The Earliest Witnesses

Jesus is reported in the Greek gospels to have lived and died in Galilee and Palestine (possibly with a sojourn to Egypt). Jesus is reported to have died in Jerusalem, the religious and ceremonial center of Palestine. So it would make sense to find out what the first strain of Christianity was in Palestine, see what they believed, and compare it to current orthodoxy. It would be even more important if these beliefs differed in substantial ways from current orthodoxy, and even more important if they differed on points of contention that are central to current orthodoxy. Finally, it would be very important to determine how long this form of belief persisted in Jerusalem, and what eventually caused it to die out.

Now, it seems obvious to me that legends flourish on distance, translation and lack of contradiction from credible sources. So it would be a critical piece of the puzzle if we saw the story we have of Jesus becoming progressively more legendary as it spreads away from Jerusalem and as it is spread to people who are outside of the Aramaic/Hebrew-reading Semitic populations of the Levant.

Luckily, we have such a group. They are variously called the Ebionites or the Nazarenes. We know them largely through the lens of writers of an orthodox viewpoint who argued against their beliefs. However, their beliefs do in fact differ significantly from the proto-orthodox schools. It's instructive to see what the proto-orthodox report about these Christians of Palestine. So let's see what they have to say:

And the (Ebionaeans allege) that they themselves also, when in like manner they fulfil (the law), are able to become Christs; for they assert that our Lord Himself was a man in a like sense with all (the rest of the human family).

—Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 7.22

The ancients quite properly called these men Ebionites, because they held poor and mean opinions concerning Christ. For they considered him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary.

—Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Chp. 27

As to these translators it should be stated that Symmachus was an Ebionite. But the heresy of the Ebionites, as it is called, asserts that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary, considering him a mere man

—Nicene Fathers, The Translator Symmachus, Chp. 17

For since they wish Jesus to be in reality a man, as I have said before, Christ came in him having descended in the form of a dove and was joined to him (as already we have found among other heresies also), and became the Christ from God above, but Jesus was born from the seed of man and woman.

They say that the Christ is the True Prophet and that the Christ is son of God by spiritual progress and a union which came to him by a lifting up from above; but they say that the prophets are prophets through their own intelligence and not from truth. Him alone they wish to be both prophet and man, and son of God and Christ, and mere man, as we have mentioned before, but because of excellence of life he came to be called the Son of God.

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.14.4-5 and 18.5-9

Vain also are the Ebionites, who do not receive by faith into their soul the union of God and man, but who remain in the old leaven of [the natural] birth, and who do not choose to understand that the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, and the power of the Most High did overshadow her: wherefore also what was generated is a holy thing, and the Son of the Most High God the Father of all, who effected the incarnation of this being, and showed forth a new [kind of] generation; that as by the former generation we inherited death, so by this new generation we might inherit life. Therefore do these men reject the commixture of the heavenly wine, and wish it to be water of the world only, not receiving God so as to have union with Him, but they remain in that Adam who had been conquered and was expelled from Paradise: not considering that as, at the beginning of our formation in Adam, that breath of life which proceeded from God, having been united to what had been fashioned, animated the man, and manifested him as a being endowed with reason; so also, in [the times of] the end, the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, having become united with the ancient substance of Adam's formation, rendered man living and perfect, receptive of the perfect Father, in order that as in the natural [Adam] we all were dead, so in the spiritual we may all be made alive. For never at any time did Adam escape the harms of God, to whom the Father speaking, said, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." And for this reason in the last times (fine), not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man, but by the good pleasure of the Father, His hands formed a living man, in order that Adam might be created [again] after the image and likeness of God.

—Ireneaus, Against Heresies 5.1.3

What shines clearly through this is that the doctrine of the trinity could not possibly have been the understanding of the Christians who supposedly lived the closest in time and space to the actual time of the legendary Jesus.

So the Christians who state that it's impossible to imagine people dying for their faith on the basis of a legend are failing to understand that the legend didn't exist for the Christians in Palestine. Specifically the Ebionites are said to have rejected the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, and his resurrection in a physical body, in addition to their acceptance of the Jewish laws as binding. They persisted in this belief for a very long time. Some authors have suggested that it was their ideas that Mohammed used in the Quran.

If early witnesses (eyewitnesses) are the most reliable, isn't the anomaly of the beliefs of the Ebionites one of the starkest problems with theories like Bauckham's?

There are more plausible explanations than that the early Jerusalem church was full of eyewitnesses. One possibility is that there are no eyewitnesses and the Greek gospels are fictions. This makes perfect sense of the situation and suggests that the Ebionites would naturally center in Palestine as they would have views consistent in the main with the other inhabitants of that region.

Another is that there was a man Jesus who was in no way regarded as a supernatural being by the people alive with him and may or may not have done any of the things reported in the Greek gospels but that he was remarkable in some way and legends began to adhere to his life story soon after he was gone. It's nearly impossible to be certain which of the above explanations is correct, but both have similar theological implications.

This map (which I got from Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth), shows the distribution of those heresies. This describes the situation as it existed prior to the conversion of the emperor, Constantine. The map makes great sense if you think that the Greek gospels are fictions since it allows for legendary development within geographical areas. Some stories that are at variance with what eventually became the dominant form of Christianity were clearly the mainstream view in large areas of the Christian world, and they were not uniform. This was the status quo prior to the empire burning all heretical books and plenty of heretics.

Thus we have the following facts:

1. The earliest Palestinian Christians did not believe in the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, or his bodily resurrection.

2. They persisted in this belief for a very long time (even possibly until they Muslim conquest, when they may have converted to Islam).

3. The orthodox beliefs we consider central to Christianity today could not have been the beliefs that early Christian martyrs had (if there were early Christian martyrs), unless we postulate that God allowed heretics to dominate the Christian church in the most sacred place to it from the very beginning of the religion.


zilch said...

Fascinating post, evan. I'd heard of the Ebionite "heresy" before, but never in this context. Of course, we will never know exactly what happened back then, but this adds evidence to the theory that a flesh-and-blood Jesus gradually morphed into a God at greater removes of time and space.

Jon said...

Evan, I don't see from you post that the Ebionites denied a physical resurrection. Where are you getting that?

dazzo said...

Any thoughts on how Paul got his notion of Jesus/Christ?

Lee Randolph said...

HI Evan,
nice post. you gave me something to look into.

Lvka said...

The fact that the Ebionites were very close (geographically and historically) to the time and place that Jesus had lived is true ... But why did You have to repeat throughout Your entire post the untruth of them being the ONLY Christian Jews or Palestinians when You probably know already that this ain't so? :-\

Evan said...


Here is a source on the Ebionites and resurrection. While it is true that there is less evidence on this particular point than there is for the other doctrines, it certainly seems that their belief that he was a man like other men would suggest that even had he been resurrected there was no trinity in their minds.

Dazzo, I don't have any thoughts about Paul. I haven't researched him very much, but I can tell you from researching the Ebionites that they despised him and thought that he was a false prophet.

Lvka, I don't say they were the only ones. But they appear to have been a large plurality of Palestinian Christians if not an outright majority (I think it's beyond us to say that at this point).

Zilch and Lee, thanks for your kind words.

Doubting Foo said...

Great food for thought. I've often wondered how things jumped from Jerusalem over to Greece and Rome.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~ You make what is called the composite fallacy with your article.

The first composite mistake is that Ebonites and Nazarines were not an amalgamated group. The two groups you mentioned are not one in the same, and did not share common beliefs. Whatever messages that were carried by the Ebionites were not Christian messages and certianly had no basis in scripture that was distributed and shared at that time.

The Nazarines were fist half of first Century and taught and affirmed the virgin birth and deity of Jesus whereas
the Ebionites were a last half first Century movement of Jews that denied the deity of Jesus and his deity and but believed in Jesus as a contemporary prophet of God.

Quite naturally the Ebionites were not in a position to claim any eyewitness to Jesus whereas the Nazarines were. No matter the encouragements or issues of polemics, the Nazarines affirmed beliefs, stated by all the Apostles, as essential Christian doctrine.

In short Ebionites could not possibly be considered an early "eyewitness" in testimony regarding Jesus. That is unsupported by any evidence.

In every case on the contrary those who received from an "eyewitness" or were and "eyewitness" carried a consistent message regarding the REAL not mythic Jesus. The literary evidence of materials recovered from each region cofirm those facts.


Evan said...

Harvey, your sources don't back up your contention that the Nazarenes predate the Ebionites.

Do you have other sources that do?

Evan said...

In addition, are you now claiming that people in the last half of the first century could not have been eyewitnesses? Because if you are that's great.

I'd be satisfied if you just admitted that.

Lvka said...

Evan & Doubting Foo,

the [very Semitical] Churches of Jerusalem and Syria exist until this very day, and neither one of them are Ebionitic. (Nor were they ever, for that matter). And neither are the Ethiopians, which still practice circumcision and avoid eating pork (since many of them were already Jews before becoming Christian: such as was the case with the Ethiopian eunuch that Philip baptised). Not to mention that Christianity spread first to the [numerically very signifficant] Jewish Diaspora living in the Gentile world, and only afterwards to the Gentiles themselves. Etc.

The view exactly oposite to that of the Ebionites, namely the Docetists (who were also Gnostics and confessed Christ to be ONLY divine and NOT at all human, thus possessing only an apparent body, since they deemed matter to be entirely corrupt and rejected the notion of Incarnation, let alone of a *true* Crucifixion) were also early enough, being mentioned already even in John's Epistles (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7) and in the writings of such Apostolic and Subapostolic Fathers that lived at the turn of the first century [Ignatius] and beginning of the second [Iraeneus].

And since You mentioned the Qur'an, I guess You also knew that their disbelief in Jesus' true death (they think that Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene was crucified in His place) comes from such Docetist roots as well. -- not that You've bothered to mention this though ... :-\


the astonishing way in which You failed to mention St. James the Brother of God and his martyrdom by the hands of the Jews for confessing Christ as the Son of God, Lord, Saviour and Messiah is really very amazing ... which martyrdom is described by Hegesipus, -a Jew by birth- : seemingly neither one of these two great men qualify as Jewish enough on Your value-scale.

Nor do You mention the fact that Christ's divinity is clear from other Gospels than that of St. John: when Matthew (the Jewish Gospel par excellence) has Christ saying the words "But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the Temple" (Matthew 12:6) and mentioning the virgin and divine birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25); the same with Luke 1:26-38. (Well, ... this plus the rather all-too-obvious fact that Christ is called Lord all over the New Testament Scriptures, which word was used in such industrial quantities only for God alone, usually standing for the Hebrew Adonai or even the Tetragrammaton).

