In the preceding several articles I have tried to build up, from the evidence of the New Testament itself, a picture of Paul that is very different from the conventional one.
We have seen that Paul, in describing himself as deeply learned in Pharisaism, was not telling the truth.
On the contrary, we have reason to think that Paul reacted to his failure to acquire Pharisee status by creating a synthesis of Judaism with paganism; and that the paganism so deeply embedded in his conception of Jesus argues a Gentile, rather than a Jewish, wellspring. We have seen, further, that the impression of unity between Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem Jesus movement, so sedulously cultivated by the author of Acts, is a sham and that there is much evidence, both in Acts itself and in Paul's Epistles, that there was serious conflict between the Pauline and the Jerusalem interpretations of Jesus' message. This conflict, after simmering for years, finally led to a complete break, by which the Pauline Christian Church was founded, comprising in effect a new religion, separated from Judaism; while the Jerusalem Nazarenes did not sever their links with Judaism, but regarded themselves as essentially believers in Judaism who also believed in the resurrection of Jesus, a human Messiah figure.
The picture of the early church in the book of Acts is devastating to the Gentile Christian Church; not only that it contrasts and conflicts with in across the board "theologically" Pauline Christianity, but Christian scholars have not been able to deny that the Jerusalem Church, under the leadership of James, consisted of practising Jews, loyal to the Torah. Many have attempted to explain this fact by the concept of re-Judaization or a return to Judaism from a more "Pauline-like" religious position which these Apostles' supposedly arrived at from the influence of Paul's teachings. The imagination of Pauline supporters seems without bounds. We are expected to believe that Jesus followers, family, and Apostles slipped back into Judaism after having departed from it, despite the contrary teaching of Jesus that he had not come to change the Law (Matt. 5:17). This is the only ploy at hand for many Christian scholars and authors in trying to explain why Jesus' Church and Apostles never accepted Pauline doctrine or Paul's "gospel" as depicted in the early chapters of Acts. We are expected to believe that somewhere they had left Judaism for the truth but now the story picks up after they repented of Gentile Christian doctrine and beliefs as taught by Paul and had come back to Judaism. If this idea can be believed by you then I want to sell you some tickets on the Titanic!
We have seen that attempts to by-pass the Jerusalem Nazarenes by constructing a different tradition linking Jesus to Paul (through the Hellenists and Stephen) fail under examination. Similarly, scholars have attempted to explain away all the evidence in the Gospels that Jesus himself was a loyal adherent of the Torah by the same concept of "re-Judaization:" when, for example, Jesus is represented in Matthew as saying, "If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Law's demands, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the kingdom of Heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the Law and teaches others so, will stand high in the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:19). This is explained as not something that Jesus said, but something that was inserted into the text of Matthew by a "re-Judaizer." Since the Gospel of Matthew contains quite a number of such sayings, the Gospel as a whole has been characterized by some Christian scholars as a re-Judaizing Gospel, written specifically for a Jewish Christian community. This premise is absolutely false because any semi-serious study of the Gospel of Matthew will reveal beyond any doubt that this gospel was written by a non-Jewish writer due to all the internal evidences and errors contained within it that a 5 year old Jewish child would not have made if he had written it originally. So this argument again does not hold water.
Several honest scholars, however, in recent years, have come to see that this position is untenable. For the main tendency and standpoint of the Gospel of Matthew is far from supporting the continuing validity of Judaism or of the Jews as the chosen people of God. Passages such as the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-43) preach the incorrigible sinfulness of the Jews and their supersession by the Gentiles. It is Matthew that stresses, perhaps more than any other Gospel, the alleged curse that has come upon the Jews because of their crime of deicide: e.g. Matthew 23:33-36, "on you will fall the guilt of all the innocent blood spilt on the ground," and Matthew 27:26, "His blood be on us, and on our children." Such anathematization of the Jews is hardly consistent with loyalty to the Torah, which declares the Jews to be God's priestly nation for ever. No Jewish Christian community would assent to the statements quoted.
Consequently, if the Gospel of Matthew contains assertions by Jesus about the validity of the Torah, this is strong evidence that Jesus actually made these assertions, for only a persistent and unquenchable tradition that Jesus said these things would have induced the author of the Gospel to include such recalcitrant material, going against the grain of his own narrative and standpoint.
