esteem the others as of but little value. They also observe the Sabbath and other discipline of the Jews, just like them, but on the other hand, they also celebrate the Lord's days very much like us, in conmemoration of his resurrection. Whence, in consequence of such a course, they have also received their epithet, the name of Ebionites, exhibiting the poverty of their intellect. For it is thus that the Hebrews call a poor man.
Tertullian, in de Praescriptione Haereticorum 33, in his poem, Carmen adversus Marcionitas, lists circumcision specifically as an Ebionite practice. Origen says it in his Homilia in Genesim 3.5. So does Jerome in Epitulae 116.16 and in his commentary on Galatians (3.5.3), as does Rufinas' Commentarius in Symbolum 39. Epiphanius is not an accurate source on Ebionites, but even he says the Ebionites circumcised (Panarion 30.2.2).
Elsewhere, in addition to Irenaeus, Origen, in Contra Celsum 5.61, Commitarius in Matthaeum 11.12 (Greek); Hippolytus in Refutatio Omnium Haereses 7.34, 10.22; Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica 3.27, 6.17; Jerome in de Situ et Nominibus Locorum Hebraicorum 112, Commentarius in Esiam 1.1.12, and Commentarius in Matthaeum 2.12.2; and Epiphanius Panarion 30.2.2 all say that the Ebionites were Jewish/ observant to Torah.
Epiphanius (published 370), gave this description of the Nazarenes: "But these sectarians... did not call themselves Christians--but "Nazarenes," ... However they are simply complete Jews. They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do... They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion - except for their belief in Messiah, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is one, and that his son is Jesus the Christ. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the... Writings... are read in Hebrew, as they surely are by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law - circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest - they are not in accord with Christians.... they are nothing but Jews.... They have the Good News according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written. (Epiphanius; Panarion 29)
From Epiphanius' description, given in the Fourth Century CE when Nazarenes had already existed for several hundred years, it can be determined that the Nazarenes were very dependent upon the Jewish world and its traditions, and had a relatively "low" Christology in rejecting antinomianism, the Christian Trinity, and possibly the divinity of Jesus.
In the 4th century, Jerome also refers to Nazarenes as those "...who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law." In his Epistle 75, to Augustine, he said: ...your opinion regarding the matter in debate is summed up in this: that since the preaching of the gospel of Christ, the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law, i.e. in offering sacrifices as Paul did, in circumcising their children, as Paul did in the case of Timothy, and keeping the Jewish Sabbath, as all the Jews have been accustomed to do. If this be true, we fall into the heresy of Cerinthus and Ebion, who, though believing in Christ, were anathematized by the fathers for this one error, that they mixed up the ceremonies of the law with the gospel of Christ, and professed their faith in that which was new, without letting go what was old. Why do I speak of the Ebionites, who make pretensions to the name of Christian? In our own day there exists a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees [indeed the Talmud has condemning references to a group called the "Minim", or "heretics"]. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe. But while they desire to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other. I therefore beseech you, who think that you are called upon to heal my slight wound, which is no more, so to speak, than aprick or scratch from a needle, to devote your skill in the healing art to this grievous wound, which has been opened by a spear driven home with the impetus of a javelin. For there is surely no proportion between the culpability of him who exhibits the various opinions held by the church fathers in a commentary on Scripture, and the guilt of him who reintroduces within the Church a most pestilential heresy. If, however, there is for us no alternative but to receive the Jews into the Church, along with the usages prescribed by their law; if, in short, it shall be declared lawful for them to continue in the Churches of Christ what they have been accustomed to practise in the synagogues of Satan, I will tell you my opinion of the matter: they will not become Christians, but they will make us Jews.
Jerome apparently had some confusion as to the differences between Nazarenes and Ebionites (a different Jewish sect), and in that the Nazarenes probably never positioned themselves as using the term "Christian" for themselves (although Jerome likes to think they would). His criticism of the Nazarenes is noticeably more direct and critical than that of Epiphanius. Note also Jerome's lack of understanding on the root of the term Ebionite, for, not knowing that "ebionim" means "poor" in Hebrew, he believes that Ebionites are followers of someone called "Ebion".