Epiphanius on the Ebionites

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John2
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Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by John2 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:53 am

A conversation on another thread is making me reexamine the value of what Epiphanius says about the Ebionites, or rather, what he says about them emerging sometime after 70 CE from the earlier Nazarene faction of Jewish Christianity (Pan. 30.2.7), since I think Luomanen does a fine job of examining what he says regarding how their vegetarianism and opposition to sacrifice lines up fairly well with supposed Ebionite sources in the Clementine writings (for whatever they may be worth).


https://www.google.com/books/edition/Re ... 1249193192


But there are some things that come to mind when I think about the idea that the Ebionites emerged after 70 CE. For one, while Paul and the Letter of James (which I view as being genuine and thus pre-70 CE) champion the poor, neither (to my knowledge) use the word "ebionite" to describe Jesus or his followers. As Paul says in Gal. 2:10 and Rom. 15:26 (for examples):

All they [Jewish Christian leaders] asked was that we should continue to remember the poor [ptochon], the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor [ptochous] among the Lord's people in Jerusalem.

And James uses the same word several times in chapter 2, e.g., 2:5:

Has not God chosen the poor [ptochous] of this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?

And Jesus uses the same word in Mark and Matthew (which I view as being the earliest gospels) and in the other NT gospels, e.g., Mt. 5:3:

Blessed are the poor [ptochoi] in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

https://biblehub.com/greek/4434.htm


Does the New Testament use the word "ebionite" at all? If so, I haven't been able to find it yet. And in any event it at least wasn't used in the above contexts to describe the followers of Jesus. But I do know that some of these sources and others I view as being from the first century CE (i.e., Luke and Acts, which I suspect were written c. 95 CE) use the word "Nazarene" (whatever it may mean) to describe Jesus' followers and Jesus himself. For examples:


Mk. 1:24:

What do we have to do with you, Jesus, Nazarene?

Mk. 10:47:

When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Mk. 14:67:

When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said.

Mt. 2:23:

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Acts 24:5:

We have found this man [Paul] to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect ...

So I'm thinking that if the earliest sources we have (which I view as being from the first century CE, though after 70 CE in the case of Mark, Matthew, Luke and Acts) use the word "Nazarene" to describe Jesus and his followers and don't use the word "ebionite" (or if they do, then not exclusively or as a title of a sect like in Acts 24:5), then this would support what Epiphanius says about the Ebionite faction of Jewish Christianity emerging from the Nazarene faction sometime after 70 CE.
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by DCHindley » Wed Oct 16, 2019 1:41 pm

Not under the name "Ebionite," but since that word means "(the) poor" then you have Paul being given the instruction to "remember the poor" (τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, "tōn ptōchōn hina mnēmoneuōmen") .

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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by John2 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 4:23 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 1:41 pm
Not under the name "Ebionite," but since that word means "(the) poor" then you have Paul being given the instruction to "remember the poor" (τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, "tōn ptōchōn hina mnēmoneuōmen") .

Then why didn't they call themselves something based on the word that Paul, James and Jesus use instead of Ebionites?

For what it's worth (maybe nothing, maybe something), according to Epiphanius (following Tertullian and Hipplolytus), they were named after their founder Ebion, who emerged from the Nazarene faction after 70 CE.

While I (like most people) have been inclined to dismiss this in the past, lately I'm starting to wonder why there couldn't have been someone named Ebion, and I found this reference to Lightfoot, who said a founder of sects named Ebion is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, though I haven't been able to find out where it is located or anything else about it.

