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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and well written
Jeffrey Butz' new book "The Secret Legacy of Jesus" is a major contribution to the study of the historical Jesus and provides a thorough and scholarly look at a previously under studied area - the history of the Desposyni. As in his previous book, "The Brother of Jesus", Butz manages to deal with extremely complex phenomena yet retain an easy reading style. Such an...
Published on December 30, 2009 by Dr. James Gardner

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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Romp through Speculative History
The Secret Legacy of Jesus: the Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers by Jeffrey Bütz, Rochester, Vermont: InnerTraditions, 2010.

The idea that a suppressed tradition could "be recovered and used to bring about the reconciliation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims throughout the world", is one that immediately sets my ears...
Published on March 15, 2010 by Lawrence Goudge


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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Romp through Speculative History, March 15, 2010
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This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
The Secret Legacy of Jesus: the Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers by Jeffrey Bütz, Rochester, Vermont: InnerTraditions, 2010.

The idea that a suppressed tradition could "be recovered and used to bring about the reconciliation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims throughout the world", is one that immediately sets my ears perking. "The Secret Legacy of Jesus" by Jeffrey Bütz promises just that. Since the church I belong to has long been passionate about bringing about such a rapport, I immediately began promoting it for a book study. Having just finished the book, I agree that some of its insights could aid in bringing about peace between the religions -- if only we could get the ears of the right wing extremists, both Christian and Muslim. That's a big if.
However I found myself gripped from start to finish, partly (at least) because of Jeffrey the author's leaps of faith over rather vast abysses that left me dizzy, but since time, heretic hunters, book-burners, and the destructive mayhem of conquering armies have destroyed the stepping stones, such leaps were the only way to get to his goal. Looking back, it was part of the fun.
That said, there are some big problems with the book, some of which come from the author's uncritical reliance on Hugh Schonfield. On page 252, he states that the Nusairiyeh can be "directly traced back to the earliest Jewish Christians." Bütz quotes Schonfield: "Their existence, as well as their name, remains... a link with the past which should not be ignored." This is sloppy scholarship on Schonfield's part. The name has nothing to do with Nazarenes, as I presume Schonfield implies. It comes from their founder, a Shiite leader named ibn Nusayr, who is worshiped as an incarnation of God on the model of Jesus. The sect was extremely evasive because of persecution; the claim to be Christians and to honor Jesus and Moses was a typical tactic. There is a sentence from his source which Schonfield omits: "we love Ali", a truer statement since Ali was the son-in-law of Mohammed highly honored by this sect: in fact in 1920, they changed their name to Alawites (followers of Ali) to gain respectability and now rule Syria with an iron hand. Their beliefs are a mixture of pagan, gnostic, heretical Shiite and standard Christian elements. In fact, they believe that God has manifested himself in Trinitarian form many times which is anathema to both Jewish Christians and orthodox Muslims.
There are other problems on page 262. He quotes Wakefield on the first Cathars: "... replaced Catholic sacraments with their own rites of... baptism by the imposition of hands." Bütz then goes on to say, "what is fascinating is that this could well be description of the beliefs and practices of the Ebionites. This is simply not true: the Ebionites insisted on baptism in the living water (Didache 7.1a, Clementine Recognitions 3:67) which the Cathars rejected. He then quotes Runciman, on page 265, "the ritual feast of the Cathars... is... exactly the same as the early Christian communion feast." Again, the Cathars rejected wine which is clearly included in the Didache.
Page 300 "... I posit that Freemasonry has preserved in its rituals and teachings the core essence of Nazarene Ebionite theology." I find that this statement stretches credulity. The world has been given over to Satan? [pg. 199] The value of poverty? [pg. 199] The Jewish law is still in force? [pg. 207] I don't think you'll find these values in Freemasonry.
The Ebionite item he misses is a statement by St. Peter who told his listeners in Tripolis that anyone who is "worthy to recognize both [Moses and Jesus] as preaching one doctrine... has been counted rich in God, understanding both the old things as new in time, and the new things as old." (Clementine Homilies 8.7,cf Recognitions 4.5) Here Peter clearly expresses the inclusivity that Bütz attributes to the Freemasons and the Founding Fathers.
This is the crux of my big disappointment in this book. I bought it for its promise of harmony between religions and kept looking for this to be part of the secret teaching passed on by James. Yet it isn't until page 318 that we read: " What is especially telling is that... in the so-called Apostolic Decree... James cites these Noahide Laws as being the only Jewish laws binding on Gentiles who become followers of Jesus." indeed! James established that anyone could be a follower of Jesus who agreed to follow these moral standards. This then is the founding document of inclusivity and yet so little is made of it. On page 95 it is casually discussed but no mention is made of what a foundational decision it is.
That said, I would still recommend it is a fascinating, if speculative, romp through the story of Jewish Christian influence on the modern world.
Reviewed by Lawrence Goudge, author of the Nazarenes: How History Silenced Jesus True Heirs.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and well written, December 30, 2009
This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
Jeffrey Butz' new book "The Secret Legacy of Jesus" is a major contribution to the study of the historical Jesus and provides a thorough and scholarly look at a previously under studied area - the history of the Desposyni. As in his previous book, "The Brother of Jesus", Butz manages to deal with extremely complex phenomena yet retain an easy reading style. Such an accomplishment is made even more challenging by the scarcity of facts surrounding the Desposyni, which makes this book as much a mystery solver as an historical document.

