Sunday, May 30, 2010

How Man Created Satan

Myths and fables are all we seem to have passed down from us in the early centuries after Yeshua lived. But what is a myth if not the hopes and aspirations of a people manifested into a physical form which beckons to all to relinquish their doubts, abandon their cynicism and embrace a belief beyond normal human comprehension. And in many of our religious belief systems that is all we possess, a myth that has grown into a reality. Let me take the time to tell you about one such myth which manifested in Persia and grew well beyond the borders of that land. Some of you may recognize it, others actually believe in it, yet the majority will not even know of its origins and would have come to believe that its roots in our society were otherwise. As a Karaite I am free of it but you may not be so lucky as most have come to call it Christian but as you will soon see, it was anything but.

A Gift From Persia

The Persian Magi, the spiritual leaders of Zoroastrianism studied the universe endlessly, contemplating its contradictions, catastrophes and endless sufferings. They found it hard to believe that the truth lay in the Judaic writings that all these events were the manifestations of a singular God. That the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, He who called himself the Loving God and the Wrathful God could be the perpetrator of history’s greatest disasters. In order to reconcile their belief in an Almighty God they found there could only be one solution; a second Kingdom. Where God reigned in a Kingdom of light and beauty from above in the heavens, another being ruled from the pits, a Kingdom of darkness and evil. The primal God above and a second entity that ruled the universe from below and the two were eternally set in opposition. And in this second kingdom, Satan ruled and the demons were born from its depths.

Desiring more than what rested beneath his hand, Satan invaded the Kingdom of Light and the war began in earnest between the two opposing forces, the Light and the Darkness. To beat back the armies of Satan, God created primal man but Satan’s forces began to overcome the armies of this lesser being and God was forced to rescue Man lest he be lost to Satan. But even after being rescued, Man had suffered grievously, several particles of his original Light gifted by God now replaced by five elements of the Dark. And thus man was set on a path that if he was to return to the Light, return to God, he must overcome the Darkness that now dwells within in an everlasting eternal struggle.

The first of these men to live, a combined existence of both light and dark particles was named Adam. Because of what Satan had done, Adam and his offspring were to be forever born in original sin. There was a woman named Eve, and because she was only created to be Adam’s companion she possessed less particles of light and therefore was more susceptible to the darkness. But God loved his creation of man and throughout the history of mankind would send his heavenly spirits in the form of prophets to guide and correct the corruption that now resided within man’s soul.

The Manichaean Universe

As strange as it may sound, what you have just read was not Christian. The beliefs were neither developed by Christian theologists nor were they practiced by the early Christians. In truth, the concept of two kingdoms in perpetual battle were so foreign to the early Christians that it was rejected wholeheartedly but Christianity had never faced a threat before like Mani, with his charisma, his gift to speak and his determination that exceeded that of any Church leader. Mani was born around 215 AD to a wealthy Persian family. He spent his early years travelling throughout the Persian Empire and into India where he encountered Buddhism. In his later years he headed west into the Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire where he preached the religion that incorporated his original Zoroastrianism and all the beliefs he had acquired during his travels. He immediately had universal appeal, providing to the people that had always been familiar with Gods at war from their earlier Greek and Roman pantheon beliefs an easy bridge between their present Christian instruction and the religion of their past. Mani listed the prophets that they should believe in; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Paul and himself whom he saw as the greatest of them all. In case you haven’t noticed, there is one prophet of significance missing from Mani’s list that being Moses. Moses represented everything contrary to what he was teaching to his new followers. To believe in Moses meant believing that all things good and bad did come from the one God of the Universe. To read Moses instruction meant that there was no such thing as Satan and his demons ruling from a secondary kingdom. To follow Moses meant that all men were born with free will to be either good or evil and were not tainted from birth. To Mani, he saw no hope in attracting the Jews to his new religion so he focused only on the susceptibility of the Christians knowing that they thirsted for a link to their old world of paganism.

But if man was born into a world of evil, a sinner from birth, Mani knew that he also had to provide a reward that mankind could strive for. He taught his followers if they learned and studied the prophets, strove against the evil within their souls, then if they were successful they would set the light free and would ascend to God. But if a man could not perform the purification within his lifetime then he would be sent back to live again until such time that he could release the light. And once all of mankind had succeeded in releasing the light then there would be the final apocalypse which would destroy the material universe and banish the Kingdom of Satan forever.

