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The “Jesus of History” vs The “Jesus of Faith” part 2: The Missing Years, page 3

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 The Secrets of Egypt

The veil is thinning. The veil of which I speak is the cloud in the human heart and the fixed structures in human consciousness that have obscured our vision of the oneness of heaven and earth and our oneness with one another. I see evidence of this thinning  among the gays and lesbians of the LGBT community who recently won their Supreme Court case for marriage equality in the state of California and in all 50 states. I was moved by the television show “When We Rise” watching these men and women embrace one another in a powerful display of unconditional love. The light of their unfettered joy in victory lit up the veil of judgment in my own heart as I felt the repulsion homosexuality triggers inside of me seeing men kissing men on the lips, while at the same time feeling a compelling spirit of joyful celebration in my confused emotional realm. Scars from thwarted encounters with homosexuality during my youthful years in Catholic seminar tearing loose from the fabric of my heart. The veil is definitely thinning. Healing is underway. The truth of human relations is being revealed. We are rising in love with one another.

With some there is no veil at all. Heaven is “so close as not even to be near,” as one poet put it – and we can enter in while we yet live. This is what  the Egyptians were into with their mysticism. What science fiction writer H.G. Wells proclaimed in 1895 in his story “The Door in the Wall” the Egyptians had discovered a way to go through that portal and enter what they called the “Far-World.” They had a secret ritual into which one could be initiated and guided through that would open a door into that world and allow one to visit for a while and then return. This ritual was called the “incubation.” More about that later in my next post.

This was a message that the Master Jesus brought: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand and all around.” He was even more specific than that: “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” We were instructed to “repent” – literally turn around – see it on every hand and enter in. Then he apparently went through that door himself and returned to say “Follow me.” I don’t think he was messing with us.  I believe he meant exactly what he said. I know he did.

I have a friend who had a near death experience (NDE). His impression was that the veil is very thin and heaven is indeed right at hand. His experience was so exquisite that he was terribly saddened upon being resuscitated and brought back to life on this plane.

Here’s another interesting NDE story: “Dead for 48 minutes, Catholic Priest claims God is female” .

Jewish Mysticism in Egypt

In his extensively researched book The Jesus Papers, religious historian Michael Baigent shares his exploration into the mysticism of Egypt in his chapter “The Mysteries of Egypt.” I read and re-read this chapter with a deep curiosity and desire to know what might have really transpired during those eighteen years of Jesus’ young adulthood that are peculiarly missing from the Four Gospels. Baigent places Jesus in Egypt, brought there by his parents, where he may well have received an education in Jewish mysticism, which was an adaption of Egyptian mysticism whose sole purpose was to potentiate and facilitate ecstatic union with God by way of a process called “incubation.” Michael Baigent describes this cultish practice in haunting detail.

THE MYSTERIES OF EGYPT

The Egyptians saw themselves as keepers of the balance and harmony of our universe.  I find this most fascinating and pertinent to our times of global climate crises.

In the beginning, according to the ancient Egyptians, everything was perfect. Any fall from this state of eternal harmony, called Ma’at, was due to mankind’s imperfections, and the greatest of these human imperfections were those caused by greed.

Greed is a human “imperfection” that continues to create an imbalance in our world to this day. We haven’t yet emerged out of those dark ages in our governance, which is based on greed for power and control. It’s all coming to a head, like a pimple on our collective forehead, with the 1% of our population that embody the focus of the spirit of greed, which the majority of the remaining 99% embody as well. The pimple is bursting, however, ejecting the pus of corruption out of the body of mankind; and what a stink that is making. Baigent continues:

It was the task of everyone, the great as well as the humble, to work toward maintaining this perfection and restoring any imbalance in it. But the ultimate responsibility lay with the pharaoh, aided by a network of temples that covered all of Egypt.

Every morning saw the same ritual of awakening the gods in the temples at the moment of sunrise, when the doors of the Inner Sanctum would be opened. The director of the Petrie Museum in London, Dr. Stephen Quirke, has likened the Egyptian temple, only half in jest, to “a machine for the preservation of the universe, a technical operation that requires technical staff or knowledge … in order to ensure that the crucial task of survival is never impaired.”

I am reminded of a passage from the 38th chapter of the Book of Job, a powerfully haunting passage: “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons. Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?”