Nor do You mention the fact that "The Earliest Witnesses" were neither the Ebionites (which appeared only after 70 AD), nor the Judaizers which preceded them (and who had no problem with Jesus' divinity), but Paul's Epistles, written with the power invested in him by the Jerusalem Synod, [presided over by the same James Brother of God spoken off above], and which show no reluctance in describing Jesus as God: Romans 9:5.

Evan said...

Lvka, nice try with Romans 9:5 but it's not at all clear that your reading of that text is accurate.

More likely the original said:

Christ, who is over all. God be forever praised!


Christ. God who is over all be forever praised!

You get some points there. The rest of your points are all over the map standard historicist stuff -- none of which is in any way compelling. Do you accept that the Ebionites were a dominant strain of Christianity in Palestine in the 1st century CE or not?

If they were, they strongly call into question any idea that eyewitnesses recalled a bodily resurrection and stories of a virgin birth. If they were not, then we can discount all histories of the early church fathers since they were clearly making stuff up.

Pick which one you want.

James's story here is irrelevant, since you have no way of knowing what James the just believed. The book of James is unlikely to have been written by James the just but assuming that it is, it says nothing of the trinity, Jesus' divinity or virgin birth. It's just a useless source.

Additionally, I apologize that a blog post didn't include an entire history of heresies of the first century CE, something that would fill a scholarly volume. But thanks for pointing out more of the diversity of belief among early Christians and how nobody believed orthodoxy anywhere but Rome until the Romans started killing people who believed otherwise. It does help my point.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan ~ "Harvey, your sources don't back up your contention that the Nazarenes predate the Ebionites."

So you won't have to actually read the article maybe this will help,

"According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Ebionite movement may have arisen about the time of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (AD 70)." Britannica
"The Nazarene sect first mentioned in the Book of Acts chapter 24 verse 5, (Ναζωραίων from Hebrew נזרים) were an early Jewish Christian sect similar to the Ebionites, in that they maintained their adherence to the Torah, but unlike the Ebionites, they accepted the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus." ~ Jewish Encyclopedia

If they, (Nazarenes) were mentioned in Acts 24, we know that as stated by scholars, this dates the Nazarene sect prior to AD 50 or prior to the second half of the first Cenrury.

Again, this means that Ebionites were a product of the second half of the 1st Century, were not Christian and were preceeded by some 30 years by the Nazarenes who affirmed the deity of Jesus.

Evan ~ "In addition, are you now claiming that people in the last half of the first century could not have been eyewitnesses? Because if you are that's great.

[That's a fabricated "knee-jerk" type of question and not a very good one I might add.

As stated, the Ebionites so far as a group were not Christian. They could have has some people who did see The real, PHYSICAL Jesus and were alive. If so those people choose to teach differently.

What we know is that Christian eyewitnesses, were alive all the way until late 1st Century. We also know that these people taught a physical life and death, and physical resurrection, of a real and actual Jesus, not a Legend or Myth.

Ebionites never claimed to be eyewitness only teachers of the Law or Torah.

"In the second century, groups arose in the church that championed the first two categories. On the one hand, the Ebionites taught that Jesus was only a man who became the Christ by His perfect observance of the Law of Moses. On the other hand, the Docetics taught that Jesus was truly God in the flesh, but not really a human being; He only “seemed” to be a man. Both positions were opposed by the early church because neither was in agreement with the New Testament. The Ebionite heresy contradicted passages like John 1:1-14 and John 20:28, which emphasize the deity of Jesus. The Docetics’ position contradicted passages like Hebrews 4:15 and 1 John 1:1-3, which emphasize the humanity of Jesus." Courtesy Apologetics Press

So I fail to understand what point you think you make. The Ebionites clearly were not representing ideas and doctrines taught by and accepted by the early Christian church.

Read LvKA's post regarding this issue and where he points out your gross oversights in presenting both evidence and information. I don't think it can't be stated any more clearly.


District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~ "But thanks for pointing out more of the diversity of belief among early Christians and how nobody believed orthodoxy anywhere but Rome until the Romans started killing people who believed otherwise."

[Also, I've refuted your regurgitated Reimarus and FC Bauer argument both HERE

HERE and
HERE Atheist Debate

History Of religions School did a job on you guys for real!


District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan said...


Given that Acts is widely agreed by most critical scholars to be a 2nd century document I don't see your argument holding any water.

Given that you accept that people alive during the destruction of the 2nd temple could still have been eyewitnesses, the persistence of Christians *in Palestine* who did not accept the divinity of Christ who were (if Jesus really existed) eyewitnesses of his life should seriously call into question the "empty tomb" apologetics of Dr. Craig and others like him.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~ "Given that Acts is widely agreed by most critical scholars to be a 2nd century document I don't see your argument holding any water.

[I would agree that uninformed critical scholars would agree with the lateness of Acts and the entire New Testament. That's due to a host of presuppositional biases and denial of proofs and literary evidences contained within the narratives themsleves.

There were some places, events and details that were ONLY indicitive of the first half of the first fact so many described in the Luke-Acts (One Book Narrative) that could not have been described with the detail in second century...much of that evidence led sckptic and critical archaeologist Sir William Ramsay to convert to Christianity stating the following:

Concerning Luke’s ability as a historian Dr. Ramsay pointed out, “Luke is a historian of the first rank, not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians” ~ “The Bearing Of Recent Discovery On The Trustworthiness Of The New Testament” Sir WM. Ramsay, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1915. P 222.

Dr. Ramsay also pointed out in a later work that “Luke’s history is unsurpassed” and that the "NT (Luke-Acts)reflect conditions that are unique to the second half of the first century AD and do not reflect conditions of any later date." “St. Paul The Traveller and Roman Citizen” Sir WM Ramsay, Baker 1962 P 81.

So the quality of scholarship is what makes the case...some of these eggheads that call themselves critical scholars aren't worth their salt.

The atheist conveniently writes it all off as conspiracy theory saying that it was all redacted in Nicea anyway...WHAT A JOKE!

Even if we did give you your suggested timeline, you raise more questions than any critical scholar has now. That's the paradox and dilemma you have by willy-nilly tampering with the text and known timelines. Your theories create unreconcilable problems. That's TOOOOOO Funny!

In short arguments such as this are based on questionable scholarship and no evidence...a lot like evolution, just a philosophical bias passed off as facts.

Later Harry.

Lvka said...


Your (rather intentional) one-sidedness is simply bewildering!

The fact that You mention ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the diametrically opposed Docetist doctrine -which appeared around the SAME time-, NOR about the Jerusalem Church and its leader James the Just, the Brother of the Lord, NOR about Hegesipus' testimony (Jewish, second century) is NOT exactly helping Your case.

Did You honestly think that no-one knows? Or that no-one will ever find out anything about them? Or that we will let You get away with murder? :-\ (Seriously, now!).

As with Anania and Saphira, You could've been straight-forward from the very beginning and simply say something like: "in the first century Palestinian Judaism we have a proto-Orthodox branch presided over by St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, as well a number diverging or dissenting movements such as Judaizers [which did not negate Christ's divinity] and -later- Ebionites [who very much did so]. I personally think that the fairly early and close-to-Jerusalem presence of the later bears a significant amount of weight and importance to discredit the rather simplistic apologetic take on the clear-cut early and universal acceptance of Christ's divinity"; and yet You chose NOT to. :-< You chose to meticulously phrase Your entire post in a very ... shall we say rather `convenient` manner. :-\

And -to my humble knowledge- the poor little Ebionites have nothing to do with a denial of the Resurrection. Nor did they (or Paul and Matthew, OF ALL PEOPLE!) believe in a "spiritual" resurrection (whether ours, or Christ's). The only Jewish view of the resurrection was -and it still is- a bodily one, and belonged to the Pharisees (with whom Jesus had far more in common than with the opposite Sadducean sect--not to mention St. Paul, who was a Pharisee himself AND a disciple of Gamaliel--whose views on the physical resurrection are also known from both the NT as well as from the Talmud).

Since the view of the Law of the Ebionites is Pharisaical [as was also that of the Judaizers which preceded them: Acts 15:5], and since they're all Jews, it's clear that they professed a Jewish-style bodily or physical resurrection. (Sorry, but You can't have Your cake AND eat it too ... )

Nor were the "Recognitions" in any way "Gnostic" for merely repeating the well-known words of Jesus from the commonly-believed canonical Gospel of St. Matthew. :-\

Neither the Fathers say ANYTHING about such a thing (and they would've had, -obviously!-, if it were truly so); NOR is Your source on Ebionites and the resurrection logical (it denies what is common knowledge about the Pharisees, to whom Gamaliel and Paul belonged).

And You don't need to be dis-embodied in order to not farther live as "man and wife": that's what Adam and Eve were doing well before the Expulsion; that's what Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, Paul, and Elijah the Tishbite did. That's what both Jesus and Paul advise us to do, if we are able to (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:7).

The only ones to [logically] deny the Resurrection were the ones that didn't even believe in His death on the Cross in the first place. (Apart from those, I truly don't recall any early sect to deny the resurrection, save for those that outrightly denied the Incarnation as a whole, and thus believed Jesus to have been ONLY divine -- which is pretty much the exact opposite of anything that You're trying to communicate here in this post). -- Well,...whatever!

Lvka said...

Oh, and here's something You likewise "forgot" to mention:

The Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews they observed just like them, but at the same time, like us, they celebrated the Lord’s days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Chp. 27

Evan said...

Lvka, first, I didn't say the Ebionites denied the resurrection. I said they denied a bodily resurrection. So I don't see how that helps your case.

Second, what evidence do you have for the existence of a belief in the divinity of Jesus, the trinity, or even the bodily resurrection of Jesus in James the just? Do you just believe personally that he was proto-orthodox or do you have evidence for this?

As to your continued harping on my not discussing docetism, I am also not discussing gnosticism or Marcionism or many other heresies, since they don't have anything to do with the specific point I am making.

That point is this ... if it were universally agreed upon by Christians (note that these people considered themselves to be followers of Jesus) in Palestine that he was a divine being born of a virgin and was resurrected physically it would at least be somewhat consistent with the arguments made by Dr. Craig and Bauckham that there was somehow this vast body of eyewitness testimony that the Greek gospels are based on.

However, the existence of even a large plurality of Ebionites who denied the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus and his bodily resurrection puts that claim to rest.

The fact is that there was dispute about the nature of Christ from the very beginning and this is exactly what we would expect if it were a legend (either complete fiction or loosely based on some historical figure).

You can say what you think they thought all the way, but you don't seem to have much backup except that they believed in a resurrection ... which I accept, I just think they, like Paul, believed in only a spirit resurrected (cf. 1 Cor 15: I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.).

I have backup for my position. Do you?

