Monday, July 22, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Part One]

The Secret Life of Jesus 


The work that stands before you is a most remarkable achievement for it is unlike all the academic studies that have been written and will be written from now until the end of time. It begins with a premise – a premise that was passed on to me by my grandfather, Gaston Frank, through the oral traditions conveyed to me by my mother from my earliest memories. Jesus was not a man but a divine being who came floating down from heaven to earth to begin the gospel. I was told these stories growing up and didn’t think much of them. If there was an emotional association with them, it was one of embarrassment because they did not agree with what I learned in school or from friends growing up in a very Italian – and hence very Catholic neighborhood in suburban Toronto, Canada.

My parents were atheists but atheists who emerged as non-believers from two different backgrounds. My father was a very ordinary boy who lived through the period of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. At the age of fifteen, in the twilight of the Third Reich, he arrived at school and was handed a rifle and told to go out in the woods looking for enemy soldiers. A few days later he was rounded up and taken to Siberia where he spent the next five years of life experiencing the horrors of a Russian concentration camp.

My mother on the other hand was born into a rich crypto-Jewish family in Geneva. Her grandfather was a German Jew who had been rich enough to purchase Swiss citizenship before the war. My mother’s birth was entirely unplanned, a product of the passions of my grandparents. My grandmother tried to get an abortion but my mother refused to be flushed out of her womb. This intense tenacity would shape my mother’s character even at a very young age. Having been born in Switzerland, my mother and grandmother attempted to return there again on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Paris. It was my mother, only four years old at the time who would save my grandmother at the border crossing and thus saving her experiencing the fate of their friends and relatives who would never be heard of again.

I spent most of my years growing up hearing stories about my mother’s family’s exploits during the war. My father would never talk about his experiences in Siberia other than the occasional burst of tears if he drank a little too much during dinner. Indeed my father had been reduced to little more than a ghost of a man owing to the experiences of his youth. As a result I was pretty much dominated by force of my mother’s personality from a very young age. I learned all sorts of things, things about my mother, things about her family and above all else there strange association with Christianity which I could never entirely understand. More significantly everything my mother told me about the angel Jesus and the Jewish religion was intertwined in the story of her family and their supernatural ability to escape being captured by the authorities.

It has to be said that my mother never actually went to school during her youth. She was, as she would confess later in life an analphabète. The only thing that she and her mother would ‘study’ were the mystical traditions of their past, summoning supernatural ‘assistance’ for their incredible sojourn in the richest country world without a penny in their pockets. From the age of four she and her mother had the same routine. They booked themselves in a Swiss hotel for an extended period of time and then a few days before the bill was due they fled into the darkness of the night.

I think it is impossible to recreate my mother’s worldview at the time. As she never went to school, her life revolved around secrecy and survival. She grew into an understanding of the world and reality which was at once entirely grown up and at the same time entirely childish. She and her mother were caught in an almost mythological struggle for survival, where the proper understanding of the names of angels and demons were key to staying one step ahead of the ‘authorities.’

It must be said that they had learned quite early that the Germans had established concentration camps for Jews. Her father’s mother was interned at Bergen Belsen and despite her capture managed to use the traditional knowledge of herbs and plants from her crypto-religion became the unofficial medic of the concentration camp. As information filtered about the fate of other Jews, the worry about their fate in Switzerland only added pressure to their daily routine of survival. The possibility of capture was quite real as was the threat of deportation across the border to Germany.

As it seemed almost inevitable that the Nazis would succeed at capturing Europe and establishing a ten thousand year Reich, neither my mother nor her mother had any plans beyond the day to day cat and mouse game of avoiding capture by the forces of darkness. After six long years trapped in this cosmic drama, the war came to an end. My mother had not been prepared for any other reality, any other way of life. The pressure had ultimately gotten the better of my grandmother. By 1945 she was an emotional train wreck and on her way to an early death owing to health issues related to alcoholism.

