Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Addendum II: Jesus in Wisdom Traditions

Jesus and his Disciples, by James Tisot (1890)

Last time we left open the possibility of a factual existence of Jesus of Nazareth. However, we did not say he was exactly as history has presented him. So, today, leaving prejudices behind, we move forward, for the Jesus who left footprints on history does not match “the stereotype” of the movies. Even the hypothetical Jewish sources describe a Jesus that was closer to the so-called paganism than to the official Judaism or to the dissolute Christianity of later centuries. Needless to say, the teaching contained in the Gospels has a mystical-esoteric character that puts true Christianity in direct relation with Wisdom traditions rather than with dogmas and institutions.
The proof that Jesus was to some extent known among some circles of early antiquity lies perhaps in certain Stoic philosopher called Mara bar Serapion, who in a letter to his son undoubtedly alludes to Jesus in a very unconventional way. The letter is currently preserved in the British Museum of London and despite it is included in a VIIth century Syriac manuscript, it is dated to the IInd century or end of the Ist, because of its author. In it we read the following:  
What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which He had given.[1]
Since Jesus was traditionally regarded as King of the Jews and there is no other wise king that fits into such a context, the letter can only be referring to the man that brought forth the revolutionary Christian teaching amidst a Jewish environment. And the way the philosopher refers to him is everything but apologetic or dogmatic, and similar, by the way, to the reference of Flavius Josephus, who called Jesus “wise man” –something a “conventional christian” would never do, we insist–. 
The other two personages of the letter, Pythagoras and Socrates, are also remarkable figures upon which leyends and myths have been developed for “educational purposes” (i.e Socrates as protagonist of Plato´s dialogues).  Yet today very few would deny the existence of those two men. It is true they were mentioned by philosophers and historians, but so was Jesus, in a lesser degree, of course, since he was certainly an “elusive figure”, as most of the great spiritual teachers of humanity. How much do we know of Siddharta Gautama the Buddha, apart from the legends? 
Scarce is also the information about a Jewish brotherhood known as the Essenes, carriers of the Hebraic mystic teaching and authors of the Dead Sea scrolls. Curiously, there are certain clues indicating Jesus was somehow bound to this group, without belonging to it. One is his lack of communion with the official Judaism of the time, whose hypocrisy and dogmatism he criticized, as the mystic Essenes would do. On the other hand, as the philosopher and ex-pope Joseph Ratzinger already pointed out, Jesus had to follow the Essene calendar, what would explain some aparent contradictions in the gospels. Moreover, it wouldn´t be surprising if Jesus also received his first initiation from the Essenes. This brotherhood might have helped him to “remember his nature” and awaken his full potential. Someone must have done it, for a boy and a young man always need guidance, even if their level of being is remarkable. But that is another story that would require a larger reflection. There have been tones of speculation concerning the “missing years” of Jesus.
Interestingly enough, Galilea was a crossroad that connected the East and the West. And not far from Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth (Matthew 2: 23), there was even a famous and large city called Sepphoris, where mysteric traditions resonated even in the most unexpected places, such as the Synagoge of Sepphoris, which has an interesting mosaic on the floor, an image of the chariot of Helios, the Sun, surrounded by the twelve constellations [2]. Isn´t that a suggestive coincidence?
The man who transmitted the Christian teaching in Galilea surely didn´t ignore these “cultural currents”. And given the nature of the gospels and their concepts, his disciples must have received a profound spiritual training in harmony with different philosophical systems and the ancient language of myth, in order to spread the teaching properly. 
For these and other reasons, it is risky to think Jesus lived all the episodes of the Gospels “literally”; in addition to their “historical level”, these mean several other things, as shown in past articles. To give just one more detail, if the Talmud is really referring to the Christian Jesus, then, maybe he didn´t have twelve disciples either:
Our rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples - Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah (Sanhedrin 43a)
In any case, the details concerning the figure of Jesus are not as important as the teaching. Yet, it is important to realize that someone quite extraordinary must have inspired it. This does not come out of the blue, from one day to the other.
First of all, human culture is usually ruled by “inertia” and therefore any transformative change implies “swimming against the current”, what can only be done by very willingful and intelligent individuals, specially in extremely dark ages, as the beginnings of the Christian era. 
A deeper answer is to be found in a Golden Chain of traditions which hand down, since time immemorial, that there are crucial periods of time in which individuals with a very high level of perfection have to be born in order to open “new cycles” and guide humanity. These individuals are described in ancient texts as "embodiments" of different levels of Consciousness and receive different names, depending on their “level of being and source”, the highest of which is Light-Intelligence (Pleroma and Noûs in Gnostic and Hellenistic views respectively). For the Gnostic-Christian tradition Jesus was the most important of these messengers, being the "vessel" for the descent of the so called Son, which dwells in the Fullness of Light or Pleroma. The ancient gnostic Valentinus even pointed out that in the Gospels such a descent appears symbolised by the baptism of Jesus, moment in which Jesus becomes the Christ (Christôs means anointed in Greek,  as the Hebrew term Messiah). Hence the flesh and bones historical Jesus must be distinguished from the Christ, the “archetype” which humans aspire to receive in order to be "saved" from the world of suffering, death and useless repetitions [3]. And this is also the reason why that enigmatic messenger was known as Yeshua, "Saviour". 

In the Hindu tradition the divine messengers incarnated in human bodies receive the name of Avatars [4], which is precisely the appellative given to Jesus in India, where he is compared to the Lord Krishna –the resemblance of words doesn´t seem a coincidence. 
There are also avatars associated to “planets”, such as the prince Siddharta Gautama, who became the Buddha, the Awakened One.
Anyhow, even if there were no evidence at all supporting the existence of messengers –and this is not the case– the teachings attributed to them are still the key to live in Reality, since these are aimed at helping humans to grow fully. In this sense, both the scholastic discussions and “debunking postures”, miss the point completely, and therefore can only contribute to reinforce the state of sleep that enslaves modern humanity.
[3] The term Anointed (christós, messiah) can be seen as the act of being literally “bathed” by the emanations of energy that come from higher levels of Being, something which implies a process of self-perfection rather than blind belief. 

[4] Not to be confused with the Buddhist concept of Boddhisatva, human soul that after reaching a high level of perfection decides to return to the earth in order to help, out of compassion.

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