Unrolling the Scrolls—Some Forgotten Witnesses
Yesterday I was in Disneyland, and that gives you different views of things. One thing was very impressive: all these exhibits you see about the structure of the universe and their accompanying historical views are drawn from just one source. We have but two sources: written and unwritten. By unwritten I mean the “facts” of science, whether reported in writing or not. By written records, I mean the accumulation of human written records that has been going on for thousands of years. It’s immense, it’s very valuable, and the contents are quite as “factual” as the other, whether intentionally or not; but would you believe it, nobody ever considers the written record in that light. I’m not talking about special historical studies, these very interesting things done on early American history—the frontier and so forth—or glimpses back into the Middle Ages and the like. How can you consider the whole vast body of historical and literary material as a single writing? What will it tell us about the world we live in? We are all guilty of underestimating and largely ignoring the larger written record. This collection of written documents is one of the great spectacles the world has to offer. It would be a wonderful thing if Walt Disney were alive now to do something with it, and I am sure he would leap at the chance.
The documents first started coming out in great numbers with the Council of Constance (1414—1418) and finally with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Vast numbers of ancient documents that had been reposing in the East and in various places for a long time suddenly poured into Europe. They were collected and organized in great ducal, royal, and imperial libraries, sometimes by very rich individuals. They captured the imagination of the age. Owners would have them organized in great rotundas, tier upon tier of knowledge, organized chronologically and topically so that you would be completely surrounded with books on all sides, round and round, mounting gallery after gallery almost out of sight, in the form of a huge planetarium of written human knowledge. But unfortunately for the books, about this same time the Book of Nature was discovered.
Bacon, Galileo, and Scaliger are strictly contemporaries. They all at the same time discovered the Book of Nature, which is much easier to read, in a way. The men who could read it would become the great geniuses of the world—the Galileos, the Keplers, the Copernicuses, Toracellis, and so on. But the average man could read it just as well as anybody else. After all, the beginnings of geology were simply by a Scotch farmer, James Sutton, who went out and started guessing about the rocks on the beach near his home. And anyone could play that game. On the other hand, the written records were read mostly by dunderheads. You didn’t have to have any genius at all to read them, but you had to have training. You had to know or pretend to know the languages, and while that didn’t take any brains, it did take patience and a body, as the saying goes, to read the things. The result was that everybody wanted to play the game of reading the Book of Nature, because everyone’s guess was as good as anybody else’s; and you can guess like mad. So they completely ignored the written record from then on.
Joseph Justus Scaliger, who died in 1608, was the last man ever to make a serious attempt to read what the written human record said. It covers thousands of years. The human race has documented its doings for a long time, and no one pays any attention to the record. Nobody in the world does that anymore. Oh, it’s a librarian’s paradise: we classify, we photograph, we reproduce, we store and preserve, and we transfer. We can do all the tricks electronics can do today, but nobody reads the records. Nobody knows what is actually in these books. I mean this literally. A few specialists may consider documents in one area or in another, but who knows what the record as a whole has to tell us? It’s a most interesting thing the way these records have been shamefully pushed aside. It would take a man of Walt Disney’s genius to dramatize that, to bring it to our attention. (I wish there were someone who could do it.) The actual written record is terrific.
Every book imparts information on two levels—what the author intends to tell you, and what he tells you unintentionally. The unintentional is the interesting thing—it is more important. For example, Cicero wrote hundreds of letters that we still have—all sorts of things about himself, telling us he was the greatest man in the world. In fact, he was really telling us that he was one of the greatest nincompoops who ever lived—a fool! This is what he tells us unintentionally. Intentionally he gives us one story, unintentionally another.
Now any document can be treated just like a fossil—just as impersonally, just as scientifically as anything else. Books fell into disrepute for this reason: people would say, “Look, these are just the musty superstitions of a past age; let’s forget them.” These were actually a drag on the market, very unscientific. It’s true, people who wrote them were usually not very scientific, though sometimes they were. But in many cases, they knew a great deal more than we credit them with. Giorgio de Santillana is writing a great deal on that. He shows that the Egyptians knew more than we have ever given them credit for. Levi-Strauss, an anthropologist, has written an astonishing book on that quite recently—how much more our “primitives” have really known all along than we’ve been giving them credit for. We had the idea that since people lived long ago and before our science, their ideas must be superstitious. We don’t read the books for the ideas that people intended to convey, but for what they tell us unintentionally all over the place.
Any page of any letter will give you all sorts of things about the times, circumstances, the person who wrote it—whether the person intends to tell you that or not. And that’s why we want to read these books. If we view all the books in the world as fossils, they can tell us much. As fossils, they’re astoundingly perfect. In them we have not just boney, broken structures, but also the flesh; we even have the life, the very thoughts of the creature, left imprinted for our inspection. We don’t have to fill in the whole story from our own imaginations. It’s because scientists are denied that privilege that they are impatient with our books. They want a situation in which they can pretty well call the tune. But books hamper and confine freedom of invention. (You see, what I could do, what I have done before, is to show a lot of slides of these documents. They would mean nothing to you. I could show you rocks; I could show you pictures of star spectrums; I could show you ferns and other plants and fossils, and you could guess about them as well as I. A person who really knew something about them could be very instructive, couldn’t he? But I show you a picture of a document—it means nothing. It wouldn’t take too much study for it to begin to mean something, but if you haven’t tried that we might just as well be showing nothing at all. So there’s no point in showing slides with this sort of thing, is there?) This is one of the reasons why the books have been shoved aside and ignored. People can’t get at them, can’t “open” them. As a spectacle, they are quite a thing. But what is in them? What do they actually say? I tell you again, nobody knows, because nobody reads them; nobody knows what is in the records of the past, though they are enormous today. Someone in Europe is now making a microfilm card catalog of all of the books that have been printed since the invention of printing. There are only twelve and a half million. There are almost that many books inside the Widener Library today. You don’t have to read them all, but it’s astonishing how little has been read of certain areas.
Now comes an interesting question: If you were to read these written records, would they give you the same picture of the world that the scientific transcripts give us? In the scientific fields the Book of Nature has been read; it gives us one picture, and these written books give us another picture. Remember, reading them both impersonally, we’re viewing them both as phenomena: do they tell us the same things? No they don’t. They give a totally different picture of what was going on in the past, the so-called scientific view. This is very good news, because until now we have been told there is only one possible valid picture of the world—the picture science gives us at the moment. Many scientists are getting over that now—men like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. People like that are giving us a very different picture, showing us that it’s always changing—which we should have known all along anyway. We shouldn’t be stuck with just one picture at one image, even if we are laymen and can’t understand the scientists. They say, “Well, you have to take it, this is it; this is it.” That’s the voice of authority speaking: “I’m sorry we’ll just have to settle for that.” But it hasn’t been particularly good news, because in recent years the picture’s become a rather dismal one, and many scientists have been talking about that. Quite a number say the picture’s not only dismal but false in many respects. There’s something radically wrong with it. It doesn’t match the real world we live in, certainly not in all points. Then why do we accept it? Because, as I say, we’ve been told there’s no alternative. Many scientists have said that about evolution. It’s a very defective tool, but they must use it because it’s the only one they have. So we’ve been left with but one picture of the world, and all the time there’s the other one from the books. I don’t say it will give you a true picture of things or anything like that; I will say there might be something very wonderful if you went and looked. Yet nobody goes and looks. It’s just too much trouble.
Since World War II, some very new and important additions have been made to the library. We are now buried under an avalanche of manuscripts. We don’t even pretend to read them anymore. We have given up trying. We have reached the saturation point and don’t even know what’s in the books. They could be full of great surprises. I’m sure we all know about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Khenoboskeion (that is, the Nag Hammadi) texts, found in Egypt at the same time and forming the earliest Christian library; the Bodmer Papyri; the Mandaean and Manichaean texts discovered recently; before them, slightly, the Chester Beatty Papyri, the Odes of Solomon, and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. We can go back to the great library collections of the Nineteenth Century—from Babylonian, Assyrian, and Egyptian libraries.
What can we do with all these? We try different approaches. Simply to describe them, when they were found, and under what circumstances, would take many hours. You would then know the books were there, but you wouldn’t know what was in them. We can make some generalizations about them. They’re not found as separate documents but in batches—whole libraries turn up. You don’t just find a document here and a document there. There’s a great flood of them, found in great collections, and their value and significance can be gradually appreciated only because what they contain is quite radically different from what we have thought about certain things before. Remember, people haven’t been studying the document picture, so when some of these were found just after World War II, they left everybody rather embarrassed. Only a handful of people in the world could read the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nag Hammadi texts on sight. Then these documents called for a reevaluation of all the other stuff. The entire library has to be reevaluated. When we go back and look, we find many things we’d overlooked, many things we didn’t even know were there. We had got the whole thing wrong in the first place anyway and are going to have to do the whole thing over, because of these new discoveries. This has been very embarrassing. We could describe the contents of one or two, we could take one or two really good examples, such as the Serekh Scroll or the Apocryphon of John or of James, and go into them in some detail. But then we miss the cumulative impact. There are not one or two but hundreds of these documents, and they match each other. So what do we do? Well, the best thing is to look at some of the teachings found in all of these documents that are very different from anything that anybody expected.
Why are we able to accept these? Why haven’t we been able to sweep them under the rug, as we’ve done before? Because of the circumstances of their discovery. Because these sources are so new and unspoiled, men have been willing to accept from them what they have refused in the past to accept from the other sources. The earlier discoveries were just as sensational when they were discovered, but they came one by one, and people were able to sort of push them aside. You can’t do that now, because the documents are very old, they’ve been preserved in their purity and nobody had got at them, and they’re not copies of copies of copies, as everything else is. (All of our classical literature was copied so many times that we don’t have a manuscript that’s anywhere near the original.) But these new finds are the originals, and we’ve never had anything like this happen before. These are libraries that were hidden to come forth in their purity in the due time of the Lord. In fact, the people who hid them were aware that they were hiding them for a long term, a long rest, to come forth at a later time, so that when they would come forth they would not be distorted and changed.
Now they’ve come forth, and we’ve been willing to accept things from them that we’d never have taken from anybody else before. Heretofore, conventional Christianity and Judaism have exercised strict control over documents as they’ve been discovered. They have decided what’s to be admitted as orthodox and what’s to be rejected—”This is Gnostic,” or something else suspect. You can’t do that anymore. We have only to let the Jews and Christians speak for themselves, because their documents are much older, much purer. We cannot force them to say what they don’t want to say, as we’ve always been able to do before.
