14. The Fate of the
The Messianic Milieu
In Acts 5:36, the well-respected Pharisee Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel, advised caution against those who wished to kill Peter and the other Apostles who had preached that Jesus had been sent to Israel by God. Gamaliel did this by recounting two cases of failed messianic movements: "Then he said to them, `Fellow Israelites,' consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him, Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census [by Cyrenius during the reign of Herod's son Archelaus] and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them--in that case you may even be found fighting against God!'" Luke, a Gentile Christian writing in Antioch about 90 CE has the sequence of the revolts by Theudas and Judas reversed. We learn from Josephus that of Judas the Galilean occurred shortly after the death of Herod in 4 BCE, while Theudas' revolt did not occur until about 45 CE during the governorship of Cuspius Fadus (44-46 CE).
In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus gives us more details about Judas of Galilee, whom he identifies as the son of Hezekiah the "brigand chief". Hezekiah had been killed by Herod, as one who claimed to be the promised King, and Judas continued in his father's footsteps. Immediately after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, he had launched a revolt in Sepphoris, where his followers broke into the armory to obtain weapons. Judas installed a man named Sadduc (derived from Zaddik, meaning "Righteous One") as their High Priest to depose the Herodian High Priest. This marked the beginning of the Galilean sect whose members were also known as Zealots. Herod's palace was burned, and the revolt led to 75 years of guerrilla warfare. Judas, himself, was killed early in the revolt, and his sons, Jacob and Simeon, were captured and crucified by the Romans as Zealot leaders around 46-48 CE during the famine of that period.
Josephus recounts that during the Procuratorship of Pontius Pilate there was an anonymous Samaritan who gathered a following whom he led to Mount Gerizim. He promised that he would show his followers "the holy vessels buried at the spot where Moses had put them" (Antiquities 18.85-87) on the mountain. Pilate sent a band of calvary and footmen who intercepted the procession at the village of Tirabatha, killed many of the followers, and took many others prisoners. Pilate placed a sentence of death on the Samaritan, who had escaped.
During the governorship) of Festus (52-60 CE), there were a number of messiah figures. The best known was an anonymous Egyptian Jew "made himself credible as a prophet and rallied about thirty thousand dupes and took them around through the wilderness to the Mount of Olives. From there he intended to force an entry into Jerusalem, overpower the Roman garrison and become ruler of the citizen body, using his fellow-raiders" (Josephus, Jewish War 2.261-262). Roman troops killed most of his followers, although he himself escaped and was not heard from again. Of the others, Josephus' unfriendly account declared, "Deceivers and impostors, under the pretence of divine inspiration fostering revolutionary changes, they persuaded the multitude to act like madmen, and led them out into the desert under the belief that God would there give them tokens of deliverance. Against them Felix, regarding this as but the preliminary insurrection, sent a body of cavalry and heavy-armed infantry, and put a large number to the sword' (Jewish War 2.258-260).
In 62 CE, another messiah, Jesus the son of Ananias, was arrested. He was lucky in that the Romans decided that he was only mad and released him. In 66 CE, there was another outbreak of messianic revolt. According to Josephus, "What more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle, likewise found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world. This they understood to mean someone of their own race, and many of their wise men went astray in their interpretation of it" (Jewish War 6:312-313). One of the claimants to the Davidic throne at this time was Menahem, the grandson of Judas the Galilean. He and his followers entered Herod the Great's arsenal on Masada, armed themselves, and returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming him king (Jewish War 2.433-434). He was killed by followers of Eleazar, the son of the High Priest Ananias, when he entered the Temple "adorned with royal clothing" (Jewish War 2.444). Another, Simon bar Giora, gathered a following of 40,000 by promising freedom to slaves and rewards for others. They fortified the town of Nain, took the city of Hebron, and entered Jerusalem, where they expelled John of Gischala--another messianic leader--and set bar Giora up as their king. He surrendered at the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE and was executed in Rome.
According to Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 4.2.1-5,. during Trajan's rule (115-117 CE), one Lukuas, who was also called Andreas, proclaimed himself king and led the Jews to rebel against Roman rule once again. His followers destroyed pagan temples and killed their enemies brutally. According to Dio Cassius, "In all two hundred and twenty thousand persons perished" (Roman History 68.32.1-3). In the backlash against this revolt, the Jews of Alexandria were almost entirely annihilated.
