James and the genesis of Christianity
In writing this supplement my intention is to find the real Jesus and show how Christianity emerged as a split from the Jesus movement. Of course, we can never know Jesus as a rounded personality. Was he an extrovert? Or was he reserved and prone to dark moods? Perhaps both. Did he have a ready smile, charm and wit? Or did he persuade by citing text? Was he tall or short? Were his eyes brown or grey? Did he cut a handsome figure? How easily did he secure his first followers? All of that is unlikely ever to be discovered and is anyhow of entirely marginal importance. We can, however - using archaeological evidence, a firm understanding of the dynamics of ancient Hebrew society, broadly contemporary Jewish literary sources, early Christian writers, the beliefs and practices of his immediate followers in Palestine and current advances in biblical scholarship - put Jesus into his historical, national, political and class context and thereby know him. In this way the Christian man-god is brought down to terra firma and revealed - and thus freed - as a wholly human being along with the myths that have been carefully accreted around him.
1. A recapitulation
A year ago we published a supplement which approached Jesus in the main from the direction of what preceded his truncated career as a revolutionary prophet. Let us recapitulate some of the salient points.
Before their Babylonian exile in 586BC the Jews were no different from the numerous semitic tribes that inhabited the Middle East. As nomads each tribe or clan would carry their fetish objects or teraphim. The Bible story of the Ark of the Covenant - a box in which god purportedly dwells - is an echo these days. Even as a settled people the Hebrews worship numerous nature gods.
Having taken Babylon without a fight, the Persian king Cyrus decided to permit the Judaeans (the Jews) to return to their homeland. The elite were to serve as vassals. Jerusalem and its temple was rebuilt as the religious-administrative centre of a subordinate social order. From here the elite would oversee the extraction of tribute from the local population and the management of the Jewish diaspora (successful Jewish traders were established in colonies from one end of the known world to the other). To facilitate that socio-economic relationship the returned exiles completely reinvented their religion (Babylonian myths - the garden of Eden, the tower of Babel, the flood, etc, were mimicked). The Jewish god emerges fully formed as the god of Jerusalem - equated with the god of Moses - who triumphs over rivals. Consequentially Jehovah is both universal and parochial. Jehovah, or more correctly Yahweh, was the god of all humanity (creation) and yet was also claimed as the ancestral and national god of the Jews.
The Jehovah cult reflected, in no matter how distorted a manner, the class antagonism between the returned elite and the masses, ie the domination of history or social forces over humanity (in contrast to nature). As Persian vassals the elite had no army only a religious police force. They had to rely on remaking and then maintaining the Jews as a people-religion. Fear of god had to impose obedience. The evolution of the strong Jehovah cult is therefore bound up with military weakness and class struggle. Those peasants married to 'foreign women' were initially excluded from the 'assembly of Israel'. Priests formed themselves into an hereditary theocracy which extracted tribute (surplus product) through the system of compulsory pilgrimage, sacrifice and offering - the dominant mode of surplus extraction.
As this system decayed it created conditions for royal messianism in Palestine (not the diaspora). There was a sudden power vacuum when the Macedonian empire fragmented after the death of Alexander. Judas Maccabeus led a peasant based revolt against the Seleucid (Greek-Syrian) overlords. A crazed Antiochus Epiphanes had tried to compel the Jews to desert their religion. The Jerusalem temple was rededicated as a shrine to Zeus. He wanted the people of his kingdom to be one and therefore demanded "that each should give up his customs" (I Maccabees i, 42). After a series of brilliant victories independence was gained in 160BC and the Maccabees made themselves both high priests and monarchs.
However, being strategically located at the interface between the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Damascus and in conditions of an emerging Roman hegemony over the whole of the eastern Mediterranean, all in all the Jews become an oppressed nationality. Effective independence does not long endure. Roman imperialism was ruling Palestine through quislings by the time of Pompey and Augustus.
The Romans came not to bring the splendours of civilisation - roads, public baths, theatres, etc. Culturally the Romans were parvenus. When Solomon was financing the construction of the first great temple Rome consisted of little more than wooden huts. No, the Romans sought plunder, slaves and the maximisation of tribute. The 'beast' made no bones about its intentions. Aside from freebooting governors and proconsuls the emperor in Rome was determined to squeeze his possessions till the pips squealed. Taxation was farmed out to gangs of thugs - 'publicans' in the Bible. Huge sums were extracted with the help of racks, thumb-screws and other such torture equipment. Those who could not pay found themselves and their families sold off into slavery. Taxation frequently produced absolute pauperisation. The Jewish masses gave a ready ear to anyone promising national freedom and class vengeance against the Roman oppressors and their Herodian satraps.
Inevitably such a history and the associated ideas of national resistance welling up from below is mediated through religion. Long term military weakness of the Jews in the corporeal world is compensated for by reliance on the power of god in the collective imagination. Jehovah's host of angels, the elect of the holy people and their carefully listed cavalry and infantry divisions grow on the pages of the scribes in proportion to an inability to act decisively on the field of battle: "You have a multitude of holy ones in the heavens and hosts of angels ... together with your holy ones [and] your angels, and directing them in battle [so as to condemn] the earthly adversaries by trial with your judgements. With the elect of heaven [they] shall prev[ail] ... Crush the nations" (M Wise, M Abegg, E Cook The Dead Sea scrolls London 1996, p161). Fantasy substitutes for the poverty of reality. Such was the dialectic.