A good example of a teaching propounded in early Christian and Jewish documents, a teaching we’ve been forced to accept against our will, is cosmism. Cosmism was an idea always present in these early sources, and it made them rather offensive. It is the hallmark of early Christianity, of what Jerome calls primitive Christianity—the kind he didn’t like. He said the church had to get rid of it. “I will admit this is the teaching of the early church,” he confessed, but “it’s rather embarrassing to us. We’ve outgrown that. We’re much too intelligent for this sort of thing now.” The doctrine accepted in early Christianity was the literal interpretation of things, which Carl Schmidt, the greatest documents student of the last century, has labeled cosmism.
The idea is that somehow or other the physical cosmos is involved in the plan of salvation. It has been there all the time, and because we are living in it, we are part of it. It was the prevailing doctrine of the University of Alexandria, and it prevailed with tremendous authority. At that time, everybody was “spiritual,” everything allegorical. The influence of neo-Platonism was very strong. The idea was that anything spiritual or anything divine had nothing to do with the physical world whatever, because God is pure spirit, and matter is vile; any matter, anything that is physical, is vile, a mistake that shouldn’t exist at all. It was a natural reflection of the moral feelings of the people of the time. People couldn’t even conceive of a normal existence that wasn’t grossly immoral. Because things got very bad, they thought of the flesh as necessarily vicious; therefore, God could have nothing to do with it. The idea that the physical cosmos could have anything whatsoever to do with our existence before we came here and hereafter was regarded with the utmost abhorrence. But whether they liked it or not, the early doctors faced certain basic doctrines that embarrassed them greatly and confused them, so that as Origen says, it made him so ashamed of himself that he almost died with humiliation when he thought of the idea that Jesus was born as a person, a human being, a little baby that cried and fussed and had to be changed, and all that sort of thing. He said it was a mystery that was beyond the apostles, beyond even the angels; no one could understand how such a thing was possible: the idea that here we are in a physical universe, a physical world, and physical bodies—a physical creation that God created.
When those church fathers talked about God to the pagans or anyone else, the great epithet was that he was the Creator. The creator of what? This physical world. What an awful thought! It actually sickened the doctors of Alexandria to have to face up to the fact that God created the physical world, that Jesus came, that God came and was incarnated in the physical body and then hereafter provides a physical resurrection, because there is no other kind of resurrection (Jerome did say there is a spiritual resurrection—the only one that counts). But they couldn’t get around the fact that there is physical concomitance in things. It greatly embarrassed them. Now these early documents being discovered are full of the doctrine. They tell us a lot about it.
The doctrine of creation from nothing is one example. God supposedly made the world out of nothing—ex nihilo. This was a necessary premise, to avoid the taint of cosmism, the idea that God worked with matter, processed it, adapted it, and used it as a workman, as an artisan, as a super scientist, or something like that. The popular idea was that God merely has a thought, merely utters a word, and it is. That’s that. Something completely and fully organized. H. A. Brongers, a great Jesuit writing now, says that God just thinks and all is there at once, organized, complete in all its forms. The idea of God working matter, using something already there, is utterly horrifying, because that deprives him of all his divinity. It involves him with the physical world.
Moslems got on the same track too. But they have not got very far because, as Fred Hoyle says, “I challenge you to make three meaningful statements about anything without some reference to the Physical Universe.” When you start out with these basic principles of Christianity—the creation, the incarnation, the resurrection—which are all physical—how are you going to get around them? There’s really nothing wrong, but Justin Martyr, the earliest Christian apologist, writing three hundred years before Origen, emphatically says, in the Apology, the early Christians did not believe in creation out of nothing, but believed that when God created the world, He organized matter. This is the theme these new documents have a great deal to say about. Scholars have recently been writing articles on this theme. Richter and H. F. Weiss, for example, in a number of recent studies, point out that it is not until we get to the doctrines of the church in the Fourth Century, wholly committed to the prevailing teachings of the school, that we hear of creation out of nothing. Before that century the early Christians didn’t believe in that at all. They believed that God created the universe out of stuff, and that he organized it. How he did this is one of the most intriguing aspects of the documents we are talking about.
There are the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (Nag Hammadi is Arabic for the old monastery the Greeks called Khenoboskeion, about sixty miles north of Thebes where the Nile takes a big bend, about ten miles off the river in the eastern desert). In the same year and under very much the same circumstances in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, a peasant, while digging for fertilizer, found a special cache just like the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contained thirteen volumes, beautifully bound in leather. They weren’t scrolls at all, but volumes, marvelously preserved, as if they had been written yesterday. They were regular books with pages, whose wrappings and bindings we still have. These leather bindings contained forty-nine different works, five of them repeated works. One of these thirteen volumes is in the Jung Museum in Zürich. (The museum may have to give it back to the Egyptian government. There’s a big fuss going on about it now.) The other twelve are in the Old Cairo Coptic Museum in Cairo. These contain forty-nine works, written and preserved and put away in an early church, many of them going back to the First Century A.D., others to the Fourth Century A.D. Most of them are Coptic translations of Greek documents that are lost today. They have started to come out now. As with the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was a lot of political and other pressure to keep them from coming out.
This library is a marvelous thing. Van Unnik says that the books were written in a little local country church in Egypt before the apostasy ever took place—before there was any Gnosticism. They represent in certain ways the pure teachings of the Early Church. (We won’t discuss this problem here.) These documents are very numerous and can be correlated with others—for example, the Mandaean texts.
Especially through the efforts of a woman called Ethel Drower (who’s in her eighties now), who spent many years among the Mandaeans of southern Mesopotamia, we know something about the very secretive Mandaean religion, a last holdover of the people who came from the Dead Sea. Their traditions and their ancient writings describe them as possibly leaving the Qumran people (the Dead Sea Scroll group) at the fall of Jerusalem. They first went up to Haran, then down the river. Some two thousand or so Mandaean people remain today. They have their own language and preserve the marvelous records they’ve kept for all this time. The Mandaeans went down to Qumran in the time of Joseph ben Rekha (they call themselves Rekhabites). He arrived just before Lehi went out into the desert. People were doing this sort of thing in Book of Mormon days, going out into the desert to live the gospel in its purity, setting up their own churches and communities—”the church in the wilderness”—then practicing their baptisms. These doctrines were taught in those communities. The Mandaean writings relate very closely to the Nag Hammadi, and to the Dead Sea Scrolls people, too, because the Mandaeans came from there.
Up on the Tigris, quite far north, were found in 1906 the forty-two Odes of Solomon, viewed as the earliest, most valuable Christian collection of writings known. Lo and behold, one of the Odes turns up in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Nag Hammadi collection way down in Egypt, up the Nile at Thebes.
The point is that all these writings come together. We have a large collection from the East, a large collection from Qumran, from Palestine, and a huge collection from southern Mesopotamia—all discovered since World War II, all sitting together, showing early isolated Christian and Jewish communities, all teaching very much the same thing.
For all of these people, matter was important; they weren’t ashamed of it at all. Peter says in the Clementine Recognitions, “There’s absolutely no evil in matter as such.” As Eusebius’s Preparation for the Gospel explains, “Matter is not the cause of evil.” And the great Origen, the earliest and by far the greatest Christian theologian, who lived in the Third Century, says, “I cannot explain it, but it is important nonetheless to understand that this world is not pure incorporeal ideas.” (That was a tremendous concession, a shocking thing, for a man of Alexandria to make. He had been born and brought up at the University of Alexandria. His father was a professor there, and full of incorporeal notions. All his life Origen fought with these two doctrines because he was very honest and upright, yet he was completely indoctrinated in the teachings of Alexandria.)
One of the very recently discovered documents says, “God the Father of all our eternal bodies, brings about the resurrection of the flesh through members of the Godhead; do not be afraid of the world of the physis. The living spirit clothes itself with the body of elements, through which it is enabled to carry out its works in the worlds.” The creation means matter and organization: men are to accept matter and not be ashamed of it. (There are dozens of such quotations from different writings, all on the same subject.) Creation means organization of the elements, as the so-called Codex Brucianus explains. Manuscript No. 96 says that first, there is matter. So what do you do with it? You organize it to create things. God is aware of it and makes good use of it. His activity and concern are every where evident in number and measure, because if you are going to get any kind of creation, any kind of life at all, you’re going to have consistent patterns—number and measure. This is taken as evidence of an organizing mind, an organizing activity. Regular divisions of time and place mark an ordered universe. Cosmos means order. The Pistis Sophia, a very important early work, says, “There is a place afforded for everything, a topos.” (Some Coptics use Greek words every once in a while because they don’t have any that express exactly the idea of topos, a place for a certain thing to be performed.) There is a numbering of souls for each world, and a dispensation is not completed until that number has been fulfilled. Every soul stays in its appointed topos until it has fulfilled the mission and task appointed for it in that place. “God’s plan sets times and seasons,” says the Apocryphon of John. The Dead Sea Scrolls are obsessed with the idea of the times of iniquity, a time allotted for Satan to tempt mankind, and times of suffering of various kinds. And there is the cycle: you mustn’t hasten the time and you mustn’t delay the time—it is always a warning to us. There are times of suffering and times of punishment. All times are exactly prescribed from the beginning: they belong to a plan. Time and matter and space are all organized. It’s well understood that all this setting of times is for our nature and for the purpose of our testing in this world. (It’s only a temporary arrangement.) It is a characteristic of this particular world. For God there is no time; at least He doesn’t use our time at all. The documents make this very, very clear.
The Manichaean Psalm Book, a very early and important writing, says on the Creation that if you ever set yourself to build, let the measuring come first, for if you build without a measuring device in your hand, your building will be crooked. Measurement is the very essence of creation.
The whole Creation, says Clement of Alexandria, who was the teacher of Origen, the first Christian philosopher, is to be understood as the imposing of an inner order on outer material—a progressive organizing of material from the center out. You build the structure inside; what you have outside is background material that you take into the structure as you build. And this is the way even Clement of Alexandria, in the Stromata 2, describes creation: It is the imposing of an inner order on outer material, progressively built out this way. It is all organization and synthesis.
The Apocalypse of Abraham, a very early Jewish work and one that has most interesting stories of Abraham, matches remarkably our book of Abraham in many points. God is hailed as the one who brings order out of confusion whenever worlds are demolished, ever preparing and renewing worlds for the righteous. Codex Brucianus says, “Creation is organization.” But God is, by definition, the one who brings order into the confusion of the universe, ever preparing and renewing worlds for the righteous. But it is not enough to arrange matter. The matter is here, and when you create, you organize it. But that isn’t enough. You merely produce an inert structure, and structure in itself isn’t divine. Structure can’t produce anything in itself. You can organize your molecules or your electrons and change them into any order you want, but, according to these people, there must be something else.
