Apocryphote of the Day: 10-9-08

"O those who do not see! You do not see your blindness! You do not see that which was not known! ... The senseless and blind are always senseless, always slaves of law and earthly fear. I am Christ, the Son of Man, from you and among you...I alone am the friend of Sophia. I have been in the bosom of the Father from the beginning, where the children of truth and the Greatness are. Rest with me, my fellow spirits and my kin, forever."

Second Treatise of the Great Seth 65.2-17, 70.5-10 (probably a late second-century Christian Sethian text)

Manuscript illumination: an alchemical representation of Sophia as a Tree of Learning and source of Life.

The Muslim Jesus

In response to your comments about wishing to know more about Jesus in Islamic tradition and your surprise at how revered he is, I thought it might be fun to post a few givens about Jesus in Islam.

The Muslim tradition reveres Jesus as a prophet but rejects his divinity. His sayings are found scattered throughout Arabic works on ethics, popular devotion in Islam, Sufi mysticism, collections of wisdom, and the histories of Muslim prophets and saints. The date for these sources ranges from 8th to 12th centuries.

Where do these sayings come from? Many of them echo the gospels, canonical and non-canonical, but not all. Most are deeply ascetic, as we know the Christian tradition was in eastern Syria which would have been the form of Christianity most well-known to Muslims. The Muslim Jesus speaks out to support Muslim definitions of piety. He is an advocate for religious responsibility.

It is important for us in the west to recognize that the Muslim Jesus and his sayings are the Jesus and his sayings that Muslims are familiar with - not the Christian Jesus. The prophets in Islam are men who set out to warn a proud or ignorant community, but whose messages are rejected. Yet God vindicates them in the form of some type of retribution. Jesus is a prophet involved in polemic: he wishes to cleanse his followers (i.e. the Christians) of their wrong beliefs. He denies tritheism (i.e. the trinity doctrine). His crucifixion is also denied, while his ascension becomes his vindication. He is a prophet with disciples around him. He is humble and pious, honoring his mother who is a virgin. His message is about God's unity or monotheism. There is no incarnation of a divine being, no crucifixion, and no redemptive death. His crucifixion is either portrayed as an event that only appeared to have happened, or someone like Simon the Cyrene or Judas Iscariot was made to look like Jesus and was crucified in his place.

This latter tradition has always been curious to me because it sounds like a received gnostic tradition such as has been attributed to Basilides by the heresiologists. The original gnostic teaching about this can be found in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth 55.19-20. What the teaching was is a development of Paul's idea that Jesus' crucifixion overcame the archons and powers (1 Cor 2:6-8; Col 2:8-15; Eph 6:12): Jesus could not be killed like other human beings because his spirit was incorruptible and without error. So "I did not die in reality but in appearance," Jesus says. His death actually happened to the archons and powers who nailed his body to the cross. Everything they did to Jesus, the archons and powers really did to themselves. They were tricked into defeating themselves by crucifying Jesus. Even Jesus didn't carry his own cross, the gnostics noted. Simon the Cyrene bore his cross in his place. I think that this tradition got mixed up (intentionally?) in the heresiologists' reports to credit the gnostics with saying that Simon and Jesus traded places, and Simon was even killed in Jesus' stead. This is the teaching that appears to have made its way into Islamic sources.

Apocryphote of the Day: 5-20-08

After we left our home and descended to this world and became embodied in the world, we were hated and persecuted by the ignorant and by those who think they are advanced in the name of Christ, though they are vain and ignorant. They do not know who they are, like dumb animals. They persecuted those I have liberated, since they hate them. If they would shut their mouth, they would weep with a futile groaning because they have not really known me. Instead, they have served two masters, even more. You will be winners in everything, in combat, fights, schism out of jealousy and anger. In the uprightness of our love, we are innocent, pure, and good, since we have the mind of the Father in an ineffable mystery.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth 59.20-60.12 (late second or early third century)

Commentary: written from the perspective of a Sethian Christian toward other types of Christians and pagans. This Sethian Christian thinks that the others are irrational like animals. They talk too much and need to start listening. They serve the demiurge and other gods. The relationship between these different forms is one of divisiveness, combat, and fights. The Sethian Christian sees his tradition as winning these fights. His people are the ones who have the "in" with the real god.

Apocryphote of the Day: Easter Sunday

They nailed him to the tree, and they fixed him with four nails of brass. The veil of his temple he tore with his hands. It was a trembling which seized the chaos of the earth, for the souls which were in the sleep below were released. And they arose. They went about boldly, having shed zealous service of ignorance and unlearnedness beside the dead tombs, having put on the new man, since they have come to know that perfect Blessed One of the eternal and incomprehensible Father and the infinite light, which is I, since I came to my own and united them with myself.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth