Category Archives: Historical Jesus

Who was the historical Jesus, and what were his teachings?

Was Jesus a vegetarian?

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

Was Jesus a vegetarian? The long answer is to investigate both Jesus and the movement that he was part of, something I’ve done in my books The Lost Religion of Jesus and Disciples. This post will give a shorter answer that briefly discusses three key points: the controversy over vegetarianism in the early church, the later history of Jewish Christianity, and Jesus’ attack on animal sacrifice.

The dispute over vegetarianism in the early church shows that the leadership of the Jerusalem church was vegetarian. Continue reading

Pious Fraud, Vegetarian Style

Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged” deals mostly with ancient forgeries, but also with some modern forgeries

NOTE: this post discusses Nicholas Notovitch and Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. For G. J. R. Ouseley and “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve,” see the next post.

The New Testament includes many books whose actual authors are other than they are claimed to be. That is, they are forgeries — but made it into the New Testament anyway.  Paul’s two “letters to Timothy,” for example, were not actually written by Paul.  Forgeries are in a different category altogether than channeled works such as Rev. Ouseley’s The Gospel of the Holy Twelve or Levi’s The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the case of channeled works, the author is being straightforward: I had a dream or vision, in which God (or Anna Kingsford, or the Akashic Records) revealed these things. But in the case of forgeries, a manuscript is being advertised as being written by someone who in fact did not write it. Forgeries in the realm of religion are sometimes called “pious frauds.”

Two distinguished examples of modern “pious frauds” are the gospels by Nicholas Notovitch and Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. Both are sometimes innocently quoted by vegetarians to prove that Jesus went to India or that Jesus was a vegetarian. But neither of them constitutes real evidence about Jesus, or about anything else before the nineteenth century. Continue reading

“Vegetarian Propaganda”

Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)

Recently, in response to a friend’s blurb promoting Disciples on Facebook, someone asked whether the author of the book (namely, me) was promoting vegetarian “propaganda.”

I have heard this same basic objection before, expressed in other ways. Readers feel that describing Jesus or early Christianity as vegetarian is strange. A reviewer of my previous book The Lost Religion of Jesus politely said, “There is, for my taste, an overemphasis on vegetarianism as one of the differences between the Jewish Christian groups and the Gentile Christian church.” Another reviewer, less politely, described The Lost Religion of Jesus as “an apologetic book for vegetarianism with a religious ‘seal of approval’ applied”; still another said that it was “a poorly supported argument for becoming a vegetarian.” Continue reading

Was there a historical Jesus?

Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)

People are seriously debating whether there ever was a historical Jesus. Some assert that Jesus himself never existed, that “Jesus is a legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan.” The best representative of this position is likely Dr. Robert M. Price (The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems). Bart Ehrman wrote a book on the other side (Did Jesus Exist?). Bloggers have now weighed in both pro and con, for example Dr. R. Joseph Hoffman and the site On top of that, many people among the “New Atheists” are getting involved, with even Richard Dawkins cautiously weighing in on the subject: “The evidence [Jesus] existed is surprisingly shaky.” Continue reading

“Disciples” is published

My new book, Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church (Apocryphile Press, 2013) has now been published. You can order it on Amazon here. (I will not be selling it through my website.)

A book about the disciples of Jesus would typically start with Jesus himself: first there was Jesus, then he had disciples. Disciples suggests a fundamentally different story: first there was a movement, then Jesus emerged as its leader. This movement was markedly different from both rabbinic Judaism and gentile Christianity. It became known to history as “Jewish Christianity”— Jews who followed both Jesus (as they understood him) and the Jewish law (as they understood it).

These first disciples affirmed simple living, nonviolence, and vegetarianism, and rejected wealth, war, and animal sacrifices. Some two decades after Jesus was crucified, they split with their most famous missionary, Paul, over the issues of vegetarianism and eating meat from animal sacrifices. These events become clear through examination of the letters of Paul and the Jewish Christian literature: the Recognitions, the Homilies, and testimony about Jewish Christianity in the early church fathers. The history of Jewish Christianity takes our understanding of Christian origins into a completely new realm. Continue reading

Was Jesus a Zealot? Part II

Reza Aslan’s Zealot provocatively places Matthew 10:34 as the book’s motto: “I bring not peace, but the sword.” What was the attitude of the early followers of Jesus towards violence?

