Why are the Recognitions and Homilies Important?
"Frequently Asked Questions" about the
Recognitions and Homilies
Go to the
online version of the Recognitions and Homilies
1. What are the Recognitions and the Homilies, and why are they
The Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies
are two documents of the early Christian church, most likely from the
third century, though probably utilizing some material which is
Despite their relatively late date, they are of special significance
for those interested in the early first-century church and for the
historical Jesus, because they document the views of "Jewish
Christianity" -- those early Christians who remained Jewish in
their basic attitude toward the law and their theology. While
affirming reverence for Jesus, they did not claim that Jesus was the
"ontological" Son of God (as one who believed in the trinity
would claim); and they also affirmed a continuity between the teachings
of Jesus and the law of Moses.
2. Weren't the early Jewish Christians a legalistic group that
insisted that the gentile followers of Jesus convert to Judaism and
strictly follow the Jewish law?
Not quite. These Jewish Christians did not conform
to the caricature of them in the book of Acts, and later adopted by most
Christians and most scholars -- that the Jewish Christians were
"legalists" who were excessively concerned about circumcision,
minute details of the Jewish rituals, and so forth. There is one
central ritual of first-century Judaism, namely the animal sacrifices in
the temple, which they emphatically rejected, and in the Homilies
Peter condemns many of the scriptural texts as false insertions made by
scribes! A group which rejects animal sacrifice and condemns parts
of the Jewish scriptures (the Christian "Old Testament") as
outright falsehoods, can hardly be considered to be
They were loyal to the law, but their conception of the law
was very different and much more radical than that of their
3. How do we know that the Recognitions and Homilies
represent Jewish Christianity?
It is mostly because of the evidence of the early church fathers who
denounced certain Jewish Christian groups, such as most significantly
the Ebionites, as heretics. The most significant early writing in
this respect is the fourth-century writer Epiphanius, who describes and
denounces 80 different heretical groups in his work the "Panarion."
Some of these heretical groups are Jewish Christian groups. However, the second century writer Ireneaus and the third century
Hippolytus also describe Jewish Christianity. Other early writers
refer to Jewish Christian groups, but they seem to be mostly copying
from Ireneaus or Epiphanius.
When you look at the views of these heretics as described by the
church fathers, and compare them with the views of the Recognitions
and Homilies, you see a number of striking similarities.
The Recognitions and Homilies contain unusual views which
are found virtually nowhere else in early Christianity, but are
described as Jewish Christian. For example, Epiphanius describes
the Ebionites as opposing animal sacrifice, as vegetarians, and as
calling Jesus the "true prophet." The Recognitions
and Homilies oppose animal sacrifice, support vegetarianism, and
call Jesus the "true prophet."
There appears to be a scholarly consensus on this which dates back to
the nineteenth century, which you can read about in the Introductory
Notice to the Pseudo-Clementine Literature.
4. How do we know that this "Jewish Christianity" has
anything to do with those Jews who followed Jesus in the first
century? Isn't this just a second and third century viewpoint,
interesting from the point of view of church history, but having nothing
to do with Jesus or anything else in the first century?
Good question! It's true that the Recognitions and Homilies
are later documents from the third century. However, it is clear
that the most controversial aspects of the Recognitions and Homilies
-- vegetarianism, rejection of animal sacrifice, rejection of Paul,
loyalty to the law -- are all found in the first century as well.
Paul describes Jewish Christian opponents in Romans 14, I Corinthians
8-10, and Galatians 2 who are loyal to the law, question his own
apostleship, are vegetarian, and reject animal sacrifice.
So we know that the Recognitions and Homilies contain
views that go back to the very earliest stages of Christian
history. These views are older than the gospels, which were
written many decades after the letters of Paul. In an important
sense, the Jewish Christian views are closer to Jesus than the canonical
gospels, even though we lack a gospel sayings source supporting Jewish
That is what makes the Recognitions and Homilies
exciting documents -- because, however imperfect, they give us insight
into a heretical tradition about Jesus that is older than the
And this does not begin to go into the other evidence that Jewish
Christianity had a closer affinity with the historical Jesus than
orthodox Christianity or any of the alternative "gentile"
versions of Christianity. I have discussed this and more in my
book, The Lost Religion of Jesus.
-- Keith Akers