The final great and best-known messianic uprising among the Jews was led by Simon bar Kosiba in 132-135 CE in reaction against Hadrians building of a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, on Mount Moriah. Claiming that he was the prophesied "Star" in Numbers 24:17-19 ("I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near--a star [Hebrew kochba] shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the Shethites. Edom will become a possession, Seir a possession of its enemies, while Israel does valiantly. One out of Jacob shall rule, and destroy the survivors of Ir."), he became thereafter known as Simon bar-Kochba and led the Jews in a rebellion against their Roman overlords (Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 93b). It is said that in his support Rabbi Akiba said "Kosiba goes forth from Jacob" and declared that he was the awaited King and Messiah. The bar Kochba revolt gained wide support and a war with Rome ensued. *****
Yashua bar Joseph
The Gospels report that Yashua was born in Bethlehem, the firstborn son of Miriam (Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7), wife of Joseph bar Joseph. Yashua's family belonged to the artisan class and was not well to do. His father was an tekton, a Greek word usually translated as "carpenter", but which generically identifies any of a number of occupations practiced by artisans who worked with hard substances such as stone, wood, or ivory: carpenters, masons, furniture makers, and shipwrights. The work of the tekton was not likely to have been easy labor, but the kind that required physical strength. Yashua learned this trade from his father, although as an adult he abandoned this trade for the life of an itinerant teacher. Lenski has pointed out that artisans typically arise from among dispossessed peasant farmers, and this is likely to have been the case in Galilee, where the rising demands of city elites were causing increased economic hardships for members of rural Galilean communities such as Nazareth, where Joseph and his family resided. This assessment accords well with the fact that, following his birth in Bethlehem, the sacrifice of purification that his mother offered in the Temple in nearby Jerusalem was "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:24), the less expensive sacrifice that was given by poor women. Given his families low socioeconomic standing, it is unsurprising that the low status of this occupation was mentioned by those who saw him as unremarkable, an unlikely prophet, when they said of him, "Is not this the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:55a).
Prior to the existence of effective birth control, families in most societies typically had many children, and Yashua, though the firstborn, was apparently not without siblings. Matthew lists a number of brothers and refers also to sisters, reporting that those of his hometown expressed their offense at hearing him teach about the coming judgements of the messianic "Son of Man" by asking, "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? Where did this man get all this?" (Matthew 13:55a-56). This lack of respect among those who had known him in his childhood prompted him to comment, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house" (Mark 6.4; also reported in Matthew 13.57, Luke 4.24, and John 4.44). This statement may have been true regarding his own family, since John 7:5 reports that ". . . neither did his brethren believe in him." Some other references suggest that Yashua's relationship with his family was not a close one. At the wedding at Cana, he responded bluntly to his mother's expression of concern about the wine having given out, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?..." (John 2:4b). And when his mother was praised as a sign of respect to him, he suggests that her praise was misplaced: "...a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, `Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the breasts that nursed you!' But he said, `Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" (Luke 11:27-28). His family was certainly not fully supportive of his teaching activities. On one occasion, when the crowd rejected him, saying "He has gone out of his mind" (Mark 3:22b), his family "went out to restrain him" (Mark 3:22a). And he, in return, seems to have prioritized his relationship with his followers over that with his family, since three of the Gospels report an occasion on which his he seems to have rebuffed his family's attempt to speak with him when he was teaching: "While while he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak with him. Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you. But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied `Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' And pointing to his disciples, he said, `Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12.46-50; see also Mark 3.31-35 and Luke 8.19-21).
Yashua's home was Nazareth, a village that was near two important cities in Galilee, Tiberius and Sephoris. The walled city of Sepphoris was about an hour's walk from Nazareth. It has been the subject of archaeological investigation, and Jonathan Reed (1994) estimates that it had a population of about 24,000 during the first half of the first century. Tiberias was about the same size and only about 20 miles from Sepphoris. In pre-industrial societies, cities typically drained wealth from the agricultural peasant villages that surrounded it. In Galilee this process of impoverishment is likely to have been aggravated by the fact that it was dominated by two competing cities. The draining of wealth from the peasant countryside to the cities that dominated them perpetuated class differences that were stratified by wealth. According to Gerald Lenski (1966) the governing class of agrarian states represented only 1 or 2 percent of their populations but "received at least a quarter of of the national income" (p. 228) while the ruler himself might receive anywhere from a quarter to five-twelfths of the national income. The retainer class that made this possible normally consisted of the bureaucrats and the military. It made up another 5 percent of the population. The merchant and priestly classes also controlled considerable wealth. This left the peasant class, which represented from two-thirds to four-fifths of the population, living "at, or close to, subsistence level" (p. 275). While the rise of cities allowed some rural peasants to benefit by moving up into the ranks of the merchant class, others were pushed downwards as they became unable to survive by farming while paying as much as half to two-thirds of their produce in taxation. These downwardly mobile peasants became artisans and what Lenski calls the "Unclean and Degraded Class". The latter included such persons as porters, minors, and prostitutes whose labor, being unskilled, commanded the lowest incomes. Artisans were slightly better off, but still lived on incomes lower than that of the heavily taxed peasant farmers.
Yashua was reared in an setting in which peasants, artisans, and
the landless underclass are very likely to have resented the conditions imposed
on them by the elites of Sepphoris and Tiberias. Crossan (1995) points
out that rural peasants are normally oppressed by the economic demands placed
on them by the city of their region, and that the economic drain from rural
Galilee was likely to have been especially high due to the unusual circumstance
of the area's being dominated by two major cities within twenty-five
miles of each other. It was in this environment that he adopted first the
occupation of his father and then apparently abandoned it for the status of an
itinerant teacher. It was a milieu that bred the numerous messianic
revolts that occurred repeatedly during his lifetime and for a century
afterwards. The conditions of his youth also go a long way to explaining
why his teachings were rejected by the priestly class of Jerusalem but were
meaningful to the members of the underclass such as the "tax collectors and
sinners" (Q Gospel 7:34) with whom his enemies accused him of consorting and
whom he himself said were more receptive of his message:
"Jesus said to them `Truly I tell you, the tax collectors
and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For
John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but
the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you
did not change your minds and believe him'" (Matthew 21:31b-32).
