The Romans are well known for keeping records of all their activities, especially of their legal proceeding. Unfortunately no record exists of a man called Jesus Christ being tried by Pontius Pilate or crucified by the Romans. Moreover, none of the Pagans writers of that period mentioned Jesus. Three Romans writers of the second century AD said something that is often taken as proof of Jesus’ life by the Literalist Christians:
-Pliny, the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, asked the Emperor Trajan in 112 AD how to deal with regard to the Christians.
– Suetonius said that in 64 AD “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians”. All that this mean is that there were Christians in the Roman Empire Everybody agree on this.
– Tacitus wrote, about 50 years after the great fire of
Rome in 64AD, that the Emperor Nero, accused of starting the fire, blamed the Christians.
In conclusion, the Roman writers do not bring us any evidence concerning Jesus the Man. There are three ways to explain this:
– The records were lost,
– There was no historical Jesus.
– Jesus seemed of little importance to the Romans to be mentioned.
Philo, the Jewish historian, lived at the same time as Jesus. He wrote about 50 books on history, philosophy and religion that survive to this day. He wrote quite a lot about Pontius Pilate but did not mention Jesus. Justus of Tiberias, his contemporary, was a Jew who lived near Capernaum, a place Jesus is said to have visited many times. His book began with Moses and includes the history of his own time. He did not mention Jesus either. Josephus, a younger contemporary of St Paul and a pro-Roman Jew, wrote two well-known history books, “The Jewish wars” and “Antiquities of the Jews”. He mentions Jesus: “At about the same time lived Jesus, a wise man, … he was one who accomplished surprising feats and was a teacher … He won over many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Messiah.” He then mentions the trial before Pilate, his death by crucifixion and his resurrection. The name “Christian” was taken from him. These statements by Josephus have been used over hundred of years by the Literalist Christians as a proof that Jesus existed as they say he did. However, with the new techniques available now, no serious experts believe that Josephus wrote these words. They have been identified as later additions by Bishop Eusebius in the fourth century AD: their style is different and if they are removed, Josephus’ document read better and more clearly.
For the original Christians, the Jesus story was a myth to introduce beginners to the spiritual path. The “Outer Mysteries” were “for the masses”. For those who wanted to go further there were secret teachings, or “Inner Mysteries” which were the secret traditions of true Gnosis. The Original Christians saw the divine as having a male and female face. The Divine Feminine was known as Sophia, the Wise Goddess. The Roman Church negated her and this explains why women have always been kept out of the main activities of the Literalist Christian Church. The original Christians, the Gnostics, believed in total equality between men and women. For them the Gospel was not a story written in a book but they believed that “The Gospel is the Gnosis”.
The origin of Christianity is still a disputed question with many explanations offered but only two of them are really important for this research.
A – The Gnostics believed that the first Christians, the members of the Jewish sects that bear that name, were in fact the followers of the Therapeutae, a Jewish sect of Alexandria, Egypt. The Therapeutae were Jewish followers of Pythagore, a Greek Pagan philosopher. They created a Jewish sect that was in fact a Mystery School within the Jewish faith, and they integrated some Pagan philosophies within the Jewish religion. Their members were initiated in their mysteries, and they believed that some mystical truths were hidden in their myths. The Gnostics believed that they were proto-Christian and, if it was not the case, their religion was very similar in all aspects. Having developed their own version of the Ancient Mysteries, it is possible that they based the story of a Jewish dying and resurrecting god called Jesus on the Osiris-Dionysus myth. We have no direct evidence to prove it but we know that the Jews followed some sort of Mysteries. These Jewish initiates, possibly the Therapeutae, could have created the Jesus story.
To the Gnostics, the godman Jesus symbolised the Daemon, the immortal self while Jesus’ twin brother, Thomas, often represents the Eidolon, the incarnate self. Many early Christians believed that Jesus had a twin brother that looked exactly like him; some of them believed that it was Thomas who was crucified giving, in this way, an acceptable explanation to the Literalist version of Jesus’ resurrection. According to Pagan philosophy, all of us are made up of a mortal eidolon and an immortal daemon. If we only see our material identity as an eidolon, we cannot see our spiritual self or daemon. Initiation in the mysteries aimed to bring the soul back to life; the initiate went through a mystical death of his eidolon to be reborn as the daemon. The Gnostics taught the same mystery doctrine. Where the Pagan initiates of the past suffered with Dionysus and were spiritually reborn, the initiates in the Gnostic Mysteries metaphorically shared in the suffering and triumph of their godman Jesus. Literalist Christians, on the other hand, believe that an historical Jesus had come back from the dead and this was seen as a proof that those who believe in Him would also resuscitate physically on the “Day of judgment”. The Gnostics did not agree in the physical resurrection of Jesus or that the Believers would come back to life at the end of time. For them the resurrection was a mystical experience that could happen to all of us in our physical life if we recognised out true identity as the Daemon.
