A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

15 Introduction to the Gospel of Judas - 2

15 Introduction to the Gospel of Judas - 2

Last week we began a review of the Gospel of Judas. We discussed gnosticism in general,  and I mentioned that I had begun to suspect that the study of the Gnostic Gospels was not mostly about the content of the material, but, rather, about enjoying a collection of spiritual allegories and poetic inventions, stylistically characteristic Jesus' time and place. I specifically and repeatedly emphasized the idea that the Gnostic view of the physical as a prison, (from which the spirit must enthusiastically escape), is not particularly harmonious with the idea that Jesus proclaimed about the possibility of a Heaven on Earth. To be sure, Jesus taught us to focus our perception of identity on the spiritual component; He taught us not to feel bound to the body, and to look forward to an ultimate destiny free of the body. But He did NOT say that the body is total dross, and ought not to be glorified. Indeed, Jesus taught us that the experience of spirit in the physical  is, in some ways, just as legitimate and necessary for the evolution of the soul, as its entry and reentry into and out of etheric dimensions. He taught us to see Heaven on Earth, to see God in everything. And remember that this is not pantheism, because our God reveals Himself Personally, through Jesus Christ, and that has made all the difference.

The more I get to know about the Gnostic Gospels, the more I begin to suspect that the Gospel of Judas is a work of fiction. Now, that does not mean that the Gospel of Judas does not have something important to say, and true to say. The historical details, such as whether Judas really betrayed Jesus or not, are not of primary interest to me. It's like whether the world was created in six days or not: I don't really care. I don't care if Judas did or didn't betray Jesus; I don't care if Judas escaped to India; I don't care if he was stoned to death by the other disciples. I don't know these people, and I don't really have anything to do with what exactly happened. I am a Christian Ex Post Facto--AFTER THE FACT. That Jesus is available  to me, in spirit, is the most important ramification of the historical Jesus. Something happened, Jesus became a personal savior, and how He got there, is less important to me than that HE IS. Furthermore, remember that most of the Gospels, most of these sacred texts inspired by God, both the accepted and the unaccepted ones, are compositions created by mere by men, who may not even have had direct experience of the events they are reporting; thus it becomes easier to endorse the sacredness of the Gospel of Judas.

Now, we will re-enter a scene we left mid-way last week;

the disciples are gathered over a meal, and have been praying a blessing over the food. Jesus walks in on them and begins to laugh. The disciples get all offended, because they think He is making fun of  them. Jesus comforts their bruised egos, but then goes on to challenge them:

"When Jesus observed their lack of understanding, he said to them,

“Why has this agitation led you to anger? Your god is within you and yet these outward signs have provoked you to anger within your souls.
Let any one of you who is strong enough among human beings bring out the perfect human and stand before my face.”

They all said,

“We have the strength.”

But their spirits did not dare to stand before Him, except for Judas Iscariot. He was able to stand before him, but he could not look him in the eyes, and he turned his face away.

Judas said to him,

“I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”

[Sidebar (from Wikipedia):

"The Gnostic term "Barbēlō" (Greek: Βαρβηλώ) refers to the first emanation of God in several forms of Gnostic cosmogony. Barbēlō is often depicted as a supreme female principle, the single passive antecedent of creation in its manifoldness. This figure is also variously referred to as 'Mother-Father' (hinting at her apparent androgyny), 'First Human Being', 'The Triple Androgynous Name', or 'Eternal Aeon'."]

Now, in this story from Judas there are many features of Jesus' personality and Jesus' wisdom that are consistent with the portrait of Jesus drawn in the synoptic gospels; one of the big differences, is that, in this story, Jesus laughs. Jesus is never depicted as laughing in any of the other gospels. This is particularly resonant with me, because I have always known, intuitively, the Jesus had a smile on His face all the time. Being One with the Spirit is so powerful, and so positive, and so full of joy, that He must have smiled all the time, and I bet He was a jokester too. I just have this feeling, and I don't have anything to back it up with except an intuitive impression acquired from what He says, and from the kind of answers to prayer I get.

Another archetypal element of this story is the "Competition-for-the-Place-of-Best-of-the-Best" scenario. This is a theme that is echoed in a number of other places in the Bible and elsewhere--The first story that springs to mind is from Mark:

Mark 9:33-35:
"33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them,
“What were you arguing about on the road?”
34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

The Jews, in particular, were very Place/Face conscious, and it was important to them to establish, among themselves, who was worthy to claim authority. This passage, where Judas steps forward to meet the infinite gaze of Jesus, contributes to the perception, suggested by the gospel, of Judas as "the only disciple with true understanding of Jesus' teaching".

A similar scene occurs in the Gospel of Thomas--in this case Thomas is the cool dude:
"(13) Jesus said to his disciples,
"Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like."
Simon Peter said to him,
"You are like a righteous angel."
Matthew said to him,
"You are like a wise philosopher."
 Thomas said to him,
"Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like."

In King Lear, Shakespeare begins the play with the old prideful King posing this question to his three daughters:
“Who loves me best?”
The first two daughters sing out their love to the heavens, in rhapsodies accompanied by angels voices and harps, their vain tunes signifying nothing--while the most truly loving daughter gives this answer to the audience in an aside:

(to herself) What will I say? I can only love and be silent."

Thus, the battle to be the best of the best must always be defeated by the pronouncement,

“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I find the portrait of Jesus, in the Gospel of Judas, to be beautifully literate; it really helps to hear Jesus at His most eloquent and mystical, even if the intrusion of the demiurge associates him with the most primitive aspects of gnosticism.

Another interesting scene is when Jesus takes Judas aside, and honors him by telling him that he, among all the disciples, understands best the teaching of the Messiah:


Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him,
“Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve [disciples] may again come to completion with their god.”
Judas said to him,
“When will you tell me these things, and [when] will the great day of light dawn for the generation?”
But when he said this, Jesus left him."

There is more than one place in the gospel that merely states, "Jesus left." Very abrupt, very final. We recall, from the episode of Jesus at Nazareth, where the prophet goes unrecognized in His own country, and from several other scenes where Jesus has had to escape from a crowd--we recall that He just "disappears". The way that Jesus mysteriously comes and goes, in this gospel, is consistent with the rumor that Jesus could disapparate and reappear at will--definitely a Gnostic idea, but not unheard-of in the annals of the great saints.

Interestingly, this passage from Judas is very like a passage in the Gospel of Thomas:

"And he took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, 
"What did Jesus say to you?"
Thomas said to them, 
"If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

The same scenario occurs in the Gospel of Mary; apparently Jesus, was able to give highly personal insights to his disciples, thereby making them each feel that they had personally been given the unique keys to the Kingdom. Nothing has changed--Jesus still gives us all exactly what we need.

The passage from Thomas, concerning the disciples stoning someone, along with the idea that the victim will be vindicated, anticipates similar developments in Judas. We will get there.

Now, we know that any discussion of the Gospel of Judas must eventually work its way around to the question of whether or not Judas was working FOR or AGAINST Jesus--was Judas following or NOT following Jesus' specific instructions in the matter of the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane? This is the most difficult controversy in the book, and it is a central idea around which all the other material revolves. So let us take a look at that portion of the text for a moment.


