This is the first of three posts concerning the evidence for a proto-gnostic myth being the foundation of Christianity. This myth involves mankind being placed under the rule of fallen angels who put the Christ to death.
This work arose from noticing a possible connection between the pre-Christian dream vision in the Book of Enoch and the parable of the vineyard owner in Thomas. My apologies for the length of the essay which I will post in three parts.
The rule of the Seventy Shepherds
- A dream vision in the Book of Enoch reveals a proto-gnostic myth in which Yahweh has appointed seventy fallen angels called 'Shepherds' to rule the world. This proto-Gnostic myth is a Midrash on the Book of Jeremiah and other Old Testament scripture concerning the Babylonian exile. In Jeremiah the 'shepherds' are gentile kings but in the Midrash they become angelic rulers.
- Each angel is to rule the world in turn for 'one year' which is interpreted as a generation. Christians of Paul's time believe that they live under the rule of the seventieth angel.
- The parable of the vineyard owner, in its early Gospel of Thomas form, is linked to the dream vision in the Book of Enoch and shows that the myth of the Shepherds lies at the heart of Christianity
- The parable of the vineyard owner implies that the crucifixion of the Christ takes place in a higher heaven at the hands of the seventy angels and not on earth.
- The two servants and the son in the vineyard owner parable are three divine beings who bring three covenants to man. The servants are the angels Noah and Moses who bring their respective laws; the son, the Christ, brings a new spiritual law which 'is written in their hearts'.
- Other Thomas sayings can also be linked to the same proto-Gnostic Midrash and specifically to the Enoch dream vision.
- Paul's account of the passion is consistent with it being carried out by the Shepherd angels, whom he calls by the name 'archon' meaning ruler.
- The passion account in Mark shows that the trial of Jesus was originally in front of the Shepherds. Mark has mistakenly confused the seventy angels with the Sanhedrin council of seventy elders.
- In the Enoch dream vision Yahweh appears to mankind first on the top of a rock and then on the top of a tower. It is suggested that the names Cephas/Peter meaning 'the rock' and the Magdalene being based on the Hebrew for 'tower' may also have been derived from the dream vision. It is also suggested that both names denote the prophetess Mary who first witnessed the crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ in the higher heaven.
The seventy Shepherds: a pre-Christian gnostic myth
The Jesus movement emerged from Jewish proto-Gnostics who believed that the world was ruled by seventy rebel angels. This is the implication of a surprising link between the parable of the vineyard owner and the Book of Enoch. The seventy angels ruled the earth in succession each reigning for a 'year' - which was interpreted as a generation. It was these fallen angels and not the Jews or Romans who were believed to have put Jesus to death.
This proto-Gnosticism arose in answer to a question that has bothered many people over the ages - if God is good then why do evil things happen? The Jewish proto-gnostics came up with a simple and comprehensive answer. All the bad things that happen to mankind are the result of disobedience against God - disobedience on the part of both men and angels.
The appointment of the seventy was itself the result of man's disobedience. Man had turned away from Yahweh to worship idols of wood and stone. So in his anger Yahweh turned man over to the authority of the fallen angels or demons that had corrupted him. Yet at the same time he made a compact with man. The rule of the demons was not to last forever. Yahweh would redeem mankind by sending the Messiah, the Christ to end the rule of the demons. At this time the demons themselves and all who had been corrupted by them would be cast into the abyss. Most of the early followers of the Jesus movement, including Paul, thought that they lived during the reign of the seventieth angel and that this final reckoning would happen in their lifetime.