Incidentally, these authors sound very must like our science fiction writers. While looking up some science fiction books in the bookstore the other day, I jotted down some titles, and you’ll notice they all have certain things in common. “Now wait a minute,” you may object. “Aren’t you getting rather close to science fiction here?” Yes, this does get remarkably close to science fiction. These include all sorts of theorizing on how the physical cosmos was organized, and some of these suggestions are extremely ingenious. They show remarkable insight, astonishing knowledge. Consider a few recent titles: Bow Down to Nul, the worship of Satan; Ten Years to Doomsday, the doomsday motif; The End of Eternity, Second Foundation, worlds founded again; Billennium, obviously from the notion of millennium; The Burning World, destruction by fire; Passport to Eternity, Worlds for the Taking, Boodry’s Inferno, Beyond the Galactic Rim, Possible Worlds, Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Trans Finite Man, Stranger in a Strange Land, Bowman’s World, Earth Abides, Those Who Watch, Recalled to Life. What do all these have in common? These ideas are basically scriptural and apocryphal, taken from the traditions of the Bible. This is surprising, isn’t it? Why should these derivatives be more interesting than the originals? Why don’t we read the apocrypha and the Bible instead? Look what the Christian world has done. It has emasculated the whole thing, denatured it. Till now these themes have been just spiritual or symbolic things. We find the literal view more interesting. Why? They’re fiction, but they’re science fiction. There’s a possibility that such things could be true. When you bring the word “science” in, things become conceivable, and as long as there is a slight, remote possibility that such a world could exist, it rather interests you. But you read the Bible and say, “Oh, yes, but that’s an abstraction. That’s not even fourth dimensional.” See what they have done to the scriptures?
How do you know these scriptures were originally meant to be taken literally? Any history, any scientific structure, can be interpreted allegorically, but no one goes to the trouble to invent really good history to have it denatured as allegory or symbolism. Most Bible stories weren’t made up; scripture wasn’t composed for the purpose of being allegorized, and it was certainly not invented as an allegory or as a symbol. That was read into it later. Until the theologians of the schools came along, it never occurred to anyone to do that. Remember what the doctors of the Fourth Century called the early Christians: “primitive,” and that has a note of contempt in it. They call their stories old wives’ tales, because the Christians really believed in these things. They called the Christians “literalists” and made great fun of them. (That is the word Jerome used.) The new interpreters became the “spiritualizers.” They understood all these things in a spiritual sense, uncontaminated by the idea of a physical world. But if you go back to the early Christians, you find they accepted things physically, and that puts everything on a different footing. It makes the real thing more interesting than science fiction. Science fiction is only rather a horrible aberration, but it’s much more optimistic, and you might even say more convincing, than a dematerialized future.
Let’s see what people have to say about the question now. They now admit that matter is there, and that it’s organized; but it’s not enough to arrange matter with order and system. Such matter remains, for all its pretty patterns, inert, background stuff. Without life, matter is inert and helpless, these early writers say. It must be improved by the action of light. (The creators have a special force which the early writers call light, not light exactly as we understand it.) Structure is not enough. Whenever the active principle is withdrawn, matter at once falls back into its original, lifeless, inert condition. We think of the inert gases, like argon and xenon and helium and so forth. When they are activated, they glow. As soon as you take the activating away, they are nothing. It is the same with all matter. It must be touched by some activating force, according to the ancients.
The records call it the “spark,” (spinther) a word that occurs numerous times. The spark is mentioned throughout, and it is what makes the difference. Whether you are in the Mandaean or the Manichean, whether in the Dead Sea Scrolls or in the Coptic Documents from Egypt, all take up the idea of the spark, because the spark can leap the gap. The spark is that which comes from one world to another. The spark is also that which animates at a distance. This vitalizing principle is everywhere referred to as the “spark,” without which, says the so-called Second Coptic Work, “there is no awareness.” It’s all right to have an electric eye in the supermarket open the door for you. You say, “Thank you very much,” but there is no consciousness there. It hasn’t been polite or anything else. Without this spark, the mechanism doesn’t work, but still there is no awareness. You have to be aware of something. Unless the electric eye is actually aware of you, there is no mind at all. It’s a gadget.
There is a lot of this theme in the Cabala. The Jews adopted it. In the Cabalistic literature are the Hasidic forms that preserve the old teachings among the Jews, just as certain out-of-the-way Christian sects preserve, sort of in the dark, secretly, underground, many of these teachings well into the Middle Ages. Some of them emerged only lately. But the Cabalistic teachings about how God’s intelligence unites with matter to form life, to form a unity, is depicted in the Cabala as “God is in everything.” The Gospel of Truth, a very important writing (published at great expense), the first of the Coptic documents to come out in 1956, says much the same thing: “Unity engulfs matter within itself like a flame.” It isn’t enough to build your structure from the center out; you must engulf it with a life principle, engulf it like a flame. Instead of an absolute separation of matter and spirit, an all-or-nothing arrangement like that of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists whom the church fathers followed, the earliest Christian apologist, Aristides, explained that everything is a mixture of the two. To produce a new thing, you must have the original matter, and you must have the spirit to infuse it. Otherwise, you won’t get results, because structure alone won’t do it.
Melito, one of the early Christian fathers, says the same thing, that all the world is moved as a body is moved by the spirit, so all the world must be moved by some animating spirit itself, not just our bodies, but everything. When this vitalizing principle touches matter, according to the Psalm of Thomas, one of the new Syriac manuscripts, “consciousness” is expanded. “The worlds of darkness gathered and beheld his brightness. They breathed his fragrance. They orbited about him, and bowed and knew him and worshipped him.” It is this implanting of the mind with the thought of life that works within the elements to bring about the Creation. The Berlin (Mandaean) Papyrus says, “At the same time, the great thought came to the elements in united wisdom, spirit joining with matter.”
But this animating principle still isn’t enough. Though joined with spirit, matter is not spirit; it constantly undergoes processing. The matter itself is just part of the story. It can be imbued with the spirit, but it will always change. It is always undergoing processing and changing. Only progeny is eternal, only sons go on forever, says the Gospel of Philip. That was the plan of heaven. Part of Satan’s plan was to have a static world that would not change. It would not only be perfect, it would be static in its physical structure as well. But the plan agreed on was that worlds would constantly come into existence and pass away, and that the process would never cease. Matter would always be processed again and again, and this would go on, whereas this same writing says that only sons are eternal. Sonship, progeny, goes on forever. So that while the other elements become serviceable to the needs of the spirit, as the Gospel of Philip puts it, there is no permanence in matter; it always undergoes change as worlds come into existence and pass away. Only progeny is eternal. All the physis, all physical nature, all plasm, all organized things, all structure, is interdependent and will return to its old roots, but the root is not destroyed.
A passage in the Apocalypse of Abraham is very good on this point. Abraham sees what’s going on inside of a star. A very exciting picture is displayed. (Like the process of conversion from one element to another—helium to hydrogen, then to the carbons; the cycle goes on.) Here is how he describes it. He’s taken there by an angel. Abraham has been praying, wanting to know how the stars were made, so the angel actually takes him. He says his spirit left his body. He didn’t go there physically, but he saw it all, and he was completely bowled over. He saw an indescribably mighty light, and within the light was a tremendous fire, and within that was a host of mighty forms that are constantly seething and exchanging with each other; they constantly change their shape as they move, altering themselves, one exchanging with another.
Abraham frankly doesn’t know what’s going on, so he says to the angel, “Why have you brought me here? I can’t see a thing. I’ve become weak. I think I’m out of my mind.” (I think we would too if we got too near to a star! A red giant, a white giant, even a white dwarf, would scare you enough!) The angel tells him to stick close and not be afraid. But when later they were both wrapped in something like flame and heard a voice like many rushing waters, even the angel took precaution. Abraham wanted to fall on his face, but he could not, because “there was no ground or earth anywhere to fall on.” He couldn’t even fall on his face. (He was awfully glad to get back home again.)
Abraham was taken to see the chemical changes going on inside the stars. The most useful property of matter is its plasticity. According to these writings, it can be adapted. It submits to handling. Eusebius points that out in his Preparation, “You can’t make everybody in the church responsible for sinful man in his sinful nature.” Physical matter is just a tool we use, something we just put to our purposes. Matter can’t help itself—it’s inert. Remember, man is to act and not to be acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:26.) Eusebius says, “Matter submits to handling. It can’t by itself be the cause of evil.” We simply put it to use—the uses we want. It’s always being reformed, reorganized, renewed, in accordance with the law of plenitude. Nothing is wasted. There’s no space where there isn’t something. And if you’re not using it for one thing, you can use it for another. And then there’s the principle of multiple use, so that worlds can be used by spirits of various levels at the same time. All this is very nicely explained in these writings.
And if it is to be reused, so to speak, it must be melted down. I have left out some of the interesting quotations that talk about the “trough,” the process in which matter melts down. It seems that the users have to get it orbiting in the trough. And in this trough it is selected out, certain elements being drawn out when and where they are needed. At certain temperatures they do this or that, and so forth. Here’s what the Pistis Sophia says about it: It has to be decontaminated, melted down, then purified. There’s a lot about decontamination. The action of the light on matter always has a purifying effect, whether for the first time or whether it’s being reused. Indeed, there’s no such thing as used or old matter, since by the action of the spark or of the light upon it, the matter always becomes renewed. “Let matter rejoice in the light, for the light will leave no matter unpurified.” The “treasure,” or the physical substance used in making anything, must be taken from some other treasure. You don’t create it out of nothing. (This principle is also mentioned in Codex Brucianus 96, chapter 45.) The various elements must first be separated, cleansed, and reclassified. “When the flame engulfs substance to form a new unity,” the Gospel of Truth says, “then obscurity becomes light, death becomes life. And the old jars are broken to become new.” In the Clementine Recognitions, Peter explains the heavens to Clement: “The perfect form,” says the philosopher, “is the egg. But the eggshell exists only to be thrown away, to be crushed, to be used up. It is just a step to using it in something else. So it is in the physical universe, in the world.” As things go on and on, all the worlds pass away to make way for new ones. The egg, this perfect form, instead of being contemplated with utter satisfaction forever after, exists merely to be crushed, stomped upon, and used again—eaten by the chickens to make good egg shells the next time. The figure of breaking up the old jars to make new ones is common. Another like figure exists: “God took dead bones,” the Odes of Solomon says, “and covered them with bodies.” They were inert. He gave them energy for life. Things were brought to corruption by God, but the cycle of corruption is not disaster. Death isn’t a terrible mistake, but rather a part of the eternal plan. Everything physical must go through this change. Nothing is to be permanent, nothing fixed. There are other aspects of permanence in our life, but not this one. And so corruption was brought about by God, something the doctors of the church would never consider. Things were brought to corruption by God that everything might be dissolved and then renewed, thus founded on a rock!
So, we’re founded on a firm principle of continuing existence, but it must be corrupted first to be dissolved, and then renewed. This corruption shall put on incorruption, as Paul says. Accordingly, every new creation leaves behind the matter of its old aeon, its old age, its old period, its old cycle.