Judas said to Jesus,

“Look, what will those who have been baptized in your name do?”

Jesus said,

“Truly I say to you, this baptism is done in my name. Truly I say to you, Judas, those who offer sacrifices to Saklas make a righteous sacrifice to God.
But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."

[Sidebar: Interesting expression, "the man that clothes me." With this sentence, Jesus is denying identification with His physical body--His body is just a suit of clothes He wears to walk around in, on Earth. This expression helps Judas realize that he is not betraying anything permanent, but is merely helping Jesus in staging His extravaganza!


"For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.

Already your horn has been raised,
your wrath has been kindled,
your star has shown brightly,
and your heart has been hardened"

[Sidebar: It is interesting how, when Jesus sends Judas off to betray Him, the text mentions that Judas must harden his heart. I think this means that Judas really loves Jesus very much, and, even though he can see the big picture, he still regrets turning Jesus over to the Pharisees, thus insuring Jesus' execution. Jesus is saying, here, "Buck up man, and do your duty. How else am I ever going to get crucified on Passover?!" My point is that: if Judas were truly betraying Jesus, his heart would be hardened already.

Back to Judas:]

“Truly your last place will become first, so do not grieve. And then the image of the great generation of Adam will be exalted, for prior to heaven, earth, and the angels, that generation, which is from the eternal realms, exists. Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.”

Judas lifted up his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it.
Those standing on the ground heard a voice coming from the cloud.

Their high priests murmured because He had gone into the guest room for his prayer."

[Sidebar: This bit is interesting, too: it is not illogical that Jesus might have been apprehended in a room of the same house where He had His Last Supper; but this version does away with some of our favorite Jesus portraits--the whole Garden of Gethsamane story, and the Peter cutting-off-the-ear story--bummer:]

"But some scribes were there watching carefully in order to arrest him during the prayer, for they were afraid of the people, since he was regarded by all as a prophet. They approached Judas and said to him, “What are you doing here? You are Jesus’ disciple.” Judas answered them as they wished. And he received some money and handed him over to them."

Many points in this text deserve comment. Let's begin with the mention of Saklas. As we learned last week, Saklas is a name associated with one of the founding angels of the universe, perhaps the Creator God Him(Her)Self:

"And the aeon that appeared with his generation, the aeon in whom are the cloud of knowledge and the angel, is called. And Saklas said, ‘Let twelve angels come into being to rule over chaos and the underworld.’ And look, from the cloud there appeared an angel whose face flashed with fire and whose appearance was defiled with blood.

Another angel, Saklas, also came from the cloud.

“Then Saklas said to his angels, ‘Let us create a human being after the likeness and after the image.’ They fashioned Adam and his wife Eve, who is called, in the cloud, Zoe. For by this name all the generations seek the man, and each of them calls the woman by these names. And the [ruler] said to Adam, ‘You shall live long, with your children.’”

This concept is clearly in agreement with the fundamentals of Gnostic philosophy, but it is not clear whether it is in agreement with Christian philosophy. However you slice it, this theology is Old testament stuff, and does not bear crucially on the role of Jesus in our lives here and now.

Here, let me remind you of the sidebar above, about Barbelo, taken from Wikipedia):

"The Gnostic term "Barbēlō" (Greek: Βαρβηλώ) refers to the first emanation of God in several forms of Gnostic cosmogony. Barbēlō is often depicted as a supreme female principle, the single passive antecedent of creation in its manifoldness. This figure is also variously referred to as 'Mother-Father' (hinting at her apparent androgyny), 'First Human Being', 'The Triple Androgynous Name', or 'Eternal Aeon'."]

The idea of the MOTHER-CREATOR, (Saklas or Barbelo, it is not clear which) is an item included in many primitive, aboriginal mythologies; it is not unfamiliar to C.S, Lewis, who has much to say on the subject; he speaks, always, of the Father-Creator in preference to the Mother-Creator, especially in light of the sacrifice on Calvary, which changed the relationship of God to Man. For instance, at the climax of Till We Face Faces, the primordial Mother-God, Ungit, is contrasted with the newly articulated sculpture of the Goddess, Psyche; Ungit has no face--Psyche does. It will be apparent from this historical comparison of God's relationship to Man, before and after the crucifixion, (Ungit the Old God, Psyche the New God), that Lewis is in agreement with many statements, we quoted from Rudolf Steiner, emphasizing the significance of the Historical Jesus.

On the subject of masculine versus feminine, there is this illuminating principle set forth in his so-called "science fiction" novel, That Hideous Strength. In this excerpt we encounter the PERSON of God, not as a mothering birth-giver, nor as a pantheistic non-entity, but as a supra-masculine Identity:

"But she had been conceiving this world as "spiritual" in the negative sense--as some neutral, or democratic, vacuum where differences disappeared, where sex and sense were not transcended but simply taken away. Now the suspicion dawned upon her that there might be differences and contrasts all the way up, richer, sharper, even fiercer, at every rung of the ascent. How if this invasion of her own being in marriage from which she had recoiled, often in the very teeth of instincts, were not, as she had supposed, merely a relic of animal life or patriarchal barbarism, but rather the lowest, the first, and the easiest form of some shocking contact with reality which would have to be repeated-- but in ever larger and more disturbing modes-- on the highest levels of all?

"Yes," said the Director. "There is no escape. If it were a virginal rejection of the male, He would allow it. Such souls could bypass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender. But your trouble has been what old poets called daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud irruptive, possessive thing-- the Gold lion, the bearded bull-- which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it."
. . .

[Sidebar: Skipping ahead, C.S. Lewis gives this vivid report of a heroine's DIRECT ENCOUNTER with this supra-masculine, PERSONAL IDENTITY:]

"What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border, were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, and inexorable, met her with no veil or protection between. In the closeness of that contact she perceived at once that the Director's words had been entirely misleading. This demand which now pressed upon her was not, even by analogy, like any other demand. It was the origin of all right demands and contained them. In its light you could understand them; but from them you could know nothing of it. There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had been like this; only by being like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little idea of herself she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished, unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in a space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. It was a person (not the person she had thought), yet also a thing, a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others, a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it has never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendor or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell whether it was in the moulding hands or in the kneaded lump.

Words take too long. To be aware of all this and to know that it had already gone made one single experience. It was revealed only in its departure. The largest thing that had ever happened to her had, apparently, found room for itself in a moment of time too short to be called time at all. Her hand closed on nothing but a memory. And as it closed, without an instant's pause, the voices of those who have not joy rose howling and shattering from every corner of her being."

I would love reading that, in any context, but its relevance, to the subject of Judas, is this: whereas, in the section from Judas we clearly recognize obvious Gnostic authorship, with its attendant Heathen vision of the Mother-God, in the Lewis section presents, we see, in no uncertain terms, a clear refutation of that primitive theological concept. Too bad. But we knew this--we knew that the author of the Gospel of Judas was a gnostic, so why be surprised when information we believe in gets mixed up with information we don't believe in?