If Jesus himself was an adherent of the Torah, there was no need for re-Judaization or a return to the Torah on the part of the Nazarenes in Jerusalem, who were simply continuing the attitudes of Jesus. But, in any case, several scholars have now come to think that the loyalty of the Jerusalem movement to the Torah is itself strong evidence that Jesus was similarly loyal. It is, after all, implausible, to say the least, that the close followers of Jesus, his companions during his lifetime, led by his brother, should have so misunderstood him that they reversed his views immediately after his death. The "stupidity" motif characterizing the disciples in the Gospels is best understood as a Pauline attempt to explain away the attachment of the "Jerusalem Church" to Judaism, rather than as historical obtuseness.
Though the concept of re-Judaization has become distinctly suspect in relation to the Gospels and to the Jerusalem followers of Jesus, it does not appear to have occurred to scholars to reconsider it in relation to certain groups for whom our evidence is later. We know of a number of Jewish Christian groups or sects which existed in the first four centuries of the Christian era, the best known being the Ebionites. The evidence about these groups is scanty and sometimes contradictory; but our understanding of Jewish Christianity may be furthered by a willingness to criticize the assumption that they were essentially and invariably re-Judaizing sects, falling away from Pauline Christianity and "relapsing" into Judaism. It may well be that some, at least, of these groups were genuine historical continuations of the Nazarene community led by James and Peter, and were thus closer in spirit to Jesus than the official Catholic Church based on the teachings of Paul. This being so, we must be alert and inclined to listen to what they had to say about the background and life of Paul with more attention, since they may have had access, through their unbroken tradition, with the origins of the Christian religion and its earliest conflicts.
The "Jerusalem Church" itself has a sad history. This has been obscured by the Church legend, found in Eusebius and later in Epiphanius, that before the Jewish War against Rome broke out in AD 66 the whole Nazarene community, warned by an oracle, left Jerusalem and went to Pella in Transjordania. "The flight to Pella" is merely a legend has been well demonstrated by S. F. G. Brandon, and confirmed by later research. The Jerusalem Nazarenes never left the city at the time of the Jewish War; they stayed there and played their part, as loyal Jews, in the fight against Rome. When the Jews were broken by the Romans and their Temple destroyed in AD 70, the Jewish Christians shared in the horrors of the defeat, and the Jerusalem Nazarenes were dispersed to Caesarea and other cities, even as far as Alexandria in Egypt. Its power and influence as the Mother Church and centre of the Jesus movement was ended; and the Pauline Christian movement, which up to AD 66 had been struggling to survive against the strong disapproval of Jerusalem, now began to make great headway. It was not until nearly seventy years later that a Christian Church was reconstituted in Jerusalem, after the city had been devastated by the Romans for the second time (after the Bar Kokhba revolt) and rebuilt as a Gentile city called Aelia Capitolina. This new Gentile Pauline Christian Church in Jerusalem had no continuity with the early "Jerusalem Church" led by James. Its members were Gentiles, as Eusebius testifies, and its doctrines were those of Pauline Christianity. It attempted, however, to claim continuity with the early "Jerusalem Church," in accordance with the Pauline policy (evinced in the New Testament book of Acts) of denying the rift between Paul and the Jerusalem elders. The Pella legend was developed in order to give color to this alleged continuity, since some of the members of the new Church had come from Pella. Jerusalem, however, never regained its former centrality. In the now dominant Pauline Christian Church, the centre was Rome; while the descendants of the former proud "Jerusalem Church," now scattered and poor (for which reason, probably, they acquired the nickname of "Ebionites," from the Hebrew evyonim, meaning "poor men") were despised as heretics, since they refused to accept the doctrines of Paul.
Another name by which these later Jewish Christians were known, according to the Church historians, was "Nazarenes." This name goes back to very early times, for it is found in the New Testament itself, not only applying to Jesus ("Jesus the Nazarene") but also (Acts 24:5) to the members of the "Jerusalem Church," in the denunciation by the High Priest. It seems, then, that "Nazarenes" was the original name for the followers of Jesus; the name "Christians" was a later development, not in Jerusalem but in Antioch (Acts 11:26). In the Jewish rabbinical writings, the name used for Jesusµ followers is similar to "Nazarenes," i.e. notzerim. Whether this name is derived from Jesus' place of birth, Nazareth, or from some other source, is a matter of scholarly debate. But it is clear that the survival of this name in sects of the third and fourth centuries points to continuity between these sects and the original followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. Various theories have been put forward as to why some Jewish Christian sects were called Nazarenes, while others were called Ebionites. The best solution seems to be that the original name was Nazarenes, but at some point they were given the name Ebionites, as a derogatory nickname, which, however, some of them adopted with pride, since its meaning, "poor men," was a reminder of Jesus' saying, "Blessed are the poor," and also of his and James' sayings against the rich.
