The Ways of the Way
by Raymond Robert Fischer

"The Ways of the Way" written by Raymond Robert Fischer is a book about restoring the Jewish Roots of the Modern Church. Raymond Robert Fischer, a born-again Jew and Bible scholar, takes you on a journey back to the days of the Nazarene Jewish movement, know as The Way. But this is no bland biblical history lesson. You will learn:

  • Why restoring the original theology, doctrine, worship practices, and structure of the early church will also restore the body of Christ to its former glory.

  • What new archeological discoveries in Israel and ancient manuscripts stored in the Smithsonian are telling us about the roots of the faith and the Bible - and why shcolars don't want you to know about it.

  • How you can start or participate in a vital home church that follows the model set forth by the early Christians, who were taught by Jesus Himself.

Whether you are praying for a radical revival or simply seeking a change from the status quo of "church as usual," read this fascinating account of the early Jewish-Christian fathers and get ready for the outpouring of the Spirit!

355 pages $17.50 plus $3.99 S&H

RRF Tiberias, Israel


Among my myriad awesome blessings as a Jewish citizen of Israel

and longtime resident of the Galilee, I have often sat on each of a few

small boulders at the apex of a natural amphitheater on Mount Ermos

(“Mount of Beatitudes”) and prayerfully pondered the words spoken there by

Yeshua, Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe. With His holy hand He

carved out this perfectly acoustical place as the locale for what, arguably, was

His most important publicly delivered message.

A mostly Jewish audience of many thousands heard Him speak that day.

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law [Torah, instructions] or

the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say

to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no

means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one

of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called

least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he

shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that

unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and

Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

—Matthew 5:17–20

Some three and one-half years after He spoke these words, many who had

heard Him speak that day followed His twelve disciples and the one hundred

and twenty of their inner circle to the Upper Room on Mount Zion. There

they formed a mighty, all-Nazarene Jewish movement called “The Way” (Acts

24:14). In the pages that follow, the terms The Way, the Nazarenes, and the

Nazarenes of the Way are used interchangeably.

It was there in the heart of Jerusalem that they, guided by the Holy Spirit,

carefully reviewed and wrote down many of the things they had seen and

heard while they had walked closely by the side of their now risen Lord.

Much of what they heard Yeshua speak was not entirely new to them.

They already cherished and embraced the underlying substance of His mighty

teachings in the pages of their Holy Scriptures, which they had treasured and

studied all of their lives, for they—like He—were deeply committed, Torah observant


Moreover, all of these first members of this “mother congregation” had first

been Essenes, deeply religious members of the ascetic sect who brought with

them much of the theology, doctrine, worship practice, and tradition they had

memorialized in their sacred scrolls and then hidden away in caves near their

home center at Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

And so it was that this Essenic treasure of wisdom, knowledge, and truth

quickly became the very foundation and substance of the belief system of the

Nazarenes of The Way. The Essenes had long anticipated the coming of the

Messiah, the very Son of God and God Himself who, through the blood of

His own willing self-sacrifice, would atone for the sins of the world. When He

appeared among them, these who were to become the founding members of

The Way recognized and embraced Him. Thus, after He had ascended into

heaven before their very eyes, they dedicated themselves to sharing the great

wonders they had seen, heard, and received from Him, first with their fellow

Jews and then with the nations.

Toward this end, guided by the Holy Spirit, they wrote down many volumes

of their recollections. Four such volumes were later canonized as Gospels by

the Christian Church to which their witness had given birth.

This inner circle also wrote many letters (twenty-one of which were also

later canonized), some addressed to those believing Jews who had already

dispersed from Mount Zion, others to Gentile congregations who were newly

established in the just-emerging church and were in need of instruction.

Although the apostle Paul was never fully accepted by the Essene-rooted

inner circle and for the most part remained aloof from them, he, who had only

recently before been Sha’ul of Tarsus, a militant Pharisee bitterly opposing

them, was the greatest letter writer of them all. The theology, doctrine, and

other guidance Paul included in the fourteen of these twenty-one canonized

letters he wrote gave rise to the later, now-legendary quip that he was the very

“creator of Christianity.”

No matter their differences, the God who had chosen and called them to

this inner circle remained with them. He guided them through all manner of

persecution and other adversity. He shielded them from the constant barrage

of fiery darts hurled at them by Satan and his legion of demons, who were

steadfastly determined to prevent the Nazarenes of The Way from accomplishing

their divine purpose. And, by His almighty hand they succeeded in

two very great ways.

