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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 important?

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 considerably older. 

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 "legalistic." 

They were loyal to the law, but their conception of the law was very different and much more radical than that of their contemporaries.  

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 Christianity.

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 gospels.  

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