There is a parallel conviction amongst the Jews that a messiah - a human deliverer chosen by god - would appear. Jesus, I argue, was one of many such messiah's or apocalyptic revolutionaries. He seems according to the evidence to have been utterly convinced that with the divine intervention of Jehovah he could inaugurate the liberation of Israel. Jesus' claim to be 'king of the Jews' was therefore political and practical not otherworldly.
Jesus was a man completely in tune with the historically established Jewish traditions and limitations of his day. His slogan 'kingdom of god' was widely used by zealot and other anti-Roman forces. It conjured up for Jews an idealised vision of the old monarchical system of David, Solomon and the Macabees - which could only be realised by defeating the Romans (the Kittim in the Dead Sea scrolls).
Jesus and his small band of lightly armed disciples bravely staged their side of the apocalyptic coup. The Jerusalem temple and its compound is seized and protected with the decisive aid of the mob (ie, the urban poor plus rural pilgrims). Yet instead of triggering divine intervention he was seized instead by a cohort of Roman troops. The masses rallied not to demand his death but his freedom - in terms of demonising the Jews with an indelible blood guilt the gospel of John is the most obscene. Despite that, along with many another Jewish revolutionary, Jesus suffered a miserable end at the hands of the Roman imperialists. What marks him out as special is the creed amongst his followers that he had risen from the grave. Like Elijah he would return again. Soon. The end of the old world was nigh. With the empty tomb the world historic myth was born ('Jesus: from apocalyptic revolutionary to imperial god' Weekly Worker December 17 1998).
Now in this supplement we will further our investigation by discussing our subject from the vantage point presented by verifiable, or at least probable, developments which followed Jesus' crucifixion by the Romans. To reveal Jesus we will bring into play his immediate successors and followers in Palestine and show how Christianity was invented not by Jesus and his co-thinkers but Paul. His was a new pro-Roman, class collaborationist religion, based on crude anti-semitism and abstract universalism. Paul was, to use a euphemism, the anti-Christ.
Christianity seen from this angle represents a radical rupture with Jesus his Jewishness, his anti-Romanism and his revolutionary communistic programme. The words and deeds of Jesus were mercilessly distorted and turned into their opposites by Paul and the succeeding redactors of the New testament. Obviously a forgery enormously facilitated by the absence of mass literacy and the necessity of laboriously copying, ie rewriting, every book by hand. This would be done many, many times. Embarrassing passages were thereby overwritten and thus obliterated under the guidance of the established church hierarchy. The whole process of inventing Christianity took something like 300 years. There were though limits. The redactors could go only so far. Oral traditions set the parameters. Nevertheless Stalin would surely have envied Paul and his Christians. Progress Publishers never dared release a reworked Capital or State and revolution.
Despite the systematic distortion, I shall still cite the standardised Bible. Why? Because it is a basic text which if examined critically, and with common sense, allows us to both pick out the essential thought pattern of the Jesus movement and locate the ideological concerns and drives of the Pauline church. The forensic evidence of what the church covered up and therefore guiltily sought to conceal is plentiful. I will also draw upon the celebrated Dead Sea scrolls, suppressed or lost gospels, the writings of church fathers such as Eusebius and Hippolytus, and other ancient sources, not least the works of Flavius Josephus.
2. King Jesus and his brother James
The Roman's execution of Jesus surely came as a serve shock. His followers must have been mortified. Nevertheless the Jesus party survives the death of its founder-leader. Indeed it grows rapidly. The 'Acts of the apostles' 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 essenes, baptists and zealots. People undoubtedly inspired by the boldness of Jesus' attempted apocalyptic coup and the subsequent story that his body had disappeared and had like Elijah risen to heaven (the Romans blamed his disciples, 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" (Mark i, 14-15).
The party, commonly called the nazarenes or nazoreans, was 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 (David ruled Israel 600 years previously). That is why two of the gospels - Matthew and Luke - are interesting in that they leave in the great lengths earlier source accounts had gone to in order to prove that through Joseph he was biologically directly related to David "fourteen generations" before (Matthew i, 17).
The prophet Micah had predicted that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem like David. Jesus, or his early propagandists, were proclaiming him to be the lawful king as opposed to the Herodian upstarts. It was like some charismatic medieval peasant leader announcing themselves to be the direct heir of Harold and hence the true Saxon king of England against the Plantagenet or Angevine descendants of William of Normandy. Roman domination was initially imposed through Herodian kings who were at the most only semi-Jewish in background and religious observance. The Dead Sea scrolls exude disgust and disdain for the king, whom we presume to be Herod or one of his successors, who was appointed king by the Romans; he is condemned as a "foreigner" and a "covenant breaker".
The election as leader of James the brother of Jesus by the nazoreans was therefore perfectly natural in terms of inheritance. The nazorean tradition being closely followed by the sunni muslims whose leadership traces its bloodline back through the caliphates to the prophet Mohammed himself.
It is surely 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' cadres as his successor? Or Paul who never saw Jesus alive only in visions? Who defended and continued Jesus' 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' followers? All the Christian churches maintain that it is 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 similarly rebuked for failing to appreciate that Jesus and his kingdom are "not of this world". Peter famously denies Jesus thrice before the cock crows due to lack of faith. Etc.
Although James is appointed or elected 'head' of the Jerusalem community and was also of the Davidic branch through Joseph 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 (Acts xv, 20-29). Arabs were being drawn to monotheism before Mohammed and the ideological influence of James (and therefore before him Jesus) is unmistakable on Islam.
