Grouped under the name of Ebionites in ancient Christian literature are an indefinite number of Jewish Christian sects with some common characteristics, the most important of which are that they accepted Jesus as a a mere man nudus homo, Tertull., De carne Christi 14, lived according to the Jewish law and rejected St. Paul. Irenaeus is the first to mention them as a heretical group Adv. haer. I, 26, 2; according to him, they used the gospel of Matthew. Origen knows Jewish Christians in Egypt whom he calls Ebionites, who emphasized the unique position of Israel De princ. IV, 3, 5 and celebrated the Eucharist with unleavened bread in Matth. comm. ser. 79. He knows that the word Ebionite is derived from the Hebrew word for poor, but explains it as proof of their poverty of understanding De princ. IV, 3, 8. The proper name Ebion, the sect’s supposed founder, is false Tertull., De praescr. haer. IV, 8. Origen also knows a Jewish Christian gospel according to the Ebionites which he cites several times in Joh. II, 12. Eusebius, who knows little about Jewish Christian groups, but is the first to connect them with the Christians who left Jerusalem and fled to Pella before AD 70 Onomasticon, p. 138, 24-25, ed. De Lagarde.
Epiphanius Pan. 30 knew a number of Jewish Christian writings, whose contents he uses to describe the Ebionites. He cites a gospel according to the Ebionites of which he gives several citations 30, 3, 7, a book called the Periodoi of Peter 30, 15, 1 and the Anabathmoi of James, all anonymous works 30, 16, 6-7. The latter two were used by the author of the ps.-Clementine Homiliae and Recognitiones. From these sources, Epiphanius deduced that Christ appeared on earth periodically over the ages, that contact with Gentiles was avoided, ritual purifications accepted and the prophets rejected. Since he met some of these ideas in sources on the Elkesaites and noted that they were not present in the old traditions on the Ebionites, e.g., in Irenaeus, he held that the Ebionites showed signs of a development influenced by Elkesaite doctrines. This supposition must be rejected. It is obvious that the Elkesaite movement, coming from the region of Parthia, was influenced by Jewish Christian ideas present, e.g., in the writings known to Epiphanius. These writings clearly show a branch of Jewish Christianity different from that known either to Irenaeus or to Origen.
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