I am not satisfied with any “mainstream” version of Christianity or any particular Tradition within the Craft movement as being an adequate spiritual path for our times. Using Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled as an objective measurement, both fall far short of what is needed.
One cannot talk about both Christianity and the Craft in the same breath IF if one defines them in such a way that they share no common ground at all. Certainly a Christology that defines Jesus as the Lord of Glory, a god who has temporarily taken on a physical body (and that is the theology of the Gospel According to John), cannot easily, if at all, be reconciled with worship of the Lord and Lady of the Craft or any other pair of divine lovers. However, those are not the only possible definitions.
After about 50 years of working on this problem, I see that one of the best ways to redefine Christianity is to use the fragmentary evidence we have about what the original followers of Rabbi Yeshua ha-Notsri believed about him. (By the way, “Notsri” meant and still means “Keeper” [of the commandments], not “of Nazareth”; thank you, Deborah.) Basing an argument on fragments is usually a big No-No in serious scholarship, if it is “special pleading,” in which one looks for positive evidence that will support an hypothesis that one wants to be true, while also thinking up reasons to discount any negative evidence. One can convince oneself, and the inadequately skeptical, of the “truth” of almost any proposition by this method, which is also known as “wishful thinking,” is a universal weakness of the human mind, and is the reason why Sir Francis Bacon invented scientific method.
However, that is not the situation for early Christian history. We have only fragments because, as is an undisputed historical fact, the Roman Church, as soon as it was given governmental power at the Council of Nicaea, went about systematically destroying the writings of all the other varieties of Christianity that had existed up to that time. We have the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Coptic translations of Greek writings found in a jar in a cemetery in Egypt in 1945, only because the monks of the nearby monastery, knowing that the Roman Censorship Committee was coming to burn them, buried them in hopes that some future generation might find them and learn what their beliefs had been. My friends, we are that future generation. Another dozen relevant documents were discovered, usually in monastic libraries, starting about the middle of the 19th century. There are other clues in writings of the second and third centuries CE. Putting them all together, we can see at least the outlines of a very different sort of Christianity. We can deduce that we have not yet found the most important of the documents that once existed.
As Paul Ricoeur said, we cannot understand the scriptures of a different faith community if we read them only to refute them, only to study them as if they were a specimen of a different species. Instead, we must read them with an open mind, open to the possibility that what we read may change us forever.
We have a moral responsibility to look at these “Gnostic” writings with an open mind, to see if they might be as spiritually authoritative as the documents that were later assembled into the New Testament collection. Can we read them as Holy Scripture, not as curious ancient documents to be studied, but as teachings we need to apply to our own lives?
[Let me stipulate that right here there could be volumes of footnotes, citations, qualifiying statements, cautious arguments, about all this, but I will cut to the chase, to give you the highlights of what we can now know, saving the documentation for .some time when I have nothing more interesting to do.]
Rabbi Yeshua’s original followers, comprising his family, friends, and students, who called their faith community the Way, believed that he was the ordinary son of Mary and Joseph, commissioned by God as the True Prophet by his private epiphany after his baptism by John. Apparently he did have some sort of “conversion” experience out in the “wilderness,” of exactly the sort studied by William James, so perhaps on one level of his preaching he was hoping to inspire others to have that sort of experience also, and therefore to get it that surrendering to the will of God makes the impossible possible. Of course, people who have never had such an experience, and who don’t believe such an experience is even possible, will not understand that.
As Rabbi Harvey Falk argued in his Jesus the Pharisee, and as the great Hans Kueng spent the first hundred pages of his To Be a Christian arguing, Jesus was a Rabbi of the House of Hillel and continued preaching the humanistic ethics taught by Hillel. The Rabbis whom Jesus denounced for their lack of compassion.were those of the House of Shammai, long-time enemies of the House of Hillel.
