"Twin" of Jesus?
"Thomas is best looked at in
the context of Gnosticism.... [T]he various forms share some basic ideas:
The indescribable... supreme godhead, which is pure spirit,
have been the creator of a world full of evil and misery.
Emanations from that Oneness resulted in a hierarchy of lesser powers, one of which... made the world of matter.
Humankind -- part matter, part spirit -- must strive to cast off its gross material element and, as pure spirit,
reunite with the One. Gnosis --
knowledge of an intuitive kind about one's true nature, an experience of reality... leads to this
reunion. A messenger or savior... sometimes descends from the godhead to help people achieve gnosis....
"These thoughts are usually couched in creation myths in which intermediaries stand between the supreme divine entity and humankind. In some of these
Sophia (Wisdom) is a key figure, a
feminine aspect of the godhead, engendering the
lower god who is maker of the cosmos.
savior figure is usually pure spirit, temporarily occupying a body...
"The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings, found near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 -- sayings that Jesus is supposed to have entrusted to his
'twin'.... Contributing factors to renewed interest in old mystical systems are
school of depth psychology....
studies of Jewish mysticism, and much
fuller study of Asian mystical systems....
"Many Western people today... are really much akin
which strikes people as 'real' and 'true' but which lies beyond the reach
of reason and logic is indeed a central
element of Gnosticism...."
"In the apocryphal Acts, Jesus is sometimes an elusive, protean figure, taking on various appearances: sometimes he is an old man, sometimes a youth, sometimes fat, sometimes lean. There is a strong suggestion that he was not really corporeal."
"'To seek myself and
know who I was and who and in what manner I now am, that I may again become that which I was: This is a characteristic formulation of the
Gnostic goal. According to Gnostics, we must realize that there is at our core a spark of spirit which was
once part of the universal spirit; that this individual spirit has become
embedded in gross matter, in the body, through activities of lesser powers (often called
archons or rulers), like the creator-lawgiver god of the Jews, who wish to keep the human spirit in thrall; that we can
escape this bodily prison by recognizing our true original home and evade the grasp of the archons and
ascend again to that home -- the spiritual Pleroma, the Fullness -- to be
reunited in Oneness."
"Gnosis is a Greek word for knowledge --
not... knowledge in the sense of
rational learning but intuitive knowledge reaching beyond the limits of reason
to truths hidden from ordinary experience and intellect....
"...the Gnostic -- the Knower -- felt seized by a great truth that dominated his or her view of life and being. Gnosis was thought to lead to a
unitive, or mystical, experience in which the composite world would be left behind and a primordial,
undifferentiated Oneness regained. A close resemblance to Indian
notions of 'enlightenment,' 'illumination,' and 'release'
is readily apparent....
"...the quest for an inner
spiritual or mystical truth beyond the experience of worldly life is found among later
Christian mystics, Muslim Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, and various contemporary religious movements in the West....
"The notion of intermediaries between an infinite, eternal, ineffable supreme entity
and this world was by no means new with Gnostics.... Above and beyond anything imaginable was the realm of pure, universal Idea. A lower force -- the
demiurge or world-creator -- had made order out of chaos, harmoniously blending the four elements of fire, water, earth, and
air into a perfect sphere.....
"The gods, as the artificer's intermediaries, had created humankind, a mixture of spirit and matter. The
demiurge was the author of everything spiritual.... Rationality, that part of the human soul that comes from the demiurge, is immortal, but that part bestowed by the gods -- passions and appetites -- is mortal, and dies with the body.
"For Philo [see
Anne Rice Reimagines Jesus] the Logos (or Word) was an aspect of God, the formative principle
and creative agent in the godhead, the intermediary between pure universal Idea
and the composite material cosmos. But Philo also spoke at times of Sophia
(Wisdom in English...) as a
feminine creative agent. At times, following earlier Hellenized Jews, he called
her the mother of the Word.' ...
"But there were many more complicated creation
myths in which various entities had a role. There were distinctive qualities
known as aeons (such as Mind and Life) within the Fullness.... And there were agents of a lower order,
outside the spiritual Fullness, in making the cosmos. They were known as rulers,
angels, archons, and powers. ...
"Among the archons or powers appears the world-creating, lawgiving demiurge,
the author of our world. He was sometimes identified with the Jewish Yahweh....
[Humans aim for] release of their sparks of spirit for reunion with the true Father.
Chapter 4: "As a young student and teacher of rhetoric he
[Augustine] was a
Manichean, adherent of the dominant gnostic movement
of his time.... Later, when Augustine found himself strongly drawn to
Christianity, what held him back from embracing the faith was the reluctance
to give up the easygoing life and pleasures....
"For most Gnostics, sexual indulgence was not so much a sin (a word not often found in Gnostic writings) as a distraction... from the
search for gnosis....
"At one level of thought, all Gnostics were antinomian ... The demiurge's law was a restriction on the freedom which everyone must have to find the way back to ultimate reality.
"Simon Magus.... taught that the supreme being was androgynous, a male/female pair (Power and Thought) that was really one. He believed that a man's salvation is to be found in becoming like the godhead, by
meeting one's twin soul and uniting with her....
"Identifying the Jewish Yahweh with the creator of this evil world,
Ophites regarded the serpent with deepest reverence because he
had imparted spiritual knowledge -- gnosis....
"Belief in transmigration of souls reinforced the duty to flout the
commandments of the false god.... Carpocratians taught that individual sparks of spirit would remain enslaved, in incarnation after incarnation, until their enveloping bodies had
performed all forbidden acts. The faster
souls got through the list of deeds proscribed by worldly powers, the sooner they would escape their rule.
... How did the libertine sects arrive at an attitude toward sexuality so contrary to
most religious precepts, and to the main stream of Gnosticism?
One answer...'it is
impossible for the spiritual element . . . to suffer corruption...."
"Questioned about his skills... Thomas replied that he was a
carpenter and a builder. (Thomas is portrayed in religious art as holding a carpenter's rule and square.
[Symbol of Freemasons] In the Middle Ages he became the patron saint of architects, masons, and stone cutters....
"Another grouping of five qualities of mind... was to be found among the followers of Mani
[Manichean?]... a gnostic
religion that combined elements of
Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism....
"Buddhists hold that nothing exists by itself. 'Things' exist only in relation to other things, in mutual interdependence, all continually acting upon each other in a complex process of causal
Accordingly, we should not think of a continuing, personal Self. What we in our ignorance call the Self is really an interplay of five mental elements and the physical body (known as skandhas ), in temporary conjunctions,
constantly changing and interacting.'...
"Among other unfamiliar motifs is the
recurring image of a female element in the godhead, sometimes identifiable as Sophia, sometimes as the Mother...."
"One unmistakably Gnostic sect survived into the twentieth century....
The Mandeans were a small baptismal community. In their own language, a dialect of East Syriac
or Aramaic, their name means 'gnostics'-- 'knowing ones' (manda = gnosis). For them, the ruler of the world of
light was the Great Life, from whom a hierarchy of lesser spirits emanated. At the bottom was the
creator god. A King of Darkness, a defector from the realm of light, ruled over his own demonic creation of monsters and evil spirits....
"At the end of the ascent a Keeper of Scales awaited, who
weighed its deeds and its grasp of
gnosis. If found wanting, souls would be kept in way stations,
'places of detention.' If passed by the Keeper, they attained reunion with the Great Life."