Christianity maintains the deceit that its collection of Jesus
anecdotes and incidents are reports of actual comings
and goings of their godman and were told "from the beginning" by
his followers and fans.
they buttress the falsehood that what passes for mainstream Christianity
or "orthodoxy" originated with
JC himself (rather than in the 4th century with the newly empowered
of the Church).
With this lie in place, all the alternative stories told for 300
years by "heterodox" opponents, necessarily had to be
denounced as pious fantasy. Were the heterodox to be the
only liars it would indeed be curious. For it would mean that all
Christian writers for over three centuries – without exception
leaders and bishops of their Christian fraternities – wilfully
suppressed an obvious and divine truth and chose instead to invent
their own exotic fantasies.
Custodians of Wisdom
“The Gnostics were
distinguished as the most polite, the most learned, and the most
wealthy of the Christian name.”
– Gibbon (Decline & Fall)
The genre of
literature known as "Gnostic" was a device
used by its proponents to popularise complex philosophical ideas
among an uneducated mass market. Its stories purported to tell
the tale of the first disciples of a spiritual master, the logos
Always a common thread to their message was a duality
between the material world, which they denigrated and despised,
and a conjectured spirit realm held in sublime esteem.
The pious fantasising,
elaborated at length by adepts of a "higher
wisdom", spread through an empire which had excellent communications
and a despairing underclass. Dozens of factions contended and gospels
of fantasy and fancy proliferated.
who say they will first die and then arise are mistaken.
do not first receive resurrection while they are alive,
once they have died they will receive nothing."
of Philip (73.1,4)
Like Paul and
many early Christian mystics, Valentinus claimed that he
had experienced a vision of the risen
His Christ is
one of the last in a series of "aeons" entering
the world since the "primal silence."
A human Jesus
is in the mix, as
a "Revealer of Knowledge" and
sin is there too, "a state of ignorance" . Thus "rebirth" or
resurrection is from ignorance.
all this esoteric babble Valentinus was a power player,
almost becoming Pope in Rome.
In an attempt
to explain the existence of good and evil Basilides came
up with a supreme deity called "Abraxas",
superior to the savage Jewish god Yahweh.
produced the "Acts of John", suppressed
by the Church in the 8th century but surviving in a 5th
century Armenian edition.
From it we learn
that Christ encounters his followers in many different
guises, not especially a human one.
For the Basilidians
the eucharist involved the "breaking of bread" but
no wine. It was the celebration of the glory of Christ,
not his death.
true cross was a Cross of Light, not its wooden symbol.
Christ's passion was also symbolic, not literal.
the nasty Jewish God and wrote the first 'New Testament'.
Salvation, it seems,
arrived not with a Jesus but in the Garden of Eden, when
the serpent introduced Adam and Eve to the Knowledge
of Good and Evil. (Makes better sense than the final version
of the yarn!)
Although the Marcionites
taught that there was no such thing as sin, they adhered
himself, after bankrolling the Church in Rome, was forced
out in a power struggle. He became the great heresiarch and leader of a rival church.
mystery, Outer Mystery
Gnosticism was an enthusiasm of the wealthy and comparatively
secure landowning and
merchant class. It arose from Jewish Gnosticism in the
wake of the Jewish wars, which culminated in the utter defeat
Jews in 135
and the erasure of a Jewish state. The Mediterranean ports were
flooded with despised Jewish refugees and the slave markets overflowed
shown 'His displeasure' not only with them – but
with all things Jewish.
Many early Christians
migrated to Rome in the wake of the Jewish war. Among them was Valentinus, Marcion,
a wealthy ship owner from Pontus, and Cerdo,
who established a school in which the new theology was taught.
The gnostic leaders openly proclaimed that all
things Jewish should be discarded. They declared
that the God of the Old Testament was an inferior god, the
deity of the lower, material world.
Having jettisoned "Jewish
familiarity with the Greek "mystery religions" led
the Gnostics to copy
circle of adepts
a secret "higher Wisdom" was passed orally from
Master to Initiate. Their claim to authority rested on earlier
who, it was said, had entrusted arcane knowledge to their
as competitive clubs, vied with each other for acolytes, with
some groups committed to asceticism
the denial of all "pleasures of the flesh" and
others to indulgence, in which sex, revelry and all manner
dissolute behaviour were encouraged. Their common goal
was to find "the
exclusivity of mystery cult meant that gnosticism was
intrinsically elitist. But for the uneducated rabble, the Gnostics
had something powerful to offer. What
they presented to the unsophisticated, non-elite, were vulgarised
versions of gnostic doctrines dressed up in allegory.
