Was chiliastic Ebionism responsible for the rise of Islam?
We all know that Islamic jihad wants to bring the nations of the world into a holy war in order to bring about the eschatological events taught by the prophet Muhammad and later Islamic Scriptures.
But where did this idea originate?
One angle that few ever mention is that Mohammad was originally influenced by a sect of Judaizer-Ebionite heretics that had survived into the 8th century. One of the interesting features of Christianity is that prior to AD 70, the leadership was almost wholly Jewish. The entire New Testament was written by Jews. But after AD 70, the only writings (except possibly 1 Clement) are by Gentile Christians. There are frequent mentions of Jewish Christians by the Church Fathers, but no writings by them.
The background for early Christian premillennialism was a heretical form of Jewish eschatology. Christian premillennialism, or chiliasm (from the Greek kilo, meaning “thousand”) seems to have originated with a first century heretic named Cerinthus, who taught a form of Judaistic-Ebionite-Gnosticism, denying the full deity of Jesus Christ and teaching an earthly millennial kingdom, which was a common Jewish eschatological view.
Cerinthus flourished around the end of the first century around Ephesus. There is a story related by Polycarp to Irenaeus that Cerninthus came into conflict with the Apostle John. Cerinthianism was opposed by Irenaeus as form of Gnosticism. The followers of Cerninthus later became known as the Nazarenes or the Ebionites. By the end of the second century, the Church Fathers began to see Cerinthianism as synonymous with premillennialism. Later Church Fathers, such as Jerome and Eusebius recognized this connection.
Church father Irenaeus, who himself was a premillennialist, wrote in Against Heresies in the second century:
Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practice circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God (Against Heresies, Book I, 26).
The concern of Ireneaeus against the Cerinthians and Ebionites was not their eschatology, but their Judaistic heresies and their denial of the divinity of Jesus.
This goes counter to the grain of the dispensationalist “messianic” movement. Dr. Michael Brown even wrote a book in which he accuses the Church Fathers of being anti-Semitic because they opposed the Judaizers. (Go figure). I admire Dr. Brown for many of his other stances, but he has mischaracterized the Church Fathers here. They were against the Judaistic heretical influences on the fledgling Church, but were not anti-Semitic.
However, a more likely interpretation is that the sects of Christians that tried to maintain “Jewishness” succumbed to anti-Trinitarian heresies and legalism. They became known as the Nazarenes and the Ebionites. They gradually disappeared, but in the 8th century some Ebionites survived in Arabia.
Islam is essentially a Dynamic Monarchian heresy, teaching one God, but denying the Trinity. The root teaching of Islam places Jesus in a very high role as an important prophet and even states that He was born of a virgin and will come again in an eschatological role as a judge. So Islam isn’t a new religion. It’s actually a form of “Jewish Christianity” that gradually became more heretical as time went by and then incorporated Mohammed’s teachings. One of the first to believe in the prophethood of Muhammad was an Ebionite monk named Waraqah ibn Nawfal, the distant cousin of Mohammad. He is said to have been a pious man with deep knowledge of the Christian scriptures.
Islam and Chiliasm
Chiliasm was an extreme version of premillennialism that existed in the early Church, but was almost universally condemned after the third or fourth century. But most people don’t know that the post-Quranic hadiths, which are considered Scripture by Muslims, actually teach that Jesus will return at the end of the world, not as God, but as a prophet who will judge the world.
Isa is the Arabic name for Jesus and his return is one of the signs of the end-times in Islamic eschatology. Although Muhammad is the preeminent Prophet in Islam, Jesus is the only Prophet who is said not to have died but rather raised up by God other than Idris (Enoch) mentioned in the Quran. It is written in one of the hadiths:
Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler, he will break the cross, kill the pigs, and abolish the Jizya tax. Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it (as charitable gifts).”
A premillennial Christian website describes the reign of Jesus in Islamic eschatology to be a 40-year precursor to a other events that will culminate in the Resurrection of believers to Paradise:
The Reign of Jesus will follow the defeat of Gog & Magog. Jesus will proclaim Islam to be the true religion and all Christians will convert. All other religions will be eliminated. All crosses will be broken, and all pigs will be exterminated. Jesus will be the sole ruler on earth, heading up an Islamic theocracy. He will be a just ruler. Every harmful beast will be domesticated. There will be abundant rain and plentiful harvests. All weapons of war will be converted into tools of agriculture, and there will be world wide peace. (All of this imagery is taken from the book of Isaiah.) The reign of Jesus will last for 40 years. He will go to Mecca regularly to perform rituals of pilgrimage. Twenty-one years into His reign, He will marry and begat children. Nineteen years later He will die. He will be buried in Medina next to Mohammad where He will await the Day of Resurrection like all other humans who have died. When Jesus dies, all believers will also die peacefully and gracefully. (This is the Islamic equivalent of the Rapture — that is, the removal of all the righteous from the world.) Unbelievers will be left behind to indulge their passions.