As for you Harvey, I just ask you to look at all the scholarship of the 20th and 21st centuries and tell me if the consensus opinion of non-apologetic scholars is that Acts is a 1st or 2nd century document.

This author is one of the crazy atheists at Methodist University who got is PhD from Union Theological Seminary.

Obviously you would discount his scholarship.

Lvka said...


again, for the n-th time:

there's no mention whatsoever anywhere about them denying the resurrection (whether Christ's, or ours) in any way which might have triggered the Orthodox to deem it heretical [and as You can see, the Orthodox weren't/aren't exactly `shy` in pointing out errors of faith or belief where they spoted some]. All the sources are mute about any such a bizarre thing. :-\

As for Your interpretation of the Pauline text, I thougth it both saFer and saNer not to put ideas in his head which by default of his Pharisaical belonging he did not possess: even the Judaizers, which accused him of many things, did not mention a different take on the resurrection on his side, which might've differed from their own.

Were Jesus to have confessed to a spiritual revival in the Matthean Gospel, a further continuance of the debate would've taken palce then and there with the Pharisees [who would've been displeased with his spiritual view versus their physical view]; but such was not the case.

Both Matthew and Paul are the most insanely-chosen "targets" by You (or anyone else) to even imagine that they could offer any support for a concept so foreign to the Jewish view of the resurrection, a view which is never disputed: neither between Jesus & Pharisees, nor between Paul and the Judaizers.

Evan said...

Lvka, I'm not interpreting the Pauline text, I'm quoting it directly in the only way it's ever translated. There's no interpretation at all. Paul says flesh and blood can't enter the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the body isn't resurrected as a physical body. There's really no reasonable alternate reading of Paul in 1 Cor. I notice you keep referring to what people MUST HAVE believed but don't quote what they actually believed. Doesn't that sort of prove my point?

Again, what are your sources for what James the just MUST HAVE believed? I have read the book of James and see zero evidence for any idea of a trinity, a divine Jesus, a virgin birth or a physical resurrection. It's certainly not as if however I am conceding that the book we know of as James was written by James the just. Is there anything in that book that bolsters any of those doctrines? Let me know if you find something.

Additionally where did I ever say that the book of Matthew describes the beliefs of the Ebionites? It most definitely does *NOT* describe them. The author of the book of Matthew included a virgin birth. This is clearly legendary. Do you have any evidence that the book of Matthew was read in Palestine by the Ebionites?

Lvka said...

Your source mentioned a famous Matthean passage as infering a spiritual resurrection.

The reason I chose to be so distant and general (saying just some very basic stuff) in my response to You (and Your source) concerning Paul and Matthew is because You're a former Protestant and are accustomed to think that Scripture interprets itself (which would've been a very good thing, were it to be actually true; or at least to work). So I instinctively shy off, by default as it were, from engaging into all that rather useless text-proofing, and frankly pointless back-and-forth verse-tossing with You. I think I'll just have to pass on this one, sorry.

And the martyrdom of James isn't written in the Letter of James; it's in Hegesippus' work [a Christian Orthodox Jew from the 2nd century -- hardly a Nazarene schismatic or Ebionitic heretic], cited by Eusebius in his Church History. In any case, the Church of Jerusalem didn't vanish off the face of the world but it continued there until the present day, all the way through the destruction and rebuilding of that city. All of its first several bishops -including James- were from among those of the Circumcision. And neither one of them is reputed to have shared different views than those of the communities which succeeded them and over which they kept over-sight in their own life-time. Were that to be the case, we would've known, just like we know about other bishops of other regions who didn't keep the faith [several Popes come here to mind]. (Think of how Judas was replaced by Mattias; or how Tradition remembers the names of those from among the Seventy Disciples that didn't keep the faith but strayed away from the truth; and it also keeps the names of the ones by which these were replaced; or how it is said that among the false witnesses against Jesus at his trial was the blind (or paralitic) man that He healed [I don't recall now exactly which one was it]). We remember both good and bad and we would've known something this important about such an important figure. :-\

Nor is the Jerusalem Church the only "Semitic" Church: what about Syria & Assyria (where the Talmud came into existence), or Ethiopia (who keep Jewish customs even until this very day)? Or Egypt, where the Septuagint version was translated from the Hebrew into the Greek some three centuries before the coming of Christ (and where the great Philo lived)? What about the Jewish Diaspora, to which Christianity innitialy spread (before ever coming into contact with the Gentiles)?

Evan said...

The folks over at Triablogue have posted a lengthy response to my post. The triablogger who got this assignment was some dude named Genembridges, (I'll call him Gene). He quotes my points and agrees with them mostly.

Then he makes a huge digression that asserts that somehow the Acts of the Apostles is accurate history. In my opinion and in the opinion of large numbers of believing Christians, Acts is a second century document. To say what Paul/Saul did or did not do on the basis of Acts is as likely to be accurate as saying what Jesus did or did not do on the basis of Luke alone.

I refer Gene to a book by Joseph B. Tyson, "Marcion and Luke-Acts" where the date of Luke-Acts is given as 120-125 CE.

He then quotes from Epiphanius to state that at one point all Christians were called Nazarenes. This seems perfect for my theory. If there was no real Jesus, then the way to retroject the Greek gospels onto Palestine would be to take the Pauline Jesus Christ and turn him into the quasi-historical Jesus of history.

But then you're left with a problem. What about all those Christians who called themselves Nazarenes before. What do you do about them?

Perfect solution. Name your quasi-historical Jesus "Jesus of NAZARETH". Thus you explain the odd name that used to describe all Christians but now is only applied to Jewish Christians.

He then makes a "from this we know" statement:

From this we know (a) that "Nazarenes" in the first century referred to all Palestinian Christians, and (b) later on there was a separation between those known as Nazarenes and those known as Ebionites, which confirms what I've been writing above.

Yes, imagine a historian of the 20th century writing in 4002. He would say:

"From this we know that (a) 'Republicans' in the 20th century referred to all conservatives who believed in low taxes and (b) later on there was a separation between Republicans and "GOPers" which confirms two distinct brands of right wing politics in the US, which confirms my previous opinions."

We simply have no evidence for his assertions and Gene isn't giving us any. I suppose it's possible that things are the way he describes. But the burden is on him to show that the Ebionites are deviating from the Nazarenes on the specific doctrines in dispute here. Those specific doctrines are: 1. The virgin birth 2. The trinity 3. The bodily resurrection.

Then he quotes some additional Epiphanius material. But nothing in this material suggests that Nazarenes believed in the virgin birth, trinity or bodily resurrection, so there again is no help for Gene there.

He then gets into the dating of sources and says:

Big problem...the earliest source that Evan is quoting wrote ca. 175 AD, so it's fallacious to draw inferences about what those to whom the name is attributed a century or more beforehand.

INDEED. I completely agree. If Genembridges has some earlier documents showing what the 1st century Christians believed about the above 3 doctrines I'd be thrilled to see it. If there was a first century Christian document in Hebrew or Aramaic that was datable to circa 34 CE stating that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary after she was inseminated by the Holy Spirit and that he had divine powers throughout his life, was crucified and then resurrected bodily 3 days later -- I'd love to see it. He doesn't produce anything like that and again, without this data we have to go on the best evidence we have about the Ebionites, which is from their enemies in Rome.

Rome -- where Jesus never went -- argued against the beliefs of Christians (these were followers of Christ) in Palestine -- where Jesus lived -- and tried to show how the Romans knew the history of Palestine better than the Ebionites who lived there.

He then makes a long quotation for Justin Martyr and finds in this quote a distinction that I can't find a source for in the original quote when he says:

Justin distinguished two sorts of Jewish Christians, those who observed the Mosaic Law but did not require its' observance of all others, and those who maintained that this observance was necessary for salvation. Justin would fellowship with the former, but not with the latter. Justin is drawing a distinction between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites in his day. So, we can know from this that, the Ebionites/Nazarenes of the first sort had now split off from each other by this time into what we can distinguish as Nazarenes (orthodox) and Ebionites (unorthodox). One group represented the original Palestinian group (Nazarenes) and the other the Judaizers (Ebionites) that arose ca. 50 AD. Justin is writing ca. 150 ad.

The problem is that there's nothing in the Justin quote to support this at all. Justin doesn't use the words Nazarene or Ebionite in this quote and there's no way to tell who exactly he is talking about.

Beyond that, Gene is retrojecting his ideas of orthodoxy (virgin birth, trinity, bodily resurrection) onto the Nazarenes, even though nowhere in the quote does Justin even discuss these issues. I see no support for the idea that either the Nazarenes or Ebionites held to these doctrines in the material he quotes from Justin.

He then talks about adoptionism as an alternative to the trinity which I agree it is, but it's certainly unorthodox and leaves you with a fully human Jesus (although I agree with an adoptionist reading of the scene in Gethsemane as well as one of the cry "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?!" on the cross). He adduces no evidence to show that the "Nazarenes" were adoptionist or trinitarian or docetic or any of the other branches of Christianity that were dominant in the near east prior to being put to the sword by the heirs of Constantine's Roman Empire.

His final conclusions are as follows:

1. The earliest Palestinian Christians were Nazarenes/Ebionites of the first type, not Ebionites holding beliefs like those reported in the Subapostolic period.

Asserted with no evidence whatsoever. I dismiss it with the same evidence.

2. Those of the second type did persist in this for a very long time, but they were a small sect.

Again, zero evidence adduced for this. In addition, is Gene suggesting that minority views are always incorrect? I would be interested if that were his position. The preservation of strongly-held minority views may very well be the result of good evidence in support of that view.

Since we have virtually no evidence that orthodoxy was common in Palestine prior to the Christianization of the empire and we have some evidence that it persisted long after the Christianization, it is more likely that it was the dominant form prior to the Empire and survived on the basis of an alternate sub rosa power structure that maintained itself until the conquest by Islam.

3. Ergo, the final conclusion is flawed...all because Evan doesn't actually do proper research. Why bother, right?

Gene's a nice guy and mostly he has an easygoing manner, but it wouldn't be a Triablogue post without a little ad hominem, this is probably something the bigwigs at Triablogue demand of all posts, so I think he is just checking off a box here.

As to my research, I believe I've given evidence for most of my assertions. I looked and looked for Gene's but couldn't find once where he showed the 1st century Palestinian Christians believed in:

1. The virgin birth.
2. The trinity.
3. The bodily resurrection of Christ.

4. And as matter of fact, we can see that the Judaizers of the First Century are the very ones who turn into Ebionites of the second order later on. That's what the conflict that the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts was meant to address. Paul wrote more than one letter about this. John did as well. So the existence of Ebionitish heretics is evidence for, not against, the reliability of the text of the NT, Evan, and therefore for, not against, orthodox beliefs about Christ antedating the origin of this group.

