What Happened to the Authentic Disciples?
Aggregated from F. F. Bruce, K. Hanson, J. Paget, & B. Wilson
By the time Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, Paul's Christ Movement was already growing exponentially in parallel to the already established Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. Acts of the Disciples had created an impressive lineage for Paul's Christ Movement, giving it credibility and authority by linking it to the Jesus Movement and back through Jesus to biblical Judaism. Without probing the details of this saga, Gentile readers accepted this version of history, and it entered into the mythology and arsenal of proto-orthodoxy as it expanded around the Mediterranean. However, these emerging gentile "orthodoxies" were established with no appeal or basis to the original ministry and teachings of Jesus the Galilean Jew and the established Jerusalem Movement.
Things were not so optimistic in the Jesus Movement camp, however. The view from the Jesus Movement in the late first and early second centuries were extremely unsettling. It was evident that the movement was in considerable difficulty. Its Jerusalem leadership had been severely crippled by troubles in Judea in the mid 60s and early 70s with infighting and the war against the common enemy, Rome. There had been a suspension of governmental leadership between the time its leader, James, was killed in 62 and his successor as the movement's overseer was named sometime after 70 AD.
As the acting “Overseer” of the Jesus Movement, James the brother of Jesus, had finally came under scrutiny from the other leaders of the parallel Judaisms of that period. James’ position had such a clear profile that now the group he represented was considered to be standing no longer within but beside the Jewish community. The high priest probably regarded James’ office as competition. The power of James’ person—Hegesipp reports extensively of his righteousness, piety, and holiness (in Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 2.23.4-8)—and the traditional distrust of innovations on the part of the Sadducees, who usually provided the high priest, probably also contributed to the distrust of the Jesus Movement and its leader. Therefore, when a vacancy occurred between premature abdication of the governor Festus (60-62 AD) and the inauguration of his successor Albinus (62-64), the high priest Ananus was able to add James to the list of opponents against whom he had death sentences pronounced in the Sanhedrin (Josephus Ant. 20.197-200) James was then stoned to death as a political opponent.
Conversely, the Christ Movement was expanding more quickly into the Jewish Diaspora, into what is modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Paul referred to rival teachers (as "super-apostles") that he met on his journeys through synagogues of the Diaspora and, most if not all of these certainly came from the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. Like Paul, they were "on the move," and they seem to have trailed him wherever he went. They, too, headed into the Diaspora, searching for "lost" Jews to teach repentance too and if need be, converts. Growth, however, was modest, for this group targeting primarily Jews, who did not immediately flock to affiliate themselves with this new movement. Paul's Christ Movement preached against Gentile conversion to the way of the Jerusalem Movement and they were deterred from the rigors of conversion, including male circumcision. The response from Jews toward the Jesus Movement was probably far less than expected because the members of the Jesus Movement were still Jews and the movement numbered with the other Judaisms of the time.
Some of the parables of Jesus reflect conditions later than the time of his mission in the 20s. The parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15—24), for instance, suggested that the Kingdom should be given to those ready to receive its message—that is, Gentiles—-not necessarily to those for whom it was primarily intended—the Jewish people. This message reflects disappointment in Luke's time, some seventy or more years after the mission of Jesus, with the failure of Jews from other factions to embrace the newcomer.
There were other disappointments as well. The various different aspects of messianic expectations that existed in the different streams of Judaism remained unfulfilled some fifty or more years after Jesus' death. The throne of Israel was unoccupied. After the two defeats of the Jewish people by the power of the Roman legions, an independent Jewish state headed by a descendant of David seemed a very remote possibility. Hellenization was still in sway, with strong cultural pressures to assimilate to Roman philosophy, religion, and values. The imminent replacement of Roman rule by the Kingdom of God could hardly be imagined. From time to time, Roman emperors—Domitian and Trajan, among others—hunted down regal claimants to the Jewish throne. The sustainability of any messianic sect without its promises coming true has always been a problem, and the Jesus Movement was no different.
The conquest and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD had an impact on the Jesus Movement, as it did on Judaism in general. Most of those of the Jesus Movement who survived emigrated away from the decimated Jerusalem. The bulk of original followers of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement dispersed into the Disapora and Asia Minor. Some made their way back to Galilee, some went to the area of Pella, and perhaps a very few stayed behind in the hopes of someday rekindling the centrality of the movement. However, the focal point of Jewish worship with its elaborate infrastructure had been decimated, and the possibility loomed that the religion of Judaism could disappear now that its defining anchor had been destroyed. It was entirely possible that Jews throughout Israel and the Diaspora would simply be absorbed into other religions.