There are also close parallels between the Jesus movement and the Qumran community. Acts 9:2 refers to them as "Followers of the Way", that is of the Law of Moses, a phrase which was also Qumran usage for the Qumran community. Other Qumran community terms for themselves included Norei ha-Brit' (which means Keepers of the Covenant. The first word is derived from N'tzrim, meaning Nasarene, the earliest term by which the followers of Jesus designated themselves. Although his view remains a minority one, this and other similarities between the Qumran community and the followers of Jesus. J.L.Teicher (1951), who is the first and one of the few who argues that the Teacher of Righteousness is Jesus, identified the Qumran community as being one of the early branches of Judaism that accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Eisenman (1996) argues that the Qumran community was, in fact, part of the Jesus movement within Judaism. Whether Eisenman is correct or not, it is acknowledged by other Dead Sea scroll scholars that pre-Pauline "Christianity" and the Qumran community shared a great deal in their conception of Judaism and in their religious symbolism.
It was in times in which a Messiah who would save Israel from oppression and found an enduring kingdom in which the religion of the Jews could be practiced in its purity that Christianity arose. Yet the Gospels were all written after the death of Yashua, so their portrayal of Yashua-as-Messiah necessarily did so in a way that reconciled his Messianic title with the fact of his death. Had it been simply asserted that Yashua was the awaited Messiah who would deliver the Jews from Roman rule, that claim would have foundered on the fact of his death. So it is understandable that Yashua is portrayed in the Gospels as a spiritual Savior rather than a political one. He is said to have said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (****). Yet a few hints of the militancy with which the Jewish concept of the Messiah was usually informed do seem to have survived the redacting of the Gospels. They suggest that Yeshua's original appeal was in his support of revolt against the oppression of the Jewish peasantry by the Roman's and their appointed Jewish rulers. For instance, Matthew has Yeshua telling his disciples, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:34-38). Such words might well come from the mouth of a revolutionary of the twentieth century as from the first and fit well within the Jewish Warrior-Messiah tradition of that time.
Matthew's genealogy of Jesus makes the explicit claim that Jesus
was the Messiah both in its preface (Matthew 1:1) and, again, at its end
(Matthew 1:16). The first makes his intention in giving the genealogy
explicit as a validation of Jesus' messianic authority: "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of
David, the son of Abraham". In it, Joseph, Jesus putative father
is portrayed as both a descendant of King David and of his descendants, the
Kings of Israel and Judah down through Jechoniah. Two of the Gospels cite
Zechariah 9:9 as a prophesy fulfilled by Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on
Palm Sunday: "Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the
foal of a donkey". And, of course, the Gospels explicitly
report that Yashua was crucified as one who claimed to have been the "King of
N.L. Kuehl (1997) argues that Yashua actually underwent the Jewish form of execution. It also involved having the condemned carry the yoke to the place of execution. It differed from the Roman form in several ways. First, it was proceeded by stoning. In most cases, the condemned person did not survive the stoning and was already dead when the wrists would be nailed to the yoke. Then the yoke that was then either nailed or tied to a tree. The feet were not supported as in Roman crucifixion and the wrists were nailed more closely together above the head rather than outstretched, so those who occasionally survived the stoning would have died soon after hanging--more quickly than in the Roman form--from suffocation. Although hanging from a tree was normally done after stoning, according to the Commentary on Nahum in the Dead Sea scroll collection, Alexander Jannaeus (who died in 78 BC) hung men alive in this way. Josephus also recounts this:
"Now as Alexander fled to the mountains, six thousand of the Jews hereupon came together [from Demetrius] to him out of pity at the change of his fortune; upon which Demetrius was afraid, and retired out of the country; after which the Jews fought against Alexander, and being beaten were slain in great numbers in the several battles which they had, and when he had shut up the most powerful of them in the city Bethome, he besieged them therein; and when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified, and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes" [Josephus, Antiquities 13.14.2].
Kuehl points out that references to Jesus crucifixion (in Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29, Galatians 3:13, and 1 Peter 2:24) use the Greek word xulon, which refers to moist wood or a living tree rather than the dried wood used for erecting a cross. The Jewish form of crucifixion (as prescribed in Deuteronomy) involved hanging the condemned on a living tree. The passage in Galatians 3:13 refers to the fact that anyone hanged upon a tree is considered "cursed of God". The Scripture from which this is taken is found in Deuteronomy 21:23 where "for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse".
He also points out that when ". . . all the
people, answering said, "HIS BLOOD BE UPON US AND UPON OUR CHILDREN!"
