Supplement: After king Jesus
It was Paul who founded Christianity, a religion that in many ways upholds doctrines which are the exact opposite of the real teachings of Jesus. Jack Conrad sifts through the evidence
The Romans’ execution of Jesus surely came as a stunning shock. His followers must have been mortified. Nevertheless the Jesus party survives the death of its founder-leader. Indeed it grows rapidly. The Acts report a big increase from 120 cadre to several thousand in the immediate aftermath of his crucifixion. The recruits were, of course, fellow Jews - including perhaps essenes, baptists and guerrilla fighters. People undoubtedly inspired by Jesus’s attempted apocalyptic coup and the subsequent story that his body had disappeared and had, like Elijah, risen to heaven (the Romans blamed his disciples, saying they had secretly removed the corpse from its tomb - a slightly more likely scenario). All fervently expected imminent deliverance through the return of Jesus: “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of god is at hand”.1That remains official Christian doctrine, though for most the second coming, the parousia, is no longer imminent. Incidentally, the Shia tradition of Islam has something similar. It still awaits the return of Abul-Qassem Mohammed, the 12th imam, the mahdi, who ‘disappeared’ in 941.
Anyway, the social atmosphere in 1st century Judea was feverish. People must also have been desperate - after all, they were banking on a dead leader and the armed intervention of Yahweh’s legions of angels.
The party, commonly called the nazarenes or nazoreans, was now led by James - the brother of Jesus. This is hardly surprising. The followers of Jesus presented him as king of the Jews. He was, they claimed, genealogically of David’s line. The election of James, the brother of Jesus, by the nazoreans was therefore perfectly natural in terms of continuity and inheritance. The nazorean tradition being closely followed by the Sunni Muslims till March 1924, when Ottoman caliphate was abolished by Kemal Atatürk (the caliphs liked to see themselves as related to the prophet himself).
Surely it is a sound argument that to know James is to know Jesus. Who would be more like Jesus in terms of beliefs, expectations and practices? His closest living relative, who is chosen by Jesus’s cadres as his successor? Or Paul, who never saw Jesus alive, only in visions? Who defended and continued Jesus’s programme? Was it James and other intimates in Palestine? Or was it Paul, a Roman citizen, who, as Saul or Saulus, admits he was a persecutor of Jesus’s followers? Suffice to say, all Christian churches maintain that it was the latter. Paul with his convenient dreams and reliance on the doctrine of faith was apparently more in touch with the authentic Jesus, the so-called christ in heaven, than James and the family of Jesus.
To establish this reversal of common sense, and reality, the gospels go to great lengths to denigrate the family of Jesus, his brothers and disciples. They are constantly belittled, portrayed as stupid and lacking in faith. “I have no family,” says the Jesus of the gospels. The disciples are repeatedly rebuked for failing to understand that Jesus and his kingdom are “not of this world”. Weak-minded and weak-willed. Peter famously denies Jesus three times before the cock crows due to moral irresolution. Etc, etc.
Although James is elected head of the Jerusalem community and was also supposedly of the Davidic family line, he is almost entirely absent from the Christian tradition. He has been reduced or cut out altogether, so embarrassing is he. Nor does James appear in the Koran - though Muslim dietary laws are based on his directives set out for the overseas communities, as recorded in the Acts.2Arabs were being drawn to monotheism before Mohammed - and the ideological influence of the Jews (and perhaps the nazoreans) is unmistakable in Islam.
The gospels, as they come down to us, have obviously been overwritten to remove or downgrade Jesus’s family, not least his brother and successor. James peers out as a shadowy figure as if through frosted glass. Sometimes he is disguised as James the Lesser, in other places as James, the brother of John, or James, the son of Zebedee. Such characters make a fleeting and insubstantial appearance in the gospels. However, James does suddenly pop up in the 12th book of the Acts as the main source of authority in Jerusalem. Evidently his other obscure titles are due to redaction. Paul’s letters openly acknowledge the true relationship between James and Jesus. James is straightforwardly called “the brother of the lord”.
Not surprisingly church fathers faced acute problems. The more ethereal Jesus is made, the more James sticks out like a sore thumb. Surviving nazorean, ebionite and other ‘Jamesian’ sects had to be branded heretics. Origen (185-254) therefore roundly attacked those of his contemporaries who on the basis of reading Josephus unproblematically credited James with being biologically related to Jesus and linked the fall of Jerusalem in 70 with the death of James rather than Jesus. In Contra Celsus Origen quotes from what we now know are forged passages inserted into in Josephus’s Jewish antiquities:
Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless - being, although against his will, not far from the truth - that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ) - the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the creator, and who refer all their actions to his good pleasure.3
In book two of his Church history Eusebius (260-340), bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, cites Josephus in a similar vein:
James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him …. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, these things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.4
Obviously we must discount the idea that Josephus authored anything about Jerusalem being destroyed because the Jews bear collective guilt for the death of James (as they are supposed to have done for the killing of Jesus in official church doctrine). That said, while Eusebius unambiguously writes of the election of James, like Origen, he too seeks to divorce Jesus from all earthly biological relations:
Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the brother of the lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ, because the virgin, being betrothed to him, was found with child by the holy ghost before they came together, as the account of the holy gospels shows.5
Eusebius was prepared to grant that the New Testament letter of James, “the first of the so-called Catholic epistles”, might be used for instructional purposes, but questioned its authenticity.6For Robert Eisenman this was in part because “its content and theological approach were so alien to him”.7It exudes wonderful class hatred and promises the certainty of retribution: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.”8
In the 4th century Jerome finally decides that Jesus and James were cousins. In other sources too the relationship is distanced. Jesus’s brothers, including James, become half-brothers, stepbrothers or milk brothers. A theological construction carried over into the Koran by Mohammed and his followers in the 7th century. A divine Jesus has no need for an earthly father, uncles, brothers or sisters. There is also the growing cult of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Joseph could not have had any children with her. Augustine, in the 5th century, firmly establishes this as Catholic doctrine.