down and circulated, the allegories were subsequently
enacted in pageants and plays, in
which characters took on the role of unseen Powers
Personification of the abstract was standard fare in the Roman theatre.
as curly haired woman flanked by elephant's tusk and a
century bronze bust. British Museum)
Masks from the Roman theatre
talented Christian leaders of the mid-2nd century
concocted fables, each styled the "one true
gospel of the Lord", with which they made
a bid for a more universal leadership. The more
strove for an independent, even millenarian church; some
achieved high position within the Catholic hierarchy.
began the process of anthropomorphizing, in particular, the
of God into a
human figure, a Jesus Christos, about whom, a series of anecdotes, ‘reminiscences’ and
stories would be woven.
Simon the Magician
The Samaritan "Simon
the Magus" was
an early Jewish Gnostic who inspired both the mystical
"Kabala" (a refinement of Pythagorean "magic" numbers)
and later Christian Gnostics – Basilides, Saturninus,
Carpocrates among them. Later Catholic writers
demonized the poor guy. He may actually be the figure on whom the apostle Paul is based!
Simon goes unmentioned in the Gospels but
in Acts he has "bewitched" all the
people of Samaria.
all gave heed, from the least to the greatest,
saying, 'This man is the great power of God.'
And to him they had regard, because that of long
time he had bewitched them with sorceries."
Such a tribute to a rival magician!
Whatever the reality
of Simon's bewitching power the following dozen verses
of Acts packs in a host of nonsense: Simon's
conversion by the deacon Philip (but not really);
of the heavies Peter and John; Simon's offer of money
the power of Holy Ghost; Peter's curse and Simon's
final plea for forgiveness.
For centuries, the Christians
kept up the attacks on Simon, weaving into the fantasy
Helen of Troy and/or a prostitute called Helena, Nero (who
else!) and a battle of magic with Peter.
What we might reasonably conclude
from all this is that a charismatic holy man of Samaria
gave the early
some stiff competition.
from Ignorance ..."
was nearer to the "Jesus action" than
most other Church Fathers. Born in Phrebonis in Upper Egypt about
100 AD, Valentinus's claimed spiritual guide was a certain Theodas,
who, it was said, received his doctrines directly from St
Paul – significantly, not a human Jesus! Like
Paul and many other early Christian mystics, Valentinus claimed
that he had experienced a vision of Christ.
was still a young man, studying in the city of Alexandria, when
insurrection by Egyptian Jewry had been answered by savage Roman
reprisals. With their urban and religious organisation
shattered, remnants of Egyptian Jewry sought religious salvation
anew. Within three years Valentinus was able to present them
with his "Christianity." Following his supposed 'vision',
Valentinus began a career as teacher/shaman – first at
Alexandria, around 120, and later in Rome.
Yet there is
little of the familiar Christ myth in the Valentinus system – indeed,
we might even suspect a Buddhist influence. No nativity, no virgin
birth, no Calvary, no inescapable
original sin. JC
is the human son
of Mary, enlightened by the
Spirit at baptism.
his system, Valentinus combined aspects drawn from
the Egyptian Isis cult with
certain aspects of Jewish mythology. In common with the Ophites,
the Valentinians worshipped the snake as
a part of the Eucharist service!
role of a human Jesus was to reveal to man an awareness
of his own divinity. But only the less enlightened and uneducated
needed a superior saviour (the Valentinians classified
humanity into pneumatici, psychici and hylici).
Adepts of the "inner truths" could achieve enlightenment
by themselves. Awakened from the "stupor of ignorance" imposed
by material existence, and freeing himself from suffering,
recognize his true spiritual identity.
For the individual,
this illuminating event is nothing less than a 'virgin
re-birth'. 'Knowledge' ('gnosis') is
the real resurrection, resurrection from
of ignorance, experienced in the here and now, not in the
afterlife. A sinless (not an eternal) life was possible through
a perfect knowledge of God's will. This is the "higher Wisdom" passed
from one Enlightened Master to the next.
Rise and Fall
his esoterics, Valentinus struck a chord with displaced
Jews and pagans searching
'truth.' During a 15 year career in the east he attracted a large
following in Egypt, Cyprus and Syria.
after the ruin of the Bar Kochba war, in 136,
Valentinus sought his fortune in Rome. He almost
became its bishop,
losing out to Hyginus (138-142). He continued to teach
in Rome for at least ten more years. He probably
died there around 155. The Valentinian 'school', however, continued
and elaborated still further its theology.
was said to be androgynous (with the feminine
aspects of the deity identified as 'Silence', 'Grace' and 'Thought'). Reflecting
this gender-parity women held positions of authority within
the Valentinian church. Unlike the master/slave
relationship of later Christianity, for the Valentinians, Christ
a brother, and the Holy Spirit like a consort. There
was no need for the Church to acquire earthly riches and temporal
of which, of course, was most alarming for the State/Church
hierarchs of Catholicism.
