Friday, March 13, 2015

Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: Paul, the Gnostic Opponent of Literalism

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

No one can accuse the author of the New Testament letters attributed to the man using the name "Paul" of displaying anything less than an ardent, burning desire to convey what he believed to be an absolutely urgent message.

However, when it comes to what that message actually was, there are some researchers who have built a very strong case which suggests that it may not mean "what you think it means."

They argue that Paul might actually have been trying to urgently and insistently convey an esoteric, anti-literal, broadly gnostic, and even shamanic message: one he identified as "the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began" (Romans 16:25), a mystery which he calls "the hidden wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:7), and a mystery which was actually the very opposite of the literalistic interpretation of the scriptures that Paul is normally believed to be championing.

It was a mystery which even Paul himself indicated would be opposed by clever and deceitful men, opponents he believed would not be above altering his letters to make them seem to say something different from what he was really trying to say, or even forging letters purporting to be from him, in order to keep the truth that he was urgently trying to teach from getting out.

In the previous post, we explored some of the penetrating insights and connections offered by Peter Kingsley in his 1999 text, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, providing evidence that ancient philosophy actually relied upon inspiration obtained by entering into a state of incubation or trance, contrary to the understanding of ancient philosophy commonly advanced by most conventional academics today.

It was the suppression of such techniques of ecstasy, of the ability to journey to the invisible realm with which we are all in fact inwardly connected at all times, the realm of non-ordinary reality, or non-local reality, along with the suppression of the knowledge of the indispensability of such travel, which ultimately led -- according to Dr. Kingsley's thesis -- to the incessant pursuit of satisfaction through external sources (whether materialistic or spiritual) that became the defining feature of "western civilization."

That preceding post offered a series of what I believe to be some of the most striking and revealing quotations from In the Dark Places of Wisdom, including some of the words with which ancient accounts tried to describe and convey the characteristics of this vitally-important state of coming into contact with the other realm (a concept often described today using the word "shamanic," which Peter Kingsley's book also uses).

As Peter Kingsley (who is a professional scholar in this field) describes it, the ancient inscriptions and texts tell us that those ancients who participated in these journeys reported that: 
they'd enter a state described as neither sleep nor waking -- and eventually they'd have a vision. Sometimes the vision or the dream would bring them face to face with the god or the goddess or hero, and that was how the healing came about. People were healed like this all the time. What's important is that you would do absolutely nothing. The point came when you wouldn't struggle or make an effort. You'd just have to surrender to your condition. 80.
He cites a passage by the ancient philosopher Strabo (c. 64 BC to AD 24) which describes just such a process of entering into deep trance, like an animal in hibernation or in a state that is neither ordinary sleep nor ordinary awareness.

Note the important insight that this deep state was achieved not by struggling after something external, but that it was actually within the individual already, if they would just "surrender." In one of the other quotations cited in the preceding post, Dr. Kingsley explains (on page 67) that the ancient inscriptions seem to indicate that "We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. The longing is what turns us inside out until we find the sun and the moon and stars inside" (emphasis added: italics not present in the original).

In another significant discussion of this state, Dr. Kingsley says:
If you look at the old accounts of incubation you can still read the amazement as people discovered that the state they'd entered continued regardless of whether they were asleep or awake, whether they opened their eyes or shut them. Often you find the mention of a state that's like being awake but different from being awake, that's like sleep but not sleep: that's neither sleep nor waking. It's not the waking state, it's not an ordinary dream and it's not dreamless sleep. It's something else, something in between. 110-111.
In light of the clear evidence of the importance of this non-ordinary state, and in light of Peter Kingsley's explanation that this deep state was achieved not by struggling after something external, but that it was actually within the individual already, it is most intriguing to examine the passage in one of the letters attributed to Paul, in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians chapter 12, in which he says:
1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful [margin note says "Or, possible"] for a man to utter.
Note the striking similarity here to the ancient descriptions of the trance-state from the tradition Peter Kingsley examines (a tradition of which the profound pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides or Parmeneides was part) and the descriptions given by Paul of his own personal experience of something which certainly appears to be the same type of encounter: one is described as being a state that is "like being awake but different from being awake, that's like sleep but not sleep: that's neither sleep nor waking," and the other is described as a state in which it is impossible to determine whether one is "in the body or out of the body." In both cases, the participant has clearly entered a state which is completely different from ordinary experience, in which normal terms do not seem to apply and normal descriptions fail to capture the condition in which one finds himself or herself.

Note also that a sense of "amazement" appears to be present in the accounts cited by Peter Kingsley and the account as recorded in 2 Corinthians by Paul. Paul specifically says he knows it is "not expedient" for him to glory in this experience, but it was clearly an experience that was most incredible, the wonder of which Paul finds he can barely conceal or contain.

Finally, we can see in verse 2 that in this experience, Paul describes himself (speaking in the third person) as being "caught up" -- it is not something that he caused to happen, but something that just "took him," in much the same way that the participants were described as "surrendering" to the experience (rather than pursuing it or bringing it about by their own efforts) in the ancient texts and inscriptions Peter Kingsley cites.