Again, asserted without a shred of evidence of any orthodox beliefs by 1st century Palestinian Christians.

Anyway, I have to appreciate the generally cordial tone of Gene and his minimal use of ad hominem in addition to his willingness to actually quote his sources so I can see that they don't back up his position.

Gene reminds me of a lot of my Christian friends and I'm hoping he keeps doing his research, since he'll figure this all out at some point.

Evan said...


Does Hegesippus state unequivocally the beliefs of James the just? Or are you retrojecting Nicene creed ideas on him just like the triabloggers?

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


I understand the argument you make here and forgive me for sticking my head in where it seems like there's and ongoing debate between you and others but I would like to address a couple of issues if even lightly.

So far as dating of Luke-Acts is concerned, the NT is already abundantly confirmed with an overwhealming amount of manuscript evidence, early and reliable in it's transmission. You know that I make these claims and feel there is a wealth of information in support.

I also claim that the Luke-Acts narrative that you question is one of the most historically laudable and convincing pieces in history. The foundation of that claim is well known among credible biblical scholars and those skeptic, liberal and conservative who have examined the evidence for such.

You choose to claim redaction in 2nd to 4th century for Luke-Acts claiming complete revision or at least partial revision at that time. Is that right?

In fact, if I understand your argument correctly, you don't believe that the narrative (Luke-Acts) was CREATED until mid to late 2nd Century right?

That leaves you with limited options and a whole host of flawed, and quite frankly, pathetic consequences if this is true.

In claiming a redacted Luke-Acts legend, history must throw out a host of historical events and information. It also appears that you must throw out any refrence to Marcion's alteration of Luke which was circulating among the church, that would also predate 130AD. There is much more...

But one of the more significant problems is that you would also have to write off ALL archaeology, much of which was ONLY indicitive to first half, first century AD, which Luke describes in detail confirming the writing of the narrative as pre 50 AD.

In other words, it's like this...if this was a redaction as you claim all oral testimony and written information regarding the details of that time survived for decades and possibly centuries with COMPLETE accuracy.

If that is the case, that the conditions or incidental details of oral tradition survived for centuries with that degree of pinpoint accuracy, this becomes a great testimony to the fidelity and accuracy of the narrative from the beginning. Legends don't get insignificant details right.

ie: If the details or what would be considered insignificant items were preserved in tact, there was evidently a higher standard for the preservation of information during the early centuries and decades than previously thought.

If what you claim is true, every argument that the critic has argued against oral transmission and accuracy of secondary documents throughout history is bogus. Are you willing to concede that in this blog?

Once again, I will restate, if the details survived with complete accuracy, then at the very least there was a book or an oral historicity preserving those details until the narrative was redacted and a divine Jesus was added.

I've already offered former skeptic Sir William Ramsay as a witness to the accuracy of Luke-Acts, but let me add another so that you'll understand this is a serious observation about your claim:

Archaeologist Dr. Clifford Wilson offered the following:

"Luke had an accurate knowledge about various local events such as the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:29); he was aware that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped together at Lystra, though this was unknown to modern historians (Acts 14:11,12). He knew that Diana or Artimis was especially the godess of the Ephesians(Acts 19:28);and was able to describe the trade at Ephesus in religious images (Acts 19:26,27)..."Dr. Clifford Wilson,"The New Light On The New Testament Letters, New Light On The Gospels, Rocks, Relics, And Biblical Reliability

Once again, are you conceding that

1- Detailed and accurate information contained within the Luke-Acts gospel survived in either oral form, which according to the scholars describe conditions EXCLUSIVE to the first half of First Century AD, or written form?

2- Complete details, ATYPICAL to legend narratives, can survive not only over the course of time, but also the pen of the redactors?

Remember, most of the archaeologists and scholars I am aware of that have presented their conclusions in favor of the dating, setting and information contained within Luke-Acts were not Christian when they began research into this, so to claim a supernatural bias would be totally disingenuous to the argument.

Now, based on past posts and even this one where you are trying to explain your position, I have come to know you as the master of weird and unplausible explainations.

I await seeing your explaination of these things...have at it, please.


Evan said...

Harvey thanks for your response. It's always a pleasure to discuss these issues with you and I appreciate your tone.

You spend a lot of time pointing out how absurd it would be for Acts to have been a 2nd century document. I can understand that you believe strongly against this, but I am unconvinced by your evidence. Let me go through the actual assertions you put forward:

"Luke had an accurate knowledge about various local events such as the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:29);

If "Luke" had a copy of Josephus in front of him, this would not be difficult for him to know about.

Let's read Acts about this first:

At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a server famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Then let's read Josephus:

Antiquities 20.2.5 49-53
Her arrival was very advantageous to the people of Jerusalem; for a famine oppressed them at that time, and many people died for want of money to procure food. Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of grain, and others of them to Cyprus to bring back a cargo of dried figs. They quickly returned with the provisions, which she immediately distributed to those that need. She has thus left a most excellent memorial by the beneficence which she bestowed upon our nation. And when her son Izates was informed of this famine, he sent great sums of money to the principal men in Jerusalem.

Antiquities 20.5.2 101
The successor of Fadus was Tiberius was in that (or their) administration that the great famine occurred in Judea, during which Queen Helen bought grain from Egypt for large sums and distributed it to the needy, as I have stated above.

All that Luke would need to know were the dates of Fadus and Alexander's administrations and the dates of Claudius and he would know this fact. Sorry Harvey but that one doesn't help much.

... he was aware that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped together at Lystra, though this was unknown to modern historians (Acts 14:11,12).

Yet even F.F. Bruce admits that Ovid has a tale of an old couple of Lystra entertaining Zeus and Hermes together in this same area. (The Book of Acts, F.F. Bruce, p. 274)

He knew that Diana or Artimis was especially the godess of the Ephesians(Acts 19:28);and was able to describe the trade at Ephesus in religious images (Acts 19:26,27)..."Dr. Clifford Wilson,"The New Light On The New Testament Letters, New Light On The Gospels, Rocks, Relics, And Biblical Reliability

Really? That's proof Acts was written in the first century? Because he knew Diana was the goddess at Ephesus? Harvey, have you been to Ephesus? There were MULTIPLE statues of Diana throughout the city. If you ever go, check out the museum near the ruin, it's a wonderful place and I've been there. It's pretty soaked in Dianaism.

Color me unconvinced that Luke couldn't have figured that out in the 2nd century.

You then ask:

Once again, are you conceding that

1- Detailed and accurate information contained within the Luke-Acts gospel survived in either oral form, which according to the scholars describe conditions EXCLUSIVE to the first half of First Century AD, or written form?

No, not in oral form. Some of it was in Josephus, some in Ovid, and some was just really apparent to any traveler to the city, of which there would have been many as Ephesus was an important city at the time.

Then you ask:

2- Complete details, ATYPICAL to legend narratives, can survive not only over the course of time, but also the pen of the redactors?

I just don't see any details that are atypical that can't be sourced from something available to a 2nd century writer. Neither does that crazy atheist Joseph Tyson with his seminary degree and job at a Christian university.

I hope those explanations are weird enough and implausible enough for you.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~ I think you did good with that explanation and I am asking NOT because I have an axe to grind. I have taken time to try to understand what resources and line of thinking that lends to your conclusions. I also appreciate the opportunities to learn alternate theories.

My list was not meant to be an all inclusive list of evidences or information which led leading scholars to their conclusions. I won't do that as that creates more labor than I believe is necessary.

In short however, I find that you suggest that Josephus's Antiquities would have been available to Luke from which he could have pulled information.

On top of other things, like geography, which Josephus does not describe and certainly not in the convincing detail of Luke-Acts, this, once again, in particular is problematic as it pertains to legendary materials. I find it implausible that the work of Josephus would have been used to create a Jesus Legend or even affirm a Jesus deity.

However, if you believe that Luke used Josephus writings, those same writings affirms Jesus as a historical person and James as "the brother of Jesus".

As stated, Josephus not only affirms the historicity of Jesus as a person, but he also affirms the death of James although rather differently than traditional Christian narratives.

What I mean here is that if Luke is choosing events or this is redacted second century, he would seem to have an arbitrary basis for choosing what to write. Josephus claims that James was martyred (something that I don't believe you would refute based on Josephus's account) around 62 AD.

Claudius's reign and the famine is generally thought to be around AD 41-54.

Why would Luke (in your opinion the redactors of Luke)have been so selective by NOT including James martyrdom especially since James was such an important figure in the church?

This information is what we would have expected to see clearly if the passage was redacted or created second century.

I mean I'm only scratching the surface but since you are revising history to make the story fit your theory, I believe it's up to you to provide a rationale for these redactions.

In short what you are saying is not something that would be reasonable by and would take many more sources than Josephus and also would require other works of antiquity that the church did not control and also that do not question the personage of Jesus to be redacted.

I mean there is MUCH more and I won't just continue to push this but can you reconcile this?


District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


Ooh, one more thing, I almost forgot. I mentioned Marcion in the prior post. You didn't provide a reconcilliatio for that.

What was it that Marcion could have presented and (The Church Leaders recognized as altered or mutalated)if the account of Luke was not created until mid 2nd Century?


Evan said...

Harvey, there were MANY people named Jacob in Palestine and there were MANY people named Joshua. Josephus does not say that the James who was the brother of Jesus was James the just, the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem.

He doesn't mention that at all.

It is certainly possible that the author of the book of Acts felt that it was important to delegitimize James as there were still Ebionite followers of his that had already developed doctrinal disputes with the Roman proto-orthodox church regarding the virgin birth, the trinity and the bodily resurrection.

Robert Eisenman believes such a split was likely and believes that Josephus' rendering of the death of James was changed to the stoning of Stephen as a way to delegitimize the Ebionites even further.

As an additional point, further research on this topic has allowed me to discover an even more interesting fact. It seems that the sectarians of the Qumran area who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls also referred to themselves as Ebionim, translated to Ebionite. See also Eisenman and Wise's book "Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered."

Evan said...

Harvey I don't quite understand your question as it relates to Marcion. The belief put forward by Joseph Tyson is that Luke/Acts was written/edited as an anti-Marcionite document to specifically counter the Marcionite heresy in Rome.

You can read Marcion's gospel and see how it differs from Luke if you wish.