That does not mean James cannot be restored to his rightful place. We can unearth James and in so doing his brother, Jesus, also comes into fuller view. Actually the most reliable biblical testimonies concerning James and his role in the nazorean party can be found in Paul’s letters. Given all we know, they seem to be accurate, above all because they paint a picture of conflict between Paul and James. Paul, repeatedly, disagrees with the rulings on diet, circumcision and observation of Jewish laws and taboos handed down by the Jerusalem council. Paul even denigrates what he calls “leaders”, “pillars”, “archapostles” and those “who consider themselves important” or “write their own references”.9In other words the apostles, chief amongst them James. Paul freely admits those leaders whom he calls Peter and Cephas were willing to defer to the authority of James.10
So the relationship between Jesus and James and the latter’s standing is attested to in the Acts and Paul’s letters. In them and tangential gospel accounts we find that besides James, there were three other brothers of Jesus - they are called Simon, Jude and Joses. A sister, Salome, is also mentioned in Matthew. Furthermore, where the established canon is evasive or eerily silent about James, the early and non-canonical (gnostic) gospel of Thomas puts these words into the mouth of Jesus. Having been asked, “who will be great over us” after “you have gone?”, ‘Thomas’ has Jesus say this: “In the place where you are to go, go to James the Just for whose sake heaven and earth came into existence.”11The mystical gnostics, it should be noted, deemed that James possessed almost supernatural powers. Of course, it is not that the gospel of Thomas (written in Coptic in something like 90) should be thought of as historically reliable. It is full of mythological invention. What distinguishes its account is simply that in certain key areas it is not inverted by the same mythology as the standard versions.
A profusion of other competing gospels are known to have existed before the New Testament was finalised with Constantine and the incorporation of the church as an arm of the Roman state. The first is called the Q gospel by scholars (Q standing for ‘Quelle’ which means ‘source’ in German). It was apparently written in the 50s.12We know of it from fragments discovered in the Egyptian desert. But there are others which exist in part or whole and which were excluded from the final canon. Eg, the gospel of Ebionites, the gospel of Philip, the gospel of the Hebrews, the gospel of Mathias. the gospel of Peter, the gospel of Mary, etc.13It is said by upright Christians, that they lacked historical and literary merit and thereby “excluded” themselves “from the New Testament”.14 Clearly, this is untrue. Such gospels were destroyed, forgotten, discounted or driven underground because they contradicted established Christian doctrine ... not least when it came to James. From them and other such literature we certainly learn that James plays a role of “overarching importance”.15
There is further evidence about the standing of James to be found in the writings of Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, (c310/20-403) and the priest and saint, Jerome (347-420). Epiphanius suggests that James was appointed directly by Jesus from the heights of heaven. Hence James was the “first whom the lord entrusted his throne upon earth”. Jerome too provides an account of how James was either “ordained” or “elected” as bishop of Jerusalem.16By their own admission these authors base themselves on earlier sources, writers whose works have either been destroyed or lost. Eg, Hegesippus (c90-180), a church leader in Palestine, and Clement of Alexandria (c150-215). There is another Clement (c30-97), this time of Rome, whose name was attached to what we now know as the Pseudoclementine (‘pseudo’ as in ‘falsely attributed’).
Works such as the Recognitions of Clement, as Eisenman reminds us, are “no more ‘pseudo’” than the gospels, Acts and the other Christian literature we now possess from that period.17Eg, none of the now standard four gospels were authored by a single individual - hence we certainly have a Pseudomatthew, a Pseudomark, a Pseudoluke and a Pseudojohn. Revealingly, though the account of the Pseudoclementine material is highly mythologised, it includes letters purportedly from Paul to James and from Clement to James. James is straightforwardly addressed as “bishop of bishops” or “archbishop”. So there is not a shadow of doubt that James was elected leader of the Jesus party after the death of his brother and served in that capacity till his own execution in 62 (he was succeeded by Cephas, a first cousin).
Strangely, the Acts exhibit a highly significant silence about the election of James, surely a defining moment for the post-Jesus nazorean movement. The first chapter, which deals with the replacement of Judas Iscariot after his purported treachery and suicide, is a crude mythical invention - Judas is in all probability Jude: ie, one of the brothers of Jesus. That aside, the story of the “eleven” getting together to elect another apostle is in all likelihood a cynical overwrite for the election of James. In the Acts it is rather a non-event with which to begin the official history of the early church. “Mattias” is chosen, after the casting of “lots”, over “Joseph called Barabas”.18The redactors were determined to blacken the name of Jesus’s closest associates or remove them where they could. There is a striking parallel here to the way Stalin’s propagandists demonised or airbrushed out Kamenev, Trotsky, Zinoviev and other members of Lenin’s inner circle after his death.
Whatever the exact truth, an obvious question presents itself. Why was the early church so eager to play down or obliterate the role of James? We have already touched upon the embarrassment concerning the blood relationship between Jesus and James. But there was more to it than that. The answer, already in part alluded to, is threefold.
Firstly, James, the successor of “the lord”, has to be counted amongst those who opposed the Roman oppressors. That in turn would put Jesus in the same camp as the Jewish revolution. The Jesus party, headed by James, took an active role - perhaps a leading one - in preparing the ground for the great anti-Roman uprising of 66.
Secondly, James exhibited neither in thought nor practice the slightest trace or hint of Christianity. He was single-mindedly, not to say fanatically, Jewish. He observed the minutiae of Jewish religious law and demanded that other Jews did the same.
Thirdly, there is abundant evidence that there was a fundamental and acrimonious schism between the community led by James and Paul - the real founder of Christianity. There is the distinct possibility that Paul was involved in an attempt on the life of James. None of this would have been to the liking of the early church.
Nazoreans in political context
The seething discontent that characterised the period from the imposition of Roman direct rule in 6 to the revolution of May 66 worked like an acid on the old methods of social control and produced a crop of charismatic messiahs who found themselves a substantial following. Josephus mentions a handful by name or title - eg, Theudas, a “false” prophet from Egypt - but all the indications are that as a type they were numerous. After the defeat of one, another arose. Some - for example, John the Baptist, who though he never claimed to be the messiah, led a messianic movement - were relatively peaceful. Though such “religious frauds” did not “murder”, Josephus calls them “evil men”. They were “cheats and deceivers” and “schemed to bring about revolutionary changes”. The Romans typically responded by sending in troops. John was beheaded by Herod Antipas. Others fought fire with fire. These “wizards” gained “many adherents”, reports Josephus. They agitated for the masses to “seize” their “liberty” and “threatened with death those that would henceforth continue to be subject and obedient to the Roman authority”. There was an unmistakable class content. The “well-to-do” were killed and their houses “plundered”.19
Clearly there existed a blurred line between the rural revolutionary and the criminal rebel. Kautsky draws a parallel between 1st century Palestine and the situation in 1905-08 Russia, when anarchist bands looted the countryside. We in our time have seen similar manifestations occur in Northern Ireland. Mainstream loyalist and fringe republican paramilitaries indulged in drug-running, protectionism and plain theft. Certain individuals enriched themselves and lived in plebeian luxury. Having said that, it is clear that Josephus, just like present-day establishment political, media and business figures, cannot but concede the moral superiority of revolutionaries who give their all fighting for the interests of those below: eg, Rosa Luxemburg, John Maclean, James Connolly, Antonio Gramsci, Leon Trotsky, Che Guevara, Bobby Sands. Josephus wants to dismiss them as mere bandits. But they are, he grudgingly admits, prepared to suffer torture rather than submit. Josephus himself fatefully chose the slippery road of self-seeking, treachery and surrender. Obeisance being no guarantee in a life whose only certainty is death, Josephus appears to have come to a sticky end at the hands of his imperial Roman masters.
