John Dee and Edward Kelley:
Sex, Lies, and Angels
by P.T. Mistlberger
Nothing is unlawful which is lawful unto God.
—the Enochian 'angel' Madimi
The relationship between the 16th/17th century English scientist, scholar, and magus John Dee and the rogue-mystic and alchemist Edward Kelley is one of the more interesting 'spiritual' or 'philosophic' partnerships in history. It may seem, at first glance, largely free of serious or perpetual conflict, to the point that one might reasonably question their inclusion in this study. However this inclusion is warranted particularly on the basis of a few key incidents that occurred toward the end of their strange partnership. One of these was the infamous wife-swapping affair, the other was the tragic downfall of both, a collapse that occurred largely after they had gone their separate ways—something that suggests that they’d failed to realize a higher purpose and potential to their association. I will explore more of that angle below.
John Dee, ‘The Queen’s Merlin’
John Dee is commonly regarded as an Elizabethan occultist, but he was, of course, much more than just that. He was in many ways the quintessential Renaissance man, straddling the worlds of science and magic, the distinction of which was only just beginning to come into focus at that time. For most of the past since his death in the early 17th century, despite his considerable intellectual accomplishments, he has been held in relatively low regard by academic scholars, dismissed as a fringe-dweller and unworthy of serious study. This has been largely due to his occult activities, in particular his five years of work with Edward Kelley (from 1582-87). However since the extensive research of the English scholar Dame Frances Yates, initially via her works Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964), The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972), and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979), as well as the American scholar Peter French’s John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (1972), this view has gradually turned around, and Dee has been increasingly recognized as a figure of singular importance, one of the most complex, interesting, and celebrated men of his time.1
Dee was born on July 13, 1527, in London. His ancestors were Welsh; the name ‘Dee’ derives from the Welsh word for ‘black’, du. Henry VIII, well into his reign at that time, was 36 years old and still with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, when Dee was born. The year before, Henry had just begun his pursuit of Anne Boleyn (owing partly to his dissatisfaction with Katherine’s ‘failure’ to produce a male heir, and partly due to his infatuation with Anne). Dee’s father, Roland Dee, was a merchant and minor figure at Henry’s court. The time of his son’s birth was a portentous period for England, standing as it was on the cusp of the Reformation and Henry’s ‘Great Matter’ (his divorce from Katherine and marriage to Anne) and subsequent overthrow of the papacy and the Church.
In 1542, the 15 year old John Dee was enrolled at Cambridge (St. John’s College) where he studied a curriculum of logic, rhetoric, science, philosophy, and language (including Greek and Hebrew). Many adolescents rebel at the matter of intense and broad learning, but Dee flourished in this environment, in what was to be the beginning of a life-long pursuit (at times bordering on obsession) of the acquisition of knowledge. So driven was the young Dee that he recorded that during his years at university (1542-46) he allowed himself ‘only to sleep four hours every night; to allow to meat and drink (and some refreshment after) two hours every day; and of the other eighteen hours all (except the time of going to and being at divine service) was spent in my studies and learning.’2 He graduated from St. John’s College in 1546. Soon after, Trinity College of Cambridge was founded, and Dee became one of the original Fellows.
King Henry died in early 1547; the following year Dee, aged 21, graduated with an MA from Trinity. (Although he has been commonly referred to as ‘Dr. John Dee’, there is no record of his ever having obtained a doctorate). He then went to the Continent to study at Louvain in Belgium (an important center of science and mathematics at the time, and an establishment that instructed solely in Latin, indicating Dee’s grasp of that language). A main passion of his at that time was mathematics and science, something that would develop later into his interest in geometry, cartography, and navigation. He would end up as an official advisor to many of England’s first marine explorers, training them in navigation. He is, in fact, the first to be credited with coining the expression ‘the British Empire’.
Dee’s interest in the occult (the word derives from the Latin occulere, meaning ‘concealed’—in part a reference to risks involved in pursuing knowledge that was not approved of by religious authorities of the time) also began in his early 20s, in particular the fields of alchemy (the mystical-psychological precursor of modern chemistry), Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), and Hermeticism (a blend of Egyptian and Greek mysticism). By the time of his completion of his studies at Louvain (in 1550), Dee at only 23 years old was already one of the more learned men of his time, and was tutoring some well known people (such as Sir William Pickering, a renowned knight and future suitor for Queen Elizabeth). Dee began giving lectures shortly after in Paris, to enthusiastic audiences. His reputation grew accordingly.
