Uncovering A Vegetarian Jesus at the Beginning of Christianity
By James Bean
Gnostic groups are generally described as being vegetarian. The Prayer of Thanksgiving, one of the Nag Hammadi books, mentions a vegetarian meal taking place at one of their meetings (a Hermetic or Gnostic sect). The Manichaean Gnostics were known for their vegetarianism. The Prophet Mani's parents were followers of the Elkasites, which was a slightly later Jewish-Christian sect related to the Ebionites. They were vegetarians. Mani was veg, and his followers or initiates also were veg.
During the First Century AD, the Essenes were one of the three main branches of Judaism. They were opposed to animal sacrifices being made in the Jewish temple and they were also known to be vegetarians. The Essenes were the group that Jesus and the first Christians, the Ebionites, were closest to, sharing with them many of the same values and sacred texts. Unlike the Sadducees and Pharisees, the Essenes are never criticized in the New Testament.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Gospel of Matthew, a saying attributed to Jesus from a Syriac-Aramaic manuscript)
This same old Syriac-Aramaic manuscript of the New Testament also preserves another vegetarian saying attributed to Jesus. I find it fascinating that both the saying above and this one appear to be slightly longer in this manuscript than their counterparts in the Greek New Testament, and the Greek manuscripts have the vegetarian parts edited out. "Now beware in yourselves that your hearts do not become heavy with the eating of flesh and with the intoxication of wine and with the anxiety of the world, and that day come up upon you suddenly; for as a snare it will come upon all them that sit on the surface of the earth." (Luke 21:34)
Like the Essenes, Jesus, his family, and the original followers were also vegetarians and opposed to all sacrifice of animals in the Jewish temple.
"I am come to do away with sacrifices, and if you cease not sacrificing, the wrath of God will not cease from you." (saying of Jesus in the Gospel of the Hebrews)
Animal Liberation in the Temple
"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said: 'Get out of here.' (John 2:13-16)
According to the Gospel of the Ebionites, Jesus also rejected the Passover meal:
"Where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the Passover?"
To which he replied:
"I have no desire to eat the flesh of this Paschal Lamb with you."
Jesus had a brother. He's referred to by scholars and historians as "James the Just". According to a wide variety of sources, James became Jesus's spiritual successor, the next leader of this group, referred to as the "Hebrew Christians" or "Ebionites". The well-known Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Robert Eisenman wrote a one thousand page book about him called, James the Just, The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first words on the back cover of this book are: "James was a vegetarian."
Keith Akers makes some great observations in his article, Was Jesus A Vegetarian? "Eusebius says that James the brother of Jesus was a vegetarian, and in fact was evidently raised as a vegetarian (Ecclesiastical History 2.23). Why would Jesus' parents have raised James as a vegetarian, unless they were vegetarian themselves and raised Jesus as a vegetarian as well? Eusebius also states (Proof of the Gospel 3.5) that all the Apostles abstained from meat and wine."
What About the 'Fishes and Loaves'?
The original version of the "Feeding of the Multitude" story only refers to bread, not bread and fish. "Fish" got added later. For more, see both my article and the one by Keith Akers posted here:https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/b8784ac42506
The editing out of vegetarian sayings, adding fish to the Feeding of the Five Thousand in second century manuscripts, and translators choosing the word "locust" instead of carob, giving John the Baptist a diet of bugs, are all troubling examples of tampering with the text. We already know that Roman culture was OK with the idea of eating meat. What interests me most however, is the diet of Jesus and the first Christians.
Iraneus lived during the Second Century and described in detail the miracle of the multitude being feed with bread. No mention whatsoever of fish. Eusebius and Arnobius also never mention 'fishes with the loaves', only the loaves. And now I've found two more references in early Christian apocryphal writings, again mentioning the bread but not the fish, as if in the New Testament they were reading at the time, the feeding of the five thousand story didn't include fish -- because the word 'fish' hadn't been inserted into the gospels yet!
John the Baptist -- Bug-Eater?
Another example of translators deliberately trying to add meat to the menu, so to speak, is the strange case of John the Baptist and his alleged diet of locusts. From wiki answers: "There has been a longstanding confusion in the etymological origin of the word locust. Locust is both a bean from the carob plant and an insect. The greek word for cakes or bread made from the flour of the carob bean is 'egkrides' and the Greek word for locust the insect is 'akrides'.
"The insect locust is approved to be clean for consumption in Leviticus. It was a delicacy in those days and was usually consumed by the upper and/or priestly class.
"John the Baptist belonged to a group of ascetics who believed in repentance and in leading an austere lifestyle. The carob bean was seen as the diet of the lower class who normally endured hardship and exploitation from the priestly class. So we can conclude that JTB ate (locust plant) seed from the carob tree."
