The rule of the Shepherds - part 3
- The third part examining the evidence for the Shepherds in the letters of Paul and the passion account of Mark.
The Shepherds myth in Paul and Mark
It has already been noted that in the Thomas parable of the vineyard owner all the characters are divine. This suggests that the action should not be located in this world but in a higher heaven. It is the angels who put the son to death and not man. The Romans and Jews have nothing to do with it! This is remarkable similar to the conclusions that others have reached (for example Earl Doherty) from Paul's description of the crucifixion in 1 Corinthians -
But wisdom we speak among the perfect, a wisdom not of this age, nor of the rulers [archon] of this age, who are passing away, but we speak the hidden wisdom of God in a secret, that God foreordained before the ages to our glory, which no one of the rulers [archon] of this age did know, for if they had known, the would not have crucified the Lord of the glory; (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
The term 'archon' is Gnostic terminology for the demonic rulers of the earth. Applying this terminology back to Paul may be anachronistic but we can see that Paul's description fits perfectly with the Shepherds if these are the same as Paul's rulers. The word 'archon' means ruler or power whereas 'shepherd' in the Old Testament is used to mean king or ruler so we can see that the two terms are equivalent. The Shepherd rulers are passing away because the term of seventy 'years' allotted for them is coming to an end. Although the Shepherd angels have some secrets of heaven they do not know God's secret plan. The Book of Enoch makes it clear that the fallen stars do not possess all the secrets of heaven -
"You have been in heaven, but all the mysteries had not yet been revealed to you, and you knew worthless ones, and these in the hardness of your hearts you have made known to the women, and through these mysteries women and men work much evil on earth." (Enoch 16)
In the dream vision the Messiah is triumphant militarily over the beasts but in the Christian version the Christ is paradoxically triumphant by being defeated. The Christ through his sacrifice takes on the sin of mankind and releases man from the power of the Shepherd rulers. The Shepherds have been fooled into killing the Christ not knowing that his death marks the end of their reign.
Given another century or two of development full blown Gnosticism emerges and the shepherd/archons become the archons of Gnostic myth. In some versions Yahweh, who was responsible for appointing the shepherds, also becomes the demiurge.
Paul makes several references to angels that imply that they are doubtful or even malevolent forces. In 2 Corinthians 1:14 we are told that 'even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light'. In Romans it is implied that angels would try to separate us from the love of god -
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
The most revealing quote is Corinthian 6:3 - Know you not that we shall judge angels? This refers to the final judgement where the elect will be involved in the punishment of the Shepherds who have exceeded their authority.
Although the vineyard owner parable suggests that the Christ is killed by the angels there is still the possibility that the murder takes place on earth. In this case Jesus would be a man who was believed by his followers to be the embodiment of the Christ. Following his crucifixion his followers develop the myth that it was really the Shepherd angels working through the Romans and Jews who were responsible for the deed. That this is not the case can be seen in the Mark account of the passion. For the Shepherds are involved in the trial in the disguised form of the Sanhedrin.
We learn from Mark that Jesus was tried by night before the Sanhedrin council of Jewish elders. It has long been recognised the Sanhedrin did not in fact meet at night. But night is the perfect time for a council of fallen Shepherd angels to meet to try the Christ. And there is one telling detail that indicates that the Sanhedrin has been mistaken for the Shepherds. We know from Enoch and the Midrash on Jeremiah that the Shepherds were seventy in number. Yet the Sanhedrin also consisted of seventy members plus a president! Has the author of Mark mistakenly taken a reference to a council of 'the seventy shepherds' as referring to the Sanhedrin?
That this is the case and that the Sanhedrin and the seventy Shepherds are one and the same is indicated by another link between the two. When Jesus is abused by the Sanhedrin they inexplicably ask him for a prophesy-
and certain began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say to him, `Prophesy' and the officers were striking him with their hands. (Mark 14:65)
It is significant that Mathew, followed also by Luke, adds at this point some extra words of explanation "Prophesy to us, you Christ; who is the one who hit you?". The person who added the extra words understood that there is something odd about this Mark passage that required smoothing over. The Mark reference to prophesy simply does not fit in with the story of a Jewish council trying Jesus. This is because it is derived from original Shepherd material in the form of this passage in Ezekiel -
"Son of man, prophesy concerning the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? The fat you eat, the wool you put on, the fed sheep you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the driven away you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; and with might you have ruled them and with rigour."' (Ezekiel 34:2-4)
In the context of Ezekiel 'son of man' clearly refers to the prophet. But suppose that the early part of this passage came to the author of Mark out of context or in derivative form along with other material relating to the Shepherds. He would assume that the 'son of man' referred to Christ and that 'shepherds of Israel' referred to the Sanhedrin. So 'Prophesy and say to those shepherds' would mean that Jesus was to prophesy in front of the Sanhedrin!
It is possible that the Mark account is complied from more than one source and that story of Jesus appearing before the Roman governor Pilate is an alternative version of Jesus' confrontation with the Shepherds. Mark may have mistaken a reference to the ruler or governor of the time, meaning the seventieth Shepherd, as wrongly meaning the Roman governor Pilate. Another incident that is suggestive is the strange mock acclamation of Jesus as king by the Roman soldiers. This can be understood in terms of the Shepherd angels being forced to bow down to the King of heaven even as they were planning to kill him.
