The natives of America are commonly called “Indians.” But, strictly speaking, they are not Indians and in fact they never were. Christopher Columbus ignorantly labelled the natives of America “Indians.” He believed mistakenly that the land he discovered was part of the islands of Asia, then called Indies. The Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, on p. 20, candidly admits this fact:
“American Indians, indigenous peoples of the Americas. The name Indian was first applied to them by Christopher Columbus, who believed mistakenly that the mainland and islands of America were part of the Indies, in Asia.”
Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, on p. 642, further corroborates this fact:
“When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he thought he had reached the islands off the eastern coast of Asia, then known as the Indies, and he called the villagers who greeted him Indians.”
Here we have it in the plain language. Columbus simply made a mistake, a mistake which was never corrected by later historians. The indigenous peoples of the Americas are not and never were Indians. They were known by their tribal names. The same historians who failed to correct the blunder of Columbus also refer to Yeshu as Jesus and his earliest followers as “Christians.” It is an irrefutable fact that Joseph and Mary and all the relatives of Yeshu never referred to him by the name Jesus or the title Christ. Jesus was known by his Hebrew name Yeshu. Yeshu conversed with his relatives and disciples in either Hebrew or Aramaic and not in Greek or English. Therefore Yeshu never labelled his followers by the name “Christians” since this name is derived from the Greek term “Christianoi” - devised in Antioch by the Paulinist followers. The teachings and the life of Yeshu, strictly speaking, should not even come under the heading “Christianity” since the Jews in Galilee and Judaea never regarded Yesha as a Christian or a founder of a new religion but rather they viewed Yeshu and his earliest followers as another deviationist sect within Judaism. The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, on p. 506, corroborates this fact:
“Strictly speaking, the career and ministry of Jesus, and his relations with his disciples, do not come under the heading Christianity. They are rather part of the history of Jewish sectarian movements toward the end of the second Temple period.”
Before Yeshu even began his ministry there already were three major sects within “Judaism:”
Church Father Epiphanius who lived and wrote in the 4th century testified that the earliest followers of Yeshu did not call themselves by the name Christian but that they were rather identified by the name Nazoreans:
“The Nazarenes did not apply to themselves the name of Christ or the name Jesus itself, but the name Nazorenes. And all Christians were at that time similarly called Nazorenes…but in Antioch the disciples and the whole Church of God began to be called Christians” [Panarion 29:1,10].
We also know from the Jewish Talmud that the first followers of Yeshu were not regarded as followers of a new religion but rather as members of a deviationist sect within Judaism. The Talmud also identifies the first followers of Yeshu as Nazoreans. Even the Arabs and the Koran refer to the first followers of Yeshu and the community which he led as Nasrani, that is, Nazoreans. Even in this day and age, “Christians” are simply known as Nazoreans among the Arab Muslims. Acts 24:5 irrefutably shows that as far as the Jewish populace of Judaea and their leaders were concerned, the followers of Yeshu were simply members of the new sect within Judaism which they identified by the name Nazorean. The Jewish leaders mistakenly assumed that Paul himself was one of the ring leaders of the Nazorean sect.
It was in Antioch that those who accepted Paul’s version of the Gospel abandoned the original name Nazorean and instead began to call themselves by the new name Christianoi, that is, Christians. At this time Paul, whose original name was Saul, also abandoned his Hebrew name and adopted the Roman name Paulus. Eusebius says that he did so in honour of the proconsul whom he converted to his version of faith. The Book of Acts clearly shows that Paul was originally always called by his Hebrew name Saul. The name change took place in a chapter where he meets the proconsul Sergius Paulus. From that point on Saul is always referred to by his new name Paul [Acts 13:6-12].
It is imperative for you to realise that the new name “Christians” was never adopted by the Twelve of whom James the Just was the chief. This is evident by the fact that the Jewish populace in general had no knowledge of the name “Christian” even years after it was adopted by the Gentile followers of Paul. Acts 24:5 uses the term “Nazarene sect” towards the end of Paul’s career. Even the Jews in Rome knew nothing of the new religion called “Christianity” but only of the sect of which the Jews had a bad opinion [Acts 28:22]. The believers in Jerusalem and Galilee retained their original name and were later also known by their derogatory name Ebionites. There were many members in the Nazorean sect as is evident from the Book of Acts. The Nazoreans flourished in Judaea and Galilee until in 66 c.e., when the Romans besieged Jerusalem. Just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Simeon, the cousin of Yeshu, was instructed in a vision to lead the Nazoreans out of the city. Simeon succeeded James the Just as the leader of the Nazoreans. A Catholic historian Philip Hughes, in his book A History of the Church, on p. 57, points out:
“Some vision had warned the bishop - Simeon - of the coming troubles, and the faithful had left the city in time, and settled at Pella, in the pagan country across the Jordan.”