Much more pertinent (and much LESS dependent on the gnostic prejudices of the author) is the question of whether Judas' betrayal was truly a betrayal, or merely an element in a conspiracy, led by Jesus Himself. The idea of Judas being in on the plot to get Jesus crucified is not a new idea. I thought of it myself many, many years ago, and I believe it appears in several New Age authors of the mid-20th-century. There are even plays and movie scripts that delight in casting Judas in a murky light. Did he, or didn't he? Judas has always been a complicated guy.

Now, if you accept this premise, you can play an interesting kind of word game: take all of the pertinent passages from the Synoptic Gospels, and interpret them from the perspective of Judas as villain. Then, re-interpret--perform a switcheroo, and run through all the pertinent lines from the perspective of Judas as saint. I, myself, am not personally involved in the history, so I don't have any trouble re-interpreting the story from the saint point of view. For instance, if Judas were, indeed, working to set up Jesus, we have to look at the various lines in the synoptic Gospels that appear to blame Judas and accuse Judas. The thing is that: if you think of Jesus instructing Judas to betray him, then none of the instructions he gives Judas at the Last Supper seem out of character. For instance, "Go and do what you need to do quickly," etc. These instructions are perfectly consistent with the idea of a conspiracy, rather than an actual betrayal.

[Sidebar: On the subject of "Go do what you must do quickly," it is fun to imagine Jesus in a spy movie, privately leaning over the table to Judas' ear, looking at his watch, saying, "Synchronize watches, sixteen hundred in 5-4-3-2-1. Now, go you quickly and do what must be done--and stay on schedule."]

Now, what about when Jesus says to the other disciples, "One of you is about to betray me. One of you is a bad dude, and it would be better if you had never been born."? That quote is consistent with the next portion of the Judas gospel, my favorite part, where Judas comes to Jesus and reports that he's had a vision of himself being stoned--but then sees himself going up to a heavenly mansion in upper Heaven. (We will dwell on that next week.)

One of the ramifications of the idea that Judas was working with Jesus to arrange the spectacle of His own execution, is that it turns the whole crucifixion into a kind of performance art piece. It seems sort of crass to think of the crucifixion as a dramatic show, (with Jesus as the star, kind of like a gladiator), and yet we've said many times that Jesus was sent to sacrifice Himself; he was sent as the Lamb of God to be slaughtered; so when? It had be sometime--Jesus showed Himself often to be able to evade crowds and authorities when He wanted to, so I find it hard to believe that He just fell into the clutches of the Pharisees against His will. He even says so to Pilate.

"36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."

(Again, we will develop this idea next week.)

So Jesus admits that He is CHOOSING to submit to the power of Pilate--that Pilate has no power over Him that is not freely given to him by the Messiah in accordance with the Divine Plan. Thus, it makes much more sense, to me, for Jesus to have choreographed this entire event, planned it out, and executed it (ha ha) by Himself, possibly assisted by an organization, possibly the Essenes working with Jesus at their head.

Remember that Jesus often called upon the authority of prophecy to prove His claims to the Christ-hood. Perhaps the precise date and time of the crucifixion were chosen on the basis of some sort of prophetic timetable that they were attempting to adhere to--or had no choice but to adhere to. Jesus often mentions that He's fulfilling prophecy. This cannot be accidental. And remember that we have often spoken of prophecy, hope, sehnsucht, and pre-destination--all as choices that are made outside time, choices made before the world began. Indeed, sometimes Jesus goes out of his way to fulfill prophecy, and sometimes you can see that he is riding on a tide which nothing could ever interrupt; so, the idea that Jesus engineered his own death, using Judas as one of the instruments to fulfill His plan, is not inconsistent with the idea of God sending his own son to be sacrificed.

What, truly, was the significance of the crucifixion? Perhaps the entire event was symbolic! Perhaps Jesus was working as the Father's press agent--announcing to the world this attention- grabbing headline:

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Death no longer has any power over the spirit. Video at Sundown! Come and see! Bring the kids!"

Perhaps the whole thing was a grand ritual, designed to interrupt the inertia of history, and divert the flow of time into new paths!

We have spoken, on many occasions, about the significance of ritual--going through our little motions, here at the empty Basin Bible Church, every week, we enact these precious little ceremonies, which somehow solemnize our lives. I just participated in a wedding in which a bundle of sage was set on fire and pointed in the four directions of the compass, as if that meant anything! What purpose did that serve other than as a ritual which solemnized the moment?

Jesus announced to the world, from the cross, in the most flamboyantly dramatic object lesson in history, that there is no death, and that there can be Heaven on Earth. Death is not our final condition, so the eternal moment of NOW ought to be celebrated with every breath we take in this physical plane. Remember that Jesus chose the time of his execution--he chose Passover, the most solemn feast of the Jewish year, and the time when the Big Apple, Jerusalem, was most densely populated with penitents and pilgrims. At Passover, more than any other time of the year, Jerusalem was packed with people, that is to say, WITNESSES.

In terms of sheer showmanship, He did a very similar thing on the occasion of the death of Lazarus; you will remember that He could have come to Lazarus immediately, but He chose to tarry a few days to pump up public interest; this, so when He brought Lazarus back from the dead, more people would hear about it, more people would be affected by it. If He could orchestrate the "Raising-Lazarus-from-the-Dead Show" why couldn't He do the same with his own execution?

Again, I am not proposing an ironclad belief in any of the scenarios I'm suggesting, here. I have an open mind, but I don't have a hidden agenda, so I have nothing to lose by any admission, one way or the other. But you must admit that, logically speaking, dramaturgically speaking, these scenarios are well within the realm of possibility. Indeed, it is not the actuality but the POSSIBILITY that transforms history into myth, such that, in spiritual terms, the history may lie, but the myth always tells the truth--the spiritual truth.

As I mentioned earlier, I intend to review several more of the Gnostic Gospels, over the next few weeks, and search them for nuggets of meaning. Next week we will review two more stories from the Gospel of Judas. I do not expect we will be in universal agreement about the significance of these texts, but there can be no doubt that they should be considered; it remains to be seen whether I will remain as interested in the subject as I now am, but it will be a ride.

Next week we will consider Judas' prophetic dream of his own martyrdom.

For now, let us pray: Jesus, we thank you for the opportunity to test our spiritual acuity with texts which pose as many problems as they offer solutions. We praise the power of your Magnificent Personality to enlighten our minds with images of Truth, which transcend the literal and evoke the eternal. Amen.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

14 - Introduction to the Gospel of Judas

14 - Introduction to the Gospel of Judas

At the outset, I want to ask the question, "Why the Gnostic Gospels?" As you will see below, I am in fundamental disagreement with a crucial component of the Gnostic philosophy; I emphasize this, because there can be no doubt that these Gospels were composed by a Gnostic author who unabashedly puts a Gnostic slant on all of his material. So what's the point? Why read a piece of ancient fiction--in church? Well, as I will elucidate below, the Gnostic Gospels certainly show us a little slice of history that is usually hidden from us by the sands of time, but, more importantly, they are illustrative of Jesus' power to mythologize Himself; by that, I mean: the impact Jesus made on the world was so great that He became legend before He became bio-graphed. These scriptures are filled with legitimate portraits, and expressions of Jesus, even if they have been decorated by the embellishments of oral tradition; they may not actually turn out to be what they pretend to be, but what ancient scripture is immune to pedagogical dispute? These Gospels may or may not contain historical fact, but they are absolutely imbued with the Holy Spirit, and I have already benefited from exposure to them.

I'm going to kick off this presentation of the Gospel of Judas by first quoting the very last verse of John.

John 21:25:
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written
every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

It is significant that John asserts that there are many, many more stories about Jesus that are not recorded in his gospel, (including the other four synoptic gospels, as well, of which many of the stories are the same); John is telling us that there are more untold stories of Jesus. Way cool! If you simply look at the gnostic gospels as a warehouse of new stories about Jesus, you can't go wrong. What a find! What an opportunity! The Gnostic gospels are a treasure trove of new Jesus stories, all of which are resonant with the Jesus stories recorded in the accepted four gospels.

However, let me make this hefty disclaimer before we go any further: in my brief exposure to the field, (which, I find, is immense), I have begun to suspect that the study of the Gnostic Gospels is not mostly about the content of the material, but, rather, it is about enjoying a collection of spiritual allegories and poetic inventions, stylistically characteristic Jesus' time and place.

We know that many of the stories in the Canonical Gospels were told second or third hand, before they were written down. These stories were kept alive, and circulated among believers, through oral transmission. Therefore, certain orally handed-down stories, well-known among the people, might have easily attracted some narrative embroidery, of an archetypal character--and this process of  embroidery might have easily yielded some outlandish variants. The beauty of this is that Jesus became a myth practically in his own lifetime! It is, therefore, not surprising that man's tendency to mythologize resulted in so many various religious speculations.

Simply stated, we know through faith, and habit, that the stories in the Synoptic Gospels are historically true, and that Jesus is quoted with literal accuracy. The stories in the Gnostic Gospels, though beautiful, are much more historically suspect; this suspicion compromises the validity of the works as truthful, spiritually resonance documents, because we can't really count on the FACT that Jesus actually said something that they say He said. It may be possible that He said it, it may be CONCEIVABLE that He said it, it may be LIKELY that He said it, but there is no GUARANTEE that He said it.

Admittedly everything is subject to interpretation, such that: any mythological story will communicate not only itself, but the culture and religious prejudices of the author. The stories in the Gnostic gospels are told from the viewpoint of a Gnostic, so they unavoidably tend to echo, implicitly or explicitly, the philosophy of the author. This is where the seed of doubt is planted. It appears that, according to Jesus, Gnosticism is based on a mistaken interpretation of mundane existence: the principle is that we are enslaved by our bodies, and seek, through the use of magic and meditation, to transcend our physical bodies, to become free in the Cloud of Unknowing. This is not unlike the ultimate goal of Jesus, which, to be sure, is to transcend the physical. However, Jesus' transcendence of the physical includes the glorification of the physical in the mundane dimension, finding the eternal in the temporal, and, thereby, establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. Gnostics are not big on "Heaven on Earth"; they just basically want to get the heck out of here as soon as possible.

Iraneus' rejection of the Gnostic Gospels might very well have been driven by a quarrel with Gnosticism, not in any specific sense, but merely on general principles; all of the texts he rejected are more or less actually Gnostic. Perhaps Iraneus took the easy way out--rejecting the principles of Gnosticism, as a school of heretical philosophy, would make it easy for the church fathers to reject the Gnostic Gospels outright, even though there are many non-Gnostic principles expressed in them.

It must be emphasized that the Gnostic view of the physical as a prison, (from which the spirit must enthusiastically escape), is not particularly harmonious with the idea that Jesus put forth of a possible Heaven on Earth. Jesus taught us to focus our perception of identity on the spiritual component; He taught us not to feel bound to the body, and to look forward to an ultimate destiny free of the body. But this does not mean that one's body may not be glorified. Jesus taught us that the physical experience of spirit is, in some ways, just as legitimate and necessary for the evolution of the soul, as its entry and reentry into and out of etheric dimensions.

The more I get to know about the Gnostic Gospels the more I begin to suspect that the gospel of Judas is a work of fiction. Now, that does not mean that the Gospel of Judas does not have something important to say, and true to say. The fact of whether Judas really betrayed Jesus or not, is not of primary interest to me. It's like whether the world was created in six days or not: I don't really care. I don't care if Judas did or didn't betray Jesus; I don't care if he escaped to India; I don't care if he was stoned by the other disciples. I don't know these people, and I don't really have anything to do with what exactly happened. I am a Christian Ex Post Facto--AFTER THE FACT. That Jesus is available  to me, in spirit, is the most important part. How He got there, is less important. Furthermore, if we remember that most of the Gospels, most of these these sacred texts, inspired by God, are compositions created by mere by men, who may not even have had direct experience of the events they are reporting, it becomes easier to affirm the the sacredness of the Gospel of Judas.

To be sure, the point of the Gospels is to give us an historical record of Jesus' career, including quotations of His profound sayings--sayings which give us comfort, and direct our the minds toward higher things. However, the mystical experience of Jesus does not depend on the accuracy of any history or doctrine we may have formulated in our minds; it is the higher self which is truly in communion with the Christ.

I find that the word "apologist" keeps attracting my attention. I read up on Iranaeus (who is, as I mentioned last week, largely responsible for choosing the four accepted synoptic gospels, and many other books of the New Testament, meanwhile rejecting many books of Gnostic philosophy. He wrote long books condemning Gnosticism as a false religion, and the gnostic philosophical books as works of heresy. Iraneus is labeled an "apologist" because, with his writing, he justifies his position, and attacks various other positions. So, I find the word "apologist"  means to "make apology" in the classic Greek sense of the "apologia" or "defense", the most famous of which is probably the  Apologia of Socrates to the Greek accusers who condemned him to death. C.S. Lewis is also always referred to as an apologist. I suppose Martin Luther could be considered one, as well. So in discussing the Gnostic gospels in the present apologia, we have not only the task of presenting  the material, which is new to many of us, but also to provide an historical context for it, and then to apologize, or defend, its content--that is, either to confirm it or refute it, or, in some way or other, pass judgement on it. Thus, in struggling to find the truth, we may find items which seem to be somewhat dissonant with the images from the accepted synoptic gospels we have in mind.  Those dissonant stimulants must be examined thoroughly to see whether the stimulation is a good thing or a bad thing.

Gnosticism comes in many flavors and intensities, such that it is virtually impossible to describe a single Gnostic philosophy that agrees with all the different varieties. However, this summary of Gnosticism taken from Wikipedia is a good start at providing a meaningful overview:

"Gnostic systems, particularly the Syrian-Egyptian schools, are typically marked by:
    •    The notion of a remote, supreme monadic divinity, source – this figure is known under a variety of names, including "Pleroma" (fullness, totality) and "Bythos" (depth, profundity);
    •    The introduction by emanation of further divine beings known as Aeons, which are nevertheless identifiable as aspects of the God from which they proceeded; the progressive emanations are often conceived metaphorically as a gradual and progressive distancing from the ultimate source, which brings about an instability in the fabric of the divine nature;

[Sidebar: You will remember the section on Aeons from last week's sermon. One of the sections of the Gospel of Judas summarizes the Gnostic cosmography. So do we accept the idea that these ideas as, indeed, coming out of Jesus' mouth, or do we, in rejecting this hypothesis, reject the whole of Judas as spurious and heretical?

