The Christianity that has come down to us has been filtered through this Imperial brokered 'deal' in the early years of the fourth century. As it stands now we have a mystery religion essentially engaged in the ritual consumption of make believe flesh and blood and ritual water immersion. These are the basic building blocks of the surviving mystery religion which have been ripped from any rational underpinnings. No one knows why we do anything any longer. It is little more than institutionalized superstition, superstition being derived from the Latin still 'left standing.'
The spirit of the modern understanding of Jesus is embodied in the bumper stickers which tell us, Jesus is whatever you make him to be. Yet for those of us who are interested in finding out the truth the place to start making sense of the original belief in Jesus the God is to try and make sense of how the original cult functioned. What did Christians of the first and second century actually believe? What did they do when they gathered together to serve their Lord?
Traditional efforts to make sense of this religion basically assume that Christians continued to do what believers always seemed to have done - eating, drinking and bathing their way to union with Jesus. Most turn a blind eye to the unusual nature of this communion. Indeed to get around seeing the founder of their religion as some kind of madman the great majority of scholars focus on the synoptic tradition (Matthew, Mark, Luke) at the expense of the 'way out' ideas preserved in the Gospel of John. By establishing a threefold gospel with John trailing as an anomaly some of the more desperate try and pretend that Jesus was historical preacher whose ministry 'suffered' from exaggeration.
Yet it is intellectually dishonest to engage in such attempts to find a 'normal looking' and 'normal sounding' behavior in the gospels in order to reconstruct a 'normal guy' Jesus. The reality again is that Christianity is the eating, drinking and bathing in Jesus. The evangelical preacher figure is just an Americanized slice of the complex original portrait of the founder of Christianity which emerged from the post-Nicene cultural milieu. One has to explain how and why a man named Jesus would try to get his followers to engage in eating, drinking and bathing in his person. The only conclusion which one can result from such an attempt is that Jesus was a magician for only sorcerers engaged in these sorts of practices.
Of course few believers want to rationalize their faith to the point that they can actually make sense of what their ancestors believed. They simply use big words to make them feel less embarrassed about perpetuating superstitious practices they no longer understand. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the traditional assumption of most American Christians that their religion established the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman from the very beginning. The reality is that such marriage was never incorporated into the practices of the early Church. Certainly marriage between a man and a woman was tolerated by the leaders of the Church, but it was a practice left to the civil authorities. There are no examples of the Church marrying a man and a woman until deep into the Byzantine period.
So if the Church wasn't establishing men and women in holy matrimony where is it that modern opponents to same sex unions get the idea that heterosexual unions were divinely sanctioned? It is certainly true that there are divinely established rules of marriage and divorce in the Pentateuch. One can suppose perhaps that these were used as 'talking points' with respect to the institution of heterosexual coupling. Yet contemporary believers forget that Christianity wasn't bound by the rules of the old religion. For the beginning at least many Christian converts straddled a thin line between being believers in the old and the new.
It is impossible to get a firm sense of how the earliest Christians viewed heterosexual marriage other than to say that it was certainly not deemed to be 'spiritual' in any way. It was certainly associated with the old 'psychic' covenant of Moses and the Israelites. Those Church Fathers who carried about with a wife were undoubtedly married in a civil ceremony. They stressed that the happiness of marriage was ultimately rooted in misery and saw marriage as a state of bondage that could only be cured by celibacy. They wrote that at the very least, the virgin woman could expect release from the "governance of a husband and the chains of children."
If Jesus was not understood to have introduced the 'spiritual marriage' of a man to a woman or to have in any way established the sanctity of marriage why was Christianity so revolutionary? Of course this question is so difficult for answer because we have traditionally allowed the ignorant to define what was revolutionary about their inherited religious beliefs. The fact that contemporary Christians want to believe that Jesus 'invented' the idea of being nice to one another does not make it the essential core of the early religion. The reality is that something much richer, much bolder and much more wonderful which deserves to finally be made manifest. It all begins with asking the right questions.