From the beginning, the elements were purified by the holy living bearers of life, and from the first contest they were mixed with a background material and have remained so ever since. Also, when the poison or contamination of old matter has been removed, the stuff becomes sterile. It’s pure, but sterile. Again, you have to do something to make it live again. It has to be re-energized, and Peter actually uses the word energia. Matter has to have more energy put back into it again, now that it has been purified. It’s ready to be used again. It’s sterile. You have got the poison and the contamination out of it, but now it has to be energized all over again. When old worlds pass away, a general state of confusion is passed through, so you can organize a new world. Consider passages 13 and 17 in the Apocalypse of Abraham, where Abraham, addressing God, says, “O Thou, who abolishest the confusion, the mixing up of the universe, the confusion that follows that disintegration of the world of evil and of righteous alike, thou renewest the world of the righteous.” This approach requires real space.
This idea of space and matter that we have been talking about so far has not been universally recognized by everybody who studies these things. One thing some students have recognized is the concern with real space. Actually, the scriptures are quite taken up with time and space. These ideas weren’t recognized until we read the old books and the scriptures again. Sure enough, they are there, large as life. “How could we have missed them all these years?” we ask. We missed them because we have been warped and prejudiced by the accepted schools of thought that took over in the Fourth Century.
The Bible talks a lot about going and coming. Things must be going to somewhere and coming from somewhere. A recent work by a Lutheran scholar says that expressions such as “to visit the earth” and “he went and preached to the spirits in prison” cannot be taken in any but the most literal sense. Early church members really thought they had to go somewhere. All don’t think so now. After all, as St. Augustine says, God is everywhere. He can’t go anywhere. He is perfect. He can’t do anything. To do is the act of an unsatisfied being for whom something has to be done that hasn’t been done. Since God has done everything, He can’t do anything, can’t go anywhere. That’s the way scholars used to think, in terms of absolutes. But that’s not recognized today. A Catholic writer, writing very recently in Verbum Domini, says, “We are never allowed to forget that heaven is not only a state, but a place.” Aquinas said that heaven is not a place; that’s an absurd, crude, old idea. Heaven is a state, the state of bliss, the beatific vision.
The Pistis Sophia says that it is the nature of every creation to seek a more roomy space. It’s an expanding universe that these people described; every creation has its tendency to seek a more roomy place. Every kingdom requires space: “We will go down, for there is space there.” (Abraham 3:24.) By the law of plenitude or perfect economy, no space should be wasted and none should be crowded: “There is abundant room in thy paradise,” says the 11th Ode of Solomon, “and nothing is useless therein.” There is no waste, neither is there crowding. In the Ginza, a very important and very old work of the Mandaeans, Jesus is told, “Go down to that place where there are no skenas.” (Skena is a topos, a dwelling place; the same word as the Greek skenē, “tent,” the same as a shekinah, the dwelling of the Holy Spirit of the Jews. In Syriac it means an occupied place.) The Father says, in effect, “Go down to that place where there are no skenēs and no worlds. Create there for us another world after the fashion of the sons of salvation.” The same writing explains that when the mass and number of the worlds are filled, a squeeze begins, and it’s time for expansion. “All spaces come forth from the Father,” says the Gospel of Truth, “but at first, they have neither form nor name.” He organizes and supervises and sees that a place is properly and economically used; everything is controlled. But the idea of pure space, of absolute emptiness, is abhorrent to these people. There is no point to it. A total void without even chaotic matter is utterly abhorrent.
The ultimate form of damnation is to be with Satan, and Paul says that Satan is the prince of the air. Demons have no place for their foot, no sure footing; they don’t have a place, an establishment, no base of operations anywhere. To be deprived of the ordinances of the gospel, says the Pistis Sophia, is to be like one suspended in the air. The theme is common in the “Forty Day Literature.” The apostles ask the Lord, during the forty days after the resurrection, to show them what it is like before the Creation and when the creation arose. He tells them, “Don’t ask for that”; people can’t remain in their right minds after seeing that sort of thing. (Abraham saw the star. He says you won’t like it. It is terrifying.) “My Father worked out his kingdom in fear and trembling, and I must do the same.” When these apostles asked to see the spaces, in quite a number of these writings the Lord warned, “No, it’s better for you not to, because it is more frightening than anything else if you don’t know what is going on.” “Only the Lord,” says the Gospel of Truth, “has penetrated the terrors of empty space.”
All spaces are broken and confused, especially during periods of transition from old worlds to new, for they have no fixity or stability at that time. In 1 Enoch, the ultimate horror is being in a place without a firmament, without a foundation beneath, a place kept as a prison for those who transgress. This is why the idea of the rock, the foundation, or the cornerstone is so important; before you can begin any structure, before you can begin any plan, any life, any building, you must have some point on which you can fix yourself firmly. And what is that? I use the image of the rock to answer that.
There must be a rock, or whatever supports the rock. This, of course, was a main problem with the ancient cosmology, beginning with the philosophers of Melitus. They said the earth is on the back of a tortoise. And what supports the tortoise? He stands on the back of the great water that surrounds it. And what supports the water? Now you have to think fast, because something always supports it. Our texts are very fond of the word topos. A topos is not just a space; it’s a special space marked off and set apart for a particular purpose or activity. A topos is useful space, just as a chairos is a period of time set apart for the carrying out of some specific task. Thus we are often told that the Lord, having accomplished his mission on earth, returned to the topos from which he came. We find this in the Gospel of John, and also in the Gospel of Peter, and others.
God started out the Creation by making a topos for his children, that they might settle there, and there recognize and serve him as their father. In the Ginza, he tells Adam, “Adam, this is the place in which you are going to live. Your wife, Eve, will come and join you here [notice the pre-existence], and here your progeny will thrive.” Then there is the concept of distance, which leads naturally to the idea of multiplicity of worlds. (This has been implicit in all that we have been saying, and on the subject all these writings have a good deal to say.) After the plan of creation was accepted, it was communicated to all the other worlds. All the other worlds contributed something to the making of this one, because they rejoiced in such a project. For the worlds exist, we are told in the Askew Manuscript, so that intelligent spirits might come and inhabit them. Not only are the worlds countless, according to Philip, but they have been going on forever. Adam’s holy angels inhabit many worlds. “Thou light of our worlds, come and be king of our land and our city,” they say as the Lord goes from one to another. “No words could describe thy power over all thy worlds,” says the Ginza. “The Father taught me about the worlds of the Lord and the glory that abides therein. The atom of light treads upon the earth’s trembling foundation that is laid in the midst of the worlds.” Even Justin Martyr says that the Christian is promised boundless cosmoses. This is our promise that we shall inherit. Maimonides said, “This world is but a speck among the worlds and man is as nothing. Man is nothing in the midst of the worlds.” It was the degenerate Minaean Jews who first taught that ours was the only world, says the Talmud. “To correct this we say in our prayers today, Mi-‘olamim 1-olamim, worlds without end, using the plural.” Origen believed, says Jerome, that there are countless worlds. He did not believe, like the pagan Epicurus, that they existed all at once, but that they were constantly coming into existence and passing away. This was the old Christian teaching.
“O Father which art in the heavens”—”heavens” is always plural in any ancient Lord’s Prayer you can find anywhere. It is to be understood in the most literal sense: the heavens are plural, and our Father is in the heavens. This has been recognized recently. Both a Roman Catholic and a Protestant have recently written articles on this point. The Protestant says that the idea that this is the only world is not an early Christian but a heathen Greek conception taken over by the Church from Aristotle. And the Catholic writer, in The New Scholastic, wrote recently that “the idea that the earth is the heavy center of everything and therefore the only world [this the sluggish earth, the center of everything] is from Aristotle. This is not from the Bible. It was not held by the early Church.” Aristotle’s concept was the science of the time, not the Bible of the time. The early Christians believed in this multiplicity of worlds. It’s only later that the Christian world, following Aristotle, a good scientist, went the other way. Over against this, our older Christian sources also remind us that in the great scheme of things, everything is in the plural: worlds, universes, plans, gods, spaces, saviors, and so forth. A multiplicity of worlds are organized on a common pattern. For example, a newly found Apocryphon of James (also the Askew Manuscript, the Second Coptic work, and the Apocryphon of John) notes that in all the worlds there is a common pattern, and its base is a monad rule—there is one rule everywhere; but God always rules through a presidency of three and through a council of twelve, no matter what the world is. This is a law that exists throughout all the worlds. A number of these sources talk about that. These repetitions are infinite in number and scope.
Carl Schmidt believed that the Second Jeu was the most important of all early Christian writings. It is the best expression of early Christian teachings. And this tells us that a person who is sent to take charge of a new world, as Adam was sent to take charge of this world, is called a Jeu, a form of the word Jehovah. Then he says, “As Jeus become fathers [once you have become established, you become a father], then you will appoint Jeus for new worlds, who will in time become fathers, and so on, ad infinitum.” So you have the Jeus promoted to fathers, who then send out other sons as Jeus, and so forth. Each aeon has created for its own host ten thousand times ten thousand. They like to talk about these things. In every individual world God made three hundred and sixty thousand agents, in every dwelling place three hundred and sixty thousand other dwelling places. The earth and the planets are but atoms in an infinity of like systems. That’s from the Sefer Yetzirah, a very old Jewish work, widely recognized by the Jews.
Origen repeatedly quoted from writers of the early Church. “This is not my opinion; this is what the elders used to teach,” he would say. “There will be another world after this one. And in the same way, there were other worlds before this one. We thus share a common nature with other worlds.” Or as Methodius, the last man to organize this material and bring it together, in the eighteenth volume of the Patrologiae Graecae wrote, “Christ came down from his vast rule and kingdoms and other worlds to save one percent of those on this evil earth, and to enroll the human race in the heavenly register.” For this work goes on in a vast scale, and it involves many other worlds. But what does this do to the oneness of God, and so forth? It does no harm at all, because all is going according to the same system, and before anyone can be entrusted to take charge of a world, he must be trusted.
We are here for the purpose of being saved, and we must also be safe. Exaltation is something more. All will be saved in the kingdom of God, but who is safe? Who can be trusted? With reference to man’s responsibilities, we are here to be tested whether we can be trusted to take charge on our own, because if you can be trusted completely, you’d do the very same thing God would do. You’d represent him completely. So there is only one God, only one ruling mind, and only one pattern after all. The oneness of God is never jeopardized here. The Askew Manuscript says, “There are many mansions, many regions, degrees, worlds, spaces, and heavens, but all have but one law. If you keep that law, you, too, can become creators of worlds,” an astonishing statement.
