The rise of modern Gnosticism, part 3
Apr 08, 2019
Laurence Gardner makes many claims about the true identity of Jesus’ disciples, but he offers no proof of his statements. Apparently, he expects us to take him at his word and reject the clear statements in the New Testament accounts.
He claims that Thaddaeus was “the head of the Therapeutate,” and “was a confederate of Jesus’ father Joseph, and took part in the rising against Pontius Pilate in AD 32.” Really? The name Therapeutate has to do with being a healer and by extension a worshiper (to heal souls). Philo calls them “philosophers.” The assumption is that the Jewish sect known as the Essenes were Therapeutate, on the grounds that their name, Essene, is derived from Essenoi, “physician, and correlates with the Aramaic Assaya that has the same meaning.
If these Essenes were so warlike and if they posed a threat to the rule of Rome, it is amazing that the Romans never attacked them in their caves near the Dead Sea. But Gardner tries to make both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself into Essenes in order to explain their place in history. Then he turns the Essenes into resistance fighters and puts Thaddaeus as their leader!
As for Matthew Levi, son of Alphaeus, whom Jesus called as he was collecting taxes from the fish caught in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 9:9), Gardner makes him to be Matthew Annas, the brother of Jonathan, who was to become high priest in 42 A.D. until beheaded by Herod Agrippa I. The New Testament account presents Jesus’ disciples as being of far more humble origins, but Gardner promotes them as leaders of the Essene community and turns them into covert operatives in their fight against the Romans.
Thus, the peaceful mission of Jesus is overturned, and one of His primary messages is destroyed. Jesus treated Romans, Greeks, and Jews with equal respect and thereby alienated Himself from many of the Jews in His day. He was not a military messiah who had come to throw off the Roman yoke, as most Jews expected of a messiah. He did not meet their expectations, and it was largely for this reason the temple priests crucified Him.
Further, if Jesus’ disciples had enjoyed such high status in the temple priesthood, with James and John being high-ranking members of the temple known as Thunder and Lightning, how is it that Jesus was ultimately rejected by the temple priests? Where was Thaddaeus (i.e., “Jonathan,” a future high priest) when Jesus was tried before Caiaphas?
Where was Philip, “an associate of Jonathan”? Where was Thomas? Gardner identifies Thomas as “originally Crown Prince Philip,” who was of the Herodian family, the half brother of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee (Matthew 14:3). There is no hint in the gospels that Gardner’s statements have any validity, and the only way to make them appear valid is to reinterpret the gospels on the authority of Gardner’s word alone and the word of the modern Gnostics generally.
The entire exercise assumes that the Gnostics knew some secret knowledge (gnosis) that others did not know. It assumes that the modern Gnostics were successors to that hidden knowledge. Hence, the spirit of Gnosticism today is largely the same as what was found in the first century. This is precisely what the apostles refuted, and yet modern Gnostics lay claim to them all. They change their personas by identifying them with other known personalities who happened to carry the same name, and so they pretend to honor them by promoting them to influential positions. But in giving them such honor, they destroy the entire message and twist it to promote their own claim to being the “true” Christianity of the first century.
The core of Gnostic teaching, insofar as it pretends to be Christian, is Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, who is also Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. (On page 72, Lazarus is also said to be Simon Magus as well.) The Gospel of Philip, one of the Gnostic gospels, says that Jesus often kissed her on the mouth and that the other disciples objected at first that He loved her more than them. Jesus then says,
“Why do I not love you like her? … Great is the mystery of marriage—for without it the world would not have existed.”
Simon Magus had his consort named Helena, and an entire teaching centered upon her, so it is natural that a Gnostic gospel would do the same for Jesus. Gnosticism therefore teaches that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and that this relationship was suppressed by the early Church. Perhaps it was suppressed, but only because it was untrue and because it was being propagated by the Gnostics as if it were true.
Gardner even tells us (page 71) that they were married September 3, 30 A.D.
Gardner tells us that Jesus failed in his mission to set Judea free from Rome and that he was crucified instead. However, he also lets us know that Jesus survived the crucifixion, for he rejected the idea that Jesus would be raised from the dead. He says on page 75,
“All in all, the visit to Jerusalem was an unfortunate non-event. Jesus did not receive the acclaim he expected, and he realized that his days were numbered. The Scribes and priests ‘sought how they might take him by craft and put him to death’ (Mark 14:1). His plan to create an idyllic Judaea free from the Roman shackles had failed.”
This view runs contrary to the entire spirit of prophecy as well as to all the times that Jesus Himself foretold His own death and resurrection on the third day. Gardner assumes that Jesus was just another military messiah whose goal was to cast off Roman rule. He does not see Jesus as the Passover lamb that was to be killed. He does not see Jesus as the fulfillment of all the blood sacrifices in the law. He even denies that Jesus died at all, whereas Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 that the gospel is based upon the fact “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Jesus’ death was an integral part of the law and the prophets (such as Isaiah 53). His betrayal was tragic failure, according to Gardner, who constructs an entire narrative that reinterprets the gospels according to his own unregenerate view.