First, after they had blended together the very essence of the Torah as it

was fulfilled in the purpose, life, and teachings of Yeshua, they brought this

salvational message to their fellow Jews. Many listened and were saved.

Then, as they had been divinely called, they obediently took this same

gospel of salvation to the nations, where it was to become the orthodox foundation

from which all subsequent expressions of Christianity arose.

Truly, their God was with them through the entire four centuries of their

existence until at last, overcome by relentless persecution from their fellow

Jews, the successive Roman governments who ruled over them, and the church

to which they had given birth, they finally succumbed and vanished from the

pages of history. And so it was that the bright and orthodox spiritual torch of

the Nazarenes of The Way passed unwittingly to the church fathers—those

who had helped to quicken their demise and thus inherited God’s sacred call

to increase, disciple, and protect what by then, toward the end of the fifth

century, had become an almost exclusively Gentile-populated movement.

I genuinely love the Christian church. Without it, not I nor any other Jew

or Gentile would have come to know Yeshua and receive eternal life through

Him. But so much more than this, the church gave me my spiritual education,

my love of the Word, the very meaning and purpose for my life, and my zest

to live it. The church showed me how to find and how to express the indescribably

wonderful joy of my salvation, brought forth and poured out from the

Holy Spirit, who dwells within me.

It is because of this deep appreciation and love I have for the church that it is

decidedly not my purpose here to point a finger of derision or blame for the sad

state of the body of Christ as it exists in the world of today. My deeply committed

central purpose is not to bash, condemn, or destroy but rather to restore!

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life seeks to promote a deeper

understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. The

Forum pursues its mission by conducting surveys and delivering timely, impartial

information in four key areas of research, including religion.

Most recently, in June 2008, the Pew Forum reported their findings from

a “Survey of the United States Religious Landscape.” These findings, based on

interviews with more than thirty-five thousand American adults, detail the

religious makeup, beliefs, and practices of the American public.1

I pray that the following summary of the most genuinely shocking results

(adapted by the author from the report) will be the basis for a rallying cry

from all believers, Jewish and Gentiles alike, for the restoration of the body of

Yeshua, the church.

Members in Agreement with the Position Statement: “Many

religions (other than Christianity) can lead to eternal life.”

Mainline churches: 83%

Evangelical churches: 57%

Catholics: 79%

Jews: 82%

Members in Agreement with the Position Statement: “Scripture

(the Bible) is the Word of God, literally true, word for word.”

Mainline churches: 22%

Evangelical churches: 59%

Catholics: 23%

Jews (traditional): 10%

Members Reporting Their “Frequency of prayer: daily”

Mainline churches: 53%

Evangelical churches: 78%

Catholics: 58%

Jews (traditional): 26%

Members Reporting They “Attend religious service once or

more each week”

Mainline churches: 34%

Evangelical churches: 58%

Catholics: 42%

Jews (traditional): 16%

These responses from the contemporary church beg the question: How

would members of The Way have reacted to this same survey from Mount

Zion during the mid-first century? They were with Yeshua when they heard

him clearly say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the

Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Can we believe that 83 percent of the members of today’s mainline churches

and 57 percent of evangelicals do not believe Him? Do they think He was

lying? God is incapable of lying (Num. 23:19).

The apostle John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word

was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Yeshua is at once the

“living Word” and God incarnate. Thus, it follows that the written Word as it

was originally given by God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, must also

be perfect and without error.

The Didache, an early Nazarene text, instructed the early church to pray

the Lord’s Prayer three times each day. Paul instructed us all to “pray without

ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Again, I find it almost inconceivable that only 53

percent of mainline Christians and 78 percent of evangelicals pray daily.

Members of The Way met each day in their homes and every Motzei Shabbat

(Saturday evening) as a congregation. How can it be that only 34 percent of

modern day mainline church members and 58 percent of evangelicals attend

services once each week?

In the face of this devastating report on the condition of the modern day

church, consider this also: during the forty years between 1967 and 2007, some

19.2 million members (25 percent) of the top five mainline church denominations

left the rolls of their respective churches.2

Again, it isn’t my purpose or within the scope of this writing to assess blame

for this terribly sad, self-destroyed state of the church, the body of Christ. I

leave it to the many others who have expressed and continue to express their

outrage over a great number and variety of contributing factors.

May I suggest that the way out of the horrendous pit of steeply declining

social, cultural, and religious values lies within the Church, not in its bashing?

I believe that restoring much of the original theology, doctrine, worship practices,

and structure that was its first-century foundation will go a long way

toward lifting the church, the bride of Christ, back up to her former glory.

The journey toward this restoration may not be as long or as arduous as many

at first think. The fact is, this restoration has already been under way for a

number of years, ever since the mid-1960s, when the great numbers of those

who began leaving their mainline church homes began to look for different

places of worship.

I believe this quest for new church homes was among the principal causes

that gave birth to two movements, both of which emerged in the mid-1960s:

the Return to the Jewish Roots of the Church movement, or simply, the Jewish

Roots movement; and a parallel movement to create home congregations, also

known as home groups and/or home cells, depending upon their organizational

structure and setting.

The Jewish Roots movement is populated by a growing number of Christians

who have already left their mainline churches and are actively seeking

to worship in a setting that would restore the original Jewishness of Christianity.

They work toward this restoration, among other ways, by studying

the Bible in its Jewish context, observing the Torah to the extent they are

able, keeping Shabbat rather than Sunday as the Sabbath, and celebrating the

biblical festivals.

Sadly, however, the Jewish Roots movement has often been perverted by

those Christians who have, in their zeal for Judaism and everything Jewish,

crossed over into Rabbinical Judaism by embracing the mistaken understanding

that Yeshua is not the divine Son of God and God Himself but

rather simply a totally human messiah.3

This church-wide Jewish Roots movement has continued to grow with an

almost feverish intensity in this opening decade of the new millennium. In

turn, it seems evident that this movement has been and remains the prime

mover of a parallel phenomenal growth across the entire wide spectrum of

Messianic Jewish congregations.

The fact that this growth of contemporary Messianic Judaism has been

almost exclusively generated by new Gentile participation gives rise to two

concerns regarding the appropriateness of the Messianic Jewish movement as

a spiritual sanctuary for those who continue to flock to its rapidly expanding

and ever-multiplying congregations. The first of these concerns is that the

Messianic Jewish congregations in the United States are in fact a microcosm

of the greatly fragmented denominational Christian church that gave them

birth. At one extreme of this highly diverse Messianic Jewish body are those

congregations whose entirely Jewish membership accept Yeshua as the Messiah

while denying His divinity and/or rejecting many New Testament writings,

especially those of Paul, as they look beyond the Bible to give precedence

and greater authority to the Talmud and other rabbinical writings. At the

other end of this spectrum are, in the extreme case, those entirely Gentile led

and populated congregations that pay only lip service to the theological and

doctrinal Jewish roots of their faith as they flatly reject Jewish tradition and

worship practice.

Between these two extremes are the majority of Messianic congregations,

each of which embraces its own unique mix of theological, doctrinal, and

other related traditions, understandings, and worship practices.

The first problem I see here is this: those who are seriously looking within

Messianic Judaism for new, more “orthodox” spiritual homes may indeed find

their quest long and difficult.

The second concern that I have is this very Gentile preponderance itself.

One need only look to the history of the early planted church at Antioch,

which was at first a mixed Jewish and Gentile congregation but very soon

became a predominantly Gentile Christian church. Like the rest of the early

Gentile Church, which was soon to overtake its Jewish parent in both size and

influence, the elimination of any and all things Jewish became an early focus

soon after their membership had become predominately Gentile.4

I hasten to add that I am not by any means discouraging Gentile participation

in Messianic Judaism. I closely adhere to and embrace the “one new

man” understanding set forth by the apostle Paul (Eph. 2:15), wherein there

is absolutely no spiritual distinction to be made between Jewish and Gentile

born-again believers. I am only suggesting that I find it important in congregational

settings that such born-again believers be like-minded in expressing

their Jewish roots, understandings, and practices.

