This is Klaus Schilling's summary and translation of Gerardus Josephus Petronius Jacobus Bolland's work "Gnosis et Evangelie" from 1906 (publisher Adriani/Leiden). The original version of the work is not available as an online document. The original can be ordered as a reprint from Jan Boerger's legacy library at http://www.ibizweb.nl/borger. Formatted and copyedited by Michael Hoffman with Klauss' permission, May 3, 2005.
It is strongly evidenced that the background of the Gospel story is not historical, but to be found in Christian fantasy developed in the circles of Hellenistic Gnostics as symbolical allegories. [Bolland frequently uses 'gnostic' in a very loose sense that would include, for example, Philo of Alexandria, something few of us would do -ks]
The gospel writers knew how to construct instructive allegorical stories. Many later writers indulged in chaotic thaumaturgy stories and so on.
Strabo complained about
contemporary authors who were out for the favor of the country bumpkins. Plotinus described
some Christian [gnostic] sects this way. Plutarch polemically affirmed that the true
worship of Isis does not consist in exterior appearance, but in the inner
attitude of philosophically analyzing the symbolic content of
The Early Christian Writings emphasize repeatedly that truth is not evident, but has to be encapsulated in symbols and figures. Thus Max Mueller concluded that nothing is more difficult than to express the result of deepest thought in language that should be intelligible to all, yet not misunderstanding. (Theosophy or Psychological Religion). The wise man talking non-understandably to the country bumpkins appears trollish, but the wise man speaking to the dumb mob understandably probably is a troll. Also the Orphics insisted in selective revelations. Philo underlined that Moses lies to stupid people for their own sake. Epictetus blew a similar trumpet in his treatises on virtue. Clemens Alexandrinus saw it similarly.
The authors of the New Testament gospels, especially of John's, understood themselves as knowledgeable (gnostics) when compared to the environment of the gospel Jesus, especially disciples and family. This was underlined by van Eerde. Inept gospel readers think that the knowledge of mysteries in Matthew 13:11 were the knowledge of the most evident aspects: "He replied, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.'" The influence of Hellenic philosophy is ubiquitous in the gospels. Hippolytos sees the beginning of Christian heresy in philosophy.
The Naassenes especially used a broad spectrum of myths and philosophical teachings of the Hellenic world of their era and older. The heretics most probably had a better understanding of Matthew 11:25: "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.'" The Naassenes recognized that the eternal truth is an open mystery, or a secret revelation, often incomprehensible for the scholars, but understood by little children.
The author of Matthew's gospel was most likely a
Greek-speaking Roman, similar to Hippolytos 100 years
later. He misunderstood Semitic terms
like 'Hosanna', "save us", misinterpreted as "praise" or "glory". Mark's gospel was evidently more at ease with
Semitic idioms. It represents a more
progressed state of Roman Christianity than Matthew's. Toll guards are thought deprecated, as usual
Celsus underlines that Jesus' followers were infamous riffraff. 1 Corinthians 1:17-31 affirms that God has chosen foolish people as tools for revealing his mysteries putting the high society to shame. 1 Timothy 6 praises dense people against the speculative theology ("Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith"), and Ireneus prefers stupid piety to intellect. Wisdom according to the measures of the world implies folly in the eyes of the Lord, as evidenced in 1 Corinthians.
Many heretics, according to patristic witness, viewed most of the gospel content as mythology (for example, the virgin birth). Justin Martyr agreed that Christian stories are paralleled strongly by pagan myths. Especially, Jesus is compared to the healing god Asclepius. Thus some sarcastic enemy of the Christ says "master of healing, heal yourself!" The gospel is for the masses that don't understand much, but are very imaginative. The naive thaumaturgic faith of the ancient masses exposes a much better understanding of old Christian writings than the scholarly yet really infantile questions what about happened historically [2000 years ago] in Palestine.
Even Harnack figured that the Gospels have been written in order to teach us something. The religious content is primary, history is secondary. Reville showed that all essential narratives, especially the Passion, in John's gospel are based on a thread of developing allegory. Van Eerde emphasized that the gospels do not see the historical appearance of Jesus, but the developing Christian spirit as the origin of Christianity. Kalthoff correctly said that regardless of how many Jews and slaves were crucified by the Roman regime in the first century, none of them were Jesus.
The old Egyptians already knew a myth of a genderless base deity from which several (eight of them - ogdoas) elementary deities emanated. Also a grouping of deities into couples -- syzygies -- was known. Basilides and Valentinus, two Alexandrian gnostic heretics, built upon those in their complex speculative theologies.
Tertullian estimated the Valentinians as the largest heretical group. Also the Barbelognostics, subdivided into Kainites, Sethians, Naassenes, and Nicolaites, must have been numerous, as their ramifications suggest, according to patristic statements. It is hard to say what was the precise relation between Valentinians and Barbeloitic groups. Plotinus polemicized against Sethian Gnostics. Seth, Son of Adam = Son of Man = Christ. Another Sethian term for the savior is 'Allogenes', as known through Porphyrios [note that the Sethian scripture Allogenes is found in Nag Hammadi Corpus XI, 3. Allogenes also appears in the recently unearthed Gospel according to Jude].
The term 'Barbelo' should derive from a Semitic term for 'in the 4 there is God' -- that is, the divine tetragrammaton. Thus a pre-Christian Jewish gnostic sect had been Christianized. Also the picture of Jesus as a good shepherd is of Egyptian origin. Thus there is a Christian writing Pastor of Hermas. 'Pastor' corresponds to shepherd, 'poimen' in Koine. 'Hermas' alludes to Hermes Trismegistos [this needs further textual-criticism support -ks]. Note that one of the most important Hermetic scriptures is called 'Poimandres' (shepherd of men). Hermes-Thoth was also known as the 'Logos'. The Assyrian Nabo had a similar role as the paraclete.
John 1:18 ("No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known") shows a further parallel between Jesus and Hermes. Visionary revelations, not biological entities, are seen as divine teachers. Also Philo Alexandrinus understood the Logos as a divine shepherd. Other examples of Jesus as Logos and shepherd abound in early Christian writings. Philo identified also Law and Logos. The Kerygmata of Peter, quoted by Clemens Alexandrinus, whistle the same tune. Clemens Alexandrinus also witnessed how Hermetic doctrine was pervasive in Egyptian culture of his days. Lactantius saw Hermes as the preparer of Christian truth.
The Alexandrine Hermes-Thoth known to the Church Fathers was already the result of progressive syncretism. Bolland conjectures convincingly that the Pastor of Hermas is derived from a hermetic Poimandres tradition, even though the Poimandres text we know is much younger. The connection was already noted by Reitzenstein. Celsus called Christians Jesus-guilders, as they organised in thiasoi, guilds or fraternities common in the Hellenistic world. The Christian communities are thus of hellenic guild heritage, not derived from Palestinian synagogue. [HWPhE van den Bergh van Eysinga saw Jewish synagogues in the Hellenic diaspora equally as thiasoi. -ks]
According to Matthew's and the Apocalypse of John, Jesus holds the keys to power over the world. That's an equivalent position to that of Mithra or Nergel. Babylonian astromythlogy also abounds in the Apocalypse. Philo Alexandrinus was informed about Persian magi. Philo and Plutarch both call the world the younger son of God. Wisdom is the corresponding mother. This leads to typical father-mother-son trinities. The original being in theosophical tradition has both fatherly and motherly aspects.
There were also trinities in the
Jews were known as quite numerous in the Hellenic diaspora, and somehow Law observance became watered down, as observed by Havet. This deviant Jews were called 'Minim', and were often of a Gnostic brand. Philo Alexandrinus, albeit Gnostic but in a way that accomodates Jewish orthodoxy, as much as Clemens Alexandrinus did in the frame of Christian orthodoxy, polemically deals with those Minim. Nasseni were well known in patristic literature, Nicolaites even made it into the New Testament, the were even Cainites. Already Philo mentioned a group of Minim following Cain who were antinomians. They ignored society and their own flesh, broke Sabbath ritually, and so on.
Philo, in opposition to the Cainites, insisted in seeing the literal Law being the body of the spirit of the Law, like the body being a temple for the soul. Law observance in a literal sense thus serves also the spirit of the Law. The Epistle of James expresses the same mindset as Philo. But both expose here that soul and spirit are primary with regards to the, body, the external appearance. But already in the Epistle to the Hebrews, being an Alexandrine-Jewish document of Philonic slant, deviates from orthodoxy by revering Sunday, in Mithraic tradition.
This hellenic Jew feels as a Jew, but denies perfection to the literal Law. The sacrificial cult is seen as insufficient. The impact of the Poimandres community is sensible in Hebrews, Jesus being the good shepherd. The Pauline epistles call the Law a curse, from which the spiritual man is freed by the power of the Christ. This is spoken to a Roman environment, not a Jewish one.
Eusebius assigned De Vita Contemplativa to Philo, but this is not trustworthy. The writing is more likely by a gentile philosopher of the late 1st Century. It describes appreciatively a quietist Jewish community called the Therapeutae (healers), as Jesus was considered as a master healer. The Therapeutae are readily identifiable as Minim under Hermetic-Gnostic influence, pre-christian Christians -- better yet, 'Chrestians'. The Cabala draws on Gnostic thought; even the Talmud is not quite free of it -- see the Metatron in Sanhedrin. The Pastor Hermas equally has a background in Hellenic-Jewish-Hermetic syncretism. The author of 1 Corinthians mocks the exaggerated glossolalia in the Jesus cult of his days, the times of Hadrian.
Hippolytos of Rome mentions the Naassenes using a Gospel of the Egyptians [not to be
confused with the Gospel of the Egyptians which is found in the Nag Hammadi corpus -ks]. Epiphanius reports
that Gospel as triunitarian. While several passages in the New Testament
are Alexandrine, the New Testament texts demonstrate the shifting from
Triunity is thus part and parcel with Christianity from the very beginning. There is a notable difference between previous pagan triunities father-mother-son [note that the Gospel according to Thomas still uses the Egyptian pagan triunity formula -ks] and the Christian trinity father-spirit-son. While the pagan trinities emphasize the bipolarity of the absolute origin (male-female unity), the Christian triunity emphasizes the role of the (impersonally conceived) spirit as the central point of the religion. [Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is judged to be worse than blasphemy against Father or Son. -ks] Cyprianus played the same drum.
The Christian doctrine of redemption and reconciliation presupposes the Jewish paradise story [seen through a Christian reinterpretation -ks]. The story was viewed allegorically: mankind is seen as alienated from God, and grave measures are deemed necessary for its solution. Zielinski figured that in ancient times, the mythologemata contained the philosophemata. Hegel deems the invention of mythical symbols and allegories as essential for the spiritual self-research. Creuzer did a lot of research on the interaction of mythology and historical cultural context.
expresses that the understanding man will research and figure that the cause of
death is love. For Philo, the
ideal and eschatological man is asexual.
The Egyptian's Gospels drastically underlines this connection. Only the asexual is deemed worth of
Philo, Flavius Josephus, and Justus of Tiberias
did not know anything about a Historical Jesus or a
Matthew's calls Jesus a 'Nazorean'. It's foolish to connect this to a historical
Luke's Gospel is a hodge-podge. The introduction is modelled
after the introduction to one of Pedanius Dioscorides' medical books, having given rise to the
tradition that Luke's works are written by a healer. The story of Galileans massacred under Pilatus is a corruption of a massacre reported by Flavius Josephus
among the Samaritans by
Mark's gospel is not that full of misrepresentations, but even later than Matthew's and Luke's gospels. Matthew's gospel itself barely predates late Trajanian period. The Holy Spirit, feminine in original understanding, as the semitic term for spirit ('rwh') is female, is ridiculously misrepresented in the role of a father. [The Gospel according to Philip in the Nag Hammadi Library is sarcastic about this. -ks] The gospel expresses allegorically that the spirituality in the true man is not mediated by procreation, but is the result of revelation of divine infinity. Mary resembles Maia, the mother of Hermes, as well as other pagan mystery goddesses.
The Hindu deity
The oriental mages visiting infantile Jesus remind us of
that too. Symbolically, they found their
way to Jesus passing by
John the Baptist baptized with water and is superseded by the Christian usage of wine. Matthew's indicates that new (Christian) wine would sunder old (Jewish) containers. In John's, the water of the Old Covenant is turned into the wine of the New Covenant. Elsewhere Jesus is the true vine. [The vine is a traditional messianic symbol. -ks] The mother in the transformation story represents the Jewish people.
Matthew's gospel portrays Jesus as an itinerant preacher. John's gospel deems thaumaturgic belief as inferior. Those are blessed who believe without seeing miracles. Luke's and the Clementine Peter see Gnosis as the key to the kingdom of heaven. Preaching of the gospel is tautologically the preaching of the message that the true divine message is now preached. Many handicapped people are "healed by Jesus", but it's obvious that they are, properly understood, healed from lack of Gnosis, especially in John 9.
Obstinate and eloquent prayers are shunned by Matthew's gospel. Like Seneca, the believers are not deemed as servants of God. Community in the spirit replaces the traditional monarchic kingdom. The paradox of Jesus both confirming and abolishing Law is resolved by considering the part of the Law denied by Jesus as not being the true Law.
Tiberius Grachus deems the Roman proletarians as worse off than the wild animals. The gospels use this Grachian picture when painting the son of man as homeless, unlike wild animals.
We figure in straightforward manner that the New Testament is full of reminiscences of Greek and Latin writings of the preceding centuries. Jesus is in the gospels usually a Jewish-seeming personification of the rising Christianity and its spirit. (Pseudo-) Ignatius writes that some unbelievers think that Jesus only lived seemingly -- which is justified from the way Jesus is painted when escaping his persecutors miraculously. Docetism was common among the intellectual (Gnostic) Christians of second century. But even Justin Martyr deems Jesus as the Logos immanent in everyone.
According to Harnack's lecture on the early history of Christian dogmatics, the Church Fathers emphasized the fantastic speculative constructs of the heretics. The details varied a lot. The borderline between object and picture were flowing. Hegesippos figured the particular Christian heresies as progeny of Jewish heresies (minim).
This may be straightforward for the Syrians Dositheos, Simon Magus, Menandros, Satornil, and Basilides, and the Alexandrines Valentinus, Naassenes, Sethians, Barbeliotics, and Cainites. The case of the antisemitic Marcion is much harder. The patristic literature concedes that the method of the Gnostics was close to that of the hellenic philosophers including Philo. All this underscores the strongly syncretic character. W. B. Smith correctly recognized that the Jesus cult was the result of Hellenic Diaspora Jewish mystery cults, and not of Palestinian Judaism. The Christ figure was seen allegorically or docetically.
The Church Fathers especially were upset by the spiritual interpretation of the Passion story. The anastasis was not seen as an anabiosis. The docetic interpretation still shines in the background of the canonical gospels. The Chrestos of Hellenic-Jewish theosophy is vaguely overpainted by the Christos of Jewish apocalyptic expectations. Jesus is called the "son of David" by children and crippled people, but denies to be it when confronting the Pharisees and scribes.
Matthew's gospel underlines in multiple ways that the kingdom of heavens is not the messianic kingdom of Jewish apocalyptics; for example Matthew 8:11 ("I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven") and Matthew 13:31 ("He told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field'). The Gospel message is cosmopolitan. Sometimes gentile converts are even deemed preferable; for example, in the vineyard parable. Interpolations were made in order to wipe out this impression. Even later patristic literature remained ambiguous.
