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The Origin of Christianity

The Origin of Christianity: The Pacifism, Communalism and Vegetarianism of Primitive Christianity. By Charles Vaclavik. Platteville, Wisconsin: Kaweah Publishing Company, 1986. Second edition, 2004.

[To order this book, send a check for $26.95 to The Kaweah Publishing Company, 180 West Pine Street, Platteville, WI 53818.]

For anyone wanting to know the real history of early Christianity, this book is both an essential and a "fun" read. First published in 1986 with the title The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ, this second edition has much additional material and substantial revisions which have made the book more interesting, more provocative, and more persuasive.

Vaclavik (pronounced "vah-SLAH-vik") does not mince words or conclusions. The current so-called Christianity is at best a pale imitation of the real views of Jesus, and at worst an outright betrayal of its leader. Jesus was interested in promoting pacifism (nonviolence towards enemies), communalism (sharing of possessions), and vegetarianism (nonviolence towards animals). He was killed by those who opposed him in the Jewish temple. The celebrated "cleansing" of the temple was a confrontation between Jesus and the temple authorities in which Jesus liberated some of the cattle, sheep, and oxen which were to be sacrificed (killed) and presented to the temple authorities.

Vaclavik’s book is important and valuable: I have read his book and profited from it. Moreover, I believe that in his important conclusions, he is absolutely right: pacifism, communalism, and vegetarianism were important parts of the message of Jesus.

Vaclavik identifies three strains in early Christianity: Judaic Christianity, Gnostic Christianity, and Catholic Christianity. The Judaic Christians derived from Jesus himself and believed in the original tenets of Jesus: vegetarianism, pacifism, and communalism. But the origins of Jesus’ ideas go back even further — back, in fact, to Pythagoras, who held many of the same ideas. Pythagoras was thus, amazingly enough, a prophet of Christianity. The ancient Hebrews included both the priestly faction which advocated and practiced animal sacrifice, and the prophets who condemned animal sacrifice.

The Judaic Christians rejected the priestly faction. They were called Nazarenes, an offshoot of the Essenes, and aligned themselves with the prophets and the Judaic Pythagoreans. The Essenes, as well as the Pythagoreans and Nazarenes, were vegetarians, pacifists, and communalists.

Gnostic Christianity got its start with Paul. Paul preached a diluted message that did not include vegetarianism to Pagan gnostics, who were converted to become Christian gnostics. Paul also spread certain gnostic ideas, such as the idea of the resurrection of the soul only (not the body) and an "unknown God" who was unknown until Christ revealed him. Marcion and other gnostics in the second century continued to follow Paul’s teachings and elaborated them in more detail.

Catholic Christianity is even more derivative: it is an offshoot of Gnostic Christianity, and is thus "a heresy of a heresy." Catholic Christianity originated not with Paul, nor even with Peter, but with John "the beloved disciple" who was a Judaic priest who converted to follow Jesus as a young man. After the destruction of the temple and his exile on the isle of Patmos — during which time he wrote the book of Revelation — John was welcomed by the gnostic Christians (followers of Paul) at Ephesus as a hero. He introduced further modifications to Christianity including the priesthood. When the Protestant reformation under Martin Luther, over a thousand years later, threw off the Catholic priesthood, they reverted back to the religion of Paul, namely early Christian gnosticism.

Vaclavik’s book does not stick to the tried and true formulas. He is really heading off into uncharted territory, and his book is full of new and unconventional interpretations of the data. To cite just a few examples:

1. The Nazarenes (a. k. a. the "Nasaraeans" described by Epiphanius) were an offshoot of the Essenes.

2. Paul originally preached to pagan gnostics and converted them, and this is the origin of Christian gnosticism.

3. John the Priest (the "beloved disciple" of the gospel of John) originated the priesthood — and with it, Catholic Christianity — late in the first century.

4. Jesus was probably born much earlier than usually thought, and was crucified in the year 36 at the age of 59.

5. Jesus may have survived his crucifixion by 18 months and met Paul personally and physically on the road to Damascus, and Paul’s shock resulted in his conversion to the new sect.

I am not sure that I agree with all of these ideas, but on the central questions of importance to his book — pacifism, communalism, and vegetarianism — Vaclavik is clearly right. Vaclavik tells a single coherent story, but the parts of the story are not a set of interlocking and mutually dependent parts, but rather a succession of independent hypotheses, some of which are interlocking but most of which are not.

Where does Vaclavik lie in the overall scheme of Jesus scholarship? He is certainly not orthodox, and rejects orthodox Christianity in no uncertain terms. But Vaclavik is certainly not a "New Age" theorist either. He does not "channel" Jesus, nor does he claim to have found a mysterious gospel from Tibet, nor does he constantly tease the reader with conspiracy theories about the "real Jesus" being hidden in documents in the Vatican or being a fictional creation of ancient gnostic conspirators. When you read Vaclavik, you know almost at once what he believes and why he believes it.

Vaclavik is really in the tradition of radical independent scholars. He has contributed to our knowledge of early Christianity, joining a group of writers including Hans-Joachim Schoeps (Jewish Christianity), Carl Anders Skriver (The Forgotten Beginnings of Creation and Christianity), and myself (The Lost Religion of Jesus) in bringing knowledge of this largely-forgotten but highly important group of early Christians both to scholars and the general public.

Scholars are flooded with people and manuscripts making startling new claims about Jesus, so I understand why they are reluctant to give Vaclavik a reading. While I understand the scholarly reaction, I do not agree with it. There is a considerable body of evidence linking Judaic Christianity to Pythagoreanism — evidence which scholars would do well to heed. I am continually surprised that liberal scholars take seriously the idea that the Greek Cynics were an influence on Jesus, for which there is scarcely any evidence, while the much more substantial evidence for Pythagorean influence on early Christianity gets hardly any ink at all. If the idea of Pythagorean influence on Christianity (any part of Christianity, heretical or otherwise) ever gains acceptance, I hope that it is clearly recognized that Vaclavik was the first to present this idea to the public in detail.

These are the kinds of surprises that continually await the reader of Vaclavik’s book. You may not agree with everything in it, but in engaging Vaclavik’s ideas — and his data, which I’m willing to bet most scholars are unfamiliar with — you will be challenged to examine both your own ideas about the historical Jesus, and your own decision whether or not to follow the personal example of this great religious leader.

The future of Christianity rests on our ability to shake up traditional Christianity, and shake it at the foundations. Traditional Christianity is based on false ideas of Jesus, manufactured to suit the fancy of our contemporary society, ignoring the pacifism, communalism, and vegetarianism of Jesus and the first Christians. But the secular world is hardly an alternative, and the future of planet earth likewise depends on our ability to shake it to its own foundations. Our secular society is based — like "traditional Christianity" — on violence, bloodshed, mastery of the environment, mastery of other humans, and manipulation of reality to conform to human needs.

It seems that secular society has remade Christianity in its own image to fit its own needs, from Constantine down to the present day. That this "secular Christianity" is morally bankrupt should be obvious. That it will also bankrupt us physically, economically, and emotionally will become obvious all too soon. Vaclavik’s book is an important contribution to the task of remaking Christianity.

-- Keith Akers
May 10, 2005

 

 
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