Lvka said...


do the men (Church Fathers or Church historians) who speak about old or new dissenting movements class him, James, and/or his Jerusalem Church among them? -- `cause I surely didn't see them do that. Ever. Do they speak about the Church at Jerusalem dissenting in anything? Or about one or some of its bishops perhaps? -- again, I quite frankly don't recall any of them that wrote about it saying any such thing. I also don't recall anyone of them saying anything about the Nazarenes or Ebionites with regard to denying the Orthodox understanding of and/or belief in the resurrection: whether Christ's or ours. (And as You Yourself could probably see by now, they would've were this to be truly the case -- yet all sources are mute about such a thing).

We still have Monophysites (5th century), Monothellists (6th century) and Nestorians (4th century) in the Middle and Far East: were the Jerusalem Church to have broken away from us at such an early time, and subscribe to different doctrines, it would still be around, teaching them.

As the $permabanning Triabloguers used to say: the bourdain of proof lies on Your shoulders. :-) [I see You got kicked out from their precious little blog also :p What can I say? Join the club! :D ].

Evan said...

Lvka, I didn't get kicked from Triablogue. I left after they started deleting my posts that showed what a huge double standard they used. I have no desire to type up a huge comment only to have it deleted, so ... that's what happened there.

Secondly you have a nice demeanor and I'm glad you stick to the issues, but the burden of proof is on you here.

The Roman Christians spoke against the beliefs of the Palestinian Christians *PRIOR* to the conversion of the emperor. This shows clearly that those Palestinian Christians were considered heterodox by the proto-orthodox Romans.

The responsibility of showing that early Palestinian Christians believe something other than that which they are accused of believing later lies with the person making the claim.

If I say that the Democratic party was once pro-slavery but is now pro-civil rights, I can't just assert it, I have to show how the change took place and what salient events made it happen.

All things being equal, most groups stay with the original beliefs that they hold to. Remember that the Palestinian Ebionites were considered Christians by Jews in Palestine as well as by Romans (albeit heretical Christians).

Add in the fact that the sectarians of Qumran called themselves ebionim and they predate the times given in the Greek gospels for the historical Jesus and now the believer who retrojects orthodoxy onto the 1st century Palestinians has a strong burden of proof.

As for persistence, as I have shown, there is evidence that the Ebionite heresy persisted until the conquest of Islam and indeed may have informed the Christology of Islam itself, which persists to this day ... so your argument fails there as well if we consider the Muslim faith a successor to the Ebionites.

Thanks for basically admitting that you have no evidence though. It helps me feel more confident in my conclusions.

Lvka said...


no-one says anywhere that "the Palestinian Christians" were "all" Ebionites (actually, they say quite the contrary) : the sects are simply listed and explained... by the very same men that wrote the history of the Church (the one in Jerusalem included). [And Hegesippus is not "Roman"]. The Roman Church had its own schisms and heresies also from very early on. But not "all" of "the Roman Christians" were schismatical or heretical. (In Romania [Dacia] we had our fair share of Arian Goths also ... but not "all" of "the Dacian Christians" were Arians: Tomis (today's Constance) was Orthodox, for instance, and the only time when our country was part of the Roman Empire was in the later's pagan days; before C-tine).

The Ebionites are not "the Jewish Christians". Nor are they "the Church of Jerusalem". Nor is James (or any other bishop) listed among them. [Nor does "the Jerusalem Church" represent the totality of ``Palestinian Christians" either]. What I say is supported by the sources; what You imply is not.

Evan said...

Lvka, if your only argument is that Palestinian Christians weren't unanimously Ebionite then yes, I agree that is the case.

But the idea that the Greek gospels are based on eyewitness testimony is put out the window by the persistence of Ebionite beliefs in the city where the crucifixion and bodily resurrection supposedly took place.

Obviously at the very least there were two sets of eyewitnesses with very differing accounts of what took place.

Now we are dealing with a historical dispute between two groups of eyewitnesses, one group makes an incredible set of claims, another group makes no such incredible claims.

In history, which group is more likely to have been accurate?

mrsonic said...

"As for persistence, as I have shown, there is evidence that the Ebionite heresy persisted until the conquest of Islam and indeed may have informed the Christology of Islam itself, which persists to this day ... so your argument fails there as well if we consider the Muslim faith a successor to the Ebionites."

the virgin birth is in the qur'an
the qur'an says the crucifixion and killing of jesus did not happen. it is "their saying in boast" that they killed jesus but "thier saying" is a lie according to the qur'an.if they did not kill him nor crucify him then the authour probably believed that the trial scene in the gospel is a lie, otherwise he would of ripped it off from the is later muslim apologetics that tried to reconcile qur'an with the crucfied jesus in the gospels by assuming that the one who was crucfied was a look alike of jesus.But anyone with knowledge of arabic language knows there is no look alike hint or claim in the qur'aan.I don't think islam got its beleifs about jesus from ebionite christianity.

Evan said...

Mr. Sonic, I acquiesce to your greater knowledge of Islam than I, however I would argue that Islam does deny Jesus divinity like the Ebionites. I include the word "may have influenced" to show that I do not believe Islam is a direct copy of Ebionite beliefs.

Harry McCall said...

Interesting points Mr. sonic.

Since Mohammad nowhere ever quotes directly form the Bible (be it Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin) in the Qur’an, it’s simply hard to tell where he got his views of either Judaism or Christianity (traditions which may have come in highly shaped oral traditions).

The same theological conflicts that caused Mohammad to compose the Qur’an over time was the same stimulus that cause Joseph Smith (whose mother and father attended different churches and argued often about the truth of orthodox Christianity, plus the fact that he was living in the “Burned Over District” in New York) to compose the Book of Mormon.

What I see here at work is the Hegelian concept of the dialectical process: Thesis vs. Antithesis creating a Synthesis.

Lvka said...

Yes Evan,

that was part of the problem (a significant one). The other one being that You pretend, without any shred of proof or evidence, that the Ebionites disbelieved the Resurrection, or that they at least had wildly different view thereof (which one of the ancient sources ever said or wrote any such things about them, and where?)

The only guys that had any mental problems with the Resurrection were the Gnostic sects which viewed the flesh of this body as a prison, and matter as being something intrinsically evil. For them it truly bore no sense at all. -- But the Judaizing sects are diametrically opposed to them. And I gave You as such an example of Gnosticism the Docetists which denied the Incarnation wholesale (not from Jerusalem, but early nonetheless).

So please stop making stuff up. Thank You.

Evan said...


I'm not making anything up and if you would pay attention you would see that I have actually sourced
my statement about the Ebionite belief in the resurrection.

Do you have a source showing what James and the supposedly orthodox Palestinian Christians believed? Do you?

You are retrojecting post-Nicene ideas onto people who we know next to nothing about except that the people in Rome considered them heretics for much of the first three Christian centuries.

Lvka said...


Your statement about Rome and Jerusalem being in schism for the first three centuries is just plain wrong. :-|

The Ebionites are universally known to have rejected Christ's divinity, and being Judaizing in their nature. There's no mention anywhere about them denying either the resurrection or its physical aspect. :-|

I asked You to show me some clear historical testimonies about that sect believing what You say it did (not someone's own and personal opinion on that matter). :-|

The re-interpretation of the passages from the Clemetine Recognitions as refering to a ``spiritual" resurrection (as well as that of the Matthean and Pauline passages also referenced there) is just that: a re-interpretation. (I can offer the well-known Orthodox view also). There's nothing intrinsically heretical about them (as is the case with other clearly-heretical writings, which obviously support no Orthodox reading whatsoever).

... and the Clemetine Recognitions aren't even an Ebionitic text: Clement was in Rome, and not in Jerusalem ... funny how Your own conclusions contradict Your own sources, BTW! (See the very first paragraph of this comment). :-)

And the Gnostics didn't believe in a "spiritual" resurrection: no-one for that matter did: they simply believed that when You die Your eternal, immaterial soul is free from the chains of the perishable and material (thus intrinsically evil) flesh of this physical body.

Jon said...

With regards to the dating of Acts, an excellent example of Acts directly borrowing from Josephus is found in at Acts 5:36-38. What has happened is Josephus mentioned a magician Theudas, then subsequently by way of reflection then discussed Judas of Galilee. It appears that Luke read Josephus hastily and failed to recognize that Josephus was mentioning Judas of Galilee by way of reflection, and mistakenly places Theudas prior to Judas of Galilee in his chronology. Here is what we have in Acts:

Men of Israel, be cautious in deciding what to do with these men. Some time ago, Theudas came forward, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. But he was killed and his whole following was broken up and disappeared. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census; he induced some people to revolt under his leadership, but he too perished and his whole following was scattered." (NEB, Acts 5:36-8)

And now I provide the text from Josephus, which is Antiquities, Book 20, Chapter 5.

1. NOW it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus's government.

2. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified. But now Herod, king of Chalcis, removed Joseph, the son of Camydus, from the high priesthood, and made Ananias, the son of Nebedeu, his successor. And now it was that Cumanus came as successor to Tiberius Alexander; as also that Herod, brother of Agrippa the great king, departed this life, in the eighth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar. He left behind him three sons; Aristobulus, whom he had by his first wife, with Bernicianus, and Hyrcanus, both whom he had by Bernice his brother's daughter. But Claudius Caesar bestowed his dominions on Agrippa, junior.

This makes perfect sense as an error on the part of Luke, having read Josephus' reverse chronology mistakenly. This of course would suggest that Luke would have to be written after 93 AD.

Evan said...

And the Gnostics didn't believe in a "spiritual" resurrection: no-one for that matter did: they simply believed that when You die Your eternal, immaterial soul is free from the chains of the perishable and material (thus intrinsically evil) flesh of this physical body.

Again Lvka, all I'm asking is some evidence that first century Palestinian Christians believed in the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, and the divinity of Christ.

I see you don't have any. Thus, we're left with what 2nd century Christians said about Palestinian Christians and we have to assume there was continuity if belief unless we see evidence of discontinuity.

In favor of continuity is continuity in name. The sectarians of Qumran occasionally referred to themselves as ebionim, this sect pre-dates Christianity. Is it your contention that this is a coincidence, or do you see a relationship between early Christians and the Qumran sectarians?

My position is that Christianity was a Jewish heresy sprung from the Qumran community or others like it and that the legends of a historical Jesus are 2nd century Greek documents that were used to historicize a recurring pagan myth.

I ask simply for concrete evidence that there was a Christian community that believed things currently orthodox in Palestine in the first century. You have not brought up any such thing.

I admit our evidence is poor. But my story doesn't require me to believe that a man was born from a virgin, was God, and was brought back to life from the dead. Yours does, which I would argue makes mine more parsimonious and therefore a better overall explanation. Of course you are free to believe whatever you wish, but if you wish to make arguments you do need some evidence.

Evan said...

Gene has responded to my response. He's full of Triablogue style but I'll try to get to the meat of his arguments.

First he says:

I quoted Acts itself. If you think that this text is inaccurate, then you need to argue it, not assert it.

