What a cosmic creation story this is! It is quite specific and often hard to take in with just a casual reading and it sets the stage for the next act of the story which gets even more strange. But with patience, we might find this story to be most relevant in answering questions of who we are and how we can better focus our sights on a more magnificent outcome to this human journey.
As we will explore, a very strange part of this creation story is that this man known as Jesus Christ appears in a leading role, especially in relationship to Sophia. What is more, there are multiple references to how he is the one who first told this story. Yes, this man Jesus, whose story is so familiar to most people of this world, may indeed be the point of origin of this most phenomenal creation story.
In the first few centuries CE there were so many sects and religious trends that finally, a centralized authority of orthodox Christianity began to be established, whereby all previous editions of that religion were subject to their interpretations. Anything that didn’t fit into that interpretation was either merged in with this new dominant narrative or it was deemed “heresy” and banned. As a result, earlier and perhaps more accurate histories of this man were marginalized and lost.
Where did Jesus’ ministry take place, what were he teachings, where was he from, who was in his family, how long did he live? Of course, answers to these questions seem obvious if we take the information from the Bible as fact. However, more recent scholarship has finally begun to gather a more scholastically sound exploration of this man’s life, outside of the near total dominance of the New Testament “history”. (1)
The gospels were written many decades after the events depicted and despite overwhelming acceptance of these stories as “gospel” there are many questions about how historically accurate they are. The letters of St. Paul were written prior to the gospels, but they provide no detail about Jesus’ life. (2)
The gnostic texts present a very different story of this man. These texts are rare survivors of the (primarily) 4th century Roman-centered Christian purge of anything that was counter to its orthodoxy. They are invaluable clues to a Christ story that was more complex and more esoteric i.e. in its teachings, which, as a number of scholars affirm, originated independent from and possibly earlier than the orthodox version of this story.
In the gnostic texts, Jesus teaches less in parables and more in elaborate descriptions of the structure of the cosmos, from its origins down to the deepest part of humans. This is in such contrast to how he shows up in the New Testament, where there are stories of his birth, and his death, all of which are absent in the gnostic texts. What do we make of this?
In Gnostic Scholar, Elaine Pagels’ lesser known book, The Gnostic Paul, (3) she presents a compelling analysis of how Paul wove into his authentic writings references to the esoteric teachings of this gnostic tradition. Clues and symbolic code words were couched in terms that were easier and simpler to understand for those who were less able, for whatever reason, to take in the deeper teachings. Indeed, it is the 2nd century, Valentinus himself, one of the great philosophers and teachers of this tradition who claims that the gnostic lineage that he was working with came from St. Paul himself, according to Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE), (2) and that these teachings may have been Paul’s own lost writings on the “mysteries of Sophia” that included the full creation story of Sophia. (4)
As Pagels explores this, she posits an most important question; How can Paul be known as the originator of both Christianity and Gnosticism? (5) This is a question I hope to explore in later posts, but for now, we might just make a mental note that certainly it is quite hard to imagine that Paul had gnostic leanings when his reputation says almost the opposite. Paul was the main architect of the Hellenist version of Christianity that became the template upon which the new orthodoxy by the early Roman Church was drawn.
Some years ago, I attended Ms. Pagels’ address at the Westar Institute on her book Revelations. (6) In the Q and A, I had the good fortune to ask her a question, which gets to the crux, I believe, of a key theme of the mystery of the Deep Christ. My question went something like this.
“Like Paul being both gnostic and Christian as you describe in your Gnostic Paul book, Jesus also shows up quite differently in both the New Testament and in the Gnostic texts. How do you account for how both the Christians and the Gnostics attribute their inspiration and their origins to this man who is depicted so differently in these two traditions?”
Perhaps because I did not write notes of her answer, I unfortunately retained little insight from what she said other than that she said she could have written so much more about the Gnostic Paul. This further reinforced what I have noticed in the gnostic scholarship, that there has been only vague digs into the differences between the Gnostic and Christian Jesus, with a tendency to gloss over the differences as if they were in some way not that much different.
My sense is that this Jesus figure is so established as a beloved and largely unquestioned figure who holds such a deeply rooted place within the collective psyche, there is an almost automatic generalizing of any differences in how he is portrayed in these two traditions. In order to do this, I think, the gnostic portrayal of Jesus has, like the rest of the gnostic system, been seen as more mythological, where the details of who he was and what he said are generalized to where this Jesus is seen as being fully compatible with the Biblical Jesus. Indeed, many “gnostics” including the prominent contemporary scholar Robert Price (7) conclude that Jesus was a non-physical spirit, who never was born into a body, a Doceitist theory (8) that I do not subscribe to.
How do we reconcile the vast gulf between these two Jesuses?