One of the great joys of reading this book is that Butz gives us a sweeping panorama stretching across two millennia demonstrating how the central issues inherent in Jesus' philosophy and ministry were kept alive even while the religion that kidnapped his name sought to obliterate all traces. Butz moves us through the Essenes, Gnostics, Ebionites , Nazoraeans, Elkesaites, Mandaeans, Nestorians, Manichaeians, into Muhammad, Islam, The Knights Templar, and Freemasons, tracing the common threads and demonstrating how "the Way" was kept alive and nourished.

One of the many characteristics of this book that I admire is the reliance on Hugh Schoenfield's work. Schoenfield was a major biblical scholar of the mid 20th century who wrote more than 40 books and is best known for "The Passover Plot" and "The Jesus Party." While these two books took some liberties with the facts to posit an interesting theory, they earned Schoenfield an unfortunate disregard by the traditional scholarly world, yet many of Schoenfield's ideas and insights have held up, and his other works, though less well known, were major contributions to the field. Butz manages to mine this ignored treasure trove.

It is tempting to compare Butz' book with Tabor's "The Jesus Dynasty", which also deals with the Jesus family (Dr. Tabor, by the way, wrote the foreward to Butz' book). While Tabor goes off on theoretical tangants that sometimes stretch the imagination, Butz sticks closely to the facts, and on the occasions where he has to "fill in the blanks", his proposed answers are clearly within the realm of possibility. Tabor's book is certainly more grounded in the archeology and in 1st Century Jewish customs, but Butz gives us a sweeping panorama of the first six centuries of the new millennium that is not paralleled anywhere.

It is equally tempting to compare Butz' new book with his first book, "The Brother of Jesus". In my review of that book I said -

"Jeffrey Butz' book is so good on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Ostensibly it's a book about James the Just, the brother of Jesus. Yet on another level it is a book about the accuracy of the New Testament...As a bonus, Butz takes us into the many rivalries among different sects in the early days of Christianity. Finally, it is a book about rapprochement between Jews and Gentiles, Arabs and Christians."

The same could be said, word for word, for the new book. It too hits us on many levels. It is the story of Jesus and his family, but it is equally the story of the western world.

In closing my review of his first book, I said "Any serious scholar of the New Testament or Jesus or Christianity needs to have this book in his/her library. Beginning students will find value here, as will experienced scholars." And once again, the same is true of this book.

Butz' new book is every bit as interesting, compelling, and scholarly as his first book.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Flawed, February 6, 2010
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S. E. Moore (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
This book is well written and interesting in regard to the development of Jewish Christianity which the author expounded upon in his previous book, "The Brother of Jesus". The rebuilding of the Jerusalem synagogue which housed the upper room by the refugees from Pella and the subsequent preservation of some of its traditions by the Armenian Church was especially interesting. I also found the author identifying the Didache as a primitive Jewish Christian catechism and the Odes of Solomon as an ancient Jewish Christian hymnbook to be something worth looking into.

However, the author tries to uncover an unbroken stream of religious thought from Jesus and James to the Templars and Freemasons by grasping at straws which just aren't there. As a proud third degree Mason, I think I am qualified to make that opinion. In addition, some of his research is flawed and I have to disagree with some of his theories by referring to other scholars.

To say that the church begun by Paul fostered apostasy from the true teachings of Jesus is terribly misleading. Paul was executed by Romans some 260 years before Constantine established the Holy Roman Empire. Paul yearned for the imminent return of Christ and the rule of God no differently than James and the other apostles. He hardly envisioned the Vatican.

The author's premise that the Ebionites were the direct heirs of James and the Jerusalem community is another assumption that has serious flaws. If the Pseudo-Clementine literature reflects their beliefs, they could not have been. Jesus and James had serious conflicts with the Temple establishment but continued to revere the Temple itself as a place of pilgrimage and a house of prayer. The scathing attitude toward the sacrificial system in the Ps-Clem. literature reflects the speech of Stephen in Acts. Marcel Simon (St. Stephen and the Hellenists) made a much better argument that the Ebionites probably were the heirs of the "Hellenist" faction which Saul/Paul helped to drive out of Jerusalem. This would also explain their enmity toward Paul.