From Josephus it is clear that the masses were not united behind a single party leadership. Yet, inhabiting the rarefied atmosphere of the aristocracy, Josephus appears to have had only the vaguest knowledge of the politics of the extreme left of his day. That despite his brief flirtation with the essenes and his leading role in the first phase of the Jewish revolution. One should take his description as a rough sketch on a par with the dismissive caricatures of the left occasionally found in the mainstream bourgeois press. Instinct alone tells us that mass politics in 1st century Palestine were far more variegated than described by Josephus. In the Talmud we find the claim that “Israel did not go into captivity until there had come into existence 24 varieties of sectaries”.20A pared down version of the modern 57 varieties quip.
Where do James and the post-Jesus nazoreans fit in here? Obviously there are differences between them and the essenes and the zealots. They were not monastic like the essenes. Nor were they republicans and practical guerrilla fighters along zealot lines. Nonetheless, as we have said, at least five of Jesus’s so-called 12 disciples were associated with, or came from, the ranks of the freedom fighters and retained guerrilla nicknames. More than that, their founder, Jesus, was crucified as a rebel by the Romans. Broadly speaking then, the nazoreans should be thought of as belonging to the same political-religious current as the essenes and zealots, and certainly shared broadly similar aims.
The party name, nazorean, reinforces this thesis. There is a common misconception that nazorean derives from the town in Galilee where the youthful Jesus and his family are supposed to have lived: ie, Jesus of Nazareth. The origins of this are to be found in Mark and are repeated for the church by Epiphanius. But in Hebrew the term conveys ‘consecrated’ or ‘separated’. It conjures up the idea of keeping the customs of the ancestors, and as such was an esoteric term, or party name, associated with zealotism or messiahism. So ‘nazorean’ “cannot mean ‘from Nazareth’ ... though all such plays on words were probablypurposeful”.21In all likelihood the town Nazareth, if it existed in ancient times, derives from ‘nazorean’, not the other way round.
Nazoreans were apocalyptic revolutionaries only different from the movement founded by John the Baptist in that they could confidently name the messiah. It was surely another advantage that their man had safely risen to heaven. He was still alive and yet could neither be captured nor killed. Jesus would come and deliver his people at the appointed hour (in this respect the nazorean story of king Jesus is akin to the British myth of the sleeping king Arthur). The potency of this Elijah-like combination is shown in the Acts. In spite of itself the Acts also cast light on the true nature of the nazorean party.
Seven weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus the nazorean party was gaining many recruits and was widely acclaimed by a Jewish population that had, according to the gospels, just been clamouring for his death. Here is what Acts says:
And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising god and having favour with all the people. And the lord god added to their number day by day those who should be saved.22
Acts was composed in the 2nd century and is overtly Pauline. Nevertheless, though an apologia for Paul and unmistakably Christian, Acts not only shows the communistic nazoreans finding “favour with all the people”. As a community the party uses and worships in the Jerusalem temple. Evidently the nazoreans were neither Christian nor Jewish-Christians. They were Jews by birth and Jews by conviction. The nazoreans were a leftwing Jewish sect that primarily distinguished itself from other similar groups by proclaiming Jesus as the prophesied messiah, a descendant of the house of David, who is the legitimate king. Hence they diligently kept the laws of Moses and observed the Sabbath.
James - their prince regent - in particular was renowned for his saintly devotion. Jerome refers to a story about James which says that such was his religious fame that people “earnestly sought to touch the hem of his clothing”.23Eusebius quotes Hegesippus (c110-c180) and his now lost Memoirs (book five). So frequently did James pray that his knees became “hard like those of a camel”. As with the most extreme Jews of his day he “drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh”. Furthermore James seems to have taken a vow of celibacy in order to preserve his ‘righteousness’ (zaddik in Hebrew). “[H]e was holy from his mother’s womb.” So it was James, not Mary, who was the perpetual virgin. Making sure no-one missed his holiness, “he wore not woollen but linen garments” and refused to use a “razor on his head”.24
Besides such documentary evidence we can also arrive at similar results from passages in the Acts and Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Corinthians, albeit using simple inference. For example, unlike the “pillars” in Jerusalem, Paul tells his followers that they can eat “everything sold in the meat market”.25He also instructs Jews to break the taboo outlawing table fellowship with gentiles. The biblical image of Jesus magically transforming water into wine, the man-god who like a heathen equates the bread and wine of the last supper with his body and blood and who freely associates with prostitutes and Roman centurions was unmistakably designed to produce apoplexy amongst the nazoreans. A deliberately insulting reversal of their beliefs, laws and attitudes.
It is of the greatest significance that Jerome and Eusebius insist that James wore the mitre of the high priest and actually entered the inner sanctum, or holy of holies, in the Jerusalem temple. “He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place,” says Eusebius (by tradition no-one apart from the high priest, who enacted the annual Yom Kippur ritual there, was allowed in).26So it appears that James functioned as an opposition (righteous or zaddokite) high priest. Whether he stood before the ark in the holy of holies just once or on a regular, annual, basis is a moot point. Either way, James could only have crossed the threshold of the inner sanctum, to pray for the people on Yom Kippur, if he had the active support of the masses (both the proletariat of Jerusalem and pilgrims). In other words, against the morality, ritual and the feeble statelet wielded by the high priesthood there stood another power - the morality, ritual and mobilised masses of the fourth philosophy. Put yet another way, Jerusalem was gripped by dual power. Josephus candidly admits that there was “mutual enmity and class warfare” between the high priests on the one hand and the “priests and leaders of the masses in Jerusalem on the other”.27
With all this in mind it is hardly surprising that the nazoreans were overwhelmingly lower class. One of their party names was ‘the poor’. This sociological make-up continued after the first beginnings and is referred to by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:
[N]ot many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were noble of birth; but god chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong, god chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of god.28
The proletarian character of the nazorean mass base is one of the reasons why we possess so little direct evidence of exact organisation and ideology. The leaders were surely persuasive, eloquent and educated. But their party culture was oral, not written. The apostles were unlikely to have been humble fishermen - a reading which arguably stems from a misunderstanding of fourth philosophy parables relating to preachers who cast their nets. That aside, the rank and file were overwhelmingly illiterate. The teachings and sayings of Jesus were therefore, to begin with, transmitted by word of mouth. That afforded considerable room for exaggeration and downright fabrication. But, of course, it should be stressed once again that the myth-making of the nazoreans about Jesus, his mission and his miracles occurred fully within the traditions of Jewish communistic sects.
Nazoreans fulminated against the rich. We find such antagonistic attitudes cropping up here and there in the New Testament. Being seared into the minds of even the most unsophisticated amongst the congregation, the most famous phrases and stories could not be easily expunged by later redactors. Eg, Acts tells of a well-off married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who, having joined the nazoreans, “kept back some of the proceeds” from the sale of their property.29They both instantly fall down dead when reproached by the apostles. In Luke we read that a man, “clothed in purple and fine linen” who goes to Hades and “torment” and the “flames” simply because he is rich. The poor man, Lazarus, in contrast finds comfort in “Abraham’s bosom”.30The letter of James - written down in the first half of the second century, as we have already seen, is full of loathing for the rich, once more simply because they are rich. The poor have been “chosen by god” to be “heirs of the kingdom which he has promised”. The rich “oppress you”, “drag you to court” and “blaspheme”, thunder the words of the top apostle.31The poor are urged to await the “coming of the lord” and class revenge. Grasp the fact that from the 30s the masses in Jerusalem were in sympathy with the nazoreans and their messianic programme, then the events reported in the New Testament and other sources about the strength of the community make sense. Likewise, understand that and you understand why the Romans and sadducees viewed them as a threat.
As we have said, almost immediately after the execution of Jesus, his followers find a remarkable response to their message in the poor quarters of Jerusalem. Their headquarters were situated in a district called Ophel in the cramped lower city. The atmosphere must have been close to collective madness. There is ecstatic talk of miracles and cures. Of the coming messiah and ending Roman rule. In modern terminology, the masses were refusing to be ruled in the old way. Recruits came in their thousands and they brought all their possessions with them. The nazorean leaders address huge crowds from the steps of the temple. Only the temple enclosure has space enough to accommodate those who want to hear them. Any fear that might have demoralised, or held them back, after Jesus was executed vanishes. The masses breathe courage into the cadre. Psychologically they become inspired. The ‘spirit’ is upon them.
The high class sadducee priests respond by having the religious police arrest those whom the Acts call Peter and John. They were preaching resurrection - Jesus being their proof. But the actual interrogation that followed the next day concerns the healing of a cripple. He is hauled in as a witness. The apostles refuse to be intimidated and boldly proclaim the name of their messiah. No religious or state crime has been committed, or so they reportedly maintain. The high priest made threats, but he decides to release them “because of the people”.32The nazoreans had scored an important tactical victory and were further emboldened. Some 5,000 more purportedly join their ranks.
Not long after, worried by the ever increasing numbers attracted to the nazorean meetings in the temple enclosure, the high priest and sadducees have all the apostles arrested and confined to a “common prison” - presumably the temple dungeon.33However, when the religious police go to fetch them for interrogation, they are horrified to discover them vanished, gone, spirited away. Presumably sympathisers, not an angel, had sprung them. Far from keeping heads down, the apostles are once again found “standing in the temple and teaching the people”.34Without violence, “for they are afraid of being stoned by the people”, the guards bring them before the sanhedrin (the 70-strong supreme religious council). They are ordered to stop their preaching. Speaking on behalf of them all, Peter refuses. A pharisee named Gamaliel eloquently urges caution. So after roughing them up and warning them not to “speak in the name of Jesus” they “let them go”.35Again to no effect. Every day nazoreans continue their meetings at private homes and in the temple enclosure.
Paul and his party
Nazorean doctrine found support not only among the Palestinian Jews but numerous “Hellenists”: ie, Jews living in Jerusalem who spoke Greek. It is in this context that the Acts introduce Stephen. The sadducees have him seized and falsely accused of blasphemy. Stephen defends himself bravely, but, deaf to his pleas, they have him stoned to death.
There is, we know, an interregnum in terms of the Roman power structure in 36-37 with the departure of Pilate and the preparation for war against the Arabs. Under such conditions Jonathan, the high priest, exercises greater autonomy. The Acts report that Saul (Paul) takes a lead, not only in the killing of Stephen, but the “great persecution” against the “church in Jerusalem” initiated by Jonathan that followed. Robert Eisenman disputes the veracity of the Stephen story. He argues at length, and persuasively, that the martyrdom of Stephen (a Greek name) is an overwrite for an attempt on the life of James.
Eisenman reckons that James was attacked by Paul and a gang of hired thugs who participated in Jonathan’s pogrom against the nazoreans and other oppositionists. We find confirmation of this thesis in the Pseudoclementine. A grand debate in the temple enclosure between the sadducean hierarchy, the pharrisees, the baptists, the Samaritans and the nazoreans headed by James is reported in tit-for-tat detail. Of course, the nazoreans are presented as winning the argument hands down. So, on the second day of the debate, presumably at a prearranged moment, Saul (Paul) and his men stage a riot. Book one of Recognitions contains the following account:
[H]e began to drive all into confusion with shouting, and to undo what had been arranged with much labour, and at the same time to reproach the priests, and to enrage them with revilings and abuse, and, like a madman, to excite every one to murder, saying, ‘What do ye? Why do ye hesitate? Oh sluggish and inert, why do we not lay hands upon them, and pull all these fellows to pieces?’ When he had said this, he first, seizing a strong brand from the altar, set the example of smiting. Then others also, seeing him, were carried away with like readiness. Then ensued a tumult on either side, of the beating and the beaten. Much blood is shed; there is a confused flight, in the midst of which that enemy attacked James, and threw him headlong from the top of the steps; and supposing him to be dead, he [Saul-Paul] cared not to inflict further violence upon him.36
Though with both legs broken, James survives. He retreats to Jericho, along with 5,000 followers. The standard narrative then proceeds with Saul (Paul) in chase - with the blessing of Jonathan the high priest - and then having his vision of Jesus and losing his sight for three days. He then turns nazorean and later adopts the Latinised form of his name.
Subsequently, the nazoreans launch themselves as active proselytisers outside Palestine. They recruit Jews living throughout the Roman empire - in particular in Rome, Syria and Alexandria. Through their work amongst well established Jewish communities, belief in Jesus as a resurrected messiah spreads. However, the key to why nazoreanism sired Christianity as a bastard child is found in its success in winning non-Jews to convert to a sympathising level of Judaism. Full conversion involved circumcision and observance of all of the laws and taboos. ‘God-fearers’ or ‘proselytes of the gate’ were a kind of partial or half-way conversion. They were not required to undergo circumcision nor change their nationality. God-fearers only had to accept the seven laws of the sons of Noah and revere the Jews as a ‘nation of priests’.