[Matthew 27:25], this ritual use of the Hebrew phrase, "Demehem bam",
conformed to requirements of Jewish law for persons condemned to death by
stoning. The Jewish Encyclopedia this way: "With reference to all
other capital offenses, the law ordains that the perpetrator shall die a
violent death, occasionally adding the expression, his (their) blood shall be
upon him (them). This expression, as we shall see presently, post-Biblical
legislation applies to death by stoning. . .the law says (Leviticus 20;27),
`They shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them". . . .Here
the expression "Demehem bam" is plainly used in connection with death by
stoning: hence it is argued that, wherever the same expression occurs in the
Pentateuch in connection with the death penalty it means death by
stoning, and consequently the punishment of the crimes mentioned in
Leviticus 20:9, 11, 12, 13, 16, is the same: death by stoning" [Mek.,
Mishpatim, 17; Sifra, Kedoshim, 9; Sanhedrin 53b, 66a; Capital Punishment, The
Kuehl makes the point even more forcefully by examining Psalm 22:18, which is cited in John 20:24 as a prophesy fulfilled at the crucifixion. Verses sixteen through eighteen read:
"For dogs are
all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled [KJV, They have pierced my hands and feet]
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
They divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots" [Psalm 22:16-18].
The New Revised Standard Version editers note that the meaning of the Hebrew word they have rendered is "uncertain". According to Kuehl, the word "shriveled/pierced" is interesting because the translation is incorrect. The Hebrew word is aryeh. It is derived from the root arah, "lion". It means "to tear away skin" (eg., as a lion might maul and tear the flesh of a carcass, exposing the bones). This is not the kind of wound caused by nailing. (The appropriate word for that would have been daqar, "to pierce". But it is the kind of wound that stoning can inflict.
Another prophesy cited as support for Yashuas' crucifixion is Isaiah 53:5.
was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
"Wounded" here is Hebrew chalal, "wounded, bruised,
stoned". "Crushed" [KJV, "Bruised"] is daka, "bruised,
wounded by crushing, emasculated". The word translated as "bruises" [KJV, "stripes"] is the Hebrew word chaburah, which means "a weal", a bruise, a black and blue mark", the kind of mark made by stoning.
Kuehl also makes interesting use of statements by the apostle Paul to support the stoning hypothesis. Paul was stoned at Antioch [Acts 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:25]. He was so severely wounded that he was left for dead. Although he recovered, he apparently bore the scars of this treatment for the rest of his life. In Galatians he wrote, "Howbeit ye know that BY REASON OF A WEAKNESS OF THE FLESH I myself announced the glad-message unto you formerly; AND YOUR TRIAL IN MY FLESH YE DESPISED NOT, NEITHER SPAT YE IN DISGUST...For I bear you witness -- that if possible YOUR EYES YE WOULD HAVE DUG OUT AND GIVEN UNTO ME [Galatians 4:13-15]. Since the head is a major target in stoning, damage to the eyes was not uncommon.
When Paul wrote, For I, the BRANDMARKS
[SCARS] OF JESUS in my body am bearing [Galatians 6:17],
his statement would have been literally true had Jesus been stoned. The word "brandmarks" here is the Greek word stigma (from the root stizo), meaning "to make incised or punched marks that have resulted in scars".
Since Roman crucifixion did not involve stoning, these statements by Paul suggest that it was the Jewish form that was imposed on Yashua. Since this form also results in a quicker death than did the Roman form, a Jewish execution would also explain why Pilate, who had assumed the execution would be by the Roman method, was surprised at how quickly Jesus had died. Pilate "wondered whether already he was dead," and even "calling near the centurion, questioned him -- whether he had already died" [Mark 15:43-44].
Kuehl gives two other arguments in support for the claim that
Yashua underwent stoning and hanging rather than simple crucifixion. In
Revelation 5:6 Jesus is called the "Lamb as it had been
slain". The Greek word translated "slain" in this verse is
sphazo. It means "to butcher, slaughter, maim, mangle, or wound".
Again, the meaning is very apt for the
effects of stoning. Finally, the disfiguring effects of stoning would explain why Jesus was not initially recognized by his disciples on various occasions when he appeared to them after his resurrection.
Originally, the followers of Jesus were not called "Christians". This name was first coined among Paul's converts in Antioch. In Jerusalem, those who followed Jesus were called Nasarenes and Ebionites. As mentioned in Acts 24:5, the earliest followers of Jesus in Jerusalem were known as the Nasarenes (Hebrew n'tzrim, meaning "set apart". The word comes from the root for "righteousness" and implies set apart from sinful things.) Though they were followers of Jesus, the Nasarenes were Jews, and their religious beliefs did not depart as radically from the traditional teachings of Judaism as did the Christianity of the gentile converts of Paul in other countries. The Nasarenes held Jesus to be the promised Messiah of Israel, and they viewed him as calling them to return to the pure Law of Moses and to become "set apart" from the polluting things of the Gentile world. Thus, the Nasarenes remained true to the Law. They did not see themselves as followers of a new religion, one that superceded Judaism, but as zealous adherents to Judaism. The Nasarene community in Jerusalem was led by James, the brother of Jesus who was also called James the Just (Ya'akov HaTsadik) who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. James designation as a Tsakik, or "Righteous One", is a Hebrew title that is reserved for those who were zealous followers of the Law of Moses, a title that emphasizes the pro-Law theology of the early Nasarenes.