This comment thread is full of argument that Acts is inaccurate and heavily reliant on Josephus. I notice Gene doesn't seem to have read the rest of the thread and I'm not going to repeat it here. The evidence is pretty clear to me. I await Gene's evidence that Acts is a first century document that explains its dependence on Josephus.

Then Gene says:

"Large numbers" is an argument by popularity. Well, in that case larger numbers of believing Christians have believed it is from the First Century, Evan. That's the majority opinion. There are those who date it prior to or near 62 AD, those who date it btw. 70 and 80/90ish, and those who date it in the 2nd century. Tyson, your own source indicates that the majority think it is to be dated in the First Century. Pay attention to what he actually writes.

So first Gene accuses me of the argumentum ad populum and then he argues that the majority of conservative scholars who date Acts earlier are correct, without addressing any of the things we have discussed on this thread regarding Luke's dependence on Josephus.

The best evidence that Acts is 2nd century is his dependence on Josephus. If Gene thinks this is not the case, he is welcome to argue against it, but he chooses not to. He may decide to answer why, I'm happy to hear it.

Gene then says:

Acts records something about "the Nazarenes." It is up to Evan to argue it is to be dismissed, not merely assert it.

I have given an explanation for this. I believe "Nazarene" is a pre-Christian term for what were the proto-Christian Palestinians, likely a similar sect or an identical sect to the Qumran sectarians, who were referred to as the ebionim. I have explained that more than one epithet can be used to describe similar or overlapping sets of beliefs (see: Conservative, Republican, GOP, Right-wing, Evangelical etc).

To say that Evan is likely to have taken a graduate level course in Luke or Intro to New Testament at the graduate level is likely to be as accurate as saying Evan is a Christian.

Decide what you wish. This is a very odd and unusual argumentum ad hominem.

Notice that Evan treats Iranaeus(sic), etc. as giving accurate information, but not Luke. Why is that? Why are these sources more accurate compared to Luke? More on that below.

I don't consider Irenaeus to be giving totally accurate information. I just expect him to be accurate when describing the beliefs of his opponents as opposed to those of him. I also quoted multiple authors attributing the same set of beliefs to this group (that Jesus was a man born in the normal way).

In other words, this is an assertion, not an argument. Once again, if Evan thinks that the text I quoted is inaccurate, he needs to argue it, not assert it.

I do argue it is inaccurate. I have given my reasons. Gene doesn't want to address them, and I guess he has that right, but I argue it is based on a legend and a need to create an alternative church history to counter the Marcionite heresy that Jesus appeared on earth fully formed and started his ministry. This belief persisted also in Turkey until the conversion of the empire, just as the Ebionite heresy persisted in Palestine until the conversion of the empire.

Gene goes right back onto a critique of Tyson and quotes a review of his book:

Therefore, even if Tyson is right about the dating of Luke-Acts, significant doubt may still exist as to whether texts written around 120–125 could possibly already be confronted with a Marcionite threat justifying such significant literary creations.

The best that Gene can come up with is a scholar who accepts the possibility that Acts is a 2nd century document. The one hypothesis this author fails to address is that Luke was redacted using Marcion's gospel as a source rather than the other way around. But this is irrelevant to what we are talking about. I invite the reader to review all the material and come to their own conclusions regarding dating Luke/Acts.

He can't give up though and says:

I’d like to point out a rather obvious obstacle in the way of this redating scheme. Marcion died around 160.

So the implication is that we redate the Pauline corpus from the mid-1C to the mid-2C, give or take.

And the scheme isn’t limited to the Pauline epistles. By dating Acts to the same period, one inevitably implicates the synoptic gospels.

And that, in turn, raise the question of where to put the Fourth Gospel and 1 John. Surely one wouldn’t date the Johannine corpus to the 1C while dating the synoptic gospels to the 2C.

Now, one of the logistical problems which this redating scheme overlooks is that you can’t move most of the NT forward by a century or so while leaving all of the other dates in early church history in place. For many other individuals, movements, writings, and events are historically and/or literarily dependent on the prior existence and influence of the NT.

Therefore, if you push the NT forward by a hundred years, that is going to have a domino effect on any number of other dates. It affects the dating of everyone and everything that quotes or cites or alludes to the NT. Manuscripts. Church fathers. Heretics. NT apocrypha. Local synods. And so on and so forth.

Relative chronology is a web of synchronies involving younger and older contemporaries, as well as diachronic relations involving predecessors and successors. It also involves a sequential chain of prior, simultaneous, and posterior events.

So the chronology of the NT is not a self-contained question. It spills over into the chronology of the early church. And that, in turn, spills over into the chronology of the Roman Empire. You can’t make a radical, but discrete change in the dating of most all of the NT while leaving all the other dates intact.

To upwardly revise the date of the NT by a hundred years or so would necessitate a corresponding and complete readjustment in all of the other dates in early church history and Roman history which are impacted by that revision.

And at the risk of stating the obvious, these dates were not arrived at on dogmatic grounds. Modern scholars of Roman history are not dating events to accommodate a theological agenda.

So, Evan can make claims about the late dating of Luke all he wants, but now he has a bigger problem on his hands.

Yet I see no specific problem that I haven't addressed. Please, what is the problem with these dates? Is there a specific incongruity that he would like to highlight, especially when he accuses me of arguing by assertion without evidence?

So much for dating Luke in the 2nd century.

Yes, it does now seem quite obvious that Luke wrote after Josephus and this was likely in the 2nd century. I agree we can dispense with this issue.

Except, of course, that's not what Evan said. Evan is now changing his argument. This is an admission that his first one failed. What Epiphanius actually does is draw a distinction between the Nazarenes of old and the Ebionites of his own day.

No my argument remains the same. There are many groups that have multiple epithets attributed to them. Let's try again: Reds, Communists, Pinkos, Marxist-Leninists ... are those all different groups? Or are they different names applied to the same group with slightly different implications? It's perfectly reasonable to imagine that there was not unanimity among Palestinian Christians in the 1st century and that multiple names could have been applied at varying times to members of the same groups and that such names might not indicate any specific schism at all. It is of note that Justin does NOT use any of the terms that we are discussing here, so we have no way of knowing which group Justin would have regarded as Ebionite and which he would have regarded as Nazarene or if he would have thought of them as synonymous. Our evidence is poor.

However, our evidence for the orthodoxy of the first century Palestinian Christians is absent. The orthodox gospels were written in GREEK ... and thus by definition written by Greek speakers and not Aramaic speakers. Gene seems not to see how this is a problem, but it remains one nonetheless.

I discuss the need for the creators of the gospels to historicize Jesus and he says:

An assertion, not an argument. Notice that now, Evan is trying to back up a bad theory with another bad theory. In addition, the Nazarenes accepted Paul but they used Matthew's Gospel. So now Evan needs to explain how Matthew is representative of "the Pauline Jesus Christ" and a "Greek Gospel." Matthew and "Greek Gospel" don't exactly go hand-in-hand. It would be easier, one would think, to link Luke with Paul and therefore "the Pauline Jesus Christ." ...but the Nazarenes are connected to Matthew, not Luke. Evan is theorizing himself into a web from which it will be ever more difficult to extricate himself. Jesus didn't exist, but there were (see below) Christians who called themselves Nazarenes before, so the Fathers and Apologists (because, as we all know in the Subapostolic period, they were all colluding together and trying to rise to power like the Mafia today), colluded together to do this:

I need to explain how Matthew is Greek? Did I miss a meeting? I believe Matthew is written in Greek. Does Gene know something that we don't know? The web I'm theorizing is quite simple. There was no Jesus, therefore there was huge variation among early Christians in belief.

The second proposition goes without saying. The first is an excellent explanation of that fact. Gene seems to be arguing that God so loved the world he sent his only begotten son, and within 100 years the whole world bollixed up its understanding of him so significantly that the only people who sorted it out were people who never went to Palestine from Rome 300 years after the fact.

Gene's welcome to believe in that God, my explanation is much more elegant.

Gene then says:

Or Jesus really existed, as the majority of scholars affirm. Those who later followed him were called that name, because Jesus was called a Nazarene. Which of these actually fits the available evidence?

I leave it to the reader to decide. The fact that Nazareth didn't exist as a Jewish settlement in the first half of the first century is certainly excellent evidence for my side.

Gene says:

In addition, "Nazoraean" could not be derived from the word for "Nazareth." Attempting to derive Nazoraean from Nazareth isn't linguistically defensible. Indeed, Evan's "theory" doesn't stack up to modern scholarship on the origin of this term, including those who hold to the view that Jesus was a Gnostic teacher: (link to the following)

"The early Church fathers, many of whom were Greek-speaking, called themselves Christians (Khristianoi), a Greek term which arose at Antioch in the non-Jewish world. And the same fathers spoke of the Nazarenes, often disparagingly, as a Judaeo-Christian sect, adding further to the confusion by transliterating the word from Aramaic into Greek as Nazarenes, Nazoreans, Nasoreans and other variants. Epiphanius even speaks of another sect, the Nasarenes (Nasaraioi) who were, he says, in existence before the time of Jesus. Consequently, he distinguishes between the Nasarenes and the Nazarenes (or Nazoreans). But his motivation in making this distinction may be because he did not wish to acknowledge that there were Nazoreans before the Nazoreans -- Christians before the Christians, so to speak. Moreover, Epiphanius does not enjoy a good reputation for accuracy, and scholarly opinion is divided as to whether there really were two sects or one. The use of dubious etymology to 'prove' a point was not uncommon among the early Christian fathers.

The situation is further compounded by the existence of the ancient and well-attested order of Jewish holy men known as the Nazirites (the Nezirim), mentioned in the Old Testament, and with whom both John the Baptist and James the brother of Jesus have often been linked. And scholars see no insuperable difficulty in deriving both Nasarene and Nazarene from the Hebrew Nezirim."

Thanks for that Gene. You are giving me some great ammo. So your source admits that it is likely that the term for Palestinian Christians PRE-DATES the dates given for the historical Jesus. You know how to make a guy feel special.

Gene then says:

Thanks, Evan, for proving, yet again, you don't do your research. It's this sort of namby pamby (sic) theorizing that makes DC such an easy target for us here at Tblog. If you want to say this term is derived from Nazareth and a name that they took themselves, you need to actually argue for it linguistically and historically, and only then can you begin to argue for your "theory."

Yeah, with you doing my research for me, I should just wait until you link to something and quote it.

