The Jesus Mysteries: A Review
The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God?
Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy
Thorsons/Harper Collins: Hammersmith, London. 1999.
Reviewed by Sig Lonegren & A Clarification by Peter Gandy
I have long considered myself a gnostic. I will listen to everyone I can, but ultimately, I will decide for myself. To do this, I use a process I call 'gnowing,' consciously using equally both my rational and my intuitive abilities to find what is Truth - for me. It was this attitude that got the early Christian Gnostics in trouble with Rome where only one man, the Pope, got to speak with God. In April, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the opening of a new book, The Jesus Mysteries, by Tim Freke (who lives in Glastonbury) and Peter Gandy. Over the years, I have immersed myself in the history, mythology, and spiritual activities of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Cannanites, Hebrews, and Greeks. I've studied Mithras, Marduk and Ishtar, Dionysus, Isis and Osirus, Astara and Bel, Jesus and Mary, and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Documents - a major collection of Christian Gnostic material with pieces from Plato, Hermes Trismegistus, and numerous books about Jesus that didn't make it in to the final cut of books that were accepted as the New Testament at the Council of Nicea.
High Priestess/Mother&Lover/Consort/Son Who Dies and Comes Back
These archetypal truths were passed on through direct experience in the Mystery Schools. Freke and Gandy didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but they put these bits of information together in a way I certainly had never thought of, and just might be "true." Their assertion is that Jesus wasn't really here in the flesh. He was/is an archetypal spirit who Initiates had been taught to "see" for several thousand of years before the time of the Roman occupation of Israel. This archetype falls into the High Priestess and her lover/consort/son mythos, and it was found all over from the eastern half of the Mediterranean to the Tigris Euphrates. The authors first discuss these Mystery gods and then point out the incredible similarities between their mythic stories and the life of Jesus as reported in the Gospels. They report thirty similarities from Mithras' birthday, the 25th of December, and his followers interest in his blood, through Christ's healing the sick, **exorcising of demons and other miracles and Jesus is baptized (a ritual practiced for centuries in the Mysteries) to his death and resurrection which Osiris and Dionysus and many other earlier mythological deities followed.
Then the authors say that the Romans were well known for their record keeping; however, aside from what is found in the Bible, there is no contemporary evidence that a man named Jesus lived and did the things said about him in the kerygma, the earliest message of Jesus. Zero external evidence!
Who Actually Saw Him?
On top of that, it is now clear that not one of the authors of any of the books in the New Testament actually saw Jesus, Mark was written at least after 65 CE, and most came well into the next century. Many of them were been (badly) rewritten and added to in some cases, centuries after they had been initially written. The Christian Gnostics, painted by the Church to be a small band of early heretics, were actually the dominant arm of the early Church. One of the reasons why they didn't play very well in Rome, as I said above, was that they took responsibility for their perception of "Truth," rather than taking on faith what Rome told them.
But I remember something else I learned about the Gnostics in the late seventies, but it didn't come in to focus for me until this book: the gnostics claimed that Christ was never here in the flesh! So instead of a flesh and bones Jesus, someone, or a group of people, had a direct experience of this archetypal reality. And they taught others how to "see" it, and the message was passed on into an environment that was politically and culturally ready to hear it. It is in this section - where did it begin? - that I feel Freke and Gandy are at their weakest. They point to Philo and Alexandrian Egypt as the source, and while that is perfectly possible, you don't have to go that far. In the Old Testament there are numerous winges by the Patriarchs about how their women were off whoring after Astarte/Ashera. She was the Caananite High Priestess with her lover/consort Bel. The Hebrew people were well in to this concept, and this could be a very possible source of this non-incarnated Jesus story. Also, the authors don't really mention the Dead Sea Scrolls. In their Index under this topic, it says, "see Nag Hammadi texts."! I wouldn't equate these two myself, and it seems to me that one could rather easily build a scenario where this group of spiritual ascetics could well have found ways of contacting the numinous directly.
So, Who Done It?
Despite this area of weakness, Freke and Gandy present a compelling argument for their Jesus-wasn't-here-in-the-flesh hypothesis from the earlier myths to the firm take over of the Church in Rome. On my list, it is a must read. So What?So what does it mean to anyone today if some guy didn't really live two thousand years ago? It has to do with faith. I've never been comfortable with this concept. I know there are various meanings of this word, but it's the one that goes, "Heaven is like this, God is like that, and what I say is Truth for everyone - take it on faith my son."!! No thank you. I have been gifted in my lifetime with a momentary awareness of my Creator. I gnow S/He is real. I don't have to take that on faith, but I gnow it through direct experience. And there might well have been a group of people several thousand years ago who had similar direct experiences of this archetypal energy, and spoke about it as real. Their successors lost the skill of the inner mysteries and clung on to the factual historical Jesus. And that experience is available to us - especially when the place that the contact is being made is geomantically enhanced. Spiritual experiences are available to us today - especially in sacred space.
This High Priestess & Lover/Consort/son archetype, this Osirus-Dionysus story is an Indo-European story. There was a time before - when Goddess reigned supreme; however, this myth comes from the time when there was an interface between the older Matrifocal times and the new Patriarchy. The woman was still a high priestess. Only one woman gets to be that in the Church today. This was a Patriarchal story of the man/God. Not of Goddess. I want both. I need a new archetype that incorporates both Goddess and God. While The Jesus Mysteries doesn't give me this (although the concluding chapter certainly does point in that direction), it does confirm that the initial wonderful impulse of the energy that we know as Christ truly came from the spiritual realms, AND, while there has been an ongoing attempt to deny us this connection, as so many early Christian Gnostics did back then, we can also perceive these realms for ourselves today. This book is a must read both for Christians who need to know what actually might have happened, and also for those of us who seek the New Magic.
I had the good fortune to meet Tim Freke & Peter Gandy at the opening of their book here in Glastonbury at the Growing Needs book store, and have corresponded with both of them by email. I sent them a copy of the above review, and Peter responded with the material below. I can only marvel at the detective work they have done.
Peter Gandy's Response:
"You point out that we are at our weakest around the subject of 'where did it begin?' This is certainly true, but the first century is a black hole when it comes to hard evidence about the Jesus cult. This is the material that was most embarrassing to the Roman literalists, and it came in for the most abuse following the Christian triumph. As R. Grant noted about Eusebius' church history, apart from the gospels, it fails to cite from any text written before 150 CE. I suggest that this was because there was no literal or historical Jesus before this time. Alvar Ellegard in his recent book, Jesus - One hundred Years BC, has made a through study of the earliest Christian texts, the Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabbas etc, none of which (like the letters of Paul) is concerned with an historical man. Jesus is a being of light, a cosmic figure experienced as the saviour.
"About all we can say with tolerable certainty is that there appears to be no cult of Joshua amongst Jews in the first century BCE, but from the second half of the first century CE we are dealing with a movement which is popular and spreading fast. Tim and I went looking for 'the smoking gun' in this period. For the creator(s) of The Jesus Mysteries - a new Jewish cult based on a synthesis of Joshua and the Mystery godman. This is not an easy task, speculation has run rife but evidence of any kind is hard to come by.
Alexandria and Philo
"In the book we suggest that the following fragments of evidence belong together.
"According to the earliest Christian legends, Alexandria was the first city of the diaspora to be evangelised. Mark's gospel, now accepted as the earliest and most primitive of the gospels, was widely held to have been written here. Eusebius went to bizarre and extreme lengths to prove that the Therapeutae of Alexandria were the first Christians. A ridiculous idea but one that was believed for centuries - until it was revealed that Philo's text on the Therapeutae (De Vita Contemplativa) was written circa 15 CE. As the Therapeutae are said by Philo to have numbered many thousands, and could be found in Greece, Asia Minor and many other places, they must have been in existence for many years.
