Archives for posts with tag: Nag Hammadi Library

One outcome of my awakening experience was my personal discovery of books from early Christianity that had been largely unknown until a large cache were discovered in the desert of Egypt in 1945. One book purported to be the secret teachings of Jesus to his innermost circle. What I realized, or thought I did, was that these books were describing awakening with a pretty high degree of specificity. It wasn’t only that, but how they appeared to veil the teachings in many cases by using descriptions that made it difficult for anyone not having the experience to even know what the writers were refering to. It was to my mind like a way of coding the teachings just enough that it made it hard to understand. This may have been intentional, but it could also have been the result of not having a specific enough vocabulary with which to do the describing.

This might sound strange, but let me give you an example for what I mean. Not long into awakening, me and a person who awoke along with me (a country apart, didn’t know each other, this all happened from a distance) we both referred to what was happening to us as “it.” That was how sophisticated our vocabulary was. We had no reference point, no context, nor a teaching to guide us. Overnight, innexplicably, we had a tellepathic connection (which was proven numerous times each week). “It” fit though, because how on earth would you describe “this” (we used that term also)? It also kept what was happening to us from prying eyes and ears since who would understand or believe it? There was no real context in which to put it in. When that’s the case, you create a language or vocabulary for it much like people who are dealing with it do today (witness the use of words like “downloads” and “portals” to refer to aspects of the experience). You create your own vocabulary to help describe what is happening to you.

How could it be, I wondered, that these books were described as heresy by certain people within the church when they so clearly revealed a sophisticated understanding of a very rare state of being?

When I first found these books and realized they were pretty clearly describing my state, I considered that it was a conspiracy that they were not just shoved aside, but that in many cases, the books that were part of an unnacceptable take on Christian thought were destroyed. Now however, I am realizing it was little more than a conspiracy of ignorance…and an easy trap to fall for by anyone who was not in the know, who hadn’t had the experience, or wasn’t initiated into the system.

Was it as many scholars have asserted, that these books were jibberish, mere speculation, and could not be tied to Jesus at all? Was it true that as some Orthodox apologists have said, that these people, called “Gnostics” were late-comers? Were they forging documents, slapping Jesus’s name on them in order to give their own “wild speculations and fantasies” more caché?

I have learned that the opposition will say just about anything in order to put a good man or woman down. Maybe this speculation was right, and my initial gut sense was all wrong. There were times when this certainly appeared to be the case.

This question put me on a 15 year journey where I made myself familiar with early Christianity. I didn’t spend years in seminary getting my doctorate in divinity, nor did I learn Greek or Hebrew. I knew next to nothing about the field and I just couldn’t square my sense that these early Christians were on to something of immense importance versus what those in what would become known as the Orthodox church had to say about these teachings. Something didn’t add up.

I have realized that while I lack the background in the history of early Christianity that many scholars in the field have, I have something most (perhaps nearly all) do not: I have the experience of awakening with all of its dizzying effects, signs, and symptoms. I have read at length even scholars who specialize in the Gnostic texts speculating about the meanings of the gospel of Thomas or Philip. My sense from the beginning was that these Gnostics were the real deal, and that these works constitutes a “lost Christianity” as Bart Ehrman has described it. Having said this, I will also say that they go far afield from the words of Jesus as we have come to know them. The difference between an esoteric system and an exoteric one (the Gnostics as we refer to them ate esoteric) is that esoteric systems have much greater production of documents because the followers keep having experiences and writing about them. In the case of these early Christians, they believed that the Christ was revealed to be within a person (some Gnostics considered Paul to be a bit of a hero because he writes in his letters that God revealed to him the Christ which was within him when he was struck by a blinding light on his way to Damascus). For the Gnostics, then, the crucifixion lost much of its importance because they found salvation from the awakening to the indwelling Christ.

I ask you: what teaching by Jesus ever made anything appear to be outside of ones self? The kingdom was all within one, and seeking was done inwardly. Those who “seek him” were seeking a quality that was already there. It is worth noting that this is precisely what most Eastern traditions that describe awakening say. It is also a completely different story that Orthodox Christians have put forward since about 100-130 A.D.

I will say, however, that there were times in my work on this subject where it looked like the Gnostics were a later “invention” or movement and could not be definitively pinned to Jesus. I was, for a time, considering that for as insightful as they were, there just wasn’t a connection to Jesus’s life. I got used to the idea that these were amazing people who spun their own insights into what the Christ was all about. Maybe they were a seperate development that still managed to “get there” even though they came later.

That was before I found out about the work of Walter Bauer who did a study or survey of documents from earliest Christianity, who, in the 1930’s (and before the discovery in 1945 of this cache of early books in Egypt) determined that heresy came first and Orthodoxy came later. Orthodoxy, based on Bauer’s work, placed Orthodoxy a hundred years after the heretics (give or take a decade or two). Source: Orthodoxy & Heresy In Earliest Christianity

Heresy has always been described by the church as that branch off of the “main vine” that represents a divergence from the central truths of the dogma (see church father Origen since he originated this concept). This begged the question: how could this be so in light of what Bauer found? This may have been the result of the church, a group within it, seeking to hide the truth about how things were in the early days of the movement. It could have been as simple as ignorance by another group who didn’t have the deeper teachings (and thus could easily not understand them even when they saw them).

Then there is the troubling reality that Bart Ehrman points out in his book Jesus Interupted which is that most of the discoveries we have made in the last 100 years of Christian documents are nearly all Gnostic (which is used to describe this group of Christians today—gnosticism meaning ‘one who knows’ or who has inner knowledge not attained through books or instruction alone). Ehrman asks pointedly, did the Orthodoxy not have anything to say that there have been so few new discoveries of Orthodox books or letters during the same time period? It is plausible, then, that Gnosticism was far more robust, engaged, and involved in the matters of Christian thought than the early heresy hunters would have us believe. The historical record is certainly showing us this in spades in this regard. In Bauer’s work he points out letters that show that the church gave up trying to convert Asia Minor because the heretics were so numerous and resistant to their message. It would be easy to just say they were deluded and utterly lost, but it hides the fact that this was a situation that had always been described as no big deal by those in the Orthodox wing of the church, something more like a few flies that needed to be swatted away as the Orthodoxy has tried to represent it as. No, “heresy” was much more developed than Orthodoxy was, and at a very early period. It begs the question as to which tradition was the original or earliest one.

When I think about what happens to our leaders today it is easy to see how each side in a political campaign seeks to demonize and dethrone the leader who is in the opposition. Those with the loudest voices wind up being heard and believed. We are well aware of the sentiment that the winners of a war get to tell the history as they want it told.

Orthodoxy won the war of ideas not because their thinking was superior but because they were more worldly and systematic in their willingness to take down what they considered an opponent. You can easily see just how harsh the rhetoric was by reading the writings of these noted antiheretics like Tertulian, St. Justin, and others like them. In fact, we know a lot about early Christian “heretics” because the diatribes about them were so long-winded (and detailed) by those who were opposing them. Christians don’t like the idea that there may have been a larger story here because they have lived with a version of a story they have come to know and love. But to say that a belief system is right simply because we have lived with it for 1600 years or more is not evidence that it is necessarily right or the final word. It only means that one group stamped out another group such that their knowledge base was silenced.

Yes it seems strange and foreign, and yet this is just what archeology has revealed and the voice that was silenced was showing us the very keys to the kingdom. These keys as I call them are a suit of methods that appear in the so-called Gnostic writings mostly found in the Nag Hammadi Libray but that are also found in documents discovered earlier like the Pistis Sophia. These documents describe the same phenomenon as those in Eastern schools of though which describe the process of enlightenment.