Paul proves brilliant at winning people in the eastern part of the Roman empire to become god-fearers and winning god-fearers to recognise Jesus as the messiah. It is his converts who are first called Christians. Possibly James encouraged Paul to take up missionary work abroad when he presented himself to the Jerusalem council three years after his road-to-Damascus ‘experience’. Paul says he tried to see the apostles but only met “James the brother of the lord”.37He travelled widely and persuaded many of the uncircumcised to accept Jesus as redeemer. Yet so determined was Paul to maintain the growth of his overseas communities that he embarks on a process of whittling away the specifically Jewish elements of the faith. At first his programme would have been no more than implicit, a tendency. Laws and taboos should be moderated, not discarded. However, soon his teachings start to explicitly diverge from nazoreanism and Judaism itself. Paul’s mature views are to be found in his letters or epistles. Written some time between 50 and 55, they are in the most part considered “the genuine work of Paul”.38This Pauline material forms the earliest texts contained in the New Testament.
In them we find Paul expounding upon the divine nature of Jesus. The death of Jesus is recounted in terms of the self-sacrifice and rebirth of a man-god. Paul announces that Jewish laws are outdated and that the distinction between Jew and gentile ought to be abolished. He openly courts the Romans and the powers-that-be. Christian doctrine is still underdeveloped. There is no trinity, no virgin birth. But what we know as the gospels of today owe their mysticism and pro-Romanism to Paul. With his innovations acting as mediation, the whole Jesus story is gradually retold and turned into something entirely at odds with the nazorean tradition. The only nazorean document in the New Testament that survives the Pauline revision more, rather than less, intact, is the letter of James. Presumably due to its fame.
Paul made such headway in his first mission abroad that he was able to negotiate a compromise deal in Jerusalem with the apostles and elders of the nazorean community to “make no distinction between us and them”: ie, Jews and god-fearers.39There had been much criticism of Paul by those who demanded that all male converts be circumcised. He even claims to have been physically assaulted by “unbelieving Jews”. For the nazoreans the compromise struck in Jerusalem officially signalled that the god-fearers would be treated as what Hugh Schonfield calls “resident aliens”.40A joint formulation is agreed. As long as gentiles refrain “from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and what is strangled and from unchasticy”, then “you will do well”.41Nevertheless, James rules that Paul confine his activities to gentiles and on no account should he attempt to water down the stipulation that Jews observe the laws of Moses. The face-saving deal gave Paul apostolic status amongst the gentiles; but in return he had to agree not to do anything that might interfere with the nazoreans’ reputation for strict orthodoxy amongst fellow Jews.
The agreement is broken. On his next two missions overseas, which begin in the spring of 50 and end in 58, Paul recounts that he preached in the synagogues of the diaspora how Jesus’s crucifixion was necessary and how equality between Jews and god-fearers ought to be established on the basis of his increasingly non-Jewish views about Jesus: ie, the christ who was born to suffer. Paul also reveals to the authorities in Macedonia who have imprisoned him that he is a Roman citizen. He not only demands his own release, but an apology.42Certainly, wherever Paul goes, he stirs up the animosity of orthodox Jews. The nazoreans are therefore forced to counter him by sending out their own recommended cadre to his communities. Thereafter, not surprisingly, Paul exhibits some trepidation about returning to Jerusalem. Nor is it surprising that, when he does, the nazorean community fears guilt by association. Unnamed brethren complain to Paul of the “thousands” of their followers who have been told “about you and that you teach all the Jews who are among the gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs”.43
It is agreed that Paul must present himself as a penitent at the temple and undergo purification. Yet before the seven-day purification process can be completed he is recognised by “the Jews from Asia”.44They, presumably backed by the zealot/sicarii underground, rouse the masses to protest against the apostate. He is dragged out of the temple and would probably have been beaten to death had Roman troops not rushed to save him. Being a Roman citizen, Paul is taken into protective custody. A sicarii plot is uncovered to assassinate Paul. He leaves Jerusalem under a heavy guard: 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen accompany him to Caesarea.45Paul appeals to Nero and sails to Rome. However, Paul’s fate appears to have become subsumed in the revolutionary situation rapidly developing in Judea.
The fourth philosophy in its various manifestations proves to be a real threat. The established order can no longer rule in the old way. Festus, the governor, is replaced by Nero and, while Albinus is still on his way, the high priest, Ananus, arranges the show trial and stoning of James. Discontent reaches new heights. Ananus will soon be executed by zealot state power in revolutionary Jerusalem. Paul himself was beheaded on the order of Nero in 64 because he was linked to Jewish subversion. A few months later the fire of Rome was blamed on the Christiani. Nero knew how to scapegoat at least.
A combined revolution
Let us examine the Jewish revolution of 66-70 and the events that led to the social explosion. Having imposed direct rule over Judea in 6, the Romans appear to have proceeded in a belligerent way and they certainly did nothing to mask or make palatable their ruthless exploitation. For whatever reason, the procurators appointed from Rome seemed determined to conduct affairs in such a way as to lose any consent they might otherwise have gained. The last two, Albinus and Florus, were particularly vile. Reportedly Albinus took bribes from criminals. On the completion of his term in office he opened the prisons so as to “fill the land with robbers”. Florus plundered whole towns. Most outrageously he helped himself to the temple treasury. When the people objected, his troops cut them down. Individuals were picked out at random from the crowd and crucified. That included some who had been admitted to the Roman equestrian order. The fact that Florus was prepared to trample on Roman norms gives credence to the hypothesis that there was a high-up plot to ferment a rebellion.
Either way, what took place in May 66 proved not to be a short-lived, easily snuffed-out revolt of the type led by Jesus some time in the 30s. Rather there was a full-blown national uprising. And one which drew into its vortex virtually all classes in Jewish society. Florus urgently called in Cestus Gallus, the legate of Syria, and his legions to restore order. All the while, in Egypt and Syria there were inter-ethnic clashes between Jewish and Greek inhabitants. Many Jews were killed. Greek towns in Palestine suffered a similar fate at the hands of Jews. Consequently Hyam Maccoby suggests there were two intertwined struggles taking place. On the one hand, a military uprising against Roman power; on the other hand, an ideological clash “between the Hellenistic and Jewish civilisations”.46
The Romans swiftly mobilised to re-establish control. Having cut its way through Galilee and Samaria, the 30,000-strong force commanded by Gallus entered Judea. They consisted of the whole of the 12th Legion plus 2,000 men from “each of the three Syrian legions”. That is, 11,000 heavy infantry in all. Supporting them were 10 regular auxiliary units, at least 3,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, and almost 14,000 eastern allied troops, “mainly cavalry and archers”, supplied by king Herod Aggrippa II and the client kings of Commagene and Emesa.47They were also joined by Greek irregulars determined to hit back against the Jews. Everything en route was put to fire and sword. No prisoners were taken. Everyone was killed. A scorched earth policy designed to terrorise.