Gene then travels back to trying to date Luke to the 1st century and then he gets pissy:

Evan is a chronic liar. I quoted more than one source, including one of his own. If Evan believes the Ebionites of the 2nd century believed the same thing as those of the first, when at least one of his own sources expressly says otherwise, he needs to argue that to be the case. I engaged Evan on his own grounds. He quoted Epiphanius, Panarion 30. I quoted the same work 29. This what his very own source says. I also quoted Schaff and Berkhof and Justin. Evan never bothers to interact with them. Has Evan ever taken a Church History course? No.

Gene, I'm asking for something pretty simple, evidence of the belief in the trinity, the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection on the part of first century Christians in Palestine. Really, if you have some bring it on.

Gene then admits my point by saying:

If by "the Trinity" you mean something as fully orbed as the Nicene Creed, that can't be produced. That would be anachronistic. If by the Trinity you mean the divinity of Christ, that can be produced.

So ... do you accept docetism as orthodoxy? Do you accept adoptionism as orthodoxy? If you do, well ... your buddies on T-blog must make fun of you behind your back. If you don't then you are conceding my main point, to wit: The Christians of the first century in Palestine (the earliest witnesses) did not have an understanding of Jesus comparable to that of current orthodoxy. Thanks again, Gene.

Gene then says:

And notice, In his right hand: Evan is employing the Fathers, many of whom are writing in the late 2nd and into the next century for his theory. Let's stipulate that these Ebionites they describe are, indeed, the First Century version. Okay.

Yet in his left hand, he denies the historicity of the Gospels by theories of legends and accretions and late dates and legends growing up, etc. This would, then mean that all those histories from which he quotes get worse, more legendary, etc. the further from the First Century they get. Yet he treats these as accurate descriptions/histories. At the same time, he denies Luke is accurate history, even though the upper limit given in his own source is 120 AD, and the majority of NT scholars date it much earlier. Evan suffers from epistemological schizophrenia. He desperately wants to avoid Luke, because if Luke is true, at least in Acts 24, he has a huge problem (namely interacting with and explaining Paul's writings against the Judaizers while being called a Nazarene himself), but on the other he needs something to bolster his paper theory, so he takes the Fathers accurately and without argument.

I agree our evidence is poor and all of it is apologetic in nature. That is why when someone says someone was born by the semen of God fertilizing Mary's ovum, I am naturally skeptical. The logical position is to remain skeptical about such claims until they are proven beyond all doubt. It is even more likely that such claims are false when large numbers of people who supposedly would have known the people involved claim otherwise. That Gene thinks any of our sources are valuable in determining what actually happened is his problem.

I have no trouble admitting that all we can do at this point is guess and that the quality of our sources leaves much to be desired. But that's not nearly enough to believe that a man was God, or that he died for 36 hours and then went up to heaven in the clouds and didn't suffocate from hypoxia or die again from exposure to the vacuum of space.

Gene has to postulate some explanation for all these problems. I don't. I accept that most of our sources are poor and try to explain them in the best way possible.

Gene goes on:

Ephipanius describes the Ebionites of his age, and draws a distinction between them and the Nazarenes. Ephiphanius was an orthodox Christian. So, when he says that the Nazarenes were just "complete Jews," the reasonable conclusion is that they believed in the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ. Ephipanius was one of those Fathers who mentioned a groups heretical beliefs. If they had denied these, it is reasonable to believe he would say so.

Justin writes earlier. Justin distinguished two sorts of Jewish Christians, those who observed the Mosaic Law but did not require its' observance of all others, and those who maintained that this observance was necessary for salvation. This fits with Luke, it also fits with Paul's letters.

Justin, in Dialogue and First Apology, defends the Virgin Birth. So, Evan, tell us if the Nazarenes denied the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Christ, then, pray tell, Evan, why did Justin fellowship with them at all?

But just for tickles and grins, let's take a look further:

Orr in his book on the Virgin Birth says that the Nazarenes believed in the Virgin Birth of Christ. So does Schaff. So does Origen. Indeed Origen specifically draws a distinction between those who affirmed the VB and those who didn't. In fact, the Fathers who speak of them do not indict them for not believing in the bodily resurrection or denying the Trinity-even those writing after the time of the Nicene Symbol. Jerome (Epistle 79, to Augustine) says that though the Nazarenes believed in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again, desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other.

Let's read a little Orr shall we?

"(1)There is the Gospel of the Hebrews, an Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew in use among the more liberal section of the Jewish Christians whom Jerome calls Nazarenes .... It was an idea formerly sometimes mooted -- Jerome himself seems at first to have entertained it -- that this Gospel of the Hebrews was the original of our present Gospel of Matthew. But that opinion has long been since abandoned. The Gospel in question was dependent on our Matthew, not the original of it, and while there must have been a general resemblance, it had a good many apocryphal additions ... The point of interest to us is that this Jewish-Christian Gospel likewise had the chapters recording the birth and infancy of Jesus. Harnack, I know, disputes this ... We have the direct attestation of Eusebius that the section of Jewish Christians using this Gospel were distinguished by their accepting the Virgin Birth of our Lord. We have the testimony of Epiphanius that the Gospel used by the Nazarenes was a complete one; we can be certain that Jerome, who knew and translated the Gospel, would not have failed to mention so serious an omission, had it existed."

Essentially Orr is making the argument from silence. It's odd what arguments people will consider strong in one position, yet weak in another. My argument from silence is that not one person alive during the time of Jesus put pen to paper to write one word about him in any language whatsoever. That seems like a really good argument from silence, but Gene doesn't like that one.

He likes Orr's though. But let's dig a bit deeper in Orr.

He goes on to say:

"(2) This, however was not the only form of the Gospel of Matthew in circulation among the Hebrew Christians. There was a version in use among that narrower section known commonly as the Ebionites -- the descendants, formerly alluded to (4)(Evan here -- I will quote footnote 4: See above pp. 11, 35. It should be noted that the name Ebionites was often given by the Fathers to all Jewish Christians.(emphasis mine) The different classes were then distinguished by their Christological and other peculiarities.), of those anti-Pauline Judaizers we read of in the Acts and the Epistles .... We do not know much about the Gospel used by this party -- the so-called Gospel of the Ebionites -- but it is described to us as not "entire and perfectly complete, but falsified and mutilated'; ...

So for Orr, numerous apocryphal additions are not falsifications and mutilations, but the absence of the virgin birth is a falsification. That seems odd. Maybe Gene can explain why once again his sources are proving my points for me.

Another good evangelical scholar is Gresham Machen from his book "The Virgin Birth of Christ."

Let's see what he has to say about this issue:

Whatever terminology be adopted, it is at least fairly plain that from the time of Origen to the time of Epiphanius there were two parties among the schismatic Jewish Christians, one of which denied the virgin birth, while the other accepted it. In the period before Origen, Irenaeus and, following him, Hippolytus mention only Ebionites who reject the virgin birth; but their failure to mention the other division of the schismatic Jewish Christians does not prove that it did not exist at the time they wrote.

But it certainly is evidence that the majority party were Ebionite who reject the virgin birth. Gene, you're a blast.

He ends his arguments there. Thanks again for the Triablogue dialogue, Gene.

DingoDave said...

Oh for goodness sake guys, the Bible even states that the apostles and the other original Palestinian Christians remained true to their Jewish heritage, including the head of the Jerusalem church James the Just himself.

There is also evidence in the Bible, as well as in the writings of some of the early church fathers, that the earliest Christians believed in an adoptionist Christology, not a virgin birth. Bt first the Biblical evidence that the early Jerusalem Christians remained Jewish.

Acts 2:
[46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts,
[47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

[1] Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

Acts 6
[7] And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Acts 21
[18] On the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present.
[19] After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
[20] And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law,
[21] and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.
[22] What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
[23] Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
[24] take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law.
[26] Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them.

Acts 10
[9] The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.
[10] And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance
[11] and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth.
[12] In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.
[13] And there came a voice to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
[14] But Peter said, "No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean."
[15] And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common."
[16] This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
[17] Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood before the gate

Acts 11
[4] But Peter began and explained to them in order:
[5] "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me.
[6] Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air.
[7] And I heard a voice saying to me, `Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'
[8] But I said, `No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'
[9] But the voice answered a second time from heaven, `What God has cleansed you must not call common.'
[10] This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.

[17] "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.
[18] For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

These passages indicate that the earliest Jerusalem Christians remained staunchly Jewish.

For an asessment of Luke's incompetency as an historian read Richard Carrier's article 'Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?' in which he criticises Lukes abilities as a historian in chapter 7 of this article.
Chapter 7.3, 'The Problem of Luke's Methods as a Historian'

Lvka said...


that's what even Your own sources say: You can't just quote Church historians on the Ebionites and disregard their testimony with regard to others. (Unless You use a double standard). I know that there were Orthodox there for the same reasons and from the same sources from which I know that there were non-Orthodox there also; which is more than I could say for Your question-begging double-standard.

It's also curious to see how -on one hand- You don't ask if the 1st century Ebionites were **really** Ebionites, or if it was just something that older sources "read back onto them"? ... yet -on the other hand-, though You have no shred of evidence that the Church in Jerusalem was of diverging opinion than the rest of the early Churches, You simply assume it ... that's also a double standard.

Dingo Dave,

if it's Jewishness You're wild about, feel free to research more on the history, faith, and customs of the Syriacs, Assyrians and Ethiopians. We even have people in the Jerusalem Church (in Palestine and Jordan) that can trace their family-lineage back to Apostolic times, the very descendants of the first Christian Jewish believers.

Evan said...

Gene has posted another lengthy response composed mainly of gainsaying and scolding with little in the way of argument here.

It's poorly edited and it's difficult to follow at many places because of his inconsistent use of typefaces and indents. I find really only one point of dispute that he brings new data forward on and I'll focus only on that and let the readers decide whether his arguments hold any water on any of the other points he continues to strike the same notes on.

I said, "The fact that Nazareth didn't exist as a Jewish settlement in the first half of the first century is certainly excellent evidence for my side."

Gene replies:

1. Evan needs to establish that "Nazarene" as used by the Church Fathers and Acts is linguistically derived from "Nazareth."

2. Evan need to do better than point me to a book by Rene Salm, published by American Atheist Press.

3. Tell you what, Evan, contact Miller and ask him to debate that with you.

First, I don't need to prove anything. I've already proven the significant point I'm making: That there was a large faction of Jewish Christians in the 1st century CE who did not accept major points of modern orthodoxy, thus destroying the idea that the Greek gospels are somehow based on unanimous eyewitness testimony.

Next, ignoring the hilarity of the double standard here (Atheist Press is not reliable but is), I went over and checked out Gene's source material, as I find that is generally all the research one needs to do to be vindicated.