Nevertheless, it does seem from the rather confused accounts given by the Church historians that the Jewish Christians, as time went on, split into various sects, some of which strayed far from the tenets of the original Nazarenes. Thus we read of certain Gnostic Ebionites, of whom the founding father was Cerinthus, who combined belief in the humanity of Jesus and in the validity of the Torah with a Gnostic belief in a Demiurge ("creator") and a High God. We also read of certain Nazarenes who believed in the Torah, but also believed in the virgin birth of Jesus and in his divine nature. These sects, however, arose by attrition of the original beliefs of the Nazarenes; for the isolation of the Nazarenes from both Christianity and Judaism subjected them to pressures which could give rise to some strange mixed or synthetic forms.
In general, however, the Nazarenes or Ebionites held fast to their original beliefs which we find mentioned again and again in our Christian sources:
In view of the thesis, argued earlier, that the Nazarenes were a monarchical movement (family leadership and succession of leadership within the family) of which James was the Prince Regent and Jesus the awaited King, we may ask whether there is evidence that the Nazarenes or Ebionites of later times looked upon Jesus as their King. Most of our Christian sources do not mention this aspect. Instead, they stress that the Ebionites, while insisting that Jesus was no more than a man, achieved prophetic status by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, which was identical with "the Christ," a divine power. Of course, the Gentile Christian historians who wrote these accounts were strongly affected by the Pauline Christian definition of the word "Christ," by which it lost its original Jewish monarchical meaning and became a divine title (partly because it became assimilated, in the Hellenistic mind, to the Greek word chrestos, meaning "good," which was a common appellation of divine figures in the mystery religions). Apart from this inauthentic use of the word "Christ," the accounts ring true; for the idea that prophecy is attained by the descent upon a human being of a divine force (called in the Jewish sources "the Holy Spirit" or ru ah ha-qodesh, or sometimes the shelchinah or indwelling presence of God) is common in Judaism, and must have been shared by the Ebionites. But the monarchical overtones of the word "Christ" (Hebrew Messiah) are lost in most of these Christian accounts. Where the monarchical aspect reappears, however, is in the occasional mention of the millenarian or chiliastic beliefs of the Ebionites, who believed that Jesus, on his return, would reign for a thousand years on Earth. Here the concept of Jesus as King of the Jews (and by virtue of the priest role of the Jewish nation) spiritual King of the whole world is clear, and the Ebionites are shown to regard Jesus as the successor of David and Solomon. The thousand-year reign does not point to a concept of Jesus as a supernatural being, but reflects the common idea that human longevity in Messianic times would recover its antediluvian dimension.
Of course, millenarian beliefs are not entirely lacking in Pauline Christianity, too, where they have a curiously subterranean role. The Book of Revelation, originally a Jewish Christian work but much edited, was included in the New Testament canon, and from this stemmed millenarian beliefs which are somewhat hard to reconcile with Pauline Christology. The belief in the thousand-year earthly reign of a kingly Jesus at the end of days inspired many movements of political revolt within Christendom and often threatened the domination of the Pope and the Emperor, for inherent in these beliefs was the notion that justice is attainable on Earth and that the kingdom of God is an earthly Utopia, not an other-worldly condition of blessedness. The role of Antichrist, the earthly power opposed to Jesus redivivus, was usually assigned to the Jews, so that populist millenarian movements were often viciously anti-Semitic; but occasionally, the Antichrist was identified instead as the real oppressors of the poor and on these occasions the political aspirations derived from Judaism and from Jewish Christianity threatened to perform a role of liberation in Christendom, in contrast to the other-worldly Paulinist theology which always worked on the side of the powers that be. It is not surprising that Popes and Emperors have always deprecated millenarianism, despite its New Testament authority, and excluded it from official Christian doctrine. In the beliefs of the Ebionites, however, it plays a natural and integral part, and helps to characterize Ebionitism as continuous with Judaism, as well as with the "Jerusalem Church" led by James, the brother of Jesus.