Something Familiar

Mani divided his followers into five levels. The first three levels were known as the Sons of Meekness. They were the Teachers, the Perfecti and the Electi. And only they would inherit the privilege of ascending to God after a single lifetime. The next level were the Administrators known as the Sons of Knowledge, comprising bishops and priests. The last level was known as the Sons of Understanding and they were the presbyters. The Sons of Meekness had additional restrictions, in that they had to be vegetarians, not engage in marriage or procreation as they had to remain pure if they were to ascend to God. The Sons of Knowledge did not have to endure the same restrictions. They had to follow several commandments including the forbidding of lying, adultery, murder, sloth, and doubt, along with keeping a certain number of fast days. As one can see, there are several parallels to the layering within the Manichean church to the establishment of the Catholic Church.

By the fourth century there already was a singular head, a Pope of the Manichean church. Many of the Marcionites that I had described in an earlier article adopted the Manichean beliefs and in fact by the end of the third century almost all of the Marcionite churches became Manichean. The appeal of the Manichean church exceeding anything witnessed before. It’s popularity amongst the aristocrats of the Roman Empire was immediate as it provided an easy transition from their pagan hierarchy to this new one, a far easier task than adopting the more man-centered concept of Mosaic law. One of the most notable personages to adopt the Manichean religion was St. Augustine who was actually one of the administrators in this church. Eventually St. Augustine left the Manichean church accusing it of teaching a falsehood of rival worlds of Light and Darkness in perpetual battle and that God was at constant war with Satan. In his new position within the Catholic Church he railed against these misguided beliefs enforcing the Mosaic belief that God was the only power in the universe and man was responsible for his own sinful ways, having nothing to do with an external power that forced him to commit wrong doings. How ironic that in spite of St. Augustine’s condemnation of Manichaeism in order to preserve the initial Judaic beliefs of the church, his protestations were eventually washed away in the tide as the Church raced to adopt Manichean beliefs.

The Ultimate Absurdity

By the fifth century, the Manichean belief system began to dominate the beliefs of Christians from all persuasions. So much so that the Catholic Church could see very little difference between their followers and those that claimed to be Manichaean. The primary difference was that the Manichaeans had their own Pope, their own elders, bishops, priests and lay clergy; a massive organization that bore no allegiance or recognition of the Church in Rome. How ironic that the Roman and Byzantine Churches would pronounce an edict condemning all Manichaeans to death, accusing them of heresy even though there existed by this time very little difference by this time between the beliefs of the two church systems. The decision was one of politics, of power, of greed and once again Christianity had been diverted from its true course without its followers having the slightest indication that the practices and beliefs that they now professed had nothing to do with the initial teachings of Yeshua whom they swore to follow. They had all become Manichaeans but they did not know it!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Myths of the Second Century

Having begun the revelation of the myths and fables surrounding the birth of Christianity in my last article it is time to look more in depth at the development of Christianity as to what it has become now. It is a pale reflection of its beginnings and the essential Judaic teachings of its origins were intentionally stripped from it so that it could stand apart and bend to the will of those that controlled its destiny. Men in the Catholic orthodoxy that were not unlike the Rabbis that made a determined effort to mould both their respective religions into something other than intended and most importantly, to their own benefit. These changes were not by accident, were not normal evolution, nor were they done with the best intentions of its worshippers. But what is sadder is that with the wealth of historical information available, so many have not taken the time to read about their Christian origins. Had they merely taken the time and cherished advice of our Karaite sage and founder Anan ben David, they would have recognized that he was not only speaking to those of us that are Karaites but to people of all denominations and religions. His was a warning that to follow blindly is the greatest sin of all because it will do exactly the opposite what it claims it was designed to do. The preaching will be “Do not lead us unto evil” yet the outcome for any religion where it demands blind obedience, advises not to question its teachings or origins, and both assails and condemns any opinion that it deems contrary will do exactly that; it will lead you unto evil! The heritage of Christianity has been the eradication of any opinion that those in power deemed contrary. Silencing the heretics was the norm for hundreds of years. Yet heresy is from the Greek “haerens” which only means an act of choosing. So the execution of the heretics really meant eliminating anyone that wanted to make a free choice and that is the legacy of the rise of Christianity.