Dee returned to England in 1551, enriched by his time on the Continent, and was subsequently instrumental in contributing to a new opening in English intellectual circles, which at that time lagged behind in learning from those in France and Italy (in particular). The next year Dee was introduced to the 14 year old boy-king Edward VI (1537-1553), beginning his intermittent association with English court that would last for most of his life. In his mid-20s he tutored, amongst others, a young Robert Dudley (future 1st Earl of Leicester and favorite of Queen Elizabeth).
Dee’s three main influences in the occult sciences were probably the Italians Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), as well as the German Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535). All three were pillars of the revival of esoteric teachings in Renaissance Europe (especially Neoplatonic and Hermetic mysticism, and the Kabbalah). As his knowledge of mathematics and navigation grew, so did his understanding of ‘high magic’ and related esoteric fields.3
In 1553 young King Edward had died, to be replaced by his half-sister and devout Catholic, Mary (1516-1558). Shortly after she assumed the throne Dee had been asked to calculate her astrological chart, which he did; he also did the same for Mary’s younger Protestant sister, Elizabeth. Two years later, for this latter act (not to mention his assumed Protestant sympathies) he was arrested on suspicion of ‘enchanting’ and suspected disloyalty to Mary. Dee was charged with treason and imprisoned for three months, before successfully clearing his name (possibly only because Mary was fond of Elizabeth). As a devout Catholic, Mary was less tolerant of esoteric disciplines like astrology, and much of her short five year reign was consumed with suspicion and the persecution of Protestants, many of whom were executed (for which she received the common title ‘Bloody Mary’); hundreds of others left the country. When Mary died at age 42 in 1558 without having giving birth to an heir, Elizabeth (1533-1603) succeeded her, ushering in the golden Elizabethan age, renowned for cultural advances such as in poetry, literature, music, and especially drama (via Shakespeare and Marlowe).
Dee had a special relationship with Elizabeth, determining her coronation date via his astrology, and serving for many years as a periodic aid and counselor. For the next twenty years he was to play a key role as an advisor for England’s many marine voyages of discovery. During that time (and for all of his life) he continued his study and practice of esoteric arts, for which he was given protection by the Queen so that he could pursue these matters without overdue concern for his life (although following his imprisonment by Mary, he never entirely relaxed his guard again).4
From 1562 to 1564 Dee was traveling throughout Europe, making stops in places such as Antwerp, Zurich, Rome, and Venice, gathering knowledge as he went. This included obtaining a copy of the German polymath and magus Johannes Trithemius’s (1462-1516) Steganographia, a work assumed at the time to be an occult code or esoteric language for communication with spirits over long distances, but which was later demonstrated to be encrypted writing, that is, a message written in such a fashion that only the sender and intended receiver can ‘see’ the message. This type of communication obviously relates to espionage, and indeed Dee probably functioned at least partly in this capacity for the Queen during some of his sojourns on the Continent. (Since Dee, other magi have also been suspected of being spies, such as the more recent examples of Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff—although in all these cases, such activity, if it took place at all, was minor in contrast to their passion for the ‘Great Work’ of inner transformation).
In 1564, at 37 years of age, Dee wrote Monas Hieroglyphica. The book concerned a complex symbol he’d designed, and his subsequent interpretation of it, using the Kabbalah. This work was followed in 1570 by his well known ‘Mathematical Preface’ to an English translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, one of the first works on mathematics to be presented to the general public in England (mathematics at that time was still regarded with suspicion by some religious authorities).
In the mid-1560s Dee had gone to live at Mortlake (near London), in a large rambling house that had been his mother’s. It was here that he would spend his most influential years, assembling his famous library—which at several thousand volumes and manuscripts was acknowledged as the largest in Britain and one of the largest in all of Europe. Dee’s home became the major center of learning outside of the universities for many of England’s elite, including the Queen, Sir Philip Sydney, and Francis Walsingham, all of whom regularly paid him visits.
Throughout the 1570s Dee was involved in Britain’s maritime aspirations, and specifically, in the ideas taking shape at that time dealing with Britain’s imperial ambitions. Dee was instrumental (via his knowledge of navigation and cartography) in Frobisher’s voyages to the New World, and is believed to have been an influence on Francis Drake’s epic circumnavigation of the world (from 1577-80). He even wrote a tract attempting to demonstrate that the entire New World rightfully belonged to Britain, not Spain.
