Category Archives: Christianity

Organizations and individuals who self-identify as “Christians.”

“Dreams and Visions of the Night”

Anna Kingsford (1846-1888)

How can we imagine Jesus slaughtering animals or even condoning it?  Yet both Christian tradition and the doors of the churches are often closed to ethical vegetarians concerned about animals. One approach to this problem is to look for alternative gospels, and if none is found, to write such a gospel. This approach has sometimes produced some interesting results, one of which is The Gospel of the Holy Twelve.

Looking for modern “alternative gospels” would not be my approach to this problem. What happened to the ethical vegetarianism of the historical Christian community which originated in the first century? What happened to the Jesus who said “I have come to destroy the animal sacrifices,” and was killed after disrupting the animal sacrifice business in the temple?  We shouldn’t give up hope so quickly! But I can well understand the frustration of many who have turned away from the Christian tradition in response to the corruption of the scriptures and the general ignorance of most scholars of the subject. 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 Vridar.org. 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

Carl Anders Skriver

By Michael Skriver

Carl Anders Skriver (1903 – 1983)

Dr. Carl Anders Skriver has been a leading figure in the vegetarian movement during the last 60 plus years. Born on December 8, 1903 – 110 years ago – his view of the world changed forever at the age of 17 after reading texts on the teachings of Gautama Buddha. As a consequence he was no longer able to contemplate the killing and eating of animals. He studied classical Indology for his doctorate in philosophy (The Idea of Creation in Vedic Literature).

On encouragement of his Buddhist friend Hans Much, Professor of Medicine, he then studied theology.  Another challenge was posed by the question: Was the love of Buddha greater, and much more inclusive, than the compassion of Jesus? 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

What Would Jesus Eat?

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

Does it matter to Christians, thinking about vegetarianism, whether Jesus ate meat and/or fish?  Obviously it does matter.  It’s sufficiently obvious that I am tempted just to make this an essay assignment for a group of high-school vegans: “A group of Christian vegetarians says that we shouldn’t eat meat, but admits that Jesus ate meat. Can you see any problems with this approach? Discuss.” Continue reading

Vegetarians in the churches

Jesus in the temple (Greco)

Many times vegetarians and vegans ask the question, “is there a Christian church, group, or denomination, which it makes sense for me to join?” For most of us, the answer to this question is “no.”

Vegetarians in the churches are not numerous.  The few existing Christian vegetarians are mostly interested in health.  Most Christians (even most Seventh-Day Adventists), if they think about it, would say that Jesus ate meat or at least fish. To say that it’s wrong to eat meat would condemn the founder of the religion. So what’s an ethical vegetarian or vegan to do? 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

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 Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Qumran, Cave 4 (Effi Schweizer)

Qumran, Cave 4 (Effi Schweizer)

James Tabor, whose writings never cease to challenge those thinking about the historical Jesus, has argued in a recent blog that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the group of Essenes as described by Josephus and Philo (the “classical Essenes”).  (He also says that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the group who occupied Qumran before and after the time of Jesus, which I’m not challenging.)  Tabor states “the parallels between the Qumran sect and the ‘Essenes’ as they are therein described [by Josephus and Philo] are overwhelming.”

The parallels between the Qumran sect and the Essenes of Josephus and Philo are not overwhelming.  Continue reading

Walter Wink

Walter Wink, 1935 - 2012

Walter Wink died on May 10.  The New York Times called him “an influential liberal theologian whose views on homosexuality, nonviolence and the nature of Jesus challenged orthodox interpretations.”  He was Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York.  He wrote a number of books, some of which won awards.  He also wrote the foreword for my book The Lost Religion of Jesus, which is his main connection to my life.

Walter Wink was someone who saw the connection between Christianity and real life.  An article he wrote for “The Fourth R” describes his life perhaps better than the New York Times obituary.  Here is someone who takes his life’s work seriously, seeks to connect scholarship to the real world, and sought to push scholars in that direction, as a lot of people would likely tell you.

What is likely less well known is that he also realized that Jewish Christianity and the Ebionites posed a fundamental problem for historical Jesus scholarship, and sought to connect that to the real world. Continue reading