Jesus of Nazareth is one of a number of historic persons whose image has been so mangled by ideologues and zealots that it's useful to rediscover the true nature of his or her essence. So many different "pictures" of Jesus have been created over time, that we're left with an irreconcilable pastiche which does more to confuse than clarify. For many people in the world, the image of Jesus has been reduced to nothing more than a caricature.
Every facet of Jesus' image is subject to controversy, including his actual historicity. In developing a viable picture of this complex personality, it's necessary to utilize carefully formed criteria by which to determine what to accept and what to reject. We certainly cannot embrace all the views of Jesus that we encounter, since they're radically contradictory. For example, if we accept Albert Schweitzer's conclusion that Jesus was a psychotic, then we have little left to work with.
When we attempt to rediscover the true essence of Jesus, the trail of failed attempts to describe Jesus is daunting
Why We Need a True Image of Jesus
So why make a new attempt to rediscover the essence of Jesus, we might ask ourselves. As we study the multifarious accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, we're struck with a personality with such moral integrity and spiritual force that it's impossible to consign
him to the wasteland of history. Behind all the disparate impressions of this personage there abides a figure of overwhelming probity and rectitude. If we can make clear who he really was and is, then his invigorating example can better work to transform contemporary humans in a positive manner.
By rediscovering the essence of this outstanding Perennialist teacher, we can rescue his image from those contemporary reactionary forces that attempt to co-opt him as their Warrior King who, they presume, will condone their attempts to destroy all people whom they brand as "terrorists," and who will overlook their acts of destroying Constitutional liberties and killing innocent people through pre-emptive wars of totalitarian conquest.
As important as refurbishing the image of Jesus in order to understand his essence, this is only a secondary consideration as to why to develop a true picture of this transcendent personality. All Perennialist teachers, including Jesus, carry out activities of eternal import, both while they abide in the terrestrial dimension and after having ascended to the Higher Realm. Throughout the centuries, genuine mystics have communicated and related with Jesus and other discarnate Perennialist teachers. We must have a true, authentic conception of Jesus in order to commune and interact with him.
"I have lived in the consciousness that to have Jesus in me and for me to abide in Him is of such infinite worth that nothing must be allowed to break, even for an instant, this ineffable union."
Rufus Moseley, Manifest Victory
Criteria for Developing a True Image of Jesus
In developing criteria by which to construct our image of Jesus, we're fortunate to have as our primary standard the themes and elements relating to the Perennial Tradition. As we examine Jesus' life and teachings in reference to Perennialist concepts and practices, it's unmistakable that he was a true savant within the Perennial Tradition.
The foundation for the image of Jesus in this essay has been laid in the author's book The Perennial Tradition. Serious readers who want to understand the essence of Jesus will want to study the book as well as online chapters:
A teacher within the Perennial Tradition represents a heritage which dates back to the beginning of humankind's history. Each Perennialist teacher arrives at a different embodiment of the fundamental truths, not because he is borrowing from his predecessors and building his own philosophical system on the basis of their ideas, but because the needs of his students, relative to his own time and place in history, require new compilations, prescriptions, and techniques. The Perennialist teacher makes genuine contact with the transcendent essence of the Perennial Tradition and the originating impulse indicates what instructional material is to be adapted and how it is to be applied.
Inevitably, every Perennialist teacher's ideas and exercises experience two totally divergent modes of treatment:
A small group of genuine followers retains the original message and passes it on to the next generation of students and initiates.
A much larger group of followers who did not understand the original teaching recast the authentic teachings into distorted dogmas; these ecclesiastical and philosophical deformities are then used to build despotic establishments over which the new tyrants rule.
We can expect both things to have happened to Jesus' teachings. Of all the persons writing about this period immediately following Jesus' death, only a few (Marcion, Valentinus, Origen, and several others) refer to a deliberate distortion of Jesus' teachings by the ecclesiastical mountebanks.
Having determined that Jesus was a Perennialist teacher, we have effective criteria by which to
select the elements to be included in a portrait of Jesus:
Perennialist teachers respect women and see them as equal to men
Perennialist teachers do not see themselves as a deity but as transmitters of a transformative science
Perennialist teachers work for peace and struggle against senseless violence
Perennialist teachers are not a part of an organized religion
Perennialist teachers constantly examine themselves, so that they are growing, improving, and learning
Perennialist teachers do not consider themselves as intrinsically superior to others
It's necessary to select certain material and reject other material in forming our image of Jesus, because there are certain accounts which are clearly unacceptable, for example the story of Jesus killing playmates when he was a youth. The fact that in some of those tales--found in extra-canonical sources--that Jesus resurrected his murdered playmates does not mitigate this inadmissible conception of who he was and is.