We are supposed to know these things – and we once did. There was a Science of Mazzaroth at one time in our ancient past, a remnant of which lingers on today in what we know as astrology. It is the reality behind the Zodiac. The seasons of Mazzaroth still govern the cycles of creation in our Solar Entity, only without our conscious participation. We do continue to influence these cycles through our self-destructive behavior and are impacted by them. In our ignorance, we’re getting clobbered by their unalterable activity.

I believe what Michael Baigent has shed light on in this book in the last attempt of ancient civilizations to restore man’s engagement with the Science of Mazzaroth. Only the Egyptians couldn’t pull it off as mere humans living on the physical plane.  Greed for power and control spoiled the process of restoration of the governance of the ordinances of heaven upon the Earth through human beings.

Further, I believe Jesus was aware of their foolishness and failure – a failure that actually dated back to King Solomon and the failure of the “chosen people” of Israel to allow that restoration to occur on the physical plane by way of the cycle initiated by Abraham in that pivotal moment when he reportedly ended human sacrifice by not sacrificing his son – and Jesus set about to initiate a second opportunity for the cycle of restoration of human consciousness to its rightful place of dominion in heaven – a dominion founded in love rather than greed. The Egyptians were at least aware that they needed to rise to a higher mental plane in their earnest endeavors to travel to the Far-World to gain knowledge from their gods that would help them maintain a balance between the two worlds they knew at that time. But that opportunity was no longer available. Surely Jesus was well aware of their endeavors – and was not without compassion for their state of blindness.

Baigent goes on to elaborate on their cosmology and culture:

At the same time the temple was a gateway to the Beyond: it was the place where the earth and the sky joined as they seem to do on the horizon, and for this reason many texts refer to the temple as a celestial horizon. The ancient word for “horizon,” akhet, had a number of significant meanings: it referred not only to the joining of the sky and the earth but also to a specific part of the horizon where the sun god rose from the Far-World, the Duat, every morning and returned to it every evening.” Clearly, for the Egyptians, the horizon marked a portal into the Far-World.

Pyramids too were imbued with this quality: the Great Pyramid of the pharaoh Khufu at Giza was termed the “akhet of Khufu.” Furthermore, the root of the word akhet means “to blaze, to be radiant.” On one level this term referred to the blaze of light at sunset or sunrise, but it also had a much more secret meaning, which we will discover.

The primary role of the pharaoh was to serve as the guarantor of Ma’at. The only – and greatest – thing asked of human beings was to live in Ma’at, bringing the cosmos and the physical world into harmony This perfectly balanced state was personified by the goddess Ma’at, who was depicted with an ostrich feather in her hair. She brought truth and justice, the fruits of harmony, into the world.

Coexisting within this universal perfection were two worlds: the physical world, which we are born into and within which we live, and the other world to which we travel when we die, the Duat, or the Far­World. The Far-World was not seen as separate, as some heaven or hell far away from or unconnected with mundane existence. Rather, the Far-World was ever-present. It was believed to exist simultaneously with the physical world, intertwining with it like the two snakes around the caduceus of Hermes. It was with us all the time even though we could not normally see it or travel to it until we died.

These two worlds occupied the same space, in some mysterious and unexplained manner, except that the physical world remained within time whereas the Far-World existed beyond time. Time began with creation, but the Far-World was seen as eternal, not in the sense of being an infinite stretch of time reaching forever into the future and stretching from a past forever distant, but rather eternal in that it was outside of time. The ruler of the Far-World was the god Osiris, and the guide for the dead was Thoth, who led them up to the kingdom of the gods.

A further aspect of the Far-World is that it was understood to be the eternal background to everything in the visible universe. It was considered the divine source of all things, the source of all power and all vitality Life itself was believed to come from the Far-World, which seeped into the physical world and revealed itself in all the forms we see about us.

For the ancient Egyptians, the world of the dead was always very close to the world of the living – there was an intimacy between the two. Paradoxically, the world of the dead was the source for the world of life. Indeed, the dead were believed to be the truly living ones.