Tertullian makes clear that to the love that existed in the Christian communities of the third century were seen as being quite revolutionary in contemporary Roman culture. "We are governed by the most approved elders, who have obtained this office not by purchase, but on testimony; for indeed nothing of God is obtainable by money. Even if we have a kind of treasury, this is not filled up from a sense of obligation, as of a hired religion. Each member adds a small sum once a month, or when he pleases, and only if he is willing and able; for no one is forced, but each contributes of his own free will. These are the deposits as it were made by devotion. For that sum is disbursed not on banquets nor drinking bouts nor unwillingly on eating-houses, but on the supporting and burying of the poor, and on boys and girls deprived of property and parents, and on aged servants of the house, also on shipwrecked persons, and any, who are in the mines or on islands or in prisons, provided it be; for the cause of God's religion, who thus become pensioners of their confession. But the working of that kind of love most of all brands us with a mark of blame in the eyes of some. 'See,' they say, 'how they love one another'; for they themselves hate one another; 'and how they are ready to die for one another'; for they will be more ready to kill one another. But also they rage at us for calling one another brethren, for no other reason, I suppose, than because among themselves every name indicating blood relationship is assumed from affection. But we are also your brothers, by right of nature, the one mother, although you are little deserving of the name men, because you are evil brothers."
Indeed on some level certainly these ideas were adapted or borrowed from Judaism. Nietzsche once argued the point that Jesus didn't introduce any new teaching about love. "The reality upon which Christianity could be raised was the little Jewish family of the Diaspora, with its warmth and affection, with its readiness to help and sustain one another… To have recognized in this a form of power, to have recognized that this blissful condition was communicable, seductive, infectious to pagans also—that was [St.] Paul’s genius." Yet this is one of many times that Nietzsche can certainly be accused of over-simplifying an issue.
We see from the oldest testimonies of Jews living in the Roman Empire that above all else the Jewish people saw themselves as being connected by a bond of blood. What Tertullian is speaking about in his discussion of the love which exists within the contemporary Christian community is one which binds individuals who have no blood relation to one another. As such the Jews were certainly the furthest thing from the doctrine of universal love by which Christianity came to be recognized. Indeed Jews were often accused by their pagan neighbors of harboring hatred for the human race. As such it is impossible to argue that Christianity simply 'took over' the original concept of love that was pre-existent within Judaism. The Jesus religion clearly brought something new to the table. The problem again is determining exactly what it was.
Judaism certainly brought to the table two important love concepts to the world - love of God - "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love of neighbor - "love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) If we really look carefully at the evidence we see that the original author of the gospel fused these two concepts into a single devotion.
While Jesus makes reference to both divine utterances the earliest Christian interpretation of the material is the same - Jesus is the neighbor, the 'one who is near,' who is God.  Indeed if we look at the early Alexandrian exegesis of this material, we see that this term 'neighbor' does not mean 'the guy who lives next door' but rather something even more radical - God is the stranger who has, with the advent of Jesus, been brought near.
All of this of course only represents one small part of an amazing simplification effort within earliest Christianity to boil down all six hundred and thirteen commandments into one - love one another. We shall examine this shortly but it is interesting to begin by bringing forward the oldest known witness to the Alexandrian tradition's interpretation of Jesus as the stranger God who was brought near. Clement writes that Jesus came to exchange the traditional roles of man and God in order to make humanity divine. He notes:
respecting (this) exchange (Jesus) said: "Come to me, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungry, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; sick, and ye visited Me; in prison, and ye came unto Me." And when have we done any of these things to the Lord? The Instructor Himself will say it is a eupoiian (= doing good, good making) lovingly done to the brother as Himself, "Inasmuch as ye have done (epoiesate) it to these little ones, ye have done it to Me (emoi epoiesate). And these shall go away into everlasting life."This succinct summary of the core Christian belief comes at the very end of one of his most important works entitled the Instructor. In a work which seeks to outline the core instructions from Jesus, the one that comes at the very end not surprising represents what one might like to call a core principle of the religion.
