The Beginnings of Christianity: Essene Mystery, Gnostic Revelation and the Christian Vision
By Andrew Welburn. $19.95. 14 sample pages. Paperback - 351 pages
Reprint edition (October 1995)
Review title: Original mystic, esoteric mystery-initiation Christianity
A strong 5 stars. I read this cover to cover and have found about a dozen similar books on original mystery-initiation experiential Christianity; I intend to create a listmania list (see my Amazon area). This is a hot subject.
One interesting proposal in this book is that the figure of Lazarus is the author, fictionally speaking, of the Gospel of John.
As is standard for almost all late 20th Century scholars, Welburn uncritically assumes that Jesus existed, even as he presents a totally non-orthodox paradigm of what Christianity was really all about and where it came from. He wonders why the canon doesn't tell about Jesus' initiation practices, even though he explains Steiner's portrayal of Jesus' betrayal, arrest, trial, judgement, humiliation, crucifixion, burial, and ascension as themselves the experiential content of such Christian-style initiation.
Actually I hope Steiner's theory here is a little more complete than Welburn's explanation, which omits the trial and judgment phase of experiential mystic Christianity. The trial and judgment phase of the mystery drama is experientially crucial -- it is here where the mind questions the concept of the sovereign egoic moral agent and judges the idea to be monstrously incoherent, suitable only for animals and children. I don't know if Steiner covers this phase; Welburn doesn't.
At this point in recent history-oriented studies, in such theories as mystery-religion Christianity, the Historical Jesus assumption is just a clumsy and superfluous complication getting in the way, adding complexity without enabling theories to be simplified.
Welburn should at least ask whether the hypothesis of the existence of a single Historical Jesus is helpful for a coherent theory of the true origins of the Christian mystery religion. The *idea* of a historical figure is great and profound, but shouldn't be confused with the *actuality* of a historical figure who undergoes literal biographical events of betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. Welburn, of all scholars, should realize this. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book deserving a strong 5 stars.
As in any study of Christianity compared to mystery religions, this has enough mentions of sacred eating and drinking to hook into the entheogen theory of the origin of religions, and enough mentions of fate, determinism, necessity, or heimarmene to hook into a block- universe determinism theory.
Top-quality scholarship. Strongly recommended for those interested in original Christianity as essentially a mystic experiential mystery- religion. The endnotes contain pointers to related interesting books.
One companion book that I haven't yet read, but which you'll surely want as you read this book, is Rudolph Steiner's book Christianity as Mystical Fact. I intend to include both books in my listmania list covering original, mystic, esoteric mystery-initiation Christianity.
Additional comments not in the above review:
This book shows the close relations and distinctions between Jewish mystery religion (experiential initiation esotericism), Gnostic dualistic initiation, and early esoteric Christian initiation. The book covers exactly the right ideas, on almost every page, and provides hundreds of sensible interpretations of various passages from the Christian canonical scriptures, in light of related traditions and writings.
I am no longer ignorant of the history of Christianity. In addition to the general history of Christianity, I've been studying the origins of Christianity so much that I am beginning to look forward to returning to contemporary theorizing about ego death experiencing using contemporary approaches. I've always been strangely split between a very contemporary approach to explaining the mystic altered state and Christian perspectives -- or content -- of religious experiencing. Erik Davis (TechGnosis) can shine light on this combination of the newest approaches with the ancient approaches -- it's actually typical of mystics or Gnostics to live on the leading edge while also reaching back in time.
I am explaining the old in terms of the new, to provide, at the same time, the best new system (cybernetic theory of ego transcendence) and the best explanation of the old system (earliest Christianity).
It would take awhile to list the books I've read and am reading, to convey why they are so fascinating. The competition among my books for which ones to read first is more intense than ever. I've been surveying all kinds of books on Christianity, and have found some of the best that cover Christian myth, mystery religion, literary interpretation of scripture as sacred myth, and sacred meals. The strangest thing is that the authors who declare the canon to be essentially mythical rather than historically true, almost always uncritically retain the assumption that Jesus existed. They say that all the scriptures are inventions for spiritual purposes, and then seriously assert that Jesus was a man who realized and embodied these spiritual realizations.
But instead I expect these books to conclude that an actual human Jesus feels entirely out of place in such an arena of spiritual fiction. They've burned away all the assumptions of the historical-reporting character of the scriptures, and yet they unthinkingly retain a human Jesus -- it's so incongruous. Acharya S. continues to lead the field, because she is the only one to take it all the way to declaring not only Jesus, but even Paul to be a fictional construct created to carry spiritual meaning.
At this point, after reading all about the mythic, spiritual purpose of the writing of the scriptures, it is so artificial to introduce a human Jesus, it would take much more non-rational faith to assume that he existed, than that he didn't. The far more natural assumption, in the context of such books about the real origin of Christianity, is to assume that Jesus is as fictional as is appropriate for a mythic character -- but almost none of these "sophisticated" authors even *consider* the question: wouldn't everything you are trying to describe and explain fall together much easier if you would but read Jesus as fiction rather than as an actual historical human? So reading these "sophisticated" books is filled with cognitive dissonance at the core.
The more books about Christianity I read, the more profoundly I appreciated how valuable and *rare* are the contributions from the Christ-myth researchers such as Doherty, Acharya, and Freke & Gandy. And the more I realize how essential and crucial is the dry, non-spiritual research by Doherty.
Both approaches are urgently needed: spirituality-free Christ-myth research (to establish that we have no more grounds for assuming Jesus existed than that Dionysus existed) and an esoterically sophisticated Christ-myth approach that shows how the early context of Christianity *actually* conceived of the figure of Jesus in terms of esoteric experiential initiation, including sacred eating and drinking.
There are many religious systems involved in the origin of Christianity, but my general proposition remains viable throughout: religion in late antiquity was about using loose cognition to experience and in some sense transcend fate/determinism/destiny. We can also say it concerned the development and the transcendence of the individual as a self-controlling agent. These religions are all variations on the themes of:
o Individual agency
o The relation of moral agency and time
o Initiatory experience and revealed insight
o The conflict between fate/determinism and individual agency.
The more I read about the context of the origins of Christianity, the wider the assortment of variations on these themes, but these themes are always present -- and therefore always of central importance. What the ancients believed about fate, time, and agency is not as important as the fact that they were religiously interested in these themes. In my contemporary theory of religious experiencing, fixed destiny, time, and moral agency are crucial central themes, and I have always experienced Christian myth as forcefully conveying these themes. I have always been interested strictly in a contemporary theory of self-control and transcendent knowledge, but Christianity always intrudes forcefully and declares itself to be of ultimate relevance.
I'm naturally interested in self-control and transcendent knowledge, but I've never been interested in Christianity -- yet that outdated way system of notions interjects itself against my will into my clean, modern theorizing. Christianity clings to my neat modern theory against my will, and I am forced to ask rhetorically, "What has Jerusalem to do with Palo Alto?"
A Church father asked "But what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" to dismiss the value of philosophy for Christianity. For me, Palo Alto represents the contemporary, cognitive science approach to religious experiencing, and a major entheogen conference was held there at Stanford in the early 90s. However, Stanford is not so far, after all, from Jerusalem; the main road into Stanford leads to a chapel with a large mural in the front.
As you walk from the oval end of the road into the quad, the mural is hidden but as you are carried by the Spirit into the quad while in the religious cognitive state, with an outline of the cybernetic theory of ego transcendence in hand, the mural of the sermon on the mount is revealed and there is no doubt that Christianity, religion, and the theory of transcendent insight are essentially the same thing. Explaining why this is so, is the real challenge. Given a rational, contemporary, cybernetic-control theory of religious experiencing, what has some old myth-system of Christianity got to do with that? The answer is not too hard to express, but is hard to pinpoint at first. A key is to think from within the bubble of the mystic altered state.
When trembling in realization of the implications of how a frozen future worldline kills the conventional idea of self-control -- when feeling, sensing, and perceiving that you are frozen into the iron-block universe -- no explanation is needed to see how the Cross or chained Prometheus, or a tree-fastened Attis, efficiently expresses this first-hand experience in mythic form. The symbolic connection between present altered-state experience is especially clear if you recognize the figure on the cross as a false claimant to sovereign rulership and similarly see ego death as a denial of one's metaphysical sovereignty, or of one's ability to autonomously control and create one's future worldline of thoughts and actions.
The most important kind of myth expresses not abstract philosophical theory about spirituality, but rather, first-hand experience of the initiate. High myth reflects experience much more than it reflects theory about experience.
When one's thoughts are obviously perceived as being injected into the mind as the clock ticks along, that perception shames one's accustomed assumption of creating one's thoughts as their father and owner. The thoughts are labelled "created by the Ground, as part of the timelessly created Ground"; they are not labelled "created by me, king ego".
Sometimes my theorizing neglects the experiential, loose-cognition point of view, which is actually the fountainhead which provides the source material or data which the theory serves to explain and make sense of. No more will I neglect to consider first-hand experiencing as well as theory about such experiencing. The theory of ego death is largely a theory about a certain altered mode of experiencing. That altered experiencing is the home base, the main ground upon which the theory stands."
This list covers Christianity as a political-style version of the mystic altered state, fate-revealing Hellenistic mystery religions. Jesus the Christ as a mystical "virtually real" figure in a 2-level exoteric/esoteric religion.
Greek mythic mystery religion gave tales *as such* to the uninitiated and revealed the experiential allegorical meaning to the initiated. Christianity took this polarity to an extreme of hyperliteralized tales to the lower "believers" and a more jarring intensity of revelation when the allegorical-only, mythic-only Christ was revealed.
Book list: Original, experiential, mystical Christianity
My Amazon listmania lists page:
I should improve that list as I read the books and bibliographies.
One indicator that this is leading edge research: when you follow the "related books" links, it always leads *away* from this type of experiential/allegorical treatment of the origins of Christianity. People aren't yet discovering multiple books on this allegorical/experiential reading of Christianity. There are many lists covering "Gnosticism", but "Gnosticism" as it has been studied misses the point.
The story of betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging, crucifixion, burial, ascension, and kingship is an allegory for the kind of mystic altered state experience conveyed in the essentially equivalent Hellenistic mystery cults, which were concerned with ingesting the sacred food and then encountering and transcending fate or Necessity.
One must include the Essenes and this allegorical-experiential esoteric Christianity in the category of "Hellenistic equivalent mystery cults" and then consider what differentiates one cult from another. Christianity is distinguished by the use of political allegories, rebellion against the Ruler Cult, apocalyptic Kingdom of God, and a fully developed lower, exoteric layer added to the usual esoteric layer to form a most dramatic 2-level switching transformation of the mental model.
The degree of insight of a theorist of the origins of Christianity is indicated by their proportion of considering Christianity as esoteric/experiential/allegorical versus involving a single founding figure, Jesus. We're starting to see some almost sophisticated theories of experiential mystical allegory but typically they also unwittingly and thoughtlessly assume a single, founding Historical Jesus. (They typically also lack awareness of Necessity/determinism, and sacred eating as psychoactive ingestion.) In practice, I've found that the more one takes for granted that there was a single Historical Jesus, the lesser one's insight into experiential/allegorical Christianity.
The new "Just Like You" Amazon feature demonstrates that the people who know about the mythic-only Christ theory also know about entheogens. As usual, I note that entheogenists are usually unaware of the mythic-only Christ theory, while Christ-myth readers often embrace the entheogen theory of the origin of religions. I would expect serious Christ-myth scholars and experiential mystery-Christianity scholars to be aware of determinism.
Who is aware of the mythic-only Christ theory *and* fate/Necessity *and* entheogen theory of the origin of religions? Philosophers of determinism tend to be narrowly read and lack mystic altered state experience. Entheogenists tend to be narrowly read. Christ-myth scholars tend to be broadly read, so that some of them have heard of the entheogen theory and the cosmic determinism of late antiquity."
Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity: Tagline: A Missing Dimension in New Testament Study
Luke Timothy Johnson
April 1998, rank 157K
Review title: Religious Experiencing perspective on Christian origins
A clear, concise, much-needed perspective on the beginnings of Christianity. Critiques the limitations of the Theology perspective and the Historical Sociopolitical perspective, and explains why scholars are averse to looking at the origins of Christianity from the point of view of religious experiencing.
Central chapters cover glossalia and especially sacred meals, looking for the kind of experiencing that was common to the Mystery Religions and Jewish initiation. The convenient footnotes have valuable references to the books he praises and critiques. Ends with a call to start looking for religious experiencing as the main cause of Christianity.