Church Father Epiphanius wrote:
“…apostles settled in Pella after the removal from Jerusalem in consequence of Christ’s injunction to leave the city and emigrate in view of the impending siege” [Teicher, Journal of the Jewish Studies].
The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, on p. 490, gives us the following information:
“At the beginnings of the Jewish war against Rome in A.D. 66, Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and perhaps also in Galilee escaped to Pella in Perea.”
As a matter of fact, Yeshu himself warned the disciples to leave Jerusalem when they see Jerusalem besieged:
“And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. Let those in Jerusalem escape, and those outside the city should not enter it for the shelter” [Luke 21:20-22].
Yeshu specified that the city of Jerusalem and in particular its Temple would be destroyed and that this would be the time of punishment - so that everything written concerning it could be fulfilled [Luke 21:22].
The Essenes/Nazoreans/Ebionites believed that the destruction of the Temple took place primarily because the Jewish hierarchy and the Sadducee priests refused to discontinue the sacrificial cultus. In the Ebionite Gospel, Yeshu is quoted as saying that unless the Jews abolish the sacrificial cult the wrath of God would not depart from them. In the Recognitions of Clement Apostle Peter points out that the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple was directly brought by God in order that the sacrificial cult could cease.
Peter pointed out that all those who rejected the sacrificial cult and practiced vegetarianism would be preserved and would not perish with the rest in the city. It is significant to note that the believers who were led by Simeon, the successor of James the Just, actually escaped and settled in Pella of Perea - an area which was known as Transjordan. All historians agree that this was the area where the “Jewish Christians” or the “Pristine Christians” did later flourish. The stronghold of the Ebionites was in fact the Transjordan. Rev. A. F. Findlay in his book Byways in Early Christian Literature, on p. 87, says:
“We are probably correct in regarding these Ebionites of Gnostisizing tendency as the descendants of the Palestinian Christians who fled to Pella before the destruction of Jerusalem.”
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, on p. 433, locates the Ebionites east of the Jordan River:
“A sect of Jewish Christians which flourished in the early centuries of the Christian era…the sect flourished especially on the east of the Jordan.”
The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 4, on pp. 576-577, states:
“It is possible that the Ebionites go back to the earliest period of Christian history, when most Christians were Jews…If so, they would be the earliest example of a Christian movement within Judaism that was eventually left behind as Christianity adapted to the influx of gentile converts. These Christians eventually became a distinct group that, along with other groups [e.g., the Gnostics], was rejected as heretical by the emerging “great” church. They are sometimes identified with the ‘minim’ [heretics] in the Jewish Talmud…Information on the Ebionites is scattered over three centuries, from the middle of the second to the middle of the fifth, suggesting that the sect had a continuous history as a distinct group from the earliest period…the greatest strength of the Ebionites was in Palestine and Syria, areas where Judaism flourished. One community of Ebionites lived in Pella, east of the Jordan River, and claimed to be descended from the original group of Christians, who were thought to have fled Jerusalem at the time of the war with Romans in 70 c.e.”
Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 4, on p. 344, says:
“Explicit mention of the Ebionites is first found in the works of Irenaeus [c 185], and they were known to still exist in the fourth century. They evidently left Palestine and settled in Transjordan and Syria and were later known to be in Asia Minor, Egypt, and Rome."
New Age Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, on p. 309, says:
“EBIONITES [Hebrew ‘ebion’ poor man], name probably applied at first to all Christians; later used particularly of an ultra-Jewish party, who, though Christians, remained outside the Catholic Church. They flourished in the early centuries of the Christian era - particularly on the east side of the Jordan.”
The original followers of Yeshu who were known as Essenes and Nazoreans initially flourished in Transjordan. But soon afterwards, and especially after the rebellion of Bar Cochba, the Jewish Messiah, they were stigmatised by the rabbis of newly emerged Pharisaic Judaism as the “deviationist sect” and were therefore expelled by the rabbis of Normative Judaism. Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 5, on p. 511, candidly admits:
“In due course the Jewish Christians were included in the category of those sectarians whom the Jewish community rejected and anathematized. The male diction of the minim contained in the daily Amidah was introduced, viz. reformulated, in order to render impossible Jewish Christian participation in the service of the synagogue, and to consummate their separation.”
The original believers and followers of Yeshu who were established by the Twelve were eventually excommunicated by the rabbis of Normative Judaism. They were despised and rejected as a “heretical sect.” Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 2, on p. 3, says that Samuel ha-Katan composed a benediction which targeted the “Judeo Christians” or more specifically, the Nazoreans:
“He did this by applying it to the Jewish heretics. It is generally assumed that this new formulation was meant to force the Judeo-Christians out of the Jewish community. In the Genizah version, the word Nozerim actually occurs.”
