The Lost Religion of Jesus:
Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity
Jesus’ preaching was first and foremost about simple living and nonviolence; he never intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism. Moreover, Jesus’ radical Jewish ethics, not a new theology, distinguished the followers of Jesus from other Jews.
It was the earliest followers of Jesus, the Jewish Christians, who understood Jesus better than any of the gentile Christian groups, which are the spiritual ancestors of modern Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches. In this detailed and accessible study, Keith Akers uncovers the history of Jewish Christianity from its origins in the Essenes and John the Baptist, through Jesus, until its disappearance into Islamic mysticism sometime in the seventh or eighth century.
Akers argues that only by really understanding this mysterious and much misunderstood strand of early Christianity can we get to the heart of the radical message of Jesus of Nazareth.
“Other scholars have explored this field and several significant studies have been published, but none of them has the impact this one has....Akers presents nothing less than an entire recasting of Christian origins, as well as a whole new conception of Christianity.”—Walter Wink
Dr. Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York
Dr. Tom Regan:
"Keith Akers has written an important, timely book that sets the historic record straight."
-- Dr. Tom Regan is Professor of Philosophy and Department Head, Department of Philosophy and Religion, North Carolina State University
"How has the Christian tradition so often lost contact with his message of simple living and nonviolence? In this scholarly historical work, Keith Akers seeks to rediscover the Jesus who said: ‘Nobility is no more than humble service to the Creator and kindness to all creatures.’"
--John Robbins is author of Diet for a New America and Reclaiming Our Health
"From a new and unique vantage point, Akers gives us a life-affirming, faith-affirming look at one of history’s most misunderstood figures."
--Victoria Moran is the author of Shelter for the Spirit and Creating a Charmed Life
"A riveting read. I challenge you to read this book. You will be changed forever."
--Ingrid Newkirk is chairperson of the national animal-rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
"Whatever your religion, you will find this book to be of compelling interest . . . It could change forever our understanding of the true religion and teachings of Jesus."
--Lewis Regenstein is author of Replenish the Earth (Crossroad, 1991) and director of the Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Dan Dombrowski:
"His work deserves serious attention. The case for pacifism and, interestingly, the case for vegetarianism on the basis of Jesus’ nonviolence are much stronger than most suspect."
Dr. Daniel Dombrowski is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Seattle and author of Christian Pacifism and The Philosophy of Vegetarianism
Dr. Wayne Rollins:
"The Lost Religion of Jesus brings to the stage of current biblical discussion a detailed portrait of a little known moment in the early Church that should not be forgotten." Wayne Rollins is Adjunct Professor of Scripture, Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CT
"I found it to be outstanding. This piece of work is long overdue."
Howard Lyman is an ex-cattle rancher and the author of Mad Cowboy.
The Lost Religion of Jesus is a groundbreaking, timely, and important book. It can help us shift the current dialogue about Christian fundamentalism to the fundamentals of what Jesus really taught. Based on ignored writings by and about the Jewish followers of Jesus, Keith Akers has put together compelling evidence that the core teachings of Jesus C caring, compassion, simple living, and nonviolence against both humans and animals C remained at the core of the early Jewish communities that saw Jesus as he saw himself, as a Jewish prophet. Akers also documents how these Jewish communities were later deemed heretic by the "orthodox" Church, as it built a new religious hierarchy that eventually allied itself with the despotic Roman Emperor Constantine. He challenges us to re-examine the theology that Paul and other gentile Christians superimposed on the original teachings of Jesus, showing how this distortion of Jesus and his message led to the oppression and bloodshed that has historically been committed in the name of Christianity. He also shows the urgent relevance of Jesus's real teachings to the social and environmental crises of our time.
Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, Sacred Pleasure, and Tomorrow's Children
Originally posted on Vegsource.com
Review of The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity, by Keith Akers
New York, Lantern Books, 2000
Paperback $20, 260 pages
Review by Jim Catano
We vegetarians usually rank "above average" in the mellowness category. However, if you ever want to see our good will disappear in a hurry, just ask the question, "Was Jesus a vegetarian?" It always seems to generate opposing and passionately held responses ranging from, "The Bible says that Jesus ate fish and lamb, so he obviously was NOT vegetarian," to, "An understanding of the intent and meaning of the original biblical language shows that Jesus WAS vegetarian."
A typical scenario for one of these debates has participants pulling out copies of the Bible to develop their arguments. Keith Akers, in his book The Lost Religion of Jesus goes one step further, and for this we owe him a big "thank you." Akers not only analyzes the biblical texts but also diligently compares information found in several of the earliest non-Biblical Christian writings and from the non-Christian witnesses of early Christianity. What results is an eye-opening study for anyone with a spiritual or academic interest in what Jesus of Nazareth stood and ultimately died for.