I am not suggesting that these people went to India, but managed it on their own and that the “ressurrection” of the soul was achieved by attaining a quality that one culture called Christ while another called it Buddha. As such, this knowledge wasn’t predicated on belief alone, but pointed to a universal quality that every person has regardless of race or creed.

Rumi, the great poet and mystic once wrote about how we all squabble over the names of things and that we try to differentiate the light falling in one place as fundamentally different from the light falling in another when it is all the same source, the same thing. I think Orthodoxy tried to do this in an effort to carve out its own seemingly unique niche when in fact it had discarded important elements along the way that would have enriched it tremendously.

The Mar Saba Discovery

Then along comes Morton Smith in the 20th century. Morton Smith claimed to have made a discovery of a book in Mar Saba near Israel in the early 1960’s that contained writing by Clement, a figure from early Christianity. Clement quotes lines from a book that he calls “Secret Mark” which was, as he described it, part of a private teaching Jesus gave to his closest followers. Clement emphasizes that these teachings were never spoken before the uninitiated, a situation Jesus cautions about even in the synoptic gospels when he refers to swine and pearls, those who were “without.” In this case, Jesus was pointedly obfuscating his teaching so the Gentiles could not understand lest they be saved. The book was intended for the “perfecting” of those who were followers of this Jesus.

Morton Smith took photographs of the document and when he returned later to examine the book again, it had vanished. It has not been seen since. Here’s the thing: forensic examination of the photographs themselves have established that the book is an authentic document of the era. Christian apologists go so far as to criticize the writing as being “too Clementine” which to me may well be enough to prove the point. The writing style is consistent with what historians know about Clement, who has many writings attributed to him. Those within scholarly circles who are Christian apologists set upon Smith in attack after attack, however.

The letter was about one thousand words and had been copied onto the endpages of a seventeenth century book which no one had ever mentioned before. The find shook the scholarly world, although it’s existance made hardly a ripple in popular Christian circles because the letter denounced the group involved as heretical. That seems to be enough for any reasonable believer of the faith, but it raised important questions for many who find the discoveries of this kind to be suggestive of what Bauer had found to be the case and which continuing discoveries like the Nag Hammadi Library texts had done two decades prior, which was whether we have been told the whole story. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Nation about the discovery:

These heretics, as Clement and Theodore saw them, claimed that they possessed a secret version of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, they believed, had taught his followers that they were freed from the law and could do whatever they wanted without sinning. According to one of their Christian critics, Irenaeus, they actually thought they earned salvation by “doing all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of, nay, which we must not even conceive in our thoughts.”

The Nation, Gospel Secrets: The Biblical Controversies of Morton Smith, January 8, 2009, Anthony Grafton.

It is worth noting that as a result of scholarly research we now know that it was Mark’s gospel that was the earliest of all the gospels. While Clement denounced the teachings in Secret Mark, he did not say that this Mark didn’t exist. Here we have a proof that books like Secret Mark were later destroyed by the Orthodox church, with copies that have yet to surface. Consider what would happen if the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of today were against you, what would you do? Would you perhaps hide away the books that you do have in order to preserve them? If your books were unapproved of, they would be destroyed with fire.

While some scholars like Ehrman have suggested that the Nag Hammadi find may well have been an effort on the part of local Christians to free up space in their libraries by burying the collection several kilometers away, I am reminded of an email from Elaine Pagels recently that the burial of the NHL documents is well within the same time frame as the letter by Bishop Athanasius, written in 365 A.D. which spelled out what books were to be acceptable for use in the church. Every book Athanasius mentioned in his list is contained in the New Testament today. It was Athanasius’s letter that would set the die for all that would follow. Anything else would come under scrutiny and risk being remanded to the flames. Remember, before the printing press, books were copied by hand in what could take many months to complete. Burning one book or two could end an important thread within the early movement. Back then, in the first century, stories abounded about the life of Jesus, an oral tradition, that was only later written down after Jesus’s death.

