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Resurrection of Jesus | Gnostic Perspective and Beyond

Now I have come to teach you what is and what was and what will come to pass, that you may know the things which are not revealed and those which are revealed, and to teach you concerning the unwavering race of the perfect Man.

Now, therefore, lift up your face, that you may receive the things that I shall teach you today, and may tell them to your fellow spirits who are from the unwavering race of the perfect Man.
- Sayings of Christ, upon him be God's perfect grace, from The Secret Book of John

The whole of Christian world is still immersed and recovering from the Remembrance of Christ on the occasion of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On this blessed occasion its offers us an opportunity to contemplate some of the original teachings and message that Christ came into the world to transmit to us through his holy embodiment.

And before we do, lets remind ourselves that majority rule doesn't necessarily apply to the seeker of Truth. Just became majority believe or convince themselves to some belief system, it doesnt make it the final frontier of truth. This applies equally for all faith tradition or religion. Even an illuminated personality like Christ when he departed the dusty earth, the truth of his message could convinced only twelve or so disciples where hundreds and thousands of the majority of his time remained deaf and blind to the truth. To be ever receptive to higher truth is an essential quality of every seeker who, by the Divine Will, eventually can reach the door of truth.

According to the Christian orthodox (from the Greek orthos and doxa, literally 'straight thinking') doctrines and beliefs which were fiercely debated, constructed, then reconstructed and codified about 300 years after the departure of Christ, two things became central dogma: the Death and the Resurrection of Christ. Apparently the belief of Christ dying on the cross and his resurrection became the clue for salvation in the later Church manufactured doctrines. Christians' fundamental belief is that Jesus rose from the dead. But the actual event of resurrection is not described in the Bible. Yet a doctrine emerged based on the text of Corinthians: 'And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.' Infact there has been much misplaced emphasis on the event of Christ's death and resurrection which even contradict Christ's own teachings as to be found in many of the gospels that the early Church decided to keep hidden.

Interestingly enough, the Christian Gnostics and the early followers of Christ held a very different perspective which apparently have been suppressed, systematically removed and finally vanished from Christian teachings until some of these Gnostic text in the form of Hidden and Lost Gospels resurfaced.

The Gnostics, the one who truly understood the Teachings of Christ

The word Gnostic, from the Greek word for knowledge, expresses the central tenet of this tradition - Gnostics believe Jesus’ mission was to teach people that the divine lives within each of us, and that salvation can be achieved through spiritual knowledge rather than dogma and beliefs. Only through truly knowing God can humans transcend and attain enlightenment. This was the central and original teachings of Christ as well as traces that survived in the canonical gospel as well.

Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and everything else will be given to you as well.
- Jesus Christ, Gospel of Matthew

Know God and be as you like.
- A traditional Sufi Saying

In the early years following Jesus’ alleged crucifixion, Christianity took many forms. The Christianity we have today – what is most often thought of as Christianity – didn’t exist. There was no bible, no New Testament,  and it was some years (60 to 150 years) before the canonized Gospels appeared and circulated.

Some Christians emphasized a belief in salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection. Others were more interested in understanding and studying what he taught; they strove to fully grasp the great depth of his teachings, seeing that they pointed the way to something hidden - something very profound that would take effort and seeking for knowledge to find.

These Christians can loosely be called Gnostic, which means “those who know” although this term has been applied to many, sometimes very differing sects, who have often been grouped together under the Gnostic title. Some of these Christian Gnostics understood the deeper significance to Jesus’ life and message and followed the teachings of Jesus and his disciples to attain enlightenment, which they sought through knowledge (gnosis) and direct, personal spiritual experience, rather than just belief system.

Their story is largely unknown because one emerging sect of Christianity, which has come to be known as the orthodoxy, strove for dominance and turned against the other Christians, including the Gnostics, and imposed a religious order they insisted others conform to. Texts were banned and lost, opposing viewpoints were condemned as “heretical” and as the New Testament canon was gradually pieced together, most of the Gnostic texts were excluded. As the Christian orthodoxy adhered itself to the Roman Empire and gained political power and prominence, other groups not conforming with the orthodox views were deemed illegal by the government and driven underground. Gnosticism was declared a heresy by the established orthodoxy in the early days of Christianity. The rays of truth contained withing the original and mystical teachings of Christ, the God-intoxicated Mystic Guide started to fade away. The valuable esoteric stream of Christ 's message was buried under the darkness.