Jewish proto-gnosticism emerged by a Midrash on the scriptures. The key text was the book of Jeremiah. This tells the story of the fall of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans in the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. Yahweh gave Judah into the hands of the Chaldeans as a punishment for the Jewish people's disobedience. For seventy years the gentile kings were to rule over the Jews but at the end of that period they were to be held to account for their actions -
And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, said the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations. (Jeremiah 25:11-12)
Yahweh has placed the flock of his chosen people into the care of these foreign gentile rulers who are termed 'Shepherds' in the Book of Jeremiah. The Shepherds are the instruments of Yahweh's wrath. Yet they will revel in their abuse of the flock and will eventually be punished for this abuse -
Howl, you shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, you masters of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and you shall fall like a pleasant vessel. And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the masters of the flock to escape. A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and an howling of the masters of the flock, shall be heard: for the LORD hath spoiled their pasture. (Jeremiah 25:34-36)
The Messiah will come to defeat the Shepherds and redeem the flock -
Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, behold, the days come, says the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD lives, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD lives, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. (Jeremiah 23:5-8)
At this time Yahweh will give a new covenant to his people -
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
The promise of redemption is symbolised in Jeremiah by the strange story of a property transaction. The Babylonians held Jerusalem under siege and Jeremiah was confined to prison for his gloomy prophecies. At this point the prophet receives an instruction from Yahweh to purchase a field from Hanameel son of his uncle Shallum. He is visited in prison by Hanameel who offers him the field and tells him that the right of redemption is his. This right of redemption meant that a kinsman had first refusal when land had to be sold. Even if land were sold out of the family a kinsman would still have the right to repurchase it. The transaction is duly completed and Jeremiah pays seventeen shekels of silver for the field. Two copies of the sale agreement are made, one sealed and one open. Yahweh tells Jeremiah to place both copies in an earthen vessel to protect them, 'that they may continue for many days'. The earthen vessel is presumably to be buried out of reach of the Babylonians. The field itself is in Anathoth a few miles outside Jerusalem and would have been in the hands of the besiegers.
The meaning of this transaction is symbolic. Yahweh tells the prophet that even though Jerusalem is to be given to the King of Babylon he will make a covenant with the people that they will be gathered up and return to Jerusalem and the land about it. The property transaction symbolises this covenant.
The proto-gnostics interpreted Jeremiah spiritually rather than literally. To them the Shepherds were not gentile kings but angelic rulers. These angelic rulers were appointed by Yahweh to punish the guilty but they greatly exceed their instructions and persecute the flock. However mankind has Yahweh's promise that the Messiah will come to redeem them from the demons. At that time the Shepherd angels themselves will be punished.
The evidence for this proto-Gnostic interpretation is contained in the pre-Christian Book of Enoch. Different parts of the Book of Enoch are believed to have been written at different times but most of the book, including the sections concerning the demonic rulers, dates from the centuries before the Christian era. By the time of the first century it was very popular among the Jews, in particular among the Messianic groups from whom the Christians were to emerge.
Enoch himself is mentioned in Genesis in the list of the generations of Adam (Genesis 5:21-24). About Enoch it is said -
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him
From this arose the notion that Enoch had not died but had been taken directly up into heaven by God. The Book of Enoch gives us the account of what Enoch saw in heaven.
Two versions of the proto-Gnostic myth exist in the Book of Enoch. The first is the story of the Watchers in Book 1. In this myth the angels, the Children of Heaven, look down on Earth and lust after the daughters of men. Under their leader Semjaza they descend to the earth and take wives. From these wives are born monstrous giants. The rebel angels also teach mankind forbidden knowledge such as the art of making weaponry, jewellery and cosmetics along with magic, plant lore and astrology. The creatures they have begat and the arts they have taught wreck havoc upon mankind until four good angels intervene. They inform Yahweh about the activities of the rebel angels. Yahweh orders that the rebels be bound and their offspring destroyed. The rebels will be held for seventy generations until the time of judgement. Then the rebel angels will be sent down into the fiery chasm along with those others who have been condemned. To destroy the evil that the angels have produced Yahweh will send a great flood and Noah is warned to prepare for this so that man will not die out.
The connection with Jeremiah is evident in the seventy generations for which the angels will be held. This corresponds with the seventy years for which the gentile Shepherd kings will rule over the Jews. In the second version of the proto-Gnostic myth this connection is made completely explicit.
The key section is the dream vision in Chapters 85-90. This parable sets out the entire history of the world from Adam to the last judgement in the form of a story in which animals represent people and people represent angels. Different species of animals represent different races: the Jews are sheep, the Egyptians wolves and so on with the enemies of Israel represented by various predators. The parable starts with Adam as a white bull. The offspring of Adam and Eve increasing into a herd of cattle. At this point stars, representing the fallen angels, fall form the skies. The stars turn into bulls and mate with the cows. The offspring are monstrous animals - elephants, camels and asses - who introduce discord and fighting.