Other than the members of the Jesus Movement, the only surviving group within Judaism was the Pharisees. Sometime after 70, under the leadership of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, rabbis gathered together at Yavneh (Jamnia) to begin the process of salvaging the religion. The decisions they and their successors made saved the day. Lee Levine notes that under ben Zakkai's successor, Gamaliel II, decisions were made with respect to daily prayer, the contents of the Hebrew Bible, the codification of Jewish law, and the development of holidays. The positions the sages at Yavneh and their successors developed were recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud. These provided the basis for Rabbinic Judaism. The religion became centered in the home and in the synagogue instead of the Temple. Prayer was substituted for sacrifice. The leaders were lay leaders—teachers, rabbis—instead of priests. It was a monumental transformation of a religion made under extreme duress and it transformed 2nd Temple Judaism forever. Ultimately, when Hadrian laid another siege to Jerusalem in 135 AD whatever vestiges of the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement remained was expelled with the rest of the Jews.
The Jesus Movement survived the death of its leader, James, brother of Jesus. But, so far as we can tell, it never produced a champion of the stature of Paul. No one rose to carry the day, to defend its entirely plausible claim that it and it alone was the legitimate successor to the religion of Jesus. That voice was just not heard from again. The mythological apostolic succession of Christian leadership (tracing it's authority back to the leaders of the Jesus Movement) has no basis in historical reality, since for all intents and purposes the centrality and importance held by the Jerusalem Community of the Jesus Movement ceased to exist after the fall of the Temple. The Jesus Movement's flight from Jerusalem was also their exile. As Paul's Christian Movement eventually evolved into the Catholic Church, both the post-70 AD Jews and the Christians classified the descendants of the Jesus Movement as heretics and the original remnants disappeared from history.
Torah-observant. Jesus followers—the Ebionites—were found as late as the time of Eusebius in the early fourth century. Ehrman writes of them:
The Ebionites were a group of Jewish Christians located in different regions of the Mediterranean from at least the second to the fourth centuries. What distinguished this group of Christians from many others was their attempt to combine Jewish views and lifestyles with the belief that Jesus was the Messiah.
There are some surviving Ebionite writings, including the Epistle of Peter to James, its Reception by James, and the Homilies of Clement. These probably date from the third century, perhaps using materials that are older. These writings present alleged sayings and doings of various early-church leaders. They are probably pseudepigraphical works, however, although their initial Ebionite readers may not have thought of them that way, any more than the initial audience of the Book of Acts recognized that it was pseudepigraphical. pseudepigraphical writings were well known within early Christianity and made for popular reading. The Acts of Paul and the Acts of Thecla provide other illustrations of this genre. Such fictitious works are useful not as providing a history of the times they purport to depict but in allowing us to gauge opinions at the time when they were composed. Thus these surviving Ebionite writings give us a window into the surviving members of the Jesus Movement's thinking as of the third century.
What do they tell us? The Epistle of Peter to James focused on the need to preserve authentic teaching. In this document, Peter is depicted as writing to James. He says he wants to ensure that the books containing his sermons will be conveyed only to individuals whom James deems reliable. He was anxious that "some from among the Gentiles have rejected my lawful preaching and have preferred a lawless and absurd doctrine of the man who is my enemy." That "enemy" preaching a "lawless" doctrine is Paul, and Peter does not want his own teachings to fall into the wrong hands. Bear in mind that this is not history but historical fiction. It's someone living in the third century defending views of that time, imagining that two centuries earlier, Peter had written to James with regard to his sermons. The correspondence continues. Its Reception or receipt of the letter by James makes it clear that James will pass on Peter's teachings only to "circumcised" persons, that is, to the descendants of the Jesus Movement, not to members of the rival Christian Movement, the successors to Paul. This exchange portrays the descendants of the Jesus Movement as alone possessing the true faith descended from the apostles.