A Strange And Unusual Time

From a Karaite perspective what I personally find the most amazing about the second and third centuries AD is that you had two religious sects, both essentially Jewish in origin vying for the title of supreme monotheist but both willing to sacrifice the original teachings of the Torah. Let me explain if this statement has confounded you. Both Rabbanite Judaism and Christianity began writing furiously over this period two centuries to win over the hearts and minds of adherents whether established or new. The Rabbis began writing their Talmud feverishly and the Christians published a plethora of Gospels, both groups specifically designing their books to capture sayings, teachings, and histories, even if the subject material was speculative, inflammatory, and based solely on one’s own personal and therefore far from factual experiences. Whereas the Rabbanites were determined to catalogue their thoughts into one volume, even though it ended up in both a Palestinian and Babylonian version, the Christians made no attempt to consolidate their writings, keeping each manuscript distinct and separate. And therein lay the failure of the Rabbinates to win the race to the publishers and to their respective audience. The Talmud became a massive tome, unable to be finished for several hundred years and therefore never released to be mass circulated to the public and so introspective that it had practically no appeal to anyone but the rabbis themselves who enjoyed reading about their own endeavors, arguments, and congratulatory back patting efforts, whereas the Christian authors were able to circulate their small books quickly, often just as vellum manuscripts, suitable to be read by any individual and with stories bordering on the fantastical and supernatural thus very appealing and capturing an eager readership desiring to read about something other than mundane issues. There really wasn’t any contest when it came down to it. Even though most of these circulating Gospels were to be dismissed and discarded later when the Church decided to canonize the final version of the New Testament, it did so at a time that the general public had already been exposed to the multitude of books and their imaginations captured by the mythological status of the writing. The Talmud which was a never-ending exercise had none of the same mass appeal nor even had it been available early would it have been something the common person desired to read. Yet both of these massive documents, whether Talmud or New Testament had taken their intended audiences far afield from the Laws of Moses and the actual dictates of the Torah or Old Testament. And as I have pointed out numerous times in my articles, both these works of men were constantly in contradiction to the Torah and the teachings of Moses and were intentionally so. Of that as you will see in the next few paragraphs there could be now doubt!
Marcion Versus Montanus

“Who?” is the word you are probably uttering right now. Just two of the most important men in early Christian history and yet the majority reading this will have absolutely no idea who they were and what was their true significance. But both these men were the most prominent leaders in Christianity during the second century AD and shaped the Christianity that we know today. But because they possessed views outside the mainstream Catholic teachings they were later branded as Gnostics even though as I mentioned they were each responsible for giving Christianity its greatest surge in growth and popularity by attaining thousands upon thousands of adherents at that time and providing an ideological framework upon which the Church did build its current concepts thus eventually attaining mass appeal.

As hard as it may be to believe to Messianics and Christians today, during these first two centuries, to refer to the Catholic Church was to imply that those adhering to this view were either Jews or Judaized-Gentiles strongly leaning towards the Old Testament teachings as presented by the Jerusalem Church, initially under James and then his cousin Simon Cleophas. It was the Catholic Church that was entrenched with both these Judaizers and Old Testament exponents. Initially it saw itself as the defender against the rise of polytheistic ideologies that began to permeate the other churches throughout the empire. But as the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em then join ‘em,” especially when those others were growing faster, stronger and with far more determination than your own congregation could ever accomplish.

