Jesus in the temple (detail) – Scrovegni – public domain image
The historical Jesus would have completely rejected the casual torture and killing of animals. This practice of compassion was quite clear in the early church but was then lost as Christianity spread into the wider Roman world.
What does this imply about Jesus’ practice of compassion? Definitions of veganism vary, but the basic concept is not to kill or harm any sentient creature, especially for food. There is no word in ancient Greek or Latin for “vegan.” In fact, there was no word in English for it, either, before the first Vegan Society was formed in 1944. But the concept was present even in ancient times. It is roughly analogous to the ancient Sanskrit term “ahimsa,” referring to non-harming of sentient creatures, found in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Veganism is not about purity; it is about compassion, “which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose,” as the Vegan Society puts it. Continue reading
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (public domain image)
NOTE (December 14, 2020): I’ve now expanded and revised this post here.
The historical Jesus, as I’ve argued elsewhere, was clearly vegetarian. To recap: (1) The controversy in the early church over vegetarianism shows that the leadership of the early church promoted vegetarianism and opposed animal sacrifice. (2) The testimony of later Jewish Christianity echoed and preserved this vegetarian, anti-sacrifice tradition. (3) Jesus himself was killed after disrupting the animal sacrifice business in the temple. But can we say that Jesus was a vegan? This is somewhat trickier. Continue reading
On Christmas day, WCUW radio (91.3 FM, in Worcester, Massachusetts) will broadcast an interview of me on Marlene Narrow’s “Vegan Nation” show. It will be on Friday, December 25, 2015 at 12:30 pm to 1 pm Eastern time (10:30 – 11:00 am Mountain time). (The interview has been pre-recorded.) The content will center around Jesus and vegetarianism. You can listen online by going to their website and click on the button on the left-hand side that says “WCUW Live / Listen Now!”
UPDATE December 26: here’s the link to the archive of this show (an MP3 file).
Jesus in the temple (Greco)
Was Jesus a vegetarian? The long answer is to investigate both Jesus and the movement that he was part of, something I’ve done in my books The Lost Religion of Jesus and Disciples. This post will give a shorter answer that briefly discusses three key points: the controversy over vegetarianism in the early church, the later history of Jewish Christianity, and Jesus’ attack on animal sacrifice.
The dispute over vegetarianism in the early church shows that the leadership of the Jerusalem church was vegetarian. Continue reading
Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged” deals mostly with ancient forgeries, but also with some modern forgeries
NOTE: this post discusses Nicholas Notovitch and Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. For G. J. R. Ouseley and “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve,” see the next post.
Why would anyone want to fabricate a gospel to prove that Jesus was a vegetarian, or anything else about Jesus? There is plenty of solid historical evidence that the message of Jesus was simple living, nonviolence, and vegetarianism, and that vegetarianism was a key idea of the movement which he headed. But Nicholas Notovitch and Edmond Bordeaux Szekely have not gone down the historical path; they have instead fabricated a gospel. Both of these gospels are sometimes innocently quoted by vegetarians to prove that Jesus went to India or that Jesus was a vegetarian. But neither of them constitutes real evidence about Jesus, or about anything else before the nineteenth century. Continue reading
Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)
Recently, in response to a friend’s blurb promoting Disciples on Facebook, someone asked whether the author of the book (namely, me) was promoting vegetarian “propaganda.”
I have heard this same basic objection before, expressed in other ways. Readers feel that describing Jesus or early Christianity as vegetarian is strange. A reviewer of my previous book The Lost Religion of Jesus politely said, “There is, for my taste, an overemphasis on vegetarianism as one of the differences between the Jewish Christian groups and the Gentile Christian church.” Another reviewer, less politely, described The Lost Religion of Jesus as “an apologetic book for vegetarianism with a religious ‘seal of approval’ applied”; still another said that it was “a poorly supported argument for becoming a vegetarian.” Continue reading
Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)
People are seriously debating whether there ever was a historical Jesus. Some assert that Jesus himself never existed, that “Jesus is a legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan.” The best representative of this position is likely Dr. Robert M. Price (The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems). Bart Ehrman wrote a book on the other side (Did Jesus Exist?). Bloggers have now weighed in both pro and con, for example Dr. R. Joseph Hoffman and the site Vridar.org. On top of that, many people among the “New Atheists” are getting involved, with even Richard Dawkins cautiously weighing in on the subject: “The evidence [Jesus] existed is surprisingly shaky.” Continue reading
My new book, Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church (Apocryphile Press, 2013) has now been published. You can order it on Amazon here. (I will not be selling it through my website.)