Resistance stiffened as Gallus neared Jerusalem, but was soon overcome. Gallus successfully forced his way into the holy city. However, zealots, many of whom had beat a retreat from the north, seized key strategic points, including the heavily fortified temple enclosure. Well-aimed rocks and missiles rained down upon the Romans. Nevertheless, for reasons that are something of a mystery, Gallus decided to withdraw. Josephus seems to believe that the Romans could have won if they had pressed home their assault. Perhaps Gallus’s decision was connected to the political crisis gripping the empire. The fire of Rome happened in 64 and Nero was widely viewed as being completely mad. His forced suicide in 68 was followed by the rapid succession and downfall of Galba, Otho and Vitellius.
A more likely explanation is surely offered by Neil Faulkner. Tellingly, he contrasts the Roman and Jewish ways of making war. The Romans possessed an awesome military machine. At its core were the well drilled, highly disciplined and manoeuvrable legionnaires. In a conventional clash of army and army the Romans were during these times “close to invincible”.48But the Jews were well practised in the art of guerrilla warfare. Two hundred years before they had, using these methods, ground down and eventually defeated the Saleucid Greeks. Instead of attempting the impossible and trying to beat the Romans using conventional war, they organised hit-and-run ambushes, constantly harried, staged quick skirmishes and in general kept on the move and ready to retreat to upland areas. Their primary weapons in these engagements were the javelin, the sling shot and the bow and arrow. Above all though, they did everything to avoid encirclement and therefore a decisive battle with the Romans. They deserted their towns and villages and took to the hills. From such positions of relative safety, and organised in small groups, they struck at isolated or unprepared Roman units, supply lines and the rearguard. No set-piece battles, and no attempt to halt the much superior Roman army.
Mao Zedong outlined similar, time-honoured, principles of guerrilla warfare in his 1930s writings. Confronted by better equipped and more numerous Guomingdang forces, he ordered the People’s Liberation Army to allow the enemy to penetrate deep into “our base area.” Then the Guomingdang will taste all the “bitterness it holds for him”. From a “favourable” terrain, and having discovered the enemy’s “weak points” and having worn them down, he predicted that Guomingdang commanders would be “induced to make mistakes”. Under these circumstances, the balance of military forces undergo a complete reversal. Who was once weak would now be strong and ready for offensive action.49
Faulkner argues that the Jews were harrying and hitting at Gallus’s rear and “threatening to throttle the life out of his army”.50He had no choice. He had to retreat. But, whatever the reason for the sudden withdrawal from Jerusalem in September 66, on the route back through Judea Gallus’s ponderous, slow-moving columns were constantly ambushed, raided and tormented by zealot guerrillas and massed Jewish irregulars. The Romans faced a risen people. And at Beth-horon in November 66 they were given a thoroughgoing mauling. Gallus only saved the day by sacrificing his entire rearguard. Six thousand died and huge quantities of arms, siege artillery and supplies were captured.
That the zealot victory took place at Beth-horon - the mountain pass where Judas Maccabaeus defeated the Seleucid Greek army in 166 BCE - gave it a miraculous quality. The world had been turned upside-down. The Jews had god on their side. This surely must be the end of days. Even sadducees joined the second revolution.
Under such conditions of national unity and patriotic class-collaboration, the zealots had no option but to allow the conduct of the war to pass to Hasmonaean aristocrats, who were by custom the military leaders of the people. They would have been the natural popular choice and it was leading aristocrats who formed the first revolutionary government.
Their conduct of the war against the Romans was half-hearted. Not to say perfidious. One of their number was a certain Flavius Josephus. Appointed general in command of Galilee, much squabbling between him and the Galilean zealot, John of Gischala, ensued. Due to Josephus’s ineptitude, and the lackadaisical aristocratic government in Jerusalem, the defences of Galilee were left fatally weak. And, as a greatly reinforced Roman army renews its offensive, Josephus defects. He becomes an agent of Roman imperialism.
Meanwhile, in the revolutionary city of Jerusalem itself, the zealots took a vow to fight to the end. By contrast, sadducees and aristocrats clamoured for a negotiated surrender. They were out for compromise and had no stomach for the radical programme that would have mobilised, inspired and secured the loyalty of the broad masses for their government - measures such as debt cancellation and land redistribution, in Judea traditionally called the jubilee. Sectional interests prevented them from adopting such a radical programme. Instead the aristocratic government looked to stabilising the existing socio-economic order and curbing the power of the zealots and the urban and rural poor.
War greatly speeds up, concentrates, political developments. Class conflict erupts between those above and those below. National revolution against Rome takes the scope of social revolution. The third revolution sees “eminent people” assassinated. Others, such as Antipas, a member of the royal family, are arrested. The masses appoint their own high priest. Street fighting breaks out between zealots and sadducees and their hired thugs. Nevertheless, with the help of Idumaean allies, the first revolutionary government is ousted. A multidimensional phenomenon. It is the victory of the party of war over the party of peace. Of the countryside and the urban poor over the rich. Of revolutionary force over established order. Having been held under arrest, the high priest, Ananus, is executed, along with many young aristocrats. However, the zealot party itself splits under the pressure of the tasks of government it now confronts - that and pre-existing factional rivalries.
Menahem, son of Judas, the zealot founder-leader, is killed by republican zealots after he declares himself messiah. The zealot’s ‘redoubtable’ wing withdraws to Massada in the south. The remaining zealots are at odds too. On one side is the faction following John of Gischala, who fled to Jerusalem after the collapse in Galilee. On the other, the extreme left behind Simon bar Giora. Much to the disgust of Josephus, he “proclaimed the liberty of slaves” and cancelled the debts of the poor. His three-pronged immediate programme was freedom from Rome, freedom from debt, freedom from bondage - this attracted to his banner “the scum of the whole district”.51Like Spartacus, his movement threatens the social order itself.
Having seized imperial power, Vespasian hands control of the Palestine campaign to his son, Titus. The Roman army soon surrounds Jerusalem. Giant mobile siege towers are constructed and remorselessly edged in. Adversity cements a certain unity amongst the zealots. Each faction defends its own districts and walls and courageously strikes back with lightning raids on the enemy. But there is no centralised coordination. Josephus boasts of the speeches he made before the revolutionary city urging surrender. He was met with insults, stones and anything else that came to hand. Yet fear and hunger causes some of the refugees and some of the middling elements trapped in the city to want to escape. Those who make the attempt have to evade both zealot guards and Roman troops. If caught by the latter they were crucified. Thousands of crosses soon litter the surrounding plain. Roman soldiers split open the bellies of those hanging on the crosses after finding an escapee extracting gold coins from his faeces. Titus ordered an end to that particular practice. But not an end to the crucifixions.