The Hebrew word “nozerim” is the very word by which the first followers of Yeshu were called by the Jewish populace and the rabbis of Normative Judaism. It is the very name by which those same believers were identified by the Jews in Acts 24:5. Yeshu's followers were henceforth forced to abandon the Jewish synagogues since the new formula required them to pronounce a curse on themselves every time they would assemble with other Jews in a synagogue. The participants in the Jewish synagogues were thenceforth required to pronounce the following words in their daily prayers:
“May the Nazarenes and the heretics be suddenly destroyed and removed from the Book of Life” [Chadwick, The Early Church, p. 21].
Raban Gamaliel II, introduced the 18th benediction with the following words:
“Let the Nazarenes and the heretics perish in a moment, let them be blotted out of the book of the living and let them not be written with the righteous” [Ferguson, The Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pp. 461-462].
Henceforth the Essenes/Nazoreans/Ebionites were no longer recognised by the Jewish rabbis and they were persecuted and ostracised. While the Jews were looking for a way to get rid of the Nazoreans, the Paulinist followers and Christians were transforming his movement into the emerging Catholic Church. Thus these original true followers of Yeshu and the Twelve found themselves in a very peculiar position. They were excluded and rejected by the Jewish community as a whole and at the same time the emerging Catholic Church refused to acknowledge them as true believers but branded them as “heretics” and gave them a new derogatory name Ebionites. The term in Hebrew simply means “poor ones” but the Catholic bishops and the Church Fathers applied it sarcastingly, implying that they had a poor intellect and understanding - since according to them they were poor of intellect, due to their damned doctrines and teaching. Hugh Smith, a Presbyterian writer, in his book History of the Christian Church, on pp. 69,72, states:
“These Judaizing Christians were first known by outside world as Nazarenes…Abhorred and publicly execrated by the Jews for their attachment to Christianity, and despised by the Christians for their prejudice in favour of the Mosaic Law they were peculiarly oppressed and unfortunate.”
The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, on p. 491, explicitly says concerning the Jewish Christians:
“That these groups should disappear is not surprising, since they did not fit either into post-temple Judaism nor into the emerging Catholic church.”
Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, in their book The Hiram Key, on p. 335, say the following:
“A sect called the Ebionim or Ebionites was a direct descendant of James’ Church…This sect held teachings of James the Just in high regard…For a long time after the death of Jesus and James the terms “Ebionite” and “Nasorean” were completely interchangeable and these people were condemned, under both names, by the Church of Rome as heretics.”
Keith Akers, in his book The Lost Religion of Jesus, on p. 174, says:
“Jewish Christians were finally excluded from the Jewish synagogues and condemned as Jewish heretics. Suddenly within a space of few decades, Jewish Christianity becomes a sect excluded by both Jews and Christians. It is during this time that the Ebionites probably first emerged as a distinct group, to preserve the religious views they felt had been passed down to them from Jesus himself through James and his spiritual descendants.”
Chadwick, a church historian, in his book The Early Church, on p. 23, points out the following fact:
“From Irenaeus onwards Jewish Christianity is treated as a deviationist sect rather than as a form of Christianity with the best claims to continuity with the practice of the primitive church at Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians called themselves Ebionites.”
The most learned of the Church Fathers, Origen, who was at the same time most sympathetic towards the Ebionites, explicitly stated that the Jews who accepted Yeshua were called by the name “Ebionites.” This is what Hasting’s Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 5, on p. 153, has to say on the subject:
“Origen says that these Jews who have received Jesus Christ were all called by the name Ebionites.”
The Jewish scholar Schlomo Pines, in his book The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According to a New Source, on p. 65, states:
“Quite clearly, these Jewish Christians believed that they preserved and continued the traditions of the first not yet corrupted Christian community of Jerusalem founded by immediate disciples of Jesus who professed his religion.”
Rabbi Philip Sigal, in his book Judaism - The Evolution of a Faith, on pp. 82-83, frankly states:
“Christian Judaism continued to survive west of Jordan River and south and east of the Dead Sea. It survived in the variegated sects known to patristic writers, most notably as Ebionites. The Christian-Jewish Church of James predominated until 70 c.e., and while significance of James is diminished in canonical Christian literature, the now-available Nag Hammadi literature highlights the major role he played. It is clear that some Christians believed Jesus first appeared to James, and that the disciples chose James as their legitimate leader of the church of Jesus…This movement [Ebionite] grew increasingly isolated from emergent “Catholic” Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries.”
Leonard George, in Crimes of Perception: An Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, Art. Ebionites, writes:
“Within a few decades of Jesus’ death, the Christian movement split into two factions: the followers of Paul, who believed that Christianity was a new religion completely separate from Judaism; and the Jewish Christians, who held that Christians should continue to adhere to the traditional religious practices of the Jews. The Pauline party developed into orthodox Catholicism. A group of Jewish Christians, who became known as the Ebionites, survived as a heresy…The doctrinal position of the Ebionites overlapped the beliefs of the Jews and orthodox Christians, and caused them to be condemned by both. In turn, the Ebionites regarded the Jews as unenlightened and damned Paul as first Christian heretic. The sect proclaimed that most of the scriptures the Catholics revered were not authentic.”