The gospels as they come down to us have obviously been overwritten. 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. yet James does suddenly pop up in the twelfth book of the acts as the main source of authority in Jerusalem. Evidently his other obscure titles are due to redaction. We also have Paul's letters which openly acknowledge the true relationship between James and Jesus. James is straightforwardly called "the brother of the lord".
Not surprisingly church fathers had acute problems. The more ethereal and pro-Roman Jesus is made the more James sticks out like a sore thumb. Origen (185-254) therefore rounded on those of his contemporaries who accorded James high esteem and who linked his death with the fall of Jerusalem in 70. Surviving nazorean, ebionite and other 'Jamesian' sects were branded heretics. Eusebius (260-340), bishop of Ceasarea in Palestine, was prepared to grant that the New testament letter of James might be used for instructional purposes, but questioned its "authenticity". For Robert Eisenman, author of a monumental work on James, this was in part because "its content and theological approach were so alien to him" (R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, p3). It fumes with wonderful class hatred and promises the certainty of retribution. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you" (James v, 1). In the 4th century Jerome finally decides that Jesus and James were cousins. In other sources too the relationship is distanced. Jesus' brothers, including James, become half-brothers, stepbrothers or milk brothers. A theological construction carried over into the Koran by Mohammed 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 doctrine.
That does not mean James cannot be restored to his rightful place. On the contrary we can unearth James and in so doing light is cast on his brother Jesus. Actually the most reliable biblical testimonies concerning James and his role in the nazorean party are 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" (Galacians ii, 9 and I Corinthians iii, 1-9; v, 12; viii, 1; x, 12; etc). In 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 (Galatians ii, 10-12).
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 given the names Simon, Jude and Joses. A sister, Salome, is also mentioned in Matthew. Furthermore where the established cannon 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" (Thomas xii). The 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 that in certain key areas it is not inverted by mythology like the standard versions.
A profusion of 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 written in the 50s (see BL Mack The lost gospel Shaftesbury, 1993). From fragments discovered in the Egyptian desert and passing references in early church sources we know of others. Eg, the Ergeton gospel, the gospel of the Hebrews and the Cross gospel (see JD Crossan The historical Jesus Edinburgh 1991, appendix 1). From them and other such literature we learn that James plays a role of "overarching importance" (R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus, London 1997, p75).
There is further evidence about James in the polemics and commentaries of the early Christian church. James is discussed by Eusebius (circa 260-340), Epiphanius (367-404) and Jerome (347-420). Much of what they have to say is based on earlier writers whose work has been destroyed or lost. The first, is Hegesippus (circa 90-180) who was a church leader in Palestine, the second, Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-215). There is another Clement (circa 30-97), this time of Rome, who gave his name to what we now know as the Pseudo-clementines.
Works such as the Recognitions of Clement are as Eisenman, argues "no more 'pseudo'" than the gospels, acts and the other Christian literature we now posses from that period (R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, p71). Interestingly though the account of the Pseudo-clementine material is highly mythologised it includes letters purportedly from Paul to James and from Clement to James. James is addressed as "bishop of bishops" or "archbishop".
Eusebius in the second book of his Ecclesiastical history writes that: "James, who was also surnamed Just by the forefathers on account of his superlative virtue, was the first to have been elected to the office of bishop of the Jerusalem church" (quoted in ibid p166). Elsewhere Eusebius cites Clement of Alexandria. "Peter, James and John after the ascension of the saviour, did not contend for glory, even though they had previously been honoured by the saviour, but chose James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem" (quoted in ibid p187). Jerome provides an account of how James was either "ordained" or "elected" as bishop of Jerusalem. Epiphanius suggests that James was appointed directly from Jesus in heaven. James was the "first whom the lord entrusted his throne upon earth" (quoted in ibid p200).
So there is no 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). The acts manifest a highly significant silence about this, surely defining moment, for the post-Jesus nazorean movement. The first chapter which deals with the replacement of Judas Iscariot after his treachery and suicide is a combination of slander and cover-up - Judas is in all probability Jude, ie, one the brothers of Jesus. The story the "eleven" supposedly 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" (Acts i, 23-26). But the redactors were determined to blacken the name of Jesus' closest associates or, failing that, remove them where they could. There is an striking parallel here with the way Stalin's propagandists malignly treated 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 discussed the embarrassment concerning the blood relationship between Jesus and James. But there was more to it than that. My answers can be grouped under four headings. Firstly, as successor of "the lord", James has to be counted amongst those Jewish revolutionary extremists who opposed the Roman oppressors. Secondly, 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. Thirdly, James exhibited, neither in thought nor practice, not the slightest trace or hint of Christianity. He was single-mindedly, not to say intolerantly, Jewish. He observed the minutiae of Jewish religious law and demanded that other Jews did the same. Fourthly, 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 even the 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. Indeed so successful was it in forgetting (destroying) its own origins that in the 4th century Christianity was adopted by imperial Rome.
3. Jewish politics
Let us expand on the argument above beginning with the nazorean movement as one of the parties in opposition to Rome. To do that it is necessary to bring into focus the other elements which made up the spectrum of political-religious life. Josephus lists what he calls three schools of thought. Sadducees, pharisees and essenes.
Nowadays the sadducee party would be described as conservative, elitist and rightwing. The sadducees must be distinguished from the Herodian royal family and the internationalised aristocracy and its immediate clientage - who proudly aped Greek ways and served as agents of exploitation. Sadducee is virtually synonymous with that caste of high priests who officiated at the temple and the traditionalist aristocracy which sided with them. According to Josephus 1,500 priests received tithes in return for religiously serving the community. However a swift class differentiation took place. Half a dozen families elevated themselves above the common priesthood and secured a monopoly over key appointments. Used to luxury and greedy for more, the high priests had no compunction about actually stealing the tithes allocated to other, impoverished, priests. Occasionally violence erupted. It was in general an uneven contest. High priests had temple guards, many servants and other such dependants and hangers-on and could afford to pay out for additional bands of heavies.
The functions of the priesthood centred on the sacrifice of animals, presiding over ceremony and the collection of the temple tax. In class terms the sadducees articulate a social relationship internal to Jewish society and like the post-Babylon priesthood lack what is normally called state power. Morally, however, their authority was steadily diminishing. Sadducees resented the prerogatives that firstly, the Herodian kings and then, Roman procurators accumulated for themselves over the temple. Herod had purged the priesthood of Maccabees (Hasmonaeans) and made the high priest one of his own creatures. As for the Romans they even took charge of the sacred vestments used on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Hiring and firing too fell to them. Valerius Gratus, predecessor of Pontius Pilate, deposed and appointed four high priests. In consequence of such cavalier foreign interference the popular esteem of the priesthood plummeted to zero. Temple ceremony was not invalidated but the high priests as individuals were viewed with contempt.
Sadducees felt themselves conducting a rearguard battle on two fronts. Constant Roman meddling and the founding and growth of Greek cities in Palestine, along with their gymnasiums, gladiatorial games and polytheistic temples, must have nauseated many priests. Yet being aristocratic and in possession of large landed estates they loathed democracy and feared the discontent of the common people more. Given the balance of military forces of which they were fully cognisant the sadducees had no interest in taking a lead in resistance against the Romans. Broadly speaking therefore they fall into the category of unwilling collaborator.
Judaism defined itself as a religion of the book. The age of prophesy was formally closed by the Persians. With a few notable exceptions the Hebrew cannon was finalised by the time of Ezra (the writer Edras in the Bible) and Nehemiah (the first governor of Judaea appointed by Cyrus). In religious terms the theocratic priesthood thereby froze the meaning of the past from the time of creation to the building of the second temple but simultaneously condemned itself to merely preside over a fixed ritual which inevitably losses its content. Being worldly wise and educated fellows the sadducees could not believe in the resurrection of the dead, angles or predestination. The medium therefore becomes the message. They could neither interpret text nor initiate. But life moves on and constantly creates new needs. In-between the innumerable contradictions of the written word and the requirements of change stepped the pharisees. The pharisees were a religious intelligentsia. Expert in the obscure methods of scholastic debate and adapt at bending the law the pharisees formed a party which not only rivalled the discredited priesthood but sunk far deeper organisational roots amongst the masses.
Josephus writes glowingly about the pharisees being the "most authoritative exponents of the law". He also credits them as the "leading sect" (Jospehus The Jewish War Harmondsworth 1984, p137). A widely accepted designation. From Karl Kautsky to Hyam Maccoby the pharisees are held to be the popular party of the 1st century. Robert Eisenman disagrees.
For Eisenman the pharisees were part of the establishment and had a programme of accommodation with both the Herodian state and its Roman sponsor. As evidence he cites countless passages in the Dead Sea scrolls against 'seekers after smooth things' and the historic fact that the pharisee party nowhere took the lead against foreign occupation but everywhere sought compromise. Pharisaic Judaism emerged as the dominant school of thought only after the destruction of Jerusalem. Johanan ben Zakkai - rabbi Jochanan in the Talmud - had himself safely smuggled out of the besieged city in a coffin after which he "made his way to the enemy camp" (H Polard trans The Talmud London 1978, p336). Here he obtained permission from the Roman general and future emperor Vespasian to establish an academy in Jamnia (Jabna). Modern Judaism - orthodox, liberal, conservative and reform - traces back its origins to this defining moment. Even before that, during the initial phase of Roman expansionism, we find pharisees cooperating with Roman troops and Herod's father Antipater in storming the Jerusalem temple against the will of the people. The purist priests are slaughtered by the pharisees. Under Herodian rule they got their reward. Pharisees dominated the 70 strong sanherdrin - the appointed council which regulated Jewish religious-civic matters.
Finally on the list given by Josephus we arrive at the essenes. Where he gives the sadducees and pharisees a rather pinched treatment the essenes are afforded considerable space. In part this is no doubt due to a desire to entertain high class readers with their unusual monastic lifestyle - of which Josephus had first hand experience having spent a year as an initiate. The essenes maintained a strict discipline in their isolated but "large" communities. They "eschew pleasure-seeking and are peculiarly attached to each other" (Jospehus The Jewish War Harmondsworth 1984, p133). Sexual intercourse was, however, it seems, outlawed. Josephus does though report that one branch related to the main sect allowed marital relations between men and women, albeit purely for reasons of procreation. The essenes were "contemptuous of wealth" and "communists to perfection". All possessions were pooled. Members gave what they had and took what they needed (ibid p133). Universal suffrage was used to elect those in authority over the community.
Life was materially simple. Dietary laws rigorous. No one was allowed to defile themselves by eating "any creature or creeping thing". Nor was alcoholic drink permitted. Everyone wore the same white linen garments till they were threadbare with age. Ritualistic washing was performed round the clock. Josephus chuckles that they even cleaned themselves after defecating - "though emptying the bowls is quite natural" (ibid p136). The idea of a clean body had nothing to do with our modern notions of hygiene but was to render oneself fit for god's knowledge and purpose. Something gained by painstaking study of the Bible and the special insights of the sect. Not that the community was merely contemplative or pacifistic. Essenes took part in the anti-Roman uprising of 66.
Despite certain differences - according to Josephus the essenes frowned upon slavery - there is an obvious similarity with the group at Qumran responsible for the Dead Sea scrolls (written sometime between 200BC and 100AD). The Qumran community too demands that those "entering the sect transfer their property to the order." Extreme communism is practised. Ways of doing everything are laid down in great detail. Decisions are by majority vote. Meals are eaten in common. There is an annual membership review. Clearly the essenes and the Qumran community belong to, or stem from, the same tradition.
It is germane to note therefore that Qumran members living in wilderness camps are described as "volunteers" and are organised into thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. An echo of the way Mosses and Joshua marshalled the men under their command for the initial attacks on Canaan. Elsewhere the scrolls envisage the recruitment of virtually every Jewish male over the age of 20 into the holy army. Only the very old, the simple minded and those deemed unclean are excluded.
The Qumran community, and the movement of which it was a part, were apocalyptic revolutionaries or holy warriors awaiting their fate. They fasted, prayed for and expected god's divine intervention against the Romans and a messiah (in the Dead Sea scrolls there was to be two messiahs - one in charge religious affairs, the other a military leader). After the hour appointed by god there would ensue a protracted, 33 year, war in what were the last days. "[Then ther]e shall be a time of salvation for the people of god, and a time of domination for all the men of his forces and eternal annihilation for all the forces of Belial [the devil - JC]. There shall be g[reat] panic [among] the son of Japheth, Assyria shall fall with no one to come to his aid, and the supremacy of the Kittim shall cease, that wickedness be overcome without a remnant. There shall be no survivors of [all the sons of] darkness" (M Wise, M Abegg, E Cook The Dead Sea scrolls London 1996, p151-52).
Thankfully Josephus extends his list. He writes of a so-called 'fourth philosophy'. Here we detect the real people's party of the 1st century. It combines religious nationalism with guerrilla war. During the final years of Herod there were numerous urban and rural rebellions. Riots erupted in Jerusalem. In Galilee guerrilla foci found themselves gaining enough adherents to allow regular military units to be formed. Their leaders had themselves crowned kings on the messianic model. Among them were Simon a former slave of Herod and Athronges, a shepherd. However the most successful liberation fighter was Judas, whose father Ezechias was a well known "bandit" who was executed in 47BC. Josephus complains that Judas "tried to stir the natives to revolt" by encouraging them not to pay taxes to the Romans. Judas "was a rabbi" [teacher - JC], says Josephus, "with a sect of his own, and was quite unlike the others" (Jospehus The Jewish War Harmondsworth 1984, p133). His message was republican not monarchist. The people should have no master except god.
The Romans felt compelled to intervene and decided to establish direct rule over Judaea. Resistance was crushed. There was much bloodshed. Two thousand captives were reportedly crucified and many sold into slavery. The first measure enacted by the Romans was to order a census in 6 (there was no stipulation that every adult male had to register at their place of birth - a purely literary device invented by Bible writers in order to move Joseph and the pregnant Mary from what was anyway a non-Roman administered Galilee in the north to Bethlehem, the town of David, in the south). The census had nothing to do with the provision of public services or population projections. Like the famed Doomsday book of William I its purpose was quite unambiguous. Assessing a new acquisition for purposes of tribute. As such it was deeply resented and triggered another wave of popular rebellion.
Judas in Galilee aligned himself with the dissident pharisee Sadduck whose allotted task was to rouse the people of Jerusalem. The zealot party was born. It would dominate popular politics till the fall of Jerusalem in 70 and the final heroic stand at the desert fortress of Massada in 74. Despite being a member of the establishment, and someone seeking to ingratiate himself with the Romans, Josephus has to admit that the zealots inspired the masses "to bold deeds". Their "madness infected the entire people". Galilee in particular was a hotbed of revolt.
Josephus exhibits very mixed feelings towards the zealots. He was upper class but also a proud Jew. So on the one hand he indulgently attacks them as "bandits" because they butchered "distinguished people" such as himself and because eventually they "brought about our ruin." Supposedly due to such revolutionaries the Romans sacked Jerusalem and crucified tens of thousands - a moral stance akin to blaming the bund for the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto by the Germans. On the other hand he cannot but admire their conviction and steadfastness. Judas and the most militant of the zealots "showed a stubborn love for liberty" and would rather suffer torture than "call any human being their master".
Having imposed direct rule over Judea the Romans appear to have come round to a policy of deliberately provoking a general uprising. There might have been a fear that the Jews were getting too powerful and too numerous in the empire. Yet whatever the reason the procurators appointed from Rome seemed determined to conduct affairs in such a way as to lose any consent they might otherwise have enjoyed. The last two, Albinus and Florus, were particularly bad. Albinus unashamedly 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 certainly adds weight to the hypothesis that there was a plot to foment a rebellion.
Either way a revolt there was. And one which initially drew to it virtually all classes in Jewish society. Florus urgently called in Cestus Gallus, the legate of Syria, and his legions so as 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 rebellion against Roman power; and on the other hand an ideological clash "between the Hellenistic and Jewish civilisations" (H Maccoby Revolution of Judaea London 1973, p224).