My recommendation, as we embark on this investigation into the Deep Christ, is to basically wipe clean any associations one has with the story of Jesus. This is not to say that you forgo your own relationship with him, whatever that might be. Indeed, the subjectivity of each person’s spirituality is essential and a bottom line, to which no person can or should tell them otherwise. That being said, for the purposes of this investigation, I found that because these findings presented here can be so contrary to what is commonly known about Jesus, it is best to just start with a clean slate and see what unfolds from there.
The Gnostic Jesus
To be honest here, I have not stepped into this inquiry into the gnostic Jesus very enthusiastically. The lead character Jesus in the more common Christian mystery plays of old has likely gotten more attention over the last 2000 years than probably all famous people in history combined! Indeed, Jesus has been fertile ground for endless projections by countless people over the centuries, for better or for worse. Sometimes I wonder, what more can be said about him that hasn’t already been said? And yet, it was my following the thread of Sophia that led me to an unavoidable investigation into Jesus as he appears in the Gnostic tradition.
The long standing deeply rooted distain for anything “gnostic” is one which we will have to work with and I will be working to pull out what could be considered a novel and highly developed spiritual system that not only sprung up independently from Christianity (9), but Christianity itself, as it took shape, appears to have sprung heavily from gnostic roots, as some scholars have found. (10) This is a process of digging into the deeper source of the esoteric mystery of Christianity that my research seems to suggest was paved over to make way for St. Peter’s rock solid foundation, a standardized “orthodoxy” of the Church. And as we conduct our dig, what lies beneath this pavement is a most incredible story, a love story really, of the great Logos original “man” and his consort, the supernal Light filled Sophia.
This simple dramatic plot line that Christ’s consort was named Sophia is one that is profoundly baffling. We have to remember that aside from the early Christian writers, called hereseologists, damning reviews of this brief gnostic experiment of the first few centuries CE, it has only been about forty years that the vast majority of rare early gnostic texts have been available for us to gain a far greater understanding of what was happening with this religious system. It is like we are going through progressive stages of integrating the significance of this movement as these new documents are assimilated. Because the gnostic tradition were so demonized, it is hard to pull it out from behind its severely damaged reputation.
From my investigation, I have come to suspect that a clear understanding of this strange gnostic portrayal of Jesus has been nearly impossible for modern scholarship to easily decipher from the now numerous ancient gnostic scripts. My sense is that there is an almost unconscious tendency to fill in the image of Jesus based on the established template of who he is. People just want to complete the picture, the gestalt in the mind’s eye, that the Gnostic Jesus is just simply another way of looking at the Biblical Jesus and just leave it at that. Forget that these texts claim that he continued his teachings for years after the crucifixion. Ignore how this Gnostic Jesus spoke at length with tremendous detail about the nature of the original trinitized creation, something which is nearly completely absent in the New Testament. (11)
What is just as awkward as this Jesus anomaly, from my research, is that I what is generally known as the gnostic system (especially the earliest Sethinan system) is a more complex and potentially more original theology than what was later handed down to us by the Roman Christian orthodox tradition. In the same way, this Gnostic Jesus is likely to be a more original expression of this savior figure than the Jesus who emerged in a more adapted fashion with the four gospels through the Petrine-based Roman system. (12) This leads to the extremely difficult finding that the very personhood of Jesus may have had a more original historical identity, whose real life footprint was more in line with the character of the Gnostic Jesus than of the later, less cosmological Jesus of the four gospels. The idea of the deep Christ is that thje Jesus as depicted in the Gnostic texts points to how he might have appeared in first century, prior to the rise of both the Gnostic and Christian traditions. Hence, as we will consider in these posts, we are tracking clues to a Jesus who is less anchored in how he appears in the more Roman-approved version found within the New Testament, and instead looks towards how he is presented within a new dispensation of wisdom teachings, where he came “not for us, but for her (Sophia) who came for us.” (13)
On Myth and History
Before we investigate the story of this Gnostic Jesus, it will be helpful to take a look at the fascinating but, at times, troubled relationship between myth and history. Though both could be considered “story” or at least, “recall”, myth and history are odd bedfellows who appear often side by side, where at times the two might actually be confused for one another. Myths are the tales of old, where, much like our Creation Story of Sophia, they often feature larger than life characters; Gods and the offspring of Gods. Myths are expressions of broad archetypal themes that don’t seem to fit into a more logical historical rendering. Myths are living waves of archetypal expressions that sweep across time and are alive in each of us.
History, on the other hand, is an attempt to capture real events and real circumstances that have occurred in real time. A religious history seeks to be truthful to what really occurred through the centuries as that religion developed, difficult as it might be to track down the details. And yet, stories found in many religions tell tales which are so fantastic as to be unbelievable.