Marcion who lived between 130 and 180 AD considered his Church to be the only authentic one. The speed at which Marcion gained adherents was troublesome to the Catholic Church and Irenaeus wrote against them claiming they would eventually fractionate the early Christians beyond a point of recovery. It was not that Irenaeus condemned the teaching of Marcion only that this adversary did them better and in turn had better conversion results than the orthodox Catholics. Marcion’s message was simple. He wanted to build a church that could bring salvation but was not involved in the speculative and mystical ideas that seemed to have taken over the Christian church. Of interest is that Marcion taught that God had two natures. The wrathful, angry God of the Torah, and the kind loving God that had sent Jesus to save the world. But these two aspects of God were always constantly seesawing in what could be viewed as an eternal battle. Perhaps Marcion was familiar with the Yin and the Yang of eastern philosophy but he determined that it was the wrathful side of God that created the world and therefore all material creations were evil. That meant that man was evil as well but the pure side of God loved man and therefore sent part of himself in the form of a phantom body to live amongst man and die in order to save mankind. Quite interesting that the man that accused the traditional church of being too speculative and mystical was in fact the man that provided the spiritual concept of a non-human Jesus to Christianity in the first place. Marcion insisted that the only apostle that understood all of this was Paul and therefore he justified Paul’s abolition of the Law under the excuse that he was serving the Grace. In this manner Marcion claimed that Paul had done away with the wrathful God of the Old Testament and replaced him with worship of only the pure form of God as revealed in the New Testament. Having this narrow perspective meant that Marcion also had a very narrow canon of scripture which included the Gospel of Truth, which was a collection of sayings but not directly from Jesus, the four Gospels although Luke was an edited version, and the Acts of Paul. Hence he claimed that the only scriptures within his church emphasized the mercy of God whereas the Catholic Church was opposed to the teaching of mercy and therefore failed to comprehend true Christianity. Having condemned the material world as evil, Marcion preached that sex was also evil but only those that were Perfect needed to abstain from sex, whereas the rest of the followers could still engage in it and only when they were about to die would they be baptized. Salvation came through the love of God and the Old Testament was negated by this Loving God. As much as this view by Marcion would appear naïve and perhaps even childish, his teaching had a major impact on the Catholic Church and threatened its survival. So much so that Tertulian wrote, “The Marcionites make churches as wasps make nests.” This rapid expansion could not be stopped but it certainly could be absorbed. Catholic leaders met to see which of the Marcionist views should be incorporated into their own doctrines and in so doing they were to markedly reduce the impact by eliminating many of the differences.

Just as threatening were the Montanists which like the Marcionists wanted a return to what they called pure Christianity. Their approach was far more Old Testament, claiming that the Catholic Church was governed by men that had no true sanction by God and therefore their unethical and immoral behavior was not to be tolerated. The only laws that could be considered as truthful were those already passed down by God and his prophets. As you might have noticed, the concepts espoused by the Montanist were not unlike the Boethians and Zadokites of the same time against the Rabbis; in fact these Montanists were very Karaite in their comments. All we know of Montanus is that he appeared preaching in Phrygia around 156 AD. He dispelled the teaching of both the Rabbis and Catholic Church that the age of prophets was gone and that there would be no further prophets. In fact Montanus claimed that he himself was a chosen prophet of God. Montanus’ concept of the Holy Spirit was that it was sent down by God to enter the bodies of his chosen prophets. Therefore any that spoke the word of God were engaged by the Holy Spirit and Yeshua was one such man. Montanus believed that all scriptures were the word of God and therefore he maintained that in his Church all doctrines were acceptable, none were to be repudiated but God’s only requirement was that the followers maintained a high level of morality, fasted regularly, and had strict marriage laws. But as his followers pursued their beliefs, Montanus expected them to abandon the daily world and separate themselves into religious communes. This was in direct contradiction with the Catholic Church that decided its followers should maintain their everyday lives and didn’t need to separate themselves from Roman life in order to become holy.

By the end of the second century it appeared that the Montanists would become the dominant sect of Christianity. The Catholic Church reacted as it had done so many times before, labeling the Montanists as heretics, excommunicating the lot, and condemning their prophets to either banishment or death. This dogma of branding anything that opposed them as heretics was exactly the institutionalized corruption that the Montanists were opposed to. There considerable threat forced those leaders in the Catholic Church to move closer to the reigning powers in Rome. By emphasizing that the Catholic Church supported the Roman authorities and advised its followers to contribute as part of everyday society, they were able to demonstrate the danger represented by a Montanist Church that encouraged its members to withdraw from society and become separate. It didn’t take much encouragement for the Roman authorities to join in the condemnation of the Montanists and use them for their entertainment in the coliseums. Although Christian history will talk about the martyrs fed to the lions and slaughtered in gladiatorial exhibits, it fails to comment that it was Montanists providing this entertainment while a Catholic elite grew closer to the Emperor and 100 years later actually was proclaimed as the one and only Christianity of the Empire.