The Romans swiftly advanced. Having pushed its way through Galilee and Samaria the 30,000 force under Gallus entered Judaea. The defenders put up a hard fight but were overcome. He marched victoriously into Jerusalem. However zealots ceased key strategic points, including the temple and its enclosure. They rained missiles and rocks down upon the Romans. For reasons that still remain somewhat a mystery Gallus decided to retreat from Jerusalem. Perhaps he was forced out, or, perhaps, his decision was connected to the political crisis gripping the empire. The fire of Rome occurred in 64 and Nero was widely viewed as mad. His forced suicide in June 68 was followed by the rapid succession and downfall of Galba, Otho and Vitellius. Whatever the reason for the sudden withdrawal from Jerusalem in September 66 on the way back out through Judaea Gallus' army was ambushed by zealot guerrillas. The Romans were routed. Gallus only saved the day by sacrificing his rearguard. Six thousand died and huge quantities of arms, siege artillery and supplies were captured.
That the zealot attack took place at Beth-horon - the mountain pass where Judas Maccabaeus defeated the Seleucid Greek-Syrian army in 165BC - gave it a miraculous quality. The Jews had god on their side. Even the sadducees joined the uprising. Under such conditions of class collaboration the zealots allowed the conduct of the war to pass to Hasmonaean aristocrats who were by tradition the military leaders of the people. One of them was Josephus who was appointed as general in command of Galilee. Much squabbling between him and the Galilean zealot, John of Gischala, ensued. The defences of Galilee were left fatally weak. And as a reinforced Roman army renewed its offensive Josephus defected.
In Jerusalem itself the zealots take a vow to fight to the end. Sadducees and aristocrats increasingly clamour for a negotiated settlement. Class conflict erupts between those above and those below. Revolt against Rome takes on the dimensions of a social revolution. Eminent people are assassinated. Others such as Antipas, a member of the royal family, are placed under arrest. The masses appoint their own high priest. Street fighting brakes out between zealots and sadducees. With the help of Idumaean allies the sadducees are defeated. A multi-layered 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 terrorism over invented tradition. The high priest Ananus is executed along with many young aristocrats. The zealot party itself fragments under the pressure of responsibility and rivalry. Menahem, son of Judas the zealot founder, is killed by republican zealots after he declares himself messiah (king). The zealot's 'redoubtable' wing withdraws to Messada in the south. The remaining zealots are split. One the one side is the faction following John of Gischala, who fled to Jerusalem after the collapse in Galilee. On the other the extreme left of the democratic party behind Simon bar Giora. Much to the disgust of Josephus he "proclaimed the liberty of slaves", cancelled the debts of the poor and attracted to his banner "the scum of the whole district" (Jospehus The Jewish War Harmondsworth 1984, p275). Like Spartacus his movement threatens the social order itself.
Having been elected emperor Vespasian passes control of the campaign to his son Titus. The Roman noose around Jerusalem is tightened. Giant mobile siege towers close in. Adversity cements a certain unity amongst the zealots. Each faction defends its own districts and walls and courageously strikes back with lightening raids on the enemy. Josephus boasts of the speeches he made before the city urging surrender. He was met with insults and stones. Yet fear and hunger causes many of the festival pilgrims trapped in the city to want to flee. Those that did have to evade both zealot guards and Roman troops. If caught 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 practice but not crucifixions.
After a couple of months the well-oiled Roman military machine breached the outer carapace of the defences and legionnaires captured the third north wall. Months of fierce sector-by-sector and street-by-street fighting follow. But the city was eventually taken. The temple was torched and the complex raised to the ground. In the end the whole city lay in ruins. While Josephus' claim that over one million died in the siege and the subsequent butchery is a huge exaggeration - like most pre-modern sources - there is no doubt that Titus allowed his troops to indulge in unrestricted slaughter. Only once their bloodlust had been satiated did he call a halt. Surviving females and male youths under 17 are to be 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 staged in Syria. Simon bar Giora and "tallest and handsomest" captives are saved for the triumph in Rome (ibid p371).
In 71, before Vespasian and Titus sitting in imperial splendour, the victory over the Jews parade 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 Giroa. News of his death brought about a great cheer. 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 claimed and celebrated by communists. Since there has been unfreedom there has been freedom fighters.
The seething discontent that built up from the imposition of Roman direct rule in 6 to the general revolt of May 66 yielded a rich crop of charismatic messiahs who found themselves a substantial following. Josephus mentions a handful by name or title - Theudas, a "false" prophet from Egypt, etc - 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 infantry and cavalry. John was beheaded by Herod Antipas. Others fought fire with fire. These "wizards" gained "many adherents" says 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 slain and their houses "plundered" (ibid p147).
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 1905-8 Russia when anarchist gangs were given free reign to loot the countryside. We in our time have seen similar manifestations occur in Northern Ireland. Mainstream loyalist and fringe republican paramilitary groups indulged in drug running, protectionism and plain theft. Certain individuals enriched themselves and lived in plebeian luxury. In Britain itself anarcho groups/movements like Reclaim the Streets, Class War and Stop the City provide a cover for common criminal, agent provocateur and hooligan elements. Having said that, it is clear that Josephus, just like his present-day establishment political, media and business contemporaries, cannot but acknowledge the moral superiority of revolutionaries who died fighting for the interests of those below, eg, Rosa Luxemburg, John Maclean, James Connolly, Antonio Gramsci, 'Che' Guevarra, Bobby Sands. Jospehus wants to dismiss them as bandits. But they are, he admits, prepared to suffer torture rather than submit. Josephus himself fatefully chose the slippery road of treachery and moral surrender. Abasement is no guarantee in a life whose only certainty is death. Josephus appears to have come to an untimely end at the hands of his imperial Roman masters.
Josephus mentions one other type of "bandit", ie revolutionary, the sicari. This was a movement of urban guerrillas which "committed numerous murders in broad daylight" (ibid p147). Their preferred tactic was to "mingle with the festival crowd" in Jerusalem. Concealing curved daggers underneath their cloaks they would stab to death the intended target. Like a fish in the sea the sicari then melt away. Evidently they enjoyed wide support amongst the Jerusalem proletariat and lumpenproletariat. One of their first victims was Jonathan the high priest - who we shall meet later. But there were many more. The quislings lived in constant fear of the terrorist knife.
From Josephus it is clear that the masses were not united behind a single party. Yet inhabiting the rarefied atmosphere of the aristocracy Josephus would have had only the haziest knowledge of politics on what is today the extreme left. One should take his description as a thumbnail sketch on a par with a contemporary analysis of the left coming from an intelligent writer on The Daily Telegraph or The Guardian. Logically everything tells us that mass politics in 1st century Palestine were far more complex, far more variegated than described by Josephus. In the Talmud we find the artistic claim that "Israel did not go into captivity until there had come into existence 24 varieties of sectaries" (quoted in H Schonfield The pentecost revolution Shaftesbury 1985, p259).
Where do James and the nazoreans fit? Obviously there are differences between them and the essenes and the zealots. They were not monastic like the essenes. Neither were they republicans and practical guerrilla fighters along zealot lines. Nonetheless we should not forget that at least five of Jesus' so-called 12 disciples were associated with or came from the ranks of the zealots and retained guerrilla nicknames (Peter 'Barjonah' - 'outlaw'; Simon - the zealot; James and John - the 'sons of thunder'; and Judas 'Iscariot' - the 'dagger-man'). More than that their founder Jesus was crucified as a rebel by the Romans. Broadly speaking then, the nazoreans should be thought of as occupying the same political-religious space as the essenes and zealots and certainly sharing 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 lived, ie, Jesus of Nazareth. The origins of this are to be found in Mark and was repeated for the church by Epiphanius. Yet in Hebrew the term simply means 'keeper', 'consecrated' or 'to be 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 messianism. So nazorean "cannot mean 'from Nazareth' ... though all such plays on words were probably purposeful" (R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, 244). In all likelihood the town Nazareth, if it existed in ancient times, derives from nazorean not the other way round.
4. Nazorean politics
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 but could not be captured or killed. Jesus would come and deliver his people at the decisive moment (in this respect the nazorean story of king Jesus is akin to the British myth of the sleeping king Arthur). The potency of this combination is shown in the acts. In spite of itself the acts also casts light on the true nature of the nazorean party.
Seven weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus the narorean 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. "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" (Acts ii, 44-47).
The acts were composed in the 2nd century and are overtly Pauline. Nevertheless though an apologia for Paul and unmistakably Christian the acts not only show the communistic nazoreans finding "favour with the people" but as a community using and worshipping in the temple. Evidently the nazoreans were neither Christian nor Jewish-Christians. They were Jews by birth and Jews by faith. The nazoreans were a leftwing Jewish sect or party 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 of the Jews. Hence they diligently kept the laws of Mosses and observed the sabbath.
James - their prince regent - in particular was renown for his saintly devotion. So often did he pray that his knees became "callused as a camel's". Like the most extreme Jews of his day he recoiled from any contact with foreigners, abstained from drinking wine and was a lifelong vegetarian. Furthermore he took a vow of celibacy in order to preserve his 'righteousness' ('zaddikism' in Hebrew). It was James not Mary who was the perpetual virgin from the womb. We know about the dress, dietary rules and taboos observed by James from a wide range of sources. Take Eusebius, he quotes Hegesippus as saying that James "drank no wine or strong drink, nor did he eat meat" (quoted in R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, 256). We can also employ deduction and come to similar conclusions from the acts and Paul's letters to the Galacians and Corinthians. For example, unlike the "pillars" in Jerusalem, Paul tells his followers that they can eat "everything sold in the meat market" (I Corinthians x, 25). He 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 consorts with prostitutes, Roman centurions and tax collectors was almost designed to produce apoplexy amongst the nazoreans. It is an insulting reversal of nazorean sensibilities.
The righteousness or 'zaddikism' of James is repeatedly referred to by the church fathers Origen, Eusebius and Jerome. They claim to have seen a no longer extant version of Josephus - the implication in Eusebius is that it is his The Jewish War. It is reproduced as follows: "And these things happened to the Jews [defeat and the sacking of Jerusalem - JC] to avenge James the Just, who was the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, for the Jews put him to death, notwithstanding his pre-eminent Righteousness" (quoted in R Eisenman James the brother of Jesus London 1997, p235). We can discount the nonsense 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). Origen gives a similar account, though he claims his version of the death of James originates in the Jewish antiquities of Josephus. In essence Jerome repeats what he has read in Origen and Eusebius. Interestingly he refers to another tradition about James (which also echoes the normative Jesus story). He says that James: "who was the first bishop of Jerusalem and known as Justus, was considered to be so holy by the people that they earnestly sought to touch the hem of his clothing" (quoted in ibid p239). Jerome and Epiphanius are moreover insistent that James wore the mitre of the high priest and actually entered the holy of holies in the temple (no one apart from the high priest, who enacted the annual Yom Kippur ritual there, was allowed into the inner sanctum).