As the edges between myth and history can be blurred, historical characters and events can become more generalized as more time passes and details fade. Here is where history can begin to slip into fable, or exaggeration. If a Paul Bunyon or John Henry ever existed as real workmen, certainly the many legends about them far surpass any man’s human capacity. Fables, legends and even myths emerge, to some degree, from the generalized passing down of stories over time.
Indeed, an historical narrative can morph over time in ways that can in the end become almost entirely lost. History is written by the victors captures this tendency quite well and Christianity is a prime example of this. In the New Testament there are many examples of how the figure Jesus is linked with characters and events in the Old Testament.
For example, Old Testament references seem to have been brought into New Testament stories of Jesus in order to promote that he was fulfilling a prophecy. Did the story that appears in the Gospel of Matthew about Herod’s Killing of the Innocents really happen? Are the innumerable modern day Christmas pageants that include this story in their nativity plays getting it right? Or, as has now become now largely recognized, there is no historical evidence that such a horrific event ever happened around the year 0 CE in the Middle East (14). This legend was likely taken from the Old Testament story of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s killing of all children who might fulfill the prophecy of the one, Moses, who would eventually threaten his power. As Jesus would be the new Moses to lead his people into the new promised land, the myth of the killing of the innocents was folded into the New Testament as historical fact.
We know for sure that certain characters in the Bible, such as Thomas and James have been downplayed in a way so as to obscure a more historically accurate portrayal of them. James, known as a brother of the Jesus (15), according to Eisenman (16), was a prominent religious leader of a group of highly “Zealous” Jews who sought to overthrow the Roman occupation to return their land once again to self rule, as they had enjoyed under the Hasmonian Empire (~164 – 64 BCE?). James was a religious leader of this group and played a key role in events that eventually led to the Jewish wars of 66 – 70 AD in Jerusalem. This figure James, including his Book of James in the New Testament, seems to have been added quite reluctantly by the designers of the New Testament because he was named as a brother of the Lord. His true historical significance, however, was essentially erased by a Roman-sponsored orthodoxy that did everything to marginalize any vestige of a religious threat to its authority. The figure of Stephan in the New Testament stories was a replacement person for James in both name and historical context, according to Eisenman. (17)
As we will explore, the historical portrayal of Jesus of the New Testament, scholars have found, has to some extend also been mythologized. Details of the circumstances of his life in Palestine were blurred in a way that helped to distance him from the religious, political and theological controversies that were just too messy perhaps. And so, in the end, we get the toned down, cleaned up version of a pure portrayal of Jesus that we are so familiar with.
Indeed, how entrenched these “histories” have become in the accepted narrative of a tradition can be quite difficult to crack as they might not be so inviting to the carriers of that tradition. Robert Eisenman has expressed frustration at just how entrenched the Biblical Jesus narrative has become, which acts as a massive bulwark against scholastic inquiry and historical analysis of what was going on at that place in time. (18)
The challenge is that people can get attached to the histories and stories that they are so familiar with, and so cling to them even when presented with evidence that there might be some mythologizing going on. At the same time, stories such as what we see in the texts about the Gnostic Christ, are passed off by the historians as being myths that sprung out of the unconscious of creative theologians that made their way into the lore of a religious sect, conveniently overlooking how there may be some significant historical basis to this so-called Gnostic Christ.
The gnostic creation story, as with much of the gnostic theology, is typically seen as myth, that developed over a period of time until it gradually took a clearer shape in second century AD. This appears to be the consensus among many scholars of this period, such as Bentley Layton.
“Gnostic myth is the literary creation of theological poets – an elaborate theological symbolic poem, and not the spontaneous product of a tribe or culture. Philosophical myth of this kind was generally fashionable in the second century A.D., following a revival of interest in Plato’s mythic tale of creation, the Timaeus, in the previous two centuries.” (19)
Gersham Scholem says what a relief it is that this is generally not the case with Judaism and Jewish mystical studies. (20)
Especially when looking at Sophia, or worse, the archons, this intersection of myth and history can be quite problematic. The ancient authors of these gnostic stories felt so strongly the need to distinguish these unusual cosmic characters from mere myth, that one text was written entitled The Reality of the Archons (HA), so convinced was this author that these beings were indeed real. Carl Jung, himself the master of archetypal myth, stepped out of his norm to consider what he only learned about from the heresiologists prior to the publication of Nag Hammadi library after his death, that there was something more to Sophia and the archons beyond mere myth. “I have much more sympathy with Sophia than with the demiurge, but faced with the reality of both my sympathy counts for nothing. (21) John Lamb Lash is so convinced that Sophia is real that he calls the gnostic creation story a “mythos” as opposed to a “myth”, to distinguish it as being more real than simply a fairy tale. (22)
To tease apart what is myth and what is history, I think, is to help reclaim something that has been lost. We are seeking to get back to origins, to help find our direction from whence we came. We are living in a time where it seems that we have lost our sense of existential direction. Forces of humanity’s own creation seems to have gotten away from us, and is seriously under a large threat of annihilation. I am going to be bold and suggest that this New Dispensation teaching is a novel and highly valuable explanation of where we came from, where we are going, and how we can find our way out of this existential plight.