A tomb inscription dating from the New Kingdom (around 1550-1070 B.C’) reminds us that “a trifle only of life is this world, [but] eternity is in the realm of the dead.” An earlier Middle Kingdom (around 2040 – 1650 B.C.) tomb of the priest Neferhotep in Thebes-now Luxor-contains several “Harper’s Songs,” the second of which ends:

“As for a lifetime done on earth, it is a moment of a dream. It is said: ‘Welcome, safe and sound’ to the one who reaches the West.”

The “West” for the Egyptians was the land of the dead. Tombs and pyramids were always built on the west bank of the Nile, where it was thought that the sun vanished at night into the Far-World.

To understand this, it is useful to look at the ancient Egyptian concept of time: they understood that two types of time were operating simultaneously. There was the kind of time they called neheh, the cyclical time involved in natural patterns – the seasons, the movement of the stars, and so forth. The other was known as djet, which was no time at all – a state of being outside of time entirely. Only in neheh did time move; djet represented time in suspension. While neheh might be infinite, only djet was eternal; one inscription reads:

“The things of djet-eternity do not die.”

This dual perspective is very different from our modern concept of time in which we are ever tumbling onwards into a future that we can only hope will be perfect – a hope that for many religions rests upon the fulfillment of a promise that a messiah will someday appear to win the final battle against the forces of evil and in so doing will usher in a perfect world. Our political philosophy too is very dependent upon linear time, on a trajectory stretching from the past into the future where, if we manage our legislation correctly, we will achieve satisfaction for all citizens, as if legislation is something that does more than plaster over cracks.

And yet, those of our culture who have stepped out of time – the mystics – report, like the ancient Egyptians, that the world of the dead is indeed a world of the living, that it is ever-present and very close. Making allowances for the great differences in culture and language, we can see this same sense of proximity to the divine world stressed in the reports of the great sixteenth-century mystic Saint Teresa of Avila, who often fell into a mystical “rapture” wherein she was utterly “dissolved” into the divine kingdom. Speaking of God she stressed:

“There was one thing that I was ignorant of at the beginning. I did not really know that God is present in all things; and when He seemed to me so near, I thought that it was impossible.”

From what Baigent presents here, perhaps one can readily see how the roots of Christianity grew out of the soil of Egyptian and Jewish mysticism. Jesus’ attempt to initiate a new cycle of restoration with his disciples failed to interrupt the status quo. Christianity became simply a new name and practice of Egyptian and Jewish mysticism, with all of its mysteries, beliefs and cultish practices.  A third and new cycle was destined to be initiated at a yet higher spiritual level of consciousness and is already underway. But that’s getting ahead of our current exploration.

I will leave it there for now. There’s a lot here to ponder. I would love to share your thoughts on what I’ve presented here. For one thing, I would like to know if what I am bringing forward for consideration is of any value to my readers – and I note that there are many visitors to this blog after each new post. So, do drop me a line or two. Until my next few posts – which will come closer together as we approach the Easter Season,

Be love. Be loved

Anthony

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The “Jesus of History” Vs the “Jesus of Faith” part 2: The Missing Years pg 2

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“WHAT IF EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT JESUS IS WRONG?” – From the cover of Michael Baigent’s book THE JESUS PAPERS – Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History.  Michael Baigent is a religious historian and leading expert in the field of arcane knowledge.

Jesus and Egyptian Mysticism

The Egyptian Mystery Schools were not about cloaking the truth of God in mystery so as to hide it from the uninitiated layman, as a reader recently alluded to in a comment on my last post. Or was it? There does seem to have been a certain secrecy about the “initiation” process which introduced one to Egyptian mysticism.

Now, there’s a word that could use some cleaning up. Mysticism need not imply a cloaking of truth in the illusory clouds of mystery. On the contrary, mysticism dates back to ancient times as a doctrine or belief that one can obtain communion with God, have a direct experience of the Divine Source of Life itself, through contemplation and meditation – “and love without the medium of human reason,” the New World Dictionary adds in its first definition of the word. It’s only the third option that defines mysticism as “vague, obscure, or confused thinking or belief.” The second option defines mysticism as “any doctrine that asserts the possibility of attaining knowledge of spiritual truths through intuition acquired by fixed meditation.” A mystic is a person who has found a spiritual path that takes him/her directly into the Light of the Divine Presence.  This is what Egyptian Mysticism was reportedly all about. So, why would Jesus not be interested in exploring Egyptian mysticism?