Our effort in erecting an image of Jesus' essence will be similar to that of a sculptor creating a statue of a human figure. The primary work, as in creating a sculpture, will be to cut away the excrescence to reveal the true figure hidden within.
We must start with an entirely new substructure in sculpting our image of Jesus, not attempting to do a remake of previous flawed models.
It would be impossible to reshape earlier images of Jesus, because all of them have serious flaws in their underlying foundation. Most of them, for example, start with dogmatic presuppositions--such as biblioatry 1--which condemns their efforts to failure from the start.
We'll first have to select a completely new base from which to construct the figure of Jesus.
As we cut away the excess material from this foundation stone and begin to shape the image, we'll refer to those previous facsimiles of Jesus which resonate with our developing picture.
In studying previous depictions of Jesus, we must consider all canonical and extra-canonical sources within the Christian tradition as well as relevant material from Hermeticism, Platonism, Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, Alchemy, and other philosophical, religious, and spiritual traditions. We cannot give unthinking preference to any particular group of writings which purport to describe the nature of Jesus. The reason why there are such contradictory views of Jesus can only be understood in reference to what occurred following his life and death.
Our sculpting of a "statue" of Jesus of Nazareth can best be carried out by working with several themes by which to delineate the essence of Jesus' teachings:
The concoction of a sacerdotal, bureaucratized church
Jesus and the Christ concept
The Nicene heresy and the canon
The virgin birth and miracles
Jesus' view of women
The Concoction of a Sacerdotal, Bureaucratized Church
Within a short time after Jesus' death, there came into being a sacerdotal, bureaucratic church system which developed a congeries of contradictory and disparate doctrines and writings--what was described as the complexio oppositorum et variorum--"a collection of opposites and various elements." 2
Along with the syncretism of contradictory doctrines, the burgeoning church discovered or developed a large number of writings which claimed to be authentic representations of Jesus' life and teachings. In this morass of confusion, a number of interpretations of Jesus' teachings vied for acceptance, having been created by the processes of excluding ideas thought to be theologically unacceptable, accentuating idiosyncratically selected doctrines, and organizing material into what was thought to be a coherent whole by using preconceived ideas.
After the death of Jesus, many of his followers who did not understand the original teaching recast the authentic teachings into distorted dogmas. These ecclesiastical and philosophical deformities were then used to build despotic autocracies over which new religious and political tyrants ruled.
Only a few persons associated with Jesus of Nazareth truly understood his message. Paul had experienced Jesus in a mystical encounter. Peter and other of the disciples completely misunderstood Jesus' intentions, turning their brand of Christianity into a neo-Judaism, requiring converts to undergo circumcision and follow the Jewish law.
The true dissemination of Jesus' teaching proceeded with Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Marcion, Valentinus, and others, while the so-called apostles began to turn Christianity into an ecclesiastical religion of dogma and ritual. Within a few years, the leaders of what was called the Christian church were nothing more than bosses of vicious gangs who murdered their rivals for power and position. The rapid degeneration of these so-called Christians helped to destroy the Roman Empire and plunge the Western world into the Dark Ages.
Paul insisted that a person could become a Christian who had not submitted to circumcision or other Jewish religious laws. Paul defined Christianity as the experience of re-birth in Jesus, a spiritual awakening of the same nature that he had gone through. Both Jesus and Paul made it clear that true Christianity is decidedly not an extension of Judaism.
"Christ himself. . . confirms the Pauline gospel in general and in detail.
Did he not break the law again and again in his life and through his teachings? Did he not declare war against the teachers of the law? Did he not call the sinners, while those teachers desired only righteous men as their pupils? Did he not declare the greatest prophet of the Old Testament God, John the Baptist, to be an uninformed man, one who had taken offense at him? . . .
"When he forbids the placing of a new patch on an old garment and the pouring of new wine into old wineskins, he thereby strictly forbids his people in any way to connect his preaching with that of the Old Testament. . ." 3
Jesus and the Christ Concept
Jesus would not have taught that he was the Messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures. That concept of an anointed one (Christos), as Jesus pointed out, involved this person becoming an earthly king, a political-military ruler.
The Christ concept was exclusively a Jewish idea. But the misguided Christian autocrats were trying to graft Jesus' teachings onto Judaism, the creed of one small nation. To carry this out, the church leaders had adulterated and garbled the original sayings of Jesus, adding the phrase "in order that it might be fulfilled" to everything Jesus did, to "prove" that he was the Jewish Messiah-King.