I will be stepping into this mystery story of the Deep Christ by using the four fold path of the journey of the Soul, as I have used to understand that phases in the Hymn of the Pearl.
Via Postiva: Here we will look at Jesus as he is associated with the first levels of creation, called in the Pistis Sophia, the First Mystery, Logos, Christ, “the Father in the form of a dove.” There are five primary texts that I will be using to sketch this out; the Pistis Sophia, Eugnostos The Blessed, Trimpophic Protennonia, The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, and The Hymn of the Pearl.
Negativa: I will look at how this Gnostic Jesus figure was downsized from, arguably, the more original gnostic depictions to the later Christianized versions. We will also look at how the figure Jesus (and the Church) became the object of worship that replaced Sophia as a central motif of human potential.
Creativa: We will look at a key historical figure known as Simon who is so obscured and demonized by the Roman orthodox tradition that he is barely recognized or even remembered to this day. Simon is a key name, a clue, much like Sophia has been, that provides a sort of missing puzzle piece to the mysteries of the Deep Christ.
Transformativa: The cosmology of Christ Sophia offers tremendous insights into the challenges humanity now faces. To resurrect, so to speak, a more original and mystic Christ, unburied from the rubble of victorious histories, is to also tap into that treasures of the inner Christ, who, in the ritual of the Bridal Chamber, holds great hope for some powerful personal and collective transformation.
- Scholem, Gersham. Mystical Shape of the Godhead. He states that the Kabbalah tradition doesn’t have the problem that Christian mystical tradition of gnosis has, in that Judaism was by and large much more accepting and tolerant of its mystical streams.
- Other than that he was crucified, as Eisenman points out in James the Brother of Jesus.
- Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Paul, Gnostic exegesis of the Pauline Letters. Harrisburg, PA, Trinity Press International. 1975.
- Ibid, Pagels, 1975. p. 1-2
- Ibid, Pagels, 1975. p. 6
- Ibid, Pagels, 1975. p. 10
- Pagels, Elaine. Revelations, Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelations. NY: Penguin. 2013.
- Robert Price. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_M._Price
- “Most writings of our (gnostic) text group contain no Christian elements at all. Others contain barely Christian motifs…” “In none of these Sethian instances can one derive the texts or their mythology primarily from Christian tradition…. – Introduction to The Nag Hammadi Library, Robinson
- Marcion of Sinope, 85-160 CE, organized a gnostic oriented network of churches and brought together a version of the New Testament, both of which may have been the model upon which the Roman orthodox religious system was based. Marcion was an associate of Valentinus in Rome and was likely privy to St. Paul’s esoteric teachings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcion_of_Sinope
- Doceticism and the Christ Myth theory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docetism
- Matthew 28:19 is the only reference to “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” in the four Gospels.
- Petrine doctrine and the Primacy of Peter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primacy_of_Peter
- Rosamonde Miller, an ordained gnostic Priestess of the Gnostica Ecclesia in Mountain View Ca has been holding sacred gnostic services for many years. Her devotion to this work seems inexhaustible, as she and her husband David Miller have rolled with creating a few different sanctuaries in the South Bay as the need for leased space arises. The story is that Rosamonde, who had been ordained by the acclaimed gnostic priest and author, Stephan Hoeller, was tapped by a line of women priestesses who trace their lineage back to Mary Magdalene. This lineage was unknown until, it was decided that it was time to become public and Rosamonde was the one to do this. This quote is taken from her gnostic liturgy.
- Eisenman, Robert. James the Brother of Jesus. The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. NY, Penguin. 1997.
- Biblical references to the brothers of Jesus. Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55-56.
- Eisenman, Robert. James the Brother of Jesus. The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. NY, Penguin. 1997.
- Ibid. Eisenman. 1997. p. on Stephen
- Eisenman, Robert. Historical Jesus Lectures, presented at Cal State Long Beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8tBkuLftDA
- Layton, Bentley. The Gnostic Scriptures, Ancient Wisdom for the New Age. Doubleday: NY. 1987. p.12
- Scholem, Gershom. Origins of the Kabbalah. Princeton: Jewish Publication Society. 1987
- Lash, John Lamb. Not In His Image