Those who have studied Christian history know that divisions among the faithful occurred fairly early. Councils like the one held at Nicaea in 325 document attempts to re-standardize Christian doctrine and unite disparate communities of believers. Breakups like the Great Schism of 1054 that divided the Roman and Eastern rites remind us that these attempts often failed. This book illustrates that the first splitting of Christians into factions occurred even earlier than most people realize. In fact, the author suggests that it started during the time of the New Testament narratives and among the apostles themselves. One premise that may rankle conservative Christians is that Paul was the first and most important modifier of the faith that Jesus lived and taught.
The book is subtitled Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity. Akers carefully details from ancient documents that the Jerusalem-based apostles taught a somewhat different Gospel than the one Paul modified so the Christian message would be more appealing to the Greek and Roman audiences to which he preached. Bitter debates occurred between Paul and Jesus' appointed leaders Peter, James, and John. Remnants of those controversies are still quite visible in today's New Testament. Akers contends, however, that Paul's faction eventually "won the debate" and ultimately got to write and pass down the records thereby having the last word, so to speak.
The following excerpt is a summary of the events of that period. Rather than coming from a Paul-influenced New Testament view, however, it’s history as it may have appeared to the "Jewish" Christians in Jerusalem who ultimately faded into the recesses of history.
Jesus, inspired by a group of Nasaraeans who are vegetarian and attack animal sacrifice, is baptized by John the Baptist. He proclaims a Jewish gospel based on a radical interpretation of the universal law of God a gospel based on simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism. He goes to Jerusalem where he protests against the animal sacrifice business in the temple. He is brutally crucified by the Romans as a trouble-maker at the instigation of the priests in the temple.
His followers come together at the Pentecost and, after powerful revelations, declare that Jesus has appeared to them. The priests in the temple still violently oppose Jesus’ followers, arrest the apostles, try to kill James the brother of Jesus, and kill at least one other prominent follower (Stephen). They are checked by the more moderate Pharisees. The sect survives and grows.
The Jesus movement gains adherents and a new twist with Paul. Paul, on the basis of his own visions and independently of the other followers of Jesus, preaches adherence to a Jesus who is more than a prophet--a Jesus who does not merely proclaim the law but actually replaces it. Controversy is introduced to the early church. Paul and the Jewish followers of Jesus disagree over the Jewish law and over various food issues (eating meat, eating food offered to idols). Prominent members of the followers of Jesus, including his brother James and all of the apostles, are vegetarian; but the question of whether vegetarianism is required is sharply disputed by Paul (Romans 14). Many of the followers of Jesus are "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20), but Paul denies that this is necessary at all. The disputes grow and divisions deepen.
The author meticulously points out that the "law" promoted by Jesus and the Jerusalem Christians is not the same detailed, ritualistic, rabbinic code promoted by Jesus' antagonists--the temple priests, Pharisees and Sadducees--and which has evolved to form the basis of the various expressions of Judaism today. Instead, this Christian/Jewish law is a simple, literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments including a strong emphasis on non-worldly living and eschewing all violence toward humans or animals.
Akers provides ample historical detail to show how the persecution of Christianity proved unsurviveable in Jerusalem but not in Rome and why Pauline Christianity was able to eventually become the official state religion of the Roman Empire in less than 300 years. Basically, this occurred because the church embraced a few of the empire's values, such as a tolerance of personal materialism, an acceptance of patriotically based violence, and eating the standard diet of the culture which included meat.
The faults I found in this book were an occasional poorly developed argument and some incompleteness in the indexing and footnoting. These defects, however, are more than offset by a clear, consistent presentation of facts gathered from an impressive array of ancient authors including Flavius Josephus, Epiphanius, Clement, Jerome, Origen and others as well as citationsof the views of several modern scholars of early Christianity. Akers’ logic and writing style seem "borderline academic," but his development is very easy to follow resulting in a very pleasant read.
For someone who wants to be equipped the next time the discussion turns to, "Was Jesus a vegetarian?" this book provides substantive answers. Let's hope, however, that they will be more than just "bullets for battle." Remember, we veggies want to maintain our mellow image. So, please be nice, everyone.
Jim Catano (JimCatano@Worldnet.ATT.net)
Earthkeeping News Review, January 2001
The Lost Religion of Jesus
Simply Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity
by Keith Akers
Akers, an independent scholar, examines the history of Jewish Christianity, and the implications for understanding the historical Jesus. Early followers of Jesus opposed temple sacrifice, and believed in communal living, compassion for animals, simplicity, and nonviolence. The Gentile church drove out Jewish Christianity, and some core values in Jesus' teachings that are important now in challenging our free enterprise society.
