Constantine, who had found it a political necessity to legalize Christianity in 313, so to win control of the Eastern Roman Empire, proved quite specific, subjectively choosing which Christian groups he would help and those which he would make it virtually impossible to continue. He also made conversion to Judaism a criminal offense.
Followed by a deep admirer of Ireneaus, Anthanasius, not only continued Irenaeus’ doctrine, but at the Council of Nicaea in 325, helped formalized the proto-orthodox Christianity to be established. By 367, Anthanasius gave his approval to the final framework of the Christian canon, the New Testament, and the Catholic Church was ready to perpetuate itself.
The formation of the New Testament as the Christian Bible would still slowly evolve, taking centuries. Finally, at the Council of Trent in 1545, The Roman Catholic Church closed the door on any additions or subtractions of the canonical books.
But from the very being of the Common Era, Gnostics believed in the divine mind. There is an ultimate source of goodness and all humans carry a spark of that divinity which they have to subsequently awaken within themselves. The juxtaposition of the material and spiritual world became the question of which God to follow; the creator of the material world, which seemed to be perpetually corrupt, or the creator of the divine. Ordinary people could be connected to God. Salvation, if you will, lay in awakening the human spirit and connecting with the divine mind. To know oneself truly allowed Gnostic men and women to know God directly, without any need for mediation of rabbis, priests, bishops, imams or other religious officials. Hence, Ireneaus’ hostility, and subsequently, the church’s throughout the following centuries.
The machine ultimately created, was a giant wealth gaining corporation, subsequently going to war with whomever it perceived to be a heretic, Godless heathen, or one who followed a false God; often with the pope, himself, leading his army of the “Righteous.” Between all the propaganda, inquisitions and crusades against those who were not of their newly constructed faith, the wanton murder of millions would die through the next two millennia in the name of Christianity. This was total hypocrisy to Jesus’ teaching. So much for turning the other cheek and the meek inheriting the earth.
In 1896, a German scholar in Cairo, Dr. Carl Reinhardt, acquired Coptic editions of three very important Gnostic texts: the Apocrypha of John, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of Mary. Despite the importance of the find, several misfortunes (including two world wars) delayed its publication until 1955. The Nag Hammadi find in 1945, by Egyptian peasants, brought us the long lost Gnostic texts containing over a dozen entirely new versions of Jesus’ teachings, including the Gospels of Thomas and Philip, and the Gospel of Truth. Then the Gospels of Judas were found in a burial cave across the Nile River from Maghagha, not far from the village of Qarara, in Middle Egypt. All manuscripts have been carbon dated as authentic, proving them to have been written during the second century C.E.; during the formation of early Christianity.
In the Gospels of Thomas, Jesus’ value lies within his sayings, which are bursting with resonance, spiritual insight and possibility. Thomas chronicles no physical miracles or prophecies to be fulfilled, no apocalyptic end of the world, Jesus doesn’t die for anyone’s sins, and he doesn’t rise from the dead.
In the Gospels of Philip, Mary Magdalene is sited as not only Jesus’ companion, but says that he “loved her more than all the other disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.” Yet, the church portrayed her as a prostitute. The church is infamous for it purge on women in general throughout its early history.
In what remains of the Gospel of Mary, carbon dated third to fifth century C.E., the insights are extraordinary. Taoist and Buddhist Semantic concepts are presented in first century Christianity. Jesus is quoted as saying that “All natures, all formed things, all creatures exist in and with one another and will again be resolved into their roots, because the nature of matter is dissolved into the roots of nature alone.” This is very similar to the Taoist concept of Oneness; “All things derive from it [Toa]. All things return to it and it contains them.”
Another portion of the Gospel of Mary is her account of the vision she had of Jesus coming to her after his crucifixion. Subsequently, she describes a soul’s journey after death and the challenges it overcomes. Sounding very much like The Tibetan Book Of The Dead: “… After the soul left the third power behind, it rose upward and saw the fourth power, which had seven forms. The first form is darkness, the second desire, the third ignorance, the forth is the arousing of death, the fifth is the kingdom of the flesh, the sixth is the folly of the flesh, the seventh is the wrathful wisdom. These are the seven [powers] of wrath."
Pertaining to Jesus’ perception of sin, he said people sin because they don’t recognize their own spiritual nature and, instead love the lower nature that deceives them and leads them to disease and death. Salvation is achieved by discovering the true spiritual nature of humanity and overcoming the deceptive entrapments of the bodily passions of the world.
Needless to say, these people were deep.
Then in the mid ‘70’s, the leather bond Gospels of Judas were found. Not until 2000, however, was this second century authenticated document rescued from complete disintegration, eighty percent restored and then translated. These gospels, too, are extraordinary because Jesus not only wishes to “shed his human clothes and return to his pure spiritual form, but designates his closet favorite disciple, Judas, to fulfill this desire. “Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars around surrounding it.” Jesus tells him encouragingly. “The star that leads the way is your star.” Judas ultimately has a revelation in which he enters a “luminous cloud.”
All through this gospel, Jesus shows a light heartedness, not the tormented figure who will die in agony on the cross. Laughing four different times, he never ridicules others with his sense of humor. He singles out Judas as the “only one who understands him.”
Corroborated in the Gospel Of Mary, the disciples don’t understand Jesus’ mysticism as told to them by her from her vision of him after his death. And when she discloses Jesus’ concepts on sin, not only does Andrew find this teaching strange and refuses to believe that Jesus related this to her, but Peter most hostilely attacks her, denying that Jesus would ever have given this kind of advanced teaching to a woman, implying that she was a liar, and shows his resentfulness that Jesus preferred her to them, causing her to cry. The disciples, forgetting to seek their inner peace, are frightened to follow Jesus’ commission to preach his gospel for they may share his fate.
As chronicled in the Judas Gospels, Jesus wishes to kill his mortal self, and his trusted friend will help him accomplish this end. Misguided as it sounds, according to our present standards of psychology, this fulfillment will damn Judas for the rest of history.
The implications are staggering. If, in fact, Judas did do what Jesus asked of him, “God’s will,” as it were, then Jesus would be a continuation of Judaism, not representing someone who is breaking away. And if he didn’t represent the break with Judaism, then basically it would represent the continuation of the same religion.
Irenaeus thought this gospel was pure heresy, a fictional account. With the exception of the few authenticated letters of Paul, who was executed by Rome around 66 C.E., all the gospels, including Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which Irenaeus allowed, were written in about the same time by scribes who did not directly experience Jesus and the disciples. All were written in Greek or early Coptic at least seventy years after Jesus’ death. The street language of the time that Jesus as well as other Jewish communities spoke was Aramaic. In a court of law, all this “testimony” would be considered hearsay and not allowed as admissible evidence. Obviously, we’re dealing with faith. And, as such, then all the gospels should be considered equally. In these ancient times, some of these alternative Gospels may have circulated more widely than the now familiar ones.
But, from the Middle Ages down to modern times, Judas is not only one of the most hated men in history, but thought to represent Jews, a stereotype of being traitors who were faithless, greedy, money hungry, thriving, deceitful, treacherous “Christ-killers.”
Within the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they specifically talk of how the Jews rejected Jesus. These gospels were created when Judaism was a strong, expansive, stable society organized around the synagogue and its sacred scriptures of universally recognized antiquity. Its deeply rooted consensus of what was important, thus their strong social and religious identity, was the people, the land, Jerusalem, the Temple, the Torah and a tradition that could be traced back to nearly two thousand years, to the calling of Abraham.
There were so many disparate groups who had their own interpretations of Jesus’ teaching: Gnosticism, Montanism (some have drawn parallels between Montanism and Pentecostalism), the radical Paulism of Marcion, the Ebionites (who maintained that Christians should obey all Jewish laws), the Marcionites (rejected any connection between the God of the New Testament and the Jewish God), the Carpocrations (allegedly indulged in ritualize wife swapping), the Cainites (who were known to worship Cain as the first victim of the Old God, who was identified by many groups of gnostics as evil. Venerating Cain, on the basis that by creating murder Cain allowed men to deny it, and thus have a greater chance at redemption from Original Sin); the communities that formed around Ireneaus in Lyons; and Terullian in North Africa (who was the foremost Latin church writer before he converted to Montanism). They all called each other heretics.
The Jews could well afford to disregard the claims advanced by Gentiles, the church alone understood the true meaning of God’s revelation to Israel, especially when that interpretation strongly denied any legitimacy to the Jewish religious consensus. The Hebrew Bible is a witness both to the significant history of the Jewish people and to their own view of it, but also perceived and experienced through their constant investigation of the Truth, Exile and Return.
If anyone is in question, it would be Saul of Tarsus who had been among the fiercest critics of the new belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and John. Within a decade of Jesus’ crucifixion, Saul changed his mind, changed his name and is subsequently accredited with being the central figure in spreading Christianity, though considered a radical by many Christians. While making the new religion more accessible to non-Jews, Saul, now Paul turned his back on dietary laws and circumcision. All the disciples were circumcised, and by today’s standards, extremely orthodox Jews, who adhered to the law.
John would ultimately denounce his own brethren, Jews, for being a satanic religion, followers of the Devil, not God; “a murderer from the beginning…a liar and the Father of lies” (8:44), and responsible for Jesus’ death. This vitriol that came out of his mouth, plus the negative accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, created a global hostility specifically toward Jews through the next two millennia which grew exponentially with the ever-growing political power of the church, culminating with the murder of six million Jews, during the Holocaust, of which one and one half million were children.
Moses gave us the Ten Commandments, the foundation of civility. Jesus gave us love.
Jesus was a man of tremendous compassion, showing kindness to women, the poor and the ill, compared to his contemporaries who scorned them. He was a Jew steeped in tradition and the laws laid down by Moses. The adjudication of the law created a nation out of the wilderness, which subsequently practiced and enforced a politic of ritual and purity. But Jesus chose to focus on ethics and a love that extended across ethnic, racial and national boundaries. As a rabbi, he devoted himself to teaching the discovery of the divine from within, not because the law dictated you do so, but because of your own pursuit of spiritual perfection.
He was a mystic. It is quite obvious that Mary was, too. Judas may have been as well. The other disciples tried to comprehend as best they could. Mystics have always drawn the wrath of institutional religion, because they didn’t need an institution with its intermediaries to hear the voice of God, which they hear from within.
I personally see Jesus as an extraordinary man of such compassion and vision; a brilliant rabbi, who tried so passionately to teach the way to spiritual divinity and peace. He tried to teach compassion during a time when cruelty ruled the day and human life had no value.
The historian, Philo, describes Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea from 26 to 36 C.E., as a man of “ inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition,” whose administration was marked by his “venality, thefts, assaults, abusive behavior, and his frequent murders of untried prisoners,” among whom probably Jesus.
For Jesus to so openly tell a crowd that their liberation was at hand and that God’s Kingdom approached, no matter how apolitically and non-militarily conceived, for Rome, and especially Pilate, this was tantamount to shouting fire in a crowded theatre.
In the closing chapters of his book on the war of 66-77, during the Jewish revolt against Rome, the historian Josephus mentions a group of six thousand who, prompted by a “false prophet,” gathered on the last remaining colonnade of the ruined Temple as Titus’ troops rushed in, “to receive the signs of their deliverance.”
By the end of the mid-second century, Jewish Christians, named Ebionites, were condemned as heretics by Irenaeus. Not only did they circumcise and keep Torah, they also insisted that Jesus, though indeed the crucified and risen Messiah, was solely and normally human.
Romantically, I would love for Jesus to have been in love with Mary and maybe have a child with her. Someone with so much love in his heart, would deserve that. I cherish that vision, for he ultimately suffered such a horrible death.