Even though the Ebionites were direct descendants of the Jerusalem and Galilean believers, the emerging Catholic Church and virtually all the Church Fathers vigorously opposed them and regarded them as heretics - condemning them and ostracising them. The Anglican scholar David L. Edwards, in his book The Real Jesus, on p. 39, candidly admits that Ebionites were direct descendants of Yeshu and his earliest followers, and explicitly states that both the Orthodox Jews and the Paulinist Christians despised them and condemned them as heretics:
“Early in the fourth century the church historian Eusebius recorded a tradition that the Christians had escaped from Jerusalem when the trouble began, but it is certain that they became a small group which was regarded by fellow Christians, as well as by all orthodox Jews, as heretical, their version of Christianity came to be called “Ebionite.” Yet it was based on account of Jesus given by his own family and by his earliest followers.”
Edwards, although Anglican, candidly admits and frankly states that the original believers who escaped from Jerusalem were regarded as heretics by the mainstream of Christianity - the Paulinist Christianity - which was then emerging into the Roman Catholic Church. Edwards is aware of the fact and actually says that “it is certain” that these believers who migrated to Transjordan called themselves Ebionites and that they actually preserved the version of faith which was based on the testimony of the closest relatives of Yeshu and his earliest and closest associates - the twelve Apostles. The Jewish scholar, Hyam Maccoby, in his book The Mythmaker - Paul and the Invention of Christianity, on pp. 179, 182, says:
“Thus the Ebionites, by their continued belief in Jesus as a prophet and Messiah, were increasingly cut off from the developing activity of rabbinical Judaism. Yet it was probably not until about 135 that the Ebionites were finally declared heretics by the Pharisee rabbis…Gentile Christianity, however, unlike Ebionite Christianity, was never declared heretical, since it was too far removed from Judaism to be regarded as a heretical form of it. The Ebionites were thus in the unhappy position of being ostracized both by what was now main body of Christians, the Catholic Church, and by the Jews. The pressure to join one or other of these two religions was enormous, and by the fourth century the Ebionites had ceased to be a discernible separate community. Consequently, they have tended to be disregarded and despised by historians. Yet what remains of their testimony about the origins of Christianity is of unique importance, for, unlike the Catholic Church, they were directly linked to the ‘Jerusalem church’ and thus to Jesus himself. Their testimony about Paul and the circumstances in which he broke with the ‘Jerusalem Church’ deserves to be treated with respect, not with the usual scornful dismissal…The Ebionites did not survive for the simple reason that they were persecuted out of existence by the Catholic Church. When this oppression was lifted for any reason [for example, when an area changed from Christian to Muslim rule], they sometimes came out of hiding and resumed an open existence. There is even evidence, from the works of the Jewish philosopher Saadia, that this happened as late as the tenth century.”
The Ebionites suffered persecution by their countrymen - the Jews - just as Yeshu said they would. But they were also ostracised and damned by the “fellow” Christians who allegedly believed in Yeshu and followed the Twelve. Yeshu did say to his disciples that a time would come that whoever kills them would think that they do God a service. Man, Myth and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown, art. Ebionites, states:
“Remnants of Jewish Christianity survived in various places in Palestine, Syria and Egypt until the 5th century. Its members clung to the original tenets of their faith…They are known only through the garbled and prejudiced accounts of Orthodox Christian writers, who regarded them as heretics. They are named either Ebionites or Nazarenes, and various strange beliefs and customs are ascribed to them.”
The Church Fathers and the bishops of the emerging Catholic Church condemned the Ebionites and branded them as heretics. Andrew Welburn, who was originally a Fellow at the Warburg Institute at the University of London but is now Fellow of New College, Oxford, argues that the Church Fathers got it all wrong and that the Ebionites were not heretics but rather those who preserved original and true faith. In his book The Beginnings of Christianity, on pp. 86-87, Welburn writes:
“The Church Fathers describe the Ebionites as a heretical sect - which they certainly were not, or at least were not until the later church thrust that role upon them.”
Yeshu said to his disciples that they can only expect to be treated as he was. Since he was regarded as heretic by the mainstream Judaism of his day and in fact was killed for his “heretical” views, it was only to be expected that his immediate followers would be also regarded as heretics and that for their views would have to pay with their lives. Yeshu never envisaged that his followers would comprise a large and powerful movement, aligned with the secular kingdoms - as was the case with the emerging Catholic Christianity. So, who were the Ebionites? They were true believers who were directly linked to Jerusalem Apostles and therefore to Yeshu.