Four men, representing the four good angels appear, and bind the fallen stars and cast them into the abyss. They then destroy the monstrous animals. One of the angels instructs a white bull (Noah) to prepare for the coming flood. The parable continues with the story of the flood, and the subsequent history of mankind as represented in the scriptures. The twelve tribes of Israel emerge with the birth of twelve sheep. The sheep dwell with the wolves in Egypt and are oppressed by the wolves until the 'Lord of the sheep' makes a personal intervention to save them. He appoints a sheep (Moses) to lead them out of Egypt. Once out of Egypt many of the sheep become blinded and disobedient. Moses builds a house for the sheep, representing the tabernacle. Eventually the sheep come into the Promised Land and there a tower is added to the house. The Lord of the sheep descends to the top of this tower and thus appears to the sheep. However the sheep continue to be disobedient and eventually the Lord of the sheep loses patience with them. He gives them into the hands of the lions and tigers, wolves, hyenas and foxes. These wild beasts destroy the house and the tower.
The Lord of the sheep then appoints seventy shepherds over the sheep. The shepherds are clearly inspired by the shepherds in the book of Jeremiah. Each shepherd is to pasture the sheep for one day so that the reign of the shepherds will be seventy days - standing for the seventy years in Jeremiah. The lord of the sheep numbers those sheep marked out for destruction so that the shepherds might destroy them. But the Lord of the sheep knows that the shepherds will exceed their instructions and will destroy many more of the sheep than marked. So he appoints a man/angel to secretly watch the shepherds and keep a record of their deeds.
The shepherds do indeed abuse the sheep. When thirty-five of the shepherds have completed their pasturing the birds of heaven descend upon the sheep and pick at their eyes and their flesh. In the time of the last twelve shepherds lambs begin to open their eyes but are oppressed by the birds. Then the lambs begin to grow horns which are overturned by the birds. Eventually a sheep (the Messiah) grows a large horn and that sheep is attacked by all the birds who try to break the horn. But the sheep is given a sword and prevails against the beasts and birds and begins to slay them.
The Lord of the sheep then sweeps away all the beasts and birds and brings judgement to the fallen stars and the shepherds. Both the fallen stars and the shepherds are bound and thrown into the abyss where they are joined by the blind sheep.
What is most interesting about the parable is the division between men and angels. All men, no matter how grand, are represented as animals. This applies even to the Jewish kings who are rams and the prophets who are sheep. Even the great prophet Elijah, who is taken up to heaven, is represented by a sheep. In only two cases is the boundary between animals and men crossed - the first is Noah who turns from a bull into a man and the second is Moses who turns from a sheep into a man. The implication is that both Noah and Moses, and only those two, were considered to be angels - either they were angels who had assumed the form of men or men who turned into angels. This is confirmed in Chapter 106 of Enoch where there is a section about the birth of Noah. His father reports -
I have begotten a strange son, diverse from and unlike man, and resembling the sons of the God of heaven; and his nature is different and he is not like us, and his eyes are as the rays of the sun, and his countenance is glorious. And it seems to me that he is not sprung from me but from the angels, and I fear that in his days a wonder may be wrought on the earth.
The special status of Noah and Moses is linked to the fact that these two were the intermediaries in the first two convents between Yahweh and mankind. The first covenant with Noah applied to all mankind and gave some basic laws which all must follow. The second covenant made through Moses was for the Jews only and set out the greater Law that would apply to his chosen people.
