The encounter: the Jesus Groups from the different movements
met each other during their missionary activities. They recognised that they had a lot in common and worked together, but retained their separate structures and links with their original movements.
The most important event of the mission in Palestine was that the Jesus Groups founded communities in Jerusalem, though these remained strictly separate along confessional lines until the end of the Jewish Revolt. The Israelite group of James was transformed during this process from a Samaritan to a Jewish-Christian Jesus Group.
The Jesus Groups did not restrict themselves to peaceful missions; they also played a robust role in social conflicts. One example for this is the execution of James and Peter in 46 AD, probably after food riots in which they took a leading part.
The deaths of the two leading Apostles was a significant turning point in the history of early Christianity.
The mission: the Jesus Groups were dynamic. We have very little information about a mission by James’ group. Acts contains several mentions
of baptismal communities: in Samaria: Acts 8:16 and in Ephesus: Acts 19:1ff. The latter are said to be baptised only in the name of Jesus, in other words, by John’s baptism; they did not yet have the Holy Spirit.
The most impressive mission was that of Peter’s group. Peter himself is depicted as a missionary in Acts 10; baptism is integrated into Peter’s mission, so we can interpret Peter’s mission as the final stage of mission that was then continued in the general Christian mission.
Unity as the aim, not the starting point of early Christianity: when one of the Jesus Groups started missionary activity,
this certainly constituted a differentiation from the original movement. I will leave open the question of whether we should speak of a Jesus group, a Jesus fraction or an individual church at this point.
In any case, I am convinced that Christianity did not begin as a united movement, but as different groups or individual churches.
The most important textual confirmation for individual churches is the transfiguration narrative: during the vision on the mountain, Peter says to Jesus (Mark 9:5) “Let us build three temples (skhnh = tent; see also LXX: tabernacle), one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”. In other words, Peter points to the three individual churches of Peter, James and John.
However, Mark’s Gospel already stands for the union of the individual churches. That is why he writes: Peter did not know what to say (verse 6). More evidence can be found in Mark 9:38ff, where the account mentions an unknown exorcist. Comparisons may also be drawn with the divisions in the church in Corinth criticised by Paul: 1 Cor. 1:12.
The Jesus Groups finally separated from their original movements only after the end of the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.
Original movements and Jesus Groups: the Samaritans, the baptism sect and the Gnostics around Simon Magus
had few solid structures and little in the way of binding dogmas. They were groups with many different views, and Messianic ideas were widespread at the time, so Jesus’ followers within these movements could form groups without leaving the movement.
What we seen in the Gospels are a range of interpretations of Jesus that can be attributed to the movements named and to which we can allocate disciples’ names. These names are James (Israelites), John (Baptists) and Simon Peter (Gnostics).
These men clearly led Jesus Groups that remained within their movements. We can see the conflicts among the Christian Jews that they were confronted with. The disputes always focused on the issue of how far a Jesus Group could or should distinguish itself within the parent movement.
The interpretation of Jesus’ death as a betrayal: Judas. Josephus calls the Christians sons of Judas the Galilean,
because he brackets all Christians together as supporters of the insurrection. The opposite is true in the Christian sources: the relationship between Christians and Judas is not denied, but Jesus is the patron and the rebels are only pupils, and unworthy ones at that, since they gave Jesus’ enemies and excuse to kill him.
Nor do the Gospels hide the rebels’ opinion: in the scene of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:66ff par.) Peter is identified as a participant in Judas the Galilean’s rebellion due to his Galilean dialect: he is accused of betraying Jesus’ cause, which is identified with the rebels’ cause.
The crucifixions of James and Peter show that the Palestinian Jesus movements were by no means always non-violent and that they did not refuse all collaboration with the rebels. That only changed after the end of the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.
The international language of astrology: a legend quoted by Luke in Acts states that when the Holy Spirit was
poured out at Pentecost, all Jews from the diaspora could understand the Apostles speaking in their various languages.
Nowadays the phrase “international language” makes us think of art or music. In classical times, we should first think of astrology, a “language” that was understood by all nations.
The Gnostic’s statements about the astrological Age of Aries that was ending and the new Age of Pisces that had just begun were statements that everyone understood in their mother tongue.
The linguistic miracle at Pentecost, a sign of the last days, was interpreted according to contemporary understanding as annulling the Babylonian confusion of languages from the ancient Biblical story in Gen. 11:7f.
The hero’s self-sacrifice and the Age of the Pisces: the Gnostics around Simon Magus interpreted
Jesus’ death on the cross as a parallel to the god Mithras’ self-sacrifice in the Mithras cult.
This was the origin of the cultic celebration of the Eucharist. Later, this took a form based on the Jewish Passover meal, but the basic idea, the self-sacrifice of the cult hero, originated in the Mithras cult.
The Gnostics also believed that they could perceive the divine answer to Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom in the astrological Age of Pisces that was just beginning. They gave the name fishermen to those who proclaimed Jesus’ message. Jesus sacrificed himself as the ram (lamb) at the end of the former age, the Age of Aries.
According to astrological teaching about the ages of the world, Jesus’ death as the sacrificial lamb (ram) symbolises the end of the Age of Aries, The disciples taking the role of fisherman symbolises the beginning of the new astrological Age of Pisces.