Friday, August 15, 2008

Thus Saith the Evan!

I strolled into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon today looking for some low hanging fruit. As always, the garden was full, so I picked this piece. The serpents there told me it would be good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise. So, I sampled it, and had to spit it out immediately. Unfortunately, there may be those who fall prey to the serpents, so I thought I'd post a notice about it.

Evan thinks he's found some historical information that overturns the authenticity of what he calls "the Greek Gospels" and proves that "orthodoxy" is a late development.

Let's take a look and see how good his history is today...

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.
Fair enough

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.
Okay, I'll let this slide for now.

Luckily, we have such a group. They are variously called the Ebionites or the Nazarenes

Evan, you really need to take a course in Church history and, I dunno, read the Bible.

1. The Bible talks about Nazarenes in Acts 24:

1After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.

2After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation,

3we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.

4"But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.

5"For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Evan, are you going to seriously argue that Paul would have been put on trial for not believing the doctrines that he articulates in his letters? The Ebionites of the Subapostolic period (the period from which you are getting your information on them) were a version of the Judaizers. Paul wrote against them, not in favor of them. So, if you're going to equate Nazarenes and Ebionites in the period prior to 70 AD, you've got a problem. This must be quite the conundrum for you. Was Paul put on trial for not believing that Jesus was divine, for not believing in the virgin birth, etc? Why would the Jewish leaders have a problem with Paul and say he was a leader of a sect that rejected the very things that they themselves rejected and that adhered to the same sorts of Jewish practices they accepted? Do you actually think about what you write or are your fingers autonomous with respect to your higher cortical functions?

Or, will you argue that the text is simply in error? Where is the supporting argument?

Or, will you argue that the designation "Nazarenes" at that time had come to denote what we call "orthodoxy" today and the Ebionites (as you portray them) were first? If so, then where's the documentation?

2. EBIONITES. This designation was at first, like "Nazarenes," a common name for all Christians, as Epiphanius (d. 403) testifies (Adv. Haer., xxix. 1). It is derived from the Hebrew [Hebrew text omitted] "poor," and was not given, as Origen supposes, in reference to their low views of Christ, but to their own poverty. This poverty, especially characteristic of the Christians of Jerusalem, evoked from the Pagan and Jewish world the contemptuous appellation of "the poor." Minutius Felix says, "That we are called the poor is not our disgrace, but our glory" (Octav., 36). Subsequently its application was limited to Jewish Christians. "The Jews who accept Christ are called Ebionites," writes Origen (c. Cels., II. 1). Then, when a portion of the Jewish Church became separate and heretical, the designation was used exclusively of it. Later in the fourth century Epiphanius, Jerome, and others use it of a separate party within the Jewish Church distinct from the Nazarenes. This outline of history proves that Tertullian was wrong when he derived the term from a pretended founder of the sect called Ebion.

The notices in the early fathers are fragmentary, and at times seem to be contradictory on account of the double application of the term, now to Jewish Christianity as a whole, now only to a party within it. The New Testament knows of no sects in the Jewish Church, but indicates the existence of different tendencies. At the Council of Jerusalem a legalistic and Judaizing spirit manifested itself, which was in antagonism to the spirit of Paul, and was shown in the Judaiziug teachings which did so much mischief in the Galatian churches. But it was not until after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the founding of Aelia Capitolina by Hadrian, in 134, that Jewish Christianity became a distinct school, gradually becoming more and more heretical till it separated into the two sects of Ebionites proper and Nazarenes. The latter still held to Paul as an apostle, and, while they kept the law themselves, did not demand its observance of the Gentile Christians. The former held the observance of the law to be obligatory upon all Christians alike, and rejected Paul as an apostate. This was the state of affairs at the time of Justin Martyr (Dial. c. Tryph., 47). Irenaeus, who does not mention this party division, describes the Ebionites as stubbornly clinging to the law, as rejecting the apostle Paul as an apostate, and all the Gospels except Matthew. He further notices a christological heresy. Denying Christ's birth from the Virgin, they regarded him as a mere man. Origen (c. Cels., V. 61) distinguishes between two branches of Ebionites, - those who denied and those who accepted the miraculous birth. Here he distinction between Nazarenes and the Ebionites proper becomes apparent. In the later fathers, as Jerome, Epiphanius, etc., the notices are more frequent; but nothing is added to our knowledge except that the [p.685] Ebionites were chiliasts (Jerome ad. Esdr., 35, 1). In Epiphanius' day (d. 403) they dwelt principally in the regions along the Dead Sea, but also in Rome and Cyprus. The disintegration of Jewish Christianity was consummated by the introduction of Gnostic philosophy, of Greek culture, as also, perhaps, of Oriental theosophy. See the art. ELKESAITES.

G. Uhlhorn, "EBIONITES," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 2. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.684-685.
My commentary to make it easy for Evan, since he seems to suffer from reading incomprehension:

1. Yes, at first, these names were interchangeable for all Palestinian Christians.
2. But later, they came to be used to distinguish between two sects.
3. Ebionites in the latter sense (that discussed in the sources you quote later) are not Nazarenes/Ebionites in the former sense. This basic error renders your entire article false. Good job! If this is the best you can do, Evan, it makes our job here that much easier.

