July 27, 2011

The Lost Religion of Jesus

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

John Robbins:

"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

Victoria Moran:

"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

Ingrid Newkirk:

"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

Lewis Regenstein:

"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

Howard Lyman:

"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.

Riane Eisler:
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

Jim Catano
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.

Justina Walls
Vegetarian Living
Book Review

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
Book Reviews

The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity by Keith Akers

Lantern Books

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.

Elaine Johnson
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)

Bill Boerst
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

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.")

Lew Regenstein
The Jewish Georgian
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.

Lew Regenstein
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.

Leena Isac
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.

--Merritt Clifton

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.

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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.

Jesus And Reincarnation

Jesus And Reincarnation

EDITORIAL, Aug 15 (VNN) — The Old Testament ends with the directly spoken words of God: "Behold! I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5). Here, God Almighty, speaking for Himself, is saying that the soul of Elijah is coming again to Earth. This directly implies that Elijah's soul will reincarnate as someone new.

Several centuries later, in Luke, an angel appears in front of Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, and announces: "...and he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, and shall turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just: and make ready a people prepared for the Lord." So God Himself, as well as the angel sent of the Lord, predicted the birth of John, formerly Elijah. This is also confirmed by much other Scripture, as we shall see. To understand the travels of the soul, all we have to do is think about it without prejudice. In John's case scenario, there are two distinct bodies in time and space, with one and the same individual soul. This directly refers to the process of transmigration of the soul, that is, reincarnation of the individual spiritual being.

But, God Himself and the angel sent by the Lord were not the only ones alluding to this spiritual phenomena. With regard to the specific questions of his disciples concerning John, Jesus was glorifying the divine qualities of John, ending with: "And if you will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come." (Matthew 11:14). Then in his own way of saying, "If you have a brain, then just try to understand it," Jesus declares, "He who hath an ear, let him hear, let him hear." Similarly, the disciples later asked him, "Then why do the Scribes say that Elijah must first come?" Jesus replied: "Elijah is to come, and he is to restore all things: But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10-13). This is the same basic testimony that is found in Mark 9:11-13. A very similar Scriptural evidence is Luke 1:17, another reference to the angel of the Lord. Also, Luke 7:26-27 corroborates Jesus's testimony that John was formerly Elijah, as the words are almost identical to Malachi 4:5, and the reference cannot possibly be taken any other way. Conclusively, John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah. Jesus, by his using these words in this very simple and lucid manner, could not have meant anything else. He was not speaking in allegory or parables in these instances. Jesus was speaking directly concerning reincarnation.

In this way we can clearly understand that Jesus Christ taught the doctrine of reincarnation, also known as transmigration of the soul. "NO!" My Christian friends protest. But did not Jesus also cast the demonic spirits called 'Legion' that inhabited the body of a tormented man into the bodies of swine? And did not this forced embodiment drive the swine crazy, and then prompt them to jump off the cliffs into the sea? Does this also not mean that spiritual beings can and do inhabit all creatures, such as the pigs in question? Was this not a form of punishment for those miscreant spirits who had challenged Jesus's authority? Do we also not understand that there are pigs around us dressed as human beings? We all know people like this.

And, did not Jesus also imply reincarnation when he asked his disciples: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:27) Some of his disciples answered "John the Baptist," others said "Elijah," and still others said "perhaps one of the Prophets." By asking this question, Jesus was asking his disciples to consider who he had formerly been in previous lives. Some contemporary authorities speculate that Jesus may have previously been Ramanujacarya, Lord Brahma, the Prophet Elisha, Prahlada, Haridas, and/or Melchisedec. Regardless of the speculations concerning who Jesus may or may not have formerly been, it is clear that Jesus asked these questions in a non-argumentative, Socratic fashion in order to stimulate the intellectual acuity of his disciples to think about the topic of reincarnation. Otherwise, there is no purpose or logical reason for Jesus asking such a question, specifically in this particular manner. The teacher wants the students to think about such concepts and to figure things out, based upon Scriptural evidence, by mulling things over and arriving at logical conclusions. "Who by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature?" By bringing up these topics once in a while, Jesus would at least stimulate his intellectually gifted disciples to think about the body as the shell only, as completely distinct from the soul, the real, eternal 'self'. Jesus was encouraging us to use our brains, our God given intelligence.

Based upon his words in the Holy Bible, it is a conclusive fact that Jesus Christ taught reincarnation. Unfortunately, at the Second Council of Constantinople in about 530 AD., the assembled Priests forever banned the doctrine of reincarnation as heretical, even though it was a widely understood aspect of both Judaic and Christian theology up to that time, implying also that it had permeated the Catholic Church, and was of such significant, widespread, and ingrained belief that the Catholic Clergy had to deal with it by pronouncing it 'heretical'. The fact that the Catholic priesthood did not understand the doctrine of transmigration of the soul, how it worked as a part of an All Merciful God's design to eventually liberate all souls, is a testament to the level of spiritual awareness of the day. Over the centuries, many were tortured, mutilated and killed for observing such different blasphemous ideas, deemed "heretical" by the 'Church". Today, the topic of reincarnation cannot even be brought up at a Sunday service in a Baptist, Catholic or Protestant church, although Jesus clearly taught the doctrine.