Jesus and his followers can be numbered among these anti-Herodian parties that sought a return to a Judaism that was uncorrupted by the Hellenic world. This can be seen in Jesus's first political act--purifying the Temple of the profane uses that the Sadducees permitted within its precincts. His overturning of the tables of the money changers and offering salesmen was a direct affront to the Sadducess and their High Priest, and is generally seen as the act for which his death was plotted. *****
In the first century there were of thousands of Jewish followers of "Yashua" before the rise of Gentile "Christianity" (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 6:7; 9:31; 21:20). These "pre-Christian" followers of the Jesus movement within Judaism were, like other Jews, zealous for the Torah (Acts 15:19-21; 21:17-27) and met in synagogues (James 1:1, 2:2). The question raised by Paul and debated among the Nasarenes was whether their messiah, Y'shua, had come for the Gentiles as well (Acts 10; Acts 15) and, if so, whether Gentile converts had to become Jews with respect to following the Law in order to be followers of Y'shua.
Two of the controversies between Paul and the Apostles in Jerusalem was whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised (i.e., become Jews and live the Law of Moses) to join those who followed Jesus and whether the Jewish members should abstain (as required by the Law of Moses) from eating with Gentiles. Paul, the upstart who had not been sent out to preach by the community of believers in Jerusalem, said no, while others, like Peter (until the Table Cloth revelation) said yes. This shows us that while the church was in its infancy, members (including the leadership) still viewed themselves as a Jewish religion and the customs of Judaism--including the Law of Moses as taught in the Torah--had not been rejected by those Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. In other words, the Nasarenes followed Jewish customs and observed the Law of Moses, including the traditional Sabbath, which they observed from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.
Eisenman's View of the Notzrim
According to Patristic writers such as Eusebius, after Jesus was crucified James appointed the first Bishop of the Jerusalem assembly which consisted of the Jewish followers of Jesus. Several New Testament books speak of "James, Cephas, and John" as the leading authorities of the church rather than "Peter, James, and John", and it is James, not Peter, who sends letters of authorizations to confirm the legitimacy of various missionaries, including Apostles. This leadership structure of a body of three presiding officials and a separate group of Twelve Apostles is similar to the leadership structure of the Qumran community as described in the "Community Rule" (formerly "Manual of Discipline") document which says that the Qumran community was governed by a council of Twelve Israelites and a separate body of Three Priests.
The earliest Patristic authors such as Hegesippus (as quoted by Eusebius and ***) refer to James (not the brother of John, but James the Less) as "the brother of Jesus in the flesh" before the rise of the doctrine of the "perpetual virginity of Mary". Similarly, at least Eusebius refers to Judas Thomas by the same phrase. As Christianity was hellenized during the early centuries of the Common Era, the later Patristic writers tried to eliminate the evidence of these relationships by introducing the various pseudonyms or substituting a Greek equivalent for the Hebrew names of Jesus brothers.
According to Eisenman, Paul, who was originally named Saul, was the Saulus referred to in Josephus. This Saulus was the brother of Costobarus, the son of Cypros (wife of Antipater II, whose sister Bernice (1) is the grandmother of the Bernice (2) who, along with Agrippa, interviews Paul in Rome--as reported in Acts). This makes Paul the grandson of Costobarus (the Idumaean) who married Salome the sister of Herod the Great and explains Paul's reference to himself as having kinsmen among the Herodians and, of course, Paul's efforts to root out and kill the Christians in Jerusalem before his conversion. Saulus had a brother Costobarus (2) and sister Cypros (3). Their mother Cypros (2) was married to Antipater (2) (the son of Costobarus (1), the Idumaean, who married Salome (1), the sister of Herod the Great (which Salome had also been married to Joseph, the uncle of Herod (a brother of Antipater (1) whose wife was also named Cypros). Bernice was married to Aristobulus (4) the son of Herod the Great and his wife Mariamme (1) who was executed by his father, when Herod was trying to kill off all those who might lay claim to the Maccabaean High Priest's office. Mariamme was the Maccabean princess and sister of the High Priest Jonathan whom Herod had drowned just after he was installed as HP (and she too was killed by Herod--kicked to death, I think--who had accused her of infidelity with his uncle Joseph, the husband of Salome (1)). Bernice (2) was reputed to be the wealthiest woman in Palestine. Paul dignifies her by referring to her as a "Jew" in Acts although she had, in fact, already renounced Judaism as her religion by that time.
Paul's Herodian background, a connection that Paul himself makes in his writings, explains the protection he gets from the Romans when he's assailed by Jews who are out to get him, and his various references to other Herodians, like Bernice, who seem somewhat sympathetic towards him. Paul's acquaintance and friend Epaphroditas, might well be the person of the same name who was a secretary to Nero (and who helped Nero commit suicide). He's greeted in one of Paul's letters (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:10-18) along with "Caesar's household". Epaphroditus served the next two Caesars but was put to death by the second one (Domitian) around AD 95 for his role in Nero's "suicide" (there was some suspicion that he may not merely have "helped" Nero fall on his sword, but may have actually killed him) and perhaps for being a secret Christian as well. He was, by the way, the reputed publisher of Josephus's works, and Josephus disappears from history about the same time.