Back to the Wikipedia summary of Gnosticism:]

"    •    The introduction of a distinct creator god or demiurge, which is an illusion and a later emanation from the single monad or source. This second god is a lesser and inferior or false god. This creator god is commonly referred to as the demiourgós used in the Platonist tradition. The gnostic demiurge bears resemblance to figures in Plato's Timaeus and Republic. In the former, the demiourgós is a central figure, a benevolent creator of the universe who works to make the universe as benevolent as the limitations of matter will allow; in the latter, the description of the leontomorphic "desire" in Socrates' model of the psyche bears a resemblance to descriptions of the demiurge as being in the shape of the lion; the relevant passage of The Republic was found within a major gnostic library discovered at Nag Hammadi, wherein a text existed describing the demiurge as a "lion-faced serpent". Elsewhere, this figure is called "Ialdabaoth", "Samael" (Aramaic: sæmʻa-ʼel, "blind god") or "Saklas" (Syriac: sækla, "the foolish one"), who is sometimes ignorant of the superior god, and sometimes opposed to it; thus in the latter case he is correspondingly malevolent. The demiurge typically creates a group of co-actors named "Archons", who preside over the material realm and, in some cases, present obstacles to the soul seeking ascent from it;
    •    The estimation of the world, owing to the above, as flawed or a production of "error" but possibly good as its constituent material might allow. This world is typically an inferior simulacrum of a higher-level reality or consciousness."

One of the interesting sidelights of Gnosticism is the idea of the demiurge, which, translated into Gnostic-ese, means "Creator God". This creator god is not the Supreme God, but merely an "emanation of the Monad". The idea of "levels of the Godhead" is actually something I had thought of before, to whit: in an infinite array, an infinite continuum of material densities, of consciousness states, it is entirely reasonable to think of the God, to whom we pray, as the Creator God--as one more (LOWER) level on an infinite continuum of levels, culminating in the highest infinite, unnamed and unnamable, unthinkable God.

One expression of the Gnostic principle of "levels of Godhead" is the so-called "Gnostic Dualism:

"Some dualism was indeed congenital with Gnosticism, yet but rarely did it overcome the main tendency of Gnosticism, i.e. Pantheism. This, however, was certainly the case in the system of Marcion, who distinguished between the God of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament, as between two eternal principles, the first being Good, agathos; the second merely dikaios, or just; yet even Marcion did not carry this system to its ultimate consequences. He may be considered rather as a forerunner of Mani than a pure Gnostic. Three of his disciples, Potitus, Basilicus, and Lucanus, are mentioned by Eusebius as being true to their master's dualism (Church History V.13), but Apelles, his chief disciple, though he went farther than his master in rejecting the Old-Testament Scriptures, returned to monotheism by considering the Inspirer of Old-Testament prophecies to be not a god, but an evil angel. On the other hand, Syneros and Prepon, also his disciples, postulated three different principles. A somewhat different dualism was taught by Hermogenes in the beginning of the second century at Carthage. The opponent of the good God was not the God of the Jews, but Eternal Matter, the source of all evil. This Gnostic was combatted by Theophilus of Antioch and Tertullian."

In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus makes reference to an entity Who has never been named, and yet we have, in Hebrew, the Jewish name for God, which is Yahweh. This idea, of the name of God, is somewhat inconsistent with the idea of an unnamed God. This would have been an heretical thought in 200 A.D., and, therefore, would have made The Gospel of Judas a very obvious candidate for expulsion from the Gospels by Iraneus, and the later church fathers who made the final selection of acceptable Gospels. However, once again, for me, it is not a difficult leap to imagine the higher infinite consciousness of God delegating the creation of the world to a lower, co-extensive, creative entity; the idea of progressive distancing from the ultimate source doesn't trouble me at all--as if, by any literal definition, we could ever begin to measure, in anything like an adequate description of spiritual levels and degrees, the height and breadth of God .

Now, going on with more specific excerpts of the Gospel of Judas:

One of the most distinctive features of the portrait of Jesus given in the Gospel of Judas, is that it shows Jesus laughing. There are three places, in this very short book, where Jesus laughs; and, although He denies it, the disciples take this laughter as mocking or making fun of them, and they get pissed off. Where in the synoptic gospels do the disciples ever get pissed off? And yet, faced with this magnificent paradox, Jesus, how could they not? In an effort to make the disciples holy, the synoptic gospels often forget to make the disciples human.

Now, as we know, laughing at the foibles and weaknesses of our friends or children, can be a very open-hearted loving kind of  laughter, an indulgent, understanding, forgiving laughter, or it can be a snide, superior, insulting kind of laughter.  Of course the disciples, concerned with social status, as the Jews always were, (always pridefully defending their place in the pecking order), take offense at this laughter, and get quite angry with their teacher. Jesus assures them that He is not laughing at them, but with them.

We will begin our review of the Gospel of Judas with that scene. The disciples are gathered over a meal, and have been praying a blessing over the food. Jesus walks in on them and begins to laugh. The disciples get all offended, because they think He is making fun of  them. So here is the story, and here is what Jesus has to say:

"SCENE 1: Jesus dialogues with his disciples: The prayer of thanksgiving or the eucharist:

One day He was with His disciples in Judea, and He found them gathered together and seated in pious observance. When He approached, His disciples were gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread. Then He laughed.

The disciples said to Him,

“Master, why are you laughing at our prayer of thanksgiving? We have done what is right.”

He answered and said to them,

“I am not laughing at you. You are not doing this because of your own will but because it is through this that your god will be praised.”

[Sidebar: So we can see already, that, far from being a humorous laughter at some incongruity, between the intentions of the disciples' prayer and the effect of the prayer, Jesus is merely laughing for joy, that the Father is so intentionally glorified. It MIGHT be that Jesus is amused by the mechanical nature of the Jewish ritual ("We have done what is right."), it MIGHT be that He sees a certain shallowness in the prayer, ("You are not doing this because of your own will,"), but He MIGHT merely be affirming the mystic solemnity of a ritual of praise which transcends its social context, and elevates itself into sacred joy.

The second part of the astray is the telling part:]

"They said,

“Master, you are the son of our god.”

Jesus said to them,

“How do you know me? Truly I say to you, no generation of the people
that are among you will know me.”

When his disciples heard this, they started getting angry and infuriated and began blaspheming against him in their hearts."

[Sidebar: Notice it says, they "began blaspheming against him in their hearts". No word was spoken, and yet Jesus read their hearts, just as He had done many times in the Synoptic Gospels. This is, indeed, our old friend, whom we have cherished and adored many times before, because He always sees through our petty subterfuges.]

Now, we know that any discussion of the Gospel of Judas must eventually work its way around to the question of whether or not Judas was working FOR or AGAINST Jesus--was Judas following or NOT following Jesus' specific instructions in the matter of the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the most difficult controversy in the book, and it is a central idea around which all the other material revolves. Next week we will take a look at that potion of the text.