My mother on the other hand was only beginning her life and had to decide at sixteen what her next move was going to be. She was preparing to immigrate to Israel when she received word from the Jewish Family Services that her father – a man she had never met – had moved to Canada. She changed her mind, arranged for a trip to Montreal arriving as an unexpected – and ultimately unwanted – memory of a previous life before the War. Gaston Frank had by then married a woman he met while fighting for the allies in Italy after being rescued from a North African concentration camp. He moved to North America and started a family hoping to bury his past including his association with Judaism.

He like many Frankists before him was baptized a Roman Catholic. He made sure that his children received a Christian upbringing in order to assure that they would never face what he had to face. As my mother’s parents never married Gaston did not accompany them to Switzerland. He was captured by the Germans in Paris in 1940 but under charges of belonging to the Communist Party rather than as a Jew. My mother later explained that because he had blond hair and blue eyes and spoke perfect Parisian French he was shipped out from the Velodrome to a concentration camp in North Africa reserved for Communists and other social misfits.

It is again difficult to explain what life must have been like for my grandfather in that prison. My mother says that he never mentioned his experiences throughout his later years in Canada. She said however she was haunted by his behavior as he was receiving cancer treatment shortly before his death. He became delusional, shouting words and phrases ‘reliving’ the experience of being a crypto-Jew but only now as a married man with children. ‘They can’t take away the kids,’ he kept saying ‘they’ve been baptized, Ishu will protect them! Ishu will protect them!’

As I mentioned I grew up hearing these stories all my life and became increasingly embarrassed by them as they didn’t make any sense. How could a Jew be baptized and think he was protected by an angelic Jesus? I spent a lot of time my grandfather before his death. I was his first and favorite grandchild and moreover I took after his physical appearance. As much I found myself swept away by his larger than life personality I couldn’t help find the logical dissonance of his beliefs and practices quite distracting. I remember his funeral had a strange mix of Catholic and Jewish symbolism. Since most of the knowledge of his association with mysticism was kept only between he my mother and later me, I couldn’t help question whether any of this was even real.

As I grew up I learned not to mention any of these stories because my most of my peers were even less kindly disposed towards this information that I was. I couldn’t tell my Jewish friends that we had this secret understanding of Jesus because quite frankly, I had found the Jewish attitude toward Jesus to be entirely negative. More importantly I had strong pressure from my father to devalue anything my mother said. In the strange nexus which is the private family dynamic, my father generally looked down on the opinions and experiences of my mother.

I don’t know if it had something to do with his Nazi upbringing or whether it was simply a product of him viewing my mother’s lack of education with contempt. My father, while having his education interrupted was nevertheless a very logical thinker. He inherited a slavish devotion to ‘facts’ owing to his Teutonic upbringing. He literally memorized any facts he came across and could cite them verbatim at the dinner table. Since my mother’s background and experiences was totally out of the box they were summarily dismissed as not worthy of serious consideration.

So it was that while I grew up listening to these fantastic legends of the Jewish people it was done in a very clandestine way and later with my father’s deep voice of disapproval reverberating in my soul. While I was attracted to these beliefs and considered myself fully ‘Jewish’ – i.e. in the crypto-manner that had already been established by my mother and grandfather’s example – I was prejudiced to look down on my inherited tradition. When I went to university I avoided taking classes in religion because of the shame associated with my background. I had been ridiculed whenever I mentioned those beliefs and besides my father not only had utter contempt for religion but viewed the liberal arts with suspicion referring to it as a Brotlose Kunst – a pursuit which could not provide material sustenance, so I basically ignored them.

I suspect there have been hundreds if not thousands of other people who come from strange and extinct religious backgrounds. It is interesting to think about how a line of transmission ends. There are books which we know existed into the seventeenth century and then disappear never to be seen again. There are animals and plants which exist for millions of years and then find themselves doomed to extinction because of an environmental change. I think I would have been just another statistic if I had not met my wife. I met her at university when I was basically wasting my time taking other courses just to get a piece of paper which would effectively make my parents proud.

My wife was a stunningly beautiful woman – or at the time I met her, a little girl. I know that it sounds absurdly romantic when I describe the circumstances of our meeting one another in a book about secret Jewish traditions about Jesus, but it was because of her that I even began to take interest in any of these things again. It’s not that she cared about my past. That would be incredible as with all truly beautiful women there is an inescapable narcissism which prevents them from taking a deep interest in anything else but themselves and their own experiences. Rather it was my encounter with the Roman Catholic tradition that she and her mother were so strongly devoted that reawakened my own religious past.

I told you from the very beginning that this would be an exceptional work of scholarship. I think part of that uniqueness is the fact that I am not going to hide from you how this work was generated, how it came to be. For I did not go to university and spend countless years of my life examining every aspect of the handful of documents that are associated with Frankism and then extrapolate from that paucity of information the nature of the Frankist experience as such. These kinds of studies have their place but the people that write them and study them typically have an unrealistic sense of their relative significance.

What I have decided to do for you instead is to present to you my attempt to explain the survival of this Jesus tradition within a historical context that I have spent over twenty five years of life making. I don’t think that merely recycling the oral traditions of my mother will do anything to help taking the ‘references’ if you want to call them that, seriously. They were at best living experiences, a part of the fabric of her family’s strange and turbulent existence which needed above all else a historical framework for them to make any sense. Perhaps the greater part of this effort was shaped by my father’s voice which I can still summon in the deepest recesses of my soul. There is still this sense that what I have inherited is foundationless, that it has no place in serious discussions of the origins of Christianity. So to have it given the attention it deserves I have created the work in front of you.

For I really believe that what my ancestors experienced was the very essence of Christianity, something which has not been transmitted by the studies of actual academics in the field. There is only so far that one can go with the information that is garnered from ancient books. I have over twenty years of my life reading all the things that scholarship has written about ‘primitive Christianity’ and it appears to me that they have the context all wrong. On the one hand, they have been influenced by the Christianity that emerged under Constantine the Great – strong, pompous and a tool of the state. On the other, these Christian scholars have no capacity for reading Hebrew or understanding the essence of Judaism – the things that are not garnered from simply ‘reading books.’

It took me many, many years to garner the courage to write this present work. Above all else I had to spend a great deal of time learning from the best scholars in the field, not as most people do – i.e. so that they themselves can attain a piece of paper which allows them to earn a living in this field. I had too strong an emotional attachment to my tradition to allow myself to be subjected to what I consider to be the wrong-headed assumptions of academia. I have literally spend over two decades cultivating friendships and learning from some of the best scholars in the field, all for the purpose of legitimizing and presenting to you my ancestor’s understanding of a supernatural Jesus – or perhaps better yet, the original understanding that I have teased out of ancient texts and was still preserved in oral tradition among my ancestors in a slightly garbled form.

As I said in this journey I sought out many sources of information including a number of living members of near extinct traditions like that of the Samaritans in modern Israel. The Samaritans are the last living remnant of a northern Israelite culture which is typically subordinated in the study of religion to the status of a ‘sect of Judaism.’ This in spite of the fact that reason and the evidence from history itself demonstrates clear the exact opposite reality – i.e. that Judaism was a more successful offshoot of an Israelite religion rooted at the Samaritan holy mountain of Gerizim.

I am lucky to have as my friend a modern Samaritan, Benny Tsedaka, a man who literally travels throughout the world in order to bring the living experience of his culture to academics who would prefer to live instead in the realm of dead books. It is through his example that I have seen firsthand the way scholarship uses and abuses the religious tradition of his ancestors. After many private conversations with Benny I decided to reconstruct the historical context of my tradition on my own. I have decided to the work myself and present to you what I consider to be the original historical context of my Jewish ancestors association with a supernatural Jesus.

Of course, the fact that I have not spent the time to gain a PhD before writing this present work may compromise its authoritativeness in some people’s eyes. My lack of a formal education in the disciplines related to the topic may raise questions about my familiarity with the various subjects raised in the course of this investigation. I have thought about this long and hard and decided to go ahead with the book anyway for the simple reason that the original information passed on through my family was preserved in the least credible way possible. To this end, perhaps having an outsider to scholarship – even a heretic – as the spokesman for a tradition that survived essentially in a garbage dump, is entirely appropriate.

If the truth be told, I have wrestled with its value for nearly half of my life and have never entirely lost my father’s disapproving voice in my head. Yet there was one seminal moment in my life which happened quite recently that made me decide to take the plunge and write it all down.

Just last year, I was flown to Israel to speak on the subject of my previous book. I had never been to the land of my ancestors. At forty five years of age, I boarded a plane from Newark for Tel Aviv. I remember being struck by the separate security entrance and then after passing through the gate and still at the airport, feeling as if I had been transported to another world. There were countless young people doing their ‘birthright’ (taglit) and the atmosphere had a strange excitement to it.

My ticket was bought at the last minute so instead of sitting at an isle or window seat as I usually prefer I found myself immersed in a sea of orthodox youths. I brought along with me Scholem’s Essays on Messianism to freshen up for the interview. As the plane took off I began as separate from the ‘religious kooks’ around me with their strange hair, strange dress and strange habits. Yet as time elapsed on the ten hour flight we began to have small conversations. Soon we became quite friendly. The dizzying excitement in the air was of course driving the flight attendants crazy but it also got me to order the kosher meal.

I want to preface the rest of my conversation by reinforcing that I like to think of myself as an extremely rational person. I don’t normally find anything which stirs my emotional depths. But what started as a renewed intimacy with these young people continued throughout the course of my short trip. I was blown away by the experience of being in Israel – something which is quite surprising because I had never felt the urge to visit before and hadn’t even purchased my own ticket. Yet then again, as my grandfather used to say – there is a difference between touching yourself and having someone else touch you.

We all live in worlds of our own construct. It is very rare that someone or something reaches out and touches you in a truly meaningful way. The experience of being in Israel will always stay with me. So many things happened to me over the course of this short trip that I can scarcely do them all justice. I was invited to celebrate the Sabbath with my host’s family and it was truly wonderful. But it was the daily interaction with Israelis – people who all strangely seem like family – had a deep impact upon me.

This wasn’t the kind of ‘brotherhood’ Christians or Muslims’ envision when they use the term ‘brother.’ It was really like a massive extended family – something I think I missed living in isolation on the West Coast far away from my real family. Again it wasn’t this artificial brotherhood that you get when Christians greet one another at church. It wasn’t based on shared ideology but of shared ancestry, shared experience and – strangely - love.

Over the course of staying there I couldn’t help think about all those crazy stories my mother told me. I thought about my ancestors and what kind of an amazing dream it would have been for them to see me standing there in the country of Israel. It really moved me and I knew at once I had to write this book …

Chapter 1 


There are few challenges in life more daunting than trying to making sense of an unreasonable belief. For the most part at least, unreasonable beliefs originate with unreasonable people and their appeal tends to be limited to like-minded individuals. The ignorant tend to shy away from rationalizing their superstitions and when they attempt to do so the effort rarely satisfies anyone outside the circle of true believers to the faith.

The question must arise then, why even attempt to make sense of the tradition that Jesus was a supernatural being? Scholarship seems to do a very good job separating the ‘historical Jesus’ from the literary tradition associated from the ‘gnostic Jesus’ – or as Tjitze Baarda once termed it ‘the flying Jesus’ – the Jesus who appears in the manuscripts discovered buried near Nag Hammadi, Egypt and hostile reports of the Fathers of the Church.

The rational part of our brain tells us that the latter is a fanciful distortion of the former. As such, much ink has been spilled on the manner in which all the fanciful distortions related to one another – in other words, the way one silly text relates to another silly text. But no serious effort is spent attempting to prove that the historical Jesus is a distortion of the flying Jesus. Such an endeavor would be foolish because men can’t really fly, angels don’t exist and any tradition which presents Jesus in this light is irrational. Any effort to take seriously unreasonable beliefs is necessarily unreasonable and not worthy of serious consideration.

While these assumptions appear perfectly justified to the casual observer the reality is that by limiting what we are willing to consider at the outset of any investigation, effectively determines the outcome of what is possible in early Christianity. For instance, we never even allow the possibility that Jesus developed from pre-existent mythological expectations within Jesus, that Jesus might have been a title applied to a historical individual rather than a proper name and similar proposition to even ‘come to the table’ as it were. The only scenarios which are taken seriously by ‘serious scholarship’ assume at the very outset that the first Christians were shared their serious sensibility – i.e. that they were incapable of the absurdity that they exclude from the outset of their investigation.

In my mind at least, it is the very morbidity of the ‘seriousness’ that is the greatest absurdity. From what we know of the first Christians, they were utterly incapable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. They lacked the critical reasoning skills to prevent a lie, a distortion, a misunderstanding to be planted among their members and ultimately ‘bear fruit’ in the gospel. A good example here is the Passion narrative – the core of the Christian experience. The events which form the basis to the entire faith of Christianity have no discernible source – credible or otherwise – for their testimony.

Put another way – if Mark’s is the first gospel, there is no sign from the pages of this narrative where he got his information about the crucifixion of Jesus. While the gospel narrative is framed as a history, the question must remain – is the historical framework which is developed before and after the Passion merely an artistic embellishment, an attempt to ground ‘the myth that saves people’ in something that sounds reasonable in order to make the Christian religion be taken seriously by ‘serious men’ in the ancient world.

Indeed for all the efforts of ‘serious men’ in scholarship today to ‘make sense’ of Christianity, they overlook the most important single piece of evidence that survives from antiquity to help us understand how the gospel of Mark – the earliest surviving gospel - was made. They love to repeat the words that Mark wrote on behalf of Peter, a testimony recycled over and over by the Fathers of the Church in many different ways. Nevertheless our earliest testimony about its composition makes clear that it was specifically manufactured for the ‘serious taste’ of the Imperial government of Rome.

Clement says quite specifically that “Mark, Peter's follower while Peter was preaching publicly the Gospel at Rome in the presence of certain of Caesar's equestrians [equitubus, i.e., members of the equestrian order] and was putting forward many testimonies concerning Christ, being requested by them that they might be able to commit to memory the things that were being spoken, wrote from the things which were spoken by Peter the Gospel which is called according to Mark. [Clement Hypotyposeis from Adumbrations in 1 Peter 5:13]. In other words, the text upon which all other gospels developed was written specifically for the ‘serious’ tastes of ‘serious men.’

Yet this should hardly inspire anyone’s confidence that we have before us in the gospels anything that proves that Jesus was a ‘man of history.’ For if we suppose that Christianity developed within another milieu entirely – i.e. that of Jews or residents of ancient Palestine – it is difficult to imagine that the gospel as it is now preserved for us, is a faithful representation of that culture. We must suppose that ancient Jews were incapable of exaggeration, averse to flights of fancy – of believing in something that had no basis in historical reality – that they shared the ‘seriousness,’ the slavish devotion to historical accuracy as the audience for which the gospel was written.

Everything we know about Jews at the beginning of the Common Era contradicts these assumptions. The religious writings discovered at Qumran make plain that they actively waited and expected a divine visitation from God or someone other divine being. The writings which survive from Jews in this period and preserved in other sources reinforce the idea that a being like Jesus – a being who could fly, walk on water, pass through crowds untouched, heal by word or contact with his substance – would if anything have been more enthusiastically received if it had been ‘discovered’ that he were a visiting angel or some divine power.

To this end then we must stop attempting to project our own slavish devotion to seriousness as a precondition to having ideas heard or examined. All we do by our tradition approach is make ‘white people like us,’ – men of a shared sensibility and worldview - the ultimate measure of all things to do with Christianity. This is a very dangerous methodology to follow when in fact we know that we are dealing with something which originated from a completely different cultural milieu and one which certainly was not prone to self-censor ‘unserious’ ideas and beliefs. As noted above, the more incredible, the more exaggerated the claim, the more likely we should suppose that it would be taken seriously.

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