Peter, in the Epistle of Peter to James, also makes the point that some people have distorted his words. They have advanced the view that Peter himself advocated the abandonment of the law. Not so, says Peter. This passage has in mind a story about Peter created by the Book of Acts. There Peter has a vision of a large sheet descending from the sky, containing in it all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds. Peter hears a voice instructing him to eat. He refuses to do so, on the grounds that this would violate the traditional laws of kashrut. He hears the voice a second time, saying "What God has made clean, you must not call profane" (Acts 10:15). As Acts interprets this remarkable dream, Peter is persuaded to set aside the dietary laws of Judaism, thus reinforcing the views of Paul who had likewise rejected Torah.
Peter's trancelike experience in Acts sounds suspiciously similar to the mystical encounter with the Christ that Acts describes concerning Paul. The Epistle of Peter to James, however, contests this version of events. Peter said nothing of the sort ever happened. This story in the Book of Acts is one of many that maintains the mythology of the Christianity of Acts and attempts to preserve a pseudepigraphical bridge between the Jerusalem Jesus Movement and Paul's Christian Movement. The author of the Epistle of Peter to James wrote:
For to do such a thing means to act contrary to. the law of God which was made known by Moses and was confirmed by our Lord in its everlasting continuance. For he said, "The heaven and the earth will pass away, but one jot or one tittle shall not pass away from the law." (Epistle of James to Peter 1:5) Here Peter is shown quoting the famous passage from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount that Torah observance is mandatory for all of Jesus' followers.
What we have here constitutes important evidence that the Ebionites disputed the historical truth of the Book of Acts. According to this source, Acts has completely falsified the position of Peter. It would seem that the author of Acts was not interested in either the historical Paul or, it now seems, the Peter of history. It, like the Acts of Thecla, was historical fiction. This represents the clearest evidence we have today of how some Christians reacted to the linkage Acts created. Their Peter did not correspond to Acts' Peter. They believed that Acts invented history to suit the purposes of the Christ Movement, specifically, to have the early leaders endorse non Torah observance.
In time, members of the Jesus Movement and its successors found themselves in a difficult position, caught between a rock and a hard place. They were squeezed, on the one hand, by the growing popularity of the Christ Movement. On the other hand, they were being shunned by an evolving Judaism. Increasingly they became isolated from both communities.
Not all the members of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement in dispersion were Ebionites, the Nazarenes were also well known, and it was the Ebionites and Nazarenes who looked back to James as their lead disciple and apostle extraordinaire. Unlike other members of the Jesus Movement who broke away, the Ebionites and many Nazarenes did not foster amicable relations with the followers of Paul. They were increasingly written off as heretics by mainstream Christianity, but for generations they continued to regard themselves as the true mother-church of Jesus’ teachings, guardians of the truth as it is in Jesus, accepting the leadership of his family - the brethren of the Lord and their descendants - so long as any survived. They might be written off as heretical and schismatic, but this did not shake their assurance that they were the true Israel and that the Gentile churches were as apostate in one direction as normative Judaism was in the other. Against both orthodox Judaism and Paul’s Christian Movement, they maintained their polemic, until whatever remnants were left of them by the seventh century were swamped in the rising flood of Islam. But to the end they venerated the memory of James the Just.
Essay Excerpted and Aggregated from:
F.F. Bruce, Men and Movements in the Primitive Church, The Paternoster Press 1979
Kenneth Hanson, Blood Kin of Jesus: James and the Lost Jewish Church, Council Oak Books 2009
James Paget, Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians in Antiquity, Mohr Siebeck 2010
Barrie Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press 2008
--All rights reserved the authors
The disciples never were and never became ‘christians’. They were Jews when Jesus hand picked them as his students and they stayed faithful as Jews even when they professed The Way after the execution of Jesus. If Peter or Matthew was asked while passing by on the street, they would’ve identified themselves as Jews. The only difference between the original disciples and the other Jews of the Diaspora was that the disciples believed Jesus to be The Messiah of the Kingdom of Israel whom would usher in the World to Come. They believed him to be the JEWISH Messiah because Jesus had never taught or professed a ‘christian’ message. Jesus taught a Jewish Reformation message that was never intended to be changed or modified. The disciples knew this and taught this as well.
We know that the original disciples never abandoned Torah or became “christians” because of interconnections that can be made with Scripture and historic record, both religious and secular. For instance, the first disciple named Peter, barring all the christian myth later grafted onto the legendary christian "St. Peter", the actual jewish Peter is known to have taught The Way throughout Galatia as a disciple of Jesus. In Paul’s so-called Letter to the Galatians, Paul admits he has “lost his hold on the congregations in Galatia”. Paul is admitting that his vastly different version of theology are abjectly rejected because of the teachings of the ‘Judaizers’. This ironically (but never spoke of factoid) coincides with reports of the disciple Peter teaching and professing in Galatia.
