The American scholar and poet, Robert Eisenman, has uncovered a radically different view of the origins of Christianity. His study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular, has revealed that the earliest Christian community, led by James the Just (probably the brother of Jesus), was suppressed and almost written out of history by a violent figure with close ties to the corrupt Romanised dynasty descended from King Herod. Eisenman and other scholars have identified this figure with St. Paul, writer of the book of Acts. Paul himself, in his letters, admits that he helped to murder the followers of Jesus, before his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and that he was a boastful person who changed his ideas, chameleon-like, to ingratiate himself with those around him.
A primary source, known as the Clementine literature, tells that James the Just was thrown down the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem by a violent assailant, attempting to murder him. James' attacker is referred to simply as 'the enemy', but the word 'Paul' is written in the margins of extant manuscripts.
Over the years, Eisenman has been a tireless campaigner for the release of the Dead Sea Scrolls for international scholarly examination. He sees parallels between the political, religious and ethical stance of the Scrolls and that of James the brother of Jesus, whom he identifies as the scrolls' 'Teacher of Righteousness', and sees 'the Wicked Priest' and 'the Man of Lying' as two different adversaries of the scroll community, the Wicked Priest being the High Priest Ananus ben Ananus, James' executioner, and the Man of Lying, St. Paul.
James' community were Jews, based in Jerusalem, who recognised Jesus as a prophet. The group were referred to as 'The Poor', even by Paul himself, which suggests that they may have been identical with a Jewish Christian sect known as the Ebionites, known for their rejection of Paul as a corrupting apostate. The name 'Ebionite' means people observing a vow of poverty, in the sense that they rejected the materialism of the Romanised elite in Judea.
For Eisenman, the Jewish Messianic community who wrote the Scrolls, were part of a resistance movement to the corrupt, collaborating Herodians and their priesthood. They were marginalized by a Herodian named Saul (Paul of Tarsus/St. Paul) and the gentile Christians who followed him. This version of Christianity, as it later emerged from a gentile milieu as led by Paul, transformed the apocalyptic militancy of the Ebionite/Essene Zaddikim into a universalist peaceful doctrine. In this manner, Eisenman sees the doctrine of Christianity as largely the product of Pauline dialectic and apologetics. In so doing, Eisenman attempts to recover the authentic teaching of Jesus and/or James from the obscurity into which it seems to have been intentionally cast by resultant orthodoxy. As he puts it at the end of his book James the Brother of Jesus, once you have found the Historical James, you have found the historical Jesus, or alternatively, “who and whatever James was so too was Jesus”.Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy, are amongst other figures who have identified Paul as a corrupting influence on the teachings of Jesus. Some have gone so far as to regard Paul as one of the false prophets the appearance of which Jesus himself warned.
Paul as an Herodian
Hand in hand with these theories went Eisenman’s identification of Paul as a Herodian, based on the view that Paul's version of Judaism was so peculiar that, more than anything else, it seemed to represent the interests of the Herodian Dynasty both in Palestine and as it sought to extend its influence into Asia Minor and further East into Northern Syria and Mesopotamia. He covered this in a series of papers and books beginning in 1984 and found the proof of this in Paul’s own salutation (if authentic), at the end of his Letter to the Romans, where he sent his greetings to his “kinsman Herodion” (i. e., “the Littlest Herod”) and “all those in the Household of Aristobulus” (the putative son of Herod of Chalcis and the ultimate husband of the infamous Salome – in fact, their son was “the Littlest Herod”).
He also found it in Josephus’ picture of a curious member of the Herodian family, an individual he also calls “Saulos” who actually seemed to have many characteristics in common with “Paul” in New Testament portraiture. Not only was this “Saulos” involved in an appeal of sorts to “Caesar,” he was also involved in violent behaviour in Jerusalem (although on the surface, at a somewhat later time); and it was he who made the final report to Nero in Corinth about the Roman reverses in Jerusalem which resulted in the dispatch of his best general Vespasian from Britain.
Finally he found this in Paul’s own outlook, his philosophy of “winning“ or being a “Jew to the Jews, a Law-keeper to the Law-keeper and a Law-breaker to the Law-breaker” also expressed in I Corinthians 9:19–27. In his own identification of himself as of “the Tribe of Benjamin” (Romans11:1 and Philippians 3:5), a claim he might have felt Herodians, as Edomites, were making for themselves, and his founding “a Community where Greeks and Jews could live in harmony, etc.,” where there were “no foreign visitors,” as well as in the easy access he seems to have had to positions of power, and his own Roman citizenship.
To complete his arguments, Eisenman cites the matter of an unidentified “nephew” of Paul, seemingly the son of Paul’s sister, resident in Jerusalem (Cypros married to the Temple Treasurer Helcias? – see his genealogies at the end of The New Testament Code and James the Brother of Jesus) who has unfettered entrée to the Commander of the Roman garrison in the Tower of Antonia who, in turn, then saves him from “Nazirite oath-taking” “Zealot”-like Jewish extremists who take an oath “not to eat or drink till they have killed Paul” (Acts 23:12–4) — Eisenman identifies this individual as Julius Archelaus, the son of this Saulos’ sister by the name of Cypros above. Nor is this to say anything further about his Roman citizenship or his own philosophy of paying the Roman tax to Caesar and seemingly placing Roman Law above Jewish Law as an expression of “the Righteousness Commandment” of “loving your neighbor as yourself” in Romans 13:1–10.