Author of the Month

The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic (cont.)
By Jonathan Talat Phillips

Of course, I couldn’t help wonder what happened to the original meanings of these words, as well as the numerous Gnostic churches that had proliferated in the Middle East. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Second Temple in 70 AD, after the Jewish revolt, they left one-third of the population dead, and the Christian mysteries fractured into pieces. Members joined the mass exodus out of the country. Those who hadn’t been exposed to the inner mysteries started up literalist churches. The remaining Gnostics called these rigid sects “imitation churches” as they did not teach the secret gnosis of “the Christ within.”

According to the Apocalypse of Peter, literalist church fathers were “waterless canals” bereft of consciousness-expanding pneuma who arrogantly claimed to be the sole gatekeepers of heaven. “Some who do not understand mystery speak of things which they do not understand, but they will boast that the mystery of truth is theirs alone.” These “empty” churches sprouted up across the Roman Empire. In a sad touch of historical irony, their leaders, like the infamous Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, became heretic hunters attacking those who still carried the inner teachings of their religion. “We were hated and persecuted, not only by those who are ignorant, but also by those who think they are advancing the name of Christ, since they were unknowingly empty, not knowing who they are.” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth).

As the number of Christians multiplied in Roman lands, power-hungry Constantine switched the state religion to co-opt this growing movement, uniting Rome under “one God, one religion,” and incidentally, one emperor. In 325 he oversaw the Council of Nicaea, where church fathers reduced the vast library of Christian written knowledge to a few documents that we now call The New Testament.

In 391 Emperor Theodosius passed an edict to close all “pagan” temples and burn their books. Christian hordes set out on murderous rampages across the empire smashing all traces of the mystery traditions from which their own religion had blossomed. They killed off the last of the Gnostic circles, including their libraries, churches, scrolls, and most importantly, the flame of gnosis that had been carefully passed down throughout the ages. By 410 AD, the Roman Empire had nearly torn itself apart and the Visigoths strolled in to finish the job. Only 85 years after the Council of Nicaea, the Dark Ages had begun.

While poring over the lost Gnostic texts of The Nag Hammadi Library, I was surprised how many of them focused on reframing the Garden of Eden story. These tales, like The Secret Book of John, explained the human origin story quite differently than Genesis. They described a complicated cosmology that began with a single being (or parent), who was ineffable, eternal, immeasurable light, and created an image or reflection of itself, Barbelo, which in turn begot a multitude of heavenly planes (aeons) that were part of a wider divine realm (the pleroma).

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