Tuesday, August 25, 2015


A great purge must have been organized to get rid of these Gnostics


This book is of course essential. But I would like to make several remarks that imply a wider opening of the perspective under which we consider these documents.

To say that these documents were written at the end of the second century or the beginning of the third century is correct but only formally? They were written then, at least 150 years after the events they speak of but from a long oral tradition from the very time when these events took place. They were transmitted orally from one generation to the next and they started from people who had been witnesses of the events and that could remember what the various characters did or said and first of all Jesus and of course Judas. The proof of this oral tradition is in the fact that there are differences between three of these documents who have other versions in the Nag Hammadi Library for example. And I find it rather easy to say it is only a question of varying translation from Greek. In fact originally all that started in Jerusalem meaning it started in a Semitic language, either Hebrew or rather Aramaic, the colloquial language of Jesus and his direct associates.

The proof is in the fact that the disciples address Jesus as “Rabbi” and not “Lord” or even “Master.” The term “Rabbi” is Jewish and from Hebrew or other directly connected Semitic languages. It is one way to differentiate the parallel verses of the New Testament: the original verses were in a Semitic language and call Jesus “Rabbi” whereas the added verses were in Greek and address Jesus as “Lord.” (Note Lord is used in the first document the Letter of Peter to Philip.) This tradition was transmitted at first in those Semitic languages, Hebrew or Aramaic over at least five generations and it was set in Greek progressively and finally written in Greek at the end of the 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd. Then it was translated into Coptic and this time from the Greek version with maybe some older people who might have remembered the old oral Semitic version.

This is essential because these documents are not forgeries or fakes but they are truly coming from the time of the events, the time when Jesus was preaching and was crucified and then when James later was stoned to death. Note by the way the document called “James” could not come from James himself because he was not able to tell the way he ended up stoned by illegal decision of the High Priest of the temple, since the Great Sanhedrin did not meet in the temple but at the High Priest’s home. Obviously this text is from that period (62 CE) but told by a witness who could report on what James had told him about his conversations with Jesus before and after the crucifixion. It is a typical case where only someone very close to James could start the story, the telling, the memory, the oral tradition.

Apart from the first document the three others report about what Jesus actually told his disciples. That could only come from people in the inner circle around Jesus. Even Paul could not have been one of these because he had not yet declared himself an apostle since he had not had yet his vision on the road to Damascus. This remark is essential because numerous apocryphal documents contain such reports of Jesus telling one of his disciple something personal, inspired and visionary. I insist on the personal dimension because too often critics want to generalize what is being said, abstract it from the direct context and from the people it was said to. They have the tendency to dehumanize Jesus though they assert all along Jesus made himself a man to be close to other human beings. If he is a man in a man’s body then he has normal human reactions and what is says is supposed to be understood in the context and the direct environment at that moment.

The best part is when Jesus comes back after his resurrection. It is the basic debate here. Did he come back in a man’s body and Thomas could put his fingers in the holes of the feet and the hands, or did he come back as a spirit and Thomas could not put his fingers in non-corporeal feet and hands. You cannot “touch” a spirit, though you can be in contact with it, if you believe in spirits, of course. But that’s not the point here.

Was Jesus still in his human body after his resurrection or was he a pure spirit visible as if he were in his human body, hence in an image of this body. Martin Meyer says very clearly: “The Letter of Peter to Philip shares with the other three texts in the codex a commitment to a spiritual understanding of Jesus, in particular a spiritual understanding of his passion and death.” (p. 86) That does not mean his crucifixion is fictional but it means that his crucifixion and his subsequent resurrection have to be understood as a spiritual event and experience. The trauma for the people directly associated to Jesus was probably too strong to be alleviated in a minute and survival to this trauma could only be a spiritual dealing with it that made it bearable. What I say here is that the resurrection and the coming back of Jesus is not at all an illusion but it is a direct construction of the traumatized and mourning passion (in the meaning of love, attachment, fascination) nourished and nurtured in the followers by Jesus himself and the very difficult atmosphere in Jerusalem at the time. In fact I am quite ready to say that this is Post Torture and Martyrdom Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and this particular PTSS inspired the surviving witnesses into creating a whole religion out of it, out of what after all was a common death penalty in those days. This creative procedure has more to do with the charisma and brilliance of Jesus and his teachings than with the inhumane and nonhuman method used to accuse him and execute him, an obvious miscarriage of justice and vengeful retribution against someone who had dared to challenge the authority of established temple bureaucrats and executives turning themselves into executioners.