By 1580 Dee, now in his early 50s, was becoming inwardly restless. He’d traveled a great deal (for those times), was immensely learned, had lectured extensively and been published, had cultivated relationships with some prominent people, had exerted some definite influences on British culture and foreign policy, and he’d even recently married (his third time) and just started a family at that relatively advanced age. However he remained fundamentally dissatisfied. Part of that may have included what he perceived to be a lack of recognition, doubtless a reflection of the lesser intellectual climate of England at that time (in contrast to parts of the Continent). Accordingly, Dee found himself developing a longing to connect with more transpersonal (or celestial) realms. He wanted new knowledge, the sort that was not typically available to mortal humans (and from whom he’d concluded that he could not find such knowledge anyway). For this he needed, so he believed, a ‘medium’, someone of sufficient mystical (or psychic) capacity who could aid him in this regard. Dee himself was a massive intellectual, certainly what C.G. Jung would have characterized as a ‘thinking’ type, the sort who is often deficient in other modes of apprehending reality—in specific, via intuition. While intellectual capacity and intuitive capacity need not be antithetical, it is true that they operate very differently and it is also true that many intellectuals have active, busy minds and are not especially given to intuition, let alone ‘psychic’ sensitivity. (For one thing, the emphasis on doubt, skepticism, and critical thinking that underscores most traditional education tends to discourage intuition in a general sense).
Enter Edward Kelley
It was around this time that Dee began to clarify the form that he saw this transcendent knowledge coming in—he sought communication with angels. This was influenced, naturally, by his Christian roots, as well as by the German magus Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s landmark work Three Books of Occult Philosophy (first published in its entirety in 1533). Dee made an extended study of Agrippa’s work, which was his primary esoteric source material.
Dee tried a few different mediums in the early 1580s, but it wasn’t until 1582 that he found his man, an obscure self-professed ‘skryer’ (spirit-medium) who presented himself as Edward Talbot, but who soon after claimed his real name was Edward Kelley. (Whether his actual name was Talbot or Kelley has never been clearly determined, but in keeping with most historians, we will refer to him as Kelley). At the time they met, Dee was 54, Kelley 26. From the start Kelley seemed to display intuitive and psychic capacity that appeared more advanced than any other medium Dee had worked with, and consequently Dee hired him at a good annual wage. Kelley did have some history of brushes with the law (in specific, forgery), and he was reputed to have practiced necromancy (a type of primitive shamanism or sorcery that involves communicating with ‘spirits of the dead’, and in Kelley’s case actually digging up a corpse, in order to divine future events).5 The question of his integrity would follow him throughout his life, becoming amplified when in later years he would be accused by Emperor Rudolph of fraud in his alchemical work. Consequently, the entirety of Kelley’s work with Dee throughout the 1580s—which principally involved the acquisition of a complex system of esoteric teachings known by the wizards themselves as ‘the Angelic Language’ (and now by the modern term ‘Enochian magic’)—has also been questioned, although those who have studied it in depth have found it almost impossible to believe that Kelley fabricated all of it. (It is not within the scope of this essay to explore Enochian magic itself. This has already been adequately done; two excellent sources being Lon Milo DuQuette’s Enochian Vision Magick , and Donald C. Laycock’s The Complete Enochian Dictionary [1975, with more recent reprints]).
Unsurprisingly, much less is known of Edward Kelley than of John Dee. Kelley is the archetypal trickster-shaman, in contrast to Dee’s almost naïve scholar-shaman. Kelley was born in Worcester, England, on August 1, 1555. His background and education are unclear (although he is known to have studied for a while at Oxford). He did have a grasp of Latin and he was unquestionably intelligent. Dee himself was brilliant and highly educated and it is unlikely he would have taken up company with an obscure mystic if he had not been reasonably impressed by the man’s intelligence. It is also reasonable to assume that Kelley was a charismatic and strong personality to have held Dee’s attention in such a matter, although it has to be remembered that Dee was concerned above all with the issue of ‘bridging dimensions’ in order to communicate with angels. For this, Kelley was a means to an end—or at least, so Dee thought.
Scholarly views on Kelley have been largely negative. Academic historians tend to dismiss him, while most educated esoteric practitioners tend to support at least his partial legitimacy, doubting that he could have entirely fabricated his work (which suggests the possibility that at least some historians dismiss him because they don’t understand the Enochian system that he and Dee produced). As one small example: the famed scholar Frances Yates, while extolling the virtues and importance of Dee, dismissed Kelley as a ‘fraud who duped his pious master’6—while at the same time admitting that she was ‘not qualified’ to lecture on occult teachings outside of their historical context.7 At the other pole, Aleister Crowley—who in addition to being an occult scholar, did practice Enochian magic—bluntly declared, ‘To condemn Kelley as a cheating charlatan—the accepted view—is simply stupid.’8 Crowley voiced this not just because of the impressive complexity of the Enochian system, but also because of the ‘superb prose’ that was on occasion transmitted through Kelley—prose of a quality that he estimated was on par with Shakespeare, Milton, and some books of the Old Testament. Crowley concludes, ‘I prefer to judge Kelley from this rather than from stale scandal of people to whom any Magician, as such, smelt of sulphur.’9
As the occult historian Gerald Suster pointed out, the means by which Kelley transmitted the information, by tediously relaying a vision of an angel pointing toward a particular square in a chart that designated a number (something like how a modern Ouija board spells out words one letter at a time, only much more complex)—a chart that was out of Kelley’s sight—implied that he would have had to have memorized the exact positions of 2,401 letters in each of the tables, if in fact his work was purely fabricated. Suster concludes, ‘There must be an easier way of getting a living.’10
Such a feat would have been impressive, but not impossible. Chess masters are known to be able to maintain complex visualizations, all the while using memory and imagination, when playing against an opponent ‘blindfold’ (that is, without sight of the board). Some of these visualizations can indeed involve hundreds, and even thousands, of possible permutations, all the more so when a chess master plays multiple games blindfolded at the same time. Crowley himself had such a skill at chess, as reported by Israel Regardie in The Eye in the Triangle.11 Linguists who learn multiple languages are capable of staggering feats of memory. That Kelley had studied at Oxford, was familiar with the vast work of Agrippa, and was both intelligent and, above all, resourceful, makes anything possible. Additional arguments in support of the ‘Kelley fabricated it’ angle are that the angels gave several predictions that did not pan out, and at times their Latin is flawed.
On the other hand, a strong argument can be mounted (if only for the reasons that Crowley had indicated) that Kelley’s work was legitimate, if imperfect, ‘skrying’ and inspired mediumship. There are more recent parallel cases of extensive material coming through a ‘medium’ in such a way that it is hard to connect the material with the conscious mind of the medium. A good example of this is the 20th century research psychologist Helen Schucman, who from 1965-72 ‘channeled’ the large semi-Gnostic text known as A Course in Miracles. Schucman, in an interesting parallel with Edward Kelley, was at times skeptical and even hostile toward the material that was being transmitted through her (and refused to ever accept any money for its later publication)—a book that was very long, elaborately written, full of profound and original insights, as well as breathtaking prose and poetry. In a further parallel with Kelley, Schucman also had her ‘John Dee’, that being her colleague Bill Thetford, who for nearly seven years aided in the transmission of her material. Another late 20th century example can be seen in the work of Jane Roberts and the ‘spirit guide’ Seth, and her husband and aid Robert Butts. Seth’s material was also extensive and original, and hard to connect with Roberts’ conscious mind.
Along with all that, Kelley at times brought forth clear Greek communications from the angels, when he himself did not know Greek. Further, the material conveyed by the angels was often dangerous for those times, enough to get Kelley and Dee burnt at the stake (which is why Dee generally kept his notes for the skrying sessions under lock and key), all of which argues against Kelley fabricating the ‘angelic language’. (As an aside, the contemporary linguist and mage Patrick Dunn argues that Enochian is not technically a language, at least by standard understanding, owing to its ‘random verb endings’. He believes it to be more properly a ‘complex substitution code called a relexification’, something similar to the Navajo code used by the Americans during World War Two).12
In the end, although I suspect that Kelley did have legitimate ‘shamanic’ experiences and that for the most part he was not consciously duping Dee, I tend to agree with Donald Laycock that Kelley was, at times, almost certainly embellishing matters, or consciously manipulating Dee. Examples of this may have been ‘angelic communications’ that directed Dee to leave Bohemia and return to Poland, during the time that Dee and Kelley were in Europe and a patronage they sought from Emperor Rudolph was not forthcoming. The fact that Kelley and Dee had a fight at that time that became a physical altercation supports the view that Kelley had an agenda to go to Poland, where he may have seen better business opportunities for his alchemy.13 And then there is the infamous matter of the wife-swapping (see below). However, the issue of the source of the material—‘angels’ or Kelley’s (or Kelley/Dee’s) mind—is, I suggest, secondary. As a tool for investigatory spirituality Enochian magic ‘works’, as most magicians concur—not in the crude sense of material ‘results’ (although some argue for its usefulness therein), but in the more profound sense of the deepening and expanding of consciousness brought about by work with its elements. As a system for inducing trance, and bridging conscious and subconscious minds (or physical and ‘astral’ domains, to use occult lingo), it is as effective as any esoteric system, and arguably more than most, owing to its relative lack of repeated usage and subsequent cheapening of value.
