Jean-Léon Gérôme, Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (public domain image)
NOTE (December 14, 2020): I’ve now expanded and revised this post here.
The historical Jesus, as I’ve argued elsewhere, was clearly vegetarian. To recap: (1) The controversy in the early church over vegetarianism shows that the leadership of the early church promoted vegetarianism and opposed animal sacrifice. (2) The testimony of later Jewish Christianity echoed and preserved this vegetarian, anti-sacrifice tradition. (3) Jesus himself was killed after disrupting the animal sacrifice business in the temple. But can we say that Jesus was a vegan? This is somewhat trickier. Continue reading
On Christmas day, WCUW radio (91.3 FM, in Worcester, Massachusetts) will broadcast an interview of me on Marlene Narrow’s “Vegan Nation” show. It will be on Friday, December 25, 2015 at 12:30 pm to 1 pm Eastern time (10:30 – 11:00 am Mountain time). (The interview has been pre-recorded.) The content will center around Jesus and vegetarianism. You can listen online by going to their website and click on the button on the left-hand side that says “WCUW Live / Listen Now!”
UPDATE December 26: here’s the link to the archive of this show (an MP3 file).
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
Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)
What role would an Ebionite Christian Church play — why would anyone want to form one at all? The main reason is to provide a place for ethical vegetarianism in Christianity. The Ebionites, whatever else you may say about them, believed that vegetarianism was part of the gospel message. When Epiphanius asks an unnamed fourth-century Ebionite why they abstain from meat, when meat-eating is in the Bible, the Ebionite responds, “Christ revealed it to me.” Continue reading
Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)
A reader of this blog recently asked, “When are we going to form the ECC (Ebionite Christian Church)? Or maybe EUC, Ebionite Universal Church?” Many vegetarians and vegans who come from the Christian tradition find that there isn’t really a Christian church, group, or denomination, which it makes sense to join. So why not form our own? Here are my thoughts.
Christianity was shattered into many different factions at an unusually early stage. Bitter disputes are recorded in Paul’s letters between Paul and Peter and James. You can’t read the collection The Ante-Nicene Fathers without seeing that much of early Christian literature is polemical. It is directed, not against external enemies, but against other followers of Jesus who are “misrepresenting” Christianity.
Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Epiphanius, and Theodoret wrote lengthy refutations of their Christian opponents. Origen ruefully comments that “many” Christians have differences of opinion on “subjects of the highest importance.” This is totally unlike what we see in Buddhism, Islam, or even modern Christianity, where all the various schools of thought resemble each other in broad outline. In early Christian writings, we sometimes see Christian polemics against Jews or pagans; but it is not nearly as voluminous as the polemics against other Christians.
What do scholars make of the huge multiplicity of different Christian groups? For example, what caused it? Any ideas, scholars? Or anyone else? Continue reading
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
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
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
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
The San Francisco Vegetarian Society has now uploaded the YouTube video of my talk, “Vegetarianism and Christianity — Why Don’t They Mix?” This talk was given on Sunday, October 7, 2012, in San Francisco at the World Vegetarian Festival.
Let me know what you think.
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
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
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
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