The Lost Religion of Jesus — Author: Keith Akers
Keith Akers established himself as a serious author when he wrote A Vegetarian Sourcebook: The Nutrition, Ecology, and Ethics of a Natural Foods Diet. His second book is as informative and persuasive as his first, yet in a very different field. The Lost Religion of Jesus (subtitled Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity), presents a view of the world of Jesus and his teachings that is greatly different from what is taught as modern Christianity — and is convincingly more accurate.
If you have ever questioned the consistency of modern Christian teachings (regardless of your personal beliefs), this will be a fascinating book for you to read. If you've wondered how Jesus could teach a "turn the other cheek" philosophy, yet millions have been slaughtered throughout history based upon the supposed "rightness" of Christianity, this is a book that you will want to read. If you are either a serious or armchair historian, you need to read this book.
Akers begins by exploring who the Jewish Christians were — not the modern day Jews who have converted to modern day Christianity, but the Jews who actually knew and followed Jesus and his teachings at the time that Jesus was alive. His research covers many writings on Jesus and the customs and culture of both the time and place where he lived and taught. Through this, we learn that what truly distinguished Jesus and his followers from other Jews at that time were his teachings of simple living and nonviolence — not, as is generally taught, a new theology. Akers explores modern assumptions about both Judaism and Christianity in his examination of this subject.
Of particular interest to those committed to nonviolence in all forms is Akers' exploration into Jesus' teachings around nonviolence toward all beings. He delves into the meaning of "sacrifice", from the perspectives of religion, politics, and local custom. He explores the famous stories of Jesus and sheds new light on these often told stories. For example, we view the story of Jesus overturning the moneychangers' tables in the temple in a very different light — Jesus was primarily driving out "those who sold and bought". What was "sold and bought" in the temple? Animals — for "sacrifice," and for supporting the meat eating habits of the temple priests. Akers reminds us that the temple in Jesus' time was not what we think of when we hear the word "temple", but in fact was a crude slaughterhouse — a ghastly, but truthful, image.
This is not a book for those looking for a "light" read. It is thought provoking and the ideas presented require serious consideration. It expands the reader's view of both historical and modern Judaism and Christianity — and reminds us all of the importance of history recorded accurately.
After reading this book, one cannot help but draw the conclusion that if those proclaiming to be followers of Jesus today were truly following his teachings, modern Christianity would look very different. Christians would live very simply, and would be pacifists in all aspects - including recognizing and honoring that all life is from the same source, and is therefore to be cherished. For the animals, it finally would be peace on earth.
Justina L. Walls
(Vegetarian Living, May / June 2001)
Northeast Oklahoma Animal Helpers
The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity by Keith Akers
This book is important reading for those who would like a deeper understanding of how early Christianity was influenced by politics and pragmatics to become the religion we see today. By using historical documents, and examining those sects which would seem to be most closely aligned with Jesus, by geography, time and prior beliefs (that is, those "Jewish Christian" groups that lived in the area where Jesus lived that existed shortly after his death), Akers makes a convincing argument for a Jesus that espoused not just a belief system, but a lifestyle of simplicity, nonviolence and vegetarianism. For instance, Akers makes the argument that baptism was instituted as an expiation of sins, in direct contrast to those Jews who practiced animal sacrifice, because of ethical concerns over the treatment of animals. Akers traces a path whereby a religion is scapegoated by its primary audience (the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus) and in order to expand is forced to adapt its message to an empire (the Romans) that relies on bloodshed and violence to maintain itself. In the end, a religion that began by promoting a lifestyle of simplicity and compassion ends up being no more than a belief in the divinity of its founder. This book is recommended reading for anyone who wants to better understand the interaction between Christianity and vegetarianism, and to understand why a religion that prides itself on compassion often seems so averse to expanding that circle of compassion.
Animal Rights Hawaii
What does the religion of Jesus have to do with vegetarianism and animal rights? Everything, according to Keith Akers, well known author of "A Vegetarian Sourcebook: The Nutrition, Ecology, and Ethics of a Natural Foods Diet." He has, in his current book, asserted that true Christianity, based on the original Christian church and teachings of Jesus, is significantly different from what Christian churches preach today. He brings us through the history of early Christianity, pointing out that Jesus was, in fact, Jew, and that his teachings closely followed Jewish doctrine. He shows through a myriad of references that the early Christian church was rife with discord, largely due to the many factions of the church, especially Jewish Christians, and Christians who had disavowed Judaism in favor of other versions of Christianity. Akers shows that Jesus preached and practiced pacifism, nonviolence, simple living, vegetarianism, and kindness to animals, in opposition to other factions which practiced animal sacrifice and ate meat.
