Unearthing the Ebionites: Fact, Faith, and the Quest for Historical Truth?
In the ongoing discussions within our GFN Telegram group, “GFN Network Station,” about the Ebionites, our faithful and esteemed brother, Rai, has expressed skepticism regarding the evidence presented by Ahch Palal. He raises valid concerns, questioning whether there is enough factual basis to claim what the Ebionites truly believed, especially given that much of our information about them comes from their historical adversaries. Furthermore, Rai is skeptical about the idea that the Ebionites were once a united group following Christ and later evolved into the early “Jewish Christian” church.
I engaged in a spirited debate with Rai, contending that the evidence presented by Palal is on par, if not stronger, than the evidence we encountered when learning about our Hebrew Israelite heritage. Indeed, Palal’s findings can be initially disconcerting, but upon closer examination, they reveal practical insights into how we practice our faith today.
To address Rai’s challenge, I’ve compiled a list of the evidence that Palal has shared thus far. This piece serves as my attempt to lay out the case for considering the Ebionites and their historical significance. As skeptics ourselves, it’s crucial that we approach this topic with an open mind and a critical eye, just as we do with any other aspect of our faith. The truth is out there, waiting to be explored, and together, we can uncover it.
Compiling the Evidence: A Skeptic’s Guide to Palal’s Research on the Ebionites
1. “Hebrew Christians” “The Poor” Ebyon aka Ebionites are all one group within the early Church.
According to the book titled The Early Church (The Penguin History of the Church) written by Oxford and Cambridge professor Henry Chadwick on page 23 it states “The Jewish Christians” called themselves Ebionites, a name derrived from the Hebrew word meaning “the poor”; it was probably a conscious reminiscence of a “very early” term which is attested by St Paul’s letters as a almost technical term for the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea”.
By examining Romans 15:26, Galatians 2:1-14 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, it’s clear that this Hebrew Christian group was led by figures like James and Peter. While they had multiple leaders, it’s evident that those in Jerusalem were part of a single group. We observe Paul’s efforts to collect funds for the needy in Jerusalem, and it’s well-documented that the early church comprised practicing Jews who believed in Christ.
It becomes evident that the “poor” and the Jerusalem church are synonymous with the Hebrew or Jewish Christians of the first century. Their teachings were rooted in the Torah, which led to accusations of them “Judiazing” the followers of Paul.
2. Further confirmation that “Hebrew Christians” or “The Poor” referred to the residents of Jerusalem. “Holy Poor”
The holy poor, the care of whom was specially committed by the apostles to Paul and Barnabas, are Jewish believers. Either they lay at the feet of the apostles their most valuable posses¬ sions 201 to be distributed to the needy, or they were reviled and persecuted by their kin, family, and parents for deserting the Law and believing in a crucified man. 202 The letters of the holy apostie Paul testily to how much effort he poured into minister¬ ing to them, as he wrote to the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and all of the churches of the Gentiles to ask them to prepare this offering to be taken to Jerusalem through himself or other min¬ isters acceptable to them. 203 For this reason he now says confi¬ dently, “The very thing I was eager to do.”
*”Jerome refers to those in Jerusalem as the “Holy Poor”. This further substantiates the idea that 1st-century Hebrew/Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were commonly referred to as Ebionites or “the poor.” Pair this with Origen’s book – “Contra Celsum”, Book 2 CHAP. I. “for Ebion signifies “poor” among the Jews, and those Jews who have received Jesus as Christ are called by the name of Ebionites.”
3. The Destruction of the Ebionite writings
As per the “Preface” in the 1611 King James Bible, the early church fathers expressed strong opposition to the Ebionites primarily due to their Hebrew Christian faith. It is also documented that, over the span of hundreds of years, they went to great lengths, including the burning of Ebionite writings. This historical evidence demonstrates that those who played a pivotal role in shaping the canonized texts of today held a distinct aversion to the Ebionite perspectives, likely rooted in their commitment to Hebrew Christian faith through works and their rejection of the concept of the virgin birth.
*Even as a skeptic, this point stands out significantly. Let’s consider this situation from a legal investigation perspective: a crime has just taken place. If we were to uncover any references to someone destroying documentation, that would immediately raise red flags, prompting us to question the motive and the content of the destroyed documents, which could serve as evidence against the opposition. Why rid of something thats untrue?
4. The anti Paul connection
According to several early church fathers like Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius, the Ebionites did not adhere to Paul’s teachings. In the book of Galatians, which is one of Paul’s widely accepted letters, there is clear evidence of tension and division within the early church. This division was between Paul and those in Jerusalem, including figures like Peter, James, and Barnabas. The disagreement centered on the Jerusalem church’s attempt to make Paul’s followers conform to Jewish customs, a process Paul referrs to as “Judaizing.” This historical episode provides strong evidence that the Jerusalem congregation consisted of devout Jewish practitioners who, at some point, separated themselves and opposed the emerging Christian understanding represented by Paul’s teachings.
Irenaeus of Lyons “Against Heresies, Book 3”
Chapter 15.-Refutation of the Ebionites, Who Disparaged the Authority of St. Paul, from the Writings of St. Luke
- But again, we allege the same against those who do not recognise Paul as an apostle: that they should either reject the other words of the Gospel which we have come to know through Luke alone, and not make use of them; or else, if they do receive all these, they must necessarily admit also that testimony concerning Paul, when he (Luke) tells us that the Lord spoke at first to him from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? I am Jesus Christ, whom thou persecutest; ” and then to Ananias, saying regarding him: “Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name among the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him, from this time, how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
*Setting aside our skepticism, we can infer that the Ebionites have their roots in the disciples of Christ and in the early Jerusalem church. This inference is drawn from the fact that they did not recognize Paul as an apostle. After all, who but those within the inner circle would have the authority to confer the title of Apostle? This aligns with Acts 1:21 and 1:22 & Acts 1:26. Additionally, according to Acts 24:1 and 24:5, the Jewish leaders of that time once referred to Paul as the ‘Leader of the Nazarenes,’ suggesting that the average non-messianic Jew in Jerusalem wasn’t disputing his apostleship. It begs the question: who else but those who were certain that Paul wasn’t a true disciple of Christ would take such a stance?
5. Laid at the feet of Apostles
In The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I (sects 1-46) pg 145, Epiphanius states:
"They themselves, if you please, boastfully claim that they are poor because they sold their possessions in the apostles’ time and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and went over to a life of poverty and renunciation;41 and thus, they say, they are called “poor” by everyone."
As an honest skeptic, we must acknowledge that Epiphanius refutes their claim, but he does so by introducing legends about the origin of their name, suggesting it was derived from a person rather than the root Hebrew word for ‘Poor.’ This situation is reminiscent of the way many who oppose our heritage claims today attempt to attribute our origins to a figure like Frank Cherry, instead of acknowledging our true heritage.
As I delve deeper into this topic, my perspectives may evolve. However, even as a skeptic, we should consider what the Ebionites themselves claimed, especially since their version of events has been largely destoryed or lost to history. They believed they were among those who surrendered their possessions to the ‘Apostles.’ Thus living a humble and “poor” lifestyle.
A Skpetics intermission
In conclusion, or perhaps more accurately, in this interim pause, I intend to continue expanding upon this list as time allows. However, my responsibilities are many, and those who strongly oppose us, primarily Rai and Korado, have grown impatient. Therefore, I wanted to offer them a concise list before too much time elapses.
With this list, my primary objective is to establish “probable cause.” Just as the Skeptics may approach newly rediscovered information with skepticism, I too share a degree of skepticism. However, my skepticism is directed towards those who played a pivotal role in shaping Christianity and canonizing books without the significant influence of the “Jewish Christians” – those among the poor who were the original followers of Christ.
This list presents notable evidence supporting the claim that the Ebionites were among the earliest followers of Christ.
To be continued…