According to Michael Baigent, Jesus was more a mystic than a messiah — in the sense that he opened a pathway to the “Kingdom of Heaven” that is within us and all around us for everyone.  He knew the Way.  According to the Gospels, he reportedly said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Where did he learn the “way” to the spirit world of heaven? Had he mastered Egyptian mysticism?

The “Master”

An essential aspect of the Master’s miraculous healings – and I call Jesus Master with purpose – was in the way he reached out to touch people where they were, not requiring them in any way whatsoever to rise up to where he was in order for him to heal them. These people had been led by the God of Abraham and of Isaac to their City of Habitation in Jerusalem. The Prophets of the Old Testament had foretold that a messiah would come and restore Israel and deliver its people from the bondage of the powers that were at the time, which was the Roman Empire. Jesus knew that and he respected their belief in a messiah – so much so that he took on the role of that messiah in order to touch them where they were in their state of expectancy. He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, as we saw earlier, in order to fulfill the prophecy and satisfy their expectancy, an event Catholics celebrate even to this day on Palm Sunday. Where did he learn his mastery?

According to Michael Baigent, Jesus was taken by his parents to Egypt where he grew up and spent eighteen years studying Jewish law and the Sacred Scriptures in preparation for his public ministry among the Jews in Galilee and Judea. I resonate with his scenario for the simple reason that it would seem necessary that Jesus fully understand the task he was about to take on with a people steeped in tradition and scriptural beliefs. But beyond his education into the beliefs and traditions of the Jewish people, I see no heresy in allowing that Jesus may have explored the mysticism of the Egyptian people. After all, he came to minister to the entire world and not just to the Jewish people. His deep passion was to lead all souls back to the path that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven – which he said on many occasions, according to the record, is “within.” To enter the kingdom of heaven, one has to turn around, the literal meaning of “repent,” and look within oneself to find the “way” in.

The Egyptian mystics had found a doorway to that kingdom, only they called it the “Far World.” And here is where Baigent treads on sacred beliefs. Dare he, dare I, even consider the possibility that Jesus explored and underwent training in the mysticism of the Mystery Schools of Egypt? Yes, Egypt was a “‘land-of-darkness’ – or the state-of-darkened consciousness, gross darkness,” as a reader characterized Egypt in his comment on my last post. However, there was a light shining in the gross darkness of Egypt in a community of holy men and women.

The Therapeutae

I would like to turn now and consider a contemplative community of healers with whom Jesus may well have lived and studied. Baigent writes about them in his book. I will share the entire story with you mostly in the author’s own words, words that drew me out with a deep sense of deja vu.

On a low hill in southern Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Maryut just southwest of Alexandria, lived a small community of Jewish philosophers.  Being situated between two bodies of water, they benefited from the fresh breeze of cool and healthy sea air that swept over the limestone spur.  In an atmosphere of peace and “relative security” in this rural setting with nearby  villas and towns, they lived a contemplative lifestyle. As Baigent describes it best, I will let him tell the story, which is largely based on accounts written by Philo of Alexandria and a couple of other historians.

This community was given the name of Therapeutae, which, as Philo explains, carries both the sense of healing – not only of the body but also of the soul – and a sense of worship. Therapeutae worship centered on the “Self-Existent” – a belief in the One Divine Reality, never created but eternal. This was a concept of divinity far beyond the capability of language to describe.

In one important way, the Therapeutae were very different from the other dedicated groups Philo describes, such as the Essenes. Among the Therapeutae, women were admitted as equal members and participated fully in the spiritual life of the community. By contrast, the Essenes, according to Philo, Josephus, and Pliny, were proud of the fact that they excluded women; women, they believed, were a distraction. We should recall here the inclusive attitude of Jesus toward the women in his entourage and the criticism that this engendered among some of his male disciples in the Gospels, for there have been many questionable attempts to ally Jesus with the Essenes.

Comprised of upper well-educated upper class elite from Alexandria who had divested themselves of all worldly possessions, the Therapeutae’s communal life was one of simplicity – and they were not the only group in all of Egypt that followed a contemplative lifestyle.  They were, however, the only group representing a “Jewish version of a widespread mystical tradition that found expression in all lands.” Baigent gives another distinguishing characteristic of this group.

The implication of the Therapeutae’s inclusion of women, however, is that when a group is dedicated to the contemplation of the highest experience of the soul – to that sight of the soul “which alone gives a knowledge of truth and falsehood” – the gender of the worshiper is irrelevant. This may seem self-evident to us today, but in the world of Philo and Jesus this concept was truly revolutionary.

The Therapeutae were mystics and visionaries: “It is well,” Philo writes, “that the Therapeutae, a people always taught from the first to use their sight, should desire the vision of the Existent and soar above the sun of our senses.”

Members of the Therapeutae wanted to have a direct vision of reality – or of the “Self- Existent,” to use Philo’s term – in order to experience what truly exists behind the rough-and-tumble world of this transitory life. This too was the aim of many groups operating in the classical world, especially in those great and secret cults called “the Mysteries.” Here we appear to have a Jewish version, seeking the same end, but operating in a much simpler manner within the Jewish tradition.

The Therapeutae prayed at dawn and sunset. During the day they would read the holy texts, but rather than taking these as the history of the Jewish nation, they understood them as allegory. According to Philo, they considered the literal text a symbol of something hidden that they could find only if they looked for it.

Every seven days they would gather together and hear a talk by one of the senior members; every fifty days they would have a major assembly where they would all put on white robes, eat a simple sacred meal, and form a choir, men and women together, to sing hymns with complex rhythms and vocal parts. This festival would continue all night until dawn, revealing the solar nature of their worship: “They stand with their faces and whole body turned to the east and when they see the sun rising they stretch their hands up to heaven and pray for bright days and knowledge of the truth.’?”

Clearly this is a very different type of Judaism, one that does not depend upon temple worship at all. In Therapeutae worship, which has a very Pythagorean tinge, there is no concern with the cult of Judaism, which was so important to the priests in the temples of Jerusalem and the Egyptian delta, or with the purity of the high priests serving that cult, which was of such concern to the Zealots, or with the coming of the Messiah of the Line of David. For both male and female members of the Therapeutae, there was simply the possibility of a visionary experience of Divinity.

Their kingdom was truly not of this world: Jesus would have approved.

There is one further implication of the Therapeutae’s beliefs that warrants more discussion, and that is the practice of treating the entire Old Testament as symbolic. They would have read all the messianic predictions made by the prophets symbolically.  There would have been no reason in their minds for an actual messiah to come to liberate Israel; there would have been no reason for Jesus to be the actual king and high priest; the oracular pronouncements of the messiah would have been simply symbolic of something deeper and more mysterious. We have seen before how the “Star” is a symbol of the messiah, but can we now take this concept a little further? Can we see the statement by Peter in the New Testament as reflecting this kind of speculation, albeit in a Christian context? Could the phrase “Let the Day Star rise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19) be interpreted as an encouragement to let the mystic light rise from within?

With such attitudes apparently widespread, perhaps even common, it is no wonder that Judaism in Egypt, and Christianity afterwards, had a distinctively mystical quality: it was in Egypt that Christian monasticism first began; it was in Egypt at Nag Hammadi that someone hid the Gnostic texts, that collection of Christian and classical mystical texts – including one by Plato and one from the texts of Hermes Trismegistus, the Asclepius – that had been compiled and used by a desert monastery.

The Christian Church in Egypt had mystically minded figures even as late as the third century – theologians Clement of Alexandria and Origen, for example. We have Egyptian traditions leaking into Judaism from very early days – the times of Joseph and Moses – and in more recent times, as we see in the writings of Philo. In the midst of all this we have groups such as the Therapeutae working a mystical type of Judaism and the Temple of Onias maintaining the true Jewish Zadokite priesthood.

At this point one is tempted to ask “What was it about Egypt that gave this mystical focus to Judaism and the Christianity born out of it? What kind of soil were these foreign faiths growing in?”

The irony of these questions is that it was not so much the land that nourished these faiths as it was the sun, which poured out its life-giving sustenance from above. A clue lies in the fact that both the Therapeutae and the Jewish Zadokites adopted the solar calendar from the Egyptians, whose major deity, Ra, was in fact an expression of the sun as the source of life, the source of all creation. Texts reveal that the pharaoh, at least, sought mystical union with Ra as the “deepest fulfillment of our human divine nature.”