Eisenman also believes Paul to have been the "Liar" referred to in several of the Qumran scrolls, the enemy of the "Teacher of Righteousness" (who is, of course, according to Eisenman, none else but James the brother of Jesus). This equating of the early following of Jesus with the Qumran community is unorthodox, but if one accepts this claim, it does really cast some of the writings of Paul and their stark contrasts with the Epistle of James into an intriguing light. Paul clearly did find himself at odds with James and the "Jerusalem Assembly" as reported in Acts over issues such as whether Gentile converts had to conform to the Law (eg., whether they had to be circumcised to be "Christians" and over the issue of whether it is polluting to eat with Gentiles, even converted ones). Paul's enmity with Peter, whom he calls a hypocrite for the fact that he customarily ate with Greek Christians _until_ other Brethren showed up from Jerusalem. Paul repeatedly asserts that he is a true apostle even though he lacks the supporting paperwork from James and is not "an Apostle of men" and that he should be seen as having the same rights as do the other Apostles and he denies repeatedly that he is an Enemy of a "liar", while James (who Eisenman portrays as an upholder of the Law) condemns as an "Enemy" those (like Paul) who make themselves "friends of the world". Eisenman plays on all this as being a manifestation of the Qumran Teacher of Righteousness versus the "Enemy" or "Liar". Whether they were synonymous or not, the parallels between the Qumran writings and early Christian views intriguing. Throwing out his claim that they were the same people, the scrolls still give us a lot of interesting information about the social and religious context within which Christianity arose.
The Gospels of the N'tzrim
According to John Painter (1997, pp. 183-184), there is evidence of the onetime existence of three different Gospels that were followed by those who recognized James as the head of the Jerusalem church. The first, a Synoptic Gospel known as the Gospel of the Nasarenes, is attested in Origen's commentary on Matthew, and in the writings of Eusebius and Jerome. It was a written in Aramaic as a translation of parts of Matthew with additions to that material. The second Gospel of the Hebrew followers of Jesus was the Gospel of the Ebionites. It too was based on Matthew, but it was written in Greek and omitted the infancy narrative. It portrayed Jesus as a man who was elevated to divinity when the Holy Spirit descended upon him at his baptism. Also written in Greek, the third, called the Gospel of the Hebrews, is believed to have been written in the first half of the second century because it was, according to Eusebius, referred to by Hegbesippus. It had Gnostic characteristics and is believed to have been written in Egypt. It taught that Jesus was the Holy Spirit, a doctrine also taught in the Apocryphon of James. Jerome also made reference to this third Hebrew Gospel.
The Fall of Jerusalem
As the number of Gentile converts grew, they eventually eclipsed the number of Jewish converts, Paul's view that Christians did not need to follow Jewish practices prevailed. Now comes an interesting twist. The Jerusalem church was largely scattered after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Luke had written "And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains..." (Luke 21:20-21a). The Nasarenes did precisely this. The fourth century church historian Epiphanius writes: "When the city was about to be conquered by the Romans all the disciples were warned by an angel to remove from the city which was shortly to be destroyed. They became refugees and settled in Pella, a town in Transjordan belonging to the Decapolis" which lies about fifty miles north of Khirbit Qumran. The Damascus Document of the Qumran sect provides a possible link between them and the Nasarenes who fled Jerusalem, since its authors describe themselves as "those who escaped to the north" and formed a "New Covenant in the Land of Damascus" which includes the territory from the city of Damascus about 85 miles north of Pella and Pella itself. The possible identity of the Qumran sect as a branch of the Nasarenes is intriguing but elusive. Both fled to land in Coele-Syria, the Syrian frontier lands north of Jerusalem. Both spoke of a New Covenant. Though it cannot be said with certainty, and though it is a minority view, the possibility should not be dismissed.
Abandoning Jerusalem when it was threatened is likely to have caused those who remained behind to defend their city to see the Nasarenes as traitors or cowards. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Judaism underwent an important transformation that adapted it to life within the Empire as the Pharisees evolved into the Rabbinic Judaism centered on the synagogue rather than the Temple. The Talmud explains that in 90 CE, "Our Rabbis taught: Simeon ha-Pakuli arranged the eighteen benedictions in order before Rabban Gamaliel in Jabneh. Said Rabban Gamaliel to the Sages: `Can any one among you frame a benediction relating to the Minim [sects]?' Samuel the Lesser arose and composed it." (b.Berakot 29a). What Samuel the Lesser composed was a prayer that effectively excluded the Nasarenes from worship within the synagogues. This is clearest in an early copy of his Birkat haMinim found at the Cairo Genizah reads: "For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Nasarenes and the Minim perish as in a
moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed are you, O L-rd, who humbles the arrogant." The Nasarenes continued to be stigmatized by other Jews into the fourth century, when Epiphanius reported about 370 CE that, "Not only do Jewish people have a hatred of them; they even stand up at dawn, at midday, and toward evening, three times a day when they recite their prayers in the synagogues, and curse and anathemize them. Three times a day they say, "G-d curse the Nasarenes." For they harbor an extra grudge against them, if you please, because despite their Jewishness, they proclaim that Y'shua is Messiah. . ." (Panarion, 29).
