Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Part Eleven]


The great scholar of Judaism, Jacob Neusner, explains Numbers 15:18 – 21 in a very straight forward manner. Bread is a baked food produce made of flour that, upon being moistened and kneaded and fermented, rises. The rabbinic tradition starts from a critical distinction which key to understanding everything – namely that bread which derives from flour that does not leaven is not liable to dough-offering and not classified as bread for purposes of Passover either. Families are free to snack on the dough until the dough is made into a ball or is rolled out in a solid mass. Formal liability only takes effect when in the baking process a crust forms over the dough, which is to say, when the when the enzyme that brings about leavening dies.

As Neusner notes “the span of susceptibility coincides with the process of fermentation: the activation of the enzyme, at the outset, then the cultivation of the fermentation process, and finally the realization of the goal of that process in the forming of a crust, the conclusion of fermentation.” And again: “bread in which God takes an interest is bread subject to living processes of nature: the life of the enzyme (as we should express matters). Leavening then is the key to the definition of bread. Taken as a natural process, leavening is animate, or is perceived as animate.”

Let’s stop right there and place this within the context of all we have read so far. Once leaven is added to the lump, it was necessary to give a portion of the leavened bread to the Jewish god by way of his priesthood. St Paul however developed this understanding to say – if we don’t add leaven our lump – obviously taken literally and metaphorically here - is not subject to the Jewish god. That is why he says “celebrate not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” What is being suggested by the passage – to the heretics at least – is that St Paul established a new festival, which existed clandestinely within a greater Jewish cultural context which employed materially unleavened mishereth spiritually vivified with ‘Jesus.’

This is the key to understanding everything about the early heretics. Paul knew that keeping the lump untouched by ordinary leaven made it essentially ‘above the law’ – or at least not subject to the authority of the god of the Jews. The lump was clearly also a symbol of man or humanity – so the symbolism here was that as long as we don’t add leaven – i.e. Jewish halakhah – but instead the spiritual leaven or flesh of Jesus we too exist outside the jurisdiction of that power.

We must remind ourselves here of the difference between the ‘host’ in the Catholic and Orthodox churches – i.e. one is an unleavened wafer, the other a leavened loaf. The Roman Church always better preserves the original heretical tradition. So it is that when St Paul made specific reference to a little leaven “adulterating the whole batch of dough” he is framing our reference in terms of an unleavened host and assuming our knowledge of the laws governing bread in Numbers.

The message here is quite simple and straightforward - Jesus is added ‘secretly’ and imperceptibly to the unleavened loaf. It never rises and so – not only never falls under the jurisdiction of the Jewish god – but exists alongside Jewish halakhah, actually revealing a ‘mystical truth’ that had been unknown to Moses and his god. It would have been impossible for them to know that an entire priesthood would be established after the destruction of the temple according to the idea that a secret power would descend from heaven and ultimately ‘spiritualize’ the mishereth as the beginnings of a religion that would actually replace Judaism.

So to repeat, the Israelites were commanded to observe a rule that when ordinary leaven is added to the ‘mixed lump’ they have to separate a portion from every batch of dough and give it to a priest. Paul developed a new ‘festival’ from this understanding – but one which is based on a most incredible concept. For the reality was again that within the heretical tradition at least – no material leaven was actually added to the lump in the first place. This is why the lump is ‘above the law.’ A priest would look at the crisp flatbread coming out of the oven and acknowledge – it was not subject to the rule on bread offerings.

Yet the point again was that the Christians were equally certain there was a שאר present in the bread. It wasn’t affecting the material constitution of the host. You couldn’t ‘see it was there.’ But the initiates ‘knew’ it was there. Jesus himself transformed the bread in to a supernatural substance – i.e. ‘the flesh of Jesus.’ As Neusner notes, leavened bread communes with the Creator in its life sustaining character – “bread stands for life, consumed to be sure with oil and wine. Therefore it is the processing of flour into bread to sustain life where fermentation represents life that particularly registers. That marks the occasion for the affirmation of God's presence in all life-forms and processes: God lays his claim to his share, because God's claim upon the Israelite householder extends to the outer limits of vitality.“ It is for this reason undoubtedly that bread to this day is called ‘aish’ pronounced ees (= life) in the countries of the Middle of East.

Yet the question of all questions that now stands before us is – how could the early Christianity have been so certain that their bread contained a supernatural שאר? How could they claim the presence of another god – a mysterious ‘stranger’ – who was other than the Creator of the Jewish religion? The idea that these heretics were just so ‘anti-Jewish’ that they perpetuated an ‘anti-Jewish’ cult for several centuries is simply untenable. This understanding couldn’t have wholly developed as an exaggerated symbolism. There had to be some way for us to accept that the believers really did believe that they had better bread than the Jews – a kind of bread that brought God into their souls.

While it is impossible to prove such an assertion one cannot shake the feeling that a hallucinogenic agent must been added to the lump. This agent while not actually ‘raising’ the bread materially would have its presence known and acknowledged by the inner experience of those consuming it. To this end, we should understand that Jesus was there not according to the visible eye but some altered state of consciousness shared by each individual participating in this new ‘redemption’ rite. They would acknowledge separately and as a group that the presence of a previously unknown god coming from ‘a higher realm’ was already realized in their ‘inner man’ – the kingdom of heaven spread upon the earth, and men do not see it.

The idea is not as crazy as it may seem. We see something very similar reported about an early heretical sect associated with a mysterious figure named Mark. He is accused of lacing the Eucharist, “infusing secretly into the mixture some drug ... mentioned in the book on magicians.” The consumption of this drug-laced Eucharist has as its purpose the reception of Jesus’s ‘grace.’ The effects of the drug include - changing the color of the water to that of wine, hallucinations, visions, the ability to ‘prophesy,’ and feeling of loving everyone which ultimately to the participants falling victim to Mark’s depraved sexual lusts.

Clement of Alexandria similarly in his apology for Christianity compares the true mysteries of the Church to those of Eleusis and in particular its kykeon – a barley mixture that has been proposed to contain the drug LSD. Clement argues that the pagan mysteries are only poor copies of the true mysteries. Yet that argument presupposes that the Christian mysteries were like those of Eleusis and other places. Similarly many centuries later we continue to hear reference to sects that offered innocent people a "heavenly food" proclaiming, "Often you will see . . . angelic visions, in which sustained by their consolation, you can visit whatsoever place you wish without delay or difficulty.”

It is incredible to see the ‘fiery spirit’ of the Church basically get extinguished as it was manipulated by Irenaeus and later Constantine. The description from outsiders is of a collection of raving lunatics communing directly with god. The manner that this was accomplished is clearly through the power of the Eucharist. The early Syrian tradition behind the Acts of Judas Thomas for instance reinforces over and over again that this missionary brought Jesus to people through the consumption of his flesh.

According to this literary tradition the apostle baptizes and redresses his converts to Christianity and then sets bread on the table before them and blessed it. In the end he declares before them:

Bread of life, the which who eat abide incorruptible: Bread that filleth the hungry souls with the blessing thereof: thou art he that vouchsafest to receive a gift, that thou mayest become unto us remission of sins, and that they who eat thee may become immortal: we name the name of the unspeakable mystery, that is hidden from all: we invoke upon thee the name of Jesus. And he said: Let the powers of blessing come, and be established in this bread, that all the souls which partake of it may be washed from their sins.

The ‘bread of life,’ the very thing called eesh by the modern inhabitants of the Middle East is at once the living Jesus. It has been transformed by the holiness of Judas Thomas, his twin, and will be consumed by initiates who have been ritually prepared – i.e. received instructions and ultimately baptized – in order to transform their physical lump into something spiritual.

A very similar understanding is affirmed by the second century Valentinian Theodotos who notes of the Eucharist:

the bread and the oil are sanctified by the power of the Name, and they are not the same as they appeared to be when they were received, but they have been transformed by power into spiritual power. Thus, the water, also, both in exorcism and baptism, not only keeps off evil, but gives sanctification as well

Theodotos is confirming exactly what we have been talking about. Notice that he acknowledges that the bread hasn’t actually been physically transformed by the presence of the Name (= Jesus). This confirms that the Valentinians used unleavened bread like their surviving Roman descendants. It is an invisible leaven – i.e. Jesus – added to the bread by a spiritual blessing which invisibly and imperceptibly ‘leavens’ the bread with a hidden power.

Indeed Theodotos goes on to explain the effect of this spiritual bread on the individual who consumes it in the following manner. Jesus, it is said:

is ‘heavenly bread’ and ‘spiritual food’ furnishing life by food and knowledge, ‘the light of men,’ that is, of the Church. Therefore those (Israelites) who ate the heavenly bread (= manna) died, but he who eats the true bread of the Spirit shall not die. The Son is the living bread which was given by the Father to those who wish to eat. ‘And my flesh is the bread which I will give,’ he says, that is, to him whose flesh is nourished by the Eucharist; or better still, the flesh is his body, ‘which is the Church,’ ‘heavenly bread,’ a blessed Assembly. And perhaps just as the elect are essentially derived from the same substance, and as they will also attain the same end.

Notice again the qualification - the flesh is his body. This all goes back to the Aramaic word שאר which is present in the food as Jesus. The elect are now ‘of one flesh’ with Jesus – i.e. kinsmen – and expect to receive the reward of eternal life.

Finally, we see these very same ideas reflected in yet another Valentinian source, this time through the author of the Gospel of Philip discovered as part of a collection of heretical writings in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The bread of Christian communion is really the flesh of angels, or as he puts it:

Before Christ came, there was no bread in the world, just as Paradise, the place were Adam was, had many trees to nourish the animals but no wheat to sustain man. Man used to feed like the animals, but when Christ came, the perfect man, he brought bread from heaven in order that man might be nourished with the food of man. The rulers thought that it was by their own power and will that they were doing what they did, but the Holy Spirit in secret was accomplishing everything through them as it wished. Truth, which existed since the beginning, is sown everywhere. And many see it being sown, but few are they who see it being reaped.

It has long been noted by scholars that the Gospel of Philip was likely written in Syria and later translated into Greek. The modern Syrians identify their bread as ah-eesh meaning ‘life’ in Arabic. But their ancient ancestors seem to have identified it by the very same word because it is the flesh of cosmic ‘man’ or eesh.

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