The Ebionites: True followers of Jesus who converted to Islam
We look today at the Jesus movement in Jerusalem formed by early followers of Christ, and headed by the disciple James. Their understanding of Christianity differed fundamentally from the religion later formulated by Paul, whom they considered to be a false teacher. They had a gospel written in Aramaic which is now lost to us . Modern scholars have described their theology in terms that closely resembles the religion preached by Muhammad (ص).
This group of early Christians, known as The Ebionites (the poor) and sometimes Nazarenes (Some scholars believe the Nazarenes to be a different group from the Ebionites, others maintain they are the same)- were labelled ‘heretics’ and persecuted by the Orthodox church which adopted the teachings and interpretations of their arch rival Paul of Taurus.
According to Biblical scholar Barrie Wilson, the main features of the Ebionite’s theology can be summerised in the following:
- Jesus was a created human and not divine
- Jesus was a teacher
- Jesus was the expected Messiah
- The Law of the Torah must be observed
- Theirs was the earliest congregation of followers to Jesus, starting from around 30 AD
Several church fathers described how Ebionites rejected The Divinity of Jesus and The Atoning Death of Jesus. According to those church fathers, the Ebionites emphasized the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus. They considered Paul an apostate of the law who corrupted Jesus’ message.
Church father Irenaeus, wrote in “Against Heresy”:
Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.
What is really significant, from the Muslim point of view, is Dr. Barry Wilson suggestion that, the Ebionites survived until the Muslims’ conquest of the Middle East, when they [the Ebionites] were absorbed in Islam.
This can help explain why the Christians of Syria and Egypt were converting to Islam en-mass in the 7th. century AD. It is possible that, people who were in contact with Ebionites or, were Ebionites themselves, recognised as truthful, the revelation of the Quran.
The Quran, with its uncompromising monotheism, its insistence on humanity of Jesus, and rejection of the trinity closely echoed the Ebionites beliefs, and was in complete harmony with what they new about God and Jesus [The only exception is the virgin birth which the Quran confirms and the Ebionites were said -by their opponents -to reject] . They probably recognised Islam as a continuation of the same message of God delivered by Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and the prophets.
Allah describes the reaction of some Christians and Jews in the Quran, chapter 28:
[Quran 28:51] And now verily We have caused the word to reach them, that haply they may give heed.
[28:52] Those unto whom We gave the Scripture before it, they believe in it,
[28:53] And when it is recited unto them, they say: We believe in it. Lo! it is the Truth from our Lord. Lo! even before it we were of those who surrender (unto Him).
[28:54] These will be given their reward twice over, because they are steadfast and repel evil with good, and spend of that wherewith We have provided them,
[28:55] And when they hear vanity they withdraw from it and say: Unto us our works and unto you your works. Peace be unto you! We desire not the ignorant.
There is little doubt that the church in Jerusalem pre-dated the churches established by Paul in Roman cities. There is no doubt that the church members in Jerusalem were the ones who actually saw and heard Jesus directly, unlike Paul, who never met Jesus.
I, therefore, have no doubt that the teachings of the Ebionites on Jesus are closer to the truth.
Related Posts: On Jewish Christianity, Islam and The Gentiles