If Jesus used the Christ concept in reference to himself it would have been in an entirely new, non-Jewish manner, with different content and meaning. The koine Greek 4 term Christos simply means "anointed one," and Jesus would have considered himself anointed or commissioned to transmit a specific teaching.
The New Testament "was made in its present form largely in order that it might conform with the supposed prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures concerning an earthly Messiah, as is well shown in the numerous statements 'that the Scripture might be fulfilled,' or 'according to the Scriptures.'"
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom in the Christian Scriptures
The Nicene Heresy and the Canon
In 325 C.E. three hundred and twelve bishops were ordered by Emperor Constantine to work out a creed that would put a stop to theological bickering within Christianity--the religion Constantine had adopted for political purposes. The emperor himself, dressed in a purple gown and with a silver diadem, opened the council. The Council of Nicea made it clear that Christianity was to be clearly distinguished from the pagan Platonic heresy. All Christians were henceforth required to believe that Jesus Christ was of the same substance as God (in other words, a god) and only Christ could bring about humankind's salvation through a person's belief in his sacrifice for their sins.
As the doctrinal orthodoxy decreed by such Councils as Nicea became the official ideology of the Romanized church, the genuine teachers of Jesus' original message of transformation found it necessary to go underground. This hidden tradition is what we now call Esoteric Christianity.
In the fourth century C.E., the Roman Catholic Church decreed which books would constitute the Official Scriptures--the Canon. At that point, the books outside the Official Scriptures were known as non-canonical scriptures.
Clement of Alexandria, Marcion, Valentinus, Origen, and other genuine followers of Jesus' teaching created their own "Gospels," the good news 5 about Jesus, selecting writings which they felt were central to the original teachings of their master. They included material that was not in the orthodox New Testament.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a large number 6 of non-canonical Christian writings were discovered in the Middle East. Many of these writings come from the non-orthodox tradition of Christianity, especially from the Gnostic strain. If we are to understand the true nature of Jesus, it's essential that we take into consideration these extra-canonical sources.
"The Lord did everything in a mystery. . . He said, 'I came to make the things below like the things above, 7 and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them.'"
The Gospel of Philip (Nag Hammadi Library)
Many parts of the orthodox New Testament are dogmas added by later sectarians to support their personal prejudices. For example, many references to Jesus' and Paul's teachings concerning women were added by persons trying to prove that Jesus and Paul saw women as basically inferior to men and that they were to have no place of leadership in Christian congregations. As we examine the canonical and extra-canonical material discerningly we discover this and many other elements that do not ring true, casting Jesus in an unfavorable light. It's our responsibility to determine what is genuine and what is counterfeit in the early Christian and non-Christian writings referring to Jesus, just as we must discriminate in regard to all teachings.
"The real Gnosis. . . is a mystical knowledge and experience transcending that appearance of things which the ordinary individual accepts as the only 'reality.'"
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom in the Christian Scriptures
Was the Image of Jesus Concocted from Other Religions?
"Many scholars in the modern West have noted that the entire paraphernalia--virgin birth, baptism by water, miracles, parables, anointing, twelve apostles, trial, last supper, betrayal passion, execution, resurrection, ascension--with which Jesus is equipped in the gospels can be traced back to magic rites, mystery cults, mythologies, religions, and philosophies prevailing in this or that country in the ancient world since long before Jesus is supposed to have been born. And they have concluded that Jesus was a myth manufactured by the early evangelists in order to serve the superstitious inclinations of various communities in the Roman empire. Some weight is lent to this proposition by the weak welding which holds together the different components of the Jesus cult. It seems that the men who crafted the myth were neither precise in their design nor skilful enough to endow the finished product with a semblance of reality." 8
We've found reason to dismiss the canonical accounts of Jesus being the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. From an examination of the orthodox New Testament, it's clear that the fable of the virgin birth of Jesus was inserted to make it appear that he was a divine being and a fulfillment of Isaiah's (7:14) prophecy: "Behold a 'virgin' shall conceive and bear a son - Immanuel." The falsifying evangelists thought that it was necessary for Jesus to have all the trappings of other religious "savior" figures in order to be accepted as a god. A large number of other divine personages were said to have been born of a virgin: Adonis, Athena, Attis, Buddha, Dionysus, Zeus, Balder, Erichthnonius, Krishna, Melchizedek, Minerva, and Perseus. The fable of Jesus' virgin birth is an example of misguided, propagandizing writers who made the person of Jesus seem ridiculous to reasonable persons.