Apart form these two, Noah and Moses, all men are represented by animals. So the shepherds cannot be the gentile kings of the book of Jeremiah - they must instead represent angels. The dream vision is evidence of a Midrash on Jeremiah and other scriptural texts in which the world has been placed under the authority of angels who turn to evil. In the dream vision the shepherds are appointed at the same time as the fall of Jerusalem to the King of Babylon. The author of the dream vision has taken this literal chronology directly from the book of Jeremiah. But there is evidence that in the original proto-gnostic myth the reign of the shepherds should be put back to before the flood. In the story of the fallen angels in the first book of Enoch the angels are bound for seventy generations. Their bondage starts immediately before the flood. If this term corresponds to the seventy years in Jeremiah then it is evidence that a year was interpreted as a generation and that the reign of the shepherds started after the initial corruption of mankind. This is confirmed by another section of Enoch in which the history of the world is presented as ten seven-day weeks with each day standing for a generation. This makes seventy days for the history of the world corresponding to the seventy-day reign of the Shepherds.
The fallen stars and the Shepherds may have been originally the same group - in the book of dream visions both are judged at the same time and in the same manner and both meet with identical punishments. The scriptural authority for the story of the fallen angels is a few lines in Genesis -
the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:2-5)
As a result of the failings of man Yahweh decides to send the flood. There is nothing here about the punishment of the 'sons of God'. But there is a great deal in Jeremiah about the punishment of the Shepherds. Did some of the proto-gnostics equate the sons of God in Genesis with the Shepherds in Jeremiah? There is a certainly a deep connection between the events of the flood and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Both are disasters which are inflicted by Yahweh in response to the wickedness of men and both result in a new covenant between man and Yahweh.
But the most important piece of evidence linking the Shepherds to the fallen stars is the extraordinary taunt against the Babylonian king in Isaiah 14. This seems to compare the king to Satan -
How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you weakener of nations! And you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most high.' Only into Sheol you are brought down, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15)
It is easy to see that the proto-gnostics would have made the connection that the King of Babylon was another name for the chief of the fallen stars. We see in this passage that the fate of the king of Babylon is to be brought into the pit of Sheol. This agrees with the punishment of the stars and the Shepherds in Enoch.
The significance of the morning star is that it reigns in the sky in the pre-dawn hours. Although it is splendid and rules the sky in the hours of darkness the coming of dawn shows that it is feeble and easily extinguished by the light of the true sun. In the same way the King of Babylon shall rule the earth only to be extinguished with the coming of the messiah.
Intriguingly the morning star makes two appearances in the book of Revelation in the New Testament. The first reference uses the morning star in the same sense as in Isaiah -
And he that overcomes, and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. (Revelation 2:26-28)
We can see here the same imagery as Jeremiah 25:34-36 passage where the shepherds are compared to a pleasant vessel that shall fall implying that it will be broken 'to shivers'. Just as power over the nations will be given to 'he that overcomes' so also will the morning star, the chief Shepherd, be given to him.
The second reference is in the final section -
I, Jesus did send my messenger to testify to you these things concerning the assemblies; I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star! (Revelation 22:16)
This line is probably a Christian redaction as it reads oddly in the context of the passage. It may be that some reference to the morning star is original as it follows directly from a line about "the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the whoremongers, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one who is loving and is doing a lie". Did the original writer of Revelation include Christians among those "loving and doing a lie'? Regardless of what was written originally a later Christian redactor has failed to understand the meaning of the morning star and equated it to Jesus.
The redactor of the Revelation is not the only one to make such a mistake. In Luke we find the seventy evil angels have actually become disciples! Luke 10:1 tells how 'The Lord appointed seventy others" and sent them out. These seventy appear only in Luke and not the other gospels. We can deduce that the author of Luke has come across a reference to the Lord appointing seventy shepherds just as the Lord of the sheep does in Enoch! In the Old Testament 'shepherd' means king or ruler and does not imply that the individual referred to is necessarily good. But in Mark and Mathew the word 'shepherd' is used specifically to mean Jesus. By extension Luke has interpreted 'seventy shepherds' to mean seventy apostles. But the demonic origins of the seventy are quite clear when they come back to report to Jesus -
And the seventy turned back with joy, saying, `Sir, even the demons are subject to us in your name;' and he said to them, `I was beholding the Adversary, falling like lightning from the heaven' Luke (10:17-18)
The demons are indeed subject to the Shepherds! In this strange passage we can see the shadowy outline of the original material employed by Luke in which the seventy are reporting back not to Jesus but to the Adversary, the King of Babylon, who had fallen from heaven like lightening.
Was Christianity founded by a woman?
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