Tuesday, November 3, 2015

In Search of Ebionite and Nazarene Christianity– Part 1

Pool of Baptism at Khirbet Qumran

I-Brief Overview

As we saw in the article Jesus and the Essene Calendar [1], the connections between the community of Qumran, the Essenes and Jesus, are multiple. We saw one already, pointed by ex-pope Ratzinger. But now it´s time to show the origin and context of the issue, being already supported by documents of Qumran, ancient historians and Fathers of the Church. All of which changes forever the impoverished vision of Christianity that has lasted for 1800 years.

Open your ears and heart. Twisted conservative arguments are losing force and now can only be excuses.

First of all, we can say without risk of error that Jesus– Yehoshua in Hebrew and Yeshua in Aramaic–, grew up in a Northern Israel community that came to be called Nazarenes, linked to the Hebrew term Netzar, Branch. These –let´s say Nezarenes– kept relations with the Evyonim or Poor-Humble of Qumran and the Nazarites or Natzarim, Contemplative, mystics watchers of the Law (Torah). We will gradually see evidence of this.

We should first remember that the Nezarenes existed before the Christian era, as recognized by the Father of the Church Epiphanius, who seems to link them to the Essenes and distinguishes them from the Nazoreans, a Jewish-Christian group of the fourth century [1]:

They did not call themselves Nasaraeans either; the Nasaraean sect was before Christ, and did not know Christ. But besides, as I indicated, everyone called the Christians Nazareans .
–Against Heresies/Panarion 29.6

The Nazarean– they were Jews by nationality– originally from Gileaditis, Bashanitis and the Transjordan… They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received laws– not this Law [of the official Judaism], however, but some other. And so, they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but they would not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with it. They claim that these Books are fictions [better say allegories], and that none of these customs were instituted by the fathers. This was the difference between the Nazarean and the others [conventional Jews]After this Nazarean sect in turn comes another closely connected with them, called the Ossaeans [Essenes perhaps?].–Epiphanius of Salamis (IV) Against Heresies or Panarion. 1:18-19

The old Nazarenes, like the Samaritans, were opposed to the Judean traditions, holding that the southerners had falsified the Law of Moses–The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfield, p. 207

This explains why the Gospels tell that the Nezarenes were deemed as dangerous in Jewish circles:

And Nathanael said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? –John 4:6

Trying to preserve the purity of the prophetic teachings, the first brotherhood of Netzarim had available exclusive and exclusive places of residence, as was probably the legendary Nazareth, which is surely not what today is known as such [2]:

and came and dwelt in the city [polis, community place] called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene –Matthew 2:23

And it shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Yeshe, and a stem / branch (Netzar) from his roots will bear fruit–Isaiah 11: 1

Hence the language used by Jesus: I am the vine, you are the branches–John 15: 5

However, the term Nazarene was not popularized until the apostolic odyssey:

... We found this man [Paul], a pest that excites sedition to all Jews in the world and is the leader of the sect of the Nazarenes [Gentile converts and Pharisees] Acts 24: 5

The canonical letters indicate that after 17 years in Syria, probably receiving nazarene formation formation in Damascus, Paul received from the leader Yakob, Simon Kefas and Yojanan –the Three Pillars of the Nezarene Congregation– a second generation permit to carry his Gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 2: 9), which had apostolic validity as part of the Renewed Covenant or Brit Hadasha (Jeremiah 31: 31-33).

But it was not until about 55 A.D that his followers began to be called Christians in Turkey:

The disciples [Paul] were called Christians first in Antioch –Acts 11: 25-26

Without going into detail, one must say that over time, the term Christian Nezarenes lost its original meaning, especially after the breakdown of the Nezarene Church suffered during the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in the 135 A.D. This event cut the weak link that existed between the Hebrew Nezarenes and the Gentile Christian Nazarenes that were hidden in the Roman catacombs and other places. But let´s leave that for another occasion.

As a brief sketch suffices to say that the Roman yoke frightened many generations of orphan Christians. And those unfortunates, fearing death under the Roman sword, abandoned the few Hebrew roots they had left, establishing a new Church with pagan customs and ideas that crystallized especially in the fourth century, when the Church was allied with the Empire Constantino.

Inevitably, all this diluted the legitimate Nazarene version that Paul had adapted for Gentiles and which we may call Nazarene Katholicism, no longer known.

Such rupture gave rise to all sorts of different romanized and disolute christianities, most of them romanized and dissolute. Only the Fathers of the Desert, Donatists, Celtic Christianity and other groups refused to convert into Roman religion, paying a high price, losing their life. A fascinating story that we leave aside for another time, for it has its substance.

Now, there were also offshoots from the Judeochristian side, such as the Nazoreans, which tried to preserve the Hebrew Christianity, although some data indicate they had lost some references:

These sectarians do not call themselves Christians but Nazareans–Ephiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.

The Nazareans accept the Messiah in such a way they do not ceasse to observe the Law (Torah)–Jerome, About Isaiah 8:14

The Fathers of the Church wrote that these Nazareans only used the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew. And Jerome was even granted access to the Nazorean library to translate it into Latin. The copy was quoted by the Fathers in several occassions, but it disappeared, since it was deemed as heresy.

There were also two emerging groups of Ebionites, as attested by the Father Origen. And one of those groups probably had the true descendants of the first Nazarene Congregation of Jerusalem led by Yakob. , which in the Acts of the Apostles appear sharing goods, living in sympathy with the Evyonim of Qumran, as Jesus and the Nezarine had always done.

However, those later Ebionites were also regarded as heretics in the IV. And Eusebius of Cessarea, arch-bishop of Rome, right hand of Constantine, mocked them–as Origen had also done– saying they were poor because of their poor understanding of the Messiah.