Akers asserts that the teachings of Jesus are in direct opposition to much of what current Christianity preaches, including acquisitiveness and prosperity. He contends that the single most appropriate manner in which once can live today the life prescribed by Jesus, of simple living and nonviolence is through vegetarianism, since "There is nothing in our current economy that causes more human and animal suffering or wastes more natural resources than the routine consumption of meat."
This gutsy, well-documented book, which takes on the status quo of the history of religion, is a must read if you find yourself entangled in dialogs concerning animal rights and vegetarianism as they pertain to religion and the Bible.
(for Animal Rights Hawaii)
Jennifer L. Horn
Vegetarian Society of Richmond newsletter
The Lost Religion of Jesus by author Keith Akers
Lantern Books, A Division of Booklight, Inc.; New York; 2000.
A "MUST-READ"!! Vegetarians, animal-lovers, theologians and all thoughtful people will find this book’s well-documented and well-reasoned contention exciting, and very believable: that Jesus’ was a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and that, in accordance with his lifestyle and teaching of pacifism, simple living, and vegetarianism, Jesus vehemently opposed the animal sacrifices which were mandatory and routine in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was this opposition to animal sacrifice, culminating in his angry outburst in the Temple during Passover week, that precipitated in his crucifixion one week later.
Traditional Sunday School teaching leaves one with the impression that Jesus’ angry outburst and expulsion of animals and money changers from the Temple was simply because Jesus wanted to rid the Temple of the hypocrisy of dishonest money-changing existing in a holy place. But there was more to the incident than that! Many people would have been unhappy with dishonest moneychangers in a temple area. That was not sufficient reason to so enrage Temple authorities that they sought Jesus’ death, and also, later, the death of Jesus’ followers .
What so threatened the priests was that the animal sacrifice business was a means of supporting the priests economically. They derived much of their support from the meat on the altar: people were required to tithe 10% of their animal herds for animal sacrifice "for religious reasons" and many sacrifices resulted in some or all of the meat going to the priests. Jesus taught that the animal sacrifice business was a fraud.........God never required animal sacrifice! Jesus’ words were "I came to abolish sacrifices, and unless you cease sacrificing, my anger will not cease from you!" It was this act, and it’s interpretation as a threat to public order, that led immediately to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Evidence for these assertions is related in Akers’ book, as are explanations of the historical context of Jesus’ life and culture, and of how this crucial message of Jesus’ was eventually lost to the Church. A "MUST-READ" for everyone !!
- reviewer: Jennifer L. Horn (3/16/01)
(Vegetarian Society of Richmond)
Vegetarian Society of Chautauqua-Allegheny
Vegetarian Roots in Ancient Religion
The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity. Keith Akers. Lantern Books, 2000, 260 pp. ISBN 1-930051-26-3.
Have you heard the saying "Jesus was a vegetarian"? That may not be far from the truth. In his book The Lost Religion of Jesus, Keith Akers undertook a massive and detailed investigation into the beginnings of Christianity. He found substantial evidence that the early Christian message wasbased on three tenets — pacifism, simple living, and last but not least vegetarianism.
This book is not an emotional testament to the power of Christ. Rather, it is an in-depth look at the beliefs and ways of Jewish Christians in the early days of the church, prior to the fourth century A. D. Akers’ sources are not just the Old and New Testaments. He also uses Jewish Christian writings from that time period, namely The Clementine Homilies, The Recognitions of Clement, and Epiphanius’ Panarion. The author uncovers a fascinating history of commitment by a small number of Jews to the teachings of Jesus. He also develops his compelling interpretation of religious texts that clashes with many conventional versions.
Divided into three parts, the text leads us through evidence that reveals the Jewish Christian message and how it got lost in history. Part I, "The Mother of All Schisms," emphasizes various divisions in the early church. Akers questions the practice of relying on just the Old and New Testaments as sources because their messages are ofte3n contradictory. Iinstead, he recommends a careful study of church history, including the most prominent group of Jewish Christians, the Ebionites. He underscores myths of history: that all Jews rejected Jesus or that Jewish Christianity is an impossibility. In fact, he maintains that " . . . it was Jewish Christian Ebionites, and not the gentile Christians, who most faithfully preserved the traditioins handed down to them by Jesus."
