Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

15. The Pseudo-Clementines
and Jewish Christianity

Jewish-Christian accounts of the baptism of Jesus were included in chapter 6. In this chapter we are concerned primarily with Jewish-Christian sources included in the Pseudo-Clementine literature and secondarily with reports in Epiphanius. Of the Jewish groups that accepted Jesus as Messiah, those known as Ebionites received the most notice in Gentile-Christian sources.1 Even they remain imperfectly known, but lustrations and baptism figure prominently in what is said about the Ebionites.2

Clement of Rome’s name was adopted by two fourth-century works produced in Syria, the Homilies (in Greek) and the Recognitions (preserved in a Latin translation by Rufinus), both partially preserved in a Syriac translation. The extensive common material in these two works is widely accepted to come from a basic document (Grundschrift) of the first half of the third century. Jewish-Christian material probably from Jewish-Christian writings was incorporated in this basic document, or in some cases perhaps appropriated directly by the fourth-century works. The putative Jewish-Christian sources are from around 200 or earlier in the second century, and this possible dating accounts for the placement of the material in this unit, although the form in which it has come down to us is later in date.

1. For varying perspectives in the study of Jewish Christianity, see the Introduction and first seven articles collected in Everett Ferguson, ed., Early Christianity and Judaism, Studies in Early Christianity 6 (New York: Garland, 1993); among the major scholarly studies I have learned much from Hans Joachim Schoeps, Theologie und Geschichte des Judenchristentums (Tübingen: Mohr, 1949) (baptismal practices, pp. 202–211), whose conclusions are more popularly presented in his Jewish Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969). See now Sakari Häkkinen, “Ebionites,” in Antti Marjanen and Petri Luomanen, eds., A Companion to Second-Century Christian “Heretics” (Leiden: Brill, 2005), pp. 247– 278.

2. Joseph Thomas, “Les ébionites baptistes,” Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 30 (1934): 257–296. He identifies stages in their evolution: influenced by Cerinthus in Christology, by Essenes in daily baths of purification, by Elkasaites (aversion to animal sacrifices, reverence for water, therapeutic power of running water — but may the influence have run the other way?), and the emergence of a distinct baptizing sect among the Ebionites, to which the Pseudo-Clementines testify.

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