The Ebionite School (Ancient)
By the time the Ebionites arose about 70 CE after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (along with the chaos and upheaval that ensued), various beliefs and issues were coming to the fore that required Followers to take a stand.
For example, it wasn’t until the time of the gospels of Matthew and Luke (70 – 75 CE) that the matter of the virgin birth became an issue. Earlier sects made no statement against such a belief, because Paul’s Christians did not teach the doctrine before that.
Ebionites did not just spring up out of nowhere. A clue to their provenance may be the contemporaneous rise of the Nazarenes (Jews whose beliefs were totally mainstream Christian). Before his banishment to Rome, the Pauline teachings of the Apostle Peter had influenced various communities in Judea and Samaria. The loss of central authority that occurred after the destruction of the Temple, permitted these particular communities to turn wholeheartedly to Pauline beliefs and teachings, accepting the virgin birth, the atonement of Jesus’ death, and eventually the doctrine of the Trinity.
There was more than likely to have been a reaction to what they saw as this betrayal of the Israelite religion, and the oneness of YHWH. Certain Followers would have wanted to remain true to the movement’s original teachings. So the Emissarian movement split after the destruction of Jerusalem; one group remained true to the ideals of the Way, and became known as “Ebionites”, and those that took on fully Christian beliefs became known as “Nazarenes”.
The origins of the name Ebionite is obscure. In Hebrew, evyon means “poor”. In Aramaic, one of the words for “poor” is `enwana. However, this can also mean “humble”, and probably clears up some confusion in one of the lines of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the humble in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (in Aramaic: tobeyhon `enwanin b’ruha, arey dilhon malkuteyh d’elaha). So the Ebionites’ name may have been taken from the belief that the humble in spirit (not “poor” in spirit) would enter the kingdom of God.
The Ebionites had their own version of the gospel. From what Christian Church Fathers say in their polemics against Ebionites, it seems to have been the Gospel of Matthew (more or less), with the birth narratives removed, along with certain other amendments.
The question arises, why bother to have a version of the gospel, when you already have the Q-document (the scroll of the sayings of Yeshua`, from which Matthew and Luke took the sayings of Yeshua`)? Why the need to plagiarise a Christian document?
The only answer can be that somehow, in all the turmoil of the Jewish/Roman War, all copies of this Q-document were lost, and Ebionites had no alternative, but to cannibalise a Christian document. What other tool or weapon did they otherwise have of defending their beliefs? What other concrete way could they counter what was now being said and written about their prophet?
Ebionites continued in significant numbers right until the 4th century CE, and dwindled thereafter until the 10th century, when they finally disappeared.