Jesus not only taught the divine truth, but was the epiphany of truth itself. Philo already had similar ideas, along with his antinomianist enemies, the Cainites, closely related to the Sethians that later annoyed Plotinus. Also the Naassenes belong to this family. 'Naas', serpent, alludes to the paradise snake and the dragon in John's Apocalypse, who in turn is ancient Babylonian heritage. They all were speculative and fantasy-driven Alexandrian Jews.
The Alexandrian Wisdom of Salomon anticipates much of this. Naassenes were exclusivist salvationists. The Apocalypse of John calls these Alexandrine minim a "synagogue of Satan". But most of their speculations were simply the logical continuation of the work of the orthodox Philo, who already anticipated docetism. Philo was also the vanguard of the Gnostic trisection of mankind into hylics, psychics, and pneumatics. Also the Shepherd of Hermas sees this trisection. The Patrists were opposed to strong elitist esotericism.
The Christian doctrine was shocking to Palestinian Jews. Thus in Mark 1:27, the masses are astonished by the new preaching: "The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching -- and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.'" The Peter of the Kerygmata Petrou sees Jesus as giving new content to old Scripture. This makes it more than doubtful that the audience are Christians (with the letter 'iota') rather than Chrestians (with the letter 'eta') or idealists. In its surface form, John's Gospel reports the life of Jesus, but actually it reports the works of the Jesus-Spirit. Un-Hellenic Jews are even deemed as stubborn and unable to grasp the divine truth. The Lord of the Old Testament is there definitely not the Father of Jesus.
The Barbelotes, Naassenes, and then Cainites and Sethians share the same background in Alexandrian theosophy, maybe originally the same community or school -- Ireneus compared them to a multi-headed beast with multiplying heads. Already Philo complained about the Cainite libertinism; Ireneus complained even more. Tertullian also saw the Nicolaites as Cainites.
The Naassenes cared much for the versatile essence of the soul which was seen as triunitary. They saw man's spirit as Son of God. This is similar to the Shepherd of Hermas. 2 Clemens chimes in. Hermes is seen by the Naassenes as the Logos. Hippolytos knew a Naassene Psalm describing the misery of the soul and the quest of the Son bound for saving the former by means of Gnosis. That psalm has several New Testament parallels. This Chrestianism expressed in the Naassene psalm and found again hidden in the gospels is clearly not a messianism.
The human being is seen as being thrown into the chaotic reality, being torn between divine light and hylic darkness, where darkness prevails. Gnosis of Jesus is supposed to bring peace and freedom to the struggling mankind. It is likely that Jesus in this 'psalm' is a later name change. The same theosophy shines in the background of some parts of Pauline epistles and the gospels.
The Pastor Hermae does not even
mention Jesus, but was still cherished by several ante-Nicean
Fathers. Hermas was identified with a
companion of Paul and brother of some bishop of
There's also a syzygy of Christ and Ecclesia, the holy community, akin to 2 Clement 14:2: "the living Church is the body of Christ ... God made man, male and female. The male is Christ and the female is the Church." This alludes to the Egyptian's Gospel used by the Naassenes. Pastor Hermae mentions a new gate to the Kingdom, the preexistent son of God. As opposed to the Philonic phase, to which the epistle of the Hebrews belongs, Pastor Hermae already establishes the forgivenness of sin in Catholic manner.
The Naassenes and their Gospel according to the Hebrews teach triunity, which is often falsely seen as a late development in Christianity. The early creed in second century already contained triunity found in Mt 28. Also Valentinianism is derived from the Barbelotic family. Barbelo, in the four there's God, expresses that the divine is also found in the four elements. The term Naas for serpent hints partly towards Aramaic roots. Thus Barbelotism implies some sort of pantheism, which also found its way into Valentinianism. Already Philo latently showed same sort of pantheism.
Valentinians divided 'psychic' [or 'pistic'] Christians from 'pneumatic' [or 'gnostic'], and laughed about dual-nature-of Jesus doctrines, which included Basilideans, but especially Catholics. The excerpt-wise preserved epistles of Valentinus show that Valentinians moved in the circle of thoughts of the later canonized Gospels, and Valentinian Gnosis is thus distilled from Naassene Gnosis and, in its transition from Alexandria to Rome, forms the missing link between the Gospel according to the Egyptians and the Gospel according to Matthew.