The Gospel of Truth says, “It is the perfect Father who produced the all, in whom the all is, in whom all are in need always.” We are never free from needing him. He is still in charge. Others are put in charge in whom he can trust, but always it goes back to him. “Out of the one come the countless multitudes, but yet they remain in the One.” “All the other worlds look to the same God as to a common sun.” The crucifixion is effective in worlds other than this one. Another says, “All the cosmoses follow the pattern of a single world, which is called the type, the archetype. Ever since the beginning this has been so, keeping the entire physis in the state of joy and rejoicing.” (Because it has been organized, it’s the same.) “The worlds exchange wisdom with each other because they are equally dependent on the Most High.” They have the same common source. “They are the heralds of His thought,” says the famous 12th Ode of Solomon; “by His word they communicate with each other. They know Him who made them because they are in concord. They have a common ruler, a common lord, so they are in concord with each other, and they communicate with Him and through Him with each other, for the mouth of the Most High has spoken to them.” Another Ode: “The worlds were made by His word and by the thought of His heart, so they are all as one. There is no rivalry or competition among them, but they are glorious in their firmaments and agree among themselves, fitting together like the lashes of an eye. All rejoice in each other, each being more glorious and bright than the other.” There is a hierarchy of brightness, the range going on forever, each more glorious than the next.
The Ginza says that when beings from different worlds meet, they exchange garments and treasures as a sign of mutual esteem and identification. “For the creation of endless worlds follows the single pattern laid down by the Creator.” The planets then say, “Lord, come, Lord of the Gods, Lord of the entire cosmos.” They rejoice and say, “Come, be our Head. Be our head of the whole world.” This is the parousia—when the Lord visits us for a while, and we want him to stay with us. “The worlds will come before Him in order and in shining hosts,” says one of the new homilies. “God is the Father of all the worlds,” says 1 Clement, which virtually everybody recognizes as an authentic writing of the early Church. “He knows them; they keep their courses and covenants with Him; He calls them by name, and they answer him from eternity to eternity. As the Father of greatness is in the glorious world, so his Son rules among those cosmoses as first chief lord of all the powers.” Thus, as one recent study observes, “The multiplicity of successive worlds tends towards unity.” “The cosmos is not simply a oneness of self, of nothing and nothing else,” writes the great fourth century Bishop Synesius, “but rather a multiplicity comprised in a oneness.”
This is the terror of science fiction today: “If you could only escape from this little confining world of ours and go out into the vastness of space, wouldn’t that be a wonderful adventure?” So you go out there and what do you find? The same thing you find here. It’s like landing in one airport—it’s just like the airport you got on in. And so it becomes rather depressing, and finally it becomes actually terrifying—always just more of the same. It’s a horrible trap from which you can’t escape.
The universe of the Middle Ages was not small—when thought of in terms of billions of miles, it was tremendous. But it was closed. It makes no difference how big it is as long as it is closed. You see, you can’t escape. There’s just more of the same. You’ve seen it all. You’re not going anywhere. That is the message of science fiction. That is why writers like Bradbury and Heinlein are turning away from it. They’ve rather got soured on it now, because once they’ve gone through all the places they can think of, that’s it.
This is the nice thing about the teaching we are talking about. You don’t get stuck in that groove. Sir Isaac Newton says, “Only little minds are impressed by size and numbers.” What’s the point to endless repetitions of the same? (I don’t want more of the same.) One of the nicest things about early Christian cosmology is that it is not the repetition of sameness. The types are there, but they are always expressed in individuals who never express the type in exactly the same way—just as no two snowflakes are alike, yet they all have to have six points, no more and no less.
The first thing to get clear, when we start talking about other worlds, is that we know nothing about them. It comes only by revelation. These things are not the extent or the projection of our own scientific world or literary experience, and not the production of our own imagination. Those who have seen other worlds in vision tell us that we simply cannot imagine what they are like.
Remember what Paul said after he talked about going to the third heaven: I can talk about one who was caught up. I’ve seen those things. And what about it? “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man.” Nobody has seen anything like it. Nobody has heard anything like it. You can’t imagine what it is like—it has not “entered into the heart of man.” So you shouldn’t try to make yourself a picture of what heaven is like. You’ll be completely wrong. And that’s good, because I don’t want it to be more of the same, more of this. It would be an awful bore, wouldn’t it?
The Pistis Sophia: “Other worlds cannot possibly be described in terms of this world. Not only is there less in common between other worlds and this world, they differ as widely among themselves as any of them does from us.” “In the limited confines of the flesh,” the new and valuable writing of James explains, “which condition all our thinking, we can’t possibly grasp the nature of other existences or even begin to count the number of other worlds.” We are necessarily prone to think in terms of our world. Of course we can’t think in any other terms. We haven’t the remotest idea of what it’s like. We use the words we do because we don’t have any others. As St. Augustine says, “This is the wrong picture I have given you, but at least it’s a picture.” (Impar imago, sed imago.)
“When we say Light,” says the Sophia Christi, “we think of our kind of light.” But that’s wrong. When we say marriage, for example, in the other world, it’ll be entirely different from what it is here, though of course we must designate earthly and heavenly marriage by the same name. Even though spirits may be eternal and thus equal in age, this writing explains, they differ in intelligence, in appearance, and in other things. And these differences are primary, as unbegotten as the spirits themselves. It is not something that’s acquired. We are just different, primary and unbegotten, and no two alike.
The Lord tells the Apostles in the Epistle of the Apostles, “Where my Father is, it’s entirely different from this world. There you will see lights that are nobler than your kind of light. In the millions of worlds that God has made for his son, every world is different from the others and wonderful in its own radiance.” Quoting the Odes of Solomon: “Hence, one of the joys of existence is that the worlds constantly exchange with each other what they have, each possessing something different and peculiar to itself. There is nothing superfluous anywhere, which means that nothing is a mere duplication of something else.”
You may wonder why we are not sharing the fun here on earth. That’s because we have been quarantined. We’ve been isolated for a special testing situation. Remember, that’s what the Lord told Enoch when he was talking about the world. He had created “worlds without number,” and yet he told Enoch, “Among all the workmanship of my hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.” (Moses 7:36.) So when you are here, you are getting a real test. They talk a lot about that—this test being so much harder. We may mention that when we get to Adam.
This is one of the joys of cosmic contemplation. The Berlin Papyrus tells us how every world breaks up into various types. There are five worlds, five spirits, five bodies, five tastes—the senses. Although the inhabitants have the same senses there that we have here, they are not alike. They don’t respond on the same scale. Again, you think of the spectrum—of all the things we are missing that we might be experiencing. There are all kinds of strange beasts on other worlds that we can’t even imagine. In some worlds reproduction is carried out differently from here. The Zohar, perhaps the oldest Jewish writing known, says, “There are all sorts of creatures for all sorts of environments. Only man is the same everywhere and yet he’s the most individual of all.” That’s wonderful, isn’t it? All these creatures adapt themselves to different worlds, like the monsters of the past—dinosaurs, the stegosaurus, and various creatures living in other geologic ages. They had to adapt themselves, and in other worlds it could be the same thing—the most fantastic forms of life. Man is the only one that is the same everywhere, because he adapts himself in a different way. He’s the most different of all. For as Brigham Young used to say, looking out over the Tabernacle, “I don’t see two faces alike here.” Isn’t it marvelous. No two alike. “Vive la différence!”
“In the Hebrew Universe,” writes Pederson, “the world consists of a number of lives that are intermixed but can never become merged because each has its special character. Individuals remain forever themselves.” Among ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, says the Ginza, you will find no two alike. A prayer from the Mandaean Prayer Book reads, “Before this world there were already a thousand thousand mysteries and a myriad myriad planets, each with its own mysteries.” The multiplicity of worlds, as taught by the Early Church, formed a perfect unity as do the strings of a lyre. Each plays a different note; together they make marvelous harmony. If two strings play the same note, there is not much point to that. There must be a great orchestration. This is a common idea among the ancients. Plotinus taught that each star existed for the sake of the whole, to which it contributed its individuality. Each has its particular part to play; by being uniquely itself it can make a contribution of maximum value.
There is the great difference, and among the differences there is a hierarchy. Some are greater than others. That is the concept of the three degrees of glory. The one thing they all have in common is that there are three main degrees. “You can visit the orders below you,” says the Pistis Sophia, “but not the level or orders above you.” The three degrees are described in a great number of manuscripts. Ignatius, writing to the Trallians, says the same thing. Ignatius was the last church father who knew the mysteries of the church; the Saints have asked him to tell them about some of these mysteries and the levels of other worlds. And this is what he says in reply: “I could write to you about the mysteries of the heavens, but I am afraid to do so. It would do you harm. I am able to understand the orders of the heavens, the degrees of the angels, the variations among them, and the differences of dominions, of thrones and powers, and of the elevation of the Holy Ghost and of the kingdom of the Lord, and the highest of all rules of God over everything else. There is an infinity of hierarchy in the world.” But he died and took his knowledge with him. “You’re not ready for it yet,” he said, “and the Church is not going to have it.”
An early hymn says, “Christ rules in second place. His rule exactly duplicates the Father’s but over a more limited number of cosmoses.” Methodius explains this, he being in my opinion the last church father to correlate what stuff remained of the concept. He says, “If other stars are greater than our world, then it is necessary that they contain life greater than ours, and greater peace, and greater justice, and greater virtue than ours.” (Remember, the Lord tells Abraham that as there is one above another, there must be another higher than they. Then he adds, “I am more intelligent than they all.” This is the principle set forth in the Pearl of Great Price.) “The spirits,” says the Sophia Christi, a newly found manuscript, “are equal in age but different in power, intelligence and appearance, and have been so throughout all time.” Origen was greatly intrigued by this diversity, and especially the inequality among God’s creatures. How do you explain that inequality? If it is arbitrary then God is unjust. So he concludes that the levels on which we find ourselves in this world must somehow have been merited in a former life. He in fact goes further than this. In this world we not only have a hierarchy, but all things are moving forward, not moving backward. It was a dynamic concept of Origen’s in which all things are moving forward: “Until Christ came and opened the way, it was impossible to go from one taxis, one level, to another. He is the great opener of the way.” The reason we call Christ the Way is that he opened the way by which we can progress.
Being the Way, the Lord himself also advances. Thus, the Word of the Father advances in the All, being the fruit of his heart and the expression of his will. (See the Gospel of Truth.) Through the ordinances, we are told, one makes progress in knowledge, and these ordinances go on and on. There are mysteries so much greater than the ordinances of this world that they make loaves look like a grain of flour, just as the sun looks like a grain of flour from those distant worlds. When we go to our heavenly homes, some of us will be in a world quite remote where we could still see the sun, but it would look so tiny that it would be like a grain of flour. On this earth everyone descends, as it were, to the dregs and shares the common substance with all living things. From here we begin to work our way up step by step to a knowledge of all things, ever seeking for instruction and carrying out the required ordinances that will lead us to more. Thus we move from truth to truth, and the further advanced one is, the faster one moves forward. This is the principle: “To them that have shall be given.” With exaltation comes an increase, an acceleration of exaltation, and the further advanced one is, the faster one moves forward. So the further you get ahead, the faster you get ahead. The example is Adam.
Quoting from the Sophia: “Adam, having been established with Christ and God (the Great Three) next established his son Seth in second order which was to follow him on up.” “He who has fulfilled all the ordinances and done good works cannot be held back.” Another passage says, “We are taught the principles of salvation so that we cannot be held back in this world.” A Manichaean text: “Those who shut the doors against me will be held back in the abode of darkness. Those who open the door will advance to the place of light.”
It was the ancient Jewish teaching, according to Professor Goodenough, that the patriarchs advanced to the spiritual stage where they assumed the garments of light and became saviors, saviors of their fellows. And R. H. Charles, commenting on the Book of Enoch, says, “For the righteous Jew, hereafter, life will be a constant progress from light to light as we become companions to the hosts of heaven.” So the idea of eternal progress is an old Jewish concept and an early Christian concept, too. “To be true and faithful,” says the very early Father Papias, “God gave dominion over the arrangement of the universe to the true and faithful. Their rule and their advancement go on forever and ever.”
“Because of the Plan,” says Codex Brucianus 96, “we are always to look upward”; from time to time there is a great coronation day, a cosmic commencement day in which all who are worthy take over their new position and receive the spaces assigned them with their crowns of advancement. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, those two earliest fathers, each having one foot in the old church and one in the new, characteristically accepted the doctrine of eternal progression at first, then rejected it when the schoolmen finally talked them out of it. In Origen’s universe there are more exalted beings who leave the less exalted beings further and further behind. He compares their advancements to a series of examinations and makes much of the three degrees of glory—”three celestial levels, like the sun, the moon, and the stars.” According to him, the visible world is only a small fraction of the invisible world, which in turn is only a small fraction of the potential world that is to become reality in the aeons ahead. All this from Origen, the greatest of Christian theologians before he joined the doctors, when he still spoke as an early Christian. “After death,” he says, “I think the saints go to Paradise, a place of teaching, a school of the spirits in which everything they saw on earth will be made clear to them. Those who were pure in heart will progress more rapidly, reaching the kingdom of heaven by definite steps or degrees.” For Origen, according to Father Danielou, evil is nothing else than refusal to accept progress. This recalls a statement from the Pistis Sophia that hell is what lies in the opposite direction from that of progress, a state of inert and helpless being. Hell is not lively; it is the opposite of action, energy, purpose, and motion. The devil has no real purpose; all he is trying to do is thwart someone else’s purpose. He has no principle of action within himself. He is apolyon, the destroyer; satan or diabolos, the accuser.
It is undeniable that this doctrine of eternal progression points inescapably in the direction of becoming like God. There are many mansions, regions, degrees, worlds, spaces, and heavens, but all have but one law. If you keep this law, you will become creators of worlds. The worlds are so that intelligent spirits might come and inhabit them and in the process and in due time become gods, since they are literally the children of God. “The sign of Divinity,” says the Ginza, “is that one’s glory expands.” It is always increasing. It’s an expanding universe, isn’t it? This reminds me of a statement in the Gospel of Philip: “A dog begets a dog, a horse begets a horse.” And you call yourselves the children of God? What does that mean? How can you avoid the conclusion in that case? What does a god beget? What does a god beget? Like begets like. You call yourselves the children of God. These people liked to call themselves that—the Children of Light and the Children of God.
Conspicuously lacking in the divine hierarchy is any sense of rank or class. Obedience and subordination in nowise jeopardize individual freedom and leadership and command, and in no way impose dictatorship as long as the whole concern of those above is to reach down in love to those below, and those below strive to rise in love to those above. (Moses 1:38—39.) This sense of equality pervades everything here. Every spirit, says the Apocryphon of John, is a “monarchia,” a rule unto itself, and subject to no one, having been in the very beginning with God. There is thus that about it that can never be forced. (One of President Heber J. Grant’s favorite expressions was “Never force the human mind.”) Some people consider the Apocryphon of John one of the most important discoveries in the last ten years.
“In this world all creatures are of the same material,” says the Pistis Sophia, and we should never forget it. God is testing us here to see if we can be trusted to rule over other creatures in love and not in arrogance. If we destroy the things placed under our dominion, just because we have power to destroy, we will never be trusted with real dominion, worlds without end.
Now to examples of the ordinances these writings talk about. God operates through agents. He sends people. They are the “sent ones.” In fact, a Swede by the name of Widengren has recently written a book about the “Sent One.” Instead of coming personally and giving his messages, God gives others a chance to share in his activities by sending them as messengers with various duties. That is the thing that always stops the Muslims. They think that our plan of salvation is much too complicated. “Why make it so complicated?” They ask, “Why can’t you say that God does it, and that is that? He does everything. He’ll forgive us in the end, and everything will be all right. We don’t need anything but God. And you bring a son in, the Holy Ghost, and all this sort of thing.” And you say to the Muslim, “What’s the Creed? What’s your shahadah?” “Well, I testify that I believe in God, in his angels, in his prophets, in his apostles, and in his books.” “Hey wait a minute. What are all these angels doing? I thought you believed in a just God. Isn’t that enough? What does he need angels for? Why can’t he deliver his message directly? Why does he need prophets to come down and speak for him? Why does he need books for you to consult?” God uses agents; he uses agents; he uses “sent ones” all the way through. Don’t complain to us about complications!
God sends his agents to other worlds to engage in this operation. We all have a share in this sort of thing. We meet with the “sent one” most frequently and most dramatically in the story of Adam. “After the physical Adam was created, a messenger was sent to the head of all generations (that is, Adam), and at his call, Adam awoke and said, ‘How the precious, beautiful life has been planted in this place. But it’s hard for me to be down here.'” The “sent one” then reminded Adam, “But your beautiful throne still awaits you, Adam. Why then do you, the image of God, sit here complaining? All of this is being done for your good. I have been sent down to teach you, Adam, and to free you from this world. Listen and return to the light.”
The Ginza (488) tells how when Adam stood praying for light and knowledge, a helper came to him and gave him a garment and said to him, “Those men who gave you the garment will assist you throughout your life until you are ready to leave the earth.” The commonest account of these visitors, also found in the Ginza, is that when Adam was created he was found in a deep sleep from which he was awakened by the helper who forthwith began to instruct him. And at his death also the “sent one” came to take Adam back to the great, first parental house and to the places in which he formerly dwelt.
First he was taken to a place of detention, the shomai, the place in which to be instructed. Here he learns the signs of the nail of glory and the keys of the Kushta on both arms. The Kushta is a hand grip of some type. A messenger from the House of Light was sent to fetch Adam farther when he was ready. The reason that so often the Adam of light comes down (the preexistent Adam, that is, the Adam of Light that comes down to help us) is that he was the first one who needed help; he as our Father sympathizes with us, and he wants to see that we get through. So he is our great helper. He is the sent one. Of course Jesus Christ is the Sent One of all. When Adam faced the Light and called for help, the Lord himself approached him in glory and took him by the palm of the right hand and calmed him and instructed him. Then he comforted Eve, and in this way he brought joy and aid to his descendants. The Lord came to bring hope to Adam, who was in the image of God. This is repeated also in the case of Abraham. In the vast majority of accounts, it’s the three sent ones who instruct Adam. There is no conflict. There are simply two great teams of three. There is the Creation team: Adam and Jesus and the Father; and there are the three that instruct Adam, who are later of the twelve, the three pillars of the Church, Peter, James, and John. We have references to them in some of the writings, and the passages are rather interesting.
In the Berlin Papyrus, “The first man, Adam, was really the third sent one at the Creation.” (There were three sent ones, and he was the third one.) According to the Apocryphon of Adam, Adam was awakened from his deep sleep by three men from on high, who said to him, “Adam awake, arise and hear the teachings of the Savior.” It was through a team of three, according to the Sophia Christi, that God created everything, employing them as his agents. As the Abbaton puts it, “The Father instructed the Son, who in turn instructed the great angel to go down and form a new world.” But they didn’t merely delegate the work, they worked together. “The three,” says our source, “stretched forth their hands, took clay and made man.” And many expeditions were sent to the earth before things were ready to receive him. Codex Brucianus 96 says, “Whenever that life-giving spark is sent, it is always followed up by three Sent Ones to give instruction.” So in any world, those who receive the spark will also find three helpers ready to instruct them. The three are always there to supervise, and the evil spirits resent it. Here is a very interesting passage from the Ginza where the evil spirits say, “They claim this world for their own.” They have been cast down here, this is theirs, and they don’t like people intruding. “These three men,” they say, “are in the world. They are not really men. They are light and glory, and they have come down to this little enush [Adam—he’s little enush now because he has taken on flesh, and he’s very susceptible to ills of the world], who is helpless and alone in the world. They are intruding in our world. The children of men have taken over the earth. They are really strangers who speak the language of the three men, and they have accepted the teachings of the three men and rejected us in our own world and refused to acknowledge our kingdom and our glory.” And thus the evil ones plotted to overthrow Adam, who was hoping for the Savior, the Teacher of Life, to come down later and teach him—give him aid and support.
“At the creation,” says the Ginza, “God gave an order that the angel should come and keep Adam company.” And at the beginning, it was the Lord himself and two companions who instructed Adam and Eve in everything. “When Adam was placed on the earth, three Uthras were sent to oversee him, with myself at their head. I taught Adam and Eve the hymns and the order of prayer and the Masagases (that is, the Mounting Up or Returning to Heaven) and the pattern of the universe.” “In sending three,” God said to the Pure Sent One, “go call Adam and Eve and all of their descendants and teach them concerning everything, about the kingdom of Light and the worlds of Light. Be friendly with Adam and keep him company, you and the two angels that will be with you, and warn them against Satan.” That’s the Berlin Papyrus. Another one says, “Also teach them chastity.”
We read of another team of three when Adam called upon God; the Great Spirit sent to him from the land of greatness the three who belonged to the twelve who were hidden in the veil of light (and those were later Peter, James, and John). Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael and all the angels come down. “I will come, and my Father and Michael,” Jehovah says; “we are the great three who have visited the earth.” They are also matched by the three violent ones and the Watchers.