This article is helpful to gain the full scope of the issue about how the New Testament was formed.

My thesis has been and continues to be that Jesus was a man who attained awakening. The books attributed to his private teaching happen to also describe what is known in India as kundalini. While there isn’t compelling evidence that Jesus had gone to India, there is no good reason to suggest that in order to awaken he would need to study under an enlightened guru either. It’s possible he got instruction locally from John the Baptist, or the Essenes. We just don’t know because for as a man as famous as Jesus is, there is a huge gaping hole that is unaccounted for in his life in terms of time. I never studied under a guru and managed to trigger the first initiatory steps into awakening on my own. Likewise, it is quite possible that Jesus did the same. All he would need would be a quality of intense curiosity and a drive to seek. I suspect that this is just what Jesus meant when he said seek and ye shall find. He sought, and he found. But what did he find? He described it as a world that was within each person. At no point does Jesus ever say that his kingdom was outside of himself. All of this was an inside job. So meditation would have been part of it, something Jews of the time were well familiar with. The right kind of meditation would do it, nothing fancy, but something that would serve to achieve a first release of inner emotional material followed by inner inquiry.

It turns out that I did precisely what the heretical Jesus prescribed, which was to remove what keeps one divided within the self. This is actually a prescription Jesus mentions in the gospel of Thomas and mentions in the gospel of Phillip. The way I achieved this was through a conversation with a holy man when I felt a long-standing frustration guilt, and frustration with the universe, afterwhich everything began to change. I unburdened myself of a giant knot that had me tied up for decades, it was almost like an insurmountable impasse for me at the time.

I suspect that the story of Jesus’s baptism was like this or served a similar purpose for him because in the Gnostic texts he is teaching about how to attain the kingdom by resolving what divides you within, and a teacher always relays to his or her students how they achieved it themselves. The elephant in the room is if Jesus was God why was he going to John to have his sin removed? Why did Jesus need baptism? He obviously felt like he needed it, and instead of seeking the God, according to Orthodox scripture, which had always been within him. It’s a huge leap around the question that Christians never seem to ask. I think that it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask and actually makes loads of sense once the private teachings are known and taken into consideration.

With John, who claimed he could relieve the burden of sin through ritual washing, or baptism, Jesus was relieved enough of his own burden for the first flashes of “the light” to begin showing through. Jesus also spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness near where John was located. I will point out that this is the same approximate time that the Taoists prescribe for awakening the secret of the golden flower, their take on the awakening process. Similarly, in Hindu practice the number of 40 to 45 days comes up a lot for a time frame. It takes some effort to break through the veil of the earthly self to attain to the “heavenly” one (regardless of what tradition you ascribe to). Orthodoxy glosses over this precisely because it knows nothing about these practices. Then, when presented with the very means to do so, they cried foul heresy. The kingdom thus was found and then lost within a few short generations. The apostolic era came to an end not because of some God-ordained event with dubious reasoning but precisely because people no longer had access to the teachings that would have kept the era chugging along nicely. All of the signs of the holy ghost, and of awakening, were gone because the knowledge had exited the building.

If Jesus had awakened, the libertine attitude shown in the works of some of the Christian mystics like the Carpocrations that Clementine was speaking out against in his letter mentioned earlier has a very good chance of being true. Awakening pushes you beyond the normally accepted mores of the time by virtue of the fact that the energy of awakening vivifies and stimulates the body in new and novel ways. The Hindu describe it as a libidinous force, a creative current that leads one to new levels of bliss that are experienced and described as orgasmic. It’s not that it is literally so, but that this is the only way to aptly describe it so it can be halfway understood. Awakening absolutely impacts the master glands of the body resulting in high outputs of all sorts of hormones. Kundalini a sexual energy? I have always felt that the energy of awakening stimulates all sorts of things, including libido. Kundalini does much more than just stimulating libido.