The Nasarenes "gathered" especially to Syria, where it endured for some time with its own distinctive style that differed from that of Gentile Christianity elsewhere. Remember that in those days, the church was not unified the way we expect it to be in these days of mass communication and rapid travel around the globe. Rather each community of believers was isolated, a religious assembly of its own. So with the death of the Apostles something interesting happened: the Christian communities in the dominant centers of Roman culture were the ones that played the dominant roles in eventually forming the Church that was unified under the encouragement of Constantine that the Church be united. The Nasarenes, still predominantly located in the backwaters of Syria, with their more "Jewish" style came to be labelled "heritics" by the Catholic church. They eventually became extinct, but we can read about them in the writings of some of the Apostolic Fathers. In the fourth century, the Church Father Jerome described these Nasarenes as those "...who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law" (Jerome; On. Is. 8:14). In the same century, Epiphanius describes them in more detail this way:But these sectarians... did not call themselves Christians--but "Nasarenes," . . . 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 Y'shua the Messiah. 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 Messiah; 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 Goodnews 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. (Panarion 29)The Damascus Document of the Qumran sect provides further details about this exodus from Jerusalem by the Nasarenes. It speaks of "... the converts of Israel, who left the land of Judah and lived in the Land of Damascus all of whom God called princes" (DD-VI) and of a faction that "... despised the covenant [of God] and the pact which they established in the land of Damascus, which is the first covenant. And neither for them nor their families shall there be a part in the house of the law.... And from the day of the gathering in [killing] of the Unique Teacher, until the destruction of all the men of war who turned back with the man of lies, there shall be about 40 years.... And in this age the wrath of God will be kindled against Israel" (DD-XX). In other words, some time about 70 CE, a faction developed within the Nasarenes whose loyalties impelled them to return to Jerusalem to defend it against the Roman attack.
Rejection of the Nasarenes by their fellow Jews was exacerbated by the revolt of the Jews against Rome in 135 CE. This revolt was led by Simon Ben Cosiba, who changed his name to Simon Bar Kochba ("Son of the
Star') and declared himself the promised Messiah who would lead the Jews to independence from Roman domination. His status as the Messiah was supported by Rabbi Akiba, whose great prestige led to general support for the cause of the revolt. Nasarenes, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, were unwilling to participate, so once again they were seen as traitors to their own Judaism. On the other hand, their loyalty to their own Jewish roots continued to set themselves off from nonPalestinian Christianity, where they were viewed as heretics for not abandoning the Law of Moses. As Jews, the growing anti-Semitism of second century Christianity also attached to them. This marginal position with respect to Christianity continued to exist down to the time of the Council of Nicea, in which Christianity formalized its doctrine of the Trinity. As heretics, the Nasarenes were not allowed to participate in that council, so they remained uninfluential in affecting the course of future Christianity. By 450 CE they disappear from history.
It was at the time of the flight from Jerusalem that a new branch of the Nasarenes emerged who called themselves the Ebionites The Ebionites (from Hebrew ebionim meant "the poor" or "the meek") contrasted themselves by their appelation with the establishment denominations of the day, and probably resonated with Jesus reference to "the poor in spirit" in the Sermon on the mount too. The were described by later church historians, who regarded their views as heretical, as having been strict adherants of the Law of Moses who practiced vegetarianism and who regarded Jesus as a man chosen by God to be the Messiah of Israel. They affirmed that he was born of a virgin but denied that he was God, although they believed that he was elevated in some measure to divine stature when the Holy Ghost came upon him at his baptism by John. The Ebionites settled in Trans-Jordan, where they remained isolated from Gentile Christianity. It was known to still exist after the Bar Kochba revolt was put down in 135 CE, but eventually disappeared from history, like the Nasarenes after 450 CE.
According to Iraeneus, in Against Heresy (ca. 180-199 CE), the Ebionites were strict adherants of the Law of Moses:"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 the Gospel of the Ebionites,, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise 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" (Against Herersies, Book I, Chapter 26, Paragraph 2)Iraeneus' description must be amended in one particular. Having no firsthand knowledge of the Ebionites, he confused what Epiphanius called the Gospel of the Ebionites with the canonical Gospel of Matthew. Although the two were related, they were not identical. For instance, the Ebionite version lacked Matthew's assertion that Mary's pregnancy was a miraculous event. As Iraeneus further explains that the Ebionites rejected the claim that Jesus was born of Mary and considered him to have been the natural son of Joseph. This, of course, branded them heretics by the standards of nonPalestinian Christianity.
James The Just
Another important figure to the ancient Nasarenes was that of James the Just (Ya'akov HaTzadik). James who was called "the Just" is referred to in the writings attributed to Paul, Mark, and John as one of the brothers of Jesus. In the canonical sources James is always referred to by the word "brother" and never as a "cousin" of Jesus, as Jerome and later tradition portrayed him. There is hardly any mention of James the Just prior to the death of Jesus. Some have concluded that he may not have been among those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah who would free the Jews from Roman domination. For instance, John 7:3-5 and Mark 3:21,31-35 have been taken as evidence that James and Jesus other brothers were not believers in the beginning.
The Palestinian historian Hegesippus (ca 90-180 CE) is quoted by the fourth century Church Father Eusebius as describing James the Just this way:
After Jesus' death James became the leader of the Nasarene movement (Acts12:17; 15:13-29; 21:18-26 & Gal. 1:19; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:23). According to I Corinthians 15:7, James was one of those to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection.
