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The Ebionites were an early Jewish sect, and its followers were amongst the earliest supporters of Jesus Christ. The term itself is Hebrew for "the Poor Ones," which is what Jesus named them in Isaiah 66: 22. Though they upheld the teachings of the Jewish Torah, the Ebionites were also followers of John the Baptizer, "James the Just," and Jesus himself.

The Ebionites flourished during the years 30 to 80 C.E., the same period as the Nazarenes. In fact, many conflate the two into one movement called the Ebionite/Nazarene movement or Yachad, a Hebrew word meaning "together." It does seem clear, however, that this Judeo-Christian sect did officially break from its supposed predecessors after the second century B.C.E. Religious scholars assert that this was partly a product of Christianity’s growing rupture from Judaism, resulting in the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to separate the two.

Indeed, according to the Romans the Ebionites were heretics who rejected Paul, as well as Jesus’ divinity, including his "virgin birth." Indeed, because their views were held to be in conflict with Christianity, we must accept that whatever information regarding the history of the Ebionites that has survived, may have been compromised by the biases of the historians recording it at the time.

Views on Jesus and Christianity

According to what we know about the Ebionites (including what is today upheld by so-called adherents of their doctrine) their central beliefs regarding the life of Jesus was consisted of the following:

  • Jesus (or Yashua, as he is also called) was not divine, nor was he the Messiah – although the Ebionites state that he did undertake a messianic mission meant to bring the "Messianic Age" through kindness and righteousness.
  • He was a devout Jew.
  • He was "liberal" in his halakha, or practice of Jewish law.
  • Although his teachings may have been in conflict with certain sects of Judaism, they were within its general framework.
  • Though not a Pharisee or an Essene, Jesus did uphold some of their beliefs.
  • Jesus may have performed miracles, but Christian documentation of them may not be accurate.

Beyond this, little is known of this early Judeo-Christian camp. Since the establishment of the Christian Church and its persecution of the Ebionites as heretics and "Judaizers," what information could be collected about the Ebionites has been fragmented, and its objectivity is considered to be compromised. The most complete account available of the Ebionites comes from Epiphanius of Salamis who in the fourth century recorded a "heresiology", Panarion, which was aimed to denounce 80 so-called heretical sects, including the Ebionites.

What eventually became of the Ebionites remains a point of contention amongst historians. Some say they were eliminated by the Roman army in 135 C.E., while others believe that they had survived until at least 1000 C.E., when the Muslim historian Abd al-Jabbar claims to have encountered them. Still others suggest that they had survived even later, stationing themselves in northwestern Arabia.

In the late 20th century, there was an attempt to revive the Ebionite movement. However, to what degree the beliefs currently upheld by members of this community are in keeping with those of the original Ebionites cannot be verified.

For more information on the Ebionites, including their role in history and their missions of today, visit the Ebionite Community.

Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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