After a couple of months the well oiled Roman military machine breached the outer defences and legionnaires secured themselves on the third, north, wall. Months of fierce, sector-by-sector and street-by-street fighting followed. But Jerusalem was eventually taken. The temple was torched and the entire complex razed. In the end the whole city lay in ruins. Josephus’s claim that over one million died in the siege and the butchery which followed owes much to lurid exaggeration - there is no way ancient Jerusalem could have held a population equivalent to Rome. More likely its total population - swollen by refugees and outside fighters - would have been around 250,000-500,000 according to Faulkner. He puts the “normal population” at “between 50,000 and 100,000”.52Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Titus allowed his troops to indulge in unrestrained slaughter. Only once their bloodlust had been satiated did he call a halt. Surviving females and male youths under 17 were auctioned off into slavery. Men were sent to labour in Egypt. From amongst the prisoners zealots were singled out for immediate crucifixion or killing by wild beast or the sword in the shows that Titus organised in Syria. Simon bar Giora and the “tallest and handsomest” captives are saved for the triumph in Rome.53
In 71, before Vespasian and Titus, sitting in imperial splendour, the triumph took place. Cut into the stone of the arch of Titus we can still see legionnaires carrying the sacred menorah, or seven-stemmed candlestick. The climax of the proceedings was the strangulation of Simon bar Giora. News of his death reportedly brought forth a great cheer throughout Rome. Of course, he was no modern revolutionary. Nonetheless the determination of Simon bar Giora to give his all for freedom has universal significance and should be acclaimed and celebrated today. While there is unfreedom, there will be freedom fighters.
Counterrevolution and Christianity
It was the revolutionary uprising of May 66 and the destruction of Jerusalem four years later which definitively separated the gentile congregation from its Jewish roots. Roman terror much reduced the nazoreans in Palestine. The Pauline communities certainly had every interest in distancing themselves from the Jewish national movement. They did everything possible to purge their doctrine of anything Jewish. The original gospel is overwritten and is again and again made as pro-Roman as established circumstances and the willingness of the congregation allow. Christianity thus begins with the defeat of the Jesus party.
The Christian church eventually Romanised itself ideologically and culturally. Jewish revolutionary national and social ideas were turned into their opposites. Kautsky points out that the kingdom of god ceased to be liberation in the real world and was instead “transferred to heaven”. The earthly programme of Jesus was replaced with the promise of “immortality of the soul”.54This Pauline Christianity - with its doctrine of rejecting the old gods, its promise of life after death, its universalism and its internationalism - articulated the needs of a declining social system and was perfectly acceptable to the upper classes. Indeed rich converts came in droves and quickly rose to prominence. As they did, so the communism and democracy practised by the primitive congregation was steadily emptied out and became reduced to mere ritual. The congregation’s communism did linger on in the form of common meals. In time, though, even that became purely symbolic - a sliver of bread and a sip of red wine.
Slaves and the servile orders were now told they had a moral duty to obey their masters. Far from challenging the institution of slavery, the church actually “sanctified slaveholder morality beyond the standard claims of the Greco-Roman ethos”.55In Timothy, Paul says:
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their master as worthy of honour, so that the name of god and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.56
Paul demands that this doctrine must be accepted and propagated. Those who refuse to do so are accused of being “puffed up” and having a “craving for controversy” and “disputes about words”.57So Christian slaveowners could carry on inflicting corporal punishment on slaves, branding them and chaining them with a good conscience.
In the gospels the poor were safely transformed into the “poor in spirit”. Demands to sell everything gave way to charity-mongering and buying a place in heaven. Those who did willingly give up everything - property, possessions, sex - and practise communism were, of course, considered particularly holy and enjoyed high prestige. The church’s “radical elements” who renounced possessions, property and sex naturally felt that they were superior. They formed a church aristocracy. “Like every other aristocracy,” writes Kautsky, it “did not content itself with claiming the right to command the rest of the community, but also attempted to exploit the community.”58Radical communism thus becomes its bureaucratic opposite - bishops, deacons and abbots. The congregation loses all democratic power and declines into an inert mass. The property and organisation of the church effectively becomes the collective property of the clerical bureaucracy.
Incidentally, the ability to renounce sex in the name of moral purity actually underlines the exclusion and humiliation of the slave. They had no such option. Indeed the Acts of Andrew - dating from the 2nd century or early 3rd century - tell of a Christian woman, Maximilla, who refused to have sex with her husband out of religious conviction. Having decked her out with “wicked enticement and paintings”, she “substitutes” her slave, Egetes, to serve as a surrogate sexual partner for her husband.59While this purchased Maximilla’s stairway to heaven, no-one knows what the slave girl thought about being turned into an erotic body-double.
Christianity suffered savage persecution under various emperors. The church was seen as subversive. Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Decius and Valerian attempted to beat it. Diocletian eventually sought rapprochement and Constantine finally brought about unity between church and state. The church could neither be ignored nor conquered, but it could be incorporated as a privileged subaltern into the reorganised, Byzantine emperor system. Either that or it might have sought to realise its theocratic ambitions (most fully realised by the Muslim states of Mohammed and the first four caliphs).
Constantine oversaw the Council of Nicaea in 325, which formalised church doctrine and the absolute power of the bishops. The nazoreans were a dangerous threat to the authority of the state. The bureaucratic church proved an invaluable adjunct to an imperial state, which had long since lost active support amongst Roman citizens. Septimus Serverus (reigned 193-211) formally abolished the ‘old-fashioned’ prerogatives of Rome and Italy. Eventually in 297 the empire was completely ‘updated’ and proclaimed an absolute monarchy. Diocletian’s ‘modernisation’ turned every citizen into a subject. Given the autonomy of the state and the equalisation of the entire population into mere subjects, the emperor too needed a universal ideology. Aurelian promoted the cult of Sol (the unconquered sun). But that had no lasting success, having no mass base and therefore no pacifying or controlling effect on those below. The Pauline church fitted the bill.
By degrees emperor Constantine went from being a protector of the church to undergoing an eventual death-bed baptism in 337 (delaying baptism till the last moment was common at the time for those who ordered torture and execution). Early in his reign, in 313, Constantine enacted laws, the edict of Milan, which restored to the Catholic church all confiscated lands and buildings without expense and without delay. Christianity ceases to be a purely urban phenomenon and plays an increasing role in the countryside. Because of inheritance the church is soon counted as the greatest landowner with no rival apart from the state itself. Its slaves and serfs alike are told that if they humbly perform their duties they will find their reward in heaven.
Victory of the church was not a victory for the poor. Peter’s pence was a levy said to be first introduced by Ine, king of Wessex, in 725. From there it spread to Denmark, Poland, Sweden, Norway, France, etc. Every family was expected to pay a silver penny on June 29 to support the work of the fabulously wealthy papacy. Christianity triumphed when it had fully become its opposite. The victory of Christianity was not the victory of the proletariat and peasantry. Rather it was the victory of the exploiting church bureaucracy over the proletariat and peasantry. Victory was obtained not by means of subversion. The church had become a conservative force, a tool in the hands of the emperor.
