Just who were the Ebionites, that pseudo-mythical sect of Jewish followers of Jesus from the early centuries of Christendom? Norwegian scholar Oskar Skarsaune brings together recent scholarship and sound reasoning to get at a more accurate picture of these Torah-practicing Jesus-believing Jews of infamy. Get Skarsaune’s book here.
We already discussed the fact that a hasty process of labeling led to typical confusion about the origin and identity of the Ebionites. Irenaeus, writing about 180 C.E., lumped all Jewish believers in with a group he encountered that denied the virgin birth, apparently regarding Jesus as man and not the God-man.
To make matters worse, in Irenaeus’s catalogue of heretical groups, each group had a founder whom they were named after. Thus entered into legend a non-existent person named Ebion who must have founded these Ebionites.
Oskar Skarsaune puts to rest any doubt that the Ebionites derived their name from a concept and not from a founder. So what is the origin of this name and what can it tell us about early Jewish believers in Jesus?
The word evyon (plural evyonim) is common in the Hebrew Bible. It denotes poverty or neediness.
Its first occurrence is in Exodus 23:6,