One might conclude from the title and the motto that Zealot would be a rehash of the “Jesus as violent revolutionary” idea. S. G. F. Brandon, Robert Eisenman, and others have all made the case that Jesus was a militant Jewish nationalist. But Aslan’s book is more sophisticated than this; Jesus was a “zealot” with a lower-case “z,” not a member of the Zealot party. Continue reading

Was Jesus a Zealot? Part I

It’s a pleasure to encounter a book about Jesus that acknowledges the critical importance of Jesus’ disruption of the animal sacrifice business in the last week of his life; that acknowledges that Jesus was a Jew and tries to understand him in terms of the Jewish thought of the time; and that understands the historical importance of the shattering of the early church due to the dispute between Paul on the one hand, and James the brother of Jesus and the other disciples on the other.

Such a book is Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013).  This book is sufficiently interesting that I will devote two blogs to issues which it raises, even though there is no mention of vegetarianism or the Ebionites.  In this first one, we’ll look at the incident in the temple, to which Aslan attributes central importance.  In the second, we’ll look at the early Christian attitude towards war. Continue reading

This Just In: Ancient Temple was a Slaughterhouse!

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

Well, surprise, surprise! According to a recent archeological report, the ancient temple in Jerusalem was a slaughterhouse that powered the local economy. The animals sacrificed came from both near and far away, which “confirms visions of the temple depicted in historical Jewish texts and suggests the economic heart of the city was its slaughtering operation.”

The Journal of Archeological Science, in the December 2013 issue has an article on “The pilgrimage economy of Early Roman Jerusalem,” by Gideon Hartman, et. al., which (despite the date) is evidently already available. You can find the abstract online (scroll down to see abstract). What is new in this report is not the ancient testimonies pro or con on animal sacrifice, but that modern evidence supports the idea that animal sacrifice was a key part of the first century Jewish economy. Continue reading

This Just In: Jesus was Married!

Mary Magdalene

Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School scholar whom I greatly respect, has submitted a draft of an article for the Harvard Theological Review discussing a Coptic gospel fragment which refers to Jesus having a wife.  This is now all over the internet, it was on the PBS Newshour last night, and even made the front page of the Denver Post and other papers.  The Smithsonian Channel is planning a special program. It’s big news!

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as King has named it) is very short and very fragmentary.  Continue reading

Keith Akers

September 4, 2012

I am honored to have been invited to speak to the World Vegetarian Congress in San Francisco, which goes from October 5 to October 8.

I’ll be speaking on: “Vegetarianism and Christianity: Why Don’t they Mix?”  The talk will be on Sunday, October 7, in the Garden Room 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.  I hope to see you there!

A lot of great speakers will be at the conference, including Vesanto Melina, Michael Greger, Melanie Joy, Brenda Davis, John McDougall, Will Tuttle, Gabriel Cousens, Alan Goldhamer, Michael Klaper, and International Vegetarian Union organizers and speakers from different countries.

Vegetarianism and Christianity

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

If you want to promote vegetarianism among Christians, there are basically two schools of thought.  (1) Some people cite the Bible, admit that Jesus wasn’t vegetarian (Luke 24:42-43), but say that vegetarianism is still a good idea because it is the original best diet for humans (Genesis 1:29), and Jesus wouldn’t like factory farming even if he ate meat.  (2) Others cite historical evidence and argue that Jesus disrupted the animal sacrifice business in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:13-16 and parallels), was vegetarian himself, and taught vegetarianism (the views of James in apostolic times, and the Ebionites thereafter). Continue reading

The Jesus movement and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Qumran, Cave 4 (Effi Schweizer)Here’s what James Tabor says about the connection between the Jesus movement and the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran:

“The Jesus movement can best be described as a radical, nationalistic, anti-religious establishment, messianic, apocalyptic, baptizing, new covenant, wilderness-way movement–and that is precisely how the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls can be described as well!”

So, is this right?  Continue reading

The Fish Stories in the New Testament

One of the big problems that people have with the idea that Jesus was a vegetarian is the “fish stories” in the New Testament — stories in which Jesus distributes fish as food to people, or in one case actually eats fish.  If Jesus was a vegetarian, then what are these stories doing in the New Testament?

We can get an important clue as to what they are doing in the New Testament if we take a quick look at what their effect is and has been.  From the point of view of a meat-eater, these fish stories are very convenient.  Jesus ate fish, therefore eating meat must be all right.  Continue reading

Did the First Followers of Jesus have a Bible?

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

               Jesus in the temple (Greco)

There is a marvelous passage relating to scripture, reflecting Ebionite views, in Homilies 8.10:

“The only good God having made all things well . . . appointed a perpetual law to all, which neither can be abrogated by enemies, nor is vitiated by any impious one, nor is concealed in any place, but which can be read by all.” Continue reading