A fragment of the Secret Gospel of Mark, a Gnostic text claimed to have been rediscovered by Prof. Morton Smith in 1958 at the Mar Saba monastery southeast of Jerusalem, describes Jesus performing initiation rituals. Before the discovery of Gnostic writings, our only knowledge of this secret gospel came from a letter written by Church Father Clement of Alexandria (150 AD – 211 AD), which refers to it as “a more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected.” Perhaps the most important issue confirmed by this letter is the fact that in Clement’s time “hierophantic teachings of the Lord” and Gospel texts now lost were still transmitted within the church to a select group of Christians. Clement makes it clear that writers had to be careful not to reveal too much in writing, and that this secret gospel was guarded carefully, to be used only by those initiated into the greater mysteries.
As for Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former books the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in 1, verso Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries[D1] .
Remarkably, a fragment from this secret gospel actually helps explain the otherwise mysterious appearance of the naked youth that appears in the Garden of Gethsemane at about the time Jesus was finished healing the ear of the servant of the high priest named Malchus. According to Mark 15:51,52 “And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.” As one Christian website asks, “Who was this young man? Why was he following Jesus? Why was he naked? Why was he draped in a linen cloth instead of wearing normal clothes? And why was the Holy Spirit so careful to include this unique story in Mark’s account of the Gospel? What is the significance of this event[D2] ?” Fascinatingly, the Secret Gospel of Mark fills the holes in the story – but with homoerotic tones.
And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “son of David, have mercy on me.” But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan[D3] .
What is the “mystery of the kingdom of God” that Jesus taught him? Well, as a mystery cult, early Christianity had a ritual of the Wedding Chamber or Bedcurtain, as confirmed by the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. The lower self (humanity, the woman, the Sophia) needed to be joined together with the higher self (The Jesus, The Logos) in order to be purified. This was a mysterious rite not open to the public.
He who has been anointed has the totality—he has the resurrection, the light, the cross,² the Sacred Spirit. The Father bestowed this upon him in the Bridal-Chamber (and¹) he received.
When Eve was still with Adam, death did not exist. When she was separated from him, death came into being. If he enters again and attains his former self, death will be no more. (GPhil 63)
Other passages from Philip speak of light and mirrors; common motifs found in other mysteries:
We are reborn by the Holy Spirit. And we are born by the anointed (Christ) through two things. We are anointed by the Spirit. When we were born we were joined. No one can see himself in the water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see by the light without water or a mirror. For this reason it is necessary to baptize with two things — light and water. And light means chrism. (GPhil 67)
In my understanding of the mysteries, the bride and bridegroom (light and water) can be joined to create a mirror, with which to see back up to the original unity.
Rebirth exists along with an image of rebirth: by means of this image one must be truly reborn. Which image? Resurrection. And image must arise by means of image. By means of this image, the bridal chamber and the image must embark upon the realm of Truth, that is, embark upon the return. (GPhil 59)
DaVinci Code: Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene Married?
The true meaning of the Bridal Chamber mystery was kept hidden from initiates of the lower levels, who were familiar only with stories and parables attributed to the savior. Secrecy was very important, because if initiates heard the truth before they were spiritually ready, it would be spoiled for them. Only those who become a bridegroom (pass through the initiation themselves) can witness the ceremony.
If a marriage is open to the public, it has become prostitution, and the bride plays the harlot not only when she is impregnated by another man, but even if she slips out of her bedroom and is seen. Let her show herself only to her father and her mother, and to the friend of the bridegroom and the sons of the bridegroom. These are permitted to enter every day into the bridal chamber. But let the others yearn just to listen to her voice and to enjoy her ointment, and let them feed from the crumbs that fall from the table, like the dogs. Bridegrooms and brides belong to the bridal chamber. No one shall be able to see the bridegroom with the bride unless he become such a one. (GPhil 102)
At higher levels, initiates could freely interpret the philosophical implications of the stories, weaving Greek and Jewish thought together freely. Substituting Christ into the role of the Logos, they explain that his role is to repair the separation that happened in the beginning of Genesis.
If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him. (GPhil 70)
Just as the sun had a female companion, the moon, and the Logos had a female companion, Sophia, the stories about Jesus also incorporated a woman as his friend and companion.
As for the Wisdom who is called the barren, she is the mother of the angels, and the companion of the Savior, who is also Mary Magdalene. (GPhil 48)
Many texts describe the ecstasy encountered between Mary and Jesus, which represent the Logos and the Sophia as they are fused into one in the Wedding Chamber. It is no wonder that there are so many books written about the sexual exploits of Jesus and Mary, and even the possibility of their royal offspring; an idea featured most prominently in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. As long as Jesus is assumed to be historical, Mary can be viewed as his real, physical companion. However it is obvious that the writer is using them as mystical symbols rather than historical personages. Like Sophia, Mary was sometimes called a whore, as were many consorts of the sun. She was the one who was lost, sullied in matter, trapped and in need of rescue. Significantly, Mary is identified in the Bible as the woman out of whom seven devils were cast: after Mary had her seven demons removed, or ascended past the seven illusionary heavens, she was able to become Christ’s partner and lover in the bridal chamber. In an ancient manuscript called the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mary was not only Christ’s beloved disciple, but also the revealer of secret mysteries.
Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them. Mary answered and said, what is hidden from you I will proclaim to you. (Gospel according the Mary Magdalene 5:5[D1] -7)
Later, when a certain branch of Christianity refused the higher mysteries, they viewed this form of Mary as a threat because of the authority it gave to women. The symbol for Sophia, the bride of Christ, was changed from Mary Magdalene into The Holy Mother Church. Christ was viewed as the head of his body, the Church, and his great sacrifice was undertaken for the sake of this body. The Church, like Sophia, was the collection of individual sparks trapped in the world. Once the meaning of the Wedding Chamber was lost, this relationship between Christ and the Church became a metaphor for human marriages rather than the relationship between the higher and lower selves; yet even in Ephesians it is referred to as a “mystery with great significance” which is being taken out of context.
Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water with a form of words, so that when he took the Church to himself she would be glorious. . . .This is why a man leaves his mother and father and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This mystery has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:25)
Gay Christians: Homosexuals for Jesus?
Originally, therefore, Christians considered themselves as the “women” that had to be sexually joined to the masculine Christ. This is explained well in the Secret Gospel of Mark and also hinted at it the abrupt and enigmatic referent in the canonical Mark. So yes, there seems to be some homo-erotic tones in early Christianity, which were quite normal for the times – a younger initiate or seeker of Wisdom would often become the lover of a teacher or philosopher. (Jesus of course was bi-sexual, for he accepted women as long as they first “became like men”
“Lo, I shall lead her in order to make her a male, so
that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males.
For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the
kingdom of heaven.'” (Gospel of Thomas)
While this is probably horrifying to many Christians (“God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, etc”) frequently I’ve met a number of Gay Christians, which was kind of surprising to me, traditional arse that I am. Not to sound offensive – I have no opinions about sexual preference – I couldn’t see how homosexuals would be attracted to such a historical judgmental and persecution-based religion, which on the surface explicitly damns homosexuality. And while I’m well aware that women connect with Jesus in a sexually erotic way, is it the same for gays? Different? I’m curious – so if you’re a gay Christian (and even if you’re not) and have views on this subject, please share.
(By the way, the painting above is Reni’s St. Sebastians at Dulwich. Does suffering have to be that directly pornographic?)