The Best And Worst

Having survived the century of turmoil and beating back those breakaway sects that condemned it, the Catholic Church, soon to be the State Church of the Empire, recognized that the Marcionists and Montanists had been popular for two entirely antithecal reasons. The first gained popularity by emphasizing the spiritual nature of Jesus and therefore won over the hearts and minds of a people seeking far more than the strict laws that evolved from the Torah.

The latter, the Montanists gained their popularity by emphasizing the freedom of choice, the fact that God intercedes in the world through his prophets and that survival meant separation from the daily life of the Empire. From the general description, they were not very unlike the Jews that still represented a large portion of the eastern populations.

And therein lay the solution that would become the hallmark of the Church for a couple of thousand years. By adopting Marcion’s teachings of the uniqueness of Christianity, the spiritual nature of Jesus and the rejection of all the old laws that were Jewish or Old Testamental they could create a distinct separation between themselves and their original beliefs. And by categorizing the Montanists as nothing more than Christians practicing a Jewish mode of life, they could again emphasize that separation and at the same time focus the Empire’s distrust on any people that were determined to remain separate, especially the Jews. In doing so, the Catholic leaders gained the trust of the Empire and were to eventually to take over the operation of the empire itself in the form of the Holy Roman Empire where the power to invest kings and emperors suddenly lay within their Church.

It was a learning process that would not have been possible if it had not been for the advent of both the Marcionists and Montanists. In a very short time they had gained all the myths and fables necessary to reshape the Catholic Church into the image of bishops; men seeking power at the cost of its heritage. It would have to go through one more phase before the transition was complete. That involved the canonization of the New Testament and finalization of its arrangement with the Empire in the sharing of power. That wouldn’t happen to the fourth century and will be the topic of discussion for the next article.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Further to the Question of Who's a Jew

Shalom Ilan and Hag Sameach,
As you're probably aware, I've written two articles on the subject of Who's a Jew. Because Karaites follow a patriarchal link, the maternal line is secondary in establishing that fact. And because the Rabbinical philosophy of 'Jewish' eggs would negate such illustrious persons from our history such as David, not to mention our patriachs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, it is evident that I cannot agree with their definition. Jewishness is more about nurturing than genetics. The Tanach as I quote in my articles is quite specific I feel in instructing us to unite the nations under the Torah, which in itself is a declaration that its not about birthright but what is in the heart. The rabbis have played an exclusionist game for two millennia and look where it has gotten us. Hunted, persecuted and practically annihilated. The Torah calls for 'inclusiveness', a light unto all the world. Do you think their edict on a non-Jewish sourced ova actually follows the Torah? Here is a child that will be loved, nourished, educated, and raised in the Torah and its teachings. Do you not think that renders the child Jewish or not? Judaism is an observance, it is a commitment, it is a demonstration of faith, and those qualities go well beyond genetics. God asked to be loved with all your heart and all your soul. He stated the qualification for Judaism and who are the rabbis to challenge it?

Now on your pursuit of gaining knowledge regarding this modern Ebionite Sect:
Although I agree with Mr. Phillips that you're playing a dangerous game by using words from one writer to challenge those of another, and as you should know if you light a candle at both ends and hold it, ultimately you will get burned, I want you to appreciate that Karaism is not something being resurrected, or rewritten. It has always existed,which makes it very different from modern day sects of a messianistic nature. And because I view the messianistic cults as false teachings which were predicted by the prophets as being the darkness that will descend near the end times I will respond but for purpose of clarity that there are no shortcuts to the Torah. If one is wanting to be seen as Jewish, then one must make the leap fully to Judaism. They must let go of their past and immerse fully in the Torah. The history of Ebionites is well recorded and commented upon almost from the day they were formed. For the record, let me provide a dozen books on the subject just so I can back my words and bring closure to this discussion.

