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Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities

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  • fmmccoy
    ... From: sarban To: Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 6:31 PM Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities ...
    Message 1 of 9 , Feb 15, 2004
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "sarban" <sarban@...>
      To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 6:31 PM
      Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities


      >
      > ----- Original Message -----
      > From: "fmmccoy" <FMMCCOY@...>
      > To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
      > 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.,
      interrogations
      > > during mystical ascents. However, there apparently are no other sayings
      > in
      > > 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


      Hi Andrew!

      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
      Roman Empire.

      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
      repose.'"

      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.

      Frank McCoy
      1809 N. English Apt. 15
      Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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