exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
The "other Bible"
the Gnostic Nag Hammadi scrolls
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Preview and Summary: Some of the Nag Hammadi parchments antedate the writings of the New Testament canon. These very-early documents, however, were rejected by Big Religion for their insistence that every person has direct access to God and needs no external teacher.
Why were these documents referred to as "Gnostic"? The word derives from the Greek "gnosis" which gave us our English word "knowledge." The Gnostics claimed "to know" something, via spiritual insight. Their enemies miscast the term to mean, "They think they are high and mighty and know better than the rest!" But this is just misrepresentation. Gnosticism declares, "We all can begin to know the hidden things of God if we learn to access the life and light within."
The RCC attempted to destroy all copies of these Gnostic documents, but failed. The Gospel Of Thomas – a favorite writing of mine – tends to emphasize one’s personal freedom to access God directly via consciousness, without third-party intermediary; therefore, The Great Worldly Church, threatened by this message of personal spirituality and independence from nanny-religion, employed violence to eradicate its competition.
Dr. Willis Barnstone, non-canonical literature scholar, reports that ancient Gnostic writings attributed to the apostle Thomas,
“perhaps the prince of the rejected [documents],” an exclusion based upon “fierce political and religious
rivalry among sects,” is often called “the Fifth Gospel.”
Barnstone’s research indicates that “Thomas
precedes by at least two decades the canonical
gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John], and, as
such, is our earliest extant record of the words of
Jesus, son of Joseph.”
Dr. Elaine Pagels of Harvard is the best I've found in this area. She's produced several books that are most informative. Here is her brief synopsis of the subject under review:
[In 1945] near Nag Hammadi in the upper Egyptian desert, an Arab peasant made an astonishing discovery. What he found, buried in an ancient earthenware jar, were fifty-two papyrus texts, including gospels and other sacred writings, some dating from the beginning of the Christian era - the period when the New Testament gospels themselves were written. (The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels)
There is much to learn here, and I shall not attempt to recreate that which Professor Pagels has masterfully offered. I suggest that you read her books. But allow me to present, in very brief fashion, my thoughts regarding why this subject is important. Maybe the best way for me to begin is to feature quotations from my favorite "Gnostic" documents, The Gospel of Thomas and The Book of Thomas. These ancient writings are arranged as a non-narrative collection of sayings of Jesus:
And Jesus said...
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Behold, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds in the sky will get there before you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will get there before you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and embody poverty."
Thomas said to him, "Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say whom you are like." Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. You have become intoxicated because you have drunk from the bubbling spring that I have tended."
Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves. If you pray, you will be condemned. If you give to charity, you will harm your spirits."
His disciples said, "Show us the place where you are, for we must seek it." He said to them, "Whoever has ears ought to listen. There is light within an enlightened person, and it shines on the whole world. If the light does not shine, it is dark."
Jesus said, "I took my stand in the middle of the world, and in the flesh I appeared to people. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for these human children, because they are blind of heart and do not see... Now they are drunk. When they become sober, then they will repent."
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are alone and chosen: you will find the kingdom."
His disciples said to him, "When will the final rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?" He said to them, "What you look for has already come, but you do not know it."
Salome said, "Who are you, sir?" ... Jesus said to her, "I am from the One who is whole" ... "For this reason I say: one who is whole will be filled with light, but one who is fragmented will be filled with darkness."
Jesus said, "I disclose my mysteries to those who are worthy of my mysteries."
Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within will kill you."
Jesus said, "Many are standing by the door, but those who are alone will enter the wedding chamber."
Jesus said... "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there."
They said to him, "Tell us who you are so we can believe in you." He said to them, "You study the face of the sky, but ... you do not know how to study this moment."
Jesus said, "When you make the two into one, you will become children of humanity, and when you say, 'Mountain, move,' it will move."
Jesus said, "The kingdom is like a person who had a treasure hidden in a field but did not know it..."
Jesus said, "Whoever finds [the true] self is worth more than the world."
His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?" [Jesus said] "It will not come by looking for it... [It] is spread over the earth, but people do not see it."
[Jesus said] "Whoever does not know [the true] self does not know anything, but whoever knows self already has acquired knowledge about the depth of the universe."
[Jesus said] "All the bodies of humans and animals are irrational from birth... Beings that come from above [and are not of the Earth, non-physical] ... derive their life from their own root, and their crop provides nourishment for them."
[Thomas said] "You are our light, and you bring enlightenment, Lord." Jesus said, "Light dwells in light."
[Jesus said] "O bitter fire burning within human bodies... burning within them night and day, raging within human limbs, making minds drunk and souls deranged... For men are aroused, and they arouse women and women arouse men... Everyone who seeks truth ... will fashion wings in order to fly away and escape from the passion that inflames..."
[Jesus said] "The wise person ... will be like a tree growing by a river."
[Jesus said] "Some people ... run after what they can see, what is far from truth. For the fire that leads them will give an illusion of truth, and will shine on them with transitory beauty. It will make them prisoners of the delights of darkness, and capture them in sweet-smelling pleasures. It will make them blind with unquenchable passion, it will enflame their souls, and be like a stake that is jammed into their hearts and can never be removed... This fire has bound these people with its chains, and tied all their limbs to the bitter bondage of desire for visible things, which change and decay..."
[Jesus said] "Blessed is the wise person who seeks truth... and is not afraid of those who want to disturb one."
[Thomas said] "What shall we say to people who are blind? What instruction shall we give to these miserable mortals?" [Jesus said] "... Do not think of them as human beings, but consider them as animals. For as animals devour each other, so also people like this devour each other... The kingdom is taken from them, since they love the delights of fire, they are slaves of death, and revel in filth... Some of those who rush into this madness do not realize they are foolish, but think they are wise. They are drawn to the beauty of the body, as if it would not perish. Their minds turn to themselves, their thoughts are on their own pursuits, but the fire will consume them."
[Thomas said] "These sayings that you utter are laughable and ridiculous to the world, for they are misunderstood. How can we go forth and preach them, since the world does not respect us?" [Jesus said] "I tell you the truth: whoever listens to what you have to say and turns away, or sneers, or smirks at these things, will be held in a cramped dark place... They will be imprisoned there ... for their folly will not be forgiven."
[Jesus said] "How long will you sleep? Or do you think that what you judge to be imperishable will not perish? You base your hope upon the world, and your god is this life. You are destroying your souls. Woe to you with the fire raging within you... Woe to you because wheels are turning in your minds... Your minds are deranged because of the smoldering fire within you... Your light has been hidden within a dark cloud, you have grown fond of the filthy clothing you are wearing, and you have held on to a hope that is no hope! ... Woe to you who love intercourse and filthy association with womankind!"
[Jesus said] "Blessed are you who weep and are afflicted by those without hope, for you will be released from all that binds you."
Editor's summary comments:
I must tell you frankly that I love these teachings from Thomas. Few literary sources, it strikes me, contain as much wisdom, ounce for ounce, as these bejeweled words.
That said, I strongly caution, myself and everyone, against viewing any of the above as "infallible" or dropped from heaven. The writer of Thomas does not walk on water; some of his assertions are based upon superstitions of his day. And some of his words are so deeply couched in metaphor that clear understanding escapes us. Such might be stated for all of the 52 Nag Hammadi documents.
Required disclosures aside, when Thomas is right, he's really right. Permit me to summarize what I consider to be Thomas' exceedingly penetrating insights into the nature of reality:
They derive their life from their own root.
Thomas understands that enlightenment begins with personal integration. See the emphasis on the words "alone," "one," and "self." "The wise person is like a tree growing by a river," that is, sustenance is fostered by a hidden source of vitality - but the most sublime expression of "I am enough," I think, is brought to us in, "[they] derive their life from their own root"! Thomas knows that access to universal life and intelligence is channeled to us via the sacred inner person, the soul. Notice, too, the manner in which Thomas' Jesus refers to God - the "One who is whole" -How poetically stated! God is one who is personally integrated - just as his children are meant to be; that is, without inner conflict between a true and false self.
O bitter fire burning within human bodies.
Thomas is aware and well perceives the existence of the inauthentic self, the dysfunctional ego, which tricks people into believing that their materialistic thoughts and animal passions, mere mammalian instinctual response, constitute their real person. The writer refers to this as "the fire within," an existential "drunkenness," a soulless fixation on the "beauty of the body that perishes."
You do not know how to study this moment.
Thomas has experienced, and therefore is able to speak of, the timeless realm of the eternal now, that non-temporal domain of the true person within. One moment of clarity, of accessing the present with eyes wide open, will begin to reveal the cosmic realities. The masses are intoxicated with this passing world, this ephemeral life, and have built a worshipful altar to it: "your god is this life." How miserable are those who forge an existence of such perishable material. These drunken ones have not - not yet - come to know the timeless, unchanging kingdom of the immutable life within. There is no literal coming of God or Jesus in the clouds; there is no literal political regime, as colony from heaven, to be planted on the Earth. The "new world," for each one of us, begins when we wake up and find out who we really are on the inside.