No matter the depth and breadth of their frustrations, those dear ones who

are or who eventually will be searching for new places to worship continue to

do so with a passion that has led them, in recent years, to an entirely new and

seemingly much more satisfying alternative—the Home Congregation movement,

which caught hold in earnest in the United States beginning in the early

1990s. Time magazine reports:

Since the 1990s, the ascendant mode of conservative American faith has

been the megachurch. It gathers thousands, or even tens of thousands,

for entertaining if sometimes undemanding services amid family-friendly

amenities. It is made possible by hundreds of smaller “cell groups” that

meet off-nights and provide a humanly scaled framework for scriptural

exploration, spiritual mentoring and emotional support. Now, however,

some experts look at groups spreading in parts of Colorado, Southern

California, Texas and probably elsewhere—and muse, What if the cell

groups decided to lose the mother church?

In the 2005 book Revolution, George Barna, Evangelicalism’s bestknown

and perhaps most enthusiastic pollster, named simple church as one

of several “mini-movements” vacuuming up “millions of believers [who]

have stopped going to [standard] church.” In two decades, he wrote, “only

about one-third of the population” will rely on conventional congregations.

Not everyone buys Barna’s numbers—previous estimates set house

churchers at a minuscule 50,000—but some serious players are intrigued.5

The widely acknowledged founder and most influential leader of this worldwide

Home Congregation movement is the Reverend Dr. David Yonggi Cho,

senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church, reputedly the largest church in the

world, located in Seoul, Korea. The congregation numbered over 750,000 in

1997, with more than 50,000 “home cells,” as Dr. Cho calls them.

In 1967, when Dr. Cho introduced the cell system, it consisted of 7,750 individuals

of 2,267 families organized into 125 cells. By 1973, in just six years,

the congregation had increased fivefold to more than 10,000. Only twelve

years later, by 1997, the congregation had again exploded with a phenomenal

growth of 750 percent to its membership then of 750,000.6 Reportedly, ten

years later, the congregation had continued to grow to its current 850,000.7

Dr. Cho directly attributes this incredible growth of his church to the structure

and operation of his home cell system.8

There is no way of knowing the total number of Jewish and Gentile

believers in both Israel and the United States who have, for whatever reasons,

already begun to establish home congregations or join those that are already


This phenomenon should by no means be surprising to any Bible-reading

believer. One need only turn to Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts to see that

the very first Jewish believers met daily in homes where they centered each

meeting on the Lord’s Supper, teaching, prayer, and fellowship. Certainly,

these daily home congregation meetings were, in a way, supplementary to the

gathering of the entire congregation, which took place on the first day of the

week, immediately after sundown on Shabbat (Saturday evening) for what is

known today as a Motzei (after) Shabbat service. The purpose of these services

was to say farewell to the just-ended week and to properly “christen” the new

(Acts 20:7–8).

Again, my first purpose in this writing is to encourage the church to return to

the model established for it by The Way on Mount Zion.

Toward this end I have provided what I trust is a sufficiently comprehensive,

thoroughly documented, multi-faceted examination of the history, writings,

theology, doctrine, and worship practices of these first Jewish believers in

Yeshua (Jesus) as they coalesced in The Way’s expression and fulfillment of

traditional Judaism between the years a.d. 30 and 135—during the time they

remained on Mount Zion as an orthodox Nazarene Jewish entity.

Let me explain that I have chosen this just over one-century period as my

principal focus because it was mainly after a.d. 135, when The Way was widely

dispersed, that their orthodoxy fell under the concerted exposure to pagan influences

from all sides. Some of these heterodox and, even worse, pagan influences

were taken on by various schismatic groups that broke away from the orthodox

Nazarene mainstream and subsequently found expression in their respective

belief systems.

Even so, I believe there is much value in examining the historical progression

and other aspects of the Nazarenes’ post-Mount Zion development as

they continued to survive throughout the Diaspora until, under unrelenting

persecution, they finally vanished from history toward the end of the fifth

century. I have thus done my best to point out any references to such unorthodox

sources in this writing as provided for general information rather than as

the basis for modern day adaptation.

My second purpose, which in reality is an actualization of the first, is to use

these revealed orthodox ways of The Way to offer guidance to those believers

who, in seeking new church homes, have determined to create or join small

gatherings (home congregations) on The Way’s first-century model.

Thus, the goal I have set for this writing is to provide a straight and clear

pathway for those who, longing for the biblical and historical authenticity of

their understandings and worship practices, are seeking to take the journey

back to the first-century upper room on Mount Zion.

What a mighty precedent they would set if only these many millions of

believers who have already left their mainline churches were to establish or

join such home congregations, organized and operated on the first century

model of The Way!

What an enormous potential impact they could have upon the worldwide

church, which so far has been seemingly silent and perhaps either unwilling

and/or unable to rise to the challenges foisted upon us all by Satan and his

legion of demons, who are running roughshod over the body of Yeshua, the

holy church we once took for granted as righteous, true, and good. The Lord

God of Israel is filled with loving kindness, grace, mercy, and patience. We are

promised, according to His Word, that His love will endure forever, but dare

we be so certain about the limits of His patience?

Yeshua wept at a moment of His greatest sorrow (John 11:35). Surely, He

is weeping once again as He beholds His body, the church, as a great multitude

of Christians continue to flee from their mainline congregations while

earnestly seeking new, more orthodox spiritual homes where they might at last

worship the one true God in spirit and in truth. It is my heartfelt prayer that

this book, at least in some small way, might facilitate the accomplishment of

their quest.

A Brief Overview of The Way

From Its Inception on Mount Zion, Circa a.d. 30,

to Its Disappearance in Syria During the

Closing Decades of the Fifth Century

How very clearly one can see the mighty hand of God upon the Nazarenes, who

were first called The Way—the relatively small minority of Jews who were the

first born-again believers in Yeshua. Even while they endured relentless persecution

from all sides as they frequently moved about the land of their inheritance

in an attempt to escape their pursuers, miraculously, they survived for more

than four centuries.

But, far more than this, even while they survived under the most difficult

imaginable circumstances, The Way and those Nazarenes who came after

them who remained orthodox in their understandings created a vast body of

theology, doctrine, and worship practice that, when molded together, became

the rock-solid, forever enduring foundation upon which all subsequent expressions

of Christianity have come forth.

This four-century era of the Nazarenes of The Way was a fascinating, tumultuous,

and, arguably the most vitally important period in Judeo-Christian

history. In the beginning, during the early spring of the year a.d. 30, before

He ascended into heaven, Yeshua appeared to James, His brother in the flesh,

and He appointed him as first shepherd of His earthly flock.9

I suggest that our Lord may have been pleased as He beheld His entirely

Jewish body, the nascent church, during the first three decades of its existence.

His newly appointed apostles, James, Peter, and John, and others of the

original one hundred and twenty, just as He had commissioned them, were

reaping a mighty harvest of souls as they preached His gospel on Mount Zion,

from Solomon’s court, in the synagogues of the Pharisees (Acts 9:20), and

elsewhere throughout the holy city of Jerusalem and environs.

And, thus, the Lamb of God was glorified as many thousands, at first all

Jews, responded to embrace Him as their Messiah with all of their hearts,

minds, and strength—even three thousand in one day alone (Acts 2:41, 47).

These formative years were challenging, fulfilling, and glorious for those

who were called The Way, the Jewish “mother congregation” that was at first

held forth from the Upper Room, now called the Cenacle on Mount Zion

(Acts 1:12–14). Led by the Holy Spirit, the patriarchs of The Way established

for themselves an ecclesiastical structure which, like most aspects of

their new movement, was based upon the model of their Essene brothers

at Qumran.10 According to Bellarmino Bagatti, a contemporary Catholic

biblical historian who has written extensively on the early church, from the

very beginning the Nazarenes diligently recalled and wrote down the words,

sayings, and teachings of their beloved Yeshua, which they had heard Him

utter with their own ears during the more than three blessed years He had

dwelled among them.11 These writings were assembled to create four latercanonized

gospels and many other writings, some canonical and others we

now call apocryphal.

Moreover, according to Emmanuel Testa, another contemporary Catholic

biblical scholar and authority on the early church, based largely upon their respective

Essene models, these first Jewish believers of The Way established an elaborate

ritual to initiate new believers into their fellowship that included renunciation of

Satan, a profession of faith, a three-immersion water baptism, celebration of the

Lord’s Supper, and, in conclusion, a festive community meal.12

Drawn together into the intimacy of a mishpakha (family) by their shared

adoration of Yeshua, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine

and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came

upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles”

(Acts 2:42–43). They celebrated their Lord in this manner when they

gathered together for a Motzei Shabbat congregational service immediately

after nightfall each Sabbath (Saturday) evening. This was, according to their

calendar, the beginning of the first day of the new week. Each time they

came together, they worshiped the Lord in adoration and praise as they sang

together the new, Spirit-filled praise songs of their own composition, known

today as the Odes of Solomon, and also the Hodayoth (Hymns of Thanksgiving),

which had been handed down to them from an earlier generation

of Essenes.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They

broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord

added to their number daily those who were being saved.

—Acts 2:46–47

Indeed, during these, their opening decades, The Way, Yeshua’s nascent

body in Zion, flourished in a Camelot-like setting from which it reflected

the very essence of love, joy, peace, and the other fruits of the Holy Spirit.

And from this, its anointed and sanctified initiation, the twelve apostles,

led by James and Peter, molded the foundation of a theological, doctrinal,

organizational, and worship system that would very soon dramatically unfold

in its next iteration, leading to the eventual worldwide church. However, not

unlike the Camelot of one who was only a mythical king, the halcyon days

of the Jewish mother congregation in Jerusalem were not to long endure.

The seeds of what was to become the meteoric growth of the body of Yeshua

were seemingly sown with the martyrdom of Stephen, circa a.d. 35. In the

wake of this persecution-driven tragedy and in fear of what similar fate might

befall them, many members of The Way widely dispersed from Jerusalem in

the first of three exoduses from the mother congregation that would together

form a second great Diaspora.13

Certainly, this early dispersal of The Way from Zion was not happenstance,

but rather an integral part of Yeshua’s holy plan to develop His earthly

body, the Church. Wherever they went, these newly uprooted Jewish believers

planted the holy seed of the gospel in newly plowed and fertile soil. That seed

would quickly germinate and spring forth as the means for another, much

greater harvest—the equally called, anointed, and saved but culturally and

traditionally very different Gentile Christian Church.

As I suggested in an earlier writing, The Door Where It Began, the first

organized expression of Gentile Christianity likely occurred soon after Yeshua’s

second feeding of the multitude at Tel Hadar, on the eastern shore of the

Sea of Galilee circa a.d. 32, some fourteen years before Paul took his first

mission outreach journey (Matt. 15:29–39).14

There is compelling archaeological and scriptural evidence suggesting that

the first Messianic-Gentile synagogue was established at Hippos/Sussita in

nearby Bashan, today’s Golan Heights, and that this movement, by direction

of Yeshua Himself (Mark 5:19–20), quickly spread throughout the entire tencity

region of the Decapolis, then moved eastward to form what today remains

as the various eastern churches. It seems quite remarkable that Gentile Christianity

most likely actually began some three centuries before Constantine

extended his church to Constantinople, the traditionally understood seat of

eastern orthodoxy.

Antioch, in northern Syria, as the first main center of Gentile Christianity,

was the most notable of these many Jewish-planted Gentile-Christian

churches. This church at Antioch was the genesis of a new, predominately

Gentile Christian, western church movement. The missionary focus of the

apostle Paul and Barnabas, which began with Paul’s first mission outreach

journey (a.d. 46–48), and their first visit in a.d. 49 to Antioch’s still mostly

Jewish body underscored this destiny. Following this first visit by Paul and

Barnabas, Antioch, rather than Jerusalem, became the home base for Paul’s

subsequent mission outreach.15

In parallel with the further development of Gentile Christianity at Antioch

and elsewhere, there was a steady migration of believing Jews from Zion. This

migration began following Stephen’s martyrdom circa a.d. 35 and continued

through the second Jewish rebellion against Rome (a.d. 132–135), most

notably with end locations spread throughout the Galilee and what is now

modern day Syria and Jordan.16 Moreover, the center of what was to remain

the predominately Jewish part of the body soon shifted from Jerusalem to “the

region of Damascus.”17 This so-called, often cited “region of Damascus” is a

very real, historically important though loosely defined area that occupied a

considerable part of what is now southwestern Syria.

In his treatment of the Damascus Document (CD-A), J. T. Milik, one of

the very first and best-known Dead Sea Scrolls scholars, suggests that a large

number of the Essenes of Qumran, under the pressure of a great influx of new

members to the sect, left Qumran and resettled in this “region of Damascus,”

where they established a particularly ascetic community with a strong focus on

family life, the Sabbath rest, and ritual purity. Milik then goes on to compare

the Essenes to the early Jewish believers, pointing to close organizational parallels

and other similarities between the two groups.18

Thus, if, as Milik suggests, the Essenes already had a well-established base

in “the region of Damascus,” most likely even before the first dispersal of The

Way from Jerusalem in a.d. 35, this already established Essene community

would have been a natural location to which the like-minded refugees from

Mount Zion would have been attracted. The martyrdom of James the Just

in a.d. 6219 was another major turning point in the movement of The Way’s

center from Jerusalem to this “region of Damascus.”

With respect to what happened to the leadership of The Way following

the death of James in a.d. 62, Eusebius (and most modern day scholarship)

is rightfully skeptical about the accuracy of the list of fourteen ethnic Jewish

successors as “bishops” of the mother church in Jerusalem. Eusebius references

this list from the earlier, no longer surviving writings of Hegesippus.

According to Hegesippus, the last of the fifteen Jewish bishops, Judas, was

martyred before a.d. 66, which coincides with the beginning of Emperor

Hadrian’s relentless siege of Jerusalem. If Hegesippus’s list, as it is reported

by Eusebius, is indeed accurate—which is highly unlikely—this would mean

that, following James’s untimely death, there was only a four- to five-year total

Jewish leadership of the Jerusalem church, making for an average reign of

less than five months for each of James’s successors.20 It seems much more

likely that circa a.d. 70, due to continuing persecution and other factors, most

Nazarenes of The Way had already relocated from Jerusalem, many of them to

the Galilee (including Tiberias) and Syria.

This conclusion is reinforced by Eusebius’s further challenge of Hegesippus

by pointing to his own, separate account that The Way had been supernaturally

warned of the impending Jewish revolt and destruction of the temple and

thus fled to the safe haven of Pella, a city of the Decapolis, with only a few of

the inner circle remaining in Jerusalem.21

There is no reliable record concerning the total membership of The Way

at the close of the first century. Estimates range widely from as few as three

hundred thousand to as many as one million. What can be said with reasonable

certainty is that the Nazarenes of The Way, who by that time had relocated

mostly to “the region of Damascus” and the Galilee, continued to grow in

both size and influence as a major believing Jewish sect.

Moreover, the considerable development of this sect of Jewish believers took

place both in parallel with and in considerable opposition to the sect of the

Pharisees, which, beginning in a.d. 70 with the destruction of the temple, was

quickly emerging as the precursor of modern day Rabbinical Judaism.

The second Jewish revolt against Rome (a.d. 132–135) was a clear benchmark

for the beginning of what was soon to become The Way’s precipitous

decline. Rabbi Akiva, the major voice of the Pharisees and the instigator of

the rebellion, called upon the Nazarenes of The Way to join his already formidable

military forces under the leadership of one Bar Kochba (“Son of the

Star”) whom Akiva had personally chosen and anointed as the “true” Messiah

of Israel. The Way was certainly no friend of Rome, given that its members

were already suffering considerable persecution under their imperial rule and

thus may have otherwise ceded to Akiva’s call for military alliance against a

common enemy. However, Akiva’s ill-advised caveat that The Way must first

renounce Yeshua as their Messiah in favor of Bar Kochba was an obvious nonstarter.

Thus, there continued a now greatly intensified threefold opposition,

which ultimately led to The Way’s demise.

The pharisaic Rabbis, who had, circa a.d. 90, already begun to curse both

Yeshua and His followers in their synagogues three times daily,22 now made

both The Way and its Messiah the written focus of their most vile curses,

scorn, and ridicule in the pages of the forthcoming Oral Torah already being

redacted and finally completed circa a.d. 220 as the Mishna. These self-same

curses and expansive negative commentary directed at the Nazarenes of The

Way, whom the rabbis called minim (outsiders within the Jewish community),

have to this day carried over into the most recent versions of the Talmud,

a tediously detailed, fifteen-thousand-page, thirty-five-volume collection of

rabbinical writings.23

This rabbinical persecution of these Nazarenes seems child’s play alongside

the greatly more intense and persistent opposition of all Jews by the

Romans. For example, Emperor Hadrian (a.d. 117–138) forbade them and

all other Jews from ever again even approaching their beloved Jerusalem.24

Later, when they assembled to rebuild their holy city, Emperor Constantine

(a.d. 306–337) prevented them from doing so, commanded that their ears

be cut off, and otherwise subjected them to physical abuse before widely

dispersing them.25

The Romans’ destruction of the temple was equally devastating to both

traditional Jews and the Nazarenes of The Way. The rebuilding of the temple

in Jerusalem is the central expectation and hope of traditional Judaism. When

this occurs, they hold that God’s physical presence will be returned to the holy

of holies and they will once again be able to sacrifice to Him as they did while

the earlier temples stood.

Please remember that the Nazarenes of The Way were fully Torah-observant

Jews, as was their Messiah, Yeshua, who regularly taught and performed miracles

in its courts. While the temple stood, the Nazarenes of The Way met there

each day (Acts 2:46). They were there on the wondrous occasion of Pentecost,

which gave them cause to frequently return to this place where there was

continuous celebratory singing and dancing.26

Like the Nazarenes of The Way, contemporary believing Jews with very

good reason long for the reconstruction of the temple. Scripture teaches that

Yeshua will rebuild the temple after His second coming.

Then speak to him, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘Behold,

the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch

out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the

temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His

throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace

shall be between them both.’”

—Zechariah 6:12–13

The Bible uses the name the Branch to identify the King Messiah. Hence,

the Branch is a term used to signify Yeshua the Messiah, who is a direct

descendant of King David. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all

refer to King Messiah as the Branch. It is the Branch of David, King Messiah,

Yeshua who will build the magnificent temple of Ezekiel 40–48, from which

He shall rule the nations.27

Quite understandably, the Nazarenes of The Way longed for the rebuilding

of the temple for a number of reasons, principal among them being that the

second coming of Yeshua was prerequisite to this awesome event.

Among other anti-Semitic acts of the Romans that impacted all Jews during

these tumultuous times were:

Hadrian’s construction in a.d. 197 of a temple to the pagan

god Jupiter on the very ruins of the Jewish temple. In its

atrium, Hadrian had placed a giant statue of himself, benefactor

and ruler of the world. The sum of all this was the

abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel 11:31 and in

the three synoptic Gospels.

Hadrian’s ban on circumcision (which applied to Egyptians

and Arabs as well as Jews). As the most hellenized of all

Roman emperors, Hadrian regarded circumcision as nothing

less than mutilation. Even so, the Jews rightfully regarded

this ban as a deliberate attack on their ability to keep the

Abrahamic covenant, which stood as one of the principal foundations

of their belief system.

As if this twofold opposition from their fellow Jews and the

Romans were not enough, like newly hatched salmon fry, who

gain their early life’s sustenance absorbing nutrients from the

flesh of their dead or near-dead parents, the Gentile Christian

church, almost from its very beginning, turned against its

Jewish mother, the Nazarenes of The Way, by making every

possible effort to marginalize and eventually pound them out

of existence.

In the face of this unremitting opposition, they began to fade into the

shadow of the Gentile Christian Church. Some scholars cite the end of this

terminal process as early as a.d. 70 in the wake of the first rebellion against

Rome. Others hold that these Nazarenes of The Way persisted as a viable

entity until well after the second rebellion, which ended in a.d. 135. Archaeological

evidence, however, disputes the argument that Nazarene Judaism died

out quickly after either a.d. 70 or 135. According to Ignazio Mancini and

other respected sources, there is evidence of the active presence of the Nazarenes of The Way, especially in the hill county of southwestern Syria and what

today is the Kingdom of Jordan, through the fourth century, followed by a

continuing decline for another century or perhaps even two.28

It is clear that in the beginning and for some time into the future, these

persistent Nazarenes of The Way remained the dominant expression of the

organized body of Yeshua in the Israel. The archaeological data opens the

question of how long it remained so. Some have suggested that it was the

dominant organized expression of the faith in the Israel of that day until the

time of Constantine (a.d. 306–337) and the arrival of Byzantine Christians.

Since many of their sites stand in close proximity to Gentile Christian sites,

the archaeological evidence appears to document a struggle for dominance

between the native believing Jewish community of the Nazarene’s of The

Way and the incoming pre-Byzantine and early Byzantine authorities. Thus,

Gentile and Nazarene places of worship existed side by side in the same towns

dating from the fourth century. Mancini and others hold that it was not until

the arrival of the Byzantines that The Way was finally outnumbered, divided,

and marginalized, and thus began to slip into heretical sects.29


Copyright 2011 by Raymond Robert Fischer