James the Just and the Ebionites
Early Jewish Christians placed James, the brother of Jesus, in a place of high honor. Paul describes James as one of the “pillars” of the church and went to report to him when he arrived in Jerusalem (Galatians 2: 9-10, Acts 21:18) . According to ancient sources, including the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Jesus placed James in a position of authority, and stated that he was to lead the church after the ascension (Thomas 12). In the New Testament, James is depicting as making decisions for the whole church, such as his decision to admit Gentiles into the church at the Counsel of Jerusalem (Acts 15). We see in the New Testament that James, not Peter, was the “head” of the church.
Stories of the “Acts” of James were preserved in ancient sources. Josephus wrote of the martyrdom of James. An early Jewish Christian named Hegissipus also wrote a more expanded account of the martyrdom of James. James was stoned to death by the High Priest. Eusebius preserved Hegissipus’s account in his “Antiquity of the Jews.” Hegisipus describes James in the following manner, “After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees.
An early group of Jewish Christians were called the Ebionites. This name is derived from the Hebrew word for “the Poor.”
We have fragments of “Hebrew Gospels.” In one verse quoted by Jerome, the resurrected Jesus appears to James, his brother. This seems to be a more complete account of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus than we find in 1 Corinthians 15. And when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said: Bring a table and bread! And immediately it added: he took the bread, blessed it and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep. (Jerome, Vir. ill. 2) Several fragments of Hebrew Gospels and other Jewish Gospels such as the Gospel of the Ebionites have survived.
The Ebionites were very diverse. It seems that they were vegetarian and rejected the temple sacrificial system. Some rejected Paul and the deity of Jesus. All kept the Sabbath although some did also worship on Sunday. The “Ascents of James” an Ebionite “Acts of the Apostles” (which is mostly a collection of abridged sermons attributed to the apostles) was been preserved in what is called “Clementine” literature.
It is important to consult the Church Fathers when exploring the “Jewish Roots of Christianity.”
How Good and Pleasant it is when Brothers Dwell together in unity
We are often reminded how Jewish people were often mistreated under Christian rule. We must remember this past-however, I think that it is also important to remember Jewish and Christian unity in ages past. First, Christians preserved Jewish literature-such as the Book of Maccabees. This is literature that the Jewish people did not preserve. In Ethiopia, other important Jewish texts were preserved such as the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubliees. These books are a part of the Ethiopic Canon of Scripture, and the Ethiopic Coptic Church has a strong Jewish flavor-in fact, many Ethiopian Christians believe that they are of Jewish descent. (Some anthropologists believe that the Bene Israel Falasha “Black Jews of Ethiopia” are actually descendents of a “Judaizing” sect that went all the way to reject Jesus.)
Christians led the way in Old Testament Scholarship. Origin often consulted with Rabbis-and was familiar with a discovery of scrolls in the Dead Sea. He produced an important edition of the Old Testament called the Hexapla. Unfortunately, this is lost except for fragments such as a Syriac edition called the Syro-Hexapla. The Latin Vulgate was translated from the Hebrew-and not from the Greek Septuagint version. Jerome learned Hebrew and Aramaic from rabbis in the Holy Land. The Syriac Peshitta was also translated from the Hebrew-possibly by Jewish Christians in the late first and early second centuries. We also have an early Jewish Christian hymnbook from the same era preserved in Syriac and entitled “The Odes of Solomon.” There was contact between the Aramaic Christians and the Jews during the Middle Ages. The Assyrian Patriarch Timothy the Great consulted with the Jews about a discovery of scrolls found in caves near the Dead Sea. Some of the Church Fathers wrote with an interest in what could be viewed as Jewish matters. Eusebius wrote on Old Testament prophecy and the Geography of the Holy Land.
There have been “Jewish Roots” movements in Christian circles. This is probably why Catholics use unleavened bread for Holy Communion-unlike the Orthodox who use leaven bread. In Russia there was the Molokan Jewish Roots Sect that arose in the 18th century (Encyclopedia Judica, Fourth Printing, Volume 10, 1978, Israel. Columns 397-401).
It was Christians who produced the The Complutensian Polyglot Bible in 1514, and other polyglot Bibles (such as the London Polyglot) that included the Jewish Aramaic Targum translations and the Samartian version as well. The earliest printed Hebrew Bibles were a joint effort of Christians and Jews. Many Christians studied the form of Jewish mysticism called “The Kaballah.” Christian Kabbalah fully arose during the Renaissance as a result of continuing studies of Greek texts and translations by Christian Hebraists. Among the first to promote the knowledge of Kabbalah beyond exclusively Jewish circles was Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) a student at Florentine Academy. When there were attacks upon the Jews, it was often church leaders who intervened to put an end to the attacks. The story of Anti-Semitism is often told, but the story of cooperation between Christians and Jews is a story that needs to be told as well.