The miracles which Jesus is said to have performed must be evaluated individually, since such healing powers as he was said to have exhibited were possessed by many people in Jesus' time and throughout history. If the story of these miracles seems within the bound of human experience, we certainly cannot dismiss them out of hand.
The story of Jesus' resurrection has been given many different interpretations, from seeing it as nothing more than allegory to conspiracies in which his body was stolen to make it appear that he had risen from the dead. Again, we must consider the range of human experience.
Contemporary studies carried out by Elmer Green and Paul Brunton, among many others, have revealed that certain persons in the East and the West have conclusively demonstrated that adepts can be buried and then resuscitated after hours or days. The case of Parahamansa Yogananda's body showing no signs of corruption for several days is also testimony to the ability of advanced masters to control their physical body. The continuation of the essence or soul of a person after human death appears to be something which has been proven possible by a number of advanced savants, including many within the Perennial Tradition.
Perhaps the best depiction of Jesus continuing to act after his physical death is given in one of the extra-canonical gospels, The Acts of John, purportedly written by the apostle John.
"Now before Jesus was taken by the lawless Jews . . . he gathered all of us together and said: Before I am delivered up unto them let us sing an hymn to the Father, and so go forth to that which lieth before us. He bade us therefore make as it were a ring, holding one another's hands, and himself standing in the midst he said:
"I am the Word who did play and dance all things.
Now answer to my dancing.
Understand by dancing what I do.
Answer Amen unto me. He began, then, to sing an hymn and to say:
"Glory be to thee, father.
"And we, going about in a ring, answered him: Amen.
"Thus, my beloved, having danced with us the Lord went forth. And we as men gone astray or dazed with sleep fled this way and that. I, then, when I saw him suffer, did not even abide by his suffering, but fled unto the Mount of Olives, weeping at that which had befallen. And when he was crucified on the Friday, at the sixth hour of the day, darkness came upon all the earth. And my Lord standing in the midst of the cave and enlightening it, said: John, unto the multitude below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar is given me to drink. But unto thee I speak and what I speak hear thou. I put it into thy mind to come up into this mountain, that thou mightest hear those things which it behoveth a disciple to learn from his teacher and a man from the Divine.
"And having thus spoken, he showed me a cross of light fixed (set up), and about the cross a great multitude, not having one form: and in it (the cross) was one form and one likeness. And the Lord himself I beheld above the cross, not having any shape, but only a voice: and a voice not such as was familiar to us, but one sweet and kind and truly of God, saying unto me: John, it is needful that one should hear these things from me, for I have need of one that will hear. This cross of light is sometimes called the word by me for your sakes, sometimes mind, sometimes Jesus, sometimes "annointed one," sometimes door, sometimes a way, sometimes bread, sometimes seed, sometimes resurrection, sometimes Son, sometimes Father, sometimes Spirit, sometimes life, sometimes truth, sometimes faith, sometimes grace.
"But this is not the cross of wood which thou wilt see when thou goest down hence: neither am I he that is on the cross, whom now thou seest not, but only hearest his voice. I was reckoned to be that which I am not, not being what I was unto many others; but they will call me something else which is vile and not worthy of me. . . .
"Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not; and, in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not, but what they say not, that did I suffer. "
In the opening portion of this passage we see Jesus leading his disciples in a kind of circle dance, a practice which was used by a number of later Perennialist teachers, including Rumi. Jesus speaking and his disciples responding appears to be a form of ritualized antiphony which in conjunction with the circular dancing may have induced an altered state of consciousness in the participants.
In the last portion of the passage, what Jesus appears to be saying to John is: "I've been teaching you and the others for many months that the real essence of a person is not the body but the spirit. So don't be concerned about what they are now doing to my body. I am speaking to you in my spirit. My spirit cannot be crucified or pierced."
"Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shared his power with no female divinity, nor was he the divine Husband or Lover of any. He can scarcely be characterized in any but masculine epithets: king, lord, master, judge, and father. Indeed, the absence of feminine symbolism for God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast to the world's other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome, or in Africa, India, and North America, which abound in feminine symbolism."
Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 1979
Jesus' View of Women
When we compare the canonical New Testament with the extra-canonical writings, a striking antithesis appears: whereas the extra-canonical sources are full of accounts of women being leaders and members of the Christian fellowships, the canonical material is unified in seeing women as second-class members of the church at best, necessarily subservient to men.
All Perennialist teachers see women and men as equal, and the list of Perennialist female teachers is long and distinguished. This factor of recognizing the equality of women and men distinguishes the Perennial Tradition from a variety of other theological and philosophical groups which viewed women as non-beings, non-humans, soulless, 9 intrinsically inferior to males, or necessarily subservient to men.
