Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities
----- Original Message -----
From: "sarban" <sarban@...>
Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 6:31 PM
Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "fmmccoy" <FMMCCOY@...>
> To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 5:30 PM
> Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities
> > The one he selects as most likely is the fourth one, i.e.,
> > during mystical ascents. However, there apparently are no other sayings
> > Thomas that regard mystical ascents, so I think this unlikely.
> I think it is at least as likely to be an ascent after death
> as a mystical ascent during life
If 50 regards a meeting with angelic powers while ascending, I think that it
most likely involves an ascent after death.
The reason is that, while (to the best of my knowledge) there is no first
century CE example of the idea of a mystical ascent during one's life that
involves meeting angelic powers who bar the way unless one says the proper
thing, there is an apparent first century CE example of the idea of an
ascent after death that involves meeting divine beings who bar the way
unless one says the proper thing. This is in Mithraic thought.
When I speak of Mithraism, I am referring not to original Mithraism as
practiced in its homeland but, rather, to the Hellenized version of it that
initially spread through the Hellenistic states and then, later, through the
One of the important areas in which it was Hellenized was in respect to
cosmology. In particular, it embraced a new cosmology, based on
Eratosthenes' measurements of shadows at different latitudes proving that
the earth is round (although the theory that the earth is round was perhaps
first made by Pythagoreas). In this new cosmology, it was posited that
cosmos consists of a number of spheres, the innermost one being the earth.
Three basic spheres were posited: (1) the innermost sphere of the earth, (2)
an inner heaven sphere consisting of the seven planets, and (3) an outer
heaven sphere consisting of the fixed stars. Philo mentions the two
heavenly spheres in Cher (23), "One of the (two) Cherubim then symbolizes
the outermost sphere of the fixed stars. It is the final heaven of all, the
vault in which the choir of those who wander not move in a truly divine
unchanging rhythm, never leaving the post which the Father who begat them
has appointed them in the universe. The other of the (two) Cherubim is the
inner contained sphere, which through a sixfold division He has made into
seven zones of regular proportion and fitted each planet into one of them."
Further, as Philo hints at above, the inner heaven sphere was, itself,
divided into seven sub-spheres--one for each of the planets. So, the total
number of spheres, not counting the earth, was eight.
The totality of the cosmos, though, was conceived to be one sphere, whose
surface is identical to the surface of the outer heaven sphere
consisting of the fixed stars. This was called the cosmic globe and it was
frequently depicted with two crossed circles, one being the circle of the
zodiac and the other the circle of the celestial equator.
When Mithraism embraced this new cosmology, it posited that human souls
reside in the outer sphere of the fixed stars, that they descend from there
to earth, and that they return to their homeland in the fixed stars after
the death of the body by ascending up a cosmic ladder with eight gates, one
for each of the seven spheres of the planets and one for the eighth sphere
of the fixed stars.
So, in The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, David Ulansey (p. 87) states,
"According to Celsus, in the Mithraic mysteries 'there is a symbol of the
two orbits in heaven, the one being that of the fixed stars, and the other
that assigned to the planets, and of the soul's passage through these. The
symbol is this. There is a ladder with seven gates and at its top an eighth
gate.' In addition, the Neoplatonist Porphyry attributes to Mithraism a
complicated conception of the soul's celestial descent and ascent into and
out of incarnation...."
Further, it appears that each gate was guarded by an angelic being and that
one had to know the appropriate formula to say to each in order to proceed.
So, in The Mysteries of Mithra, Franz Cumont (pp. 144-145) states, "The
(inner) heavens were divided into seven spheres, each of which was conjoined
with a planet. A sort of ladder, composed of eight superposed gates, the
first seven of which were constructed of different metals, was the symbolic
suggestion in the temples, of the road to be followed to reach the supreme
region of the fixed stars. To pass from one story to the next, each time
the wayfarer had to enter a gate guarded by an angel of Ormazd. The
initates alone, to whom the appropriate formulas had been taught, knew how
to appease these inexorable guardians."
The realm of souls in the fixed stars, from which human souls came and to
which they returned, was a realm of light. Cumont (p. 145) states, "It
(i.e., the soul) was naked, stripped of every vice and every sensibility,
when it penetrated the eighth heaven to enjoy there, as an essence supreme,
and in the eternal light that bathed the gods, beatitude without end."
All this might relate to 50, "If they say to you, 'Where did you come
from?', say to them, 'We came from the light, the place where the light came
into being on its own accord and established [itself] and became manifest
through their image.' If they say to you, 'Is it you?', say, 'We are its
children and we are the elect of the Living Father.' If they ask you, 'What
is the sign of your Father in you?', say to them, 'It is movement and
In this case, we have, in 50, souls/spirits who have originated in the light
of the outer heaven of the fixed stars and who become incarnate in human
beings and who, upon the death of the body, are seeking to return from
whence they came. Further, in this case, the "they" are the angelic powers
who bar each of the eight gates through which these these souls/spirits must
pass. Finally, in this case, the three answers are three of the formulas a
soul needs to get past each of the eight angelic gate-keepers and ascend up
the cosmic ladder back to its original home in the light of the outer sphere
of the fixed stars.
Despite the good "fit" that can be made between the Mithraic belief system
and 50, I have serious reservations about the hypothesis that 50 ought to be
interpreted in terms of this Mithraic belief system.
In the first place, I find it noteworthy that the only two named sources on
Mithraism in the quotations above are Celsus and Porphry. Celsus wrote c.
170 CE and Porphry wrote almost a century later. As a result, if Thomas
dates to 150 CE or earlier, then the Mithraic belief system described above
is the Mithraic belief system as it was later than the writing of Thomas.
So, this is not necessarily the same Mithraic belief system in place when
Thomas was written.
