Retrieving the Myth of Jesus and Sophia, Part I

In various previous blogs I have been pursuing the myth of Jesus and Sophia. I think of that myth as a palimpsest over the historical Joshua and Miriam, one that encoded the theology of the Marianite Christians, the name I am giving to the community in Alexandria that I think was founded by Mary Magdalene after she fled from Judea to escape from assassination by the Romans and their quislings.

We have only fragments of that story. Suppose we had no text of Genesis 2-3, the story of Adam and Eve, but only references to it, hostile paraphrases of parts of it, and so on. That’s what we face, despite the recovery of the Nag Hammadi library and similar documents. I have several times approached fragmentary information with the question, “What might this have looked like if the fragments were reassembled and the gaps filled in with plausible guesses?” Those experiments have worked out fairly well. I’m going to try it again.

My initial assumption is that Rabbi Joshua the Nazarene was a real human being, with a human father and a human mother. What was unusual about him was his Awakening experience, triggered when the Spirit entered into him at his baptism by John. Mk describes it as a subjective experience; no one else was aware of it. If so, that description must go back to what he told his followers.  Afterward, he knew he was the “Anointed One,” that is, a man empowered by the Spirit as a prophet.  He had been transformed; that is what the Awakening experience always does. He knew he had been endowed with the Spirit, whom he called his True Mother. That spirit is symbolized in his story as a dove, which was sacred to the Queen of Heaven, to show that he was dedicated to the service of the Queen. (That the dove symbolized his future sacrifice is merely an opinion, not what Mk says. The dove had been kept as the sacrifice of the poor in the Jerusalem temple because doves had been sacrificed to the Queen of Heaven for many centuries before the temple was built.) If so, he may have believed that restoring her worship would restore the balance between male and female that had been lost in Judaism by the Deuteronomic Reform, that is, by the creation of Judaism as the state religion of the Kingdom of Judah, in which the Goddess of Israelite religion was proscribed.

Many modern varieties of Christianity have realized that the Ultimate Divinity cannot be strictly male/masculine. This insight is built into Genesis 1, which describes God (or the Gods, as is a legitimate translation of Elohim) as saying, “Let us create humans to be like us; let us create both males and females.” Jesus cites that verse in the argument over divorce as recorded in Mk.  The “likeness” here is not a mere surface appearance. Rather, humans are like Gods in sharing in the fundamental nature of the divine, which is simultaneously male and female. (Whether the Divine Nature can be understood as androgynous, as it plainly is in the Gospel of Philip and other Coptic scriptures, is a different issue. Rather, the point is that the divine Nature is sexual, not asexual.) Many of his sayings make sense as being about the Queen rather than the Kingdom, and as insisting that our sexuality is how we participate most fully in the Divine Nature. That may also be why he treated his men and women students as being equal, in complete opposition to the cultural customs of his times.

Aware of himself as an Anointed One, as a True Prophet like Moses, and as a Son of God (which in its original context meant merely what we mean by calling someone a “man of God”), he felt obligated to be observant, to fulfill all the commandments (as is bluntly stated in Mt), yet, believing he had been endowed with Rabbinic authority, he felt authorized to reinterpret those commandments. His debates with other Rabbis focus on such reinterpretation. As Robert M. Price has pointed out in his brilliant essay “Messiah as Mishnah,” his followers also felt empowered to do such reinterpretation. In Mt, Jesus confers that Rabbinic authority on Peter. (I’m not sure he actually did that.) He absolutely did not ordain Peter as a bishop; the bishopric was not invented until the 80s. But I am fairly sure he conferred Rabbinic authority on both James and Mary.

There was one unambiguous commandment he did not reinterpret, but instead took very seriously, the first commandment that God gave to humans, in Genesis 1:28: be fertile and multiply. (It’s peculiar that specific line does not appear in the argument about divorce in Mk; as I’ll discuss later, I think it may have been censored.) This commandment, then as now, required a Rabbi to be married. The usual contortions about why Jesus could have been unmarried are, in my opinion, just special pleading. I propose that Jesus returned from the wilderness knowing that he had to fulfill that commandment.

One can easily see why the later misogynist church would have excised references to Jesus’ being married from the canonical gospels. I think the Marianite Christians did believe that the wedding at Cana was that of Jesus and Mary—but I have yet to find any clear statement of such a belief. The Gospel of Philip, etc., seem to state only that Jesus and Mary were lovers, not that they were married. Well, that Genesis commandment does not say anything about being married; it just says to multiply. Further, being legally married to Mary would have made her his property, definitely an interpretation of Torah that he absolutely opposed.

Jesus would have faced a far more profound difficulty in seeking a partner. Given a concept of himself as empowered by the Spirit as a True Prophet, he would have needed a partner with an equivalent self-concept in order for them to be true equals.  The Marianites clearly believed that Mary was the incarnation of Sophia, the creative energy of the divine. Could she have had such a concept about herself?

I have had to choose a name for the sort of experience Jesus apparently had after his baptism. The experience  is rare enough that it has no commonly understood name. I have chosen “Awakening,” because it is often called that in the Coptic documents, specifically an awakening in which one discovers or remembers one’s true identity, which is neither identical with nor absolutely different from the Divine. I know that is how it feels, because that is what I felt in my own Awakening when I was 14. Hence I know that what the Gnostics knew was how that discovery of such a paradoxical self felt. That feeling could not be put into words; it was literally unsayable. Their cosmological speculations were NOT what they knew. The speculations were merely attempts to describe and explain how the Awakening experience could be possible.

Joshua may well have understood his experience as a remembering of who he truly was, of who he had been before his mortal existence. He did not believe  himself to be identical with the infinite, ultimate deity; he wasn’t crazy, his closest followers did not think he was crazy, and, despite some appearances to the contrary, most human beings are pretty good at knowing whether another person is crazy or not. An Awakening destroys our ordinary illusions and thus produces sanity, not insanity.

Among the brilliant aspects of Ki Longfellow’s The Secret Magdalene is her insight that both Jesus and Mary could have, perhaps must have, been Awakened, experienced the “Glory,” and could thus be true equals. She describes Mary’s Awakening as being spontaneous. But was it? There is another possibility, and Witches know what that is: the Great Rite. Wait, wait, that’s not an impossible leap. It’s a very plausible interpretation of what the Coptic documents actually say.

One key term in those documents appears about a hundred times, once even in the canonical gospels. It is the Greek term (transliterated as) “paston,” usually translated as “bridal chamber” or “nuptial chamber,” that is, the bed of the wedding night. However, looking in the unabridged Liddell-Scott Greek lexicon, which has provided me with many interesting facts, I find that “paston” also meant a temple of Dionysos, Demeter, and Persephone, that is, a temple of the Mysteries, that is, a place where initiations take place. In most uses of “bridal chamber” in the Coptic documents, the term is referring not to a specific place, but to a certain kind of experience. It is sometimes used as a synonym for what we call “sacred sexuality,” as is most clear in Irenaeus’ description of how “Marcus” (whom the Gnostics themselves would probably have called something like “Saint Mark the Wonderworker”) carried out an initiation. Irenaeus’ description does sound like a prudish Evangelical describing a Wiccan “Great Rite in truth.”

[To be continued]

 

  • Philip Heselton

    So Dion Fortune’s hero of “The Goat-Foot God”, Hugh Paston, was named deliberately! I had not been aware of that!

    • Bill Wheaton

      Good catch.


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