If we go through the teaching in reverse order Clement is clearly going back to the one commandment that Jesus gave to its disciples - love your brother as yourself. Of course this saying now appears in the Gospel of John in our collection while the material regarding Jesus the stranger is found in the so-called synoptic gospels. For Clement however there a consistent understanding that the ideas were connected. The Christian commandment is identified as eupoiia which a compound from two Greek roots - the term for 'good' (eu) and the verb which means to make or to do. The term gospel similarly euangelion is a similar compound. Clement's writings are filled with such eu-compounds. In each case the terminology is understood to have mystical significance. What is being described here is a perfecting of the original dispensation of the Creator, of making what was established in the beginning even better or 'more good.'
Jesus is saying that he came as a stranger in order to 'make good' with respect to the original creation. This will be accomplished through establishing a new eupoiia between Christian believers and transforming them ultimately into brothers. The term eupoiia has a long history associated with brotherhood. The philosopher Epicurus is extolled for his "kindness (eupoiia) to his brothers, and his gentleness to his servants ... and his universal philanthropy towards all men."  It is commonly translated as beneficence and is used as such to describe the Christian community in the canonical Epistle to the Hebrews when Paul extols the Christian community for its 'beneficence and community of spirit" (eupoiias kai koinoniai). Behind this term lies the beginning of a new mode of thinking in the ancient world, no longer constrained by the expectation of reciprocal honours and reward for benefaction, but an independent will to do good for its own sake, a type of work normally recognized as performed for the sake of ulterior gain and prestige, which is presented here as an instance of disinterested beneficence.
We will in due course demonstrate that the rather generic Hellenistic term eupoiia was replaced by a newly coined terminology adelphopoiia or 'brother making' at least as early as the fourth century. In either case the mystical heart of Christianity was being referenced - Jesus coming down from heaven to be 'the firstborn of many brothers.' For the moment at least it would be best to continue to develop an understanding of the writings of Clement of Alexandria, our earliest witness to the Christian love doctrine.
It is interesting to note that the surviving canon of Christian writings - established after Clement of Alexandria was already established as a prominent authority - 'ghettoizes' this material in the fourth gospel (John 13:34 - 16:27) wholly separate from the synoptic witnesses. We should have strong doubts about this arrangement given the fact that at this very time the Philosophumena - going back to an original report also developed before the third century - makes reference to a longer version of the Gospel of Mark which takes a deep mystical interest in the concept of philia or friendship. This cannot be accidental, given the fact we have a more recent witness to the existence of a Gospel of Mark which 'incorporates' material from the fourth gospel.
While scholars desperately cling to the notion that our four canonical gospels are testimonies from the earliest period of Christianity, we shall follow other clues. The first and most obvious is that Clement of Alexandria preferred a longer version of the Gospel of Mark which was used by other second century Christian groups. As we just noted this text developed a myth that Jesus was a god who came to bring divine philia to humanity. This is the ultimate source of the secret love doctrine of Christianity - a longer version of the Gospel of Mark which Clement consistently references in his writings.
It is worth noting that when Clement makes reference to the material which appears in John chapters 13 through 16 he never once identifies the material as coming from a Gospel of John. Indeed Clement simply speaks in the most generic terms about the source of his sayings of Jesus. He simply cites the material as coming from gospel which was used in Alexandria at the end of the second century - not a collection of four gospels but a single gospel which contained all the 'true stories' in one narrative irrespective to the familiar division of 'Matthew,' 'Mark,' 'Luke' or 'John.'' 
Clement's first reference to this mystic love doctrine appears at the equivalent of our John 14:27, yet his gospel reading was consistently very different from our received text here and throughout. Instead of our having Jesus announce 'my peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives do I give to you,' Clement's gospel read 'my love (agape) I give unto you.'  This is not just a minor variation. Clement is one of our most important sources for an early Christian ritual called 'the Agape.' While this early practice was related to later forms of baptism, communion and other sacraments we get a sense that it was ultimately very different from what is familiar to us owing to "the mystical character of many of his allusions to the Eucharist and the Agape."