After Constantine secured an undisputed hold over the empire, east and west, with his military victory over Licinius (his eastern co-emperor and a pagan) in 324, he immediately published a general circular letter, which exhorted his subjects to follow the example of their sovereign and embrace the divine truth of Christianity. Constantine made Christianity the favoured, to all intents and purposes the official religion of the empire (dissenting Arian bishops who refused to accept the trinitarian doctrine of Nicaea were exiled). But this, it must be stressed, was under the aegis of the empire. Emperor and church functioned as dual powers, but the former occupied the first place. Once this deal was hatched with Constantine, the ecclesiastical bureaucracy became secular princes who exploited the masses alongside the emperors. And in return for gold and landed wealth the church and its doctrine provided a much needed cloak of ideological mystification.
Christianity more than survived the ‘barbarian’ invasion and the collapse of the western empire. The baptism of the pagan Frankish king, Clovis, in 497 was a vital turning point for the Catholic church ... “your faith is our victory”, rejoiced St Avitus.60Once again catholicism became the religion of the military victors, no longer the vanquished. Looking back at the conversion, later church ideologues saw Clovis as the precursor of Charlemagne, St Bernard and St Louis and a France that was the “torch bearer”.61
Europe’s medieval wars were sprinkled with holy water. Book, relic and the name of Jesus served every lordly coalition. But the masses too developed their own Christian ideologies and associated personifications - priests ordained, defrocked or completely unofficial. Their heretical Christian sects, and even returning Jesuses, puncture the standard kings and queens history. Continuously alive in the murky theological underground, fed by discontent and class hatred, moving by whisper from parish to parish, cross-fertilising and mutating, they appear as if out of nowhere as violent eruptions. A many-headed phenomenon. The crusades of the poor, king Tafur, John Ball and Thomas Müntzer. In Bohemia the Taborites fought off the pope and the Catholic princes of Germany and briefly established a communistic republic in the name of Jesus and his second coming.
Finally mention must be made of the propaganda parallel drawn by Engels between Christianity and the modern socialist-communist movement. Both withstood persecution, both preached human freedom - one in heaven, the other on earth. Furthermore, Engels cheekily claimed that the triumph of Christianity represented the triumph of socialism - “as far as it was possible at the time”.62Suffice to say, in an epoch of absolute and general regression, the Christian church, in the productive form of the monasteries, were no more than islands of surviving industrial and agricultural sophistication. The church did not contain within it the seeds of a higher social formation.
Within the monastery system we find the original principles of communism turned into their opposites too. The monasteries took over from the slave estates. With an enthusiastic source of cheap labour in the form of ascetic monks, and by exploiting their own serfs, these communities of production were able to maintain and even improve the agricultural and industrial methods of antiquity. Relying as they did on sexual segregation and sexual abstinence, such islands of productivity could not be generalised. However, because wealth was retained within the community and never divided by bequests, the various orders of monks and nuns grew into bureaucratic El Dorados.
True, in western Europe, after the collapse of the Roman empire, the church did stand out as an oasis of learning. Yet its methods and outlook were purely scholastic and often totally irrational. Faith substituted for reasoned thought. The church produced nothing remotely on a par with the ancient Greeks intellectually. Nor should we forget the role that the church took in systematically extinguishing anything that might challenge it. Huge numbers of ancient books were destroyed. A terrible, irreplaceable and criminal loss to human culture. Indeed the shelves of the famed library of Alexandria appear to have been emptied on the orders of leading churchmen. These fanatical bigots were determined to eliminate all alternative modes of thought; especially ones that were open-ended, critical and worldly. Voices of dissent there were. But with the blessing of the emperors, and then the feudal kings in the west, they were mercilessly hunted down. Heretics died in excruciating agony. The persecuted became persecutors and, given the one and a half thousand years of state Christianity, on a scale almost without parallel.
In some respects the evolution of early Christianity parallels social democracy and ‘official communism’, in the 20th century. The labour movement has been turned against the working class. Social democracy fused with the bourgeois state. ‘Official communism’ in turn created a bureaucratic anti-capitalist state that lived off the exploitation of the working class. However, where the ancient proletariat was a class born of a society that relied on the productive labour of slaves, modern workers are the productive class that continues to grow both in terms of crude numbers and also in quality. The well educated and cultured working class of today has every interest in a higher, fully democratic society.
1. Mark i,14-15.
2. Acts xv,20-29.
7. R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, p3.
8. James v,1.
9. Galatians ii,9 and I Corinthians iii,1-9; v,12; viii,1; x,12; etc.
11. Thomas xii.
12. See BL MackThe lost gospel Shaftsbury 1993.
13. See NR James The apocryphal New Testament Oxford 1969.
14. Ibid ppxi-xii.
15. R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus, London 1997, p75.
16. Quoted in ibid p200.
17. Ibid p71.
18. Acts i,23-26.
19. GA Williamson (trans) Josephus The Jewish War Harmondsworth 1984, p147.
20. Quoted in H Schonfield The pentecost revolution Shaftsbury 1985, p259.
21. R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, 244.
22. Acts ii,44-47.
23. Quoted in R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, p239.
25. I Corinthiansx,25.
27. Quoted in R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, p318.
28. I Corthinthians i,26-30.
29. Acts v,2.
30. Luke xvi,19.
31. James ii,5-7.
32. Acts iv,21.
33. Acts v,18.
34. Acts v,25.
35. Acts v,40.
37. Galatians i,19.
38. H Maccoby Revolution in Judea London 1973, p235.
39. Acts xiv,9.
40. H Schonfield The pentecost revolution Shaftsbury 1985, p187.
41. Acts xv,29.
42. Acts xvi,37-38.
43. Acts xxi,21.
44. Acts xxi,27.
45. Acts xxiii,23.
46. H Maccoby Revolution in Judea London 1973, p224.
47. N Faulkner Apocalypse Stroud 2004, p106.
48. Ibid p106.
49. Mao Zedong Selected works Vol 1, Peking 1967, pp216-17.
50. N Faulkner Apocalypse Stroud 2004, p110.
51. GA Williamson (trans) Josephus The Jewish war Harmondsworth 1984, p275.
52. N Faulkner Apocalypse Stroud 2004, p262.
53. GA Williamson (trans) Josephus The Jewish war Harmondsworth 1984, p371.
54. K Kautsky Foundations of Christianity New York 1972, p409.
55. JA Glancy Slavery in early Christianity Oxford 2002, p147.
56. 1 Timothy vi,2.
57. 1 Timothy vi,4.
58. K Kautsky Foundations of Christianity New York 1972, p423.
60. Quoted in H Daniel-Rops The church in the dark ages London 1988, p191.
62. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 27, Moscow 1990, p447.