For now, let us pray: Jesus, as always, we stand in awe of the focus of God that was able to communicate a sliver of its mystery to humankind. We thank you for the opportunity to experience and assess these ancient documents, and we pray, at all costs, that Your Divine Intelligence be available to us, as we explore a vision of you that has been unknown for all these years. Bless our investigations with Heavenly discrimination and open-hearted acceptance. Amen.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

13 Introduction to the Gnostic Gospels

13 Introduction to the Gnostic Gospels

Having finished my 7-part series on Ecstasy and the Holy Ghost, my plan was to begin a series on the Acts of the Apostles. As you will remember, about a year ago I finished a review of the Synoptic Gospels, so it seemed about time to hit the rest of the New Testament. I've never been that interested in Peter or Paul, that is to say: I was not as interested in what they had to say as in what Jesus had to say; but recently I have been attracted to the Acts, as directed by Steiner you may recall, so I began to read the book systematically, for the first time in maybe thirty years.

I had just delved into the first chapter, when the telling of the death of Judas caught my eye. The death of Judas, as told in the first chapter of Acts, is quite unlike the story told in the synoptic Gospels:

Acts 1:18-19
"(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled
out.  Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)"

The image of Judas dying in a field that he has just bought for 30 pieces of silver, (his guts exploding everywhere), is very different from the image of Judas hanging himself. This discrepancy led me to investigate Judas. In so doing, I found that there was in fact a Gnostic Gospel of Judas. A little more investigating revealed that there are also Gospels of Mary Magdalene, James, Thomas, Phillip, and Judas. These Gospels constitute the so-called Gnostic Gospels, which were thought to have been rejected by the Church fathers in the First Council of Nicaea:

This concise summary of that meeting is taken from Wikipedia:

"The First Council of Nicaea (/naɪˈsiːə/; Greek: Νίκαια [ˈni:kaɪja]; Turkish: Iznik) was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.

Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the nature of the Son of God and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Creed of Nicaea, establishing uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law.
The First Council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council of the Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent local and regional 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. . . . ."

[Sidebar: The Nicene Creed is important for more than one reason. Of primary interest to me, of course, are the many beautiful musical settings of the Credo. Compared to some of the other, much shorter, texts in the Catholic Ordinary (like the Kyrie, or the Agnus Dei) the Credo is very wordy; because of this, many settings are prosaic, and run through the text, syllabically, like a speed reader (or a chanter, ha, ha); and yet some masses have credos that take 30 minutes to play through, each movement dwelling on, and glorifying, a single idea or image in the text.

But the Nicene creed is most important because it sets a tone, an attitude toward religious belief: it fixes Christian doctrine in an inflexible conceptual straight jacket. It tells people that the church assumes absolute authority in directing its flock's thinking, and makes it heresy to believe anything that is in disagreement with what the church fathers have agreed upon. To be sure, some such direction moth be considered necessary in an ignorant illiterate society, but I'm not sure we need such pervasive protections now. It has always struck me that the words of the Credo are written in stone.

Here, for the record, is the:

Nicene Creed
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

This is indeed a wonderful text. But it must still be admitted that it carries with it some of the moral baggage of its time--prejudices which, in subtle manifestations, compromise some the universal resonance that pervades MOST of the text. The Credo has been used as a weapon, more times than I care to recall.

Going on with Wikipedia:

"A number of erroneous views have been stated regarding the council's role in establishing the biblical canon. In fact, there is no record of any discussion of the biblical canon at the council at all. The development of the biblical canon took centuries, and was nearly complete (with exceptions known as the Antilegomena, written texts whose authenticity or value is disputed) by the time the Muratorian fragment was written. . . .

The Muratorian fragment is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of the books of the New Testament. The fragment, consisting of 85 lines, is a 7th-century Latin manuscript bound in a 7th or 8th century codex from the library of Columban's monastery at Bobbio; it contains features suggesting it is a translation from a Greek original written about 170 or as late as the 4th century. Both the degraded condition of the manuscript and the poor Latin in which it was written have made it difficult to translate. The beginning of the fragment is missing, and it ends abruptly. The fragment consists of all that remains of a section of a list of all the works that were accepted as canonical by the churches known to its anonymous original compiler. . . . .

In 331 Constantine commissioned fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople, but little else is known (in fact, it is not even certain whether his request was for fifty copies of the entire Old and New Testaments, only the New Testament, or merely the Gospels), and it is doubtful that this request provided motivation for canon lists as is sometimes speculated. In Jerome's Prologue to Judith he claims that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures"."

So, you can see that one of the big problems with talking about ancient texts is the question of authenticity. The pedigrees of all these ancient books are shrouded in mystery, and nobody knows quite where what came from what. The questionable pedigrees, of some of these ancient texts, make it difficult to forge an allegiance with a text, because it might end up being proven to be spurious, and what fools we were for believing it!

I have long been aware of the gospel of Thomas, but stumbling onto the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of James, The Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Judas, was a very inspiring discovery. Discovering the so-called Gnostic Gospels was like discovering ANOTHER piano concerto by Mozart, or finding the missing last page of  The Art of Fugue. More Jesus stories, oh goody! And I tell you, the stories are REALLY good, although they demand a widening of many of our pre-conceptions of the personality of Jesus as portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels.

So a cursory survey of these rogue gospels sounded like a good, casual, fun idea. At first, I was just going to present a single sermon on Judas; but, looking closer, I saw that the wealth of material to be gone over demanded multiple presentations, not only about Judas, but about the other Gnostic Gospels as well. Therefore today's sermon is going to be an introduction to the whole Gnostic Gospel scenario. We will soon see a common thread that runs through all the Gnostic Gospels, unifying characteristics which make them of a piece, but which also make them distinct from the synpotic versions. In a moment we will take a first look at some of these characteristics as exemplified in the Gospel of Judas.

First, here is a Wikiedia summary of the Gnostic Gospels:

‪Gnostic Gospels‬
"The Gnostic Gospels are a collection of about fifty-two texts based upon the teachings of several spiritual leaders, written from the 2nd to the 4th century AD. The sayings of the Gospel of Thomas, compiled circa 140, may include some traditions even older than the gospels of the New Testament, possibly as early as the second half of the first century. These gospels are not part of the standard Biblical canon of any mainstream Christian denomination, and as such are part of what is called the New Testament apocrypha. Recent novels and films that refer to the gospels have increased public interest.

The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "knowledge", which is often used in Greek philosophy in a manner more consistent with the English "enlightenment". Some scholars continue to maintain traditional dating for the emergence of Gnostic philosophy and religious movements. It is now generally believed that Gnosticism was a Jewish movement which emerged directly in reaction to Christianity.
The name Christian gnostics came to represent a segment of the Early Christian community that believed that salvation lay not in merely worshipping Christ, but in psychic or pneumatic souls learning to free themselves from the material world via the revelation. According to this tradition, the answers to spiritual questions are to be found within, not without. Furthermore, the gnostic path does not require the intermediation of a church for salvation. Some scholars, such as Edward Conze and Elaine Pagels, have suggested that gnosticism blends teachings like those attributed to Jesus Christ with teachings found in Eastern traditions.