- "But James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of his name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of our Lord until now, received the government of the assembly with the emissaries. This emissary was holy from his mother's womb; he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat meat; nor razor touched his head, nor did he anoint himself with oil, and never used a bath [i.e., he did not go to the public warm baths, since we know from other sources that he bathed daily in cold water]. He alone was allowed to enter into the Place of Holiness [the Holy of Holies of the Temple], for he did not wear wool, but linen [the clothing of a High Priest], and he used to enter the Temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, interceding for the forgiveness of the people, so that his knees became as callused as a camel's, because of the constant importuning he did and kneeling before God and asking forgiveness for the people. . . . And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just [Hebrew tzadik, Righteous One], and Oblias [i.e., "The Wall", meaning "steadfast or just] or Ozleam [i.e., "Protector"] which signifies justice and protection of the people; as the prophets declare concerning him" (Hegesippus in the fifth book of his lost commentaries, quoted by Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 2:23; 5:6). [ *** recheck wording,***]
In I Corinthians 15:7, it is recorded that Jesus appeared to his brother James after the resurrection. The Gospel according to the Hebrews also provides more detailed information about this event:"Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the Lord's cup until he should see him rise again from among them that sleep), and again after a little, "Bring you," said the Lord, a table and bread", and immediately it is added", "He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him: "My brother, eat your bread, for the son of Man is risen from among them that sleep" (from the Gospel of the Hebrews, as quoted by Jerome in Of Illustrius Men 2).According to the Gospel of Thomas, after the death of Jesus, leadership of his followers fell to his brother, James:
The students said to Y'shua: "We know you will leave us. Who is going to be our leader then?"
Y'shua said to them: "No matter where you reside, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake
heaven and earth came into being." (The Gospel of Thomas, saying 12)
The leadership role referred to here is explained as that of the first Bishop of the Jerusalem church by Eusebius and other second century writers. The Gospel According to the Hebrews, in a story that may also be referred to in 1 Cor. 15:17, also affirms James the Just as the leader of the Nasarenes after the crucifixion:
James the Just was very popular with the Jewish community in general. Under his influence the Nasarene movement grew until his death in 63 C.E, as Hegesippus goes on to say:
- "Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the Lord's cup until he should see him rise again from among them that sleep), and again after a little, "Bring you," said the Lord, a table and bread", and immediately it is added", "He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him: "My brother, eat your bread, for the son of Man is risen from among them that sleep" (Quoted by Jerome; Of Illustrious Men 2).
- Some of the seven sects, therefore, of the people, mentioned by me above in my commentaries, asked him what was the door to Y'shua? and he answered: "That he was the Saviour." From which, some believed that Y'shua is the Messiah. But the aforementioned heresies did not believe either a resurrection, or that he was coming to give to every one according to his works; as many however, as did believe, did so on account of James. As there were many therefore of the rulers that believed, there arose a tumult among the Jews, Scribes and Pharisees, saying that there was danger, that the people would now expect Y'shua as the Messiah. They came therefore together, and said to James: "We entreat you, restrain the people, who are led astray after Y'shua, as if he were the Messiah. We entreat you to persuade all that are coming to the feast of the Passover rightly concerning Y'shua; for we all have confidence in you. For we and all the people hear the testimony that you are just, and you respect not persons. Persuade therefore the people not to be led astray by Y'shua, for we and all the people have great confidence in you. Stand therefore upon a wing of the Temple, that you may be conspicuous on high, and your words may be easily heard by all the people; for all the tribes have come together on account of the Passover, with some of the Gentiles also. The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees, therefore, placed James upon a wing of the Temple, and cried out to him: "Oh you just man, whom we ought all to believe, since the people are led astray after Y'shua that was crucified, declare to us what is the door to Y'shua that was crucified." And he answered with a loud voice, "Why do you ask me respecting Y'shua the Son of Man? He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of Great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven." (Ps. 110:1 & Dan. 7:13). And as many were confirmed, and glorified in this testimony of James, and said, Hosanna to the son of David, these same priests and Pharisees said to one another: "We have done badly in affording such testimony to Y'shua, but let us go up and cast him down, that they may dread to believe in him." And they cried out: "Oh, oh, the Just himself is deceived," and they fulfilled that which is written in Isaiah: Let us take away the just, because he is offensive to us; whkrefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings [Is. 3:10]."Going up therefore, they cast down the just man, saying to one another: "Let us stone James the Just." And they began to stone him, as he did not die immediately when cast down; but turning round, he knelt down saying, "I entreat you, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Thus they were stoning him, when one of the priests of the sons of Recheb, a son of the Rechabites, spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out saying: "Cease, what are you doing? Justus is praying for you." And one of them, a fuller, beat out the brains of Justus with the club that he used to beat out clothes. Thus he suffered martyrdom, and they buried him on the spot where his tombstone is still remaining, by the Temple. He became a faithful witness, both to the Jews and the Greeks, that Y'shua is the Messiah. Immediately after this, Vespian invaded and took Judea. (Hegesippus as quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:23)Josephus also records the death of James the Just this way:Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he [the High Priest Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Y'shua, who was called Messiah, whose name was James, and some others, [or some of his companions;] and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done. (Josephus, Antiquities 20:9:1)According to Eusebius, his version of Josephus's works contained the following in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E.:
"These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was brother of him that is called the Messiah, and whom the Jews had slain, not withstanding his pre-eminent justice." (Josephus quoted by Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 2:23)
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Copyright © 1999, Richley H. Crapo.
The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel
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