More seriously, I suspect that there is a rejection of this Mithraic belief
system in the first part of GTh 11.
There is one part of this Mithraic belief system that I haven't mentioned
yet, but does need to be discussed before turning to the first part of GTh
11 because it appears to be alluded to in 11.
In this Mithraic belief system, there are two celestial twins, Cautes and
Cautopates, who are torch-bearers. Further, these two celestial twins who
are torch-bearers were equated with another set of twins, i.e., the Dioscuri
(Castor and Pollux). As a result, in Mithraic artwork, one sometimes finds
the two Dioscuri instead of (as expected) the two torch-bearers.
For example, in Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson (p. 295)
states, "The seven degrees of initiation (into the Mithraic mysteries) thus
corresponded to the order of the seven planets in astrology. The initiate
who had passed through all degrees could, on his death, pass through the
planetary spheres to paradise. The Ostia mosaic shows before the seven
grades a large vase, thought to refer to some preliminary purification by
water and the helmets of the Dioscuri (who were often understood as
symbolizing the two celestial hemispheres)."
The two Dioscure, however, did more than just symbolize the two celestial
hemispheres. Rather, each was one of the two celestial hemispheres. So, in
Dec (56), Philo declares, "So too in accordance with the theory by which
they divided the (outer) heaven into two hemispheres, one above the earth
and one below it, they called them the Dioscuri and invented a further
miraculous story of their living on alternate days."
Underlying this belief is a variant of the legend of the Dioscuri in which
Castor was a mortal who was killed and that the other Dioscuri bestowed half
of his immortality on Castor, making each mortal in one respect, yet
immortal in another As a result, they alternate being dead and alive.
The upshot: In Mithraic thought, the two twin torchbearers were equated with
the Dioscuri. As the Dioscuri, they are the two hemispheres of the outer
heaven of the fixed stars and they alternate being dead and alive.
Now, let us turn to 11a, "This heaven will pass away, and the one above it
will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die."
"This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away." That is
to say, the sphere of the inner heaven, the realm of the seven planets with
its seven sub-spheres, will pass away and the sphere of the outer heaven,
the realm of the fixed stars, will also pass away. So, I see this as a
denunciation of the Mithraic idea that the eternal realm of light, from
which human souls originate and to which they seek to return, is to be found
in the outer sphere of the fixed stars. Rather, this outer heaven is, like
the inner heaven of the planets with its seven sub-spheres, something that
will someday cease to exist.
"The dead are not alive, and the living will not die." The idea that the
two hemispheres of the outer heaven are the two Dioscuri and that they
alternately die and come to life is false. One who is dead remains dead,
and one who is immortal will not die. Hence, Castor cannot be restored to
life nor, if his twin brother is immortal, can he be subject to death. So, I
see this as a denunciation of the Mithraic idea that the two torchbearers
are the Dioscuri and that they are, as such, the two celestial hemispheres
and are alternately dying and coming again to life.
So, I think, the Thomas community was aware of this Mithraic belief system.
However, I see, in 11a, a rejection of this Mithraic belief system.
Therefore, despite the fact that 50 is readily interpretable in terms of
this Mithraic belief system, I think it highly unlikely that it ought to be
interpreted in terms of this Mithraic belief system.
Still, simply because they apparently were aware of this Mithraic belief
system, it could be that, even though they rejected it, they still were
influenced by it.
For example, take the notion, in 50, that human souls/spirits originate in a
place of light. This Thomistic notion might have arisen due to the the
influence of the Mithraic belief that human souls originate in a place of
light of the outer heaven of the fixed stars. However, if so, then the
Thomas community, as they believed the outer heaven of the fixed stars to be
perishable, assigned this place of light to a different location.
Indeed, in 2 Cor. 12:1-4, Paul speaks of a man who ascended into the third
heaven, which Paul calls Paradise.
So, I think it possible that the Thomas community, under Pauline influence,
transferred the place of the light, from which human souls/spirits
originate, from the second outer heaven of the fixed stars to a postulated
eternal third heaven above it and gave this postulated third eternal heaven
the name of Paradise. If so, then, in Thomas thought, the place of light,
from which human souls/spirits originate, is mentioned in 19b, "For there
are five trees of life for you in Paradise,..".
Again, it could be that the Thomas community was influenced by the Mithraic
notion of gates and gate-keepers and of the need of the soul/spirit to have
the necessary response for each gatekeeper in order to ascend back to whence
it came in the place of light, but reduced the gates to three: (1) a gate
into the inner heaven sphere of the seven planets, (2) a gate into the outer
heaven sphere of the fixed stars, and (3) a gate into the third eternal
heaven called Paradise. In this case, in 50, the "they" are the three
gatekeepers for these three gates and the three answers one ought to
memorize are the three necessary responses (one for each of the three
gatekeepers) that the soul/spirit needs to give in order to successfully
ascend back from whence it came in the place of light within the third
eternal heaven called Paradise.
The bottom line: Although the Thomas community apparently rejected
this Mithraic belief system, they apparently were aware of it and it might
have influenced their thought. For example, they might have been
influenced by the Mithraic notion that human souls/spirits originate in a
place of light before descending to earth into bodies, but have changed the
location of the place of light from the second heaven of the fixed stars to
Paul's eternal third heaven called Paradise. Again, they might have been
influenced by the Mithraic notion of a system of gates and gate-keepers and
necessary responses, but modified it into a system with one gate and
gate-keeper for each of the three heavens and one response to memorize for
each of the three gatekeepers.
This is all highly speculative, so I think it unlikely. Still, this is
within the realm of possibility and it does give a comprehensive explanation
of GTh 50--including an explanation as to why there are exactly three
answers to be memorized.
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