The questions asked by the disciples are typical of something that is not said by the commentators. Let me quote them: “Lord, (…) [the] deficiency of the aeons and their fullnesses, [how] are we detained [in this] very dwelling [place]? [Again, how] have we come to this place? And, how [shall we] leave? And, how do [we] have the authority [of] this very boldness? [Why] do [the] powers fight against [us]?” (p. 97) The idea that is behind these questions is that the people asking the questions, hence the disciples, the apostles are not originally from this world but are from another world and they have been in a way or another transported to this world where they are detained. The answer with the “Mother” is supernatural and sets at the original point of the existence of human beings, and these disciples or apostles are human beings, the “Mother” ’s decision to do something that was not supported by the Great One. We can interpret that Mother the way we want, humanity is thus brought into existence out of nothing at all and under a fatal sin by the Mother herself that dooms this humanity to its or their fate. If sin has brought humanity into its alienated existence, then they have to “arm yourselves with the power of my Father and express your prayer.” (p. 103) Their mission is to go and preach for the salvation of the world. “. . . ‘You will have joy and peace and power. Do not be afraid. [I] am with you forever.’ Then the apostles parted [---] sent them too [preach. And] they went in the power of Jesus, in peace.” (p. 109) But that peace comes from the knowledge of the end of this alienation on earth is in the end of life itself that enables man to merge with the divine dimension of this creation: “ ‘I often told you, you are to die, and you are to be brought into synagogues and before governors, and you are to [---]” (p. 105)

It is clear they have to integrate the spiritual dimension of Jesus’ teachings and that gives them the power and the motivation to preach for the salvation of the world that can only be reached individually when death comes as the final test of Christian peace and Christian faith. The questions then lead to the strange idea that humanity came from some other place by being created out of a fundamental disobedient sin by the Mother herself. And to correct this mistake humanity has to find its salvation in the repented sins of each sinner at the moment of their death. This repentance will be all the more effective if the power and conviction to preach salvation in the name of Jesus has been achieved as soon as possible in life.

The document called James is one more piece in the puzzle of James’ death, Jesus’ brother, though the text is ambiguous in its form on the subject of being the brother of Jesus since it says: “For not without reason are you called ‘brother,’ though [you] are not physically a brother. . . “ (p. 121) It does not mean James is not the son of Joseph and Mary (if we consider James as younger than Jesus) but Jesus is not the son of Joseph, and Mary, his mother, is only a vessel used by God to bring his son into a human body. And yet James is called “brother” “not without reason,” thus meaning that spiritually James is the brother of Jesus. But the interest of the document is it first asserts that James was stoned to death and second it gives a rather long testimony about what kind of accusations were leveled at him and what kind of defense he brought forward. This could only be known by very few people who actually took part in the Sanhedrin meeting which was an emergency meeting that was not held in the legal proper place. And that could only be after James’ death and not from him. That’s what the oral tradition is all about. The procedure in the Sanhedrin must have been in Hebrew, certainly not in Greek. And that oral tradition was kept for five generations.

