On one of the chat recently a question was asked about The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and The Gospel of Thomas. These documents form part of what we know as The Gnostic Gospels and New Testament Apocrypha – they are not part of the ‘official bible.
So this episode of The Real Twilight Zone is about the Bible, The Nag Hammadi Library and the numerous Christian Sects that have probably influenced and shaped mystical thought more than you might have realised.
BUT FIRST – from Catherine some news..
September 22nd: UFO buffs are advised to watch Coronation Street as a future episode is rumoured to have a saucer-themed plotline. It has been hinted that the characters of Julie Carp and Brian Packham will see something unusual in the sky, later going as far as to dub themselves ’The Mulder and Scully of Weatherfield’.
September 23rd: A rare case of spontaneous combustion has been recorded in Ireland, prompting coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin to state that it was ‘the first time in 25 years of investigating deaths that he had recorded such a verdict.’ Michael Faherty, died at his home in Galway at the age of 76 on 22 December 2010, was found dead with evidence of having been burnt despite the only signs of fire being on his body and on the floor and ceiling directly below and above him. However, other forensic specialists do not feel that this is likely and believe there must’ve been an external source of ignition which could not be determined given the condition of the remains.
September 20th: Central Arkansas Police forces are investigating a rather unusual sort of criminal. A man who has yet to be identified has been approaching women in the area and asking to suck on their toes. Additionally, he approached an elderly woman while she was reclining outside her apartment and forced her toes into his mouth and earning him the nickname ‘toe sucking bandit’.
September 22nd: Wenling Zoo in China has had a mysterious mammal deposited on their doorstep by an anonymous person. Zookeepers have suggested some type of monkey, others a bush baby and there are also thoughts that it might even be a spotted cuscus. “I have consulted animal experts from Hanghou, Shanghai and Wenzhou, but right now no one is able to tell me what this little creature is called, ” states Mr Wang, Manager of the zoo.
September 25th: A crocodile who lives in mobile reptile display known as Roaming Reptiles in Geelong, near Melbourne, has alarmed his keeper by turning an interesting shade of orange. Tracy Sandstrom feared for his health when she came upon the eight foot saltwater crocodile, Snappy, after a night in the heated bath where he sleeps. After investigation it was decided that it was down to his chewing of the water pipes, damaging the filter and leading to red algae or tannins staining the water, combined with a raised pH he subsequently went orange.
September 26th: Texas waterways are being visited by an increasing number of dangerous or exotic species, despite the laws regarding the laws against the release of such species into their waters. A young girl baited a hook with a piece of hot dog in 23-acre lake in Tom Bass Park and caught a horror-flick worthy catch. The perch-shaped, hand-sized fish had a mouthful of wedge-shaped teeth that could mean it was only one thing and after identification by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries staff it was determined to be a Red-bellied piranha.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more of them being brought in. The Internet has made it a whole lot easier for people to get them.” States Robert Goodrich, assistant chief for fisheries law enforcement for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Thanks to Google and the National museum of Isreal, 2000 years after they were written and decades after they were found, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls went online for the first time on Monday. Scrolls that’re now available to inspect include the Book of Isaiah, the Temple Scroll, and three others. The images are high-resolution for specific passages and it is possible to zoom in and out.
SO TO THE MAIN TOPIC…
In any attempt to get to grips with Biblical writings there is the immediate challenge of asking the believer to put aside what may be their life-time of ‘learning’ (indoctrination) about the ‘divine nature’ of the books contained with such a holy text.
To the Christian Fundamentalist who would assert that the Bible represents the ‘word of God’ then what follows will be provocative at least; argumentative at best and certainly dismissive of any claim to the divine nature of the words.
To the ‘believers’ it may seem that this is dismissive of their spiritual beliefs, and for that I apologise.
At the outset let me offer a simple proposition…
All religious texts and tracts are human interpretations of transpersonal (possibly Divine) experiences which are distilled and distorted (as are all personal experiences) by our limited vocabulary and understanding (in the case of revelation from a potentially Divine, non-corporeal, omnipotent source).