... Lightfoot says that he is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as a founder of sects.


https://books.google.com/books?id=WA1QA ... ud&f=false



So perhaps it's not impossible, and since Ebion had previously been mentioned by Tertullian and Hippolytus, we can at least say that Epiphanius didn't invent his name (though we could still suppose Tertullian or Hippolytus did).
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by John2 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 4:48 pm

And it's curious what the Jerusalem Talmud supposedly says about Ebion being a founder of "sects" given what Epiphanius says in Pan. 30.1.2-4:

For it was as though someone were to collect a set of jewelry from various precious stones and an outfit of varicolored clothing and tog himself up conspicuously. Ebion, in reverse, took any and every doctrine which was dreadful, lethal, disgusting, ugly and unconvincing, thoroughly contentious, from every sect, and patterned himself after them all. For he has the Samaritans' unpleasantness but the Jews' name, the opinion of the Ossaeans, Nazoraeans and Nasaraeans, the form of the Cerinthians, and the perversity of the Carpocratians. And he wants to have just the Christians' title ... But since he is midway between all the sects, as one might say, he amounts to nothing.
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 16, 2019 5:37 pm

John2 wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 4:23 pm
DCHindley wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 1:41 pm
Not under the name "Ebionite," but since that word means "(the) poor" then you have Paul being given the instruction to "remember the poor" (τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, "tōn ptōchōn hina mnēmoneuōmen") .
Then why didn't they call themselves something based on the word that Paul, James and Jesus use instead of Ebionites?
Paul, James, and the words of Jesus in the NT are all in Greek and thus use the Greek word πτωχός. The term Ebionite, on the other hand, would be based upon the Hebrew word אֶבְיוֹן (ebiо̄n). You can see how one may be used to translate the other in the following passage:

Exodus 23.10-22: 10 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor [אֶבְיֹנֵי, πτωχοί] of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

"Ebionite," as a word, consists of two morphemes, though: ebiо̄n + ite. The "ite" is the same as in Israelite or Thatcherite, indicating a member of a group.
For what it's worth (maybe nothing, maybe something), according to Epiphanius (following Tertullian), they were named after their founder Ebion, who emerged from the Nazarene faction after 70 CE.
I think Ebion is a pipe dream: a back formation to explain the name of the sect once most Christians no longer had any contact with any Semitic tongue.
While I (like most people) have been inclined to dismiss this in the past, lately I'm starting to wonder why there couldn't have been someone named Ebion, and I found this reference to Lightfoot, who said a founder of sects named Ebion is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, though I haven't been able to find out where it is located or anything else about it.
... Lightfoot says that he is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as a founder of sects.

https://books.google.com/books?id=WA1QA ... ud&f=false
Nathan has a great explanation for this: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2786&p=97180#p97116.
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by neilgodfrey » Wed Oct 16, 2019 5:38 pm

Fwiw, according to Skarsaune the source for Epiphanius's claim that the Ebionites originated after 70 CE is Eusebius.
Epiphanius seems eager not to miss any scrap of information on the Ebionites which he could glean from his heresiological predecessors, beginning with the New Testament itself. The following statements seem borrowed from the patristic sources we have studied already:

(6) Ebionites originated after the capture of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and migrated into the Trans-Jordan area. (2.7, cf. Eusebius)
Skarsaune, Oskar, and Reidar Hvalvik, eds. 2007. Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Baker Academic. pp. 450 f

and further,
Alfred Schmidtke has convincingly shown that Epiphanius's identification of the group expressing themselves in the Pseudo-Clementines with the Ebionites of Irenaeus was entirely without foundation and should be discarded.11

11 Alfred Schmidtke, Neue Fragmente und Untersuchungen zu den judenchristlichen Evangelien: Ein Beitrag zur Literatur und Geschichte der Judenchristen (TU 37.1; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1911), 175-241.
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by neilgodfrey » Wed Oct 16, 2019 5:43 pm