The Gnostics’ view of Christianity was the opposite of what the Literalists were preaching. Literalists were authoritarian, they enforced a common creed, they selected four Gospels and rejected all the others, they obliged their members to believe in Jesus as preached by their bishops; Gnostics were mystic individualists, they tolerated different beliefs and practices, they wrote hundred of different gospels, and they taught that true Christians experienced “gnosis or mystical knowledge” and became Christ. Gnostics and their ideas were eliminated and all we knew about them came from the Literalists who said that Gnosticism was a perversion of Christianity, that they confounded Jesus’ teaching with Pagan doctrines. The Literalist views prevailed until 1945 when a library of Gnostic documents was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt and this allowed them to speak for themselves. In fact the Gnostics thought that they were the real Christians and the Literalists, who distorted the true Christianity, were members of an “imitation Church” that required blind faith in historical events that were, initially, the first steps on the spiritual path to “Gnosis”. To them, the Literalists preached the “outer mysteries” of Christianity while them, in true spiritualists, were more interested in the “Inner Mysteries” of Christianity.
B – The creation of Literalism can be explained in many ways. We will only mention two of them:
– The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD and the Jews were dispersed all over the Roman Empire as slaves and refugees. Many of the members of the Christian sect were only initiated in the Outer Mysteries and knew very little about Christianity. Those who settled in the western parts of the empire were cut off from the centre of the Jesus Mysteries in Alexandria and could not be fully initiated. With no Gnostic teachers they created a simplified form of Christianity based on the belief that Jesus was a historical person who died on the cross and resurrected three days later; they also rejected any “inner mysteries”. They did not see the gospels as allegories, but as historical description of facts and events. To make their faith as simple as possible the Literalist bishops told their followers that salvation required only believing that the Jesus story, as described in the Gospels, was historically true. Later on this form of Christianity became the Roman Catholic Church.
– Dissident non-conformist Gnostics inspired the authoritarian Literalist religion. Religion began with Gnostic Masters teaching the way to Gnosis to a limited number of students-disciples. As their number grew, it was impossible for all of them to have access to a Master. Those who were unable to get access were disappointed and founded a new religion based on their limited knowledge. Literalist Christianity was born.
After the Christian religion had become the religion of the Roman Empire, the Literalists persecuted the Pagans. Pagan prophets and philosophers were tortured until they admitted that their gods were false; their priests were chained to their shrines and left to starve to death, they were accused, without any evidence, of sacrificing children and that too they confessed under tortures. Ancient shrines were desecrated and destroyed, or transformed in Christian churches, and the great works of Pagan spirituality were burned. In 391 Emperor Theodosius closed all the Pagan temples, many of which were then destroyed. In 420, the Visigoths ravaged Rome and Christianity witnessed the downfall of the city and the empire.
Gnosticism remained powerful even after Literalist Christianity was declared to be the religion of the Roman Empire. Many priests and bishops were Gnostics at the time of Theodosius. The Roman Church started to unify Christianity by force, obliging Theodosius to pass laws against the Gnostics declaring illegal their beliefs, meetings, ownership of properties. In 381 Theodosius made heresy a crime against the state allowing the Literalists to kill the Gnostics. Today Christianity is made of many churches but nearly all of them are heir to the Literalists of the 4th century AD. These churches base their faith on the concept of an historical Jesus Christ; they also only recognise the books that were included in the New Testament, knowing that many are false and forgeries. Like in the 4th century, modern Christians still declare that literalism is Christianity. Gnosticism attracted spiritual people; their initiates were interested in personal enlightenment and not in creating a Church. On the opposite the Literalists attracted those who wanted to create a religion and a Church open to all people. From the beginning Literalism recognised only the Outer Mysteries of Christianity, an easy way to attract members by making the religion simple whereas Gnosticism was not. Literalism was based on miracles and on easy salvation by baptism and faith only; it was very popular and appealing. Among these initiates of the Outer Mysteries, a few would progress towards the Inner mysteries of Gnosis, and this created conflicts between the two traditions. Being more popular and less demanding, but more arrogant and intolerant, it was obvious from the start that Literalism would win.
Soon the Literalists imposed their concept of Christianity by force and Gnosticism disappeared gradually. With a few exceptions, Gnosticism ceased to exist while the Literalist branch of Christianity grew to become a universal religion, as we know it today.