The prophetic role assigned to Jesus by the Ebionites also deserves some comment. Even in the New Testament, there is much evidence that Jesus, in his own eyes and in those of his followers, had the status of a prophet. Thus some of his followers regarded him as the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah, with whom John the Baptist had also been identified. Many scholars maintain that Jesus saw himself, at first, as a prophet foretelling the coming of the Messiah, and it was only at a fairly late stage of his career that he had came to the conviction that he was himself the Messiah whom he had been prophesying. Jesus then, according to these scholars, combined the roles of prophet and Messiah. This was not unprecedented, for his ancestors David and Solomon were also regarded in Jewish tradition as endowed with the Holy Spirit, which had enabled them to write inspired works. We need only look to David who is regarded as the author of most of the Psalms, and Solomon who is credited with the canonical works, Proverbs, Ecciesiastes and the Song of Songs. Nevertheless, these works were not regarded as having the highest degree of inspiration, and were included in the section of the Bible known as the "Writings," not that known as the "Prophets." Jesus was not the author of inspired writings, but he belonged, in his own eyes, to the ranks of the non-literary, wonder-working prophets such as Elijah and Elisha. Such a prophet had never before combined his prophetic office with the position Messiah or King, but there was nothing heretical about the idea that the Messiah could be a prophet too. Such a possibility is envisaged in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, where the Messiah is described as an inspired person and as having miraculous powers, like a prophet.This assumption of a prophetic role distinguished Jesus from the more humdrum Messiah figures of his period such as Judas of Galilee or, later, Bar Kokhba (though it seems that Theudas also sought to combine the two roles). Thus the Ebionite belief that Jesus had the status of a prophet was not at all inconsistent with their belief that he was the King of Israel, who would restore the Jewish monarchy on his return. To be both king and prophet meant that Jesus was not just an interim Messiah, like Bar Kokhba, sent to deliver the Jews from another wave of Gentile oppression, but the final, culminating Messiah, who would inaugurate the kingdom of God on Earth, as envisaged by the Hebrew prophets, a time of worldwide peace and justice, when the knowledge of God would cover the Earth "as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
On the other hand, this belief in Jesus as an inspired prophet is what ultimately cut off the Ebionites from the main body of Judaism. As long as Jesus was alive his claim to prophetic and Messianic status was not in any way heretical; Pharisee leaders such as Gamaliel were prepared to see how Jesus' claims would turn out in actuality and meanwhile would suspend judgment: in Gamaliel's phrase, "if this idea of theirs or its execution is of human origin, it will collapse; but if it is from God, you will never be able to put them down, and you risk finding yourselves at war with God" (Acts 5:39). Even after Jesus' death, for some considerable time, the Pharisees, in view of the Nazarene claim that Jesus' movement had not yet "collapsed," Jesus being still alive and on the point of return, would be prepared to suspend judgment, as evidenced by Gamaliel, who was speaking after the death of Jesus. But as time went on, these Nazarene claims would wear very thin as far as the main body of the Jewish community was concerned. How long did one have to wait in order to reach a decision that the Nazarene movement had collapsed? Jesus had failed by being crucified, and the assurance by the Nazarenes that he would return had not been fulfilled. The conclusion reached by most Jews, therefore, was that Jesus was just another failed Messiah. As for his alleged prophetic powers, these must have been delusions. He was not after all a genuine prophet or his prophecies about himself would have been fulfilled. The Ebionites, however, still refused to accept this conclusion; though no doubt some of them, weary of waiting for Jesusµ return, went back to the fold of normative Judaism and gave up their belief in Jesus as Messiah and prophet. The remaining Ebionites, while still loyal to the Torah, built up an additional scripture or gospel (unfortunately now lost, having been suppressed by the Pauline Christian Church together with the other Ebionite writings), in which they set down the sayings of Jesus, who, to them, was just as inspired as Isaiah or Jeremiah and therefore deserved to be included in the canon. This new scripture, for the main body of the Jews, was a heretical addition to the canon of holy writ, and its appearance marked out the Ebionites as a heretical Jewish sect, like the Samaritans and the Sadducees. Moreover, since the Ebionites thought that the age of prophecy had returned in the person of Jesus, they cannot have been willing to accept the authority of the Pharisee sages who built up a corpus of teachings after Jesus' death, on the assumption that the age of prophecy was over, having ceased with the last of the biblical prophets, Malachi. Thus the Ebionites, by their continued belief in Jesus as prophet and Messiah, were increasingly cut off from the developing activity of rabbinical Judaism. Yet it was probably not until about AD 135 that the Ebionites were finally declared heretics by the Pharisee rabbis. This decision was no doubt influenced by the awareness of the rabbis that the Gentile branch of Christianity, following the teachings of Paul, had abrogated the Torah and developed anti-Semitic attitudes. This was the conclusive proof that Jesus' claim to Messiahship had not been "from God." Gentile Christianity, however, unlike Ebionite Christianity, was never declared heretical, since it was too far removed from Judaism to be regarded as a heretical form of it.
The Ebionites were thus in the unhappy position of being ostracized both by what was now the main body of Christians, the Catholic Church, and by the Jews. The pressure to join one or other of these two religions was enormous, and by the fourth century the Ebionites had ceased to be a discernible separate community. Consequently, they have tended to be disregarded and despised by historians. Yet what remains of their testimony about the origins of Christianity is of unique importance, for, unlike the Catholic Church, they were directly linked to the "Jerusalem Churchµ and thus to Jesus himself. Their testimony about Paul and the circumstances in which he broke with the "Jerusalem Church" deserves to be treated with respect, not with the usual scornful dismissal.
The testimony of the Ebionites has been preserved in two forms.
These writings were preserved as orthodox patristic works because they were falsely attributed to the authorship of Pope Clement I, who was popularly supposed to have been a disciple of Peter himself. In fact, the core of these writings, as was pointed out by F. C. Baur in the nineteenth century and as most scholars now agree (after an interim of dispute and denigration of Baur's work), is Jewish Christian or Ebionite, stemming from second-century Syria. This core shows a staunch adherence to the Torah, and contains an impassioned attack on those who attributed anti-Torah views to Peter. Paul is not mentioned by name, but he is strongly hinted at as the supreme enemy under the disguise of "Simon Magus," against whom Peter is represented as polemicizing. Peter's attack on this lightly disguised Paul is on the grounds that he is a false prophet, that he has spread lies about Peter and, most telling of all, that he knows nothing about the true teachings of Jesus, since he never met him in the flesh and bases his ideas of Jesus on delusive visions. That this "Simon Magus" is really Paul is now accepted by scholars, despite many desperate attempts to resist this conclusion made by critics of Baur who realized how profound would be the consequences of such an admission. For it shows that Paul, far from being a unanimously accepted pillar of the Church, like Peter, was a controversial figure, whose role in the founding of Christianity was a subject of great contention.
Some interesting evidence of the views of the Jewish Christian community of Syria at a later date, probably the fifth century, was discovered by the Israeli scholar Shlomo Pines. While studying a tenth-century Arabic work by "Abd al-Jabbar in a manuscript in Istanbul, he was able to prove that one section of this work had actually been incorporated from a Jewish Christian source. The standpoint of this incorporated section is that of the Ebionites: belief in the continuing validity of the Torah, insistence on the human status of Jesus as a prophet, and strong opposition to Paul as the falsifier of Jesus' teachings. According to this source, Paul abandoned the observance of the Torah mainly in order to obtain the backing of Rome and achieve power and influence for himself. Paul is even held responsible for the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, since his anti-Jewish propaganda inflamed the Romans against the Jews. His Christianity, says this source, was "Romanismµ; instead of converting Romans into Christians, he converted Christians into Romans.
Now over the years my research has thrown a terrific amount of light upon the Gospels and their unreliability as documents that correctly and truthfully transmit the truth about Jesus. This is not just my opinion but is born out by the investigative research of many scholars that precede me. This Jewish Christian source, as found by Pines, also contains some acute criticism of the Gospels, which it declares to be untrustworthy and self-contradictory. The only trustworthy Gospel, it declares, was the original one written in Hebrew, yet it is doubtful whether the community which produced this source still possessed a copy of this original Gospel. One of the source's remarks on the Gospel stories of Jesus' alleged abrogation of the laws of the Torah is of special interest. It relates to the corn-plucking incident, which it explains as a case of dire emergency due to the state of starvation of the disciples; and the technical phrase in Arabic used to explain the legality of the corn-plucking is a direct translation of the Hebrew piqquah nefesh ("the saving of a soul"), used in the Talmud in connection with the abrogation of the sabbath law in cases of danger to human life.