In Part II, "The Message of the True Prophet," Akers describes the Ebionites’ struggle to follow Jesus’s message. An important part was the golden rule from the Old Testament, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jewish Christians were communal, sharing all material possessions with each other. The Ebionite view was that Jesus arrived as a prophet to restore the law of Moses. However, this group was not necessarily in favor of every aspect of Moses’s law. For example, they objected to animal sacrifice. Akers insists that later insertions into Acts make it appear as if Jesus wanted obedience to every aspect of the law, which was not the case. Jewish Christians distinguished between the law and the Scriptures. They saw many scriptural passages as either allegorical or erroneous. They felt God had revealed truth in the law at the outset, but people had forgotten and falsified it over the years.
The last section, "The Disintegration of the Jesus Movement," traces the splintering and disappearance of Jewish Christianity. Akers contrasts Paul’s view with the Ebionite view, citing three main differences — attitude toward the law, Paul’s claim to be an apostle, and the validity of ethical vegetarianism. In the process, he discusses Stephen’s martyrdom and the attempt to take James’s life. Prior to the year 70 A. D., Jewish Christianity had been the center of Christian activity; after 70, the group was "decimated by war, seriously and effectively persecuted by its opponents, and isolated politically — not a part of either Judaism or Christianity."
For the vegetarian who wants to bolster convictions with philosophical or religious reasoning, this book is recommended. For the person — vegetarian or not — who seriously questions present-day militarism, conspicuous consumption, and cruelty to animals, it sheds light on one possible solution which hails from antiquity.
(Vegetarian Society of Chautauqua-Allegheny)
Louise R. Quigley
MARVelous Times, April 2001, p. 4
DIALOG / BOOK REVIEW
The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity, by Keith Akers (New York: Lantern Books, 2000)
The premise of Keith Akers’ The Lost Religion of Jesus is that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish leader of fellow Jews during his life, preached not a negation or replacement of Jewish law and practice but a radical furthering of its spirit, especially in the directions of what we would call voluntary simplicity as well as total nonviolence – the latter necessarily including vegetarianism and a rejection of the Temple cult of animal sacrifice. Akers also posits that Jesus promoted baptism / immersion in water as an alternative to animal sacrifice for ritual purification, and suggests that it was in fact Jesus’ antagonism to Temple sacrifice which brought him into head-to-head conflict with the priestly (Sadducee) leaders, antagonizing and threatening them to the point where they sought his crucifixion.
Akers’ book then follows how Paul’s theology and mission to the Gentiles distorted Jesus’ original message while challenging the original disciples’ practice; and he explains how these differences, along with the early Church’s need to respond to the popularity of some of Paul’s doctrines and also with the chances of history, created a split between the followers of Jesus’ original teachings versus those practitioners of early Christianity who finally became that faith’s dominant voice. And he traces how, in the course of this evolution of what became Christianity as we know it, the pacifistic and voluntary-simplicity teachings became marginalized while the vegetarian facet of Jesus’ message was completely lost.
Akers’ book is thoroughly grounded in the modern scholarly/critical view of Judeo-Christian scriptures, which sees these documents as composed and gathered together over centuries by many people who may have each been inspired and well-intentioned but who were human beings acting within their own political and cultural milieus and agendas. In this understanding it is possible to consider that, with the best of intentions on its authors’ parts, the Bible could contain some verses that represent older and closer-to-origin traditions while other passages could be later interpolations backwards of what some authors thought should have been there. Clearly, therefore, this book will not appeal to fundamentalists. This reviewer, however, as a scholar with some expertise in this area, found Akers’ understanding of Jewish history, scripture, and tradition, as well as his knowledge of early Church history, to be impeccable, broad, and precise. The book was easy to read, the arguments easy to follow, and I found it fascinating and worthwhile. For non-fundamentalists it may provide persuasive arguments that true Christians should consider vegetarianism a primary goal or even obligation.
If you can’t find this book in bookstores, you can probably special-order it from them, or inquire from the author, Keith Akers, P. O. Box 61273, Denver, CO 80206.
Louise R. Quigley, MARVelous Times, April 2001, p. 4. (Newsletter of the "Milwaukee Area Resources for Vegetarianism.")
The Jewish Georgian
THE TEACHINGS OF RABBI JESUS
We don’t plug too many books about Jesus in this column, but a new and provocative book on the subject deserves our attention. It is The Lost Religion of Jesus (Lantern Books) by highly respected author Keith Akers, who argues with great persuasiveness that "Jesus’ preaching was first and foremost about simple living and pacifism; he never intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism."
Akers points out that "Jesus lived and died a Jew; most of those who heard his message were Jewish; the initial leadership of the church was Jewish . . . When the larger gentile Christian church drove out Jewish Christianity . . . it also lost the core of Jesus’ teachings." In other words, Jesus’ early followers remained Jewish and rejected the teachings of the apostle Paul, which form the basis of Christianity.
We got a bum rap for killing Jesus – even the Christian Bible makes it clear the Romans did it. But because of 2,000 years of persecution, often in the name of Jesus, Jews don’t pay much attention to this courageous and very popular leader, with a huge Jewish following, who should be considered not the Messiah but a perhaps great Jewish teacher. Maybe someday, with writings such as Keith Akers’, we can put Jesus in his proper historical perspective.
Indeed, we get the impression from this fascinating and well-documented book that, if Jesus were alive today, he might be trying, along with so many of us, to get extra high holiday tickets to The Temple.
The Jewish Georgian, January-February 2001, p. 4, in "What’s Happening."
Jesus’ Lost Religion
by Will Tuttle
I have great news for everyone who feels, deep down, that Jesus must have been Vegan, and that his original message has been tampered with and suppressed over the centuries. Keith Akers has written a provocative book, The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity that convincingly demonstrates that the original teachings of Jesus reflected a profound commitment to showing mercy and respect to both animals and humans. Drawing entirely on the earliest written source materials by and about the early followers of Jesus, who were Jewish people known as Ebionites, Akers painstakingly and carefully builds his case. His understated writing style and careful scholarship contrast starkly with the radical nature of the conclusions which are inescapable: that Jesus and his earliest followers were ethical vegetarians committed above all to nonviolence and the spiritual harmony of simple living.
Akers shows that the reason the early church was so plagued by schisms was that Paul and others wanted to take the church in a direction almost completely opposite from what Jesus' teachings actually were. Paul in particular was antagonistic toward the Veganism that was a core tenet of Jesus' teaching and Akers skillfully explains many passages in Acts, such as conflicts between Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, in the light of the earliest writings attributed to Clement, Epiphanius, Tertullian, and Origen, that point decisively to the fact that Jesus, James, and Peter were ethical vegetarians, whereas Paul, Barnabus, and others were not.
Through a detailed historical analysis, Akers shows just how Paul's non-vegetarian movement was able, often through brutal means, to eventually eclipse the original thrust of Jesus' teachings regarding nonviolence and why the original Christians, the Ebionites, were unable to survive.
Then, as now, Veganism's divisive nature is apparent. We owe Keith Akers a big thank you for his meticulous research, which has such profound ramifications. If you'd like more confidence in your Vegan WWJD, read this book and tell your ministers and friends as well. The lost religion of Jesus, though never completely lost, has been rediscovered. Hallelujah!
The Reverend Will Tuttle is a pianist, composer, recording artist and Zen priest.
This was Will Tuttle’s regular column, "Food For Lovers: Experiencing the Spiritual Aspects of Vegetarianism," published in VegNews, September 2001, page 26.
The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity
By Keith Akers
Booklight / Lantern Books, New York, NY
2000, 260 pages, $20 (paper)
review by Leena Isac
Rochester Vegetarian Society
Like many ethical vegetarians, I have felt that Christianity does not "care" about values like compassion, nonviolence, and environmentalism. I explored other religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, searching for one that had compassion at its core instead of dogma and rigid belief systems. So, like many, I have held onto a loose belief in God, and a deep spiritual interconnectedness between all sentient beings, feeling uncomfortable calling myself a Christian. Over time, the Christian church has not been a leader in tolerance, simple living, and nonviolence. Keith Akers believes that this is a distortion of what Jesus actually taught. Akers’ new book, The Lost Religion of Jesus, uncovers a whole new definition of Christianity, a religion that he believes is completely misunderstood.
The focus of Akers’ work is on the original followers of Jesus, the Jewish Christians. He shows that from the time of Jesus’ life until roughly 400 years later, the Jewish followers of Jesus understood and practiced true Christianity. Due to many different events, these people and their beliefs died out, leaving only distorted versions of Jesus’ teachings. Akers shows that the revelation given by Jesus was an uncompromising ethical demand, not some mythological belief system. To the Jewish Christians, it was Jesus’ ethics of simple living and nonviolence, rather than a new theology, which distinguished him and his followers from other Jews. They believed that his teachings were about simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism, and that he never intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism. Modern Christianity has misunderstood the message of Jesus. Akers writes:
When the larger gentile Christian church drove out Jewish Christianity . . . it also lost the core of Jesus’ teachings. The values of simple living and nonviolence became increasingly marginalized in a church that came to accept the very materialism and violence against which Jesus had protested.
Akers argues that Jesus preached against animal sacrifice. It was his objection to killing animals in God’s name that caused him to create the scene in the temple that eventually led to his crucifixion. Akers documents the many religious writings he uses as references. He makes a convincing case that the teachings of Paul, which are largely the basis of the current Christian religion, are in error with Jesus’ original message. For example, Akers points out that orthodox Christianity is preoccupied with guilt and sin, but that "original sin" had no place in the teachings of Jesus. Teachings of Jesus that were inconvenient were discarded, such as the emphasis on pacifism. Roman soldiers were baptized in the new religion, ensuring the status of the military in Christianity. This was one of the many changes in the Roman Empire made in Christianity because of its political interest in maintaining a strong, united church.
The moral teachings of Jewish Christianity, which included a firm emphasis on the necessity for a simple lifestyle and the objection to bloodshed of either animals or humans, are just as uncomfortable and awkward for us to follow today. Christianity focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that we’re absolved of our sins if we simply "believe." Instead of urging us to adhere to an ethical lifestyle, it takes the much easier path of demanding that we profess to have certain beliefs. The Nicene Creed, for example, has not ethical content at all, but it just a succession of theological statements regarding the virgin birth, crucifixion, and resurrection. There is no mention of the need to live simply and nonviolently, and to completely change one’s life. Akers says the message of Jesus "has been eliminated. Modern Christianity has given us a Messiah without a cause."
I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about compassion, nonviolence, and simple living and thus feels disconnected from Christianity. Akers helps us see that being a Christian means we should change our lives to be in keeping with God’s will. He points out that this would involve, among other things, environmentalism, non-consumerism, and vegetarianism. Some might argue that Akers is using scripture to further a "liberal agenda," but I would urge everyone to read this well researched book before turning away from what could be a spirituality that would truly "save" us all.
Leena Isac is a member of the Rochester Area Vegetarian Society and the owner of Leena’s Garden Specialty Baking (www.leenasgarden.com). She is the mother of eight-month-old Meena, who was born with a Vegan Revolution bumper sticker on her bum.
VegNews, November / December 2001, pages 28, 31.
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2001:
The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living & Nonviolence In Early Christianity, by Keith Akers. Lantern Books (1 Union Square W., #201, New York, NY 10003), 2001. 260 pages, paperback. $20.00.
Denver vegetarian advocate Keith Akers, best known for compiling A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1983), earned his B.A. in philosophy 30 years ago at Vanderbilt University. He turned to computer programming to make a living, but never forgot his philosophical interests. Decades of meticulous study later, Akers has joined the growing legion of historians and theologians who are coming to believe that the real focal issue of Jesus' life and death was opposition to animal sacrifice--and, by extension, to all meat-eating, since animal sacrifice was practiced in Judaism as a means of sanctifying the consumption of any flesh. According to Genesis, God explicitly excluded meat from the human diet at the time of Creation. Only through the invention of animal sacrifice, purporting to "share" meat with God at God's alleged own request, could the Hebrews rationalize transgressing their oldest commandment.
Others have made the same argument, but Akers' examination of the evidence is unusually free of sectarian bias, since-- unlike most Biblical scholars--he is not aligned with any one religion. Akers seeks the truth of Biblical history by painstakingly finding and removing corrupted bits to resolve each system conflict. Comparing the Biblical accounts of Jesus clearing the temple, Akers notes that, "There are several groups whom Jesus directs his anger against, and the moneychangers are nowhere at the top of the list. In Luke they are not even mentioned. Rather," Akers reminds, "it is the 'dealers in cattle, sheep, and pigeons,' 'those who sold,' or 'all who sold and bought' who are his primary targets. In John, he speaks only to the dealers in pigeons, and in Luke he speaks only to 'those who sold.' The primary practical effect of the cleaning of the temple was in John to empty the temple of the animals who were to be sacrificed, or in the synoptic gospels, to drive out those who were taking them to be killed or were selling them. We must remember," Akers emphasizes, "that the temple was more like a butcher shop than like a modern-day church or synagogue. 'Cleansing the temple' was an act of animal liberation.
"The conventional interpretation of Jesus' motivation," Akers writes, "is that the moneychangers and dealers in animals were overcharging Jews who had come to the temple to make a sacrifice...Nowhere else in the New Testament is there any suggestion that profiteering by animal dealers was a problem." Jesus did not visit the temple as a consumer advocate, Akers believes. Rather, "Jesus did something that struck at the core of temple practice. The priests wanted Jesus killed, and even after Jesus was dead, they wanted to destroy his followers. Was all this effort simply to safeguard some dishonest moneychangers? It is much more plausible that Jesus objected to the practice of animal sacrifice itself...It was this act, and its interpretation as a threat to public order, that led immediately to his crucifixion," Akers argues.
Objecting to animal sacrifice, Akers explains, was consistent with the interpretation of Judaism that Jesus otherwise advanced, following a line of Biblical prophets including Ezekial and Isaiah. Opposition to animal sacrifice, moreover, was a growing trend within Judaism at the time, possibly though not necessarily as result of increasing commerce with India, where many Jews fled less than a century later after the Diaspora.