Gardner tells us that Jesus was given snake venom while on the cross. Matthew 27:34 says,
34 they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.
Gardner interprets gall to be “snake venom,” whereas it was actually opium, which, at any rate, He refused to drink. Gardner says,
“The Gospels do not say who gave the vinegar to Jesus on the cross, but John 19:29 specifies that the vessel was ready and waiting. A little earlier in the same sequence (Matthew 27:34), the potion was said to be ‘vinegar mingled with gall’—that is, soured wine with snake venom. Dependent on the proportions, such a mixture could induce unconsciousness or even cause death. In this case the poison was fed to Jesus not from a cup but from a sponge, and by measured application from a reed.” (p. 88)
“With Jesus apparently lifeless but actually in a coma, andwith the legs of Judas and the Cyrene newly broken, the three were brought down, having been on their respective crosses for less than half a day….
“This account does not state that the men were dead…”
Supposedly, Jesus did not die but was revived in the tomb by His followers. Of course, this hardly explains why the women came to the tomb early in the morning on the third day, expecting to embalm him with spices. Neither does it explain why Peter and John were surprised and disbelieving when His body was gone. Are we really supposed to believe that these leaders among the disciples were unaware of the plan to bring Him back from a coma?
Supposedly, Joseph of Arimathea (identified by Gardner as being Jesus’ brother, James) came immediately with a huge amount of spices (John 19:39) in order to expel the snake venom from His body.
Resurrection or Resuscitation?
In Matthew 28:2, 3 we read,
2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow.
Gardner tells us that this “angel” was actually Simon Zelotes, Jesus’ disciple who (he says) was one of the temple leaders known as “Lightning.” This Simon was also supposedly the same as Simon Magus. Gnostics are compelled to make him one of the main heroes of the story, even though he was later condemned by Peter and John for being “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:23).
Likewise, Gardner says that Thaddaeus was present, because he was the “Thunder” official in the temple. The “earthquake,” he explains, was Matthew’s code word for Thunder. The entire gospel account, along with Paul’s unequivocal teaching about Christ’s actual death and bodily resurrection, is then reinterpreted metaphorically to mean that Jesus had been excommunicated from the temple (“death”). He goes on to say that Jesus was reinstated by the true high priest, which supposedly was Simon Magus himself.
“It was Paul (a later Hebrew convert to Hellenist ways) who established the flesh-and-bones Resurrection doctrine, but even his enthusiasm was short-lived. However, because he had expressed himself so excitedly on the subject, and back his fervor with such clinching non-arguments as we saw earlier (“if there be no resurrection from the dead, then is Christ not risen…” and so forth) – Paul was regarded as a heretical fanatic by Jesus’s brother James, who Nazarenes never preached the Resurrection.” (p. 97)
Gardner finds it necessary to make Paul into a Christian anomaly, a later convert who really knew little or nothing about Christ, and whose views were rejected by James, the head of the Jerusalem church. Fortunately for us, Paul was very clear on his view of resurrection, and we know from the first Church Council in Acts 15 that James and Paul remained in fellowship. I would suppose that Gardner would refute this by saying that Luke’s account was biased when he wrote the book of Acts.
The choice is clear, however. We may either believe the Scriptures or not. To interpret the gospels as encoded books about a first-century conspiracy against the Roman government requires also the rejection of both Paul and Luke (book of Acts). In the end, it also requires the rejection of much of the teaching in the gospels themselves.
The Gnostic misinterpretation of the gospels destroys the heart of the gospel and of Christ’s ministry itself. Yet the Gnostics today find it necessary to do this in order to keep Jesus alive long enough to have three children, including Jesus Junior, who supposedly became the progenitor of the later Merovingians, whose bloodline now pervades the European monarchies.
This is now being used to promote the divine right of kings on the basis of bloodline. The Gnostics claim the apostle John as their chief revelator, even though John 1:13 says,
13 who were born not of blood [bloodline], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
One’s bloodline is based on the flesh, dating back to Adam, and such generations were done by the will (or desire) of the flesh and the will of man. John, however, says that we are children of God by a new kind of generation that is “of God.” 1 Peter 1:23-25 explains this further, telling us that we are begotten a second time by the incorruptible seed that is “through the living and abiding word of God.” We are begotten through our ears by faith in the promises of God.
The Gnostics do not have any secret knowledge to impart to us. They are deceivers with an ulterior motive—to compete with the Roman Catholic claim to world sovereignty through the apostolic succession from Peter.
This is part 3 of a series titled "The Rise of Modern Gnosticism" To view all parts, click the link below.