Tag Archive | Gospel of Thomas

Early Christianity

The current canonical Gospels were approved during the Council of Nicea in 325AD by Emperor Constantine. Prior to that ancient council there were many Gospels in use, the most widely utilized being the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of the Hebrews. Unlike other Jewish-Christian gospels, the Gospel of the Hebrews was not dependent on the Gospel of Matthew as it’s source document. These early followers may have claimed James as their founder and leader and is more similar to the canonical Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas had a more Gnostic flavor and was more similar in nature to the Gospel of John. There was a lively following of early Christians that recited and remembered the stories of Jesus and his miracles. Since society at this time was largely illiterate, their primary form of transmission of teachings would have been through story telling.

What did they believe though and how did it differ from what we believe now? Rome was in decline during the 4th Century and Constantine saw an opportunity to capitalize on the up and coming Jesus movement to sanctify his role and position. He used the Church to strengthen and expand his kingdom “in the name of God” and with the Church’s blessings. What impact did that have on early believers? Sadly, a significant and tragic impact. Many of the early sects ended up being declared heretical and the Romans were more than willing to partner with the Church to eliminate those not in agreement with them.

The outcome is perhaps even more  tragic, the victors memorialize history and tell the tale that they want to be told. One only needs to look to American history for a recent and applicable example. Up until recently, history was written according to the recollections of Christopher Columbus and crew and he was hailed a “hero” for discovering America and slaying the savage “Indians”. Well, we now know that perhaps it was the Europeans who were the savages, the aggressors and that the natives were actually the victims.

The same can be applied to early Christians. Take one group for example, the Cathars – from  the Greek for “pure ones,” who were a Gnostic sect and followers of John. They were well entrenched in southern France and their followers numbered as high as 20,000 in around the 12th-14th Centuries . By the early thirteenth century Catharism was likely the dominant religion in the area and many Catholic texts refer to the concern that Catharism would actually replace Catholisism completely. They were known to the people in Southern France as the Bons Hommes or “Good People” and they followed a simple communal life where men and women were considered equal and could hold leadership positions, but their beliefs were quite different than those of the Roman church.

Cathars were dualists believing in the idea of two Gods or principles, one being good and the other evil.  The good God was the God who was the creator of the spiritual realm, contrasted with the evil God who was the creator of the physical world – much like the Jehovah and Satan of mainstream Christianity today.  The only way to escape the physical world was through rounds of reincarnation, which according to another early Church Father, Origen, was also taught by Jesus.

The Cathars believed that one would continue to reincarnate until they could deny their attachment to the material world. They believed a man could be reincarnated as a woman and vice versa creating an atmosphere where gender was completely meaningless.[46] The spirit was the most important to the Cathars which they also considered not from the  material world and sexless. Because of this, the Cathars believed women and men were equal  and just as capable of being spiritual leaders, which stood in direct conflict with the belief of an all-male priesthood held by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Cathars, like the Gnostics who preceded them, felt Mary Magdalene held a more significant role in the spread of Christianity than even Peter. Her vital role as a teacher was the model for the Cathar belief that women could serve as spiritual leaders. Women were counted among the Cathari Perfecti or leaders, in significant numbers.

Fearing for loss of control of the people and the Church, under orders of Pope Innocent III and with the full support of the King of France, Dominic led a campaign against the Cathars and after 40 years and the extermination of the Cathars, the Roman Church had proof that a sustained campaign of genocide could work. The year 1234 AD saw the start of the inquisition with the goal to root out any remaining Cathars. Sadly, their march against those in opposition continued until all detractors were eliminated.

We must begin to piece through what was original to these early Christians and what was added to serve competing agendas of successive church and civil leaders. Now with the finding of the Nag Hammadi documents, the unadulterated Gospels found in Egypt in 1947, we can begin to see into an earlier and perhaps truer form of Christianity.

We owe it to ourselves to understand the truth or at least to make sure what we believe is not the result of years of indoctrination founded on violence and more on what the genuine teachings of Jesus actually were.

rose

 

Advertisements

Before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

I don’t always remember that not everyone knows there were many other gospels in circulation post Jesus death and many were as popular as the Canonical Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Let’s even start there – we have to remember that Matthew, the earliest of the 4 Canonical Gospels was written at least 40 years after the death of Christ, Mark and Luke more like 50 years and John 60 years post the death of Jesus. It is believed that the “Q” document or sayings source was the foundation for at least Matthew and the others were written based on that – with the exception of John. We also need to keep in mind that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not the authors of the Gospels – they are attributed to them and written by an unknown author.

During this time there were many other Gospels being used by Jesus followers and many were equal in popularity; The Gospel of Thomas nearly made it into the Bible in place of John, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of the Hebrews all were also very popular. In 1947 a local farmer in Upper Egypt discovered 12 leather bound books – or papyrus codices sealed in a jar, among those was the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth  and the jar also contained works attributed to Peter, James and Paul as well as a number of “Gnostic” works.

Why are these important? Because they show another side of Christianity, another view of the followers of “the Way” as it was called then and broadens our perspective. We have to keep in mind that the books chosen to be included in the Bible were chosen in 325AD – long after the death of Jesus and all of the Apostles. They were also chosen by Emperor Constantine during the time when the Roman Empire was in decline. Much of what has shaped our current understanding has a truly Roman influence and the entire structure of the Church is also based on the political structure of the Roman Empire.

We need to understand that Christianity was framed by men with an agenda and that wasn’t necessarily for the spiritual growth of it’s followers. It was designed for external obedience and practices, prayers and understanding based on what one was told to believe. It left little room for inner understanding, for contemplation and for individual spiritual growth. This framework exists today to maintain a corporation called the Roman Catholic Church – without the structure the behemoth of an organization would be fractured and chaotic.

But at one time there was more, the kingdom or heaven is within us – that is what Jesus taught.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. ~ John 14:26

And as for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But just as His true and genuine anointing teaches you about all things, so remain in Him as you have been taught. ~ 1 John 2:27

We need to look back at these other Gospels and gain a new perspective that may bring us closer to the truth. We need to look with a discerning eye at how and by whom the Gospels and Jesus teachings were remembered. History is transcribed by the victors and maybe there is more for us to discover that what we have been indoctrinated into believing.

Let’s also remember Paul never met Jesus and there is documentation of his disagreements with the Apostles. How did his letters come to represent a greater portion of the Bible? What else is left for us to discover?

Pond