On the term itself, again from Skarsaune (pp. 420 ff)
It is easy to see that the short reports on Jewish believers contained in the
early heresiologists do not really fit into this framework. The early Fathers
show very little interest in these groups, and hardly bother to refute them (the
exception is Epiphanius, on whom see below). Indeed, it seems as though they
only included these reports on Jewish believers for the purpose of completing
their survey of the heresies. This inclusion, however, has had one striking consequence:
the Jewish believers were made to conform to the usual heresiological
pattern.5 In this survey, the Fathers fashioned the Jewish believers into distinctive
sects, each following a sect-founder. This pattern necessitated identifying a sect
wherever a supposed sect-leader was detected (e.g., the Cerinthians). The converse
could also apply: since some Jewish believers were known as Ebionites, there
had to be a sect-founder Ebion.6

The Ebionites, however, are the best example to show the misleading nature
of this heresiological pattern when it was applied to Jewish believers. The name
no doubt is based on the biblical Hebrew term ebionim (probably via Aramaic
ebionaye). This was not a sect-name and was not a derogatory designation by outsiders.
In the Hebrew Bible, ebion and ebionim are very frequently occurring
terms, and they generally refer to those in Israel who are looked down upon by
the rich and powerful, and who expect to be delivered by the God of Israel in the
present time or in the eschaton. The ebionim are those within the people of Israel
who are the primary addressees of God's salvation, now and in the future. In
other words, ebionim is a positive term, and it is easy indeed to imagine that subgroups
within the Jewish people who felt oppressed by the powerful elite—say
the rabbis—would gladly identify themselves as the ebionim spoken of in the
Prophets and the Psalms. They would also use this name to identify themselves as
those whom Jesus had blessed and to whom he had promised God's recompense
in Luke 6:20: "Blessed are you poor." In the Epistle of James this positive identification
with the biblical ebionim is continued.7

This means that there are no a priori reasons to think that ebionim was a
sect-name or a term of contempt; on the contrary, it could have been a name by
which several groups and kinds of Jewish believers liked to refer to themselves.
Origen, who knew enough Hebrew to understand the meaning of the name,
seems to have used it as a general term for Jewish believers.8

If the Greek Fathers had appreciated this positive and biblical meaning of the
term, they ought to have rendered it by πτωχοί, thereby allowing Greek-speaking
Bible readers to understand the theological implications of the term. Instead, by
rendering ebionim by Έβιωναιοι, they cast the term in a completely different
mold. By doing so, they probably also created the sect of the Ebionites, and a
sect had to entertain heretical doctrine or ethos. In order to explain Irenaeus's pioneering
notice on the Ebionites, it is sufficient to assume two things. (1) He
knew that some (or most) Jewish believers were known as ebionim, and (2)
He knew that some Jewish believers denied the virgin birth and derived Jesus'
Messianic lineage through Joseph. The other points of doctrine and practice he
ascribes to them could be taken as typical of Jewish believers in general, and
probably were so.

Once Irenaeus's picture of the Ebionites had established itself as the authoritative
one, later Fathers would compare their own encounters with Jewish believers
with his picture—and if their own experiences did not square with the
established truth, they would often conclude that there had to be more than one
branch of Ebionites, as we see clearly, for example, in Origen. There are two types
of Ebionites, he says: those who declare Jesus a mere man, son of Joseph; and
those who seem to embrace a different type of Christology. In other words,
Origen knows from his own experience that not all Jewish believers conform to
the picture painted by Irenaeus.
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by John2 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 6:09 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 5:37 pm
John2 wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 4:23 pm
DCHindley wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 1:41 pm
Not under the name "Ebionite," but since that word means "(the) poor" then you have Paul being given the instruction to "remember the poor" (τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, "tōn ptōchōn hina mnēmoneuōmen") .
Then why didn't they call themselves something based on the word that Paul, James and Jesus use instead of Ebionites?
Paul, James, and the words of Jesus in the NT are all in Greek and thus use the Greek word πτωχός. The term Ebionite, on the other hand, would be based upon the Hebrew word אֶבְיוֹן (ebiо̄n). You can see how one may be used to translate the other in the following passage:

Exodus 23.10-22: 10 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor [אֶבְיֹנֵי, πτωχοί] of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

"Ebionite," as a word, consists of two morphemes, though: ebiо̄n + ite. The "ite" is the same as in Israelite or Thatcherite, indicating a member of a group.