Both the Talmud and the Kabbala of the Jews, as well as Jesus's own words referenced 'transmigration of the soul' as part of a natural and very obvious spiritual understanding. The idea was that God, in His Own Heart, was unlimitedly kind hearted, and gave the individual soul chance after chance, life after life to improve his sense of devotion, the ultimate goal of all religion. As Jesus states, "The pure in heart shall see God." How then can one see God unless his motives are pure, and his devotion constant and unalloyed? As perfect devotion usually does not become manifest in one lifetime, the Supreme Lord, in his wisdom and kindness gave the soul the opportunity to gradually progress. This life was the result of one's past life's 'karma', or good and evil deeds. "As you sow, so shall you reap." (Jesus) Your future life was the result of this life's pious and impious activities as well. "Behold! I am coming and my reward is with me, to award each according to his works." (again, Jesus) You could immediately attain salvation by becoming perfect in devotion, in conduction with God's grace. "We are saved by grace, not works." But works are taken into account, just as an employer gives promotion based upon dedication, hard work, and results. "And I will give unto every one of your according to your works." (Rev. 2:23) Jesus taught the law of 'karma', action and reaction, cause and effect, and that works and devotion would be taken into account at one's time of 'judgment'. As action and reaction is a law of the physical sciences, it is also an unseen law of the metaphysical sciences as well. Because reincarnation of souls is spiritual law, there is no contradiction between that doctrine and Christianity today. Contemporary Christianity simply has to grow and mature. The 10 % tithe is not enough. One cannot buy the Kingdom of God with 10 % of money or 10 % mentality. It is time for Christians to become enlightened activists and devotional participants instead of mere silent observers, watching the world go to Hell from the sidelines.

If Jesus did teach this doctrine, then where did he learn it? Many authorities and scholars have researched that Jesus traveled to India to find the truth. It is a Biblical fact that there are 18 missing years from the life of Jesus Christ as taught within the Holy Bible, from the time he was 12 to the time he was 30 and undertook his missionary activities. According to some of these historical investigators, at this time, he was getting his own higher education with the Vaishnava Brahmin priests in Jagannatha Puri, India. There, in Puri, Jesus studied all the Vedas, the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Bhagavad Gita, and the processes of mystic yoga which teach the healing arts, levitation, etc. There is also much physical evidence to suggest that Jesus retired to India after the crucifixion.

If we want to follow the path of Jesus Christ, we have to abandon our prejudice and take advantage of the ancient Vedic culture. In India, and now around the globe, the topmost authoritative book in the world on the science of the 'transmigration of the soul' is the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, as originally spoken by Lord Krishna, and meticulously translated into English by His Divine Grace, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. "Who is this Krishna person anyway?", we might reasonably ask. This can be easily answered by anyone who is observant. If one understands linguistics in even a very basic way, one can immediately see the resemblance of the names, KRISHNA and CHRISTOS (CHRIST). There is a very logical reason for this. In Sanskrit, "Krishna" is a name for God, the same Supreme Lord of the Bible, to which Jesus referred as 'God the Father'. "Christ" in the English, has it's derivative in the Greek "Christos", which is further derived from the Sanskrit "Krishna". KRISHNA OR CHRIST, the name is the same. In Jagannatha Puri, as a teenage apprentice, Jesus studied the Bhagavad Gita and all the Vedas with the Brahmins there in the tradition of Vaishnavism. In this way, Jesus learned the complete science of the 'transmigration of the soul' from learned Brahmins.

It may then be asked then, "Why didn't Jesus teach this?" Well, apparently from Scriptural reference, Jesus DID teach reincarnation. But, down through the centuries, pure transcendental knowledge as presented by Jesus Christ, was changed, perverted, misunderstood, omitted, or simply brushed aside. As far as many details of higher knowledge, Jesus states, "There is more that I can tell you but you cannot bear to hear it at this time." This is a clear indication by Jesus himself that upon his return, there will be much more to learn. Logic dictates that God and the Kingdom of God are unlimited. Therefore, we will be learning newer and newer aspects of the Absolute Truth forever. We should not think that we know everything about God, spiritual matters, or the kingdom of God. Otherwise, how will Jesus be able to teach us anything when he returns for his church?

So, when Jesus Christ refers to John the Baptist as being the reincarnation of the Biblical prophet Elijah, we should not be very much surprised. Jesus was an enlightened human being, and not just a believer of some faith, like the average Christian, Jew, or Hindu. Jesus was not a lay person, but was situated in perfect knowledge of all things, such as the identity of God, the spiritual world which lays beyond the purview of our limited senses, and all spiritual phenomena like reincarnation. Being from the spiritual world, his overview was not limited to the material knowledge available. His vision was literally 'beyond the clouds'. That is why Jesus is called the spiritual master and why we are called the servant of the spiritual master. We have only our Earthly sense perceptions to guide us, until we fine tune our spiritual perception. Unfortunately, 2,000 years ago, Jesus was mistaken to be an ordinary human being by average citizens like ourselves, because he performed many ordinary human dealings in addition to his 'miracles'. For example, he worked as an ordinary carpenter, banging hammer on nails, etc. Most people perceived Jesus Christ in an indifferent manner, or sometimes in a negative way due to his extremism and outrageous sayings. The people of the day largely ignored him because by external appearances, this Jesus appeared just like an ordinary human being. I often speculate that this may again be one of the many problems that Jesus might face upon his return... the predictability of the masses to relegate Jesus to a common man. Concerning this point, Jesus commanded us to "Watch!" This command by Jesus to watch implies that Jesus's coming would be powerful, but not immediately recognizable, not obvious. Regardless how Jesus makes his appearance again in human society, it is more than obvious that he will have new things to teach us about everything pertaining to spiritual matters.