The Gospel of the Ebionites is known only by the quotations from Epiphanius in the passages of his Panarion: 30.13.1-8, 30.14.5, 30.16.4-5, and 30.22.4, but these early historical facts were corroborted by such books and articles as the "Lost Christianities" by Bart Ehrman (2003), John O'Grady's Early Christian Heresies, The Mythmaker: Paul and the inventino of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby, and 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, just in case you wanted an early scholarly article.
But Epiphanius wasn't the only early Christian scholar that wrote about the Ebionites. And if we can't trust sources written in the time period of this sects existence or shortly after their disappearance then
we negate anything that is assumed afterwards because it would only be based on conjecture. Here are just some of the other Catholic sources that confirm the original beliefs of the Ebionites: Euseubius, Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7.22, 34: 9.13-17, Iraneaseus, Against Heresies 1.26.2, 2.11.7, 3.21.1, 5.1.3/
More modern sources such as:

Top of Page

L.E.. Keck, "The Poor Amongst the Saints in the New Testament," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 56 (1965): 100-129.

L.E. Keck, "The Poor Amongst the Saints in Jewish Christianity and Qumran," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 57 (1966): 54-78.

Albertus Frederik Johannes Klijn & G.J. Reinink, Patristic evidence for Jewish-Christian sects. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 36. Leiden: Brill, 1973. Hbk. ISBN: 9004037632. pp.313.{}

H.J.. Schoeps, "Ebionite Christianity," Journal of Theological Studies 16 (1955): 219-24.
Article G. Strecker, "On the Problem of Jewish Christianity," R.A. Kraft & G. Krodel, eds. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971. pp.241-285.

Of course, you probably can't get any more authorative on early Christian sects than the Catholoic Church itself since they were around at the time and here's what they had to write about Ebionites which I've cut and pasted from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The doctrines of this sect are said by Irenaeus to be like those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They denied the Divinity and the virginal birth of Christ; they clung to the observance of the Jewish Law; they regarded St. Paul as an apostate, and used only a Gospel according to St. Matthew (Adv. Haer.., I, xxvi, 2; III, xxi, 2; IV, xxxiii, 4; V, i, 3). Their doctrines are similarly described by Hippolytus (Philos., VIII, xxii, X, xviii) and Tertullian (De carne Chr., xiv, 18), but their observance of the Law seems no longer so prominent a feature of their system as in the account given by Irenaeus. Origen is the first (Against Celsus V.61) to mark a distinction between two classes of Ebionites, a distinction which Eusebius also gives (Church History III.27). Some Ebionites accept, but others reject, the virginal birth of Christ, though all reject His pre-existence and His Divinity. Those who accepted the virginal birth seem to have had more exalted views concerning Christ and, besides observing the Sabbath, to have kept the Sunday as a memorial of His Resurrection. The milder sort of Ebionites were probably fewer and less important than their stricter brethren, because the denial of the virgin birth was commonly attributed to all. (Origen, Hom. in Luc., xvii) St. Epiphanius calls the more heretical section Ebionites, and the more Catholic-minded, Nazarenes.

I think I've exceeded the 12 sources but there is one more that I consider very important.

In regards to being followers of John the Baptist, you'll see from the following article that is the historically accepted story and this is from Dr. James Tabor that I believe Mr. Phillips said he used as a consultant to this newly resurrected Ebionite sect:
Nazarenes and Ebionites - An Introduction by Dr. James Tabor

© 1998, all rights reserved.