So distinctive is this feature that we can actually determine which early Christian groups were connected to the Perennial tradition by whether or not their teachings and practices adhered to their belief in the equality of the sexes.
From about the year 200 CE, the orthodox Christian churches would not allow women to take prophetic, priestly, or episcopal roles. The orthodox, reactionary Christian congregations followed the practices of the Jewish communities, where women were excluded from actively participating in public worship, in education, and in social and political life outside the family. Among both the followers of Marcion and Valentinus, women were considered equal to men and many were revered as prophets. Women were ordained as ministers and some attained the rank of bishop.
The passages in the writings attributed to Paul that place women in an inferior role were most probably inserted by later redactors of the Roman Catholic church. Many orthodox writers admitted that they had adopted the polemical technique of writing material that purportedly derived from apostolic times, allegedly giving the original apostles' views on the subject. In many passages in Paul's letters he acknowledged women as his equals 'in Christ' and allowed for them a wider range of activity than did traditional Jewish congregations.
The extra-canonical Gospel of Philip tells of rivalry between Jesus' male disciples and Mary Magdalene, described as Jesus' most intimate companion and the symbol of divine Wisdom:
... the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all) the disciples and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it."
The Dialogue of the Savior not only includes Mary Magdalene as one of three disciples chosen to receive special teaching but also praises her above the other two, Thomas and Matthew: "She spoke as a woman who knew All.'
The Gospel of Mary relates that when the disciples, disheartened and terrified after the crucifixion, asked Mary to encourage them by telling them what the Lord had told her secretly, she agreed, and taught them until Peter, furious, asked, "Did he really speak privately with a woman, (and) not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" Distressed at his rage, Mary replies, "My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?" Levi breaks in at this point to mediate the dispute: "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you, indeed, to reject her? Surely the Lord knew her very well. That is why he loved her more than us."' Then the others agree to accept Mary's teaching, and, encouraged by her words, go out to preach.
A similar argument between Peter and Mary occurs in Pistis Sophia. Peter complains that Mary is dominating the conversation with Jesus and displacing the rightful priority of Peter and his brother apostles. He urges Jesus to silence her and is quickly rebuked. Later, however, Mary admits to Jesus that she hardly dares speak to him freely because, in her words, "Peter makes me hesitate; I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race." Jesus replies that whoever the Spirit inspires is divinely ordained to speak, whether man or woman.
Orthodox Christians retaliated against these unusual teachings with counterfeit "apostolic" letters and dialogues, the most famous of course, the pseudo-Pauline letters: I and II Timothy, Colossians, and Ephesians. These bogus writings have Paul insisting that women be subordinate to men and entirely excluded from consideration in the selection of bishops.
Christian groups influenced by Perennialist teachings took the principle of equality between men and women into the social and political structures of their communities. The orthodox dogma described God in exclusively masculine terms and typically referred to Genesis 2 to describe how Eve was created from Adam. This reactionary ideology translated into social practice: by the late second century, the orthodox community had institutionalized the domination of men over women as the divinely ordained order, not only for social and family life, but also for the Christian churches.
In previous studies we saw how Clement of Alexandria, one of the most revered leaders in the church, writing in Egypt around 180 CE, identified himself as orthodox, although he associated with members of Perennialist groups and was familiar with their writings. In Clement of Alexandria's writings we find the distinctive elements of Perennialist teaching:
He characterized God in feminine as well as masculine terms: "The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher and nurse"
In describing human nature, Clement of Alexandria insisted that men and women share equally in perfection, and are to receive the same instruction and the same discipline.
"For the name 'humanity' is common to both men and women; and for us in Christ there is neither male nor female."
Clement urged women to participate with men in the community and in his Stromata listed a number of women whose achievements he admired. They ranged from ancient examples, like Judith, the assassin who destroyed Israel's enemy, to Queen Esther, who rescued her people from genocide, as well as others who took radical political stands. He mentioned Arignote the writer, Themisto the Epicurean philosopher, and many other women philosophers, including two who studied with Plato, and one trained by Socrates. Indeed, his praise of Perennialist female teachers is fulsome:
"What shall I say? Did not Theano the Pythagorean make such progress in philosophy that when a man, staring at her, said, 'Your arm is beautiful,' she replied, 'Yes, but it is not on public display."'
"Thus love transfigures ev'ry deed we do,
And love gives everything a deeper sense.
Love is the teaching of all genuine worth.
So base is no man's heart on this wide earth,
Love could not guide it to great excellence."
Guirot Riquier, (1230-1294 CE), one of the last of the French troubadours