The cover has a good painting of Mary "John" Magdalene the Beloved Disciple, and Jesus feeding the Eucharist to Judas.
http://www.radikalkritik.de -- Radical Criticism: Contributions for the Radical Criticism of Early Christian History
Dr. theol. Hermann Detering,
I've done alot of bibliographical work lately. Amazon's features are revolutionarily useful.
I've made great progress on interpreting Christian myth in terms of the phenomena that are encountered in the mystic state of cognition. Given any passage, I can tell the esoteric mystic-state meaning. This method is more concrete than usually assumed; it's like looking through a particular interpretive lens based on metaphorical allusions to the specific phenomena of the mystic state.
The book lists below are surprisingly potent and influential. They are shockingly prominent at Amazon. Far more people are seeing these innovative and highly unorthodox groupings of books than are reading my Web site and discussion group postings.
My recent online work is reflected in two places: these lists, and my discussion group postings.
I have two new Web pages:
Chapter Summaries of The Jesus Mysteries -- http://www.egodeath.com/jesusmysterieschapsumm.htm -- a great study guide and useful outline of the book. I've read the book twice, cover to cover.
Taxonomy of Christ Views (Taxonomy of Ways of Thinking about Christianity) -- http://www.egodeath.com/christviewstaxonomy.htm. There are only two archetypal main denominations: Literalist Christianity (official Christianity) and esoteric Christianity (mythic-experiencing allegory). Esoteric, mythic-only Christianity has actually been the main, popular, dominant form -- and the official version of Christianity is only *claimed* to have been the "main" and "traditional" and "standard" version.
Primary religious experiencing demonstrates that the main action in Christianity is experiential insight in this life, like the character Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. I also base my inversion of "main vs. deviant" Christianity on the evidently very strong tradition of a female Most Beloved Disciple, shown clearly in all the good paintings of the Last Supper.
A recent article about Gabriel's Datura "lily" in the Anunciation in Entheos journal also implies that esoteric Christianity was likely the main popular version of Christianity, despite the official history books' claim to report "official, traditional" Literalist Christianity having clear dominance.
Something that shook me into seeing esoteric Christianity in the midst of Catholic Christianity was a book of Mexican Christian iconographic art: it was obvious at last that purgatory and the Cross were *reports* of mystic-state experiences the esoteric Christians had, including through use of the traditional Mexican-Indian sacraments as opposed to the phony Catholic Church placebo sacrament.
We could even have a contest between the two forms of Catholic/esoteric Christianity: the genuine folk sacraments of Europe, and their mythic representation through European Catholic iconography, versus the different genuine folk sacraments of Mexico and *their* different mythic manifestation in Mexican Catholic iconography.
The *majority* of Catholic symbolism was truly inspired by genuine sacraments, and the official aristocratic Church "leaders" only *pretended* to lead and control the religion, forcibly trying -- and failing -- to force the Literalist version of Christianity onto the commonfolk, although all the commonfolk knew full well that the true version of Christianity is the esoteric-only version. "Witches and sorcerors" were ordinary popular esoteric-only, anti-Literalist Christians who used the true sacraments.
There was both a continuous tradition of true Christianity, called "heresy" by the officials, and, the true version of Christianity was continually directly rediscovered directly from the Ground of being -- from primary religious experience -- in other words, *the Holy Spirit kept teaching people about esoteric Christianity* and kept teaching them so rise above the lower, "milk Christianity" of Literalism. Also, the Crusades brought back knowledge of the true sacraments from the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
(This #anchor could change)
Another view of my lists:
Ego death as deterministic self-control cancellation
Original, experiential, mystical Christianity
Christianity as political rebellion against "divine" Caesar
Mythic-only Christ theory
Entheogen theory of the origin of religions
Block-universe determinism, Necessity, divine predestination
Historical Jesus, or Christ Myth?
Reformed/Calvinist theology and determinism
Tenseless time, eternity, and timelessness
Religious myth: allegorical metaphor of mystic experiencing
The kingdom of God is at hand
The active eucharist that reveals the kingdom of God
Mystery Religion, Myth, and the Mystical State
Rock as philosophical mystery-religion
Ancient Near Eastern religion
Philosophy of Mother of God
Mary "John" Magdalene, The Beloved Disciple
Picture story Bibles
Picture story Bibles 2
Picture story Bibles 3: Baby Bibles
Sophia, religious comprehension
Holy Spirit and Christian Spirituality
Word and Power (doctrine and spiritual experience)