Friday, March 21, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: Good Friday

I, Peter, saw Jesus in this way, as if he were being arrested by them. And I said, "What do I see, O Lord? Is it actually you they are taking? Are you holding onto me? Who is on the cross, glad and laughing? Is it another person whose feet and hands they are hammering?" The Savior said to me, "The person you see on the cross, glad and laughing, is the living Jesus. The one whose hands and feet are being hammered with nails is his flesh, which is what is given in exchange"...I saw someone about to approach us. He resembled the person who was laughing on the cross. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was the Savior. There was a great ineffable light around them. A number of ineffable and invisible angels were praising them.

Apocalypse of Peter 81.3-21, 82.4-14 (trans. by DeConick)


José Solano said...

For devote Christians it must be painful to read this, especially on Good Friday.

This is the classic example of the justifiably condemned docetic heresy that dehumanizes Jesus and ignores His suffering. But we believe a God who is fully human and truly suffered the barbaric Roman scourging and crucifixion. It all becomes a meaningless tale and hoax if He only pretended to suffer. There is no way to identify with such a God who had it so easy he could simply laugh off the torture and the agony that so many humans go through. This is why these teachings simply faded away until they are again recycled for modern entertainment as we read them in the comfort of our cozy armchairs and speculate about their possible esoteric meanings.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The cry of a suffering human being with whom in our hour of need we can empathize.

April DeConick said...


This passage is being misread by you. The Gnostics here should not be confused with the Marcionites. The Gnostics were not docetists as you can see here in this passage. They believed that Jesus had a human body of flesh, and that it was nailed to the cross and suffered. It was his spirit which did not. This teaching is exegetical, noting that Jesus' spirit leaves him at the crucifixion. Matthew 27:50: "The Jesus cried again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit." Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." John 19:30: "Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

His spirit is laughing because he is victorious over the powers that control the universe; they have been crucified instead of him, as Paul says in 1 Cor 2:6-8: "Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not wisdom of this age or of the archons of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak of God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the archons of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory."

Before you cast judgment on these Gnostics, it is probably good to actually understand what they are saying. Do not rely on the Church Fathers who mixed them up with Marcion, who taught that Jesus did not have a real human body, but only a body of an angel who appeared human.

José Solano said...

I could be misreading this but I don’t think so.

“The Apocalypse of Peter is significant in several respects. It contains important source material for a gnostic Christology that understands Jesus as a docetic redeemer.” Translator James Brashler’s introduction to the Apocalypse of Peter, Nag Hammadi Library.

Brashler is hardly a Church Father. Between Church Fathers and contemporary scholars my perspective is quite well supported.

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, a favorite resource of mine, describes a variety of docetic perspectives.

April DeConick said...

Brashler may not be a Church Father, but he has been influenced by his reading of them. He is wrong.

Read the text. Jesus' flesh is being crucified. He has a body. And he has a spirit which has left it.

The Gnostic texts are filled with references to Jesus' flesh - not seeming to be flesh, but real flesh that, yes, suffers.

José Solano said...

Well, I read the text years ago and then I read it again when you posted on it, and I’ve read it another four or five times since your first comment, and I’m still examining it. Brashler not only read it, he translated the NHL copy!

So, let’s break it down. Peter is seeing things. He sees the Savior whom he is talking to “seemingly being seized” and taken away while the Savior is still “grasping” him. He is understandably confused and asks, “Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? [Cross?] And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?” I count three “Saviors” in the scene: One laughing, a second being nailed and a third grasping Peter and explaining what’s going on.

The “Savior” grasping Peter explains that the one on the tree is “the living Jesus.” The one being nailed is a “substitute” yet “his fleshly part” which “came into being in his likeness.” The one grasping Peter tells Peter “But look at him and me.” Then Peter apparently realizing that the one who is talking to him is not the one being nailed or the one laughing on the tree says, “Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.” But the grasping “Savior” responds cryptically, which I won’t repeat here as it is rather long with reference to “intellectual Spirit” and “intellectual Pleroma” uniting the “perfect light with my Holy Spirit.”

What makes this docetic is that we have this separation of persons, a spirit, if you will, thoroughly divorced from a body and immune to any of its physical suffering, indeed, laughing while the body is being nailed. And then of course you have that third person explaining what appears to be a movie that Peter is watching.

I see this all as completely different from what the NT is communicating in the passages you cite about Jesus giving up the ghost. Those passages refer to Jesus’ actual death. There is no spirit laughing while his body is tortured. And in the Apoc. of Peter there is no mention of any resurrection in which the spirit remains with the body. There is no need for a resurrection since apparently the “substitute” can be discarded with a disembodied spirit left walking about laughing at the foolish mortals.

Prof. DeConick, I very much appreciate and respect your tenacity and scholarship but I’m hanging in there with the Church Fathers and at least some, and probably many contemporary scholars on this one.

I love your blog.

Felices Pascuas.

John Noyce said...

From an Indian yogic perspective, Professor De Conick's reading is straightforward and obvious. I agree

José Solano said...

From an Indian yogic perspective?? Hmm. I wonder if Prof. DeConick would appreciate an elaboration on that. Are you referring to some understanding of the relationship between the atman and the individual or the meaning of purusha “cosmic man,” of which there are numerous Indian philosophical interpretations?

Our essential question here is whether or not this text offers a docetic concept of Christ or not. In agreeing with Prof. DeConick are you saying it does not?

lightseeker said...

Jose, perhaps you are trying too hard with a very literal reading of this passage.

Peter's is a vision which symbolically describes the concept that we are both physical bodies (which indeed experience pain and suffering!) and eternal spirit (which resides in/is integrated with the body until physical death). Even the Apostle Paul acknowledges this in 1 Corinthians - i.e., the natural body and the spiritual body.