A book about the disciples of Jesus would typically start with Jesus himself: first there was Jesus, then he had disciples. Disciples suggests a fundamentally different story: first there was a movement, then Jesus emerged as its leader. This movement was markedly different from both rabbinic Judaism and gentile Christianity. It became known to history as “Jewish Christianity”— Jews who followed both Jesus (as they understood him) and the Jewish law (as they understood it).
These first disciples affirmed simple living, nonviolence, and vegetarianism, and rejected wealth, war, and animal sacrifices. Some two decades after Jesus was crucified, they split with their most famous missionary, Paul, over the issues of vegetarianism and eating meat from animal sacrifices. These events become clear through examination of the letters of Paul and the Jewish Christian literature: the Recognitions, the Homilies, and testimony about Jewish Christianity in the early church fathers. The history of Jewish Christianity takes our understanding of Christian origins into a completely new realm. Continue reading
Reza Aslan’s Zealot provocatively places Matthew 10:34 as the book’s motto: “I bring not peace, but the sword.” What was the attitude of the early followers of Jesus towards violence?
One might conclude from the title and the motto that Zealot would be a rehash of the “Jesus as violent revolutionary” idea. S. G. F. Brandon, Robert Eisenman, and others have all made the case that Jesus was a militant Jewish nationalist. But Aslan’s book is more sophisticated than this; Jesus was a “zealot” with a lower-case “z,” not a member of the Zealot party. Continue reading
It’s a pleasure to encounter a book about Jesus that acknowledges the critical importance of Jesus’ disruption of the animal sacrifice business in the last week of his life; that acknowledges that Jesus was a Jew and tries to understand him in terms of the Jewish thought of the time; and that understands the historical importance of the shattering of the early church due to the dispute between Paul on the one hand, and James the brother of Jesus and the other disciples on the other.
Such a book is Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013). This book is sufficiently interesting that I will devote two blogs to issues which it raises, even though there is no mention of vegetarianism or the Ebionites. In this first one, we’ll look at the incident in the temple, to which Aslan attributes central importance. In the second, we’ll look at the early Christian attitude towards war. Continue reading
Jesus in the temple (Greco)
Well, surprise, surprise! According to a recent archeological report, the ancient temple in Jerusalem was a slaughterhouse that powered the local economy. The animals sacrificed came from both near and far away, which “confirms visions of the temple depicted in historical Jewish texts and suggests the economic heart of the city was its slaughtering operation.”
The Journal of Archeological Science, in the December 2013 issue has an article on “The pilgrimage economy of Early Roman Jerusalem,” by Gideon Hartman, et. al., which (despite the date) is evidently already available. You can find the abstract online (scroll down to see abstract). What is new in this report is not the ancient testimonies pro or con on animal sacrifice, but that modern evidence supports the idea that animal sacrifice was a key part of the first century Jewish economy. Continue reading
The San Francisco Vegetarian Society has now uploaded the YouTube video of my talk, “Vegetarianism and Christianity — Why Don’t They Mix?” This talk was given on Sunday, October 7, 2012, in San Francisco at the World Vegetarian Festival.
Let me know what you think.
Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School scholar whom I greatly respect, has submitted a draft of an article for the Harvard Theological Review discussing a Coptic gospel fragment which refers to Jesus having a wife. This is now all over the internet, it was on the PBS Newshour last night, and even made the front page of the Denver Post and other papers. The Smithsonian Channel is planning a special program. It’s big news!
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as King has named it) is very short and very fragmentary. Continue reading
Jesus in the temple (Greco)
If you want to promote vegetarianism among Christians, there are basically two schools of thought. (1) Some people cite the Bible, admit that Jesus wasn’t vegetarian (Luke 24:42-43), but say that vegetarianism is still a good idea because it is the original best diet for humans (Genesis 1:29), and Jesus wouldn’t like factory farming even if he ate meat. (2) Others cite historical evidence and argue that Jesus disrupted the animal sacrifice business in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:13-16 and parallels), was vegetarian himself, and taught vegetarianism (the views of James in apostolic times, and the Ebionites thereafter). Continue reading
Here’s what James Tabor says about the connection between the Jesus movement and the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran:
“The Jesus movement can best be described as a radical, nationalistic, anti-religious establishment, messianic, apocalyptic, baptizing, new covenant, wilderness-way movement–and that is precisely how the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls can be described as well!”
So, is this right? Continue reading