I am not your teacher.
Thomas wants us to know that there are no gurus, no holy men to whom we must make pilgrimage, no infallible guides. Thomas' Jesus deflects undue consideration and makes his students aware that they, themselves, via the hidden inner life, must teach themselves. "I am not your teacher! You have become intoxicated because you have drunk from the bubbling spring that I have tended"; that is, "You are too impressed with me, an external authority. Go and find your own artesian spring (John 4), the eternal life within, and be impressed with that."
Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there.
Thomas perceives the interconnectedness of all persons - indeed, all of creation - via the hidden life within. And he also knows that the denial of that "inner light" of pan-communion will send one to an unpleasant place on the other side, "a cramped dark place" of introspection, allowing the illusion of separateness to dissipate.
If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves.
Thomas preaches that no church-ritual, no external aid or effort, no "trying very hard," will help us to find or bring God closer. And if we attempt to rely on such forms of legalism, we will hurt ourselves, in that, we will be dispatched in the wrong direction. God is found within one's deepest person, and no one - no Big Mother Church - can keep us from our own inner life-source.
If you pray, you will be condemned.
The Jesus of Thomas is a Zen Master who purposefully riles people up - "disturbs" them, as Thomas uses the term - with seeming-outlandish statements in order to get them to think. Of course, there is a place for prayer, but, like "fasting," if prayer becomes an expression of the dependent, helpless "child" who refuses to grow up and draw upon the riches of the soul within, then, that kind of prayer will create darkness for one's spirit.
If you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.
And, like fasting and prayer, if good works are performed as a manipulative attempt to "get on God's side," a way of bargaining with Heaven to get a "better deal" upon crossing over, then, "charity" too - which is not charity but Machiavellianism - becomes just one more avenue into darkness. See the article "the 500 testimonies from the other side" which speaks of an entire class of people in the next realms which attempt to employ good works as a substitute for the inner life.
- Editor's note: We should understand that the Gnostics, in their own writings, claim the apostle Paul as one of their own. The call him "the great apostle." Having well acquainted myself with Paul's writings, I am inclined more than a little to subscribe to this assertion. Paul is utterly Gnostic in his pronouncements of the inefficacy of religion in all its forms. Note, too, as we will discuss, how many churches today are frightened of Galatians - that epicenter of Gnostic thought. - and attempt to ban and destroy it, just as Big Mother Church attempted to do for 2000 years, along with all of the other Gnostic documents. (See Dr. Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Paul)
Some final thoughts...
There is much here to appreciate and ponder.
Oppressive Big Religion did its best to burn every copy of these Gnostic documents. Why was Big Mother Church so threatened by works like Thomas? The answer should be evident: While the Gnostic movement was no monolith, in that, a great many ideas - some of which were not so coherent - were floated in the marketplace, Thomas and other Gnostic writings present a spiritual picture of God, life, and reality that leaves little room for a supervising Big Mother. Thomas preaches a personal responsibility, an individualized accessing of God.
Why, then, pray tell, would we need so-called priests to sell indulgences to us, as currency to buy our way into heaven, if all one needs to do is trust the life and light within?
This disturbing subtle nuance was not lost upon Despotic Big Mother. And she did her best to wipe out all vestiges of such "heretical" and "satanic" teaching. "Trusting yourself is pride, and that's of the Devil!" she said.
In the "Jesus" article, I have spoken of Dr. Rubenstein's 15 years of research on the Nicene Councils. Therein, we learn of the early-church struggle between "the Literalists," those who insisted on an infallible and literal interpretation of scripture, and the "Gnostics," those who viewed all theological writings as allegorical, open to many interpretations, into which "the Spirit of truth" might lead.
The Literalists, upon gaining political backing of the Roman state, mafia-like, began to wipe out their opposition along with their hated writings of sacred self-determination.
It is ever so much harder to make merchandise of people, and to control them, when they perceive that every person is sacred, equally loved, and made in the image of God!
- Editor's note: The best modern-day rendering of the timeless wisdom offered in Thomas is to be found, I think, in these books by Eckhart Tolle:
The Power Of Now & A New Earth
Both Tolle and Thomas speak metaphorically of enlightenment as one's true immortal self, effulgent, ever present, albeit, for the majority, well hidden by clouds.
High above the mayhem of Earth,
the Sun, unremittingly, radiates it glory.
And Jesus said,
"your minds are deranged because of the [egoic] fire within;
your light has been hidden [by] a dark cloud."
Editor's last word:
"I am not your teacher" insists the Jesus of Thomas. Yet those who clamor for his bodily presence will not accept this clear declarative statement.