The spirit of Jesus is laughing because spirit is the "true" nature or aspect of us which cannot be killed and lives eternally. And because Jesus has revealed this knowledge to us (i.e., he is our Savior), we can rejoice in that, although the body will die, we, as eternal spirit created in the image/essence of God, can never die. When one understands this, one transcends beyond the physical self to one's true essence as Spirit - and in this sense (state of elevated consciousness that unites one with God) one can then ignore or "mock" the limitations of the purely physical self - and pain, even death! (IMO, this is how people of great courage - even the martyred Saints - transcend their fear, pain in the face of terrible horror or even death.)

In Jesus' day, most Jews (and others) believed you were just a body (or if they believed in the soul, it was inseparable from the body, period) and that when you died you slept in Sheol (comparable to the Greeks' Hades), a realm somewhere under the earth - just a limbo of nothingness. Resurrection en masse would only occur at the end-time/Day of YHVH's Judgment.

But Jesus, part of a movement with a new belief system/consciousness that was arising, was teaching a new way of understanding the reality of God's Kingdom and man's nature and place within it - that when you die, you don't have to wait an eternity in Sheol, you ARE eternal spirit NOW, you are not just a body! And you can have eternal life in Paradise, your right as a child of God/Light/Source - if you can just understand this and believe it!

Jesus was attempting to awaken in everyone this new concept, a new, expanded paradigm of our reality - we are both body and spirit, but when the body dies, spirit - who we truly are - is set free to return home to the Father. Those who failed to believe Jesus, who did not awaken to this reality or new way of thinking/seeing remained "dead" or "asleep" (consigned to continue to rest in Sheol or even Gehenna - the local trash dump outside Jerusalem's walls!) while those who did grasp Jesus' teaching were suddenly transformed, "alive" in the spirit or "reborn" in the spirit. Behind the literal miracle, that is the deeper, spiritual symbolism beneath the blind man's words: "I was blind but now I see!" (or Lazarus' raising, or the water into wine, etc.) It has to do with internal transformation, awakening to one's true nature/reality as Spirit - realization that one is much more than just a body (this is also a symbolic resurrection in Spirit). This is not really new to us today, but 2000 years ago, this was a huge new concept to many people, and hard to comprehend! Accepting this belief was indeed a leap of faith for many: "You mean I don't just die and sleep in Sheol forever?"

That is our true reality - Spirit- and that, from the Gnostic perspective, is the real triumph over the grave. Jesus was the first (our elder brother, so to speak) to teach and lead us by his example, and thus He is our Lord/Master and Savior.

Love, Light and Peace to all God's Children in this Easter season of Resurrection to new Life!

José Solano said...

Thank you once again Lightseeker for sharing your detailed opinions and beliefs.

The issue here is whether or not this text portrays a docetic Jesus.

R.Eagle said...

Perhaps another question to consider is how accurate were the "Church Fathers" at conveying all the truth that Jesus imparted?

Phil Snider said...

Strictly speaking, isn't docetism a more widespread phenomenon than Marcian. There are passages in the letters of John (and others) which suggest docetic beliefs as early as these letters (usually dated, as I recall, late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD)?

I grant the confusion between Marcian and Gnostics in the Church Fathers, but docetic beliefs seem to go wider than you are suggesting here including, I believe, some Gnostic groups.


Phil Snider said...

It strikes me that the decision on whether this is a docetic passage or not is resting on rather too short a passage. As I don't know the Apocalypse of Peter well (I may have read it once upon a time-or not). Seemingly the I in the passage is Peter, but who is he talking to? It seems to be the Savior who is somehow distinct from 'the living Jesus'. I suspect this is what is causing the confusion.

As for jms providence's question "how accurate were the "Church Fathers" at conveying all the truth that Jesus imparted?", I suspect we'll find some rather divergent answers on that.


lightseeker said...

Jose, I believe I answered the question regarding docetism when I said "Peter's is a vision which symbolically describes the concept that we are both physical bodies (which indeed experience pain and suffering!) and eternal spirit (which resides in/is integrated with the body until physical death)."

Docetists believed Jesus did not have physical body at all, but that he was merely a spirit who manifested what only appeared to be a physical body. In this text, Peter thinks he is seeing two different people, but as the Savior explains Peter's vision to him, it's clear the one being crucified, Jesus, is one person. Jesus has both a spirit and a physical body - he is both fully human and divine. The part of him which is spirit/divine ("the living Jesus") is that which will leave his body. His body - nailed to the cross - is certainly suffering, "which is given in exchange" as a sacrifice.

Those who could not perceive Jesus' spirit (the living, joyful Jesus) only saw the physical Jesus who suffered on the cross. Perhaps this text points out the difference between the proto-orthodox groups who placed emphasis on Jesus' suffering and bodily sacrifice (for the atonement of sins) and those groups who placed more emphasis on the living, spiritual Jesus (Holy Spirit) who is eternal, never dies and can escape/transcend death and suffering. The latter groups chose not to focus on suffering and death, but on eternal life.

It seems the real argument was whether one believed the body and spirit ("divine nature") were completely mixed and inseparable, or separable (especially near death, or during mystical visions, sojourns, "ascents" or "apocalypses"). The orthodox Church tended to hold the former view that the two natures, human and divine, were thoroughly mixed and inseparable in Jesus, while the Gnostics held the latter - that spirit and body can separate (the body merely houses the spirit as a "temple" or clothes the spirit). These tendencies, while not completely docetic, are apparent in Gos of John and, as Phil pointed out, in the letters of John.