The Ebionites: Eccentric or Essential Early Christians?


  • William J. Cook, Jr



Interest in the world of ancient Christianity has been increasing over the past twenty years as news reports and books about the Gnostic Gospels have caused many to wonder whether their knowledge and assumptions about early Christianity might be either seriously limited or even erroneous. An intriguing example of one form of “early Christianity” which challenges one’s expectations is a group known as the Ebionites, Jewish Christians who did not accept the divinity of Christ, believed that Jesus actually increased an emphasis on the “law” and saw Paul of Tarsus as an enemy. Ebionites were vegetarians and claimed that all of their views were approved by both James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, as well as Peter. This paper explores what is known about the beliefs, practices, and history of this remarkable group of antiquated believers and examines their place in relation to both the Orthodox Jewish and the “Proto-Orthodox” Christian communities of that era.