The (Holy) Bible on a simplistic level can be seen to be divided into two key sections each of which contains a series of ‘books’.
The first, The Old Testament, relates to Creation and the history of the Jewish people.
The second, The New Testament, contains the Good News (Gospel) represented by the teaching and inspirations of a spiritual teacher called Jesus amongst other poetic tracts and ‘letters’.
Before we go any further we need to recognize that what we now see as the Bible (both old and New Testaments) is the result of a series of revisions, edits and re-writes all driven by the need for the Church to make its message clearer (well that’s the charitable view perhaps).
In terms of the Jewish tradition the Council of Jamnia (1st Century), threw out such books as Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, and both Books of Maccabees. By a slender vote, they narrowly avoided throwing out Ezekiel, Proverbs, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. In the case of the Book of Daniel, the Jews threw out the last two chapters, settling for an even dozen. (The Catholic Book of Daniel still contains fourteen chapters.)
In addition to the Jewish scriptures, each Christian community developed its own “New Testament” scriptures, creating more than a dozen different gospels and an uncertain number of epistles and apocalypses…
Irenaeus (b. ca. A.D. 130), for example, considered the Shepherd of Hennas to be inspired, but rejected Hebrews, Jude, James, 2 Peter, and 3 John.
Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150-213) included the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas in his Bible.
Tertullian (b. ca. A.D. 160) …threw out all the New Testament books except the four gospels, Acts, thirteen “Pauline” epistles, Revelation, and 1 John.
These variations in text were about what could be considered as Hersey and what could not; what made up the doctrine of the faithful and what did not.
As one writer comments:-
“As certain churches (such as those at Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople) gained in political power, each made strenuous efforts to stamp out “heresy,” and church councils were convened …to vote on which books were canonical — and to anathematize those who could not buy enough votes to be on the winning side.”
Attempts to create a coherent Bible were numerous. The first “canon” was the Muratorian Canon, which was compiled in A.D. 170. The Muratorian Canon included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. In A.D. 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative.
The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) convened by Constantine was the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Creed of Nicea. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent general (ecumenical) councils of Bishops (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy — the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom.
The need for some kind of order being brought to the Church is evident in the letters of Paul who speaks of ‘other Gospels’ and ‘other Prophets’.
In Galations Paul writes:-
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
I really like the phrase
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”
And here’s where the real issue lies – the Biblical Canon represents Doctrine – but whose and what?
As discussed in an earlier Real Twilight Zone there were, perhaps, numerous contenders for the role of Jewish Messiah and subsequently Jesus.
In his book Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs Richard Horsey notes that:-
… the “common people” (Jewish peasantry) in the time of Jesus – the masses led by bandit forces, apocalyptic prophets, and messianic leaders …
Indeed whatever the truth behind the stories which circulated about Jesus (or the collection of prophets, Messiahs represented as a single Jesus) there followed after ‘his death’ a whole host of religious philosophies which, in many respects, grew from pre-existing spiritual ideas.
We cannot ignore the influence of Neo-Platonism and doctrines such as Mithraism in the development of the ‘divinity of Jesus’.
One of the most popular religions of the Roman Empire, especially among Roman soldiers, was Mithraism. Its origins are Persian, and involved their ancient hierarchy of gods, as restructured by Zarathustra (c. 628-c. 551 bc) in the holy books called the Avestas.
The universe was seen as involved in an eternal fight between light and darkness, personified by Ahura-Mazda (good) vs. Ahriman (evil). This idea probably influenced Jews while they were in Babylon, which is when they adopted HaShatan — Satan — as the evil one!
Within the Persian pantheon, Mithra was “the judger of souls” and “the protector,” and was considered the representative of Ahura-Mazda on earth.
Mithra, legend says, was incarnated into human form (as prophesized by Zarathustra) in 272 bc. He was born of a virgin, who was called the Mother of God. Mithra’s birthday was celebrated December 25 and he was called “the light of the world.” After teaching for 36 years, he ascended into heaven in 208 bc.
