Christianity began as a movement within Judaism at a period when the Jews had long been under foreign influence and rule; they found in their religion, rather than in their politics or cultural achievements, the strength of their community. In Palestinian Judaism the predominant note was separation and exclusiveness. Jewish missionaries to other areas were strictly expected to impose the distinctive Jewish customs of circumcision, kosher food, and Sabbaths and other festivals. The relationship of the earliest Christian Church to Judaism rested principally on two questions:
– The messianic role of Jesus of Nazareth.
– The permanent validity of the Mosaic Law for all.
As a result the earliest members of the Christian faith tradition were Jews, as was Jesus himself. They were monotheists devoted to the God of Israel. When they made claims that Jesus was divine, it was part of their task to do this in ways that would not challenge monotheism. As with other religious people, they became involved in a search for truth. God, in the very nature of things, was necessarily the final Truth. While it is easier to point to diversity that to simplicity, or clarity, among those who early expressed faith in Jesus, it must also be said that from the beginning the believers insisted that they were united in their devotion to their faith tradition. It was part of their tradition to reject other gods and other ways.
In the move from their exclusive roots in Judaism to their experience in Greek and Roman cultures, Christians did something rare in the history of religion: they adopted the entire scriptural canon of what they now saw to be another faith, Judaism, and took over the Hebrew Scriptures that they called the Old Testament. They also incorporated the insistent monotheism of Judaism as part of their truth and way of salvation.
The early Church was not the united congregation of saints and martyrs that the Literalist Christians would like us to believe. It was in reality made up of different groups, the main two being:
– The Gnostics who were persecuted by the Literalists until they disappeared with all their writings.
– Later on the Literalists who take Jesus’ story as a true account of historical events.
Among the three great monotheistic religions, Christianity has a place apart, because of its Trinitarian creed in contradiction to the Unitarian creed of Judaism and Islam. Christianity, in its three classic forms of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism acknowledges one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. According to Christian theology, this is not recognition of three gods, but that these three persons are essentially one, or as the dogmatic formulation of the early Church Father Tertullian, has it: “three Persons and one substance”.
The main difference between Christianity and the old religions is that Christianity as a monotheistic religion restricts itself to three Persons, whereas primitive religions have no reason to restrict the number of possible forms of the one divine substance. Like other religions that cover a large territory and have a long history, Christianity appears in a multitude of variations: there is Christian pantheism, Deism, and even, paradoxically, Christian atheism.
A school of Jewish Gnostics put together Pagan and Jewish mythology to produce new myths. These proto-Christians, probably known at that time as Therapeutae or Essenes, were at the origin of “Christianity”. In the first century AD many Jews in Judea and in the Mediterranean countries, but especially the Jewish Gnostics such as the Therapeutae, were integrated in the dominant Pagan society. Jewish Gnostics claim to be the heirs of secret mystical teaching passed down to them by the great Gnostic master, Moses. The Pagan Gnostics and philosophers of the time also claimed to follow Moses’ teaching. The spirituality of the Essenes and the Therapeutae is an example of the fusion of Pagan and Jewish Gnosticism. Both claimed also to be followers of the great Pagan philosopher, Pythagoras. In the first century AD, following the Therapeutae and Essene traditions, Christian mythology evolved through many stages. Different Christian schools produced their own version of the most common myths.
The rise of Christianity was by far the most important development of the Roman period. Primitive Christianity, with its apocalyptic and eschatological interests, has come to be viewed by many scholars as no longer “sectarian”, or peripheral to Jewish development, but, at least initially, as part of a broad spectrum of attitudes within Judaism. Jesus himself, despite his criticisms of Pharisaic legalism, may now be classified as a Pharisee with strong apocalyptic inclinations; he proclaimed that he had no intention of abrogating the Torah, but of fulfilling it. The percentage of Jews converted to any form of Christianity was extremely small, even in the Diaspora, despite the strong influence of Hellenism, and there were relatively few Jewish converts.
Christianity was not the only foreign Mystery cult adopted by the Roman Empire. In 304 AD, the Persian saviour Mithras was declared the “Protector of the Roman Empire”. He too was said to be born on December 25 and his followers celebrated a meal of bread and wine. Mithras Mysteries spread in the Roman Empire in the first century AD and in the third century it was followed in all the Empire. Slaves and freemen were initiated in this cult and often the slaves became the leaders. However the Romans were also interested in other Mystery religions like that of Dionysus, Attis, Serapis, Osiris and Helios. In the beginning of the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine became interested in Christianity. He believed that the Romans needed a Mystery religion because they were always popular with the people and Literalist Christianity was well suited for this role because it had eliminated all its intellectuals and philosophers who could have created problems to the state and the Emperor. It was an authoritarian religion that encouraged its members to have blind faith in their leaders. This is what the Romans needed: a religion without mystics, the Outer Mysteries without the Inner ones and form without content. Constantine presided over the Nicaea Council of 325. The Christian community was divided at that time, not only between Literalists and Gnostics, but also between Literalists. He enforced unity by creating the Nicaea creed that is still in use today. The bishops who disagree with it were sent to exile. After Constantine the Empire became even more Christianised, more intolerant; the only exception was Emperor Julian (360-363) who tried, without success, to re-impose Paganism and religious tolerance. After Julian, the truth of Christianity’s origins was suppressed and a more suitable history written that is still declared as true today by most Christian Churches. Old documents were modified and distorted; new ones were forged, even in the names of the Apostles, fictitious biography of saints and martyrs appeared, sometime based on the live of dead Pagan holy men, and then included in the New Testament. Stories were invented like Peter coming to Rome and being crucified upside down to make Rome the centre of Christian power. The literalists went even so far in the 2nd century as to make a saint out of Pontius Pilate, the brutal Roman governor hated by the Jews although he was said to be responsible for the death of Jesus Christ by the first Literalists who started putting the Jesus myth into a historical story. The historical story of Jesus was finalised by Eusebius, the “father of Church history” in the 4th century AD without any regard for the truth.