The documents which comprise the collection of gnostic gospels were not discovered at a single time, but rather as a series of finds. The Nag Hammadi Library was discovered accidentally by two farmers in December 1945 and was named for the area in Egypt where it had been hidden for centuries. Other documents included in what are now known as the gnostic gospels were found at different times and locations, such as the Gospel of Mary, which was recovered in 1896 as part of the Akhmim Codex and published in 1955. Some documents were duplicated in different finds, and others, such as with the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, only one copy is currently known to exist.

Although the manuscripts discovered at Nag Hammadi are generally dated to the 4th century, there is some debate regarding the original composition of the texts. A wide range and the majority of scholars date authorship of the Gnostic gospel of Nag Hammadi to the 2nd and 3rd century. Scholars with a focus on Christianity tend to date the gospels mentioned by Irenaeus to the 2nd century, and the gospels mentioned solely by Jerome to the 4th century. The traditional dating of the gospels derives primarily from this division. Other scholars with a deeper focus on pagan and Jewish literature of the period tend to date primarily based on the type of the work:

    1.    The Gospel of Thomas is held by most to be the earliest of the "gnostic" gospels composed. Scholars generally date the text to the early-mid 2nd century. The Gospel of Thomas, it is often claimed, has some gnostic elements but lacks the full gnostic cosmology. However, even the description of these elements as "gnostic" is based mainly upon the presupposition that the text as a whole is a "gnostic" gospel, and this idea itself is based upon little other than the fact that it was found along with gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi. Some scholars including Nicholas Perrin argue that Thomas is dependent on the Diatessaron, which was composed shortly after 172 by Tatian in Syria. A minority view contends for an early date of perhaps 50, citing a relationship to the hypothetical Q document among other reasons.
    2.    The Gospel of the Lord, a gnostic but otherwise non-canonical text, can be dated approximately during the time of Marcion in the early 2nd century. The traditional view holds Marcion did not compose the gospel directly but, "expunged [from the Gospel of Luke] all the things that oppose his view... but retained those things that accord with his opinion". The traditional view and dating has continued to be affirmed by the mainstream of biblical scholars, however, G. R. S. Mead His Gospel was presumably the collection of sayings in use among the Pauline churches of his day. Of course the patristic writers say that Marcion mutilated Luke's version, and have argued that Marcion's gospel predates the canonical Luke and was in use in Pauline churches.
    3.    The Gospel of Truth and the teachings of the Pistis Sophia can be approximately dated to the early 2nd century as they were part of the original Valentinian school, though the gospel itself is 3rd century.
    4.    Documents with a Sethian influence (like the Gospel of Judas, or outright Sethian like Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians can be dated substantially later than 40 and substantially earlier than 250; most scholars giving them a 2nd-century date. More conservative scholars using the traditional dating method would argue in these cases for the early 3rd century.
    5.    Some gnostic gospels (for example Trimorphic Protennoia) make use of fully developed Neoplatonism and thus need to be dated after Plotinus in the 3rd century.

Selected gospels

Though there are many documents that could be included among the gnostic gospels, the term most commonly refers to the following:
    •    Gospel of Mary (recovered in 1896)
    •    Gospel of Thomas (versions found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt in 1898, and again in the Nag Hammadi Library)
    •    Gospel of Truth (Nag Hammadi Library)
    •    Gospel of Philip (Nag Hammadi Library) 4 Period
    •    Gospel of Judas (recovered via the antiquities black market in 1983, and then reconstructed in 2006)."

So you can see, there is a great deal of material to look at, and I felt a moral imperative compelling me to look at it. It seems to me that an investigation of the Gnostic Gospels is really required of the seeking, literate Christian: i.e., the Christian who seeks a personal experience of Jesus, and not mere literal conformity to some moral law, generated out of the prejudices of a society. We call ourselves the Basin Bible Church, which means we place tremendous emphasis on the meaning contained in the preserved sacred writings of this time; whether they are divinely inspired, or merely historically inspired, these writings are the backbone of our faith, and provide the cognitive framework upon which we may hang our subjective, intuitive experience of grace and spirit.

Now, as I began to familiarize myself with the Gnostic Gospels, the first question I asked myself was this: why were the Gnostic Gospels rejected? Why did the church fathers feel that the material exposed in these Gospels was not acceptable? Well, one pattern that I perceived right away, that distinguished the Gnostic Gospels from the synoptic Gospels, was that the Gnostic Gospels have more magic in them; there are more Angels, and trans-dimensional travel, more miracles, and more mystic states. For instance, next week we will review the report of a vision that Judas had of his own death, and his first sight of heaven; it is very similar to the apocalyptic images portrayed in Revelation, and yet it also presages literary works such as Dante's the Divine comedy, and those many many other reports of people walking the boulevards of heaven after death-- very new age. Even the language in which these mystical experiences are expressed cross the border from mainstream Christianity into the realm of the new age--(the new age in the case of the Gospel of Judas is about 200 A.D. Can this be the problem? That in an effort to civilize religion, man has chosen to delete from his doctrine the most mystical elements of Christianity, perhaps because these most transcendent elements are also the most frightening?

The time of the creation of the Gnostic Gospels was the same exact time as for all the other Gospels. In fact, many of the accepted texts were written much later than the events which they describe, and later than some of the stories told in the Gnostic Gospels. But it cannot be denied that the Gnostic Gospels do contain some problematical content, content which, I imagine, the church fathers felt might lead the poor, stupid peasants astray. It was therefore necessary to delete this material for the sake of the peasant population of the time.

But it is not necessary for us to delete these texts now; if they truly enjoy the same status of creation as the accepted Gospels, they deserve equal attention. This is not the 3rd century, and we do not need to protect ourselves from deeply mystical reports of Jesus and his sayings. We must take the Gnostic Gospels just as seriously as the accepted ones, and make an effort to resolve the many seeming contradictions between the texts.

Of course the most popular conventional objection to the Gnostic Gospels centers around the problem of authenticity. Where, in fact, do these texts come from, and who, in fact, wrote them? Always afraid of the false prophet, the Christian must sincerely doubt any new discoveries, statements, descriptions, or ideas which have not been thoroughly tested by religious authority. The Nicene authority, which decided on the original definitive form of the Bible, must have been, in an age of superstition, very careful to direct the layman's attention away from those mystical dimensions of life which might lead him down Satan's path to hell. Nevertheless, to deny this dimension of religious experience is to starve the soul of those seekers who wish to experience more fully the heaven on earth which was promised by Jesus.

One wonders, in the light of the good which is expressed in these Gospels, "Who cares if the manuscript is a fake, if it was written by medieval commentator, or by some completely unknown ancient author?" It seems to me that the truth would be trans-temporal, and not depend on when it was written for its validity. Indeed, what is a holy Scripture? What makes these words holy, and these words unholy? We usually say, that the words of the Bible are divinely inspired, and in so doing we give the impression that a very few people in history have been divinely inspired. This seems sort of exclusive, and la dee dah. The fact is, the most attractive aspect of the Gnostic Gospels is the narratives they feature; the stories, that the Gnostic Gospels add to the portfolio of Jesus' earthly activities, are very welcome. The stories are universal, just like all the other stories of Jesus' career; they are extravagantly human, and this humanity transcends temporal origin and legitimate authorship. My feeling is that if new material is not in contradiction with the accepted holy Scriptures, then the spirit has been served.

