“Disciples” — coming this fall

My new book on vegetarianism in early Christianity, Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Split the Church, will be published in the fall of 2012 by Apocryphile Press.

A book about the disciples of Jesus would typically start with Jesus himself: first there was Jesus, then he had disciples.  This book suggests a fundamentally different story: first there was a movement, then Jesus emerged as its leader. This movement is known to history as “Jewish Christianity” — Jews who followed both the Jewish law, as they understood it, and also followed Jesus, as they understood him, and persisted in this even after the rest of Christianity became a gentile religion.

Vegetarianism is an integral part of this story.  One key belief of Jewish Christianity, dropped by the later church, was its objections to the Jerusalem temple.  They saw the practice of animal sacrifice in the temple as a bloody and barbaric business.  In their view, Jesus gave his life when he disrupted the temple business during Passover week.  Instead of animal sacrifice, they practiced an alternative ritual, baptism in flowing water, and were vegetarians.

However, it was just this issue which was the most divisive in the early church.  The upshot was that there was a split in the church between Paul and gentile Christianity on the one hand, and the Jerusalem Church under the leadership of James on the other.  The church has essentially never recovered from this split.

Jewish Christianity interacted with a number of different groups in the ancient world, and took a variety of different forms. Some of these groups are well known to the public, like the Essenes, but some of them are quite obscure, like the Elkasaites and Mandaeans.  The chief Jewish Christian group was known as “Ebionites,” derived from the Hebrew ebionim, meaning “the poor,” and much of the book concerns the Ebionites and their history and literature.  One of the most fascinating sub-plots of Jewish Christianity concerns tracing the influence of Jewish Christianity in gnosticism, Islam, and in Eastern religion.

There are many things about Jewish Christianity that we do not know.  But Disciples shows that we can know a great deal about this group so critical in the formation of Christianity: its origins, its key ideas, and its most palpable influences.  In short, we can know its history, a history which Disciples tells in an accessible way for the first time.

Here’s the outline:


Part I.  The Problem of Jewish Christianity

1. What is Jewish Christianity?
2. How Other Christians saw Jewish Christianity
3. How the Jewish Christians Saw Themselves

Part II. Jewish Christianity Before Jesus

4. The Prophets, the Lost Tribes, and Galilee
5. Ebionite Mythology
6. The Pythagoreans
7. The Essenes

Part III.  The Coming of the Christ

8. The Nazoraeans
9. John the Baptist
10. Jesus
11. Pentecost

Part IV. The Apostolic Age

12. The Family of Jesus
13. Paul and the Table of Demons
14. Paul and the Poor
15. Paul’s Visits to Jerusalem
16. The Apostolic Council
17. The Church Divides
18. The Destruction of the Temple

Part V. The History of the Ebionites

19. The Origin and Geography of the Ebionites
20. Our Knowledge of the Ebionites
21. Ebionite Theology in a Nutshell
22. Ebionite Demonology and the Problem of Evil

Part VI. The Influence of Jewish Christianity

23. Gnosis and Christ
24. The Revelation of Elxai
25. The Mystery of the Mandaeans
26. Into the East
27. Significance of the Ebionites


4 thoughts on ““Disciples” — coming this fall

  1. Jim Theilmann

    Is this book available yet? I was impressed by your book The Lost Religion of Jesus and even mentioned it to our priest this morning after mass when the gospel reading dealt with Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple. Our priest, who is quite amazing for his homilies chose to preach on the first two readings which dealt with “Thou shall not have a graven image” and then proceeding to explain why we have a large crucifix of Jesus in the center behind the altar. We had an interesting discussion with him after mass (my wife and I).

    My wife and I just moved to Aurora, CO from Mesa, AZ after 42 years in Arizona and 2 years in Palo Alto, CA. Originally from Kansas. But now we’re here near our youngest daughter who lives in Parker, CO.

    I heard you speak in Sedona a couple of years ago at the Raw Spirit festival.


    1. Keith Akers Post author

      I’m glad you are keeping your priest on his toes! The book is not yet available; it will not be published until (probably) sometime in the September – December 2012 range, although no publication date has been set.

  2. Mark Aelred

    Having read The Lost Religion of Jesus, I eagerly look forward to the publication of Keith’s further research in support of his thesis. Keith’s writings on the vegetarian Jesus and the movement he led is thrilling to read — because it is so very much based on actual research and evidence with very little if any indulgence in pure speculation. And Jesus emerges as more relevant — and more interesting — and more courageous — than ever.


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