In general, the picture emerging from this text is of a Jewish Christian community, in the fifth century, out of touch in many ways with its own sources and barely managing to preserve an underground existence, yet still clinging to elements of belief deriving from centuries earlier and, at certain points, still linked to the earliest Jewish Christians of all, the Jerusalem Nazarene community of James and Peter.
The Ebionites did not survive for the simple reason that they were persecuted out of existence by the Gentile Catholic Church. When this oppression was lifted for any reason (for example, when an area changed from Christian to Muslim rule), they sometimes came out of hiding and resumed an open existence. There is even evidence, from the works of the Jewish philosopher Saadia, that this happened as late as the tenth century. Mostly, however, the Ebionites were forced to assume a protective disguise of orthodoxy, and in time this led to complete assimilation. Yet, while they still retained their clandestine beliefs, they often had a profound influence on Christianity in general; there is reason to believe that many Judaizing heresies in Christian history, including Arianism, derived from underground Ebionite groups. Their influence was in the direction of humanism and this-worldly concern, and against the meek acceptance of slavery and oppression, and they had a restraining influence on Christian anti-Semitism. They represented an alternative tradition in Christianity that never quite died out. When ones studies out the truth from the legends of the Council of Nicea you will find that the Arians had the majority views on the "Christology" of Jesus which was very Jewish but as history bears out for us they ended up on the losing end. The whole world lost this battle and since that time Christianity has been deeply enmeshed in idolatry because of Constantine and the Athansius victory over the Arians. Ironically, the Church was to recant their stance on this major position and reinstate Arius and his "Christology" as the dominant one but he died in route to his "vindication." The history of Christianity is so sad.
The Ebionites are thus by no means a negligible or derisory group. Their claim to represent the original teaching of Jesus has to be taken seriously. It is quite wrong, therefore, to dismiss what they had to say about Paul as unworthy of attention.
Let us look, then, more carefully at the earliest extant formulation of the Ebionite view of Paul, found in the works of Epiphanius (fourth century).
"They declare that he (Paul) was a Greek . . . He went up to Jerusalem, they say, and when he had spent some time there, he was seized with a passion to marry the daughter of the priest. For this reason he became a proselyte and was circumcised. Then, when he failed to get the girl, he flew into a rage and wrote against circumcision and against the sabbath and the Law" (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.16. 6- 9).
The above is the account of what Epiphanius declares the Ebionites were saying in the fourth century and is colored both by Epiphanius's hostility to the Ebionites and by the Ebionites' hostility to Paul. Nevertheless, there is a core here that may well be true.
Two elements in particular in the story have been shown in our previous discussions to be important:
that Paul was a "Greek" (i.e. a Hellenistic Gentile),
That he was involved with the High Priest (here simply called "the priest"). A third authentic element may be detected: a failure by Paul to achieve an ambition, and his consequent desertion of the High Priest and involvement with the Jesus movement.
The picture of Paul as a disappointed lover is a typical creation of the folk imagination, yet it is not entirely off the mark. Paul was indeed in love, not with the High Priest's daughter, but with Judaism, of which the High Priest was the symbol (if not the exponent). It was Paul's frustrated love-affair with Judaism that created Pauline Christianity (Maccoby, The Mythmaker, p. 182-183).
The High Priest was indeed the key person in Paul's life: his employer when he harassed the Nazarenes, his enemy when he abandoned his attachment to the High Priest's collaborationist regime by his defection at Damascus, and again his deadly enemy when he escaped from the hostility of the Nazarenes into the custody of the Roman police.
Epiphanius's account is clearly incomplete, for it contains no reference to Paul's relations with the Jerusalem Nazarenes. The Ebionites of Epiphanius's day must have had some view about how Paul stood with James and Peter.
Yet, incomplete and romanticized as Epiphanius' account is, it is in several respects more accurate than the account of Paul that was handed down by the Catholic Church or even than the account that Paul gives of himself in his Epistles.
Instead of the respectable Pharisee of unimpeachable Jewish descent, the friend and peer of James and Peter, we can sense through Epiphanius's account something of the real Paul - the harassed false apostle, threading his way by guile through a series of stormy episodes, and setting up a form of religion that was his own individual creation.