There were many similarities with Christianity: Mithraists believed in heaven and hell, judgement and resurrection. They had baptism and communion of bread and wine. They believed in service to God and others.
Plato a a less than positive view of ‘the material world’ holding the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry of something “higher and intelligible”.
Plotinus was a follower of Plato and held that God is the supreme being, the absolute unity, and is indescribable. Any words (even the ones I just used) imply some limitation. God is best referred to as “the One,” eternal and infinite. Creation, Plotinus believed, is a continuous outflow from the One, with each “spasm” of creation a little less perfect than the one before.
The first outflow is called Nous (Divine Intelligence or Divine Mind, also referred to as Logos), and is second only to the One — it contemplates the One, but is itself no longer unitary. It is Nous that contains the Forms or Ideas that the earlier Greeks talked about. Then comes Psyche (the World Soul), projected from Nous into time. This Psyche is fragmented into all the individual souls of the universe. Finally, from Psyche emanates the world of space, matter, and the senses.
Spirituality involves moving from the senses to contemplation of one’s own soul, the World Soul, and Divine Intelligence — an upward flow towards the One. Ultimately, we require direct ecstatic communion with the One to be liberated.
This made neo-Platonism quite compatible with the Christianity of ascetic monks and the church fathers, and with all the forms of mysticism.
Other forms of Jesus inspired ‘beliefs’ flourished during the first few centuries after the supposed death of Christ.
Most, if not all, related to the nature of Jesus and hence would shape the kind of spirituality specific ‘sects’ would promote.
Biblical writer Dr. C. George Boeree identifies the following
Sabellianism: Sabellianism is named for its founder Sabellius (fl. 2nd century). It is sometimes referred to as modalistic monarchianism. The father, son, and holy ghost are three modes, roles, or faces of a single person, God. This, of course, implies that Jesus Christ was purely divine, without humanness, and therefore could not truly have suffered or died.
Docetism: The name comes from the Greek word dokesis, meaning “to seem.” Along the same lines as Sabellianism, Docetism says that Christ was not a real human being and did not have a real human body. He only seemed to be human to us.
Monophysitism: Monophysite comes from the Greek words for “one body.” This heresy says that Jesus Christ was a joining of the eternal Logos with the human person Jesus, which occured at incarnation. He therefore is two separate natures joined in one body. Monophysitism is very much alive in several present-day Egyptian and Middle Eastern sects of Christianity.
Apollinarianism: Named for Apollinaris of Laodicea (fl. 350), this heresy says that Jesus Christ was not a real man, but not totally divine either. Apollinarians suggested that he had a human body and a human soul, but his mind was taken over by the eternal Logos.
Arianism: Arianism is named after Arius (c. 250 – c. 336), a priest in Alexandria. This is considered the most serious heresy. Jesus Christ was thought of as a special creation by God for man’s salvation. Arianism was the form of Christianity that the Goths adhered to, and it was popular in all the areas they conquered, including Italy, Spain, and Africa.
Socianism: A version of Arianism called Socianism (from the Latin socius, meaning “companion), simply says that Jesus was an extraordinary man. This heresy still lives on in two very different forms, the Unitarians and the Jehova’s Witnesses.
Donatism: Named for its leader, the theologian Donatus the Great (d. 355), Donatism included a group of extremist sects, mostly in North Africa, that emphasized asceticism. They valued martyrdom, found lapses of faith (even under torture or threat of death) inexcusable, and believed that the sacraments required a pure priest to be effective.
Pelagianism: Another group of sects, centered in Gaul, Britain, and Ireland, is associated with the Irish monk Pelagius (fl. 410). He believed that original sin was not transmitted from Adam and Eve to their children (and thereby to us). Baptism was not considered necessary, and people could be “saved” by their own efforts, that is, they did not necessarily require the grace of God. Many modern liberal Christians agee with Pelagius.
Other interesting groups
Proto-orthodox authors clearly agree that the Ebionites were and understood themselves to be Jewish followers of Jesus. They were not the only group of Jewish-Christians known to have existed at the time, but they were the group that generated some of the greatest opposition. The Ebionite Christians that we are best informed about believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures. They also believed that to belong to the people of God, one needed to be Jewish. As a reult, they insisted on observing the Sabbath, keeping the kosher, and circumcising all males
According to the Ebionites, Jesus was not divine, he was a man like everyone else, yet what made him special and set him apart was that he was the Jewish Messiah, and that he perfectly followed God’s Law. More interesting is that the Ebionites completely rejected Paul; they rejected his writings, his teachings, and considered him an apostate of the Law, and a major heretic
1-They rejected the Trinity
2-They rejected the divinity of Jesus
3-They regarded Paul as an apostate and rejected his writings
4-They strictly observed the Jewish law, they did not believe in faith alone
5-Some of them rejected the virgin birth, while others did not
6-They are a simple continuation of Jewish Christians from the first century, hence their foundation really comes much earlier than the second century
The Euchites or Messalians were a sect first condemned as heretical in a synod of 383AD. From Mesopotamia they spread to Asia Minor and Thrace.
The group continued to exist for several centuries, influencing the Bogomils of Bulgaria, whose name appears to be a translation of “Messalian” and, thereby, the Bosnian church, the Paterenes and Catharism.
By the 12th century the sect had reached Bohemia and Germany and, by a resolution of the Council of Trier (1231), was condemned as heretical.
The condemnation of the sect by St John Damascene and Timothy, priest of Constantinople, expressed the view that the sect espoused a sort of mystical materialism. The sect’s teaching asserted that –
The essence (ousia) of the Trinity could be perceived by the carnal senses.
The Threefold God transformed himself into a single hypostasis (substance) in order to unite with the souls of the perfect.
God has taken different forms in order to reveal himself to the senses.
Only such sensible revelations of God confer perfection upon the Christian.
The state of perfection, freedom from the world and passion, is therefore attained solely by prayer, not through the church, baptism and or any of the sacraments, which have no effect on the passions or the influence of evil on the soul (hence their name, which means “Those who pray”)
Messalians taught that once a person experienced the essence of God they were freed from moral obligations or ecclesiastical discipline. They had male and female teachers whom they honored more than the clergy, the “perfecti”.
The belief of Marcionism originated from the teachings of a man named Marcion, a Christian theologian, and son of a Christian Bishop. Marcion began to formulate his theology around the year 144.
Marcion separated the Jewish Bible from the New Testament; Marcion rejected the Jewish Bible, as well as the Jewish God. For Marcion, the God of the Jewish Bible was vastly different to the God of the New Testament. For instance in the Jewish Bible, God was always commanding genocide, murder, mass slaughtering, and Marcion could not reconcile such things.
He viewed the God of the Old Testament as being EVIL! He regarded the God of the Old Testament as some lesser god, and the root of all evil! Now indeed, one cannot blame Marcion for such beliefs, in fact we can say that he was consistent at least! If one were to read the Old Testament one would be shocked and stunned at the level of sickening violence, for instance here are a few verses for you to take in:
Zephaniah 2:12-15 :
“You Ethiopians will also be slaughtered by my sword,” says the LORD
Ezekiel 9:5-7 :
“Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin your task right here at the Temple.” So they began by killing the seventy leaders. “Defile the Temple!” the LORD commanded. “Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill! Go!” So they went throughout the city and did as they were told.”
1 Then we turned, and went up the way to Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. 2 And the LORD said unto me, Fear him not: for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. 3 So the LORD our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining. 4 And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 5 All these cities were fenced with high walls, gates, and bars; beside unwalled towns a great many. 6 And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city. 7 But all the cattle, and the spoil of the cities, we took for a prey to ourselves
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations?the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.
With this vast array interpretations of the nature of the divine and divinity it is no surprise that the various Church councils tried to organize and create a coherent set of principles.