The Gospel of Judas is interesting but I have already discussed it in the earlier National Geographic edition of this Gospel alone. I would like to come back on a couple of points. Page 207, Jesus calls Judas the “thirteenth daimon.” We could discuss this word “daimon” a long time especially since it is rendered in French by the word “démon.” In English the word comes from Greek and means a lesser divine being, like a dead hero, or the inner spirit of a person. The American Heritage Dictionary says: “1. An inferior deity, such as a deified hero. 2. An attendant spirit; a genius.” In French the word “démon” is definitely connected to devils and satanic beings like a bad spirit possessing a person and requiring exorcism. But the point is not there. The point is in the number thirteen. It is in those days a zodiacal sign, the Serpent holder who represents knowledge, science, medicine, healing, and many other things. On the Benedictine abbey church of Issoire, France, there used to be the thirteenth zodiacal sign at the meeting point between the choir of the abbey church and the scriptorium or library of the abbey. The meaning was clear and it was there till at least the thirteenth century. It has just been reinstated. That implies that this “daimon” is someone who has the key to healing, who is the key to healing, and Judas sure is that key since Jesus asks him to help him get rid of his body by enabling the crucifixion that could not happen since the Temple people did not know who Jesus was, but Judas did. And there the “thirteenth” reference is clear: “. . . You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man who bears me. . . “ (p. 231) “. . . And Judas received money and handed him over to them.” (p. 235) The translation into French of this last sentence is very poor by making the thing miserable and so little that we wonder where the dignity of the fulfilled mission has gone: the “money” is translated by “des sous” meaning precisely “a few pennies” or “their few pennies.” A “sou” is an old French currency in the times of French francs. In the 1950s twenty “sous” were equivalent to one old Franc of the time, and was worth nothing or so little. Note that’s the second time I wonder about the French version of this text. Without having checked it all I am surprised that on these two crucial elements the French version is from my point of view wrong.

Note the vision Judas has of being stoned by the twelve apostles is strange since at the time of this vision he is one of the twelve. But then the remark from Jesus about the “thirteenth daimon” before and the second remark after the vision this time: “You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations, and you will come to rule over them. In the last day they to you, and (that?) you will not ascend on high to the holy generation.” We can see how ambiguous this thirteen becomes: a curse, and yet Judas will rule over the other twelve, and yet again he will “not ascend to the holy generation.” It is regrettable that the critics do not discuss these numbers and this Gospel contains a whole set of number: 5, 6, 12, 24, 72, 360; 5 firmaments, 6 heavens, 12 aeons and luminaries. Obviously 13 is not in that logic. It should have been discussed.

The last document, Allogenes, is about Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve to replace Abel killed by Cain, the latter banned by God. That Seth is identified with Jesus, which sounds normal if we remember that Jesus defines himself as the “son of man” and that man is Adam, derived from Adamas, the earth. Adam is the first man and his son is Seth, hence Jesus is Seth. The interest though of this identification is that Seth is the very symbol of one trend in the emerging Christian faith and church in the second and third centuries. That trend is the Gnostics also called Sethians. Here we are dealing with an essential school of Christian affiliation in those distant centuries and this trend is declared heretic by Iraneus and the documents that compose the Nag Hammadi Library and this Codex are definitely sethian and hence gnostic. These documents were stored away in the Egyptian desert by communities that were following that branch of Christianity, a branch that was banned. Were they dispersed, or eliminated, we do not know. Probably some of both.

These documents are essential if we want to understand how Christianity emerged in nearly three centuries from the crucifixion and martyrdom of one man in Jerusalem in 33 CE and then the stoning of his brother in 62 CE. This led to the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and then of the walls of the city and the order of all Jews to disappear from the Levant. That was the radical Diaspora that is still haunting our modern world. It seems in the case of the Roman Empire and Christianity the emergence of this new faith would never have occurred if it had not been unified enough via the elimination of some trends to impress a Roman Emperor and inspire him into declaring this new religion the official and only religion of the empire. What I say here is that without the elimination of the “heretic” Gnostics and the unification behind Pauline and Petrine vision Christianity would never have been able to become the religion we know. Was it though justified? That’s another question these documents cannot answer. It is the more spiritual, philosophical and maybe rebellious side of Christianity that was eliminated in the name of the more down to earth, realistic and maybe submissive side.

A shame that specialists of this subject remain closed up in their Biblical learned erudition because there was a whole world out there and they do not consider it.


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