Branded 'heretics', the Valentinians were expelled from the
Church and hunted down. By 350 AD, the Valentinian
'intellectuals' were dead and monks in Egypt were hiding
the 'heretical' writings. Valentinus's major work The
Gospel of Truth provoked
its own response from the ecclesiasta: the Gospel
of St John.
its condemnation by orthodoxy, Valentinian doctrines
continued to influence medieval gnostic groups such as
the Paulicians and the Cathars and something of an underground
Valentinian church survived as late as the 9th century, notably
Not Crucified ..."
another early 2nd century Christian theorist from Alexandria,
claimed to have received his esoteric doctrines from a Claucias and Claucias himself
was said to have received them directly from St.
Peter. On the other hand, given that St
Peter didn't really
exist, Basilides probably learnt his art from Simon
enough, one of the notions attributed to the Basilidians was
that Jesus had not been crucified, but had
swapped places with a mysterious bystander called "Simon
of Cyrene"! Simon had been put on the cross instead – a
notion which re-surfaced centuries
like many later Gnostics, had difficulty accepting the pernicious
Jewish tribal god Yahweh as the supreme deity. Instead he introduced
a higher god with the magical name "Abraxas" derived
from Pythagorean mathematics. Christ was the latest of a whole
series of spiritual agents from this higher god, whilst Yahweh,
something of a fallen angel, remained none the less creator of
the baser, material world.
was not part of Basilides' system. Christ's purpose
was not to "die for our sins" (a revamped Jewish scapegoat
notion) but, by suffering as we ourselves suffer, to remind us
have forgotten "we are also from God and are also divine."
sect influenced the Mandaeans, the Ophites and the Jewish
Christians' with John the Baptist in the starring role!
The Mandaeans (aka Nazoreans, Sabians of the Quran) existed from the 1st century BC in Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria and Persia. They, like mainstream Christians, had a link back to the Jewish Essenes.
The Mandaean chief rite was morning baptism, welcoming in the life-giving sun and remembering the dead. They rejected asceticism and emphasised fertility and marriage. The Mandaeans made use of astrology to divine God's will and believed that the salvation of souls was to be achieved through righteousness and gnosis, NOT a sacrificial saviour god.
They revered John the Baptist because of the principal concern with ritual cleanliness. But Jesus they rejected as a false messiah.
who Worshipped a Snake?!
known for his role in the Garden of Eden, the snake
was actually revered
by an early (and long-lived) Christian cult – the esoteric Ophites.
evolved in Egypt during the 2nd century AD and existed for several
centuries afterwards. The name derived from the Greek 'ophis',
meaning 'serpent', and relates to the great reverence which the
Ophites had toward the serpent, a reverence inherited from traditional
Egyptian religion, and which passed into Greek mythology in the
stories surrounding Asclepios, the god of healing.
to ancient Egyptian myth, the great snake of the underworld – Aapep – tried
to capsize the boat carrying the Sun through the night. And yet
and the sun maintained an eternal partnership.
a practical level, Egyptian 'healers and holy men' demonstrated
their prowess by charming the deadliest of snakes,
the cobra. Thus mastered, the snake emerged as a protective
force, added to the Pharaonic crown and becoming an icon
of kingship. As a symbol of healing and kingship the snake was
identified by the Ophite Christians
with their Christ, an exclusively spiritual force.
The symbolism – a
serpent-entwined staff – is plain enough. What perhaps
is surprising is that, after a hiatus during the Christian Dark
ancient icon re-emerged, albeit sometimes confused with the 'two-snake-with-wings'
caduceus of Hermes and Egypt.
scribes also picked up on the original Egyptian idea but debased
it from a motif of healing into an icon of power struggle. In
order to impress pharaoh, their
heroes Moses and Aaron competed with Egyptian priests in "turning
staffs into serpents" (Exodus 7.8,12). But for the
Ophites, Yahweh, the Jewish god of the Old Testament, was a misanthropic
deity, the 'Demiurge'
who had ensnared man in a physical body and from whose power
mankind had to be liberated.
cult continued as late as the 9th century.
one who has knowledge is a free person. But the
free person does not sin, for the one who
sins is a slave of sin "
– Gospel of Philip 77.15.