In an important lecture given by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) entitled Paul, the Gnostic Opponent of Peter, not an Apostle of Historic Christianity, Massey seeks to establish that the author of most of what we find in the Pauline epistles of the New Testament was not teaching anything like literalistic Christianity, but rather that he vehemently opposed literalism and in fact taught something quite different.

The full structure of Massey's argument is beyond the scope of this particular post (the interested reader is advised to read the lecture linked above -- preferably several times -- which can also be obtained in published print format here), but Massey ascribes great importance to Paul's clear testimony that he experienced ecstatic trance, preserved for us in 2 Corinthians 12.

Of this ecstatic experience, Massey says in paragraph 24 (as numbered in this online version):
But, we have not yet completely mastered the entire Mystery of Paul for modern use; and it is not possible for any one but the phenomenal Spiritualist, who knows that the conditions of trance and clairvoyance are facts in nature; only those who have evidence that the other world can open and lighten with revelations, and prove its palpable presence, visibly and audibly; only those who accept the teaching that the human consciousness continues in death, and emerges in a personality that persists beyond the grave; only such, I say, are qualified to comprehend the mystery, or receive the message, once truly delivered to men by the Spiritualist Paul, but which was throughly perverted by the Sarkolators, the founders of the fleshly faith. [. . .] Paul, on his own testimony, was an abnormal Seer, subject to the conditions of trance. He could not remember if certain experiences occurred to him in the body or out of it! This trance condition was the origin and source of his revelations, the heart of his mystery, his infirmity in which he gloried -- in short, his "thorn in the flesh." He shows the Corinthians that his abnormal condition, ecstasy, illness, madness (or what not), was a phase of spiritual intercourse in which he was divinely insane -- insane on behalf of God -- but that he was rational enough in his relationship to them.
Note that in the above passage as it is found in almost every online transcription of the original lecture, the word "accept" in the long first sentence is erroneously written as "except" -- the printed text from 1922 linked above shows that this is someone's mistake (which has been duplicated several times on the web) and that the original printed text reads "accept" at that point, not "except." 

Note also that although Massey here uses the term "men" to refer to "humanity in general," he was absolutely not referring to "men as opposed to women." The reader will find that in this same lecture (particularly in paragraph 20) he explicitly acknowledges that what he is saying applies to men and women, and even goes so far as to explain that:
this manifestor of the re-birth might be feminine as well as masculine. In fact, the female announcer was first, and there are mystical reasons for this in nature. [. . .] Some of the Gnostic sects assigned the soul to the female nature, and made their Charis not only anterior, but superior, to the Christ. In the Book of Wisdom it is Sophia herself who is the pre-Christian Saviour of mankind. [. . .] This complete reversal of the Christian belief is to be found in the Hidden Wisdom!
Massey then goes on to make the extraordinary assertion, based upon the phrasing in verse 2, that this condition of ecstasy is what Paul describes as being "in Christ"! Massey writes:
And when Paul says, "I knew a man in Christ," we see that to be in Christ is to be in the condition of trance, in the spirit, as they phrased it, in the state that is common to what is now termed mediumship.
Massey also argues that those who find themselves in "this same spirit" will manifest it in "various spirit manifestations," and that the list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 is a list of the different manifestations of entering into contact with the realm of spirit (paragraph 26).

Those who are shocked by Massey's arguments, and the basis he finds for his arguments in the New Testament letters themselves, will doubtless point to passages in those same letters, or in other New Testament letters attributed to Paul, which appear to teach the doctrines of literalist or "historic" Christianity (namely, the coming of a literal individual Christ in history, rather than the teaching Massey is asserting that Paul maintained, of a Christ within that was not external or historical). 

But, as Massey points out, Paul himself cautions the readers of his letters that there are those who seek to subvert what Paul is teaching, and who are not above forging letters in Paul's own name in order to suppress Paul's gnostic and spiritual teaching! The second verse of 2 Thessalonians warns the recipients not to be "shaken in mind" or "troubled" even if they hear deceptive reports or even if they receive such reports in a "letter as from us" -- indicating an awareness that adversaries would not be above inserting different teachings into letters actually penned by Paul, or into letters falsely claiming to be from the hand of Paul.

He also makes the insightful point that, since we can clearly find passages today in the New Testament's Pauline epistles which are completely gnostic and anti-literalist, and other passages which are clearly literalist and anti-gnostic, it is far more likely that the literalist doctrines were inserted by literalists than that the gnostic passages were snuck in by gnostics (paragraph 17). 

For one thing, the faction that clearly won out was the literalists, who crushed out virtually all of the gnostic teachers and outlawed their writings (on pain of death for any caught in possession of them) during the second through fourth centuries, and so it is probably they who introduced alterations as they saw necessary to letters which had originally been anti-literalist.   