Hm. Interesting (re: Ex. 23:10-22). And out of curiosity I've been wanting to check Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew 5:3 to see what it says, but I don't have access to it right now and can't see that part on Google books, but I will check Howard's book at home later

I'm not sure if the Ebionites spoke Hebrew or used a Hebrew Matthew though. Epiphanius says that the Nazarenes did, but isn't the long citation from the Ebionite Matthew he gives in Greek? Did Epiphanius translate all that from Hebrew, or is it an indication that the Ebionite Matthew (aka the Gospel of the Ebionites) was written in Greek or a Greek translation from Hebrew? if they spoke Greek and their gospel was in Greek, would that have any bearing on what you are saying?

... Lightfoot says that he is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as a founder of sects.

https://books.google.com/books?id=WA1QA ... ud&f=false

Nathan has a great explanation for this: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2786&p=97180#p97116.

I thought that was interesting too, but without seeing what Lightfoot supposedly saw in the Jerusalem Talmud I can't be sure about anything. Also, if I recall correctly, Tertullian spells his name Hebion, and I wonder if that could have any bearing on any of this.
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by John2 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 6:30 pm

Regarding the Ebionite Matthew being in Greek, in Pan. 30.22.4-5 Epiphanius notes something that appears to indicate that it was:
But to destroy deliberately the true passage these people have altered its text -which is evident to everyone from the expressions that accompany it- and represented ... [Jesus] supposedly saying, "Did I really desire to eat meat at this Passover with you?"

How can their tampering [of Matthew] go undetected, when the passage cries out that the "mu" and "eta" are additions?
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Re: Epiphanius on the Ebionites

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 16, 2019 6:52 pm

John2 wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 6:09 pm
Hm. Interesting (re: Ex. 23:10-22). And out of curiosity I've been wanting to check Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew 5:3 to see what it says, but I don't have access to it right now and can't see that part on Google books, but I will check Howard's book at home later
Most manuscripts of the Shem Tov do not even have Matthew 5.3. The only one (I think) which has it has שפלי, which means "humble." Not the same word.
I'm not sure if the Ebionites spoke Hebrew or used a Hebrew Matthew though. Epiphanius says that the Nazarenes did, but isn't the long citation from the Ebionite Matthew he gives in Greek? Did Epiphanius translate all that from Hebrew, or is it an indication that the Ebionite Matthew (aka the Gospel of the Ebionites) was written in Greek or a Greek translation from Hebrew? if they spoke Greek and their gospel was in Greek, would that have any bearing on what you are saying?
The Ebionite gospel as we know it from Epiphanius is a Greek text. I do not think there is much or any evidence that a Semitic original lies behind it. A lot of people point to it having ἐγκρὶς ("cake" or "wafer") instead of ἀκρίδες ("locusts") for John the Baptist's diet; the similarity between the two words exists only in Greek; I used to subscribe fully to the view that the Ebionite gospel was depending upon and changing the synoptic gospels at this point, but lately I have been less sure of this, though it may easily still be true.
I thought that was interesting too, but without seeing what Lightfoot supposedly saw in the Jerusalem Talmud I can't be sure about anything.
That is the point. What he says he saw is apparently not there in the extant text. Others have looked; I have looked. Nathan's explanation at least accounts for why we cannot find what he says he found.
Also, if I recall correctly, Tertullian spells his name Hebion, and I wonder if that could have any bearing on any of this.
Yes, that is how Tertullian spells the name, but I am not sure what bearing it might have on the issue. I know that an initial het in Hebrew can often be rendered by a Greek alpha, but I am not sure that an initial Hebrew aleph can normally be rendered by a Greek rough breathing.

I feel like the fathers had little idea about what the Ebionites were all about, which is why they wound up talking about different "kinds" of Ebionites (those who accept certain doctrines and those who do not).
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