Sure enough, the Christian think tank says:

"Despite the Hellenization of the general region and the probability that Greek was known to many people it seems likely that Nazareth remained a conservative Jewish village. After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70 it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would only settle in unmixed towns, that is towns without Gentile inhabitants. According to an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima the priests of the order of Elkalir made their home in Nazareth. This, by the way, is the sole known reference to Nazareth in antiquity, apart from written Christian sources... (next paragraph) Some scholars had even believed that Nazareth was a fictitious invention of the early Christians; the inscription from Caesarea Maritima proves otherwise."

In other words, the only reference to Nazareth from the first century dates from the SECOND HALF of the first century (exactly what I asserted). Yet Jesus supposedly grew up there in the first half of the century prior to the Jewish war.

Josephus lists in detail every place in Galilee that Vespasian and Titus laid waste to, but does not mention this place.

I did a little more digging on the Caesarea Maritima inscription. It dates from the 3rd to 4th century and only references the prior settlement in the 2nd half of the first century.

Gene is quick to criticize reading comprehension, but he is not such a thorough reader himself. He's trying to argue that because there was a Nazareth after the Jewish wars, there was one before the Jewish wars, but of course there is no such necessary continuity, and the archeology of the place shows settlement in the 7th century and then abandonment until the 2nd Roman century.

He can check my sources:

1. C. Kopp, “Beiträge zur Geschichte Nazareths.” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. 18 (1938), p. 188.

2. F. Fernandez, Ceramica Comun Romana de la Galilea. Madrid: Ed. Biblia y Fe, 1983, p. 63.

3. N. Feig, “Burial Caves in Nazareth,” ‘Atiqot 10 (1990), pp. 67-79 (Hebrew).

4. B. Bagatti, “Ritrovamenti nella Nazaret evangelica.” Liber Annuus 1955, pp. 5-6, 23.

5. B. Bagatti, “Nazareth,” Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplement VI. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1960, col. 318.

6. B. Bagatti, "Excavations in Nazareth" Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, vol. 1 (1969), pp. 254, 319.

7. “Nazareth” in Encyclopedia Judaica, New York: Macmillan, 1972, col. 900.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


I’ve enjoyed following this dialogue . So far as 2 arguments are concerned (Nazareth and Luke-Acts dating) you have not set forth a convincing argument and I agree with Traib that most of your theory is unsupported and are only assertions which I suppose anyone is entitled to make.

Triab pointed out in detail what I said from the beginning that to redate Luke-Acts creates a whole host of problems and to make Josephus the source by which Luke-Acts was penned or even embellished is even more fanciful. Once again those assertions just don’t hold up to the evidence.

3 things that simply cannot be discounted as you and other atheists would like them to:

1- The biblical record of history cannot be written off simply because it’s in the bible. That’s like writing off a dictionary for the definition of words This type of tactic is not in good faith or in the interest of scholarship. The bible has experienced no recants due to archaeology and therefore has a reliable track record and should be given the benefit of the doubt until discount is warranted.
2- Your argument asserting that Luke redacted Marcion’s gospel of Luke to create his gospel is not convincing at all. Bart W. argued, on this site, how Marcion caused the “circulating anonymous gospel of Luke” to be finally accredited to Luke and accepted by the church. Short of the long, it was Marcion that redacted and mutilated, the known and existing text of Luke and not the other way around. Your assertions to the contrary are unevidential and only breed conspiracy theories like Tabor’s and Price’s.
3- The study and physical verification of scholars who have witnessed the evidence for themselves such as Sir William Ramsay and others that I have mentioned cannot be written off simply because of their conclusions. They have carefully and meticulously laid out their cases and started with skeptical positions such as yours. These were no fly by nights or lightweights. Their conclusions cannot be minimized if the interest is obtaining truth. Once again they confirm with more evidence than I can list here that Luke’s writing and details were specific to certain time frames and neither Josephus or any other source goes into detail as Luke does on the points that he does. The study of the field shows that if Luke was reconstructing 1st century history from a position in second century he would have made plenty of mistakes. There are none. Once again assertions to the contrary are unfounded and conspiracies would involve, Luke, James, Josephus, Rome and a host od other unwilling participants.

Second point and conclusion is regarding Nazareth. You have gone to great lengths (as other non-believers) to get rid of Nazareth in first century and especially first part of first century in effort to discredit the bible as fantasy. Once again this is old hat and as Triab has pointed out has been refuted many times over. Here some evidence why:

"Despite Nazareth's obscurity (which had led some critics to suggest that it was a relatively recent foundation), archeology indicates that the village has been occupied since the 7th century B.C., although it may have experienced a 'refounding' in the 2d century b.c. " ([MJ]A Marginal Jew--Rethinking the Historical Jesus, (vol 1), p.300-301)...cites Meyers and Strange, Archeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity, Abingdon:1981. pp.56-57

Galyaah Cornfeld, Archaeology of The Bible Book by Book .(NY: Harper and Row 1976) p. 284 "What concretely about first century Nazereth? In the first two centuries AD it was a modest village built on Rocky soil in a valley far from the main trade routes [this was before Sarapis was discovered]...Two excavations, one led by Fther P. Viaud the other by Bagatti led to the discovery of the traditional site of the annunciation to Mary and the place which Jesus frequented as a growing lad...excavations of inscriptions there bear witness to a Jewish Christian cult of Mary from the very earliest times..." Some of those inscriptions also go back to the middle of the first century and identfy the place as the that of Jesus' boyhood home! ~
Courtesy The History Of Nazareth

The evidence that Nazareth DOES existed in Jesus' time came from the finding of a list in Aramaic (Jewish language) describing a number of famlies of priests that were no longer needed in 70 AD.
It is the custom to select priests from every town and city to serve in the temple ,
When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the priests were no longer needed....
Archaelogists have discovered a list of 24 families of priests who were relocated after the temple's destruction and one of the family was registered as having moved to .... you guessed it.... Nazareth !
So Nazareth does exist in 70 A.D.!”

CourtesyEvidence For the Bible Form Archaeology

So here we have physical evidence of Nazareth no later than 70 AD first Century but we can do better:

The bath house discovery dates back 2000 years or to early first century AD

Professor Carsten Peter Thiede, a scholar in archeology and religion who spent 20 years excavating the area of Qumran and the Dead Sea with the Antiquities Authority, describes the place in his most recent book "The Cosmopolitan World of Jesus" (2005), in which he analyses the historical implications of the discovery. Prof Thiede says in his book:

Excerpt from the site:

“Returning to the discovery of the Roman baths in Nazareth, we realize that such an installation, should it really turn out to be Roman and to have been available to non-Roman inhabitants like Mary, Joseph and Jesus, would merely underline what we could have gathered from the sources anyway. The only real surprise to many may be the conclusion that Nazareth was anything but a nondescript village with a handful of poor Jews.”

There was even first century synagogues in Nazareth Stephen Pfann

We are aware of the debate but once again the biblical testimony or elements can’t be discounted or merely written off because evidence of redaction and borrowing does not exist.

Now, I’m not Catholic as it seems our friends at Triab are, neither am I an atheist, but I do like exchange such as this because it sharpens the critical thinking skills. As I said, I don’t have an axe to grind only want to get into an argument that can be thought through from both sides. So I appreciate the dialogue.

C-ya round the way!

Evan said...

Harvey, I appreciate your attempt to make Nazareth more substantive but I will repeat my claim.

There is no evidence of habitation in Nazareth in the FIRST HALF of the first century. That's the claim. Nobody has shown anything anywhere to dispute that.

Here's what your sources say:

At least four sizeable column bases (plinths) have been discovered in the old city of Nazareth. The numbers 8 (Het; see above, right side) and 9 (teth) were found inscribed in the tops of two of the plinths bearing witness to the fact that at least 9 columns, at least 15 feet high, once stood inside a public building (or synagogue) of ancient Nazareth. However, this type of column base does not come into use before the second or third centuries CE. Although this synagogue was built at least a century after the time of Jesus, it nevertheless bear witness to the fact that Nazareth was a significant town during this period.


The debate spurred by the discovery has drawn experts and scientists into a major controversy. A few still believe it dates back only to the recent Turkish period, while others claim it is pre-Roman, based on the opinion of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Another authority, Professor Tzvika Shaham, who works as director of a museum in the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, says the bathhouse probably dates back to the Crusader era.

So again, there's nothing there to substantiate a presence in Nazareth in the first half of the first century -- which is what my claim is.

Even if we accept that Nazareth was inhabited at that time my central argument is untouched, but if Nazareth cannot be shown to be inhabited at that time it is compelling evidence for my thesis indeed.

As for Luke -- Harvey you have no evidence to show that Luke existed in the first century. I am sure that Marcion and Luke were using some of the same texts (Mark for example) so yes, it's very hard to say that Marcion's gospel or Luke's had priority ... the data we are dealing with is poor.

However, I suggest you read Richard Carrier's discussion of Luke as a historian linked above and here.

I will give you a brief section to prove to you its value:

The same problem arises when we look at Paul. Holding's argument here makes no sense whatever of why Paul persecuted Christians. Why would he have persecuted them so vehemently if the evidence for the Resurrection was already as extraordinarily good as Holding's argument requires? Why does Paul only believe after he himself sees a vision of the Christ telling him he is wrong? Why does Paul never mention any other reason for converting? Even in Acts, he never cites any evidence as having convinced him, except his own personal vision (besides the scriptures, of course). He never makes any references to checking the facts of the empty tomb story, or being persuaded by the testimony of other witnesses--not even in Galatians. In fact, in Galatians Paul goes out of his way to deny having done any such thing until, at best, many years after he was already converted. So why did it take a personal visit from God to convince Paul? We cannot say he was loony or stupid--from his letters we can see Paul clearly was neither. There can be no plausible explanation for his not believing the Christians except the fact that he had no reason to believe them. Which entails there was no evidence that could be checked at all, or what could be checked was inconclusive to any reasonable man like Paul.

I would simply add that Paul would have been in the same position as any other Jew in Palestine. If there were overwhelming evidence for the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus and the bodily resurrection, there simply could not have been a majority, or even a sizable number of Jewish CHRISTIANS -- remember, these are people who were followers of Christ, not Jews -- who denied these things.

DingoDave said...

Ivka wrote:

-"Dingo Dave,
If it's Jewishness You're wild about, feel free to research more on the history, faith, and customs of the Syriacs, Assyrians and Ethiopians. We even have people in the Jerusalem Church (in Palestine and Jordan) that can trace their family-lineage back to Apostolic times, the very descendants of the first Christian Jewish believers."

If you believe that, then you'd believe just about anything! : D

Fundies say the darndest things.

Lvka said...

Dingo Dave,

it's really a matter of belief; just check it out.

Lvka said...

it's really a matter of belief

oops.. that should read: "it's not really a matter of belief".. sorry!