[a] The Nazarenes. These were Jewish Christians who adopted the tenets of the Christian religion. They used only the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, but at the same time recognized Paul as a true apostle. In distinction from other Jewish sects they believed in the divinity and the virgin birth of Jesus. And while they bound themselves in practice to a strict observance of the law, they did not demand this of Gentile Christians. “They were”, as Seeberg says, “really Jewish Christians, whereas the two following groups were only Christian Jews.”

Evan then quotes from the Subapostolic period:

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

Evan needs to date his material. Eusebius is writing when and about whom? Ireneaus is writing when and about whom? Hippolytus wrote when and about whom? etc.

These are references to Ebionites after 70 AD and from the Subapostolic era. So, are these Ebionites in the former sense or the latter sense?

Evan also omits something important from Epiphanius. He should have read the section before the one from which he quoted:
"For this group did not name themselves after Christ or with Jesus' own name, but "Nazoraeans." However, at that time all Christians were called Nazoraeans in the same way. " (Epiphanius, Panarion 29)

"But these sectarians... did not call themselves Christians--but "Nazarenes," ... However they are simply complete Jews. They use not o­nly the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do... They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion - except for their belief in Messiah, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is o­ne, and that his son is Jesus the Christ. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the... Writings... are read in Hebrew, as they surely are by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, o­nly in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law - circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest - they are not in accord with Christians.... they are nothing but Jews.... They have the Good News according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written. (Epiphanius; Panarion 29)
This is all available at Google Books.

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.

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.
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.

Also here's a little something from Justin Martyr:


And Trypho again inquired, "But if some one, knowing that this is so, after he recognises that this man is Christ, and has believed in and obeys Him, wishes, however, to observe these [institutions], will he be saved?"

I said, "In my opinion, Trypho, such an one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men,--I mean those Gentiles who have been circumcised from error by Christ, to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so. This you did yourself at the commencement of the discourse, when you declared that I would not be saved unless I observe these institutions."

Then he replied, "Why then have you said, 'In my opinion, such an one will be saved,' unless there are some who affirm that such will not be saved?"

"There are such people, Trypho," I answered; "and these do not venture to have any intercourse with or to extend hospitality to such persons; but I do not agree with them. But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses, from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people's hearts, along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren. But if, Trypho," I continued, "some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them. But I believe that even those, who have been persuaded by them to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved. And I hold, further, that such as have confessed and known this man to be Christ, yet who have gone back from some cause to the legal dispensation, and have denied that this man is Christ, and have repented not before death, shall by no means be saved. Further, I hold that those of the seed of Abraham who live according to the law, and do not believe in this Christ before death, shall likewise not be saved, and especially those who have anathematized and do anathematize this very Christ in the synagogues, and everything by which they might obtain salvation and escape the vengeance of fire. For the goodness and the loving-kindness of God, and His boundless riches, hold righteous and sinless the man who, as Ezekiel tells, repents of sins; and reckons sinful, unrighteous, and impious the man who fails away from piety and righteousness to unrighteousness and ungodliness. Wherefore also our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'In whatsoever things I shall take you, in these I shall judge you.' "

(Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 47).

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.
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.
The Ebionites of the latter type, Evan, did deny the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ, if, by the divinity of Christ you mean what orthodox Christians affirmed. However, they also held to a Cerinthian view of Christ. In other words, they distinguished between Jesus and Christ through an adoptionist view of his divinity. Cerinthus taught that Jesus, the offspring of Joseph and Mary, received Christ at his baptism as a divine power or spirit revealing the unknown Father. This Christ left Jesus before the passion and the resurrection. Ebionism is one of the versions of Gnosticism (and thus why Iranaeus wrote against them).

After posting an irrelevant map (to support his pagan copycat theory), Evan concludes:

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
My commentary...

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

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

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

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.

So, now, Evan, you've placed yourself in the position of having to argue that the Ebionites (in the manner you portrayed them) were first and that what we know as orthodoxy was a later development and the writings against the Judaizer heresy in the Bible are writing against what the "first Christians" actually believed (since you think that they were Ebionites - as you portray them - themselves). Further, Evan, you've alleged that the stories of the "legendary" Jesus in the "Greek Gospels" are late by a great deal, but Paul's letters begin in the 50's, Evan, and Galatians is dated as early as the close of the first missionary journey (ca. 50) to Paul's imprisonment (ca. 60) AD. Even if you try to date the Gospels late, you still have to contend with Paul, who is an earlier source. Further, you'll now have to explain the Jerusalem Council in Acts. Is your argument going to be that Luke purposefully misrepresented the council in order to make it look like "orthodoxy" a later development according to you won out? If so, you'll need to document that claim too - and with something more than speculation.

You're digging yourself now into a very big hole. I wonder, how deep will you go?

Quick, somebody, remind me why this guy is writing at DC? Is this really the best sort of argumentation they can muster?

1 comment:

  1. I've posted a response on the comment thread to my post on DC.

    I am not eager to have any comments deleted so I will not be posting anything of substance on this blog's comment section, however I appreciate the tone of Gene's criticisms and I am happy to continue with a Triablogue dialogue in whatever way you see fit that doesn't allow my comments to be deleted.