The Muslim view of Paradise is one of earthly pleasures focused on feasting and fulfillment of sexual desire.
It is a perfect environment where all desires are granted and fulfilled. People are richly adorned and live in mansions. They are involved in never-ending feasts. Perpetual virgins are awarded to the faithful. Ordinary Muslims receive 40 each. Martyrs who died in jihad receive 72 each. No matter how many times one of these women engage in sex, they become a virgin once again. The sexual desires that were strictly limited on earth are unleashed in Paradise. This prospect serves as an incentive for young men to give themselves as suicide martyrs in the cause of jihad.
Here’s a Muslim website that claims that the Ebionites became some of the first followers of Islam.
According to Biblical scholar Barrie Wilson, the main features of the Ebionite’s theology can be summarized in the following:
- Jesus was a created human and not divine.
- Jesus was a teacher.
- Jesus was the expected Messiah.
- The Law of the Torah must be observed.
- Theirs was the earliest congregation of followers to Jesus, starting from around 30 AD.
Several church fathers described how Ebionites rejected The Divinity of Jesus and The Atoning Death of Jesus. According to those church fathers, the Ebionites emphasized the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus. They considered Paul an apostate of the law who corrupted Jesus’ message.
What is really significant, from the Muslim point of view, is Dr. Barry Wilson suggestion that, the Ebionites survived until the Muslims’ conquest of the Middle East, when they [the Ebionites] were absorbed in Islam.
This can help explain why the Christians of Syria and Egypt were converting to Islam en-mass in the 7th. century AD. It is possible that, people who were in contact with Ebionites or, were Ebionites themselves, recognised as truthful, the revelation of the Quran.
Here is a similar claim from a heretical liberal Christian site
(Read between the lines here. Although this is from a liberal site, there is some good information.)
Constantine & Imperial Christianity
The conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 launched not only the western Catholic church – but also the increasing marginalization of Christians who hailed from the eastern Mediterranean and northern Africa. This schism became apparent through multiple church conclaves, starting even before the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and extending through the 451 Council of Chalcedon.
Suppression of Christian schismatics of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean by the orthodox church of the west would pave the way for the quick and widespread acceptance of Islam in the 7th century. Separated from its eastern roots, Christianity would lose its intellectual energy and fervor.
The homeland of Jesus, the scenes of the Pauline missions, the home of the great defender of the Nicene Creed, the birthplace of Augustine – all would soon abandon their Christian heritage for the more accommodating world of Islam.
Muhammad & Islam
The prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in AD 570; he died at 62 years of age in 632. At age 25, Muhammad married a distant relative, the widow Khadijah, after managing her caravan trade. They were married for 25 years and had 6 children. Later, Muhammad would endorse polygamy and took several wives – with an estimated 12 added wives and concubines and one resulting son.
While pagan polytheistic worship prevailed in Arabia, Muhammad had many contacts with Christians and Jews due to his involvement with the caravan trade. He came to desire the application of a more modern concept of a single deity for Arabs as well – initially born from his great respect for the Jewish and Christian traditions.
Around age 40, Muhammad spent much time in meditation. He retreated to a cave and began to receive instruction from archangel Gabriel. Initially, he confided only in his wife Khadijah and her cousin Waraqa ibn Nawfal, a Christian (who compared Muhammad’s experience with that of Moses).
This cousin was a Nassara, essentially an off-shoot of the earlier “Ebionites” or Judeo-Christians who did not accept the full divinity of Christ. Waraka bin Nawfal reportedly was the Ebionite Christian bishop of Mecca and performed the marriage between Muhammad and Khadijah. His influence on Muhammad was instrumental, helping to generate the Qur’an.
After he professed to be a prophet, his favourite concubine would become Miriam, a Coptic Christian. Miriam was also the mother of Muhammad’s favored son Ibrahim.