I find this to be a curiously significant aspect of Egyptian Mysticism, as the sun is the central focus of cosmic energy for our solar system – which I would rather call a “Solar Entity” to emphasize its living and breathing nature.  As we shall see in the next post, the Egyptians viewed the visible material world as the cloak of an invisible spiritual “Far World” which governed the world of form.  Their gods lived in that spiritual world.

Could it be that their worship of the sun was prompted by a latent subconscious memory of their origin in the sun. Yes, the sun, the Star at the center of our world.  Is our Judeo-Christian “Heaven” perhaps located in the cool center of our Star?  It that where God lives as the “Lord of lords” and “King of kings,” in his Kingdom that “is not of this world?”  Is the Sun the radiant outer garment of the LORD GOD Creator of our universe – the fire that burns and the light that glows – that gives evidence of the Presence of the One that dwells within – the” Shekinah”? A possibility upon which to meditate and ponder.

The profound mysticism that lay at the very heart of the Egyptian experience of reality clearly influenced many of the other faiths that had established themselves there. This Egyptian mysticism, which employed secret readings of myth and private rituals, often played out in secluded underground chambers and temples, professed to connect this world with the next, to connect heaven and earth.

The approach of the Egyptians was not a kind of philosophy, a speculation on divine possibilities, or a faith built solely upon the hope for a better life after death. The Egyptians were not only mystical but intensely practical. They did not want to talk about heaven, they wanted to go there. And return. Just like Lazarus in fact.

It’s time now to look at the hidden mysteries of Egypt.

Until my next post, when I will tell you about the mysteries of Egypt as Michael Baigent describes them.

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony Palombo

 

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The “Jesus of History” . . . . Vs The “Jesus of Faith” . . . . Part 2: The “Missing years”

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Eighteen years of Jesus’ life are not accounted for in the four Canonical Gospels. The last we hear of his early childhood is the alleged story about him debating with the chief priests and elders in the Temple of Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Where he went after that is a question that has given rise to much scholarly speculation.

Religious historian Michael Baigent has a very intriguing chapter on the missing years of Jesus’ life in his book The Jesus Papers – Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. Digging deeply and tenaciously into whatever ancient texts and oral traditions he could find—the most resourceful being those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written by the Jewish Zadokites and Zealots in Egypt, where they were found around 1947-56, and the Nag Hammadi texts discovered south of Cairo in Egypt in 1945—Baigent places Jesus in Egypt where he receives his messianic training in the Egyptian Mystery Schools.

It is in Egypt, Baigent suggests, where Jesus received training in the ancient rituals of Egyptian mysticism that opened heaven’s gate for passage into the Underworld—the “land of the dead,” which was thought more to be the “land of the living”—and re-entry into the physical plane.  Bagent suggests that Jesus was initiated into these mysteries whereby, with the assistance of fellow initiates who attended to the physical body during the soul’s out-of-body journey, one could die to this world, visit the realm of the gods and obtain wisdom, then be resurrected from the “dead.” Not entirely without historical support for his scenario, Baigent’s speculation is quite conceivable and compelling, especially knowing what we know today about “near death experiences” (NDE’s). Was Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection akin somehow to an NDE? Let’s have a look and decide for ourselves whether or not Baigent’s scenario is in the least bit credible, perhaps even likely.

(This is a dense and complex consideration with many political and religious threads weaving through the fabric of the story. I will attempt to condense it into two or three installments. Encompassing the larger part of Jesus’ thirty-three years of life as recorded by the four Gospel writers, it is perhaps the most crucial and important period, as it was his formative years of preparation for the three-and-a-half years of his public ministry, which ended in his personal victory over death—which was the sole interest of the Gospel writers, though not the sole reason and purpose for Jesus’ life and mission, as we will see.)

Where did Jesus live as a young man?

According to three of the four Canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus was living in the town of Nazareth in Galilee in his youth. Luke says that Jesus grew up there and that he went with his family every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was on one of those occasions that he was found debating with the learned scholars in the Temple. “Unfortunately,” Baigent writes, “there is no evidence whatsoever that Nazareth even existed in Jesus’ day.” Then, as is his style when he comes upon an inconsistency such as this, Baigent’s critical thinking and suspicions kick in. I love the manner in which he goes about questioning everything handed down as history. Here’s a taste of his reasoning and compelling writing:

The first mention of it appears no earlier than the third century A.D. Could this mention of an exchange at the Temple have been placed here as some kind of cover story for a period in Jesus’ life that was otherwise unaccounted for?