Josephus reports four main sects or schools of Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. The earliest followers of Jesus were known as Nazarenes, and perhaps later, Ebionites, and form an important part of the picture of Palestinian Jewish groups in late 2nd Temple times.
The Ebionite/Nazarene movement was made up of the mostly Jewish/Israelite, followers of John the Baptizer, and later Jesus, who were concentrated in Palestine and surrounding regions, and led by “James the Just,” oldest brother of Jesus, flourishing between the years 30-80 CE. They were zealous for the Torah, and continued to walk in all the mitzvot (commandments) as enlightened by their Rabbi and Teacher, accepting non-Jews into their fellowship on the basis of some version of the Noachide Laws (Acts 15 and 21). The term Ebionite (from Hebrew ’Evyonim) means “Poor Ones,” and was taken from the teachings of Jesus: Blessed are you Poor Ones, for yours is the Kingdom of God” based on Isaiah 66:2 and other related texts that address a remnant group of faithful ones. Nazarene comes from the Hebrew word Netzer, drawn from Isa 11:1 and means a Branch—so the Nazarenes were the “Branchites,” or followers of the one they believed to be the Branch. The term Nazarene was likely the one first used for these followers of Jesus, as evidenced by Acts 24:5 where Paul is called “the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” Here we see the word used in a similar way to that of Josephus in writing of the four sects/schools of Judaism: Pharisees; Sadducess; Essenes; and Zealots. So the term Nazarene is probably the best and broadest term for the movement, while Ebionite (Poor Ones) was used as well, along with a whole list of other terms: Saints, Children of Light, the Way, New Covenanters, et al. We also know from the book of Acts that the group itself preferred the designation “The Way” (see Acts 24:14;22, etc.). The term “Christian,” first used in Greek speaking areas for the movement, actually is an attempt to translate the term Nazarene, and basically means a “Messianist.

So let's put this to rest now and rather than bother with these fringe sects, let's deal with the only issues that matter and that is the dualism in Judaism between Karaism and Rabbinism. Against the odds, Karaism has survived, overwhelmed by the tide of Rabbanites. It is going through a revival because the events of the times are predicating such events. Even the tide can be counteracted by the rip-tide that pulls in the opposite direction against the major force of the ocean. If one let's themself stand in the riptide they will be pulled in to it. So to those Rabbanites that have found fault with their traditions and teachings: that see there is a cancer within the rabbanite community that feeds itself on deceit and illusion, whose eyes have opened to the removal of sacred ordinances that were purposely eradicated by the rabbis, the intentional failure to preserve the houses of David and Aaron, exactly as Salmon ibn Yerushim accused the Gaons of doing a thousand years ago, then let yourself be pulled by this small rip-tide within the sea of Judaism that is tugging at your soul.
Shalom Aleichim
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Christian Myth, Legend and Fable

The context of this article I actually owe to one of my Messianic readers who asked me the question, “Is everything she learned about Yeshua merely the result of fable or myth?” A very difficult question for a Messianic to ask because even though they have struggled to break away from the Christian religion, they so carefully want to hold on to something tangible to say that all was not a loss. In their particular case it means holding on to Yeshua or Jesus as their life buoy as they lose their grip on the dock which was their previous Christian faith and are now set afloat in a raging sea of conflict, contrast and contradiction. One wants to believe so strongly that the floatation ring will keep them safe even as the waves crash and the winds howl as the storm sets in. Unfortunately the lifering is unlikely to do the job as one would need a raft if they were even to stand a chance at survival. But a raft needs to be constructed from a far studier material than the simple floatation device, and without an outboard motor, or in the least oars, even the best raft will capsize without direction. The person that was rumoured to have managed to survive the storm at sea without these items was/is a myth or as we have become accustomed to saying, an urban legend.

The Legends Surrounding Yeshua

Myth, fable, tales, it really doesn’t matter what we call it the fact remains that all three are fabrications of the imagination. But when it comes to Yeshua, it was not as if the truth didn’t try to prevail at times. When we review the early history of the Church, any attempt to tell a more humanistic history was met with exile, excommunication and extermination. The X’s have it when it came to trying to present anything contrary to those that held the reins of power. It is ironic that in today’s age people question what has happened to the historical Jesus. The fact is that any essence of historical fact or reality was killed off and silenced by the Church. And what those in power presented as the one and only authentic story of Jesus is in fact the product of men’s imaginations. Through process of elimination the history of the Church has answered my Messianic reader’s question. Everything she has learned about Yeshua is likely the result of fable and myth.

But one should not take my word for it. After all, I am a Karaite and as such the belief in Yeshua as Messiah is foreign to me and that would render me prejudiced in any accounting. So instead, let’s examine what those within the early Church had to say about it. After all, at one time these were esteemed and credible leaders of the Christian communities, only to find themselves ostracized and banished once a new emperor or a new bishop courted and craved power. And the best way to eliminate a rival was to brand the old teachings as heretical even if they were the original teachings and therefore probably more accurate.