All this speculation aside, there are other relevant reference materials pertaining to Jesus's travels in India. One interesting book, if not completely in line with the Vedic conclusions of the Vaishnava disciplic succession, is called "Jesus Lived In India", by Holger Kersten. This book makes for interesting reading, historically researching Jesus's travels away from the Mediterranean area, both before and after the crucifixion. There are also other literatures describing Jesus's travels there. According to the Acquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, supposedly documented from the akashic records (permanent records on a type of spiritual audio tape in the ether), Jesus lived in Puri with the Vaishnava Brahmins. There is also Nicolas Notovitch's writings concerning Jesus's Travels in Tibet. The last two books document well Jesus's travels in both India and Tibet, but have their limitations, aside from not coming to the implied Vedic conclusions as Jesus learned them, Narayano paro vyaktat. "Lord Narayana Krishna is a priori to the cosmic manifestation." Nevertheless, Jesus's presence in India is a conclusive fact based upon these and other documentations. If one travels to the many different places of Jesus's pilgrimages to India, he will find many monuments commemorating Jesus's appearance there as St. Issa, or Yus Asef. Apparently, Jesus was a learned scholar, as well as a traveler, healer, mystic yogi, and enlightened spiritual master.

Sometimes, my Christian friends strongly object to my ideas, which I have only chronicled, based upon my own 25 years of Scriptural digging and the research of others. That Jesus taught the doctrine of reincarnation within the Holy pages of the Holy Bible is obvious. As Jesus put it, "Having ears, they hear not. Having eyes, they see not." In spite of the obvious, most Christians today reject the science of the soul's travels in this world as 'Hindu' or 'Buddhist', instead of factual spiritual law. This is quite odd really, because the science of reincarnation permeated early Christianity for hundreds of years. I recommend that instead of rejecting the concept of reincarnation, it would better suit intelligent, truth seeking Christians and all individuals everywhere to investigate Jesus's own words in more depth. What we want is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is also worthwhile to investigate the most authoritative literature on the subject, the Bhagavad Gita As It Is. Why should one use only this particular translation? As Jesus himself studied with the Vaishnavas, and taught the Vaishnava conclusion, that God is ultimately a Person, the Supreme Person, the best copy of the "Bhagavad Gita" available today which provides the most clear and concise information on the subject of pure devotion is the "Bhagavad Gita As It Is". The conclusions of this translation verify that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Person, God the Father, and not just a mythological folk hero or 'Hindu' god. Most other non-Vaishnava copies of the Bhagavad Gita fall into many pitfalls of spiritual misunderstanding. Generally, they come to erroneous, impersonalistic conclusions, usually relegating Lord Krishna to some imaginary figure on some imaginary battlefield. Sometimes the impersonalists relegate Lord Krishna's position to that of an avatar of Vishnu, an expansion of the white light, or a mythological hero created in the minds of common villagers. But just as a sincere Christian knows that Jesus was the Son of God, a real person, with form, intelligence, real feelings and emotions and his own unique spiritual personality, we can also conclude by investigating the Vaishnava literatures that Lord Krishna is a factual person, the person to whom Jesus attributed his own strength, power, knowledge and mystic opulence. It is therefore beneficial to us to accept only those views that are non-envious of either the position of Jesus Christ, the Son of God or Lord Krishna, God the Father. The old saying goes... "Milk touched by the lips of a serpent has poisonous effects." The envious, impersonalistic or atheistic conclusions of non-advocates should be scrutenizingly avoided. We must utilize our intelligence, which God has given us, to try to understand the more than obvious similarities between Christ and Krishna. Why would Jesus have studied Krishna consciousness with the Brahmins at Puri if there was nothing to be learned there? Out of the thousands of different philosophical branches of the original Vedic culture that Jesus had access to in India, he specifically chose the path of Vaishnavism as truthfully representative of the final authority concerning Absolute Knowledge. In addition, how can any rational human being overlook the obvious etymological similarity in the names "Krishna" and "Christ"?

Why throw the baby out with the bath water, rejecting the logical and reasonable science of the transmigration of the soul because of preconceived ideas, Westernized traditional church doctrines, or personal prejudice? If Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, and our neighbors happen to be Jews, Hindus, Hare Krishnas, Muslims, and Buddhists, we would only be helping ourselves by understanding the way others think about God in their own way. It is only to our own advantage to study other religions and the many different ways others perceive the Supreme Being. Like university professors, we can study other scriptures and religions with the view of finding corollaries as well as differences. Because God is ONE, the underlying similarities of all religions outweigh the differences in doctrines and protocols. Studying the religions of others helps us become better, more enlightened Christians. We can truly 'Love one another' better by understanding how others think, and giving up our personal feelings of hatred and animosity on account of religious differences. Enthusiasm without knowledge is simply fanaticism. And, knowledge without passion is dry speculation. A perfect Christian will have both the enthusiastic passion of his convictions tempered by the sword of knowledge and wisdom. Jesus commanded his real followers to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Pretend Christians cannot love others who are different than themselves. In this regard, Jesus teaches, "If you love only your own kind, then what is the profit? For do not the sinners and common folk do the same?" In this manner, Jesus was encouraging us to grow to spiritual maturity by embracing and accepting others who are different than ourselves. Christians who are sincere and honest with themselves will recognize their own personal prejudices along these lines, and do whatever necessary to uproot their inner misgivings of others, whom Jesus commanded them to love. We would all be surprised that the internals of all religions are the same. God and service to God is the central, underlying theme. The externals prevent us from considering others as our brothers and sisters, who all have God as our common Creator. Jesus taught this truth. If we are real Christians we will embrace others in love, regardless their personal spiritual convictions. If we are spiritual frauds, then we will discard others, falsely thinking ourselves superior in some way, against Jesus Christ's orders.