The First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325): Voted in favour of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria and against Arius, that Jesus and his Father are one and the same.
The Church Council of Laodicea (c.364): made Sunday into the new Sabbath.
First Council of Constantinople (381 CE): convened to confirm the victory over Arianism. The council drew up a dogmatic statement on the Trinity and defined Holy Spirit as having the same divinity expressed for the Son by the Council of Nicaea 56 years earlier.
Council of Carthage (394): first council to uphold doctrines of purgatory.
Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451): voted that Christ is simultaneously “truly man and truly God.”
The Second Nicean Council (787): which voted to allow the veneration but not the worship of icons.
And more recently:
First Vatican Council (1869-1870): 20th ecumenical, affirmed doctrine of papal infallibility (i.e. when a pope speaks ex cathedra on faith or morals he does so with the supreme apostolic authority, which no Catholic may question or reject).
But that’s taken us away from where we started – and that was with the Bible.
It has been said …
Of all the 66 texts in the Bible, there doesn’t exist one single handwritten original. We don’t even have the first copies of the originals, we just have copies of copies of copies of copies etc
Sometimes they (the writers of texts) wrote in other authors’ names (usually more famous and authoritative, authors), – they usually added, subtracted, altered and removed “historical” events in the texts as they saw fit. They often mixed fiction with non-fiction, and some could write texts in the name of their adversaries to discredit them, and then use the forged text against them later.
All a little unsavory really..
One internet source makes a series of very interesting claims.
The Old Testament.
The first five texts in the Bible; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are not written by Moses as the Church usually claims. Unknown Jewish priests wrote these five books between 900 and 100 BC. Their final editing was first done around 200 AD. The Psalms of David are not written by him, but were actually written much later.
We have our knowledge of this king David (“the bloodhound”) from his son, the “prophet” Solomon (in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon). But then there is the problem that the alleged Solomon died at least 100-400 years before these texts ascribed to him were first created! Looking at the texts, it is obvious that they are the product of several different writers, writing at different times between 500 BC and 100 AD.
Both Judges, Kings and Chronicles are anonymous manuscripts, written at a much later time than the events they present. The same is the case for the books of the so-called prophets, which also were subjected to heavily editing later. (Prophecies made much later than the events they predict, are never particularly impressive.)
The chapters 24-27 and 40-55 of Isaiah, are forgeries in Isaiah’s name. Only the first chapter of Zechariah are really by him, the rest is a forgery.
Only 200-300 of the total 1273 verses by Ezekiel are probably by Ezekiel.
A lot of the stories in the Old Testament are in fact borrowed material; particularly from the rich mythical heritage of the Sumerians, the inventors of writing. The story of Noah and the great flood; Cain and Abel; the gardens of Eden; creation of Eve from Adams rib, and numerous other myths are stories found recorded on Sumerian clay tablets dating 2-3000 years back, long before the earliest parts of the Old Testament were written down.
The version of the Old Testament as we know it (with its 39 texts) was first assembled in the 15. Century AD
Up through history there have existed a number of different Christian Bibles. All the different Christian sects had their own compilation of religious texts. Most of our Old Testament is based on translated medieval manuscripts not older then the 9.th or 10.th century AD.
The New Testament
None of the gospels were written to be part of a “holy Bible” inspired by God (Simply because the Bible as such didn’t exist at that time.) We don’t know anything about who wrote the gospels. The Church ascribed the names of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John to the texts much later. These four texts were not originally in the Bible, and they first became authoritative (approved by the church) late in the 2nd century AD.
The gospels are all written in Greek and there is no indication of any Hebrew originals, which rules out that the authors could be anyone among the followers of Jesus (who spoke Aramaic). According to the gospels both Jesus and his disciples had no education and were illiterates, as most of their contemporaries. The gospel texts are also heavily edited by editors, in particular the gospel of St. John.
The letters of John are not written by John the apostle.
All the “Catholic letters” (I Peter, II Peter, I-III John, Jude) are also forgeries.