Apocryphal stories and some scholarly investigators long have postulated that Jesus spent part of his youth in India, and that the Golden Rule was a recast form of ahimsa. Akers, however, believes from examination of Jesus' words about animals that he did not need to go so far to be immersed in similar teachings: they were already current in his time and place. Akers cites passages indicating that, "The principle of compassion for animals is a presupposition of all of Jesus' references to animals...Jesus in the gospels does not argue the question of whether we should be compassionate to animals; rather, he assumes it from the outset."
As Akers portrays Jesus, he was not well-traveled and worldly. Having possibly grown up away from animal sacrifice, he suffered a profound shock upon encountering it in the temple. He responded in outraged naivete, and was in effect sacrificed himself because of his apparent innocence of the force of the institution he challenged.
Akers argues that bits of Gospel such as accounts of the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the Last Supper, which seem to show Jesus condoning flesh consumption, were corrupted by the Paulists who took Christianity away from Judaism. Key evidence is that the Jerusalem church first led by James (who claimed to be Jesus' brother) kept vegetarianism as a central tenet for all of the 300-odd years that it existed.
Akers argues, based on a confluence of geography and teachings about animals, that remnants of the teachings of the Jerusalem church were incorporated into the Sufi branch of Islam, which much later originated where the last branch of the Jerusalem church had settled after fleeing Jerusalem. "Jesus is not an unknown figure in Islam," Akers acknowledges, "but the Sufis express an extraordinary interest in Jesus and have sayings of Jesus and stories about Jesus found nowhere in Christianity. Especially interesting and significant is the treatment of Jesus by al-Ghazali, an 11th century Islamic mystic who is widely credited with making Sufism respectable within Islam."
The Jesus described by al-Ghazali "lives in extreme poverty, disdains violence, loves animals, and is vegetarian," Akers summarizes. "It is clear that al-Ghazali is drawing on a tradition rather than creating a tradition because some of the same stories that al-Ghazali relates are also related by others both before and after him, and also because al-Ghazali himself is not a vegetarian and clearly has no axe to grind. Thus, these stories came from a pre-existing tradtion that describes Jesus as a vegetarian," which Akers illustrates with examples from al-Ghazali.
Vegetarian saints, poets, and teachers, including women, have been prominent among the Sufis from the beginning of the tradition. Akers briefly reviews their examples, and explains how the pro-animal descendants of the Jerusalem church could have found a place in Islam after suffering violent rejection by both Judaism and mainstream Christianity --largely due to their vegetarian teachings.
"Notwithstanding the approval of meat consumption and animal sacrifice in Islam," Akers writes, "animals have a status in the Qur'an unequaled in the New Testament. According to the Qur'an, animals are manifestations of God's divine will, signs or clues for the believers provided by God. The animals in fact all praise and worship Allah. The beasts pay attention to God and the birds in flight praise him as well. Allah has given the earth not just for human domination, but for all his creatures. "Animals have souls [in Islam] just like humans, for we read, 'There is not an animal in the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but they are peoples like unto you...Unto their Lord they will be gathered.' "Indeed," Akers concludes, "it would appear that [in Islam] animals can be saved on the Day of Judgment."
Akers hopes that as growing numbers of Christians become vegetarian, they will return to the religion of Jesus, which he argues was the practice of ahimsa, whether Jesus knew the term or not, and is the oldest and purest theme common to every religion based upon ethical teaching.
PO Box 960
Clinton WA 98236
To order this book:
From the author -- get an autographed copy, postpaid!
Send a check for $20 (U. S. funds) or $30 (Canadian), payable to Keith Akers to this address: Vegetarian Press, Dept. AG, P. O. Box 61273, Denver, Colorado 80206, U. S. A. All orders are postpaid.
For orders outside of the U. S. A.: Canadian orders will be shipped air mail, all others will be shipped by surface, or include an extra $10 U. S. for shipping anywhere else by air mail. If you don't want the book autographed, send it to Dept. ZZ instead of Dept. AG.
Denver, Colorado residents: Add 7.2% sales tax. Colorado residents outside of Denver: add 3.5% sales tax.
From the publisher:
Go to Lantern Books web site at www.lanternbooks.com.
Jesus’ preaching was first and foremost about simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism; he never intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism. Moreover, Jesus’ radical Jewish ethics, rather than a new theology, distinguished him and his followers from other Jews.
Keith Akers California Speaking Schedule
Keith Akers is the author of A Vegetarian Sourcebook: The Nutrition, Ecology, and Ethics of a Natural Foods Diet. He lives in Denver, Colorado.