"Philo is full of respect for The Therapeutae and may have been a member. They are clearly practising a way of life modeled on the Pythagorean communities. They interpret their sacred texts allegorically, men and women study together as equals, their curriculum is modeled on the quadrivium of the Pythagoreans, music, geometry, mathematics and astronomy, etc., etc. Philo likens the divine intoxication experienced by these Jewish ascetic recluses to that of initiates of the Bacchic mysteries. Clement of Alexandria calls Philo simply 'the Pythagorean'. The Gnostics, the heresiologists, and even the book of Acts itself, all trace the beginnings of the gnosis to Simon of Samaria. The evidence presented by Dr Eisler that Simon was a Samaritan who received his education in Alexandria where he was directly influenced by the Jewish Pythagorean Philo would therefore seem to be particularly attractive. (Eisler R, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist (The Dial Press 1931).
"When we come into the second century the evidence becomes more firm. The first Christian school, the Catechetical school is in Alexandria. It is important to note that the Catechetical school existed before it became Christian under Clement's authority. In Runia DT, Philo in Early Christian Literature (Fortress Press 1993), Runia questions Eusebius' account of the history of the school and writes Eusebius' words definitely imply that the school existed before Pantaenus took charge. Why then does he only mention it here for the first time? Is it because he lacks information, or is he - from his own apologetic viewpoint on behalf of orthodox tradition - engaged in a cover-up?
Runia proposes that Pantaenus took over the school from earlier members who had a more Gnostic orientation. Eusebius would then have a reason for denying real continuity. Another scholar records that Pantaenus' teacher was a Pythagorean. In a footnote Tim an I put all this information together to suggest the following scenario for the growth of Christianity in the second century. Developing from Jewish/Pythagorean groups like the Therapeutae, and basing themselves on the work of Philo, a school of Jewish Gnosticism develops in Alexandria. During the 1st century its teaching spreads widely in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Roberts (1979) considers it likely that If Valentinus and Basilides taught in Alexandria, the obvious place for their teaching would have been this school. Following the destruction of the Alexandrian Jewish community in the first quarter of the 2nd century there is a period of chaos. Out of this emerges the school run by Pantaenus and finally the Christian Gnostic school of Clement.
"More information about the growth and spread of Christianity in the first century would be much appreciated. I very much hope that as a result of The Jesus Mysteries we will make contact with other researchers who can flesh out this meagre information."
For me, if Jesus did not exist in the flesh, the question then becomes, "Then, who first "saw" Christ on the spiritual level as Jesus? Freke and Gandy have done a marvellous job approaching this question from the present and going backwards. As I wrote to them:
"I gnow what you mean about the first century black hole out of which Jesus immerged, and I have nothing but respect for the Alexandrian connection you have developed. You are describing the time just AFTER the first one/group experienced that Christ energy. I was talking about the time just BEFORE - in Israel. The Hebrew womens' attraction to Ashera and Bel runs deep, and the Essenes could be to be part of the trunk of those roots as well.
"It's a bit like our medical skills with the unborn. Doctors are able to save earlier and earlier premature babies. At the same time, other Medical Researchers are finding ways to keep fertalized eggs alive for longer and longer periods exutero. There will come a time when these two meet. (For all I know, perhaps it's already here.)
Perhaps this was a Politically Incorrect inept analogy, but it is precisely that point where the past and the future meet where the initial impetus for the Jesus Mystery comes. I felt and feel more strongly as a result of your informative letter that you have tied down the earliest tangible evidence - after. I was suggestion that I would have liked to hear more about that time just before. To seek for that point where they meet."
New Age thinker and philosopher William Bloom spoke about his experience of getting booed in Norway. He had been asked to be the New Age representative to a United Nations gathering of religious representatives from around the world to discuss Human Rights. When it was his turn to speak, William said that in addition to being free to think what one wanted, there needed to be a basic human right to experience the spiritual realms as one chose. It was at that point where he got booed by clerics from the Mid-East who were Moslem, Christian and Jewish representatives! To this day, with all of the millions of connections we have in cyberspace, how can anyone claim that theirs is the ONLY correct view of the Spiritual?
In any event, The Jesus Mysteries is a most important book. Not only could it cause traditional Christians to reevaluate how they relate to the phenominon of Jesus, but also it gives us today the encouragement to seek the One within ourselves. This is self-empowerment and awareness on a major level. We can do this too. But the Church is based on faith not personal experience. No wonder the early Church fathers were so anxious to put down the "heretical" Gnostics - who, very probably IMHO, were the first Christians who actually experienced the reality of Christ.