Mystic of all spiritual traditions have said that there is only one truth; it was not suddenly revealed 2,000 years ago and Christianity is only one stage in the human history. God did not come on earth once as described by the Literalist Christian Church, the truth is God has always been with us, He never left. Unfortunately there is no tradition which can initiate us in the Inner mysteries encoded in the Jesus Mysteries but these mystical teachings are still there for those who “have eyes to see” as it has always been. The aim is not to attack Literalist Christianity but to regain something that had been deliberately lost by the various Christian churches: the Inner Mysteries that reveal the secrets of Gnosis. These mysteries do not undermine Christianity, quite the opposite, they reveal the whole Jesus story that has been hidden from us by the Literalists, the “greatest story ever told”. The Inner Mysteries tell us that we all are sons and daughters of God and by understanding the myth of the sacrificed Godman we also can be resurrected into our true immortal divine being.
Sources of Jesus myth:
– The Exodus allegory is a Jewish myth that relates Moses’ story leading his people out of captivity in Egypt. They had to wander for 40 years in the desert before finding the Promised Land and Moses died before entering it. His successor, Joshua ben Nun, parted the river Jordan allowing in this way the Jews to enter into their homeland. The name Joshua is synonymous with Jesus. Jewish and Christian Gnostics understood Exodus to be an initiation allegory. Egypt represents the body. While the initiates identify with the body they are in “captivity”! To come out of Egypt was understood as leaving behind the notion of being only a body and discovering the soul. Crossing the Red Sea was symbolising a purifying baptism, which is the first stage of the initiation on the spiritual path of awakening. Moses’ death represents the death of the old self and Moses is mythically reborn as Joshua/Jesus who completes the journey to the Promised Land representing the reborn initiate.
The Jesus’ myth is similar. Jesus is first baptised and then he spent 40 days in the wilderness. The “death of the old self” in Jesus ‘ myth is represented by his crucifixion while the experience of Gnosis is represented by Jesus’resurrection from the dead and ascension to Heaven. Early Christians were well aware of the striking similarities between the two myths. Other similarities can be found. Once he has crossed the Jordan Moses chose 12 men to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus selects 12 men as his closest followers. In both cases the figure 12 refers to the 12 astrological signs of the zodiac. At the birth of Moses the Pharaoh fearing that Moses would cause his downfall ordered a mass infanticide hoping to kill him. In Jesus’ myth King Herod, fearful that Jesus could be the true King of the Jews, orders the “slaughter of the Innocent children”. Like the Jews led by Moses are called out of Egypt by their God, Jesus is also called out of Egypt. All the Jewish prophesises are fulfilled because the Jesus’ story has been written from them.
The Jewish mythology borrowed from the initiation allegories of the Pagan Mysteries. Each Mystery tradition consisted of exoteric Outer Mysteries, which involved religious practices open to everybody, and esoteric Inner Mysteries whose access was through initiation. In the Inner Mysteries the rituals and myths of the Outer Mysteries were explained as allegories encoding mystical teaching that lead initiates to Gnosis. The most important characters of these allegorical initiation myths were the lost and redeemed Goddess and the dying and resurrecting Godman. They were known as Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Persephone and Dionysus in Greece, Aphrodite and Adonis in Syria, Cybele and Attis in Asia Minor, Ishtar and Marduk in Mesopotamia, the Magna Mater and Mithras in Persia, and Asherah and Baal around Judea. These gods are two identical universal Mythic archetypes known by different names; their general names were “Great Mother” for the Goddess and “Osiris-Dionysus” for the Godman.
The myth of the Pagan Godman describes a “Son of God” born to a virgin on December 25, who dies at Easter through crucifixion and resurrect on the third day. He is a prophet who offers his followers to be born again through the rites of baptism. He is performing miracles, raising the dead and turning water into wine at a marriage ceremony. As a saviour he offer his followers redemption through participating in a meal of bread and wine, symbolic of his body and blood. As it is well known these and many more myths were incorporated by the original Christians in their myth of Jesus. By combining the Jewish Messiah with the Pagan Godman, the Jewish Gnostics may have believed that they were creating the ultimate mystical superhero while challenging their Literalist tradition that were awaiting a historical Messiah, a warrior king, sent by Jehovah to free them from the Roman domination. By putting together the Jewish Messiah and the Pagan dying and resurrecting Godman, Jewish Gnostics were making the Pagan wisdom more acceptable to Jews, but were also presenting them with a different Messiah. The Gnostic Jesus does not come to bring political salvation, but mystical enlightenment. He does not lead victorious armies but die on the cross as a criminal. Like the Gnostics, he is a free thinker who breaks the rules, accept outsiders, and teases the religious authorities for their ignorance.
History of Christian mysticism in the early church
Mysticism is the sense of contact with the transcendent; it should not be understood merely in terms of special ecstatic experiences but as part of a religious process lived out within the context of the Christian community. Early Christianity was a religion of the spirit that expressed itself in the heightening and enlargement of human consciousness. The Synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus enjoyed a sense of special contact with God. In the primitive church prophets, who were believed to be recipients of a revelation coming directly from the Holy Spirit, played an active part. The recurring phrase, “in Christ,” implies personal union, a participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection