Creating Jesus 23: Ensoulment christology

I have been on vacation, and now that I'm back for a couple of weeks at least, I want to try to finish up the Creating Jesus series.

We were discussing Johannine understandings of Jesus last time. What we have in John is something different from the other gospels. The Johannine perspective is an ensoulment perspective. In other words, the Logos (God's mind) descends and takes on flesh. So Jesus' soul is the Logos. This means that he is different from ordinary human beings who do not have God's Logos as our souls. The divine aspect of Jesus is not an appendage to Jesus' soul; it is Jesus' soul.

There is in this paradigm a fusion of Logos language and Hellenistic anthropology with Angel of Yahweh traditions. The word Logos is appropriate because it would have been understood by the Hellenistic populace to describe a substitute psyche. God's Reason is ensouled in Jesus.

The result? God walks around on earth as a human being. Jesus' body is the New Temple in which God's presence walks. He is the Glory, God's manifestation, visible in his person, his signs and wonders, and his crucifixion. Because of the ensoulment paradigm, the Kavod is made to assert characteristics of Reason, characteristics that would otherwise be foreign to its tradition, particularly the assertation that the Glory or Kavod is personalized as Jesus' soul so that a particular person, Jesus, becomes the earthly manifestation of the hidden God (John 1:18).

It is a rather clever theological claim, blending Hellenistic philosophy and anthropological knowledge with Angel of the Lord and Kavod biblical traditions. By so doing, the author of John has God himself manifested in history as Jesus.

Aeon Byte Interview

Miguel Connor of Aeon Byte interviewed me recently about the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. He has a website where downloads are available HERE. If you scroll down, you will find at the bottom a menu of all his shows and his many guests. This is quite a resource that Mr. Connor has put together over the years! His website contains downloads of shows featuring a variety of well-known scholars discussing their ideas about the ancient world on everything from Hermetism to Gnosticism to Mysticism. Thank you Miguel for caring so much about esotericism in the ancient world, making these interviews available to all.

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-13-08

[Judas (Thomas)] said, "Tell me Lord, what is the beginning of the way?"
He said, "Love and goodness."

Dialogue of the Savior 142.5-7 (Syrian Christian encratic text, early second century)

Commentary: Judas Thomas (The Twin in Johannine gospel) is the hero of early Syrian encratic Christianity. Here he asks a question very similar to John 14:5: "Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" to which Jesus responds, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." When we compare these two texts, it is fascinating how the Syrian text frames Thomas' question in a positive sense, while the Johannine author does not. Also, look at the difference in answers. In Syrian Christianity, it is a personal ethics that is the beginning of the spiritual journey (as it is in Jewish Christianity). Not so in Johannine gospel which promotes here salvation through the work of an intermediary figure, Jesus. I have made the argument in the past (in my book VOICES OF THE MYSTICS) that the Johannine gospel is responding to a form of Syrian Christianity (represented by the Gospel of Thomas) which it does not approve. The Dialogue of the Savior is a text coming from the same Christian tradition as the Gospel of Thomas, and reveals a continuation of the conflict between encratic Syrian Christianity and that promoted by the Gospel of John.

Novgorodian icon of the Apostle Thomas, 1350 - 1370 CE

Dating the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas

Jordan has asked me in the comments to address the dating issues for the Gospel of Mary, and also to speak to the point that Pagel's raises regarding John's dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Mary is a distinctively Valentinian text. This has not been addressed by many commentators, but the fact is if you know the Valentinian traditions, it is evident that this gospel is part of that exegetical strand of early Christianity. It is particularly interested in the concept of "grace" that is granted when the Son of Man descends, and how humans are redeemed and ascend through the various realms in order to return to the upper aeons. It is heavily liturgical, and appears to me to contain a eucharist homily. I am going to be writing about this at some length in the paper I am preparing for the Talpiot conference and volume. At any rate, this means that the text cannot date before 130 CE - Valentinus himself did not begin teaching until about 120 CE. I would actually date the text in the mid-second century.

As for the dependence of the Gospel of John on the Gospel of Thomas, this is something that I have written about at length in The Voices of the Mystics. It was published a couple of years prior to Pagels' popular book Beyond Belief. Pagels actually reviewed Voices in a SBL session the year Voices was published.

What I argue is that the "faith" mysticism in the Gospel of John is responding to a form of vision and ascent mysticism that the Gospel of Thomas has preserved. I don't think that the Johannine author necessarily had a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. But he was aware of mystical traditions that are associated with the disciple Judas Thomas, and he disapproves of them. What John argues is that God has come to earth so that we don't have to journey to heaven to see him and be transformed as the mystics in Syria were claiming. Rather, after Jesus' death, God becomes accessible to us through the Paraclete, God's spirit which is sent in Jesus' absence. This spirit is attained through baptism and eucharist, and through it we experience God immediately and directly.

So I understand the traditions to be engaged in discourse, a discourse which becomes part of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John. Thomas is a text that comes to completion around 120. The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century. My point is that it is not that one text is dependent on the other, but that both were coming into existence around the same time, and the traditions had been in conversation for some time before the composition of either text was complete. I think that we have to begin to become more nuanced in our discussions of dependence and texts, which is why I wrote chapter one of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. I try to lay out a new methodology to get us beyond all the either/or categories that have stunted our past discussions. I recommend that chapter even if you are not interested in the Gospel of Thomas.

Book Note: What We have Heard from the Beginning (Tom Thatcher)

You may or may not have guessed it, but this is a book on Johannine studies. It's full title is What We Have Heard from the Beginning: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies (Waco: Baylor Press, 2007).

Tom Thatcher has edited a very fascinating volume here. As he tells in the preface, he set out to write a sort of time capsule about Johannine studies, to introduce the major scholars of Johannine studies to the next generation of students who will carry on the discussion of the fourth gospel. He asked seasoned senior scholars to write conversational vignettes about his or her "journey with John." So the senior discussions include evaluations of the state of the field, programmatic remarks on meritorious questions, personal histories of research in the field, and summaries of current work - as Thatcher says, "anything that one might share with an interested student over coffee after class" (p. xvii). So these essays provide the reader with an overview of where Johannine studies has been and where it stands today.

Then Thatcher asked a younger scholar who will be carrying on Johannine studies into the next several decades to offer brief responses to each of the senior essays, to reflect on their senior colleague's comments, to identify unanswered questions. So this is the future forecast of Johannine studies, where it is going, from the perspective of those who work in "the ongoing stream of Johannine tradition" (p. xviii).

The senior-junior teams include: Ashton-North; Beutler-Claussen; Borgen-Labahn; Brodie-Williams; Carson-Köstenberger; Culpepper-Harstine; de Jonge-Kirchschlaeger; Fortna-Thatcher; Kysar-Rensberger; Martyn-Reinhartz; Moloney-Coloe; O'Grady-Lee; Painter-Anderson; Schneiders-Conway; Segovia-Lozada; Smith-Keener; Van Belle-Judge; van Wahlde-Just.

I found the senior scholars' pieces to be engaging, and think that Thatcher achieved his time capsule. A very unique project.