Many people who are awakened know about the futility of skirting issues. No, the energy seems to push us to leap headlong into the cleansing fire that is the holy ghost, the feminine aspect, what in India would be called Shakti or the Ida current. All of this is consistent with awakening, and there is no reason to think it wasn’t the case with Jesus.

The problem with the Orthodoxy was that none of the secret teachings made any sense to them. How was it possible that by finding the savior within, the Christ, one washed away ones shame of human sexuality? Or guilt, or any other issue that represents stored emotional material that awakening can help the person to clear? Awakening can do this, though. It cleanses and returns you to a renewed mind and state of being. It is a salvific force.

It is now more likely that Jesus did have a private teaching and that the synoptic gospels represent only a thin slice of a larger picture. While Clement railed against this “Secret Mark” as heretical, I ask the question: says who? On whose authority? Why should I pay any attention to someone who was never included in the private teachings of a realized master? Even when Jesus says “No one comes to the father except by me” Christians don’t consider how that statement could mean something significantly different than what they assume it does. In Jesus’s day he was the only person around who had attained to the level that he had, so yes, Jesus was the only game in town. Like any great teacher, if you wanted to get there quickly, you studied under him like any teacher anywhere who had a grip on the esoteric or hidden things.

The word “occult” means to hide. When I place my hand in my pocket, it is occulted in the same way that when the moon crosses the path of the sun, it occults the sun in eclipse. Today the term “occult” has been made to refer to witchcraft or black magic. Occult means only to hide.

It is fair to say that Jesus was himself an occultist. I am not saying this in order to stir controversy, but to point out that he did do this in his teaching practice. Absolutely, no doubt about it. If you doubt this is the case you can find the evidence in the synoptic gospels themselves.

And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked him of the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables. That seeing that they may see but not perceive, and hearing they may hear but not understand lest at any time they be converted, and their sins be forgiven them.

Mark 4:10-12

It may be a bit much to take, realizing that Jesus was only speaking openly to a Jewish audience and with those who had already been prepared to understand his teaching and not others (Gentiles). This situation is communicated in Luke 12:41 with Peter asking about whether Jesus will teach to all (openly and not in parable so as to hide the meaning of his teaching). Jesus only explains or decodes his parables when he is with an elect or prepared group of people (and as we see in Mark, this means not Gentiles).

A lot is said about this by Christian apologists who try to explain why this might have been done. An early writer and bishop of Alexandria writing under the name of Dionysius (see: Salmond, S. D. F, et al. The Works of Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius of Alexandria and Archelaus. T. & T. Clark, 1882.), explains that the church regularly seeks to keep its teachings secret, even from those within the church who are members when they do not themselves fully understand the mysteries. This is done so as not to “blind” those who are “lost” or without the full knowledge or understanding (referred to as gnosis). Jesus uses the word “maturity” to signify this level of comprehension as does Paul in some of his letters, too. This maturity involves a capacity to understand what is being said in a deeper more full way. It is not uncommon for the deeper teachings, the more mystical ones, the mysteries as they are called, to be hidden from view.

Every single tradition, Christian or not, does this in order to protect people from gaining something for which they are not yet prepared. Traditions with an esoteric wing (in essence nearly every tradition that I can think of) have this as a feature because of the power associated with these “innermost” teachings (they are more than simple rule-following and may include how to cultivate new states of awareness). For example, for a very long time certain methods for reaching enlightenment were shrouded in mystery and kept from public view in India because it was known that prematurely exposing a person to these powerful methods could bring a person prematurely to enlightenment before the person was ready for it. I have personally observed a case of an individual who “forced” awakening and it did not go well for her…at all. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Jesus recognized this and operated in the same way. You mean Jesus resisted saving people? Absolutely. But wait, doesn’t that go against most of what we were taught since the beginning of time (or at least the way we now count time)?

