The Parting of the Waters:
The Case from Scripture for the Reincarnation of Jesus
By Mark Gaffney
A Double Portion of Spirit
Given nothing more than the scriptural evidence, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Elisha and Elijah together make up one pair, and Jesus and the Baptist another. Scholars have occasionally noticed this parallel structure. Yet, for whatever reason, scholarship has failed to add up the dyadic evidence, by following the logic through to its stunning conclusion. Because if John the Baptist was the reincarnated soul of Elijah, then Jesus must have been the reincarnated Elisha! Paramahansa Yogananda pointed this out many years ago in his famous autobiography. And how strange that it took an eastern yogi to bring this important idea to the attention of the West! The key difference--and it is no less stunning--is that now the roles have been reversed. Elijah, who was the teacher in I and II Kings, has in the New Testament become the "voice crying in the wilderness, who prepares a way for the Lord." The words, which Matthew draws from Second Isaiah, recall, as I have noted, the prophecy of Malachi: that Elijah was to come and precede "the day of Yahweh." We are reminded also of the obscure passage that precedes Elijah's ascension into the whirlwind. Recall that, before he departs, Elijah bids his disciple Elisha to make a wish. Elisha requests "a double-portion of your spirit," a cryptic line that has long puzzled scholars. Indeed, the phrase is sufficiently obscure to have defied interpretation for 2700 years. But this should not deter us from attempting to decode the line--if we can. One senses that the Deuteronomist crafted this peculiar phraseology for a purpose. But what could that be? How curious that when the scholar George Wesley Buchanan compared the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, he found that the numbers were precisely doubled! Buchanan counted seven miracles in scripture attributed to Elijah, and fourteen to Elisha. Is this doubling a mere coincidence? I think not. I believe that the doubling served the purpose of the Deuteronomist, which, I believe, was to inform us that from a spiritual standpoint the disciple Elisha had greatly surpassed his teacher. This would also account for the switch in the New Testament: the overshadowing of the teacher (John the Baptist) by his former disciple (Jesus). It is of great interest that the number seven also crops up in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus says: "The man old in days will not hesitate to ask a small child seven days old about the place of life. For many who are first will become last, and they will become one and the same..." The passage is obscure, and would be inexplicable, but for several clues. Notice here again the number seven. Indeed, why seven days old? Why not six days, or eight? Moreover, consider the obscure phrase "for many who are first will become last." Could the intent here be to alert us to the phenomenal switch we have just proposed, the eclipse of Elijah (John the Baptist) by his erstwhile disciple? Moreover, the final line "...and they will become one and the same..." could easily refer to the guru-disciple relationship. In spiritual traditions, the purpose of the guru is to lead the disciple to the well, and to induce him to drink deeply; whereupon, disciple and guru become one. Whence the teacher's job is done. Just as one candle lights another, so also does the guru kindle the flame of spiritual knowledge in his disciple. But even a guru can be outshone by a soul destined to become an avatar (a great spiritual being); just as a candle can spark a bonfire, and be eclipsed by it. So it is of great interest to find this very passage from the Gospel of Thomas quoted in the Refutation! Insofar as I know, Helmut Koester was the first (and only scholar) to point this out. To be sure, the context of the Refutation in which the citation appears is obscure. Indeed, it would have no meaning, but for the pattern we have described. Let us examine the words. Bishop Hippolytus tells us that
"...they [the Naassenes] hand down an explicit passage, occurring in the Gospel inscribed according to Thomas, expressing themselves thus: 'He who seeks me will find me in children from seven years old; for there concealed, I shall in the fourteenth age be made manifest'."
Here, "days" have become "years." No matter. Obviously, it is the number seven that is important. Notice that the number fourteen has also been added! But what is the fourteenth age? The deeper meaning is lost on Bishop Hippolytus, who attributes the passage to a quotation by Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine. The meaning is veiled. But the key is the doubling of spirit! The number fourteen is the giveaway, a number that has no significance apart from its association with seven. As the linguist Cyrus Gordon pointed out in his milestone study, The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations, the ancients often expressed the number fourteen as "twice seven." Apparently this was customary among the Babylonians, Greeks, and even among the Hebrews. In the context of the Refutation, the number fourteen (twice seven) recalls the ratio identified by Buchanan, the doubling of spirit cast in veiled language to establish the link between Elisha and Jesus--for those with an eye to see it. And there seems little doubt but that this was the mystical interpretation of the Naassenes.
Other evidence supporting this same conclusion can be found in the Deuteronomist's account. In II Kings 2-8, the ascension of Elijah is closely followed by the Elisha Cycle, which describes in detail the fourteen miracles performed by Elisha. What is striking about these stories is that they seem conspicuously out of place in the Old Testament. Indeed, the Elisha Cycle reads like the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke! That the miracles attributed to Elisha anticipate those later performed by Jesus could not be more obvious, for they include the multiplication of loaves, the healing of the sick, the foretelling of the future, even the raising of the dead!
Still more evidence may be found in the Gospel of Matthew (3: 14-15), which recounts the episode at the Jordan, where Jesus consents to be initiated by John the Baptist. Indeed, Jesus insists upon it:
"'It is I who need baptism from you,' [John] said. "And yet you come to me!" But Jesus replied "leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands." At this, John gave in to him."
The Naassene logic is obvious enough. Even though the spiritual attainment of Jesus has far outstripped that of his former teacher, the Messiah deems it fitting, out of love and respect for his former guru, to be initiated again by him. For such is the deep and abiding nature of the guru-disciple relationship that it survives even death and reincarnation.
Needless to say, the idea that Jesus was the reincarnated soul of the prophet Elisha is viewed as heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. Reincarnation, that is, the transmigration of souls, was formally declared anathema at the Fifth General Council convened by Justinian in 553 AD. The Council's decision in 553 AD was only a formality, however. The rejection of reincarnation had long been a matter of Church policy, made inevitable by the Roman Church's early repudiation of the immortality (preexistence) of the soul. As we have already discussed, the Church taught from the time of Tatian and Jerome that the soul is created from dust along with the body at conception. So it should not be surprising that the third century debunker Bishop Hippolytus would condemn Jewish-Christian sects like the Elchasaites as heretical for teaching that Jesus had reappeared on earth a number of times. Like the Ebionites, the Elchasaites were probably descended from the survivors of the original Nazarene community. But even more interesting is the fact that the official teaching of the Roman Church flatly contradicts scripture--as I have just shown.
Finally, let us examine the words of the crucified Jesus, uttered shortly before drawing his final breath: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" The expression is usually translated: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", which is the first line in Psalm Twenty-Two. Yet, it is interesting that in recounting the story Matthew mentions that
"When some of those who stood there heard this, they said 'The man is calling on Elijah.' And one of them quickly ran to get a sponge, which he dipped in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. 'Wait!' said the rest of them, 'and see if Elijah will come to save him'."
The name Elijah contains within it the word for God (El). The name Elijah (Eli-jah) means "Whose God is Yahweh." Hence the basis for the usual translation that Jesus in extremis called on the Father (Yahweh). Yet the witnesses to the crucifixion thought differently. According to Matthew, they believed that Jesus was calling out not to God, but to Elijah. The question arises: why would Jesus do so? There can be only one explanation. The words make sense only if the man on the cross was the reincarnated soul of Elisha. For nothing could be more natural than for a dying man, in this case Jesus, to cry out the name of his guru.