Finally we get to the crucial question: if Jesus was mythological, how and why did people ever start to imagine that he was a historical person? The answer is accidentally preserved in the biblical “Acts of the Apostles” and in the letters of Paul.
The New Testament is arranged to appear chronological: the four gospels present the story of Jesus’ ministry, Acts of the Apostles narrates the adventures of the disciples, and the letters of Paul – written to the growing Christian communities – are included at the end. This arrangement is misleading. The letters of Paul are the earliest. Once you’ve already read the gospels and established the idea that Jesus was a physical person, you subconsciously bring that image with you into Paul’s letters – however, Paul never talks about Jesus in terms of a recently executed historical figure. Instead, he makes it clear that his “Jesus Christ” is a Jewish version of the Greek mysteries, which have been around for some time. The only difference is that it is a mystery religion for Jews, God’s chosen people, and is thus superior because it is enhanced by Israel’s holy covenant.
“I was made a servant with the responsibility. . . of completing God’s message, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his holy people. It was God’s purpose to reveal to them how is the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ among you.” Colossians 1:25
He was saying, “The Greeks have used this mystery for years and it works great for them. Now I’m giving it to you, under the name of Christ, so that you can participate too.” Paul was a priest charged with rounding up the Diaspora Jews who were participating in the Jewish Mysteries – but once he started to investigate them, he converted and became a supporter. Because of his connections and his priestly training, he was a persuasive missionary. To Jews and Gentiles alike, he told the story of Jesus Christ, Son of God, who was crucified and resurrected from the dead. New initiates would be baptized and urged to control their physical desires through fasting and abstinence. Paul would then leave a few initiates in charge and promise to return with further revelations.
The epistles of Paul are notoriously obtuse and contradictory, because he seems to be saying different things in every one. This is because not every community was at the same level in the process of initiation. As a mystery religion, Christianity had several layers of meaning that would be divulged slowly as initiates proved their worth. To the beginners, Paul was careful not to reveal too much; the higher teaching would be wasted on them if they weren’t spiritually prepared, and the process could be ruined if rushed. To strengthen their willpower, Paul told them have faith, to be strict in their habits and diet, and to become masters over their physical bodies.
Once members had shown a certain level of spiritual maturity, they would be initiated into the higher mysteries and told that the Christ story was a metaphor for spiritual transformation. These advanced pupils, who believed in developing personal wisdom, or Gnosis, are the communities referred to by historians as Gnostics. To these higher level initiates, Paul left behind the initial steps and skipped ahead to more advanced topics.
“Let us leave behind all the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to its completion, without going over the fundamental doctrines again; the turning away from dead actions, faith in God, the teaching about baptisms and the laying on of hands, about the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment.” Hebrews 6
He could also write freely now about the mythical interpretations of the stories he’d shared with them. While in the beginning they had learned that their savior Christ was a man from Palestine, they were now to leave even this idea behind.
“From now onwards, then, we will not consider anyone by human standards: even if we were once on familiar terms with Christ according to human standards, we do not know him in that way any longer.” 2 Corinthians 5:16
Paul revealed Christ as the Logos and explained his role as divine intermediary. Initiates would undergo the ritual of the Wedding Chamber to unite the Sophia with the Logos, or the Magdalene with the Jesus, and finally perform a ritual death of their lower, personal selves. After that, they would be one with the Logos, or Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me.” Galatians 2:20
Paul used unambiguous terms and images, exhibiting a mastery of Greek language and mystery school philosophy. After removing the seven veils of corporeality, Paul’s higher initiates could reflect the light of God like living mirrors. “And all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirror reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16
Although the early stages of the mysteries prescribed strict rules of conduct, after their own rite of resurrection initiates were theoretically dead to their animal selves. Moral action from then on was supposed to come directly from the Logos within them and be spontaneous. However, eradication of desire through this symbolic death was a continuous process; Paul often had to remind his pupils of the implied morality that came with their elevated status.
“You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:8
“All who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with all its passions and its desires. Since we are living by the spirit, let our behavior be guided by the Spirit and let us not be conceited or provocative and envious of one another.” Galatians 5:24
Initiates at the highest level, including Paul, understood that in reality there was no right and wrong, no good and evil, because all opposites were united in the Logos. For these initiates, moral excellence was not found in empty physical posturing, but in natural accord with the internal spirit. The laws and rules of the early stages had been like training wheels, which had served their purpose and could now be removed.
“If you have really died with Christ to the principles of this world, why do you still let rules dictate you, as though you were still living in the world? “Do not pick up this, do not eat that, do not touch the other,” and all about things which perish even while they are being used according to merely human commandments and doctrines!” Colossians 2:20
The important thing, rather than moral codes of external action, was to cultivate an internal state of tranquility. The soul was described as a pool of water which needed to be kept still in order to reflect the image of God. This peaceful internal state was more important even than specific details of the faith.
“Within yourself, before God, hold on to what you already believe. Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice. But anyone who eats with qualms of conscious is already condemned, because this eating does not spring from faith and every action that does not spring from faith is sin.” Romans 14:22
Any action that caused worry, guilt, or internal discord was a sin because it splashed the water of the soul, and God could no longer be seen clearly. Those initiates who could act without rippling the water had total freedom from the strict Jewish dietary laws and moral customs. However, they needed to be careful around the lower level initiates, who had not yet reached this ambivalent attitude towards sin.
“One person may have faith enough to eat any kind of food; another, less strong, will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat freely are not to condemn those who are unwilling to eat freely; nor must the person who does not eat freely pass judgment on those who does…the one who eats freely, eats in honor of the Lord and makes his thanksgiving to God; and the one who does not, abstains from eating in the honor of the Lord and makes his thanksgiving to God.” Romans 14:2
The Greek mysteries were well established in Greek and Roman culture, and most likely had an established network of teachers. The basic initiation process would have been common knowledge to new initiates. Paul’s Diaspora Jews, on the other hand, were not familiar with the procedures involved in this type of religious system. When Paul came preaching the arrival of the Messiah, Diaspora Jews were excited. They believed him, and told their friends the good news. After Paul had left, his communities continued to meet and talk about what they had learned.
Some of them, believing that they were adequately versed in the faith, assumed leadership roles and began to teach new initiates. However, since they themselves had not yet received the higher mysteries, they taught only the basics and made no mention of further revelations. The Acts of the Apostles gives us an example of one of these teachers, a confident and bold, who created many new disciples of Jesus. He even traveled to spread the good news. And yet, the Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that he did not have the full message.
“An Alexandrian Jew named Apollo’s now arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, with sound knowledge of the scriptures, and yet, though he had been given instruction in the way of the Lord and preached with great spiritual fervor and was accurate in all the details he taught about Jesus, he had experienced only the baptism of John. He began to teach fearlessly in the synagogue and, when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they attached themselves to him and give him a more detailed instruction about the way.” Acts 18:24
Who were the women that instructed Apollos about the Way of the Lord? How did they know about the baptism of Jesus while Apollos only knew about the baptism of John? It appears that there was already a Gnostic community in Ephesus when Apollos stumbled in proclaiming Jesus Christ. Unlike later Christians who took the Wedding Chamber at face value and assumed women were of lower status than men, Gnostics had no qualms about letting women teach and assume leadership roles.
If anyone doubts that Christianity was originally a mystery religion, this passage is the Biblical proof. We can assume that the two baptisms refer to different levels of initiation, the baptism of Jesus being the higher level which Apollos hadn’t yet received. In the Bible, John the Baptist warns against being satisfied with his baptism, because Jesus would come later with more powerful rituals.
“I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the holy spirit and with fire.” Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16
Each baptism marked a special initiation into a higher level of Christian spirituality, and involved a complicated ritual of herbs, oils, proper attire, special numbers and magical seals. The following ancient passage from the Coptic church describes the ceremony of the baptism of fire in great detail.
“Jesus said to his disciples, “Bring me grapevines, so that you may receive the baptism of fire.” And the disciples brought him the grapevines. He offered up incense. He sent up juniper berries and myrrh, along with frankincense, mastic, nard, cassia flowers, turpentine, and oil of myrrh. And he also spread a linen cloth on the place of offering, and set upon it a chalice of wine, and set loaves of bread upon it according to the number of the disciples. And he had all of his disciples dress themselves with linen garments, and crowned them with the plant pigeon grass, and put the plant doghead in their mouths. And he had them put the pebble with the seven voices into their two hands, namely 9879. And he put the plant chrysanthemum in their two hands, and put the plant knotgrass under their feet. And he placed them before the incense which he had offered up. And he had them put their feet together. And Jesus came behind the incense which he had offered up and sealed them with this seal.” Ancient Christian Magic
Once Christianity divorced itself from metaphorical interpretation, and denied the secretive esoteric wisdom of the higher initiates, it was decided that one baptism was more than enough. A new creed was written, “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Incidentally, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit – the Baptism of Fire became transformed into the tradition of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit came down and “enlightened” all of the apostles with Wisdom, so that they could go and spread God’s word. Modern Pentecostal Christians have revived these Baptisms, in the form of intensely enthusiastic evangelism.
Unfortunately, Apollos seems to have spread his limited version of Jesus Christ to a lot of people before he was stopped. Paul faced entire communities who had somehow been cut off from the higher levels of initiation.
“Paul made his way overland as far as Ephesus, where he found a number of disciples. When he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered, “No, we were never even told there was such thing as a Holy Spirit.” He asked, “Then how were you baptized? They replied, “With John’s Baptism.” Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, but he insisted that the people should believe in the one who was to come after him- namely Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19
Due to the ease of communication within the Roman empire, some of Paul’s communities began to interact with each other independently. Followers who had only been taught the lowest levels of the mysteries got wind of other groups doing things differently, even believing in Jesus Christ differently. The community of Corinth seems to have received only the basics of the Jesus mysteries, which were, in Paul’s own words, “the turning away from dead actions, faith in God, the teaching about baptisms and the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment.” Hebrews 6
They heard rumors of “secret knowledge” that Paul was revealing to other Christians, and wrote to him demanding answers. Was there really more to the story? And if so, why hadn’t they been told? Paul responded that they were not yet ready to hear the higher mysteries, and that by demonstrating their personal rivalries, they had shown that they still weren’t ready.
“And so, brothers, I was not able to talk to you as spiritual people; I had to talk to you as people living by your natural inclinations, still infants in Christ; I fed you with milk and not solid food, for you were not yet able to take it and even now, you are still not able to, for you are still living by your natural inclinations. As long as there is still jealousy and rivalry among you, that surely means that you are still living by your natural inclinations and by merely human principles.” 1 Corinthians 3:1
Apollos and the community at Ephesus were happy to be instructed in the nuances of the faith, but others weren’t so cooperative. Paul wasn’t sure which communities would still accept his authority, and expressed concerns to his communities about how he would be received during his next visit. He described his fears in such detail it seems clear that he was already experiencing most of them, and becoming frustrated.
“I am afraid that in one way or another, when I come, I may find you different from what I should like you to be, and you may find me what you would not like me to be; so that in one way or the other there will be rivalry, jealousy, bad temper, quarrels, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder.” 2 Corinthians 12:19
Trying to restore order, and make sure that the higher mysteries were preserved, Paul may have returned to some of the younger communities and hastily given the “baptism of Jesus” or other rites to initiates who weren’t yet spiritually ready to receive them. Uncomfortable with the new philosophical view of Christ, or perhaps afraid of making themselves unpopular by refuting an earthly Messiah, some of these initiates reverted back to firmer ground, and continued to teach only the basics that they were familiar with. Paul was furious.
“You stupid people in Galatia! After you had a clear picture of Jesus Christ crucified, right in front of your eyes, who has put a spell on you? There is only one thing I should like you to tell me: How was it that you received the Spirit – was it by the practice of the Law, or by believing in some message you heard? Having begun in the spirit, can you be so stupid as to end in the flesh? Can all the favors you have received have had no effect – if there really has been no effect?” Galatians 3:1
In the ancient world, the planets were gods who had influence over the physical body. The Pagan mysteries celebrated astrological events as a method to keep track of celestial movements, such as solstices, and related these dates to stories about their savior. In the early levels of the Jewish mysteries, Jesus Christ was introduced as a real person, and initiates were allowed to celebrate these special times in the guise of commemorative events, such as Christmas and Easter.
However, for the initiates who had reached the higher levels and died to their physical bodies, these special dates should have lost their meaning. Some of Paul’s communities continued to celebrate these dates even after they had received the full initiation, proving to him that they hadn’t really understood his message.
“But formerly, when you did not know God, you were kept in slavery to things which are not really gods at all, whereas now that you have come to recognize God, or rather, be recognized by God, how can you now turn back again to those powerless and bankrupt elements who’s slaves you now want to be all over again? You are keeping special days, and months, and seasons and years – I am beginning to be afraid that I may, after all, have wasted my efforts on you.” Galatians 4:8
It is interesting that the Pauline letters preserved in the Christian Bible were written to communities he was unhappy with; these are the communities that became the modern church. Besides constantly reprimanding these communities for their selfishness, contentiousness and debauchery, Paul was also frustrated by their inability to understand the finer points of his message.
“On this subject we have many things to say, and they are difficult to explain because you have grown so slow at understanding. Indeed, when you should by this time have become masters, you need someone to teach you all over again the elements of the principles of God’s sayings; you have gone back to needing milk, and not solid food.” Hebrews 5:11
The pattern of Paul’s initiation was to first tell the stories about Jesus as a man, and later expand those teachings into a transformative spirituality in which the figure of Jesus Christ as an actual person could be discarded. Initiates at higher levels were told to develop Gnosis, and use the Logos as a mirror to transform themselves into Christs. They were also told that laws concerning specific moral conduct were no longer necessary, because the Logos living in them would spontaneously seek out the greater good.
For some communities, the philosophical notions of the Logos were impractical, and the “everything is permissible” morality of Paul’s Gnostics was too difficult to enforce. These initiates turned away from Paul, denying his higher mysteries and refusing to accept any interpretation of the original message. They preferred the idea that Jesus was a real man, who said and did real things, and constructed a simple faith based on ritual and moral law. It was these groups, who considered Christ as a historical person, that eventual won control of the church and assumed the name, “Christian”.
When Paul and others criticized them, these communities attempted to defend themselves by providing rational arguments in favor of their misguided beliefs. They developed their own, independent theology, based on Hebrew scripture and a literal reading of sacred texts. Paul complained that his followers were being stolen away from him and his teachings perverted.
“By the grace of God which was given to me I laid the foundations like a trained master builder, and someone else is building on them.” 1 Corinthians 3:10
Some groups even began forging letters from Paul, attempting to justify their beliefs through the authority of his name. Only 7 of the 14 Pauline letters included in the Bible are considered authentic. Timothy 1 and 2, along with the letter to Titus, are universally considered forgeries, while Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians continue to be disputed. Many of these letters end by affirming that they really are from Paul, and try to use Paul’s signature as proof.
“This greeting is in my own hand – PAUL. It is the mark of genuineness in every letter; this is my own writing.” 2 Thessalonians 3:17
While Paul taught that Jesus Christ crucified was the Sophia inside us, and that the kingdom of God had already come, these rebellious communities believed that Jesus was a real man who had recently risen from the dead. Rather than create our salvation inside of us, they believed Jesus would return at some point in the future to restore the kingdom of God on earth. Using Paul’s own name against him, they warned other communities against believing that the kingdom could be accessed immediately.
“About the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers, and our being gathered to him: please do not be too easily thrown into confusion or alarmed by any manifestation of the Spirit or any statement or any letter claiming to come from us, suggesting that the Day of the Lord has already arrived.”2 Thessalonians 2:1
Which letters were considered genuine would depend on which ones arrived first. Through this kind of letter, even communities who remained loyal to Paul may have been tricked into refusing his instruction. The forged letters turn away from the ideology of Paul’s mysteries, and focus on creating a modest and chaste society, based on a literal reading of scripture and strict moral obedience. Unlike Paul, whose close companions and fellow teachers included Priscilla and Aquila, the groups who wrote these letters were uncomfortable with women in roles of authority, and severely limited their function.
“Similarly, women are to wear suitable clothes and to be dressed quietly and modestly, without braided hair or gold and jewelry or expensive clothes; their adornment is to do the good works that are proper for women who claim to be religious. During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” 1 Timothy 2:9
Paul left a legacy of two very different types of Christianity. The Gnostics emphasized the return of the spirit to God and believed Christ’s death was a philosophical truth, necessary for the restoration. They had at least three ritual baptisms and holy seals, (water, fire and spirit) representing stages of spiritual initiation.
The Christians, who placed their faith in Christ as a historical reality and believed that he would come back at the end of time, focused on good works and faith alone. Like the modern church, Christian communities had just one baptism, for the forgiveness of sins, and adopted only one magical seal, the upright cross. The theology inherited from this early period of Christian history, which continues today in most Christian churches, is the repressive theology of Paul’s least favored students.
The articles in this section are part of a 50,000 word treatise on the historical Jesus and Christ Myth Theory, dealing with Christian history, the mystical significance of Christian symbols, and the mistaken belief that Jesus Christ was a historical person. You can download the entire collection for free as a PDF file ebook by clicking here!