By having Jesus say that he established the Agape it stands to reason that this ritual is related to love (philia) references which follow. Indeed we no longer have the text of Clement's longer version of Mark available to us it is worth utilizing what scattered references we have available to us to reconstruct what likely followed "my Agape I give unto you." Jesus tells a group of elect disciples that they should "remain in my love." Moreover "if you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love." Jesus says that he has told them this "so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
With these words we stand in the most sacred place in the Christian religion. This is the only place in all the gospels where the philia (friendship) is mentioned. As such it stands to reason that this was the section of text which originally stood in the longer Gospel of Mark or a close variant of it. The commandment to love one another is Jesus's only commandment. Indeed this one utterance is understood to replace all the other six hundred and thirteen commandments given to Moses. As Clement notes "the perfect man ought therefore to practice love (agapen oun askein), and thence to haste to the divine friendship (ten theian philian), fulfilling the commandments from love." 
It is impossible not to see this as a three step mystical process. The word here for 'practicing' or 'working' love is askein which is itself derived from the Greek word from which we get our term asceticism - i.e. curbing all earthly desires. From this ascetic love the initiate sets in motion a divine friendship (philia) which ultimately leads to adoption by the Father and becoming a brother of Christ. We can see that in Clement's original gospel there was a specific reference to the friend becoming a 'brother' in a reference from another section of this same work:
And the saying, "Know thyself," has been taken rather more mystically from this, "Thou hast seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God." Thus also, "Thou shalt love the Load thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself;" for it is said, "On these commandments the law and the prophets hang and are suspended." With these also agree the following: "These things have I spoken to you, that My joy might be fulfilled: and this is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." 
This saying that if "you have seen your brother, you have seen your God" in mentioned many times in the writings of Clement and other contemporary Church Fathers. This important reference to 'brother-making' was seemingly stripped out of the gospel at the beginning of the third century.
Nevertheless one can I believe make a tentative reconstruction of the section from the writings of Clement. His gospel appeared to roughly contain the following information all of which was used to support the mystical process of moving from 'faith' to friendship with the 'hope' of being made a brother through love::
I have given you my agape. Now remain in my agape. You have seen your brother, you have seen your God. These things have a spoken to you that my joy might be fulfilled. And this is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
From becoming aware that Jesus is God the initiates must learn to purge themselves of their capacity for desire. At that point they are baptized together with a sponsor as is still the practice in the churches established from antiquity. This friend, becomes for them a brother, a living image of Christ and together they will work they will make their spiritual journey together in perfection.
So what did the gospel writer mean by "greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends?" Clement has an answer for that. It appears in a short work called What Rich Man is Saved and which is usually interpreted as a homily on Mark 10:17 - 31, the story of the rich man in the gospel who asks Jesus what he has to do to attain eternal life. It is very significant that this gospel material figures very prominently in the treatise. As Clement explains :
For each of us He gave his life (psychen), -- the equivalent for all. This he demands from us in return for one another. And if we owe our lives (psychas) to the brethren, and have made such a mutual compact with the Saviour, why should we any more hoard and shut up worldly goods, which are beggarly, foreign to us and transitory? 
Clement makes it clear that these words were meant to be taken mystically. Each of the 'brothers' have received 'the soul of Jesus' and are expected to 'pass it forward' after the example of selflessness described in the gospel. Yet there is something more here that often gets overlooked. Clement understands Jesus to be a wholly supernatural power rather than a man. When he 'gives up his life' Clement is clear to point out that he is only transferring his very spiritual being to his disciples. Interestingly enough Clement understands Jesus to be the embodiment of 'wealth' too, which takes us back to our original discussion of yesh.
This treatise is called What Rich Man is Saved. The answer that Clement provides is that Jesus is the true rich man. It is he who saves and survives all persecutions and punishments directed against his person because he is wholly supernatural. For Jesus is 'spiritual wealth' (pneumatikon plouton). Once again we have a confirmation that Jesus was 'wealth' in the same way as the earliest Christians called themselves 'Jessaeans.' All Christians partook of the essence of spiritual wealth from Jesus which was yeshay. They did so at the Agape, the love feast where Jesus originally laid down his soul for the disciple he loved. By means of this 'wealth' his friends became sons of the Father and ultimately his brothers.