There is a disconnect between what many are told about their faith (Christianity in particular) and what actually happened. Most Christians I have spoken to have ben of the opinion that Jesus taught and spoke openly to the multitudes, but the evidence shows differently. While Jesus spoke openly, yes, he did not speak openly in such a way that those “without” the additional teaching and inner initiation could understand. Technically he taught to all, but his purpose was not for everyone to understand or to become saved. This is to my mind an important factor when we reassess Christianity at its very roots because of the existence of documents that date back to earliest Christianity that speak of a private teaching and how important it was to teach privately. This would be documents which the church itself disputes as being tied to Jesus’s real teachings, the Nag Hammadi Library.

One possibility, which I explore in the manuscript I am currently researching on Jesus and the Gnostic texts, is the theory that Jesus taught this way as a recruitment tool. You teach by parables because there are “dogs” (see Dionysius) or swine amongst you. However, you might also get people who come up to you to say how they enjoyed the teaching but what did you mean by the parable of the candle? What was that all about? What I contend is that the quality necessary for maturity and being prepared to know the truth is a deep sense of curiosity. For most who hear the parable, they might get some comfort from it, but not everyone would want to know more. Clearly people were not pressing Jesus to just go ahead and explain himself plainly, nowhere do people do this except in a more private way.

When you are dealing in mysteries the reality is there is a very small number of people who are going to actually pursue understanding the teachings at a deeper level. it seems a little silly for the church to say Jesus didn’t teach in private when he certainly did so, and it also isn’t that much of a stretch that he might have had more teachings which were hidden from view even from those who would form the basis of the orthodox strand within Christianity who did not themselves understand them (as in the gospel of Thomas or Philip for example). They seem to be so far removed from the kinds of things that the orthodoxy is used to hearing Jesus say that they tend to reject the teachings out of hand even as there is evidence that such teachings may have in fact existed. A number of the gospel writers said that there was a lot that Jesus did and spoke about that weren’t being included in the gospel accounts, and the gospels themselves really aren’t that large in size for a person who was considered to be so important. Its curious, isn’t it? You would think there would be many more writings about him than they are. In 1945 with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library documents, we may well have gotten some of them, even if the Church was unable to accept them at such a late date. That said, these documents are from very early Christianity, so it wasn’t like they were created centuries after Jesus was off the scene.

I am surprised to learn just how many people who consider themselves Christians actually think that Jesus taught openly to all people. He didn’t do that in fact. He hid his teachings from Gentiles. Only later was the Word taken to the Gentiles through the efforts that Paul made to export Christianity beyond Judea.

The idea then of Jesus having a private teaching is not so hard to understand, and yet the church railed mightily against gospels which purported to have been collections of Jesus’s private teachings (the Nag Hammadi Library is a trove of this “secret” or private teaching). Additionally, one of the foremost purveyors of these secret teachings, according to scholars, was a man named Valentinus who lived at a time when he was able to speak directly to a disciple of Paul, and he was a disciple who had learned directly from Paul while he was still alive. What Valentinus wrote in a letter was that he went to this disciple because, I presume, he had a vision of the risen Christ (much as had Paul). When he spoke to this disciple of Paul we was told that Paul had a private or secret teaching only given to his innermost circle of disciples and he says further that he was then schooled in this teaching. Now bear in mind, Valentinus was not a fly-by-night person. He was highly respected and was a devout Christian. He even was in the running for being chosen for the position of bishop of Rome back in a time when Christianity was still an underground movement and either frowned upon by Rome or outright prosecuted for being an illegal religion (depending on which emperor was in power at the time).

While many want to say that there was no secret teaching, there remains some evidence that this was in fact the case both with Jesus as well as Paul. No controversy, only understanding why this was done the way that it was. It makes for a lot of conjecture alla Dan Brown style writing, but it seems that this was done for very good reasons.

It is worth considering in order to get a better understanding of the history of Christianity and how some of the leaders of the Church conducted themselves.

%d bloggers like this: