.. ness of the world’s sins (Groothuis). Pagels says that rather than viewing Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering to atone for guilt and sin, the Gospel of Truth sees the crucifixion as the occasion for discovering the divine self within (Pagels, 95). In the Gospel of Mary, physical suffering has no reality because physicality has no reality (G. of Mary).
Christ’s crucifixion has a different meaning when he is not suffering on the cross for our sins. This is because in Gnosticism a person’s pure soul was made good and the earth and matter were corrupted, so there is no need for forgiveness. In canonical stories, a perfect God made the earth and the people corrupted it with sin, so Christ must come down and be crucified for the salvation of the people. Gnostics and Orthodox Christians view Resurrection very differently. In Christianity, Christ’s resurrection only occurs once. He dies on the cross and rises from the dead back into flesh.
The first person to witness his resurrection is one of his disciples, Paul. For the forty days following his resurrection, he is seen by his disciples in the flesh and talks about the kingdom of God. He shows some of the disbelievers that he is real by having them touch him, or he even eats with them (Luke). After these forty days, Christ never appears on earth in flesh again. Tertuillian, a brilliant Christian author from about 190AD, stated that not believing in the literal interpretation of Christ’s resurrection was heresy (Ehrman, 218).
His main argument is that Christ was born, therefore flesh. There is no evidence that he was not flesh and no reason to believe that he would not want to be flesh (Ehrman, 221). Some gnostics called the literal view of resurrection the ‘faith of fools’ (Pagels, 11). In Gnostic thought, literally seeing Christ was not what was important but it was spiritual visions that were held in high esteem (Pagels, 11). For the Gnostic who abhors matter and seeks release from its grim grip, the physical resurrection of Jesus would be anticlimactic, if not absurd. A material resurrection would be counterproductive and only recapitulate the original problem (Groothuis).
In the Gospel of Mary, Mary Magdalene was the first to see Christ after he was risen but he was not in a physical body. She saw him in visions and dreams. The visions are not cast aside as hallucinations but are respected as spiritual contact with God. This thought of resurrection is not finite. Christ does not appear for only forty days to just the chosen few.
This allows Christ to be seen throughout history. Do not weep, and do not grieve, and do not doubt; for his grace will be with you completely, and will protect you (G. of Mary, v.5:2). Mary, representing the gnostic, claims to experience his continuing presence (Pagels, 13). Resurrection is viewed by many Gnostics as waking up from death, which is life on earth, and becoming alive in heaven, which is also death on earth. There was a trembling that overcame the chaos of the earth, for the souls which were in the sleep below were released, and they were resurrected (Ehrman, 232).
Gaining gnosis is the way to resurrection for those who belong in the outer realm. Death, according to the Gospel of Thomas, is life and life is death (G. of Th, v.11). Treatise on the Resurrection refers to resurrection as almost a revelation. What, then, is resurrection? It is always the disclosure of those who have risenIt is no illusion, but the truth! (Ehrman, 184).
The world is described as an illusion and resurrection is the revelation of what is true. Not all New Testament stories of Christ’s resurrection were interpreted literally. Some stories had Jesus appear to the disciples in a more spiritual way. Both the gospels of Luke and Mark say that Jesus appeared in another form (Pagels, 5). In some accounts, he is said to vanish just as quickly as he appears. In Orthodox Christian thought, forty days after Christ’s resurrection, he is ascended back into heaven. There he remains at the right hand of God.
In Gnostic thought, he ascends into heaven but may return at anytime. Christ, according to Christian theology, comes only once. The Bible, is the final word on everything pertaining to life on earth and the world after. Gnostics differ because there is room for more ideas, and Christ may return to the earth again whenever he wants. Why should Christ come to earth so long ago and then just stop? Why is everything in the Christian religion based only on things that happened so far in the past? Gnosticism allows for reinterpretations of all the old laws, new books may be added to the library. Whereas, in Christianity there is only the Bible which cannot be changed.
All these interpretations of Jesus will reveal to us our own soul’s journey. They give us an idea or insight into what will happen to us when we receive gnosis. What is our ascension into heaven like? What is resurrection for us? Jesus comes to earth and takes on a human body. We, too, are from the perfect kingdom and we come here and take on flesh. So like Christ, we are not from this world, however, unlike Christ, we do not know this. Christ tries to help us remember that we belong with the father.
When he is crucified, he reveals to us more about the kingdom. His resurrection is like what we might experience as well. This Gnostic resurrection is one in which we will gain gnosis and then die from the earth in order to live in heaven. We are brought back to our original life on heaven, after being dead the entire time on earth. After gaining gnosis, we must ascend to heaven.
Since the perfection of the totality is in the Father, it is necessary for the totality to ascend to him (G. of Truth). When we have gnosis, we will have the world revealed to us. All that is unknown will now be known. The Hymn of the Pearl tells a story of a young prince who is sent to Egypt by his parents to find a pearl and bring it back to the kingdom. During his journey the young prince forgets his mission and falls into a state of drunkenness. Some courtiers, who know why the prince was there, wrote him a letter to remind him.
He immediately remembers his task and that he is not from this land but from the kingdom. He takes off his dirty clothes and is able to return back to his father’s kingdom (Ehrman, 185-7). This story has many parallels to the Gnostic theory of Jesus’ journey and our own. Christ is sent on a mission to earth by his father. He puts on his dirty clothes or flesh and descends to earth.
After he completes his mission he takes off the flesh and returns home to the kingdom of his father. This is also similar to the gnostic view of our own journey. We are from the kingdom of the father and are sent down to complete a task, while on earth we forget where we are from and what we are supposed to be doing here. Jesus tries to remind us through his parables and sayings that we are not of this world. And if and when we finally remember this, we take off our dirty clothes and return to the kingdom of our father.
Gnostic texts place an emphasis on the flesh of Christ. It is not the same emphasis that Orthodox Christians do but still flesh or the lack of flesh remains an important theme in many Gnostic writings. Some Gnostics have hatred for flesh based on the importance of the outer realm rather than the inner realm. The gods of the inner realm know that we have spirit and they want to keep us from understanding this. They are jealous of us and want to steal the spirit from us because it is the only thing in the inner realm that is worth anything.
Having spirit is the only way to have access to the outer realm, which is perfect in every way. Our bodies keep us from realizing that we have something inside us that is more important. The world around us keeps us from looking inside ourselves. A docetic Christ, shows the importance of the word rather than earthly actions. By examining Christ’s journey, we can have a better idea of our own soul’s journey.
When we achieve gnosis, we will gain entrance to the kingdom with God as well as Christ. Bibliography Ehrman, Bart D. After The New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Franzmann, Majella.
Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Writings. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996. Groothuis, Douglas. Gnosticism And The Gnostic Jesus. Christian Research Journal. 1994.
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