So it follows in the treatise is a decidedly mystical understanding of the famous words of St Paul which are inevitably cited at weddings "but these three abide, Faith, Hope, Love, but the greatest of these is Love." Yet Clement again seems to think that Paul was really not speaking about the love between a man and a woman but rather a mystical love between two men who were ritually transformed into brothers:
For Faith departs when we are convinced by vision, by seeing God. And Hope vanishes when the things hoped for come. But Love (agape) comes to completion, and grows more when that which is perfect has been bestowed. If one puts it into his soul (psyche), although he be born in sins, and has done many forbidden things, he is able, by increasing love (agape), and adopting a pure repentance, to retrieve his mistakes. For let not this be left to despondency and despair by you, if you learn positively who the rich man who has a place in heaven, and what way he uses his wealth [ton plousion mathois hostis estin].
In the same way as Clement's discussion of the god Jesus appearing in the form of a stranger concludes the Instructor, this strange melding of the classic Pauline and Johannine references to love ultimately serves to explain the reason why this work is entitled What Rich Man is Saved. This because Jesus is the anonymous plousios (= rich man) who both saves and is saved all who cling to him.
I hope the reader can follow the argument here. Clement is telling his readers that the heretics who say wealth is a bad thing don't understand Jesus or the mystery religion he founded. Jesus may have attacked material wealth in his discussion in Mark 10:17 - 31 nevertheless Jesus introduced a ritual form of love or philia that is established between two men which is very different from anything known to the world before or since his advent. Clement says that the heretics are wrong when they say Jesus wanted to people to flee from wealth, this because his Alexandrian tradition knew that Jesus is the yeshay, the 'wealth' which goes back to the original spiritual substance (= yesh) behind all things.
It is important to note that Clement reads in his Alexandrian copy of the Gospel of Mark that Jesus tells Peter that in exchange for giving up "what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for my sake and the Gospel's, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brothers, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting." In other words, Jesus isn't simply saying become a beggar but give up your wealth to take up my spiritual wealth through the act of ritual brother-making. This philia was established according to Clement in the ritual union is the 'mystical' Agape. It is here that the initiate learns to 'see' Jesus in one's brother.
So it is that each see man sees in the other man to whom he is bound the 'spiritual wealth' which is Jesus. This is the thing that the Lord will not allow people to get rid off. As Clement again notes in the same section we just quoted:
Again, in the same way there is a genuine poor man, and another counterfeit and falsely so called. He that is poor in spirit, and that is the right thing, and he that is poor in a worldly sense, which is a different thing. To him who is poor in worldly goods, but rich in vices, who is not poor in spirit and rich toward God, it is said, Abandon the alien possessions that are in your soul, that, becoming pure in heart, you may see God; which is another way of saying, Enter into the kingdom of heaven. And how may you abandon them? By selling them. What then? Are you to take money for effects, by effecting an exchange of riches, by turning your visible substance into money? Not at all. But by introducing, instead of what was formerly inherent in your soul, which you desire to save, another wealth which deifies [heteron plouton theopoion] and which ministers everlasting life, dispositions in accordance with the command of God; for which there shall accrue to you endless reward and honour, and salvation, and everlasting immortality. It is thus that you rightly sell the possessions, many are superfluous, which shut the heavens against you by exchanging them for those which are able to save. Let the former be possessed by the carnal poor, who are destitute of the latter. But you, by receiving instead spiritual wealth [pneumatikon plouton], shall have now treasure in the heavens.
Scholars have been studying this work for centuries but few have properly understood it. This is because Clement deliberately speaks in an obscure mystical manner - often saying something which can be interpreted in two different ways at the same time.
Yet why is Clement so cautious? Why doesn't he ever just come out and say we take to men and establish love between so as to make them brothers? The answer is quite obvious to anyone who has read the contemporary literature related to the Agape - the pagans were again accusing Christians of engaging in incest. Perhaps the most famous surviving example of this appears in the Octavian of Minucius Felix:
On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervour of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to the chandelier is provoked, by throwing a small piece of offal beyond the length of a line by which he is bound, to rush and spring; and thus the conscious light being overturned and extinguished in the shameless darkness, the connections of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate. Although not all in fact, yet in consciousness all are alike incestuous, since by the desire of all of them everything is sought for which can happen in the act of each individual.
It wasn't just that pagans were being influenced by these descriptions of ritual incest taking place in Christian gatherings. As we saw with respect to Celsus's polemic, even Christians were drawing inspiration from what is clearly unsubstantiated rumor mongering. While Tertullian makes mention of the dog, the overturned lamp and the incest and recognizes it for the rubbish it was, Clement strangely argues that yes this sort of thing really does occur but it happens with respect to another group which used to reside in Alexandria - the Carpocratians. The only explanation to this odd, McCarthyist confession is that the description of the incestuous Agape was understood to be specifically describing Alexandrian rituals.
Indeed even if Clement will not confirm directly for us that two men were standing together in the water undergoing a ritual where each looked to find Jesus in each other's person, he does provide us with the next best thing. It turns out that for some reason Clement was busy collecting excerpts from a heretical Alexandrian teacher named Theodotus which has survived in the surviving Clementine corpus. In this collection Theodotos makes reference to two individuals undergoing the rite together in the context of a retelling of the purification rituals originally performed by the high priest before he entered the inner sanctuary. Theodotus writes:
But where is there a right judgment of Scripture and doctrine for that soul which has become pure, and where is it granted to see God "face to face"? Thus, having transcended the angelic teaching and the Name taught in Scripture, it comes to the knowledge and comprehension of the facts. It is no longer a bride but has become a Logos and rests with the bridegroom together with the First-Called and First-Created (ton Protokleton kai Protoktiston), who are friends by love (philon men agapen), sons by instruction and obedience, and brothers by common generation (adelphon de dia to tes geneseos koinon). So that it belonged to the dispensation to wear the plate and to continue the pur suit of knowledge, but the work of power was that man becomes the bearer of God, being controlled directly by the Lord and becoming, as it were, his body. 
The reader should have no doubts about what is being alluded to here. The place of baptism in the gnostic tradition was called a 'bridal chamber.' Yet most have simply assumed that the initiated entered here alone. Perhaps wedded to the Holy Spirit in his imagination or some such other implausible scenario.
The language that Theodotus uses is quite specific. There is both a 'bride' and a 'bridegroom' and Jesus who stands between them. Notice the specificity of the language - "it is no longer a bride but has become a Logos and rests with the bridegroom together with the First-Called and First-Created, who are friends by love, sons by instruction and obedience, and brothers by common generation." This simply cannot be a description of one man becoming a bride of a spiritual being named Jesus. Instead it is clearly and without a doubt a description of two individuals - one who is already the living embodiment of Jesus, the other who is in the process of becoming like him - and both individuals must be male.
It is amazing to see that no one before us has noticed this earliest description of mystical same-sex union in Christianity dating from approximately the middle of the second century. But of course who from the previous generations would admit it was there even if they recognized it? Scholars typically have too much of a personal investment in what they study. It took two generations of academic labor to allow for the study of the 'heretics' to be legitimized. Imagine what a wrench would have been thrown into the machine if it were to be allowed that these former reprobates were even 'worse' than previously imagined. Oh the folly of moralistic behavior. Oh the scandal that it continues to guide the direction of research in the study of Christian origins.
 QDS 37
 We know from one of his works that Clement's gospel had 'laying down of one's life for one's friends' reference closely after the original statement of Jesus giving his Agape to you (pl). In our Gospel of John the two references appear in two different chapters.
 Strom 4.13.93
 It thus can't be coincidence that the earliest reports about the 'Jewish Christians' describe them as 'Ebionites' - i.e. the poor or 'poor in understanding.' They originally claimed to have received a hidden (= hebion) power named yesh which was understood to embody spiritual 'wealth' and the reports of the Church Fathers turned this around to ridicule them.