The more orthodox group of Jewish Christians which the author labels as "Nazoreans" were probably the true heirs of the Jerusalem community. Ray Pritz made an outstanding argument for that in his classic, "Nazarene Jewish Christianity". Pritz claims that the Ebionites were a second century offshoot of Jewish Christianity.

The author goes off track in trying to associate the Nazarenes with later gnostic groups like the Elkesaites and the Cathars. Gnosticism is far removed from first century Jewish thought regardless of where it originated.

The author is even further off-track when he indicates that Jewish Christianity had an influence on Islam. Ebionites were more than likely converted to Islam by coercion, not by choice. In the Koran, Sura 19 states that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus (not an Ebionite belief). Sura 3 states that Jesus wasn't crucified, only his likeness. I hardly think James would have agreed with that. Muhammad clearly concocted some of his own ideas about Jesus. To say that Islam even remotely preserved Jewish Christian teachings is absurd.

The author is wrong in associating the so-called Nestorian Christians with Arabia. They are in fact the Assyrian Church of the East which were centered in northern Mesopotamia and parts of southeastern Turkey and Persia. It is highly doubtful that Muhammad had any contact with them. They probably originated from Jewish converts and their earliest patriarchs were Jewish Christians. They don't use images in their churches and lack the Mariolatry of Byzantine and Roman churches. However, from attending some of their liturgies, they recite the Nicean Creed and revere the same New Testament that other churches do. They do not combine elements of Ebionite and Elkesaite theology.

The author's statement that "Nestorian beliefs are still found among contemporary Coptic Christians in Egypt" (p. 245), is absolutely bogus. The Coptic Church is ultra-orthodox and there is no connection at all. In fact, Coptic patriarch Cyril condemned the diophysite churches such as the "Nestorians".

I take pride in the Templar origins of my fraternity and the influence Freemasonry had on the founding fathers, particularly the separation of church and state. However, "the Templar's great regard for Muhammad...whose theology, they came to discover, closely matched their own" is ridiculous. While Masons accept Muslims, Jews, and Christians into their ranks, Islamic theocracies are just as abhorent as the Christian theocracies of the past. In fact, Freemasonry is banned in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

We don't have to travel any great distance to find original Jewish Christian teachings which are embedded in the New Testament, particularly the "Q" verses in Matthew and Luke, the epistles of James and Jude, and some primitive liturgical statements in Paul's writings which he clearly could not have made up. I would also consider the Didache and the Odes of Solomon as valuable sources.

The author is oblivious to the real underground stream of dissent from the Vatican. Christians who read the New Testament for themselves and used it to condemn the Papacy were, in fact, the biggest threat to official Christendom and bore the brunt of its wrath. It was the Bible readers like the Spiritual Franciscans, the Waldenses, and the Anabaptists who helped bring an end to Christian theocracy. I'm suprised that the author, living in the midst of the Amish and the Mennonites, would fail to recognize that.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable book that sheds light on Christian origins, August 21, 2010
By 
Kamran Pasha (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
Rev. Jeffrey Butz is fast becoming the leading authority on the forgotten role of James the Just in early Christianity. His first book "The Brother of Jesus" highlighted the ancient Jewish vision of Jesus that was centered around James, the family of Christ, and the disciples in Jerusalem. And "The Secret Legacy of Jesus" boldly asserts the argument that this early vision of Jesus as rabbi and prophet did not vanish with the victory of the Pauline Church, but continued for centuries as an underground movement which influenced many strands of Christianity -- and may have found a lasting home within Islam.

As someone who has long been interested in the role that James and Christ's family members played in the early days of Christianity, I found myself unable to put this book down. The amount of historical research that Rev. Butz gathers together is staggering, but the onslaught of historical data never turns the book into a dry scholarly tome. Rev. Butz is a lively writer who paints a convincing portrait of the Jewish origins of Christianity and the historical reasons that this early Jewish movement, known originally as Nazarenes and then as Ebionites, was eclipsed by the Gentile Church.

But what is most important about Rev. Butz's approach is that he is a sincere man of faith seeking answers to timeless spiritual questions. Rev. Butz's vision of Christ is that of an authentic believer attempting to answer the ultimate question raised in Pilate's conversation with Jesus -- "What is truth?" And the answers he finds shed light on the deep connections that bind Judaism, Christianity and Islam together through the centuries.

It may very well be that James the Just, forgotten by history for 2000 years, will play a new role in the 21st century to bring the children of Abraham together. The figure of Jesus Christ has often been a source of great division and dispute between the three monotheistic faiths. It would be a wondrous irony if his brother James could, as Rev. Butz suggests, show us the way back to unity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like the Phoenix from the Ashes, truth rises., November 22, 2013
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This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
Reading this book, I was underlining, checking the notes, ordering more books or researching them on line. I had been studying The transformation of the Roman State from republic into empire just before occupying Israel and Judah (renamed Syria and Judaea Provinces), the clashing of world views leading to the 3 Jewish wars, the destruction of the temple and ultimately the banning of jews (followers of Jesus -or not) from Jerusalem and renaming it Palestine. The 2nd great Diaspora, the Desposyni and the role they played or what was erased in the quest for religious empire are of great interest. Jeffrey Butz did not let me down, but there's more, and that's for another time.

This was an adventurous read; most appreciated!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening, September 19, 2013
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This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
The whole New Testament makes much more sense after reading this book. I would recommend it highly to Christians and Jews.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the secret legacy of Jesus, October 22, 2012
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Very interesting information about the conflicts in early christianity, specifically between Jewish Christians and gentile Christian. my interest is how relevant are the Christian churches of today to the actual teachings of Jesus.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review, February 27, 2011
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This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
This is one of the best books I have read on the study of the historical Jesus......The author is fair-minded regarding the establishment of Christian beliefs that have trickled down in what is called modern civilization.
At 80 years of age I have become a consummated skeptic but so far I have found little to disagree with in Jeffrey Butz's book.
This a book I would recommend to all who are a search for Jesus may have preached before his works being polluted by the powerful of the Church.
Thank you Mr. Butz for researching such thought provoking book............
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3.0 out of 5 stars A bit to facile, January 14, 2014
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I find the idea interesting, but the scriptural justification is way too facile. I'd like to see a good many more biblical scholars identified and a lot less certainty expressed.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Negative Review, April 22, 2013
This review is from: The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers (Paperback)
I did not read the book in entirety but only about half in a bookstore. I would not buy the book because I was so utterly disappointed. It is a book for popular and poorly educated consumers, a product for those people looking for conspiracy theory quality pulp.

Butz is caught up with Keith Akers in the academy of Church conspiracy theorist, Epiphanius of Salamis, Cyprus (ca. 310-403) regarding Ebionites. It's like writing about the Catholics through the witness Martin Luther, or worse. Epiphanius as a source is more than irresponsible in such a simplistic manner and it flaws every work based on his Panarion, as it has this and the work of Akers making them more the promotion of modern views than historical information. The truth of the matter was better presented by scholars in the early sources of the 1900s than Butz or Akers and others of their ilk. "Ebionism presents itself under two principal types, an earlier and a later, the former usually designated Ebionism proper or Pharisaic Ebionism, the latter, Essene or Gnostic Ebionism. The earlier type is to be traced in the writings of Justin Martyr, lrenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, etc.; the latter in those of Epiphanius especially." (A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature, edited Henry Wace and William Piercy. London: John Murray, 1911.) To sum up Ebionitism of Akers and Butz is a late Gnostic leaning spin off of a slightly Judaic group, perhaps of a Essene origin, a weird amalgam with an Elchasite flavor. This type of group engaged in what they present as normative, notably the vegetarian(Akers is vegetarian), anti-Temple ("a slaughterhouse"), scriptural rejecting critics, authors of various fantastical "gospels" and accounts (Ps. Clementines, etc.)

However, as noted, Ebionites were, as per all the early witnesses and a much later witness (Abd al-Jabbar), simply Yeshuine Jews, while perhaps pre-rabbinic, orthodox in practically every way (which is what I myself began promoting 30 years ago). This view of Ebionitism is not controversial, tied to Christianity, or sexy. It has not caught on with New Age types or most Christians. It does not sell books. [Note the article in A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

To base a book's information on a faulty description of a religious view that allegedly effects the later ideas of the founders of the United States can only detract from it. That Epiphanian view is mostly worthless because the idea of this Yeshuine group based on a belief of a human, non-divine Jesus of Nazareth in itself is supported by Ebionitism in all versions as are utopian social views. Meanwhile, I can't imagine why Epiphanius' vegetarian Temple haters (long after the Temple was gone and animal offerings there a distant memory and theologically meaningless except as invented by Christianity) has any import for "America" and founding fathers. And I do not see how they were especially preserved in American democracy. (I never ran across them as an American History teacher to high school students.) Of course, the biblical criticism hinted at in Epiphanius' "Ebionites" is seen perhaps in the spirit of the example of Thomas Jeffersons' gospel version 'for the Indians.' (The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth) removing miracles, etc. The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

Scholars should quit using the Akers' "ebionite/Epiphanius" book and any that rely on the "Essene Ebionite" as representative (e.g., Schoeps) of Ebionitism.
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