The archaic language in which these stories are told seem to me to conceal a secret truth. The stories, imbued with divine resonance, become myth. Indeed, perhaps it was the mythological character of the Gnostic Gospels which deterred the Nicene church fathers from accepting these new myths.

Now before we go on, let me make it clear that I am not presenting any of this material as alternatives to any doctrines you may already be upholding. It is not that I am being namby-pamby about it, it is just that I really have not quite made up my mind how much of this material to take seriously, let alone believe. I merely present this material as historical fact, and leave it to you to decide how much of it you can incorporate into your personal theology. As I indicated before, some of the Gnostic Gospels give a completely new portrait of Jesus, and many unsuspected miracles are revealed. I find these items invigorating in the extreme, but they do require leaps of recognition that you may be unwilling to risk.

For instance: an example of a Gnostic story which might possibly be considered to be in conflict with accepted biblical stories, is the account in Judas of the creation of the world; in Judas, the narrative begins before "the beginning". It describes a great luminous cloud with no name, no beginning and no end, out of which the first Angel emerges. From this point on, several other items in a progression take place, before the world is even created.

I find the whole image of a cloud to be archetypal. Disappearing and reappearing, from clouds, are a events depicted in many many theologies. The cloud is of interest; consider the symbolism of a cloud: a cloud is a loosely put together thing, which prevents you from seeing clearly in front of you. Thus is the literal mind defeated by a dispersal of egoic energy outwards into the cosmos. The "cloud" is an item which appears, universally, in religious symbology in just about every global religion you can name.

I find this pre-Genesis story to be not only charming in its mythological idiom, but also very helpful in developing an image of eternity and the character of God and the religious experience. The luminous cloud is necessary not only as a visual prop to the story, it is a central feature not only of Judas' cosmology, but of his spiritual translation from the physical to the heavenly. It will not escape your notice that the luminous cloud described at least once in Judas as a "Cloud of Knowledge" is very much like the "Cloud of Unknowing" of which we have spoken many times. Cute, huh? That a cloud of knowing and a cloud of unknowing could be the same thing!

The cloud of Knowing is perceived by the subject from the outside, from which vantage point he witnesses the All-Knowingness of God. However, if the cloud is witnessed from inside, the subject finds his ego dispersed in a radiant rain of Un-Knowing; all of what he thought he knew is dispersed into a fog of discontinuous bits. What we usually consider to be knowledge is reduced to a blur. By analogy, pretend that all the things you think you know are like a tangle of wires and strings; when you untangle those strings you lose your focussed self, but, by way of this opening, you are granted clarity, a vision of  higher, laser-like knowledge. So the Cloud of Un-Knowing turns out to be "the cloud of tearing-away-the-chains-you-have-wrapped-around-your-literal-mind", so that your consciousness may expand into the higher knowing of the Cloud of Knowing.

Here is the story of creation contained in the Gospel of Judas:


Jesus said, “[Come], that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit], which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.

“And a luminous cloud appeared there. He said, ‘Let an angel come into being as my attendant.’

“A great angel, the enlightened divine Self-Generated, emerged from the cloud. Because of him, four other angels came into being from another cloud, and they became attendants for the angelic Self-Generated. The Self-Generated said, ‘Let him come into being,’ and he came into being. And he [created] the first luminary to reign over him. He said, ‘Let angels come into being to serve [him],’ and myriads without number came into being. He said, ‘[Let] an enlightened aeon come into being,’ and he came into being. He created the second luminary [to] reign over him, together with myriads of angels without number, to offer service. That is how he created the rest of the enlightened aeons. He made them reign over them, and he created for them myriads of angels without number, to assist them.

[Sidebar: The next section makes reference, constantly, to the term "aeon"; I looked it up:

"In many Gnostic systems, the various emanations of God, who is also known by such names as the One, the Monad, Aion teleos (αἰών τέλεος "The Broadest Aeon"), Bythos ("depth or profundity", Greek βυθός), Proarkhe ("before the beginning", Greek προαρχή), the Arkhe ("the beginning", Greek ἀρχή), "Sophia" (wisdom), Christos (the Anointed One) are called Aeons. In the different systems these emanations are differently named, classified, and described, but the emanation theory itself is common to all forms of Gnosticism.

In the Basilidian Gnosis they are called sonships (υἱότητες huiotetes; sing.: υἱότης huiotes); according to Marcus, they are numbers and sounds; in Valentinianism they form male/female pairs called "syzygies" (Greek συζυγίαι, from σύζυγοι syzygoi).

Similarly, in the Greek Magical Papyri, the term "Aion" is often used to denote the All, or the supreme aspect of God. "

Back to Judas:]

“Adamas was in the first luminous cloud that no angel has ever seen among all those called ‘God.’ He created the image of Man after the likeness of [this] angel. He made the incorruptible [generation] of Seth appear. He made seventy-two luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit. The seventy-two luminaries themselves made three hundred sixty luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit, that their number should be five for each.

“The twelve aeons of the twelve luminaries constitute their father, with six heavens for each aeon, so that there are seventy-two heavens for the seventy-two luminaries, and for each [of them five] firmaments, [for a total of] three hundred sixty [firmaments ...]. They were given authority and a [great] host of angels [without number], for glory and adoration, [and after that also] virgin spirits, for glory and [adoration] of all the aeons and the heavens and their firmaments.


“The multitude of those immortals is called the cosmos— that is, perdition—by the Father and the seventy-two luminaries who are with the Self-Generated and his seventy-two aeons. In him the first human appeared with his incorruptible powers.

And the aeon that appeared with his generation, the aeon in whom are the cloud of knowledge and the angel, is called. And Saklas said, ‘Let twelve angels come into being [to] rule over chaos and the [underworld].’ And look, from the cloud there appeared an [angel] whose face flashed with fire and whose appearance was defiled with blood.

His name was Nebro, which means ‘rebel’; others call him Yaldabaoth. Another angel, Saklas, also came from the cloud. So Nebro created six angels—as well as Saklas—to be assistants, and these produced twelve angels in the heavens, with each one receiving a portion in the heavens.

“Then Saklas said to his angels, ‘Let us create a human being after the likeness and after the image.’ They fashioned Adam and his wife Eve, who is called, in the cloud, Zoe. For by this name all the generations seek the man, and each of them calls the woman by these names. And the [ruler] said to Adam, ‘You shall live long, with your children.’”

I have to admit that it is nice to have an expanded Christian version of the Creation, like a lot of other world mythologies. I do not mean I believe this, literally, any more than I believe the world was created in six days, but the story (whatever it means) adds a dimension to my religious background and adds to the wonder and miracle of it all. Next week we will present one or two stories from the Gospel of Judas, including the one that makes Judas a hero rather than a villain.

For now let us pray for guidance in these murky philosophical waters, and hope for insight in the paradoxical personality of Jesus.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for this opportunity to add to our knowledge of the Infinite You. Give us both the powers of discrimination, and the power of an open mind. Amen.