As far as the Gospels were concerned, Jesus appears to have vanished during his youth and early adulthood. But it was during those years that he learned the ideas, the beliefs, and the knowledge that he later taught. So where exactly was he? And why have his whereabouts been kept hidden? Had he been “talent-scouted” by priests or rabbis and whisked away for almost two decades of secret training? Surely the disciples must have known where Jesus had been. But what could have possibly been at stake, what problem could have arisen, through sharing this information? In fact, we cannot avoid asking, what were the writers of the Gospels intent on concealing?

Scholars over the years have speculated about this gap in the account of Jesus’ life. Some believe that Jesus traveled with his family to the East,

“far beyond the jurisdiction of the Romans, to Parthia, Persia, or beyond, to Afghanistan, or India. Even today there are many who believe that the shrine of Yus Asaph in Kashmir is that of Jesus himself who, after surviving the crucifixion, returned home to the East to live and ultimately die. There are also suggestions that he studied as a child under Buddhists—this would explain, it is said, the parallels that can be found between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Buddha. And we have the very early Christian community, centered in Malabar on the west coast of India, which claims to have been founded by the apostle Thomas. Surely where Thomas went then so too could Jesus have gone?

Is it possible that the Great Spirit who incarnated in Jesus is the same Divine Being who was also incarnate in the Buddha some six-hundred years earlier in Nepal, India?  Well, that’s getting a little ahead of the current story. There was no reason for Jesus to have fled Roman jurisdiction as he was not involved in the Zealot’s revolutionary activities against the Romans. Baigent reasons:

Any move he made out of Judea or Galilee must have been by choice rather than by coercion. But where could he have ventured, and why?

There is a single clue in the Bible, one in the Old Testament that is echoed in the New. As we have seen, it was important for Jesus to follow, to act out quite specifically, the predictions made by the Old Testament prophets in describing the coming of the messiah. We have already seen the very literal expression of these predictions during Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem when he finally went public with his messianic claims. We can therefore be confident in expecting that every messianic prediction in the Old Testament would be pressed into use in this manner.

In a real sense these predictions by the Prophets limited Jesus. They provided a set of boundaries within which his messianic mission needed to express itself. A particularly interesting prediction was given by the prophet Hosea (II:I): “When Israel was a child I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt” (emphasis mine). Matthew (2:I5) picks up on this in one of the earliest prophetic predictions he mentions: in a garbled historical account, he records that the Holy Family fled into Egypt when Jesus was still a baby, explaining, “This was to fulfill what the Lord has spoken through the prophet: ‘I called my son out of Egypt.'”

I’ve learned that anywhere in the New Testament when these words “This was to fulfill . . .” are used to preface a Biblical event, one can be sure that what follows is a rationalization by the author(s)inserted into the text in order to connect the event with words of prophecy from the Old Testament. It’s like doing research in order to find something that backs up or proves one’s preconceived conclusion or beliefs.

Why Egypt?

AT THIS POINT, we cannot help but ask, why Egypt? This is a minor detail in Matthew’s Gospel and is treated as such in the Roman Church. But for the Egyptian Coptic Church, which separated from Rome in 451 following the Council of Chalcedon, it is a matter of considerable importance indeed. For almost a thousand years it has maintained a legend about the journey the Holy Family made into Egypt, all the sites they visited or resided at, and all the miracles that accompanied the presence of Jesus. This legend is called “The Vision of Theophilus.” Theophilus was patriarch of Alexandria and leader of the Egyptian church from A.D. 385 to 4I2, but the Vision seems not to have been written down until the eleventh or twelfth century

Given the highly devotional nature of the story and the very obvious use made of it to justify Jesus’ uniqueness and divinity, we can locate its theology far beyond the beliefs of the Jewish community in Egypt—the community that would have been giving refuge to Jesus’ family. What’s more, these same factors place the origins of the theology in an era following the dogmatic decisions of the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. It seems fairly evident that the Vision—at the very least—is a product of Christian thought in the fourth century A.D. or later, and certainly not of Judaism or Judeo-Christianity. It therefore cannot be an accurate account of any such journey, although it may very well contain some elements of a real journey. Thus, we need to ask, whom does the story serve? Who would have benefited from its telling?