All this leaves one question - if Jesus is crucified in a higher heaven then how has this event been observed? There is another clue in the dream vision in Enoch. After Yahweh has led the sheep out of Egypt he appears to them in two ways. He appears to the sheep Moses on the top of a rock (really a mountain but in the parable things are diminished!) and later he appears on the top of the tower that is built onto the house in Jerusalem. It just so happens that the names of two of Jesus' most important followers can be derived from the words 'rock' and 'tower' - Cephas/Peter means 'rock' and the root of Magdalene is the Hebrew 'migdol' meaning tower. If these names have been derived from the dream vision then they indicate that the person concerned is an intermediary between Yahweh and man. They denote a prophet or prophetess of almost divine status. The implication is that Yahweh has descended through the medium of that person and has used them to reveal to mankind the things of heaven. (In the Old Testament both 'rock' and 'tower' are used as names for Yahweh himself.)
And there is a further 'coincidence'. It is precisely these two followers who are most closely associated with witnessing the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus! In Mark it is Peter alone who follows into the courtyard of the high priest when Jesus is brought to trial before the Sanhedrin. It is Mary the Magdalene who observes the crucifixion from a distance and is also looking on when the body is deposited in the tomb. Mary the Magdalene is also mentioned first among the women who visit the tomb, find the stone rolled away and see the angel. The angel tells them that Jesus will appear to Peter - "say to his disciples, and Peter, that he does go before you to Galilee; there you shall see him, as he said to you". But in the long ending to Mark we are told that Jesus actually appeared first to the Magdalene.
(In Mark the Magdalene is accompanied variously by two other women - Salome and a woman described as Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, Mary of Joses and Mary of James. I have argued elsewhere that Mary of Joses and Mary of James are really alternative names of the Magdalene and that Mark was mistaken in believing her to be the mother of James and Joses.)
So the two followers whose names indicate their role as intermediaries of Yahweh are the two who, between them, have observed the whole process of the trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of the Christ. The implication is that these two are really the same person, the prophet or prophetess through whom Yahweh has revealed the secrets of the death and resurrection of the Christ.
Paul's description of the resurrection also gives the key role to 'the rock' in the Aramaic form of the name, Cephas -
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all, as if through miscarriage [or abortion] he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
If the passion and resurrection took place mystically in heaven rather than physically on earth then this passage tells us that Cephas, as the first person to witness the events, must be the person who founded Christianity. It also shows that the mystic experience of the crucifixion and resurrection may have originally been part of the initiation of all 'spiritual' Christians. We are given a long list of over five hundred persons who are believed to have witnessed the resurrection and these seem to include everyone who was important in the early church.
But what is most striking about Paul's description is the complete absence of the Magdalene in contrast to the importance of her role in the passion story in Mark. If Mary were believed to have been the first witness of the resurrection then how could Paul not mention her - even if she were only a woman? If, on the other hand, the author of Mark has made up her role from nothing then surely his contemporaries would have angrily rejected his gospel? This difficulty is solved if 'the tower' and 'the rock' were originally two titles given to one person. Paul refers to this person under the title he habitually uses, Cephas, but Mark mistakenly thinks that the two titles refer to two separate individuals.
There remains the most obvious difficulty with the tower equals the rock hypothesis - the Magdalene is a woman and Cephas/Peter is a man. But this can be understood if the person who founded the Jesus movement were a female prophetess. This would be scandalous to the Jews and would give the motivation for the movement to use a male pseudonym to disguise the founder's gender from outsiders.
In the dream visions the Lord of the sheep descends onto the top of the tower to show himself to the sheep. This suggests an even more radical interpretation of the Magdalene's role than that of chief prophet. It is possible that the early Christians believed that God in the form of Jesus had descended spiritually into the Magdalene in order to give his message to mankind. This could be the sense in which the Christ has come 'according to the flesh'. It may also be the meaning of a passage in Paul often quoted to demonstrate that Paul believed that Jesus was a man of flesh and blood -
and when the fullness of time did come, God sent forth His Son, come of a woman, come under law that those under law he may redeem, that the adoption of sons we may receive; (Galatians 4:4-5)
If Paul had meant 'born of woman' he should have used the Greek verb 'gennao' meaning to be physically born. Instead Paul uses the word 'ginomai' that means 'come into existence', 'come to pass', 'to arise'. This suggests that Jesus has come spiritually through a woman.
The same idea of Jesus descending spiritually into Mary may have given rise to the nativity story in Mathew and Luke whereby Jesus is born to Mary after conception through the Holy Spirit. If this is the case then the mother of Jesus and the Magdalene must have originally been the same person. The nativity story would have distorted the spiritual descent of Jesus into Mary into a physical birth arising through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Indeed in Docetism we find a persistent early belief that Jesus had come spiritually and not physically through the medium of Mary.
Was Christianity founded by a woman?
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