Here is all that we know about the 12 Disciples:
- Peter was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Bethsaida in Galilee. He was the brother of Andrew. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Galatia and Asia Minor.
- Andrew was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Bethsaida in Galilee. He was the brother of Peter. Andrew had originally been a disciple of John the Baptist. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Scythia (Asia Minor).
- James the Greater was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Galilee. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, two Jews known for their involvement in the Zealot Movement. James was also the brother of John. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Ephesus and Asia Minor.
- John was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Galilee. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, two Jews known for their involvement in the Zealot Movement. John was also the brother of James the Greater. John had originally been a disciple of John the Baptist. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Ephesus and Asia Minor.
- Philip was a Greek speaking Jew from Bethsaida in Galilee. Not much else is known about him. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Syria.
- Bartholomew was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Cana in Galilee. He was a close friend of Philip the Greek Jew. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Syria.
- Matthew was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew. Probably a Levite he had been a tax collector. Not much else is known of him except that he remained teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Jerusalem and possibly ended up teaching in the Upper Nile area of Egypt.
- Thomas was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Galilee. Little else is known of him except that he ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of India having passed through Syria.
- James the Lesser, also known as the son of Alphaeus was known as an ardent Jew. He would've been a speaker of at least Hebrew. Little else is known of him except that he ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Egypt.
- Thaddeus was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Galilee. Little else is known of him except that he ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Syria.
- Simon the Zealot was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Galilee. He was not from Canaan. He was a Jewish Zealot, an Avenging Priest of the Temple. He was the second leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem after James the Just. He may have ended up in Pella or Persia teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity.
- Judas was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew possibly from Judea. Little us known if his past except he was an ardent Jew who eventually betrayed Jesus. His death is unknown as there are too many christian corruptions.
- Matthias was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Judaea. He was a companion of the 12 and was the replacement for Judas Iscariot. Little else is known of him except that he remained teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in the area of Jerusalem.
We also know a little bit about the first so-called “Bishop” of the Jerusalem Church. This title and description of course being christian-based it implies that the Followers of The Way in Jerusalem had been Christians. This is a christian misinterpretation, because just as the original 12 Disciples had been Jewish, so was the original Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. The leader was known as an ‘Overseer’ and did not ‘preach sermons’ or ‘take confessions’ or anything of that nature he was simply a mediator in the assembly’s matters:
- The first leader of the original Jesus Movement in Jerusalem was James the Just, the older brother of Jesus. James (the Just) was an Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jew from Galilee. He ended up eventually teaching The Way of the Jesus Movement, not christianity, in Jerusalem. He was eventually murdered for political reasons, the High Priest Ananus ordering him to be killed.
We can easily see that not only was Jesus a 1st century Galilean Jew who died a Jew but that all his original disciples were also Jews who died Jews. The 1900 years of misinterpretations & corruptions by christianity & others has left such a convoluted and nonsensical history that those within the christian communities have to make huge, sometimes ignorant claims to justify their beliefs. Even christian scholars often can’t escape the misinformation that have befuddled for so many years.
There is a specific birth of the religion “Christianity”, that fact cannot be denied. But it had absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish man who aligned himself messianically as the Son of God or his original Jewish Followers. The Nazarenes and Ebionites survived in secret, spread over the Diaspora for a few hundred years after the Fall of Jerusalem, maybe some even into the 7th or 8th centuries by some reports. However, just because these groups have been described as “Jewish-Christians” didn’t make them christians. Just because the original disciples were described as “Jewish-Christians” didn’t make them christians. Eventually decried as heretics by the Catholic Church the true historical identity of the disciples were driven into the dusts of time by either force or natural occurrence.
What the original disciples and their descendants were, was original torch-bearers for The Way as taught by Jesus. They did not preach Paul’s 'Christ' version and they did not accept Paul’s views as faithful to the original Jesus Movement based out of Jerusalem. These facts are backed up by eisegetical research. These things you would not know from within the hierarchies of christianity as they continue with their assumptions & teachings that “christianity” originated with Jesus and his “apostles”.