Excerpts from James Bean of Spiritual Awakening Radio, USA
(Originally in English)
When it comes to the question of vegetarianism and Christianity the first question people always ask is: “In the scriptures aren’t there passages describing Jesus as serving fish, as well as eating lamb during the Jewish holiday known as Passover?” Some might also cite a verse about John the Baptist eating insects (locusts). This of course is based on a couple of quotes from the Orthodox New Testament that people are familiar with.
For those not acquainted with early Christian history and the various collections of writings or scriptures from that period that have survived, at first glance it appears as if Jesus ate fish and that John the Baptist dined on locusts. Certainly the well-known writings of European Christianity portray it that way.
Those in Jerusalem, Jesus’ own family and spiritual successors headed by the Apostle James, the brother of Jesus and next leader of the Aramaic-speaking Jerusalem Community, were all vegetarian. “The consumption of animal flesh was unknown up until the great flood. But since the great flood, we have had animal flesh stuffed into our mouths. Jesus, the Christ, who appeared when the time was fulfilled, again joined the end to the beginning, so that we are now no longer allowed to eat animal flesh.” (Hieronymus)
Hebrew gospels did not portray Jesus as eating fish or Passover lamb, and in those gospels, John the Baptist did not eat any insects. There were pro-meat gospels, as we all know, but there were also vegetarian gospels: the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of the Ebionites, and other Ebionite literature including the Clementine Homilies and the Recognitions of Clement. These are not channeled or recently composed writings, but scriptures that have long been known to scholars and were used by other branches of Christianity from the Middle East in antiquity. Sometimes these books are called “extra-canonical writings” or “lost books of the Bible.” These are books of someone else’s Bible; in other words, sacred texts once used by other forms of Apostolic Christianity long ago in Israel, Syria (Mesopotamia), Turkey (Asia Minor), Egypt, Ethiopia, the Mediterranean region, etc.
The Jewish Christians called themselves “Ebionites.” “Ebionite” is a word derived from Hebrew meaning “the poor.” They traced their vow of poverty back to the first Christian community described in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35), and were a spiritual community that shared all of their possessions in common.
Epiphanius quotes their gospel, the Ebionite or Hebrew Gospel, as ascribing these words to Jesus: ‘I have come to destroy the sacrifices’ (Panarion 30.16.5), and as ascribing to Jesus rejection of the Passover meat (Panarion 30.22.4), and these are analogous to numerous passages found in the Recognitions and Homilies (e.g., Recognitions 1.36, 1.54 and Homilies 3.45, 7.4, 7.8).
The Ebionite or Hebrew Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “I have come to abolish the sacrifices, and if you cease not from sacrificing, my wrath will not cease from you.” (Panarion 30.16.5)
One of the earliest Ebionite Christian documents is the Clementine Homilies, a work based on the teachings of Saint Peter. Homily XII states, “The unnatural eating of flesh meats is polluting, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts.”
The author of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament also denounced this practice. (see Book of Revelation 2:12-17).
The first Christians, also known as Ebionites or Nazoreans were not only kosher, but strictly adhered to a vegetarian diet. The largest surviving collection of Ebionite scriptures are the Clementine Homilies and the Recognitions of Clement, which are vegetarian gospels that condemn animal sacrifice in any form. For example, the Book of Homilies states that God does not want animals killed at all (3.45), and condemns those who eat meat (7.4, 7.8). And the passages below also show that the Ebionites’ diet was vegan (no eggs, no dairy, and no animal products).
Peter said, “I live on olives and bread, to which I rarely only add vegetables.” (Clementine Homilies 12,6; also see, Recognitions 7,6)
“And happiness is found in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the Apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, hard-shelled fruits, and vegetables, without flesh.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
“John never ate meat.” (Church historian Hegesippus according to Eusebius, History of the Church II 2:3)
“James, the brother of the Lord, lived on seeds and plants and touched neither meat nor wine.” (Epistulae ad Faustum XXII, 3)
“James, the brother of the Lord was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.” (Hegesippus, quoted in The Church History of Eusebius, book 2, chapter 23)
Inter-Faith Love, Not Hate
The following passage is from the Recognitions of Clement. This Ebionite Christian author has very nice things to say about those in India who worship One God, follow peaceful customs and laws, and are vegetarian or vegan. Imagine! Clearly he sees parallels between his own religion and that of his brothers and sisters “in the Indian countries.” This is one of the most amazing passages I know of in the extra-canonical scriptures, as it is a rare example of one religion (Ebionite, Hebrew Christianity) recognizing “Truth” in another religion (Hinduism), a rare inter-faith moment in human history. The Recognitions of Clement, and the Clementine Homilies are surviving Jewish-Christian texts representing an Ebionite, vegetarian, Christian point of view:
“There are likewise amongst the Bactrians, in the Indian countries, immense multitudes of Brahmans, who also themselves, from the tradition of their ancestors, and peaceful customs and laws, neither commit murder nor adultery, nor worship idols, nor have the practice of eating animal food, are never drunk, never do anything maliciously, but always fear God.”
-- Recognitions of Clement, Book 9, Chapter 22, Brahmans Volume Eight, of the, Ante-Nicene Fathers, page 187, T & T Clark Eerdmans edition
More Wisdom from the East
The harshest words that Guru Kabir, a great Master from Northern India (loved by Sufis, Sikhs, Jains, and Hindus alike) ever spoke were directed against the slaughter or consumption of innocent animals. Kabir says, “Keep away from the man who eats meat -- his company will ruin your meditation.”
The following passage, on the reason that many practitioners of various spiritual paths advocate following the vegetarian diet, is from the book, Harmony of All Religions, published by Maharshi Mehi Ashram, Bihar, India:
“The saints have addressed violence with particular attention to the foods which are eaten. Foods which are produced by killing living beings, as well as foods which are not pure and fresh, are considered Tamsik (‘of darkness’). Consumption of these is prohibited by the teachings of the Saints. This includes animal products such as meat, fish, and eggs. These foods inhibit the clarity of mind and the health of the body.”
Further, Kabir Sahab says, “The kind of food and drink which we consume directly influences how our mind will become. Even the quality of water which we drink will influence our speech.” (Maharishi Sant Sevi Ji Paramahans)
In The Prayer of Thanksgiving, one of the “Lost Books of the Bible” unearthed at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, this is the vegetarian prayer that they spoke:
“When they had said these things in the prayer, they embraced each other and they went to eat their holy food, which has no blood in it.”*
*A vegetarian meal. This passage also turns up in the “Epilogue of Asclepius,” in Hermetica, translated by Sir Walter Scott, published by Shambhala:
“Having prayed thus, let us betake ourselves to a meal unpolluted by flesh [animalia] of living things.”
The G.R.S. Mead translation of the same passage in Hermetica (Samuel Weiser Books) says, “With this desire we now betake us to our pure and fleshless meal.”
“With such hopes we turn to a pure meal that includes no living thing.” (Epilogue of Asclepius,” translated in Hermetica, Brian Copenhaver, Cambridge University Press)