So it appears that James functioned as an opposition (righteous or zaddokite) high priest. Whether he stood before the ark 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. In other words at least on the level of morality, ritual and the theocratic statelet wielded by the high priesthood there was 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" (quoted in ibid p318).
With this in mind it is hardly surprising that the nazoreans were overwhelmingly lower class. One of their party names - along with the Qumran community - 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: "not 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" (I Corinthians i, 26-30). The proletarian character of the nazoreans is one of the reasons why we posses so little hard evidence of exact organisation and ideology. The leaders were surely persuasive and eloquent men. But their party culture was oral not written. Maybe the apostles could read and write. They were unlikely to have been humble fishermen - a reading which stems from a misunderstanding of 'fourth philosophy' parables relating to preachers who cast out their nets. That aside, the rank and file were largely illiterate. The loric teachings and sayings of Jesus were therefore to begin with handed down by word of mouth. There was considerable scope for exaggeration and downright fabrication. And, of course, it should be stressed that the myth making of the nazoreans about Jesus, his mission and his miracles are within the traditions of Jewish communistic sects.
Nazoreans exhibit a strong class antagonism against the rich. We find such firmly established ideas scattered throughout the New testament. Being seared onto the brains of even the most ignorant amongst the congregation they could not easily be expunged by later redactors. The acts have a story about 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 (Acts v, 2). They both fall down dead when rebuked by the apostles. In Luke we read that the rich man "who was clothed in purple and fine linen" goes to Hades and "torment" and the "flames" because he is rich. The poor man Lazarus in contrast finds comfort in "Abraham's bosom" (Luke xvi, 19). The letter of James - from the first half of the second century is, as we have already seen, 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" thunders the apostle (James ii, 5-7). The poor are urged to patiently await the "coming of the lord" and class revenge.
If we grasp the fact that the poor masses in Jerusalem of the late 30s to 70 were in sympathy with the nazoreans and their anti-rich messianic programme then the events reported in the New testament and other sources about the strength of the community can be made sense of. It is also because the nazoreans were lower class, revolutionary and popular that the Romans and sadducees considered them a threat and, when the situation allowed, persecuted them.
Almost immediately after the execution of Jesus his followers reorganise themselves and find a remarkable response in the poor quarters of Jerusalem. Their headquarters was in a district called the Ophel situated in the cramped lower city. The atmosphere must have been feverish. There is wild talk of miracles and cures. Of the coming messiah and quickly ending Roman rule. In our terminology the masses were beginning to refuse 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 area has enough space to accommodate those who want to hear them. Any fear that might have demoralised or cowed them when Jesus was executed vanishes. The masses give them courage and power. They are inspired and psychologically become the message in their own persons. The 'spirit' is upon them.
The sadducees respond by having the temple guard detain those whom the acts call Peter and John. Their reported excuse is that they were preaching resurrection - Jesus being proof. But the actual interrogation that followed the next day concerns the healing of a cripple. He is brought 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. The high priest make threats but decide to release them "because of the people" (Acts iv, 21). The nazorean had scored an important tactical victory and were further emboldened. Some 5,000 more join their ranks.
Not long after, worried by the ever increasing numbers attracted to the nazorean meetings at the temple, the high priest and sadducees have all the "apostles" arrested and placed in a "common prison" - presumably a temple dungeon (Acts v, 18). When the temple police go to fetch them for interrogation they are horrified to discover that the cell empty. Presumably sympathisers not an angel had sprung them. Far from fleeing the apostles are found "standing in the temple and teaching the people" (Acts v, 25). Without violence, "for they are afraid of being stoned by the people", the guards bring them before the sanhedrin. They are ordered to stop their agitation. On behalf of them all Peter refuses. A pharisee named Gamaliel eloquently urges caution. So after beating them and charging them not to "speak in the name of Jesus" they "let them go" (Acts v, 40). Again to no effect. Every day nazoreans continue their meetings at private homes and in the temple enclosure.
Nazarene 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 he is stoned to death. There is an interregnum in Roman power in 36-37 with the departure of Pilate and the preparation of 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 for me persuasively, that the martyrdom of Stephen (a Greek name) is an overwrite for an attempt on the life of James. He reckons that James was attacked by Paul and his gang of hired ruffians who participated in Jonathan's pogrom against the nazoreans and all other opposi-tionists. We find confirmation of this thesis in the Pseudoclemintine material. The scenario it presents tells of a big debate at the temple between the sadduceen hierarchy and the nazoreans headed by James. At a prearranged moment Sual (Paul) and his men stage a riot. Saul (Paul) lays hold of a brand from the alter and begins the action. The Recognitions contain the following passage: "Much blood is shed; there is a confused fight in which that enemy [Paul - JC] attacked Jacob [the Hebrew name for James - JC], and threw him headlong from the top of the steps; and supposing him to be dead, he cared not to inflict further violence upon him. But our friends lifted him up, for they were both more numerous and more powerful than the others" (quoted in H Schonfield The pentecost revolution Shaftesbury 1985, p127). Though both his legs are 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.
The nazoreans launch themselves as active proselytisers outside Palestine. They recruit Jews living throughout the Roman empire - in particular Rome, Syria and Alexandria. Through their intersection with the 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