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Bill Boerst

Vegetarian Society of Chautauqua-Allegheny

Vegetarian Roots in Ancient Religion

The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity. Keith Akers. Lantern Books, 2000, 260 pp. ISBN 1-930051-26-3.

Have you heard the saying "Jesus was a vegetarian"? That may not be far from the truth. In his book The Lost Religion of Jesus, Keith Akers undertook a massive and detailed investigation into the beginnings of Christianity. He found substantial evidence that the early Christian message wasbased on three tenets ó pacifism, simple living, and last but not least vegetarianism.

This book is not an emotional testament to the power of Christ. Rather, it is an in-depth look at the beliefs and ways of Jewish Christians in the early days of the church, prior to the fourth century A. D. Akersí sources are not just the Old and New Testaments. He also uses Jewish Christian writings from that time period, namely The Clementine Homilies, The Recognitions of Clement, and Epiphaniusí Panarion. The author uncovers a fascinating history of commitment by a small number of Jews to the teachings of Jesus. He also develops his compelling interpretation of religious texts that clashes with many conventional versions.

Divided into three parts, the text leads us through evidence that reveals the Jewish Christian message and how it got lost in history. Part I, "The Mother of All Schisms," emphasizes various divisions in the early church. Akers questions the practice of relying on just the Old and New Testaments as sources because their messages are ofte3n contradictory. Iinstead, he recommends a careful study of church history, including the most prominent group of Jewish Christians, the Ebionites. He underscores myths of history: that all Jews rejected Jesus or that Jewish Christianity is an impossibility. In fact, he maintains that " . . . it was Jewish Christian Ebionites, and not the gentile Christians, who most faithfully preserved the traditioins handed down to them by Jesus."

In Part II, "The Message of the True Prophet," Akers describes the Ebionitesí struggle to follow Jesusís message. An important part was the golden rule from the Old Testament, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jewish Christians were communal, sharing all material possessions with each other. The Ebionite view was that Jesus arrived as a prophet to restore the law of Moses. However, this group was not necessarily in favor of every aspect of Mosesís law. For example, they objected to animal sacrifice. Akers insists that later insertions into Acts make it appear as if Jesus wanted obedience to every aspect of the law, which was not the case. Jewish Christians distinguished between the law and the Scriptures. They saw many scriptural passages as either allegorical or erroneous. They felt God had revealed truth in the law at the outset, but people had forgotten and falsified it over the years.

The last section, "The Disintegration of the Jesus Movement," traces the splintering and disappearance of Jewish Christianity. Akers contrasts Paulís view with the Ebionite view, citing three main differences ó attitude toward the law, Paulís claim to be an apostle, and the validity of ethical vegetarianism. In the process, he discusses Stephenís martyrdom and the attempt to take Jamesís life. Prior to the year 70 A. D., Jewish Christianity had been the center of Christian activity; after 70, the group was "decimated by war, seriously and effectively persecuted by its opponents, and isolated politically ó not a part of either Judaism or Christianity."

For the vegetarian who wants to bolster convictions with philosophical or religious reasoning, this book is recommended. For the person ó vegetarian or not ó who seriously questions present-day militarism, conspicuous consumption, and cruelty to animals, it sheds light on one possible solution which hails from antiquity.

(Vegetarian Society of Chautauqua-Allegheny)



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