All this implies, of course, preexistence. Adam coming down to earth is a theme you find frequently now. Throughout early Christian literature, in fact, going to heaven is constantly being described as a return to an old home, and that’s the way the present Pope describes it: man is an outcast in this world, yearning for his home. If he was created here, and this was the only world he ever knew, that wouldn’t be his position at all. He would not be an outcast or a stranger. He’d be in his own world. The implication of preexistence is very strong; these writings talk about it frequently. In the Apocryphon of James, for example, the Lord tells the apostles, “They will ask you where are you going.” The answer, “To the place from which I came. I return to that place.” And the elect are those individuals, according to the Gospel of Thomas, who shall find the kingdom because they came from it in the first place. The Gospel of Truth dwells at length on the theme of the return: “Whoever has this knowledge is a being from on high. When he is called, he hears and answers and turns toward him who calls him and re-ascends to him. He knows what he is called; he knows whence he has come and where he is going. He has turned many from error and preceded them to the places which belong to them but from which they have strayed. Joy to the man who has rediscovered himself and has awakened and helped others to wake up.”
Just so, in the great old Manichaean Song Book, Adam is received by a happy family on his return. On the other side, they have awaited him in high expectation, or the return of the first man with news from him. They have eagerly awaited news of Adam’s victory, of the success of his mission; and they want to hear it from his own lips when he returns. On his part, Adam, being away from home, asks a Newsbearer of the Skies, as he is called, “How is my Father, the Father of Light? How is my Mother, the mother of the living whom I left, and her brethren also? Rejoice with me, ye holy ones, for I have returned to my original glory again.” And again, in leaving the earth, he says, “My hour has come. They summon me. I will go from your midst and return to my true home.” Accordingly, “The Sent One comes to take the soul of Adam back to the great first house of his Father to the place where he formerly lived.” And so his children were admonished, “Arise, old soul, return to your original home, to the place from which you were planted. Put on your garment of glory. Sit down upon your throne. Dwell in the dwellings among the Uthras, thy brethren.” And again, “Now arise and return to the place of thy true family.” “I came from the house of my Father,” says the Psalm of Thomas, “in a far land, and I shall mount up until I return to that land of the pure.” There is a moving scene at the end of the Pearl, the most moving of all the early Christian Syriac writings, where the hero finally returns to his home, his mission accomplished. He’s met at the gate of greeting and honor by his entire family. He bows and worships his father and the Christ of the Father “who has sent me the garments and given me the orders while I was on the earth.” All the princes of the house were gathered at the gate. They embraced him with tears of joy as the organ plays and they all walk back to the house together.
And Gregor of Nyssa, one of the three great Cappadocians, writing about this, says that in his time, the Fourth Century, the church was very confused about these teachings. They were being rapidly lost. He says, “Christians are all confused about the preexistence. Some say we lived in families there, and in tribes just as we do here, and that we lost our wings when we came down here and will get them back again upon earth.” So they mix up tenable and untenable things; all sorts of strange ideas get in the picture. Regardless of what the true picture is, we know that the early Christians did believe very strongly in the preexistence. The mysterious word propators, which they used a lot, is now recognized as not meaning the Father who was before our Heavenly Father but our Heavenly Father as our forefather, our propator—”the father of our preexistent spirit,” says a quotation from a newly found work. “When they ask you who you are,” says the Apocryphon of James, “say ‘I am a son and I come from the Father.’ And when they ask you what sort of son and from what father, answer, ‘From the preexistent Father and I am a son of the Preexistence.'” “The spirit existed before the flesh,” says a psalm. Commenting on the teaching of this doctrine, the Clementine Recognitions, the editors of the Patrologiae Graecae note that various fathers of the church represented every interpretation of the doctrine, from absolute acceptance to absolute denial. Most of the fathers temporized somewhere in between. Again, this is a good indication that we are dealing with an authentic teaching of the early church, since the early fathers are all for it. The later ones don’t know; they are not so sure.
“The earth had already passed away,” says one of these new writings, “and the Son had already had glory before this earth was ever created,” reminding us that the fact that we do not know them does not mean that other times and worlds have not existed and do not now exist. From the Apocalypse of Abraham: “Before the worlds were I was a strong god who once created the light of the world.” And he tells Abraham how “I explained my will to those who stood before me in this form that I am showing you in the spirit world before they came into existence.” Abraham is shown the council of heaven in the spirit world in the preexistence. It is plain enough what is meant by “coming into existence.”
Man’s premortal existence was an illustrious one. There are descriptions of the glory we enjoyed before we came here. In these writings there is also a good deal about ordinances. We can’t talk too much about them, or be too specific about them. These ordinances are vital. They are not mere forms or symbols, we are told. They are analogues.
Of extreme importance is Adam as Michael. And Adam is aroused by the three sent ones. Standing with the apostles in the prayer circle, the Lord tells them, “I will teach you all the ordinances necessary that you may be purged by degrees and progress in the next life. These things make it possible for you to achieve other exaltation, but they must be performed in this life. Unless one performs them here, one cannot become a Son of Light,” since the Sons of Light are by very definition those who are perfect in the ordinances. Throughout these writings, no matter where they come from, whatever part of the Old World they come from, the code word is “Sons of Light.” Nobody knew what it meant until now. It means “those who have received all the ordinances.” Temple ordinances are what they are. And this is the way it is explained in Second Jeu also: The sons of light are by very definition those who are perfect in the ordinances. It is interesting that this same definition applies to the once mysterious title of Nazoraean, which means the same thing.
“Until Christ came,” says the Pistis Sophia, “no soul had gone through the ordinances in their completeness. It was He who opened the gate and the way of life. Those who receive these ordinances are the dispensations of the Sons of Light. And they receive whatever they desire. They are those who are upon the right hand, for it is by their faithfulness in these very things that they show that they are worthy to return and inherit the kingdom. Without the ordinances, therefore, there is no foothold or foundation or anything in this life.” In First Jeu 86: “If you want to go to the Father, you must pass through the Veil.”
Recently I collected all the references I could find—I have twice as many now—of the forty-day mission of Christ. Whenever you find a very early Christian text, it almost always has a title referring to “the secret teachings of the Lord to the Apostles during the forty days.” The fifty texts available to me then had four things in common.
The first was secrets, what the Lord taught the apostles after the forty days. When he came after the resurrection, he visited them and taught them. This was the really important thing, we’re told. They didn’t understand anything until then, yet in the Bible we are told hardly a word of what he taught them. Why not? It was secret.
The second point is that they all asked the Lord, “What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to the Church?” And he tells them that it is going to be on earth for two generations; these things are not going to be handed down; they are to be buried; they are to be kept secret. They are not to be passed on to the world. That’s why we didn’t get them. We are just finding them now.
Third, he taught the strange doctrines the Christian world did not like at all, the things we have been talking about: other worlds, things like that. That was out of bounds to the Christian doctors, because it wasn’t Aristotle.
The fourth was the main thing he came to do. He took them through the temple, he taught them temple ordinances. Only the apostles and the general authorities, the seventies, were instructed in these—things to be handed down, not divulged to the public. Though they were very carefully kept from the public, we have these ordinances now as they are described here, and this I have talked about in the temple on occasion. I just mention here these generalities, the importance of these documents, what they meant to those people. The person who receives these becomes a son. He both gives and receives (that is what a son does—becomes a father) the signs and the tokens of the God of Truth while demonstrating the same to the Church, all in the hopes that these ordinances may some day become realities.
Remember, they are only forms, only types, yet they must be performed here. It is the same as going to school. If you take a good course in math, you say you are just working with symbols, dealing with things in the calculus that are very abstract, or you are dealing with unreal or irrational numbers and things like that, even though they aren’t the real thing. Some day you will know what’s behind it all, in the hope that these things may some day become reality.
“They may be mere symbols,” says the Pistis Sophia, “but they are an indispensable step to the attainment of real power. Without the mysteries, one loses one’s power.” Without the ordinances, one has no way of controlling matter. For such control begins with control of oneself. The ordinances provide the means and the discipline by which light operates on material things. They are meant for instruction, they are meant for practice, and they are meant as a test of obedience. Your level in the next world will depend on the ordinances you have received in this world, and whoever receives the highest ordinances here will understand the whys and wherefores of the great plan. You cannot hope to understand it all here. It is through the ordinances that one makes progress in knowledge. For those who receive all the available ordinances and teachings here shall pass by all intermediate places and not have to give answers, signs, and stand certain tests hereafter. “John the Baptist,” another writing says, “who performed the ordinances with which he was entrusted, foretold in a special language that Christ would bring the ordinances of a higher priesthood as he had brought the ordinances of the lower.” And indeed it was the Lord who, during the forty days, revealed these ordinances to the apostles.
There is much more to that effect. In most of our sources, after explaining them to the apostles, the Lord gives a complete summary of all the rites and their meanings as they stand in the prayer circle. (For a full discussion of this material, see “The Early Christian Prayer Circle,” BYU Studies 19 (Fall 1978): 41—78.) This is mentioned in many writings, and it much perplexed the early fathers of the church. The topic finally was brought up in the Council of Ephesus, at the Second Council of Nicea, which finally got rid of it, because the fathers couldn’t understand what it was all about. But the Syriac Church kept the rite down until the Seventh Century. We have one writing, a very valuable one, edited by Rahmani some years ago, long considered the most valuable of all writings from the early Syriac Church, called the Testament of Jesus Christ. We mention it here because the author talks about the prayer circle and how the saints in the Syriac Church used to perform it. In the Pistis Sophia, at the end of the teachings and performing of the ordinances, the Lord orders the apostles and their wives to form a circle (which is one of the reasons these texts were rejected with horror because they specifically mention their wives being present, and they had to be in this particular circle). He stands at an altar on one side, while they recapitulate all the ordinances. The Savior opens with a prayer, which is given in code. The words in this code aren’t always the same. In this one he says, “I ai oh ah oh i oh i ah”—a special code in Coptic. There are lots of codes in Coptic, and they are not as confusing as you might think. They are to make sure that all is kept secret from the world. This particular code is explained as meaning, “Hear me, Father.” In First Jeu, the Lord calls on the Father with different words, also cryptic: “Ie, ie, ie.” We are told that in every world, in every level (every taxis), there are twelve who officiate under the direction of three, and they always form a circle, without a lower and a higher, because there is no head of the table in a circle. There is no sense of rank whatever. They are instructed in all things.
It was to such a circle, First Jeu tells us, that God said in the beginning, “These I will make my rulers,” at the creation of the world. Abraham was standing in that circle: “These I will make my rulers. Abraham, thou art one of them.” (Abraham 2:23.) But it says specifically here they were standing in a circle of twelve, and the Lord addressed them that way, saying they were the ones who would be his rulers on earth. The apostles, in other words, were appointed in the preexistence.
