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The Gospel of

the Ebionites

The Ebionites were a group of Jewish Christians located in different regions of the Mediterranean from at least the second to the fourth centuries.1 What distinguished this group of Christians from many others was their attempt to combine Jewish views and lifestyles with the belief that Jesus was the messiah. In particular, they were said to have emphasized belief in only one God to such an extent that they denied, as a consequence, Jesus’ own divinity. At the same time, the Ebionites differed from non-Christian Jews in asserting that Jesus was the sacrifice for the sins of the world and that all other sacrifices had therefore become meaningless. Among other things, this belief led them to embrace a vegetarian diet, since most meat was procured, in the ancient world, through the religious act of sacrificing an animal. One of the sacred books these Jewish Christians appealed to in support of their views was known in antiquity as the Gospel of the Ebionites. Regrettably, the book as whole has been lost; but we are fortunate to have some quotations of it in the writings of an opponent of the Ebionites, the fourth-century heresy-hunter, Epiphanius of Salamis. These quotations give us a good idea of what the entire Gospel must have looked like. It was written in Greek, and represented a kind of harmony of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This can be seen most clearly in the account of the voice at Jesus’ baptism. In the three canonical accounts, the voice says slightly different things. These differences are harmonized, however, in the Gospel according to the Ebionites, where the voice comes from heaven three times, saying something slightly different on each occasion, corre­ sponding to the words found in each of the three earlier Gospels. Some of the Ebionites’ distinctive concerns are embodied in their


See Ehrman, Lost Christianities, chap. 6.

Translation by Bart D. Ehrman based on the Greek text found in Egbert Schlarb and Dieter Lu¨hrmann, Fragmente apocryph gewordener Evangelien in griechischer und lateinischer Sprache (Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 2000) 35–39.


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