For another, he points out that many of the "founders of the Fleshly Faith" did not really understand the gnostic teachings, and thus it is far more likely that the literalists added passages and even entire letters supporting literalism, while failing to perceive the full extent of the gnostic teaching that remained, than that the opposite scenario took place.

The striking thing to notice is that we here find very powerful evidence that the same kind of "ancient wisdom" which Peter Kingsley finds in operation during the time of Parmenides (and his long line of predecessors and successors, before such knowledge was somehow subverted and stamped out). And we find that, just as Dr. Kingsley asserts took place with the ancient knowledge that inspired Parmenides and other ancient lovers of wisdom, the teachings of Paul were co-opted and subverted and made to appear to be part of a very different tradition -- one that basically teaches the very opposite of what Paul actually taught!

And there is still more.

Because, as Peter Kingsley makes clear, the ancient tradition of which Parmeneides was a part, and the practice of going deep into an altered state to make contact with the divine spiritual force, was closely associated with the god Apollo, whom we know of as a solar god but who was also associated with the underworld (where the sun appears to spend half its time) and with crossing the boundary into the non-ordinary realm in order to obtain prophetic messages in the trance state, as at Apollo's temple at Delphi. For the discussion from In the Dark Places of Wisdom of the mysterious god Apollo, who has also been "rationalized" and depicted today as something much less than what he was in antiquity, see especially pages 77 - 82.

In fact, in three important inscriptions which were discovered during the twentieth century at the side of ancient Elea (or Velia) and which feature prominently in the mystery-story that Peter Kingsley explores in his text, the three persons commemorated take for their own name one of the names of Apollo himself: Oulis. 

Peter Kingsley writes:
Oulis was the name of someone dedicated to the god Apollo -- to Apollo Oulios as he was sometimes called. 
Apollo Oulis had his own special areas of worship, mainly in the western coastal regions of Anatolia. And as for the title Oulios, it contains a delightful ambiguity. Originally it meant 'deadly,' 'destructive,' 'cruel': every god has his destructive side. But the Greeks explained it another way, as meaning 'he who makes whole.' That, in a word, is Apollo -- the destroyer who heals, the healer who destroys.
If it was just a matter of a single person called Oulis you couldn't draw too many conclusions. But a string of three inscriptions all starting with the same name, this name, isn't a coincidence; and the way each of the men is referred to as Oulis makes one thing very plain. As the first people who published the texts already saw, these were men connected with Apollo not on a casual basis but systematically -- from generation to generation. 57.
Now what is absolutely stunning about all of this, in light of the connections we have just seen from the writings of the New Testament epistles of Paul, is the fact that Paul himself carries a name which refers to the god Apollo!

This is something that the mighty explicator of the celestial foundations of the Bible, Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844) makes quite clear in some of his lectures (which were also published posthumously). The tradition is that this author we call "Paul" was originally known as . . . "Saul"! And of course, as Robert Taylor points out, that word is pronounced just as the word "sol" is pronounced -- the very word that means "Sun" in Latin but which also can be found in the Hebrew Old Testament of course, not only in the character named Saul but also Solomon -- while his new name "Paul" is cognate with the "pol" that is found in both "Apollo" and "Pollux."

And so here we have a rather textbook example if ever there was one which fits the description from the passage just quoted out of Kingsley's In the Dark Places of Wisdom: "these were men connected with Apollo not on a casual basis but systematically -- from generation to generation."

Paul appears to have been part of that systematic, generational line preserving the ancient knowledge.

Which means that it didn't die out with the arrival of Plato or the Platonic school.

But it certainly appears to have come under heavy fire during the period from AD 100 through AD 500, when the literalists crushed out the gnostics and their teachings, so that their work had to go underground for the next seventeen or more centuries.

And note as well that, just as Dr. Kingsley's thesis argues in regards to the suppression of the ancient wisdom known to Parmeneides but later forgotten, those who suppressed this wisdom point to solutions that must be pursued externally to the individual, as opposed to the teaching that we are actually already in deep mystical connection with the divine, if we only learn how to "surrender" to it or be "caught up" by it.

There is much more that could be drawn out from further study of In the Dark Places of Wisdom in conjunction with Massey's enlightening lecture from nearly a hundred years before. But perhaps one of the most important is an almost-offhand remark which Massey includes at the end of paragraph 26 in his lecture. 

There, he says that this destruction of the true teaching which Paul was so zealous to try to pass on to his followers, and its replacement with "historical Christianity," has been "the greatest of all obstacles to mental development and the unity of the human race."

Several previous posts have discussed the reasons that a literalistic interpretation tends to divide men and women from one another -- and to divide them from nature, and even to divide them from themselves and from their true source of "stillness" and satisfaction, so that they must run after it elsewhere, futilely, in an endless cycle of frustration.

The horrible results can still be clearly seen today.

For this reason, it is absolutely essential that we take these matters to heart. 

Please share this information with as many people as you believe might find it to be beneficial.

Peace and blessings.