The Christianity Battles
What if Ebionite Christians, Marcion Christians, or Gnostic Christians had been more convincing?
Do you think the Marcionite version of Christianity would have become a dominant world religion the way Christianity is now? Or do you think that Judaism would have remained equal with that version of Christianity?
It's a good question, because Marcionite Christianity was popular for the same reasons similar beliefs are popular today. Today people will talk about how there's a difference between the Old Testament God of wrath and the New Testament God of love. And people who make that distinction are far more drawn to the New Testament God of love. Well, that was a Marcionite distinction, because they really thought there were two different gods, and that was attractive to people. Jews throughout the ancient world, as a whole, really weren't persecuted, but most people thought the Jews were a little bit strange as a people. And so if this religion had nothing to do with Jews and Judaism, that may have been attractive to a wider range of people.
What would Christianity have looked like if the Ebionites had won?
We would have a different New Testament to begin with. The Ebionites were opponents of the Apostle Paul. They thought he was a heretic. A lot of the New Testament had to do with the Apostle Paul and his writings. Those would have been excluded from the get-go. They would have kept what is now our Gospel of Matthew but maybe not any of the other Gospels. And it would mean that Christians would have to be Jewish, which means uncircumcised men would have to get circumcised and people would be keeping kosher food laws and would be keeping the Sabbath, worshiping on Saturday, keeping Jewish festivals. So Christianity would have been more recognizably a sect of Judaism.
What do you think would have happened if the Gnostics had been the dominant?
It's a little hard to know with the Gnostics, because there were so many different kinds of Gnostics competing among themselves, as well as competing against the Christians who ended up winning out over the others. Gnosticism is a religion based on insider knowledge, and it's hard to know whether that can ever become a mass religion or not, since it presupposes that you've got a large group of people who don't understand, and only a few of the insiders who do understand. If Gnostics had become dominant, Christianity would have been quite different from what it is now.