James and Ignatius

What most people forget is that for almost thirty years Jacob (James), the brother of Yeshua was spiritual leader of the Jerusalem Church. He was the most important leader of the early church and those in Rome or Antioch were secondary, perhaps even tertiary to his authority and rank. From 36 AD until 62 AD when he was murdered he was the man that made the decision regarding the future of the Nazoreans and Minim, not Peter and certainly not Paul. Though some might argue that he took control in 33 AD arguing that is the year when Jesus was crucified, in the book Caiaiphas Letters which provides a prespective unlike any other coming from that of the high priest (, I present sufficient information to suggest that the year was actually 36 AD. But for the point of this discussion three years is neither here nor there. What is important is recognizing for the duration of his leadership, James taught from the Temple, something he would not have been able to do if his lessons ran counter to the established religion. For the punishment for heresy, any heresy against the Jewish religion was stoning; stoning to death. If there had been any element of heresy within James’ teachings then he would have met that outcome long before his murder in 62 AD. Any suggestion of Jesus having divinity, magical powers, or making statements contrary to the Laws of Moses would have resulted in immediate trial and punishment. And all it took to lay the accusation would be two witnesses so it wouldn’t have been difficult if James was guilty of saying such things. Therefore to have survived for almost three decades while preaching outside the Gates of Nicanor could only mean that the sermons were well within the acceptable parameters of Judaism. That could only mean no immaculate conception, no resurrection, and nothing of a magical nature that would upset the status quo. That still meant that James could have proclaimed Yeshua as the Messiah since that would have been perfectly acceptable. There already were those claiming that John of Gamala, both Theudas and Judas of Galilee and John the Baptist were already the messiahs, so one more wouldn’t have made any difference to anyone. And therein lays the first myth that the early followers of Jesus already viewed him in terms of being greater than man. They didn’t; all that was to come much later, very much later.

And though the doctrines of these initial followers as instructed by James and who appeared to have an understanding of the essential Jesus continued to exist and grow throughout that first century they were condemned as heretics by Bishop Ignatius of Antioch just before the end of the first century AD as he was being led to Rome to be executed. For Ignatius, a man born after the death of Jesus insisted that he knew much better than those that had sat and learned at the feet of Yeshua. In his letters to the early Christians Ignatius makes the point sixteen times that Jesus and God were one and the same. And there is no misunderstanding of what he meant by this claim since Ignatius affirms he believed Jesus to be the invisible and time­less (achronos) one, incapable by his godlike nature of suffering so he had to come earth so that he would be capable of suffering as a result of his human birth. But Ignatius had far more on his agenda than just argue about the divine nature of Jesus. As his letters indicate he insisted on creating an entire set of rituals that would set Christianity apart from its all too Jewish early followers and the traditions of James’ Jerusalem Church. For Ignatius and those to whom he writes that the Eucharist had to be the center of the Church’s existence and it could only be performed by a bishop or by one he authorizes, hence providing a ritual of consecration that is totally under the control of Bishops thereby giving them total control. Furthermore, in order to eliminate the Judaizing teachings of James, Ignatius ordered that Chris­tianity cease keeping the Sabbath on Saturday like the Jews and instead to observe it on what he referred to as the Lord’s Day or Sun­day. And finally in his bid to preserve powers in the hands of his fellow bishops, Ignatius instructed that there could be no church unless you had a bishop in charge and presbyters and deacons which they would appoint to do their bidding. So in reality, much of the doctrinal changes that separated Christianity from its Jewish heritage were the result of this individual who had purposely contradicted everything that James had established. The only myth would be to assume that Ignatius had either divine inspiration or divinely granted authority to do so.

From the little bit you have now read, you can either assume that the first century Jerusalem followers that had direct contact with Yeshua didn’t know him and only one man almost a century later who had no contact knew him better, or you can assume that these early followers did know him very well for the man he was and it was only after the initial followers passed away and men like Ignatius assumed control of the church that they could create a story that smacked of polytheism but would appeal to the Greeks and Romans that they wished to convert t their new religion. Myth, legend or fable, the choice is yours