Who Were the Essenes and What About Those Essene Gospels of Peace?
No doubt, both John's group and Jesus's group were populated by Essene Jews. I think what modern-day neo Essene groups mean when they use the word Essene....is Ebionite. I wrote a paragraph about this in my first article. 'The earlier Essene movement within Judaism adhered to a vegetarian diet. That’s the context within Judaism. The Essenes (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame), the John the Baptist group, and the Jesus movement had much in common and are somehow related to each other. Scholars frequently debate the exact nature of their relationship. In any case, they shared many of the same values, scriptures, and spiritual beliefs.'
The Essenes were one of the three major branches of Judaism, and predates Jesus and Christianity by a couple of centuries at least.
Then there was John the Baptist, a former Essene that formed his own unique group. He eventually had a huge following. Many thought John the Baptist was the messiah. And not all of John's followers signed up and joined the Jesus movement. In fact, there are still followers of John the Baptist even now in the Middle east, and they are not Christian -- they don't follow Jesus at all but see John the Baptist as their great prophet and messiah. In recent years some of them have even relocated to the US and other Western countries.
John the Baptist seems to have been Jesus's spiritual master. And then, after the death of John, Jesus begins his ministry and a group eventually forms around him.
So I don't see these different movements as being cataloged under the one label, Essene, but they are related to each other some how or another, cousins, or branches within Judaism.
In both articles I've written recently I only use ancient texts recognized by scholars to provide evidence for vegetarianism in the original Christianity.
The Essene Gospel of Peace, authored by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, and the Essene Humane Gospel, though noble attempts to resurrect or reinvent vegetarian Ebionite Christianity, are not ancient texts. They were published only a few decades ago. There's no Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew versions of the Essene Gospel of Peace. I have enjoyed reading them. They have some profound things to say, and probably Szekely was an initiate of the same Indian-based spiritual path I follow, but except for some older passages that were quoted in those, they otherwise are not ancient books. Szekely was a controversial figure, but I give him quite a bit of slack....artistic license to create a new gospel. It's a type of literature. I'm, OK with that. He did a fairly good job, especially with the Essene Gospel of Peace, volume 4, on the inner Light and Sound meditation practice. Very moving and inspired writing by Szekely.
There are several neo-Essene type groups that have formed, published books, and have websites these days. They are interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity. Their heart is in the right place and they are onto something, yes, but I disagree with the use of the word Essene, instead preferring Ebionite, since Ebionite refers specifically to followers of Jesus and his successors, what some call the Hebrew Christians.
Did Jesus Travel to India?
There is quite a bit of agreement about Jesus's twin brother Thomas (Didymus Thomas) travelling to India. From Rome to India, from Orthodox to Gnostic traditions, most seem to believe that to be true. The Acts of Thomas is an important scripture all about Thomas in India. Some of the icons portray Thomas as looking like Christ. I'm not really a believer in Jesus travelling to India. At least not by relying on the Gospel of Isa, which most suspect was a fraud of the 19th Century. But I am open to the idea if there are other sources that place Jesus in India, Kashmir or Tibet. Am always willing to have a look, at least. But in the biblical texts, gnostic gospels, Mandaean writings, and other apocryphal texts, John the Baptist is a very central figure. Jesus is described as receiving initiation from him, and, after John's death, Jesus seems to have been viewed by many as John's spiritual successor. The Gospel of John has John endorse Jesus as his successor, and that's a gospel designed to appeal to followers of John, Essenes, and others in antiquity to sign up with the Jesus movement. Some of John the Baptist's followers adopted Jesus as the next master, but not all of them embraced Jesus. Other "John-ites", if you will, followed someone else as the new Master. They wrote some psalms casting Jesus in a very negative light, saying he was a false Master sent by the negative power. And, based on my own acquaintance with more recent spiritual paths, those struggles over succession all sound very familiar.
Just found this online. The Mandaic (Aramaic) Book of John the Baptist:http://rogueleaf.com/book-of-john/category/john-the-baptist/
Was Jesus A Vegetarian?
For more about the vegetarian roots of the original Hebrew Christians, explore the Compassionate Spirit website run by Keith Akers:
For background on the Ebionites and their writings, see:
Vegetarianism in the World Religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Baha'i Faith), Courtesy of Supreme Master Television: http://youtu.be/cU_s0wEjt84
"All living creatures seek to live in peace:
With humaneness pass your days on this earth.
Even the heart that beats in the breast of a
Beast has sympathy and love. So cast a look
Of loving compassion on all animals
And bring a new dawn to humanity’s night."
-- Darshan Singh, from, Jaada-e Noor (Path of Light)