His followers did believe that, after he had been murdered by the Romans, at least one of their number had seen him alive again. They did believe that. There is no other parsimonious way to explain how their community began.
His followers continued to be observant Jews and were not considered to be heretics by other Jews. It was the new version for the Gentiles invented by Paul, whom Jesus’ original followers considered to be an apostate from the Law, that became “orthodox” Christianity.
As I argued in my earlier series of blogs entitled “Aphrodiphobia, the Sistime Heresy, and Ecstasy,” the few statements in the gospels that seem to be negative pronouncements about sexuality have been mistranslated and misinterpreted.
The Gospel of Philip states flatly that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers—that is the only honest translation of the Greek word koinonos.
“Magdalene” did not refer to the town of Magdala, which had a different name at that time. Andrew Smith, the son of my student John Smith in St. Rose, LA, working with his Rabbi looked up the root MGDL for me and found it in a psalm. It meant “towering” or “magnificent.” It was a nickname, like “Rocky” or “Sons of Thunder” or “Twin.” I think the intended meaning was “my tower of strength.” As he walked to Jerusalem, knowing the Romans would kill him—that was just common sense; the Romans were thugs, worse than the Nazis—I can imagine her walking beside him.
The story that Mary was the first to see the risen Jesus at the tomb is probably not historical at all (if she was the first to have that vision, it would have been back in Galilee), but it does show that Mary was far more important in the beginning of the church than one could guess from the gospels as we have them, although one can see that she was the leader of the women students.
Hippolytus states that the Naasenes (probably a scribal error for “Nazarenes”) in Alexandria had many writings that Mary had received from James, Jesus’ brother. That is, they traced their apostolic authority through Mary. Her community believed that it was Jesus and Mary who were married at Cana. (On the other hand, he may not have wanted to marry her legally, because the marriage laws would have made her essentially his property, a concept that he specifically rejected, instead defining marriage as a state of spiritual union, of “making the two into one.”)
The Gospel of Mary and other writings state that Jesus had given her some teachings that he did not give to the men students.
It is clear from Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, Book III, that the Alexandrian community believed in and practiced sacred sexuality, and it is highly probable that these beliefs do go back to Jesus’ original teachings.
The Alexandrians had a beautiful myth that Sophia, the female creative energy of the divine, became incarnate in Mary Magdalene, that, as the Father sent a Son in the person of an inspired prophet, so the Mother had sent a Daughter in the inspired person of Mary Magdalene.
They also had a myth that creation began with the physical lovemaking of the Divine Male and the Divine Female, and that when we have sex, we are participating in the work of creation. They believed that having sex is the most important act of worship.
If we can see Jesus and Mary as a passionate married couple, then we can see them as divine lovers, like Ishtar and Tammuz, Shiva and Shakti, or other manifestations of that archetype, and thus as a special case of the concepts of the God and the Goddess in the Craft. That is the common ground. This is a concept of a spiritual path quite different from the conventional paths of either Christianity or Wicca.
A central aspect of my Goddess Murder novel is its proposing a theology/myth in which Aradia is the incarnation of Sophia and Jesus has become Lord of the Dead.
Jesus was accused of being a Witch! That’s what the term “you have a devil” meant. Jesus called that accusation an unforgiveable sin of blasphemy because he believed that the spirit he possessed was the Holy Spirit, whom he called his true or heavenly mother, and who had entered him at his baptism.
I know there are already Christo-Pagans who are exploring how to combine the best of both these paths; maybe I’m reinventing the wheel. I have also discovered Mormons who are working on combining their faith with Wicca—which is not as hard as one might suppose. The LDS faith and Wicca share much more common ground than most members of either community are ever aware of.
Let me emphasize again that the belief that sex is evil or even wrong in itself at all was the first and worst of all the heresies that corrupted what I now am pretty sure were Jesus’ original teachings. It will be an immense task to reverse 2000 years of such corruption, but the effort to do so began about 150 years ago and is still gaining momentum.