Ptolemy personified the Valentinian
Aions, who were originally metaphysical abstractions,
and grouped them into syzygies. Also Second Clement can be seen linked to
Egyptians via Valentinianism who exegeted
the Gospel According to the Egyptians in an edifying manner, probably when
campaigning for the office of a bishop in
We arrive at the main formula of Bolland's
gospel research: the synoptic gospel is an Alexandrine theosophic
gospel reworked and revamped in the Roman sense. Matthew's links the name Jesus to the Philonic tradition of reading Jesus as a divine saviour. A logos
Castration and chastity are explicitly seen as virtue in Matthew's gospel, once more in the sense of the Naassenes or Hellenised Egyptian Jewish theosophy, in a weak form anticipated by Philo. Second Clement sees the abolition of gender difference as a salvific condition. The same chord is strummed in an excerpt from the Egyptian Gospel in Clemens Alexandrinus' Stromata [an excerpt used by his enemy Julius Cassianus -ks]. The Synoptic parable of the sower of seeds is found in a "better" form in the Naassenes' gospels, as reported by Hippolytos. It clearly traces back to classical Greek philosophy, the doctrine of Heraclitos and the Stoics about the seeds of reason, and distinguishes three types of mankind according to their reaction to divine reason.
The passage in second Clement that sees only those who honor the little as worthy of the lot is also a result of Naassene triunity. Matthew's divided an important saying from Second Clement into two parts: the Lord sends the apostle like sheep among wolves. They should not fear the physical threat, because it is limited to their worldly lifespan, but rather the psychical threat which is vigorous even afterwards. This is also of Naassene origin.
Even after Valentinus' failure, Valentinians infiltrated the greater church, claiming that their doctrine wasn't any different than the official one. It becomes clear that many orthodox dogmatic elements have been taken over from heresies who are older than the official church, especially the triunity theory inherited from the Naassene Alexandrine Gospel, and Alexandrian and Roman philosophy in general.
The synoptic tradition is thus thoroughly based on the theosophy of Alexandrian Gnosis.
Basilides in the early 2nd Century,
coming from the Samarian-Syriac school, worked in
The Church Fathers deemed Simon Magus, contemporary of the apostles, as the archigenitor of heresies. The Apostolic Acts show that Simon Magus tried to bribe Peter, but failed. Unlike in other stories, Simon Magus seems to have repented here. Simon, a Samaritan, worked especially in Antiochia. Simon Magus' theology has particularly many traces in the Gospel according to John. Simon Magus is preceding Simon Peter in some fancy sense.
While in the synoptics (Matthew 26:69) he is sitting ("Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. 'You also were with Jesus of Galilee,' she said"), in John 18 he is standing, 'hestos' ("It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself" ... "As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, 'You are not one of his disciples, are you?'") This term has been applied to Simon Magus, according to the Stromata. It is also a term used in Philo's theology.
Simon Magus promised to overcome death. In John's gospel, the Savior is deemed to be a Samaritan. Successors of Simon Magus were Menandros, Satornil, and Basilides. We see that this Samaritan-Antiochian type from which John's gospel is derived is not completely independent from Alexandrian tradition.
Basilides may already have used John's gospel, and Valentinus may have used all four canonical gospels. But that's not of further relevance for this book. What is important to learn is that Matthew's gospel is related and drerived from the Alexandrine Gospel used by the Naassenes, especially its triunity and glorification of the Holy Spirit.
Since the 2nd Century, Catholic Christianity thus considered writings as its own which, after a few orthodoxifying interpolations and manipulations, were originally written by pre-Christian Jesuanic theosophists. And while in Tertullian's time triunity was not yet generally accepted in the greater church, already the much earlier Gospel according to the Egyptians had postulated a syzygial triunity.