Fortunately, valuable Ebionite from third writings (II-IV century) have being preserved. And these show a true mystic and allegoric understanding of the Hebrew teaching, what was misinterpreted by Church Fathers and modern researchers, who see the Ebionites as enemies of Paul, when it was not exactly the case.

In fact, the true Nazarene Pauline Katholicism included the famous Key of Knowledge mentioned by Jesus (Luke 11:52), which was the Jokmah Nishtar or Hidden Wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:7-8), transmitted by the first Essene Ebionites and Nezarenes, protectors of the first revealed Torah, which was rejected by the Jews, who only accepted a codified literal Torah, as I mentioned in The Meditating the Our Father.

II-Conecting the Roots

After this brief excursion, it is necessary to go back into the first century and drink directly from the roots in order to restore the link and learn what the original Ebionite-Nazarene teaching was, including the reform introduced by Jesus, Yeshua, a reform that in no way rejects Hebrew mysticism, but rather reaffirms and adapts it for Gentiles of modern times.

And as we will see, there is no trace of doubt that the Nezarenes –among which were the grandparents, carnal parents, brothers, cousins and uncles of Jesus– shared many elements with the famous communities of Qumran and Eyn Gedi, adjacent areas nears the Dead Sea. Some members of such Dead Sea community fit the description of what ancient historians called Essenes, which were probably the Elite of the Elite, the leaders.

It is hard to believe these groups were not different branches of the same tree, because according to historical chronicles and the documents of Qumran [4], they all shared ways of self-referring, as well as lifestyle, thought and rites such as the solar calendar, baptism, the symbolism of the bread and wine during the sacred meal (seder), the belief in a inner Holy War, the End Times, preparation for the Way and the allegorical reading of Scriptures.

According to the scrolls discovered in the Qumran caves [4], the members of these communities included men, women and children, and called themselves: Evyonim or The Poor-Humble, Evyonei Jesed or The Poors of Mercy, Beni ha Aur or Sons of Light, Yajad or Community, those who prepare The Way (Derek), etc.

Curiously, the Nezarene Apostles were called The Way (Acts 24:14). Which Way? That of heart justice and Love for the Eternal One.

All this should already be arousing curiosity and intuition of the faithful seekers of truth. Although we can anticipate some coincidences:

Blessed are the Poor in spirit [Evyonim, fair hearted], for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven–Matthew 5: 3

In the Qumran texts, the leader of the Evyonim or The Poor always appears mentioned as Master of Righteousness, Moreh Tzadik, around which there were always twelve leaders helping him to prepare the Way in the Desert. The Masters of Justice came in succession generation after generation exerting that labour.

Both Essenes, Nezarenes and Ebionites always appear described as jealously protectors of the purity of the prophetic teaching, running away from the perverted sects of Judaism, such as the sect of the Pharisees, doctors of the Law or Torah, who defiled the true Torah by adding human traditions.

Another clear case of corruption were the Sadducees, priests who claimed descent from Zadok, the first High priest of the Temple, something that was far from the truth. In fact, the true heirs of Zadok, were probably the Evyonim of Qumran, since in some manuscripts they also call themselves Beni Zadok, Sons of Zadok.

The term relates to that of Moreh Tzadik, Master of Righteousness, or simply Tzadik, Just.

And one of those Masters was probably John the Baptist, as it follows from the Gospels. Like the Evyonim, he prepared the Way for the coming of the following Master, which in this case was not just anyone, but an awaited reformer Messiah.

His name was Yeshua and obviously he took over, but playing a wider and more revolutionary role, what explains the slight rejection from his nezarene family (Mark 6:3). Although nobody questioned his authority.

In his Canonical Letter, James, that is, Yakob has Tzadik, refers to his brother Yeshua, Jesus, in these terms:

You have condemned the Just, you have killed him but he will resist–James 5: 6

Words similar to those in The Damascus Document (I: 18-21, 4Q267):

For they sought smooth things and preferred illusions (Isaiah 30: 10) and they watched for breaks (Isaiah 30: 13) and chose the fair neck; and they justified the Wicked and condemned the Just, and they transgressed the Covenant and violated the Precept. They banded together against the life of the Righteous...Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context, Mark Harding, p.301

There is no unanimity among scholars concerning what Master of Righteousness the document referred to and what time. But the issue repeats over and over, as the enemies of true Torah were always enemies of the Just. 

Coincidently, there is a huge amount of evidence pointing to Yakob ha Tzadik, the Nazarite, as the legitimate Master succesor of Yeshua, being also his carnal brother, a piece of information the Church tried to erase at all cost, as we will see in the coming article.

© Copyright 2015







[3] Nazaret does not appear recognized as a city of Ist century. Not even Flavius Josephus, the great historian of the epoch, mentions it, despite making a detailed list of 45 cities of Galilea, including Jafa, which is near the place known today as Nazaret, popularized by Helene, mother of Christianity, and of Constantine, its supreme reformer. 

Helene gave orders to build an altar in what was regarded as the grotto where Mary received the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel. And she probably convinced her dear son Constantine to declare Romanized christianity the official religion of the Empire. Unfortunately she forgot to tell him and the official Church, not to massacre the Ebionites, Donatists and other Christians that did not think as Roman Church.

[4] For the study of Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes:

The Essene Odyssey. Hugh Schonfield.

Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context, Mark Harding

Qumran and the Essenes: A re-evaluation of the evidence. Lena Cansdale

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, Robert Eisenman.

Other sources:

Concerning the Nazarenes and their relation with Jesus, the addendum to The Passover Plot of Hugh Schonfield, one of the best experts in the subject.

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