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.