If the history books are true, and Jesus studied in several Krishna temples, then why not try to understand these higher levels of spiritual understanding called Krishna consciousness? Jesus himself stated: "There is more that I could tell you, but you cannot bear to hear it at this time." This is a clear indication that when Jesus comes again, he will further enlighten us as to the mysterious identity of God the Father, the nature of the spiritual world, and the higher, invisible, and more subtle principles governing spiritual life in general. We may protest that we already know God and are sufficiently educated in spiritual matters, but Jesus does not teach this. Jesus states, "None hath seen the Father, except the Son." He also states: "I have spoken these things in parables and cryptic meanings, but the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures, but shall tell you plainly of the Father." (John 16:25)

This is a clear indication that at the present time, we are not in full knowledge, and that when Jesus comes again, he will enlighten us as to the nature of all pure, infallible knowledge coming from the Absolute Kingdom of God, where God is the Absolute Highest Truth, One without a second, the Mystery Person we know only as God Almighty. Both my research and intuition tells me that Jesus will reveal Lord Krishna to be that Supreme Person, the Supreme Personality of the Godhead. Time will tell. Along with the eventual revelation by Jesus of this Mystery Person known as the Supreme Lord, many of the mysteries of Heaven and Hell and much detailed spiritual phenomena such as reincarnation will be revealed. Jesus told us he would return, and his returning implies all this and more, much much more. We have a lot to look foreword to.

July 24, 2011

History of Vegetarianism - Jesus and the early Christians

History of Vegetarianism
Jesus and the early Christians
Was Christ a Vegetarian?

Was Christ a Vegetarian?
by Ted Altar

The following arguments are to be found, for the most part, in Keith Akers' very useful, A Vegetarian Sourcebook, 1989. Another sourcebook I would also highly recommend for its scholarship is Lewis Regenstein's Replenish the Earth: The History of Organized Religion's Treatment of Animals and Nature--Including the Bible's Message of Conservation and Kindness Toward Animals, 1991.

"I require mercy, not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7)

This is a significant message when we remember that in the context in which this was said meat eating was commonly considered part of these sacrifices. Sacrificial offerings often entailed meat consumption and a strict reading of Leviticus 17: implies that, indeed, all meat consumption necessitated a sacrifice. Also, the noted confrontation of Jesus in the Temple suggests that he was not at all pleased by the desecration of the Temple by the money changers AND by "those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons" (John 2:14-15) since these animals were being sold for sacrifice before being eaten.

No Unequivocal Biblical Reference to Christ Eating or Buying Meat

Consider the verse where it is said that Jesus' disciples "were gone away unto the city to buy meat" (John 4:8). This translation from the King James version has been misunderstood as meaning literally "meat". In fact, the Greek word for "meat" from which the James translation based its choice for this word, simply meant nutrition in the generic sense. Hence, the Revised Standard Version now simply translates this same passage as "his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food".

Regenstein notes that nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus depicted as eating meat and "if the Last Supper was a Passover meal -- as many believe -- there is, interestingly, no mention of the traditional lamb dish".

Did Christ at Least Eat Fish? (e.g., Luke 24:43)

Note that on the two occasions where he is said to have eaten fish, these were after his death and resurrection. Also, we should maybe keep in mind that fish was a well known mystical symbol among these early Christians. The Greek word for fish (Ichthys) was used as an acronym whose initials in Greek stood for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior". Given how the early Christians employed the term, there is therefore good historical evidence for the argument that all of the "fish stories" that managed to get into the gospels were intended to be taken symbolically rather than literally.

Biblical Breaks and Contradictions

We should not forget that the Bible is not complete and its many inconsistencies require thoughtful interpretation. For instance, we have the contradiction between Genesis 1:29-30 with Genesis 9:2-3. Some scholars interpret the first prescription for vegetarianism as the preferred diet, and suggest that it was only after God became grievously disappointed with human sin and flooded the earth did the second provision become permitted, and not without qualification (and maybe only as an expedient for the situation). To take another example, the New Testament makes repeated attacks on meat offered to pagan idols (Acts 15:20; Revelation 2:14), but Paul gives assurances that eating such flesh is all right if no one is offended (Corinthians 10:14-33). Paul, then, would seem to be contradicting Christ.

Examples of Early Christians

Not a few Christian scholars have concluded vegetarianism to be the more consistent ethic with respect to the spirit of Christ's teachings. For example, we have the Ebionites, Athanasius, and Arius. Of the early church fathers we have Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Heronymus, Boniface, St. Jerome, and John Chrysostom. Clement wrote, "It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh". One of the earliest Christian documents is the `Clementine Homiles', a second-century work purportedly based on the teachings of St. Peter. Homily XII states, "The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts, through participation in it a man becomes a fellow eater with devils". Many of the monasteries both in ancient times to the present practiced vegetarianism. For instance, Basilius the Great's order, Boniface's order, Trappists monks, etc. Also, we have the examples provided by the stories around some saints like Hubertus, Aegidius and Francis of Assisi.

Indirect Historical Evidence

Knowledge about how the Essenes, the Nazoreans and Ebionites lived suggests that Christ was probably a vegetarian. The Essenes were Jews who were remarkably similar to the early Christians as evinced in their deemphasis upon property and wealth, their communalism and in their rejection of animal sacrifices. The first Christians were known as the Nazoreans (not to be confused with Nazarenes), and the Ebionites were a direct offshoot from them. All three groups were vegetarian which is suggestive of the central role such a practice once played in Early Christianity.

Paul's need to constantly deal with these vegetarians is also evidence of how prevalent they were and not a few fellow Christians, it would seem, took issue with Paul. Paul, if he is consistent with his words, would have been vegetarian (Corinthians 8:13), notwithstanding his opposition to the Ebionites. According to Clement of Alexandria, Matthew was a vegetarian. Clementine `Homiles' and `Recognitions' claim that Peter was also a vegetarian. Both Hegisuppus and Augustin testify that the first head of the church in Jerusalem after the death of Christ, namely Christ's brother James the Just, was a vegetarian and raised as one! If Jesus's parents raised James as vegetarian then it would be likely that Jesus was also so raised.


Given the above points, it is reasonable to believe that vegetarianism would be consistent with, if not mandated by, the spirit of early Christianity, a spirit that advocated kindness, mercy, non-violence and showed disdain towards wealth and extravagance. Meat eating would hardly have been considered the way of the humility, non-extravagance and love for all of God's creation. Hence, the orthodox early church father, Christian Hieronymous, could not but be compelled to conclude:

The eating of animal meat was unknown up to the big flood, but since the flood they have pushed the strings and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just as they threw quails in front of the grumbling sensual people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed for us to eat animal meat.

Postscript: What Happened After Christ?
Maybe an even more important question than that of whether or not Christ was a vegetarian, was why Christianity later abandoned its vegetarian roots. Steven Rosen in his book, Food for the Spirit, 1987, argues:

The early Christian fathers adhered to a meatless regime...many early Christian groups supported the meatless way of life. In fact, the writings of the early Church indicate that meat eating was not officially allowed until the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine decided that his version of Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat eating interpretation of the Bible became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practice in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down the their throats if they were captured.

Ironic indeed that pagan Rome here would have this longstanding influence upon Christianity.
In any case, I think we can all be thankful that it is a lot easier today to be a vegetarian. The occasional rudeness and social disapproval a vegetarian must tolerate is a pretty small inconvenience in comparison to Constantine's way of dealing with vegetarians.

To cite another sad example: in southern France a group of Albigensian vegetarians (a Cartharist religious group) were put to death by hanging in 1052 because they refused to kill a chicken!

[While I'm not a Christian myself, I do find these questions interesting and even important. There is a large body of good impartial scholarship on this issue that is worth reading. Remember, many Christian groups from the time of Christ have practiced vegetarianism. The Seventh Day Adventist maybe being the most well known in the U.S. And even within other mainstream Christian groups, and even Jewish groups, there exists among them all at least some minority opinion held by respected members who would forward the merits of vegetarianism being the more consistent practice with their principles. You might also take a look at Andrew Linzey's book, Christianity and the Rights of Animals. -- Ted]

Christian Resources

Strange New Gospels

Strange New Gospels
by Keith Akers


Some modern proponents of Jesus’ vegetarianism utilize alternative gospels — gospels which suggest that Jesus lived in India, taught novel health ideas, was vegetarian, and had a startlingly different theology from that given in the churches. I do not cite these gospels when discussing the historical Jesus, even though some of these gospels seemingly support my case. Why? Because these gospels are esoteric and modern gospels, created in relatively recent times. Some of them are outright frauds, claiming to be from ancient manuscripts when they are in fact not; others are what we would called "channeled" writings — writings received through a modern communication from another world.

The study of modern gospels is a fascinating topic, which illuminates by comparison the process by which ancient gospels were formulated and became accepted. These writings may in fact be divinely inspired. However, in discussing the historical Jesus with people of differing religious perspectives — who may not agree on what is "divinely inspired" — they are not helpful. They cannot convince anyone of their historical truth who does not already believe them to be "inspired."

Of all of these modern gospels, there are three which are frequently cited by exponents of a vegetarian Jesus:

The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ by Nicolas Notovitch
The Gospel of the Holy Twelve by G. J. R. Ouseley
The Essene Gospel of Peace by Edmund Bordeaux Szekeley


In studying these books, there are several modern works which are quite helpful in the whole area of modern gospels. These are Modern Apocrypha, by Edgar J. Goodspeed (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956), and Strange Tales About Jesus, by Per Beskow (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

Another very useful book for Notovitch is The Gospel of Jesus by John Davidson (Element Books, 1995). Davidson only discusses Notovitch briefly on pages 136-139, but his discussion is illuminating because Davidson has clearly drawn a "line in the sand" regarding careless use of materials to prove convenient theories about Jesus. Davidson sets about to prove that Jesus was on the mystic path and thus was similar to many thinkers in Eastern religion. But he relies on historical material, rather than accepting the stories about Jesus going to India. I have also read the books by Notovitch, Ouseley, and Szekeley, in one or more of their various editions.

I believe that there are clear parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the Buddha, as well as between Jesus and other great spiritual thinkers. Both the Buddha and Jesus taught and practiced simple living and nonviolence. But we do not have to postulate theories about Jesus traveling to India in order to defend the similarity between Jesus and the Buddha. Truth is truth, and can be perceived by great thinkers across many cultures.

Nicolas Notovitch

Late in the nineteenth century a French explorer by the name of Nicolas Notovitch created a sensation by publishing a book called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. In it, Notovitch describes his travels to Tibet, where after breaking his leg, he was brought to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in which he finds an unusual manuscript. It is about a Saint Issa, and Notovitch quickly realizes that Issa is simply Jesus. In this gospel, Jesus is said to have traveled to India and studied with the wise men in that country before returning to Israel and proclaiming his message and ministry. Notovitch’s book was first published in French and created a sensation; it was then translated into English and various other European languages.

Some scholars immediately pointed out problems with the manuscript. The book appeared nowhere in catalogues of Tibetan literature. The same year that the book was published, an Englishwoman who visited Tibet and had inquired about the manuscript wrote: "Yesterday we were at the great Himis monastery . . . There is not a single word of truth in the whole story!" The next year, a professor visited the monastery and asked specifically about Notovitch, reading part of Notovitch’s book to the chief lama. "Lies, lies, lies, nothing but lies!" was the response. The lama stated that no life of Issa was known in Tibet. Confronted with this evidence, Notovitch backtracked and admitted that he had in fact never been to the monastery in question, but that he had found the story of Issa, in fragments, in untitled documents at many different locations. Obviously, however, Notovitch was discredited — if Notovitch lied about how he found the manuscript, why should we believe anything else?

The controversy faded. However, Notovitch’s book remained available in libraries, and later researchers "discovered" the book without being aware of its earlier history, or of the fact that Notovitch had been discredited. For example, Holger Kersten wrote a book entitled "Jesus Lived in India" which is largely based on Notovitch’s book. Kersten is apparently completely oblivious to the history of the controversy over Notovitch’s work. Like the internet hoax that continues to have a life of its own because people continue to circulate it even after it is disproven, this gospel continues to have a life of its own.

Gideon Jasper Richard Ouseley

In the late nineteenth century, G. J. R. Ouseley published "The Gospel of the Holy Twelve." It has been reprinted at various times since then, sometimes without Ouseley’s name, and sometimes without his "Explanatory Preface." I first came across it in the 1980’s in a book titled "The Humane Gospel of Jesus." It is said to have been "preserved in one of the Monasteries of the Buddhist monks in Thibet, where it was hidden by some of the Essene community." It condemns meat-eating, alcohol, animal sacrifice, and recommends vegetarianism, "daily ablutions," and community of goods.

We have here some of the same themes raised in Notovitch’s book — mostly, the hiding of the manuscript in Tibet, which at least in imagination seems to be a favorite place for ancient writers to hide manuscripts. Moreover, there apparently really was an ancient gospel called "The Gospel of the Twelve" which was mentioned by Origen. This is briefly mentioned in The Apocryphal New Testament (London: Oxford University Press, 1924) on page 10.

But is it really derived from an Aramaic text, found in a monastery in Tibet? After encountering Notovitch’s fraud, we should certainly be suspicious of any works claiming to have been found in Tibet. First of all, there are numerous problems with the work. It quotes from all four of the gospels and from the letters of Paul; it contains references to rituals from the later church, and to the "trinity" (a word that never occurs in the New Testament); it also contains references to such non-Biblical species as cats, rabbits, and an ape. And in fact, the real origin of the work is not hidden very far. In an early twentieth century edition published in London, an "Explanatory Preface" precedes the text. Ouseley’s name has been removed, and the Preface is signed "The Editors of the Gospel of the Holy Twelve" (though evidently a similar explanation appeared in earlier English-language versions of the book, with Ouseley’s name at the bottom). Here is part of what this Preface says:

Their "Gospel of the Holy Twelve" was communicated to the Editors, in numerous fragments at different times, by Emmanuel Swedenborg, Anna Kingsford, Edward Maitland, and a priest of the former century, giving his name as Placidus, of the Franciscan Order, afterwards a Carmelite. By them it was translated from the original, and given to the Editors in the flesh, to be supplemented in their proper places, where indicated, from the "Four Gospels" (A. V.) revised where necessary by the same.

To this explanation, the Editors cannot add, nor from it take away. By the Divine Spirit was the Gospel communicated to the four above mentioned, and by them translated, and given to the writers; not in seance rooms (where too often resort the idle, the frivolous and the curious, attracting spirits similar to themselves, rather than the good), but "in dreams and visions of the night," and by direct guidance, has God instructed them by chosen instruments; and now they give it to the world, that some may be wiser unto Salvation, while those who reject it, remain in their blindness, till they will to see.

From this passage, it is clear that no manuscript in Aramaic has ever been seen, or is claimed to have been seen, by Rev. Ouseley. Rather, it is Swedenborg, Maitland, Kingsford, and Placidus (all having died, some very recently, by the time Ouseley received this work) who received the gospel, and who simultaneously translated it into English, and then communicated this to Ouseley and his associates in some miraculous manner. So whenever and however Ouseley received it, it was already in English. Presumably, although this information is not spelled out, the fact that the manuscript is in Tibet in some monastery was also communicated to them by Swedenborg, Maitland, Kingsford, and Placidus. No one has every discovered any such manuscript, in Aramaic or any other language, in any Tibetan monastery.

However, to make things more interesting, there are several versions of this gospel which are circulating without Ouseley’s "Explanatory Preface." This has left some people are under the impression that this is a text which really was originally found in Tibet and translated from the Aramaic. In fact, in Europe there are German and Swedish editions of this work which leave the impression that Ouseley actually did discover the manuscript during a trip to Tibet in 1881. Never mind that Ouseley himself never claimed to have gone to Tibet, and in fact was fairly open about the process by which he received it, making it clear that this is in fact a "channeled" work. Annie Besant, one of the leaders of the Theosophical movement, understood the situation quite well and gave the book a rather negative review, describing its spiritualist sources and calling it "a strange book."

There can be no objection to regarding this as a sacred text. Perhaps it was received through divine inspiration, just as many Christians regard the New Testament as divinely inspired. But as historical evidence, it would not convince anyone who was not already convinced of its divine origin.

Edmund Bordeaux Szekeley

Szekeley is the most difficult case of all of these to resolve. Notovitch was quickly exposed as a fraud; Ouseley never claimed to have anything more than a "channeled" work. Neither of these quick expedients are available in Szekeley’s case.

The Essene Gospel of Peace which he published is similar in its basic themes to claims found in other modern gospels. The Essene Gospel of Peace identifies several familiar themes: vegetarianism, natural living, a theology of the Earth, and so forth. Szekeley claims to have found the manuscripts in various locations, including the Vatican Library, the Royal Archives of the Hapsburgs in Vienna, and the monastery at Monte Cassino. Szekeley identifies Hebrew, Aramaic, and Old Slavonic versions of the manuscript.

There are three problems with Szekeley’s claims. The first and most significant point is that no one has actually seen any of these manuscripts except Szekeley. The second is that there are serious inconsistencies and other problems in Szekeley’s description of the manuscripts. The third is the content of the manuscripts themselves. Taken as a whole, we can say that not only is there no evidence that the manuscripts are genuine, but that most likely Szekeley’s claims are fraudulent.

There are several different editions of the Essene Gospel of Peace. The first was published in 1937, then a second in 1977. The 1977 version is titled The Essene Gospel of Peace, Book One has a foreword in which Szekeley states that the contents of the book are only about one-third of the total he found (the next two-thirds presumably being those volumes subsequently published by him as "Book Two" and "Book Three"). He says:

"The content of this book represents only about a third of the complete manuscripts which exist in Aramaic in the archives of the Vatican and in old Slavonic in the Royal Archives of the Hapsburgs (now the property of the Austrian Government). We owe the existence of these two versions to the Nestorian priests who, under pressure of the advancing hordes of Genghis Khan, were forced to flee from the East towards the West, bearing all their ancient scriptures and ikons with them. The ancient Aramaic texts date from the third century after Christ, while the old Slavonic version is a literal translation of the former."

Szekeley claims to have found the Aramaic manuscript at some time between 1923 and 1924, and during a visit to Monte Cassino he also claims to have found Hebrew fragments corresponding with the Aramaic text. However, no one has ever seen any of the physical documents which Szekeley claims he drew the text from. Per Beskow (in Strange Tales About Jesus) says that when he asked the National Library of Vienna about the Old Slavonic text, the reply was sent that there is no such text, that a number of people have made inquiries about the text, and the general opinion was that Szekeley made it up. A similar negative answer came from the Vatican as follows: "Dear Sir, Thank you for your letter of 25th May inquiring about Edmond Bordeaux Szekeley. This author’s book is known to me and I can assert categorically that no such manuscript of an Aramaic Gospel is possessed by the Vatican Archives. Moreover, Szekeley’s name has not been found in the card index of scholars admitted to the Archives." Finally, the Monte Cassino monastery was, as is well known, destroyed by being bombed during the Second World War. Szekeley made no mention of the Hebrew fragments found at Monte Cassino until after the war.

There are also internal inconsistencies and problems in his account. For example, Szekeley claimed to have known a number of languages, but never even claimed to know Old Slavonic, and there is no evidence (aside from his own claim) that he actually knew Hebrew or Aramaic either. When the book was first published in 1937, it had the title The Gospel of Peace by the disciple John, which in the 1977 edition has been changed — without explanation — to The Essene Gospel of Peace. For the 1937 edition, Lawrence Purcell Weaver is listed as a co-editor, but in later editions he was dropped. In the 1937 edition, he states that the text published is only about one-eighth of the total; but in 1977, this has changed to one-third of the total. In the 1937 edition, the Aramaic is dated to the first century; in the 1977 edition, to the third century. There is no indication of how Szekeley knows that it was either the first century or the third century — did he use carbon dating, analysis of the manuscript style, or what? And why did Szekeley change his mind about the age of the manuscript? We are left without any clues. In fact, the 1937 preface is substantially different from the reprint of the 1937 preface in the 1977 edition in several ways, even though it is still dated "1937."

Astonishingly, Szekeley says almost nothing about the physical condition of the manuscripts in the Vatican — for example, whether it was a scroll or a codex (a bound volume similar to modern books). This seems to be a clearly contrived story: a mysterious manuscript, of no particular description, which no one except Szekeley has ever seen, which Szekeley quickly and effortlessly translated, and which the libraries at the Vatican and in Vienna deny having, is supposed to have fabulous revelations about Jesus? This can’t be taken seriously as evidence about Jesus.