A Revolutionary Discovery

In December 1945 while gathering soil a peasant of Egypt came across a large boulder, and buried beneath it, found an old earthen-ware jar. The jar contained dozen old books, bound in shriveled brown leather. The books later ended up in the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. This came to be famously know as the Nag Hammadi Text which contained ancient sheets of papyrus dated around AD 350 and some where even older. Nag Hammadi is the name of a town in upper Egypt where these ancient manuscript were discovered. Written in Coptic language, all had been translated from Greek, the language in which New Testament was written. They were the lost gospels from the earliest years of the Church. Among them were the Gospels of Thomas and Philip, Gospel of Truth, the 'Secret Books' of James and John.

The Nag Hammadi Library, as the collection of the books became known, was not translated into English, or made widely available, until the 1970s. When they finally emerged to wider audience, people were amazed by what they read. Here were books, written by self-confessed Christians, in the earlier years of Christianity, which bore little resemblance to the texts contained in the Bible (New Testament consisting of the four canonical gospels).

These books called themselves Gospels and claimed to transmit the sayings and the teachings of Jesus. Why, then, were their contents so dramatically different from the familiar four gospels of the Bible? Did these books hold truths that had been lost - or - concealed - from Christians for hundreds of years?

Theologians had always known that there were disagreements in the early Church about the events of Jesus' life and death, and what Christians should make of them. Jesus left behind no writings, and nothing resembling a recitable creed. He had wandered preachings through the fishing villages on the Sea of Galilee in northern Palestine for only two or three years before he was crucified. No record of him survived in any diary or letter composed during his lifetime. Three decades after his death, still no one had sat down to write his life story; or if they had, their writings had not survived.

The writers of the text found near Nag Hammadi claimed to be inspired by Jesus and to tell the truth. Yes the message - or rather messages - offered by these books were very different from the teachings of the Bible. Here were sayings of Jesus that had never been heard before - some of them bewilderingly enigmatic.

Perhaps most remarkable, in some of the new-found texts the death and resurrection of Jesus are not mentioned at all, while in others these most fundamental of Christian doctrines are roundly dismissed as untrue, naive and simplistic.

Gnostic View of Jesus

Jesus said: 'He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.' - The Gospel of Thomas
A Gnostic view of Jesus could lead Christians to reject the most fundamental of Christian beliefs; the redeeming power of Jesus's death and resurrection. In the Church doctored Bible, Christians come to understand their Saviour's role in terms of his death and resurrection. Contrast to that, to Gnostics - knowledge of God (ma'arefa in Sufi term) alone was salvation and the original teachings of Christ again and again emphasize on that, found well spread across different 'lost and hidden gospels.'

Some of the Gnotics argued that, though Jesus was a divine guide (Rasul in Quranic term), helping his followers toward gnosis, he was not, strictly speaking, essential to the process. In the texts of such Gnostics, Jesus teaches that gnosis is hidden within the individual; it needs no divine intercession to uncover it. To know oneself, according to these pure Gnostics, is to know God.

For some Gnostics, Jesus's death was neither necessary nor desirable: Jesus saved men through the knowledge he brought them, not by suffering and dying like one of them. Indeed, because some Gnostics believed that all matter was corrupt, and that Jesus was pure (sinless, blameless), they concluded that Jesus was not human, even if he looked like it. Nor could he have died on the cross.

Christ warns of those who 'proclaim the doctrine of a dead man.'

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, an important text in the Nag Hammadi Library, mocks and scorns those who believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are important; for they 'proclaim the doctrine of a dead man.'

In the Acts of John, a book with many gnostic passages, Jesus is decribed appearing in another place while he is apparently being crucified, or laughing on the cross. In The Apocalypse of Peter, another Nag Hammadi text, Jesus warns Peter to beware of those who 'will cleave to the name of a dead man.' Lest there be any doubt who he is taking about, he specifically mentions 'bishops and also deacons... these people are dry canals.' Here Jesus warns about those who expound the orthodox belief that Jesus died on the cross. This belief is echoed - although less aggressively - in The Gospel of Philip, which claims that those without true knowledge misunderstand the meaning of terms like 'resurrection', taking them too literally.

"Names given to the worldly are very deceptive, for they divert our thoughts from what is correct to what is incorrect. Thus one who hears the word 'God' does not perceive what is correct, but perceives what is incorrect. So also with 'the Father' and 'the Son' and 'the Holy Spirit' and 'life' and 'light' and 'resurrection' and 'Ekklesia' and all the rest - people do not perceive what is correct but they perceive what is incorrect, unless they have come to know what is correct."
- The Gospel of Philip

Resurrection and Post Resurrection knowledge to the Gnostics

In the New Testament, Jesus's appearances after his alleged death (Gnostics believe that he didnt die on the cross, so do the Muslim and Sufis) were principally designed to convince his followers that the crucified Jesus had risen from the tomb. The Gnostic writers, of course, were less interested in this. But the resurrection did serve one useful purpose for these writers; it provided Jesus with an open-ended period of time to lead his followers to gnosis and teach them away from the mainstream community. 

In the biblical Act of Apostles, Jesus continue appearing to people for 40 days before he ascends into heaven. In the Secret Book of James, the disciples are still having conversation with Jesus more than 18 months after he has risen from the tomb. The Pistis Sophia, meanwhile says, he spent eleven years with his followers after resurrection. 

"The twelve disciples were all sitting together and recalling what the Saviour had said to each one of them, whether in secret or openly, and putting it in books - lo, the Saviour appeared, after departing from us while we gazed after him. And five hundred and fifty days since he head risen from the dead, we said to him, "Have you departed and removed yourself from us?" But Jesus said, "No, but I shall go to the place from where I came. If you wish to come with me, come!"" - The Secret Book of James

The Gnostics disappear, the Sufis appear

After Constantine's conversion, the Gnostics stood little chance of survivals. They seem to have disappeared in the West by the fourth century; in the East there were still Gnostic sects in the seventh century. A form of Gnosticism resurfaced during the Middle Ages in the shape of the Cathars, rebel Christians who believed that Jesus was a spirit in a human body, until Pope Innocent III efficiently slaughtered them in thirteenth Century.

Just as the Cathars knew that Jesus was a spirit in human body, the Sufis call Christ as Ruhullah or Spirit of God. There is a great resemblance between the meaning of the word Cathar (pure ones, Catharsis is purification) so also is the connection of the word Safa (pure, purification) as Sufis emphasis on the purification of heart to reach the gnosis of God (marefatullah). As guardians of mystical truth, what Cathars believed regarding the status of Christ and his teachings are to be found in the Quran  (which predates the Cathars by 400 years) as well when it comes in regard to Jesus Christ. The Final Testament or the Quran, the Sacred Text which the Sufis take as their central source of unveiling of divine knowledge and inspiration provides a number of very significant passages that clears Jesus Christ from the man made and manufactured doctrines later incorporated into the dogmas of the Church.

Just as the Early Christian Gnostics before they disappeared were the Door Keeper of Secret - the Sufis , the mystics of Islam continue to be the Door Keepers of Gnosis and the Divine Guidance of the Time. The Sufi teachings borrowing from the revelation of the Final Testament, the Quran works as philosopher's stone to separate truth from falsehood. As Christ said, "People do not perceive what is true but they perceive what is false, unless they have come to know what is true."

As continuation of this post, in the next part we will try to seek the Final Testament's view on the true status of Christ (the theological debate of whether he was God, or, only begotten Son of God, did he die on the cross), which complements the original teachings of Christ, the knowledge of the Gnostics and what the early mystics and followers of Christ were certain about. 

Until then, peace be with you.

Allahumma salli'ala Sayyidin Isa Ruhullah, wa sahbi, wa awliya ikram.

O Allah, send your blessings upon our Noble Master Jesus, Your Spirit and to his companions, and to the noble friends of Yours.

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Technology of the Heart: Resurrection of Jesus | Gnostic Perspective and Beyond
Resurrection of Jesus | Gnostic Perspective and Beyond
Technology of the Heart
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