Marcionites: "Two Gods, Jesus
Beams Down ..."
2nd century Catholic Bishop Marcion
was a wealthy ship owner from Sinope (modern Sinop, on the Turkish
Black Sea coast) who for a time funded the Church in Rome. The
loser in a power struggle (Irenaeus gleefully reports that he
was "excommunicated because of a rape committed on a
certain virgin"), Marcion withdrew to Asia Minor to
establish his own church hierarchy. Marcionites were soon to
be found throughout the Roman Empire, particularly in Italy,
Egypt, Arabia, and Armenia. The sect maintained an existence
until the 4th century crackdown. Some recalcitrants joined the
theology there was no holy family, no
nativity, no baptism for Jesus. Early
Christians (and not just early ones!) found the Old Testament
difficult and disturbing, its stories needing extravagant allegorising
to make them intelligible and edifying.
Marcion threw out Jewish scripture completely.
his Christ descend fully grown from heaven,
just like a Greek god. He simply 'appeared' in a synagogue in
with a mission is to bring the 'Grace' of a loving god to replace "The
Law " of the harsh Jewish god Yahweh. The God of salvation
has nothing to do with the old God of righteousness and revenge.
As a divine JC only appeared to suffer on
the ‘Evangelicon’ (or ‘Gospel
of the Lord’ ),
a slim, single volume, compelled the Catholic hierarchy to respond
in kind (it was Irenaeus who first named the approved texts – four
to combat one!).
In the east,
Marcionite Christianity thrived for centuries. It influenced
Manichaeism in the 3rd century and survived into the early Middle
in many Christian "intellectuals" the advocates of
an ethereal Jesus were undermined by literalists whose ambition
lay in establishing
an organised Church.
Often "liberal" and
inclusive, gnostic Christianity found itself directly at odds
with all who argued for unquestioning faith and a blind acceptance
of dogma. Gnosticism's free spirited speculations on the divine
had thrived in the Pax Romana of the Antonine emperors.
But in the militarised corporate state of the later empire it
had no useful role to play.
of early Christianity fell by the wayside as the sycophants and
schemers triumphed. In any event, a purely spiritual saviour
faced a problem of acceptance in a mass market accustomed to visible
gods and idolatry. Their less gifted but no less
ambitious brethren toadied to the masters of Rome and sought
accommodation with the
caesars. Increasingly they compromised with traditional paganism
and expropriated its iconography. Eventually they would find
their man in Constantine.
done so, they
of their fallen opponents by further vulgarising and literalising
bits and pieces from the wash of gospels, parables and 'wisdom'
statements, much of which had originated within the cabals
of the Gnostics. The residue was torched as heresy.
exiled, with their writings banned and destroyed, the broken
leaders of gnostic Christianity were all but erased from the
historical record. Only feint echoes of gnostic doctrines permeate
the 'orthodox' New Testament.
"He answered and said unto them:
Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of
the kingdom of heaven,
but to them it is not given."
– Matthew 13.11.
losers – exiled and persecuted, with their property sequestrated – were condemned as heretics and schismatics. Their sacred literature
was banned and destroyed.
Fortuitously, a sample of
that scripture was preserved in a cave at Nag Hammadi.
Rex Deus, The Hiram Key, Messianic Legacy, The Holy Blood and The
Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code – the list goes on.
A whole genre of "conspiracy Jesus".
The gist: "Jesus survived crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene,
had children and passed on "secret knowledge". Enter Templars, Cathars, medieval alchemists, Freemasons,
etc., keepers of the "true faith", and who knows what treasures
and arcane insights.
What such yarns best illustrate
is how, with little or no evidence, fantastic tales can be woven of
what, in an alternate universe, "could" be
But in this universe, like
the original story of which they are a parody, they are FICTION.
J.M. Robinson (Ed.), The Nag Hammadi Library (Leiden, 1984)
Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy Jesus and the Goddess (Thorsons, 2002)
J.R. Porter, The Lost Bible (Duncan Baird, 2001)
Maxwell Staniforth, Early Christian Writings (Penguin, 1978)
L. Boyle, St. Clements, Rome (Collegio San Clemente, 1989)
Jean Ritchie, The Secret World of Cults (Harper Collins, 1991)
John Riches, The World of Jesus (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Nicholas Carter, The Christ Myth (HRP, 1993)
Colin Wilson, The Occult (Grafton, 1988)
The Gnostic Society Library
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
Copyright © 2005
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no
material herein is sold for profit.