No one would have benefited more than the author of the Gospel of Matthew himself, as it added credibility to his Gospel. For less obvious reasons, the Coptic Church in Egypt would have benefited by the story of the Holy Family’s travels to the East. “The Coptic Church has been at odds with Rome for over six-hundred years, and its faith was at least tolerated by the Muslim rulers.” There appear to be political and economic factors influencing Mathew’s scenario.

If the Gospel of Matthew is given greater credence, then it stands to reason that various Egyptian holy places within the story would also be validated, thereby opening up a whole new pilgrim route that would include Egypt. With pilgrims, of course, came trade and gold.

Despite its deficiencies, the tale gives every appearance of picking up on local oral tradition or legend. And local legend is dismissed at one’s own peril, for local memories are long. There has certainly been a very ancient and widespread Jewish presence in Egypt—extensive enough to justify the story’s telling well into Islamic times.

There was a legitimate and functioning—although controversial—Jewish Temple in Egypt during the lifetime of Jesus. It was founded by the Zadokite high priest, Onias III, who built it upon the ruins of an old Bubastis temple in the Egyptian delta on the same design as the Temple of Jerusalem.

Onias III, a Zadokite priest, was forced to flee Israel to Egypt when Jerusalem was attacked by the Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphane in 170 B.C., and the Temple in Jerusalem was taken over by non-Zadokite priests allied with Epiphane. The Onias Temple with its Zadokite priest became the only legitimate Jewish Temple in the region. That is until his son, Onias IV, a military commander in the Egyptian army and a non-Zadokite priest, succeeded his father as high priest. This made the Onias Temple in Egypt illegitimate, a diminishing of status by Josephus that was used as his rationale for excluding it from serious academic consideration, by Josephus himself as well as by Philo of Alexandria—both of whom had friends in high places in Israel to placate; friends in the upper class wealthy Jewish sector as well as in the ruling class. Both groups wanted to put distance between them and the Zadokites and the Zealots associated with the Onias Temple in Egypt as well as the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Onias Temple was on the road that Jesus and his parents would have traveled from Judea to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt in order to avoid the strongly-influenced Jewish communities in Alexandria and Naucratis to the west. They would then have traveled south along this road that passed by Onias’ temple, where they would most likely have stopped and settled. Baigent reasons:

And it is highly unlikely that Jesus and his family, raised in a Zealot environment, one that hoped and prayed for a reinstatement of a Zadokite priesthood in the Temple of Jerusalem, would have just passed by this Egyptian Jewish temple. All of these observations lead naturally to the thought that the Temple of Onias served as the initial training site of Jesus. It was here perhaps that he received his introduction into the politically active world of the Zealots.

In a sense, we can see the temple as an overseas branch of Galilee where Greek-speaking Zealots could learn their trade. It would have also been a good place for Jesus’ family to bring him so that he could learn what it would mean to be the Messiah of Israel, for all the texts and commentaries on the role of the messiah would have been available there. So we do now have a good reason for the Holy Family to have traveled to Egypt, and a reason for Matthew’s brief comment, disguised as a flight from the dangers posed by Herodian infanticide. In fact, it would seem not to have been a flight at all but rather a positive action undertaken in order to allow Jesus to grow, to study, and to teach away from the troubles in Judaea and Galilee.

Despite his training in the Zealot cause, Jesus, as we have seen, at some point secretly took another path – one revealed only after he had been anointed as messiah [by Mary of Bethany, who was also Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife and companion], when it was far too late for anybody to challenge him. That path was a more mystical path. Yet where in the Jewish world of Egypt could he have learned such a path? For the answer to this question, we need to look at one of the mystical groups of the time, one described by Philo of Alexandria.

In my next post I will consider the Therapeutae healers in Egypt with whom Jesus may have studied and developed his own gift of healing. I will also consider a most enlightening chapter of Baigent’s book that tells about the mysticism of Egypt and the rituals of initiation into the Mystery School and what was called “incubation,” a most interesting and exciting consideration that may shed light on what really happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So, stay tuned.

Anthony Palombo

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