Before forming the circle, the twelve sing a hymn. When the circle is formed, the ordinances are pronounced, the Lord recites, and then they recite after him. In most of the cases they say “amen” after every sentence; in some they simply repeat his words. In Second Jeu, the apostles and their wives all form a circle standing around the Lord, who says that he will lead them through all the ordinances of eternal progression. Clothed in their holy garments they form a circle, foot to foot, arm resting on arm. Jesus, as Adam, takes the lead, and all the others say “amen” to each phrase of the prayer. In the recently found Kasr al-Wizz Manuscript (this one interests me particularly, because I got the first photographs of it):” ‘And you shall recite after me,’ and so we made a circle and surrounded Him and he said, ‘I am in your midst in the manner of a little child,’ and then He says, ‘After everything I say you shall say Amen after me.’ Gather to me, O Holy members of my body, when I recite the hymn do ye say ‘Amen’?” There it breaks off, unfortunately.
This tradition is recalled a number of times in the earliest Christian literature. The Acts of John says, “Now, before he was taken by the lawless Jews [and at the same time he gave them the sacrament in the upper chambers he had them do this], He gathered us all together and said, ‘Before I am delivered up to them, let us sing a hymn unto the Father,’ so He commanded us to make as it were a ring, holding each others’ hands, himself standing in the middle. And He said, ‘Respond Amen to me,’ and then He began to sing a hymn, ‘Glory to Thee, Father,’ and we, standing about in a ring said ‘Amen.'” The phrases to which the apostles then pronounced “Amen” were: “We praise Thee, O Father.” “We give thanks to Thee.” “I would be saved and I would save.” Then, “Amen.” “I would be loosed and I would loose.” “Amen.” “I would be a Savior.” “I would be pierced and I would pierce.” Then he gave them the sign. “I would be born and I would bear,” and so forth.
One is reminded of a statement in the Gospel of Philip: “Before one can give, one must receive.” Another text adds, “I would wash myself and I would wash others.” “I have no temple, and I have temples.” Then the Lord commands, “Now see thyself in me who speaks, and when thou hast seen what I do, keep silence about my mysteries. You must see me as I suffer and what I suffer. Who am I? Thou shalt know when I go away.” “Know thou suffering, and thou shalt have no power to suffer,” He tells them. “That which thou knowest, I myself will teach thee.” The prayer ring is mentioned not only in the Acts of Peter, but also in Irenaeus, in St. Augustine, in Photius, in First and Second Jeu, in the Testament of our Lord and Savior, in the Second Coptic Gnostic work, in the Pistis Sophia, and at various councils of the church.
St. Augustine, in reporting the episode of the prayer circle, says the whole thing was always kept most secret by the early Christians. Epiphanius says the Second Council of Nicea reported on it and included it among the lists of blessings handed down in the early Church. But they finally gave it up in the Eighth Century because they couldn’t understand what it was all about, and it was never used again.
Following this pattern, in the early Syriac Church, the bishop takes his place at the altar. He first addresses the people in the circle and says, “If anyone has any ill feelings against his neighbor, let him be reconciled. If any feels himself unworthy, let him withdraw, for God is witness of these ordinances, and the Son, and the Angels.” God, and the visiting or witnessing angels, are witnessing these things, so withdraw.
In the Bartholomew, there is some very interesting and personal stuff, some having to do with Mary. It is not the miraculous Mary literature in which the chariots of fire and that sort of thing happen. This is very homey, very natural. The apostles are having a prayer circle one day, and Mary asks if she might speak a few words. When she goes over to the altar, some of the apostles don’t like it. They say she doesn’t have authority, because she’s a woman. Should they allow her to speak? But she says, “I have something I want to tell you, something that happened in the temple, because this is the proper occasion for it.” Having finished the prayer, Bartholomew says, “She began by calling upon God with upraised hands, speaking three times in an unknown language” (the usual code introducing the prayer). Then, “having finished the prayer, she asked them all to sit on the ground.” She asks Peter to support on her right hand and Andrew to support on her left hand. Then she tells that just before the birth of Christ, the veil was rent in the temple. On that occasion she saw an angel in the temple at the veil. He took her by the right hand, after she had been washed and anointed, wiped off, and clothed with the garment. She was hailed by him as a blessed vessel. “And he took me by the right hand and there was bread on the altar in the Temple and he took some and ate it and gave some to me. And we drank wine together. And I saw that the bread and wine had not diminished.” (The same thing happened in 3 Nephi 20 at the administering of the sacrament.) All this happened in the temple. At this point, the Lord himself appeared and forbade Mary to tell any more, since all the creation, he said, had been completed that day.
The Apocalypse of Abraham says the same thing. “Abraham went with the Lord and fasted for forty days and God took him to Mt. Horeb and there was an altar but no offering.” But God provided it miraculously, as he does elsewhere. He had a sacramental meal with his followers, and then the followers were ordered to stand in a ring and be instructed by Abraham in the proper manner of sacrifice under the old covenant. So under very much the same circumstances, he has them stand in a ring, and he instructs them.
A much vaster thing than we had ever imagined before is the doctrine of identity. This is the most interesting thing, the whole subject of identity. The expression occurs a great deal. You comprehend what you are like, don’t you? In other words, you identify. We are told time and again that when Jesus came down to earth he took flesh so that we could comprehend him. He became like us. “Among the angels he was an angel. Among men he was a man.” He descends to the level of the people whom he must teach, because he must do it in order to teach them. Because of this principle you comprehend what you are like, and comprehension means a lot. You comprehend others only to the degree that you are like them. One way to put it is, “Here, while we are on this earth, we are in ourselves and the world lies around us outside.” We don’t understand it all; it’s a great mystery, not only psychologically, but scientifically and in every other way. We don’t know how it is that we comprehend what’s outside, how it’s brought to us, how it’s transmitted, or how it gets inside our heads. It’s in there, you see. Whatever it is, we are comprehending because we are seeing both what is in here and out there. By comprehending something, you embrace it, literally; it is part of you; you identify with it completely. This means that life will look very different hereafter, when we can identify with, for example, animals. It wouldn’t be unfair to lower creatures to compare them with ourselves—they would lose nothing by it. Can they not have joy in the sphere in which they were created without having our particular type of glory? They aren’t missing anything at all, because we’re sharing a common existence. The man comprehends a great deal more in the love of his dog, and the other way around. If there is a good feeling between the man and his dog, neither feels cheated; neither feels that he is being left out of anything, because they are actually sharing in each other’s worlds. You can say that a man has a very intelligent dog of which he is very fond and that the dog is very fond of the man. They actually share a very real experience, so that neither has to envy the other at all.
You can heighten this greatly with our Heavenly Father and ourselves. We are not missing anything. We don’t feel cheated by being so far below Him. We haven’t missed a thing. It’s just lovely to be near him, because he’s trying to pull us up to him. He wants us to be like Him, to identify with him. We can’t desire anything greater than that, so there is none of this dominance or submission business. God is not putting himself in charge. We are drawn toward him, and he wants us to be drawn.
SOURCES MENTIONED Compiled by the Editors (listed topically and alphabetically)
Modern Thinkers (including representative works)
H. A. Brongers Bibliotheca Orientalis 1948:38 De Scheppingstradities bij de Profeten (Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1945)
R. H. Charles Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: 1913) The Book of Enoch (Oxford: 1912)
Jean Danielou Biblica 28 (1947) Origen (N.Y.: Sheed and Ward, 1955) The Dead Sea Scrolls and Primitive Christianity (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1958)
E. S. Drower
The Canonical Prayerbook of the Mandaeans (Leiden: Brill, 1959) The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Oxford: 1937) A Pair of Nasoraean Commentaries (Leiden: Brill, 1963)
Erwin Goodenough Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, 13 vols. (N.Y.: Pantheon Books, 1953)
Fred Hoyle “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering and Science (November 1981)
Isaac Newton The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, translated by Andrew Motte, 2 vols. (London: Dawson, 1968)
Johannes Pederson Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1947)
Karl Popper “Science: Problems, Aims, Responsibilities,” Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 22 (1963)
G. Santillana Hamlet’s Mill (Boston: Gambit, 1969)
Carl Schmidt Epistola Apostolorum (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1919) Gespräche Jesu mit seinen Jüngern nach der Auferstehung (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1919) “Gnostische Schriften in Koptischer Sprache aus dem Codex Brucianus,” Texte und Untersuchungen 8 (1892) Koptisch-Gnostische Schriften (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1954) Manichäische Handschriften der Staatlichen Museen Berlin (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1940) Pistis Sophia (Leiden: Brill, 1978)
Levi Strauss La Pensée Sauvage (Paris: Plon, 1962)
W. Richter “Urgeschichte und Hoftheologie,” Biblische Zeitschrift NF 10 (1966)
W. C. Van Unnik Evangelien aus dem Nilsand (Frankfurt am Main: H. Sheffler, 1960) “Newly Discovered Gnostic Writings; a Preliminary Survey of the Nag Hammadi Find,” Studies in Biblical Theology 30 (1960)
George Widengren The Ascension of the Apostle and The Heavenly Book (Uppsala: Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1950) The Gnostic Attitude (Santa Barbara: Inst. of Religious Studies, U. of Cal., 1973) “Der Iranische Hintergrund der Gnosis,” Zeitschrift für Religion und Geistesgeschichte 4 (1952) Journal of Semitic Studies 2 (1957)
Ancient and Classical Texts
1 Enoch 1 Jeu 2 Jeu Acts of John Acts of Petrian Simon Apocalypse of Adam Apocalypse of Abraham Apocryphon of James Apocryphon of John Askew Manuscripts Berlin Manichaean Coptic Manuscript Bodmer Papyri Cathara Wiss Manuscript Chester Beatty Papyri Codex Brucianus Epistle of the Apostles Ginza Gospel of Bartholomew Gospel of Peter Gospel of Philip Gospel of Thomas Gospel of Truth Mandaean Prayerbook Manichaean Psalm-Book Odes of Pindar Odes of Solomon Oxyrhynchus Papyri The Pearl Pistis Sophia Psalms of Thomas The Second Coptic Gnostic Work Sefer Yetzirah Serekh Scroll Sophia Christi Testament of Jesu Christi Testament of Our Lord and Savior Zohar
See generally The Ante-Nicene Christian Library, 23 vols., A. Robertson and J. Donaldson, eds. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman’s, 1951).
Aristides, Aelius Aquinas, Thomas Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Clement, of Rome, Clementine Recognitions, 1 Clement Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis Eusebius Pamphili, Bishop of Caesarea Gregor, of Nyssa Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch Irenaeus Jerome Justin Martyr Melito, Bishop of Sardis Methodius Origen Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople Synesius Sardicus Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria
* This is a transcript of a talk given in 1967 in Glendale, California, where Hugh Nibley lived during his teenage years. The informal style typical of his talks has been preserved. Nibley himself says he speaks much too fast, and the frequent repetitions are to make sure he is understood. The reader who seeks documentation for statements made in this talk is referred to “Treasures in the Heavens,” of which this is a more popular and Church-related presentation.