Al-Hallaj and the Johannine Jesus

Al-Hallaj and the Johannine Jesus March 14, 2014

Dustin Smith has continued posting a transcript from when he recently interviewed me. Unfortunately, one of the points looks like it lost something in the recording or summarization process. And since it relates to a potential thesis topic, I thought I’d say more about it here.

There was a Sufi mystic, Abu al-Mughith al-Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, who reportedly was crucified by Islamic authorities for saying ana al Haqq, “I am the truth.” The account of him – and/or Al-Hallaj’s self understanding – seems to be patterned on the Gospel of John’s depiction of Jesus. And so I think it would be interesting to explore more fully whether one can understand the Johannine Jesus as a mystic.

One Sufi story about Al-Hallaj says that one of those responsible for his execution subsequently had a dream in which he saw Al-Hallaj welcomed into heaven. This troubled the man, and so he asked God why this should be, since when Pharaoh made himself God, he was condemned for it. God is said to have replied that, when Pharaoh said “I am God” he thought only of himself and nothing of God, while when Al-Hallaj said basically the same thing, he thought only of God and nothing of himself. In other words, the mystics do not declare their own “I” or ego divine, but seek to move their own self out of the way so that it is God who speaks and lives through them.

Jesus in John seems at times to speak as a human being who has encountered God, and at times to speak as one who is from the celestial realm. Could viewing Jesus as a mystic allow these to be reconciled in a single portrait?

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  • histrogeek

    I can’t speak to the implications in Greek of “I am the Truth,” but in Arabic “Ana al-Haq” carries the implication of I am God, al-Haq being one of the 99 names of God. And the account of al-Hallaj suggests that he was deliberately seeking death when he said that.
    It’s an interesting question how much al-Hallaj was patterning himself on Jesus of John.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I don’t agree with all of Spong’s conclusions (and his other scholarly work often has some significant issues) but I found his thesis on John as “Jewish mystic Jesus” to be convincing for the most part.

    When you really delve into John you realize that when conservatives read the “I am the way and the truth and the light . . no-one comes through the Father except through me” as some statement alluding to entry into heaven and “believing in Jesus” .. it’s just absurd.

  • Singleminded

    Why must al-Hallaj be patterning himself after the Jesus of John? He would not need to have read John’s Gospel at all.

    As a mystic, it’s not necessary to even know of another mystic’s self-perception to arrive at the same conclusion or variation on it (it’s all perception/subjective experience that may be described a bit differently). It’s what all true mystics/sages have discovered: that one is also God. It’s by the ability to empty oneself completely of the ego (or set it aside) that one finally perceives that one is God projected into flesh and that God flows through — IS — one’s very being and voice (absent the human ego).

    If an ordinary witness to one such as Jesus or al-Hallaj has not been able to empty himself of ego (i.e., still understands God as a separate entity), the perception might be that God or the Holy Spirit is speaking through him, or that he is one and the same as God or Son of God, different from all other humans in a separate sense.

    It comes down to the mystical experience and perception — how do you see this? From a state of unity, or a state of separation? From the latter, for another to say “I am the Truth” or “The Father and I are one” it sounds like blasphemy, but from the former state of perception, it’s just the natural state of human beings and all creation once fully awakened and ego is put aside.

    • It is possible that the stories are independent. The points of intersection, ranging from “I am the Truth” to the protagonist being crucified, makes that seem like a possibility worth exploring, at the very least.