And six of the thirteen letters of St. Paul are not by him.
Even his “real” letters were later heavily edited by the Church.
Around 400 AD the scholar Hieronimus made a major editing of the Latin Bible, the result is the Latin Vulgata version of the Bible. This became the mother of all later translations. Hieronimus changed no less than 3500 instances in the text.
Among the later added parts, not in the original Gospel texts: The sermon on the Mount, The story of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:1-21) and the stories of Jesus’ resurrection!
Add to this mix the present day confusion over authenticity the Nag Hammadi Scripts and we have a complex view of early Christian writings and beliefs.
The Gnostic Gospels
The Gnostic Gospels consist of around fifty-two texts said to be based on the teachings of several prophets including Jesus, during the 2nd to the 4th century AD.
They are not part of the Bible in any branch of Christianity, placing them into what is known as the New Testament apocrypha.
They were discovered as part of the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient codices, found in Egypt in 1945 by Muhammad ‘Alí al-Sammán who had been digging to obtain soil to fertilise crops and had come upon the manuscripts inside an earthenware jar.
After this, he claims that he and his brothers killed Ahmed Isma’il to avenge their father, subsequently prompting police investigation for murder and resulting in the transferral of the discovery to the priest, al-Qummus Basiliyus Abd al-Masih, while the house was searched. Raghib, a local history teacher, received one from the priest, and he sent it to a friend in Cairo to investigate its’ potential worth.
This attracted the attention of the government and the manuscripts were bought or confiscated, many of them going to the Coptic Museum of Cairo.
A significant portion of the thirteenth codex was illegally smuggled out of Egypt and went on sale in the US.
Netherlands historian of religion at Utrecht, Professor Gilles Quispel, asked the Jung Foundation in Zurich to buy the codex as soon as he heard of its existence. However, when he received it, he discovered many of its’ pages missing and it prompted him to travel to Egypt in 1955 to visit the Coptic Museum for answers. He was given some photographs and set about deciphering them.
He translated the Gospel of Thomas, a text which identified itself as being a secret gospel written by ‘the twin’ Judas Thomas.
These writings, along with the others in the same collection, speak of many things that we recognize from the New Testament, with a twist. Its’ accounts are often more cryptic, or translate differently to how we have heard them prior to their discovery. Details of the acts of Jesus were told differently as well, and there are references to commonly held Christian beliefs being misunderstandings.
Jesus speaks more of illusion and enlightenment instead of sin and atonement, acting as a guide who ‘opens access to spiritual understanding. But when the disciple attains enlightenment, Jesus no longer serves as his spiritual master: the two have become equal–even identical.’
Christians believe that Jesus is Lord and Son of God, setting him apart from the rest of humanity whom he came down to save. but the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas outlines that when Thomas realizes him, Jesus says that they have ‘both received their being from the same source’.
Elaine Pagels’ extensive writing on the subject believes that it merges well with more Eastern traditions, especially including the metaphysical and philosophical veins that run throughout. She suggests that Buddhist tradition in particular could possibly have influenced Gnostic beliefs.
There are still texts missing from the collection as Muhammad ‘Alí al-Sammán admits that some of them were burned.
It emerged upon further investigation that these discoveries were Coptic translations of even older manuscripts made about 1,500 years ago. The originals would have been written in Greek and a small part of one of them was discovered by archeologists fifty years prior to this of the original Gospel of Thomas.
The leather used to bind the manuscripts dates to around c. A.D. 350-400, and there is much debate regarding the dating of the original texts.
Quispel theorises that c. A.D. 140 could be the date of the original Gospel of Thomas. But Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University has put forward thoughts that the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, although compiled c. 140, might include traditions older than the New Testament, “possibly as early as the second half of the first century” (50-100) placing them as possibly being earlier even than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Nag Hammadi texts were buried as a result of being condemned as heresy by Orthodox Christians during the mid second century. Many manuscripts deemed heretical were destroyed after it became illegal to possess them, yet the Nag Hammadi were hidden and remained so for 1600 years.
The translation of the Nag Hammadi library was completed in the 1970’s.
The Gospel of Mary is found in the Berlin Gnostic Codex (Papyrus Berolinensis 8502) along with the Apocryphon of John and the Sophia of Jesus Christ. It was purchased in 1896 by a German scholar, Dr. Carl Reinhardt, who took it back to Berlin for further study.
The texts from the Berlin Gnostic Codex were used to assist in translating the Apocryphon of John and the Sophia of Jesus Christ as they now are published in Nag Hammadi Library.
Later, two other fragments of the Gospel of Mary were later discovered after excavations at Oxyrhynchus in lower Egypt along with further fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, this apparently suggests that the gospel was well distributed in the early days of Christianity.
No complete copy of the gospel was ever found.
What we can gather from the Gospel of Mary is a simple story that begins in the middle of a discussion between Jesus and his disciples after the resurrection (The first six pages of the gospel are missing). Jesus speaks of the nature of sin and how people are ignorant of their divine speak and worship the lower cosmic rulers that lead to disease and death in their falsehood. He preaches that they should ‘seek the child of true humanity within themselves and gain inward peace’, ending by asking them to preach the gospel .
Instead, the disciples begin to argue, failing to understand until Mary tells them of teachings that she had received from the Saviour in a vision, speaking of how to fight the powers that wish to keep the human soul from ascension.
Andrew and Peter challenged her, upset that Jesus would impart such knowledge to a woman and struggling to believe that he ‘preferred’ her to the other disciples. Peter accuses her of lying about being taught such things to elevate her status amongst the other disciples, whereupon she weeps.
Levi defends her, and reminds them that they ought to be preaching the gospel as they were told instead of arguing amongst themselves.
This differs from what we are familiar with, the story we know depicts the disciples joyfully going out into the world to preach the gospel, in Marys’ account, they are fearful and indecisive.
Gnosticism centralizes around themes of spirituality and the rejection of material things, as well as living by the notion that the body is an evil carrier for mans’ evil soul within which is contained a divine spirit that has yet to be awakened.
“As the gnostics use the term, we could translate it as “insight,” for gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself. And to know oneself, they claimed, is to know human nature and human destiny… Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis.” – Elaine Pagels.
It outlines the idea of the realization of gnosis, (Greek for knowledge, here it represents an intuition based knowing) bringing salvation of the soul from the material world we live in.
According to Gnostic myth, the aforementioned intermediate beings are known as Aeons, existing between the true God, sometimes known as Bythos, and ourselves. They dwell in the realm of Fullness (Pleroma) which contrasts to our state which might be referred to as Emptiness.
From one of the Aeons, known as Sophia, another being of ‘flawed consciousness’ was formed that created the cosmos in the image of his own flaw and, unaware of his origins, falsely believed himself to be the absolute God. This being is seen as evil in some denominations, identified with the god of the Old Testament and different from a higher more abstract God illustrated by Jesus Christ.
This ‘demiurge’(Half maker) sometimes known as Yahweh, works with a group of other ‘rulers’ known as Archons to place obstacles for the soul on its path to reach ascension from the material world.
As humans are ignorant of the divine spark within us all, the demiurge works to keep us ignorant of our true nature, and thus not achieve any escape from the ‘lower cosmic rulers’
Seth (the third Son of Adam), Jesus, and the Prophet Mani are important figures in Gnostic belief, Jesus being perhaps the most important. They acted as messengers of light from the True God to help us attain enlightenment of our divine spark which we struggle to do alone.
The concept of salvation works thusly more on an individual basis of gnosis.
Some Gnostics believed that because the body was an evil thing it was impossible to corrupt what lay within and this meant having the freedom to participate in frowned-upon indulgences. Since they were enlightened, how they acted in the body was of little importance because the flesh was evil anyway.
Other Gnostic branches tried to separate themselves from evil to avoid contamination.
The story of the fall of man and the resulting flawed world we live in is not accepted in Gnosticism, they believe that the corrupted state of the world was not our doing but the doing of the creator as the creator was a flawed being.
They do not believe that rules or commandments are specifically conducive to salvation.
The gnostic Christ and the man Jesus are two distinct beings. Christ is a spirit being who came to Jesus at his baptism and left before his crucifixion. Therefore, Jesus’ death has nothing to do with our salvation.
Noted psychologist Carl Jung was instrumental in bringing attention to the Nag Hammadi Gnostic writings during the 1950’s as he believed their insights and teachings to be relevant to psychology. It led to the notion of Gnosticism as a form of psychology, Jung using the Demiurge to illustrate the alienated ego that has ‘lost contact with the ontological Self’ along with several other examples of contrast.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of a number of apparently poorly preserved (some survive as mere scraps) scrolls discovered near Qumran and the Dead Sea around 1947.
In total, over 800 texts have been recorded dating from about 250 BCE to 100 CE, the period after development of the Old Testament but before the formation of Christianity and Judaism.
‘The Qumran Hypothesis – attributing the origins and authorship of the scrolls to an Essene community at Khirbet Qumran, a theory perhaps more accurately called the “Qumran-Essene dogma” – became a party line in Dead Sea Scrolls studies for the next 40 years. The integrity of this thesis was buttressed by highly restricted access to the scrolls. Manuscripts were parceled out for study and translation to a small clique of academics, directed by de Vaux.’
Some see evidences of the apocalyptic, messianic format that may have given rise to the future of Christianity. Though others point out that while the Scrolls offer insights into the Jewish cultural situation that led to some formation of Christianity, there is probably nothing that directly reflects events or people of the time.
Some believe the Dead Sea Scrolls to be ‘Overrated’ by the media and the public, and that they aren’t actually that important. The conclusions Christian scholars come to in reference to theological statements about divine messiahs are described by Dr. Eliezer Segal (Professor of Religious Studies, University of Calgary) in his 1994 article titled ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls Dud’ as having been ‘utilized both as confirmation of Christian tradition and as refutations of its uniqueness or originality. Either way, they succeeded in transforming the esoteric world of Dead Sea Scroll scholarship into a lucrative industry whose potential market included much of the Christian world.”
“Not surprisingly, almost none of these alleged Christian links find factual support in the evidence of the scrolls. The simple truth is that the scrolls contain a representative sample of the diverse literature that Jews were producing during the latter part of the Second Temple Era, a time marked by factionalism and ferment in the Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael. As such, they reflect typical Jewish concerns, most notably in the area of halakhah, Jewish religious law, which, then as today, ignited the most virulent controversies between competing sects. These simple and obvious facts rarely get mentioned in the popular representations of the scrolls.”
The Community of “Q” and Q as a source for some of the Gospels
In Galilean circles distinct from those of the evangelists (who were probably all located in Syria), a Jewish movement of the mid-first century preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God put together over time a collection of sayings, ethical and prophetic, now known as Q. The Q community eventually invented for itself a human founder figure who was regarded as the originator of the sayings. In ways not yet fully understood, this figure fed into the creation of the Gospel Jesus, and the sayings document was used by Matthew and Luke to flesh out their reworking of Mark’s Gospel. Some modern scholars believe they have located the “genuine” Jesus at the roots of Q, but Q’s details and pattern of evolution suggest that no Jesus was present in its earlier phases, and those roots point to a Greek style of teaching known as Cynicism, one unlikely to belong to any individual, let alone a Jewish preacher of the Kingdom.
Links to Gnostic Gospels and Nag Hammadi Texts
List of Texts in the Nag Hammadi Library
(See the Aprocryphon of John Collection for more information on the text)
(See the Gospel of Thomas Collection for more information on the text)
On-Line Texts :
MUSIC ON TONIGHTS SHOW
The IS – Out of It
Satya Graha – Spine to Shine
The Truths – Miracle Drug
From a Local Cornish Band –
Terra Nova – Instant Clasic