But let us take Szekeley at his word. Perhaps the Vatican, and the library at Vienna, destroyed the manuscripts or are covering them up in an effort to suppress the truth, and Szekeley really saw these manuscripts, knew the Aramaic, Hebrew, and Old Slavonic languages thoroughly, and quickly produced a competent and scholarly translation. What then?

Looking at the manuscript, we see that it is obviously a hopelessly romantic, nineteenth-century idea of what Jesus should have been like, embedded in health ideas which are clearly modern. For example, Jesus is quoted as advocating enemas, complete with a graphic description of how to perform them! In fact, Jesus says that unless you perform these enemas, you cannot come into God’s presence: "No man may come before the face of God, whom the angel of water lets not pass" (p. 16). Enemas were probably practiced in ancient times, but there's no connection of them with any religious practice in any other ancient Christian writings, whether heretical or orthodox; the emphasis on colonics and enemas is a modern concern championed by naturopaths and other advocates of a natural way of life. Jesus also gives practical health advice, saying "Shun all that is too hot or too cold" (p. 58). Jesus is quoted as having said what was in Paul’s celebrated letter I Corinthians 13 — "though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am nothing" (p. 23-24). Jesus advises us to obey both our Heavenly Father and our Earthly Mother, with the idea that our Earthly Mother is the physical earth — "The hardness of our bones is born of the bones of our Earthly Mother, of the rocks and of the stones" (p. 8).

All of this seems to underscore health ideas of "natural living" which were common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even if Szekeley is telling the truth, in the absence of any other physical evidence, the conclusion would inevitably be that these are later documents. Someone who knew Aramaic, Old Slavonic, and Hebrew, wrote such documents espousing such "natural living ideas" in modern times, attributed them to Jesus, and then secreted them in libraries in the Vatican, Vienna, and Monte Cassino, and left them for Dr. Szekeley to discover later. This would still be of no particular historical value; though written in ancient languages, they would derive from (at the earliest) the nineteenth century.

Other "Channeled" Writings

There are other writings of modern gospels that make interesting claims about Jesus. The Aquarian Gospel, by "Levi," is another work claiming that Jesus lived in India. It is straightforwardly a channeled work.

John Todd Ferrier is one of the most interesting of the authors of this genre of writing. He became inspired and wrote down extensive writings which are essentially his versions of what Jesus said and did: The Master, The Logia, and others. Vegetarianism emerges as a clear theme in these writings. Ferrier left behind a group, the "Order of the Cross," which continues to promulgate his writings and his message today. Again, however, Ferrier’s writings were received, in modern times, from a divine source; there is no claim to have discovered an ancient manuscript. Interestingly, Ferrier also wrote a small book On Behalf of the Creatures in which he does discuss historical evidence, citing such writings as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and the Clementine Homilies; but he keeps this separate from his revelations about Jesus.

There have been some cases where early writings really do stump even the scholars. The most interesting of these is The Secret Gospel of Mark, quotations from which are found in a letter purportedly by Clement of Alexandria. This letter of Clement was found by Dr. Morton Smith of Columbia University in Mar Saba monastery just a few miles southeast of Jerusalem. Smith took a photograph of it and later published work concerning it. This work has nothing to do with vegetarianism, by the way — the Secret Gospel is said to suggest that Jesus was homosexual, though that it is not clear even if the manuscript is genuine. Unfortunately, this manuscript has never again been found; when the library was inspected later, the letter had disappeared, so controversy rages over whether it is genuine or not.

In this case, there is scholarly consensus that Dr. Smith really did find such a manuscript in the Mar Saba monastery; several photographs exist. There is disagreement, however, on whether it is an ancient or a modern forgery, inserted into the library at the monastery, and left for Smith to discover. It has been pointed out, for example, that most of the excerpts from the Secret Gospel can be found (in different contexts) in the canonical gospels. There is also an index of Clement of Alexandria’s writings which gives access to his vocabulary and writing style. This controversy could probably be resolved if we had access to the original letter that Smith saw; in that case, we could examine the age of the paper, the type of ink used, and so forth. But we don’t have that, and the discussion continues. The debate seems to be slowly oscillating towards the view that it is genuine, but clearly there is still quite a bit of doubt. The ability of scholars to actually see the physical manuscript is critical to our ability to evaluate it as serious historical evidence.

If The Secret Gospel of Mark is a forgery, though, it is much more sophisticated than anything which Szekeley or Notovitch were able to produce. We have an actual photograph of the original letter quoting the Secret Gospel, whereas we not only do not have photographs of anything Szekeley saw, we don’t even have the original Aramaic words, or even a physical description of the manuscript. Notovitch likewise gives us nothing in the original language — it is presented to us already "translated" into a modern language.

All of these writings are significant for our understanding of how gospels spread — though perhaps not in the way the authors intended. They all managed to create something of a sensation and have acquired a wide readership. Indeed, they all have a following even today, as we speak — people pick up these books, read them, and believe that they are the words of Jesus. What we believe is true, in the sphere of religion, must not come only from the mind, and from physical evidence, but from the heart as well. On the other hand, we must guard against confusing what comes from the heart and what comes from physical evidence.