Dee’s esoteric work with Kelley—in specific, the ‘angelic’ séances—lasted just over five years, from March of 1582, to May of 1587. Their usual manner of operating together was to begin with a prayer, followed by uncovering a ‘shewstone’, a viewing device in which Kelley would see visions, report them to Dee, who dutifully recorded them and later worked to make sense of them. The object used by Kelley in which to see the visions was either a rock crystal globe, or a black obsidian ‘magic mirror’, both items of which have survived and can still be seen in the British Museum. The obsidian, also known as volcanic glass, is the black circular disc seen below (the small rock crystal, or crystal ball, lies in front of it). The black obsidian was originally an Aztec device (used by Aztec shamans for divination), plundered from Mexico in the 1520s by Cortes' people. How it came into Dee's possession is unknown. Lying flat directly to the right of it can be seen Dee's famed Sigillum Dei.
The visions seen by Kelley were exclusively concerned with angels, and their transmission of a language that they claimed to be the primordial language of humanity. Much of the work of these ‘spiritual conferences’ was enormously tedious and difficult, often not producing much of substance more than the angels making something like angelic small-talk, peculiar religious references that at times sound like gibberish, or correcting errors in transmission. To cite one small example, witness the following short, and typically odd, extract from one of their séances (taken from Meric Casaubon’s A True and Faithful Relation):
Gabriel (the angel): Count the number of words you have received today.
Dee: Sixteen, if ‘Poamal’; ‘Od’, be made two words.
Gabriel: Be packing, and so many plagues be amongst you more than your plague was before.
Kelley (describing what he sees in the shewstone): He seems to storm still.
Gabriel: Come in.
Kelley: Now there come four more.
Gabriel: Art thou not Adraman? Which hast fallen, which hast burst thy neck four times? And wilt thou now rise again, and take part anew? Go thou way therefore, thou Seducer, enter into the fifth torment. Let thy power be less than it is, by as much as thou seest number here.
Kelley: Now they all four fall down into a pit, or Hiatum of the foundation of the place where they stood.
Kelley: Nalvage (another angel) lieth all this while upon his face.
Gabriel: Count now again.
Gabriel: It is not so. There is an error.14
Indeed, one might reasonably question the entire body of material brought forth by Kelley, and why ‘angels’ would need to communicate through such a strangely indirect method. Why not just speak simply and directly to the two men? This all addresses a broader theme, an idea found in many wisdom traditions—perhaps spelled out most clearly in Gnosticism—which is that the world we humans inhabit is remote, degraded, and ‘far away’ from higher, more refined dimensions of existence. An analogy might be deep-sea life, several miles below the surface of the ocean. At such depths, there is little light and enormous pressure. As land creatures we humans cannot easily penetrate to such depths, and the sheer inaccessibility makes it very difficult to interact with life ‘down there’. In the cosmic analogy, humanity is a ‘bottom dweller’, living in a relatively dark and inaccessible dimension compared to the worlds full of light and ‘lesser pressure’ on the surface of the ocean, or above it in the air inhabited by creatures with wings.
If this view carries truth (and it is reasonable to imagine that it does), then it is equally conceivable that highly indirect means might be needed to communicate between dimensions—or more to the point, between different orders of intelligence, or between species of different kinds of sentience. As one small example: anyone who has ever owned a cat knows that they rarely make eye contact, and many appear to not (or only marginally) ‘know’ their own name. At yet all the same, it is certainly possible, and relatively easy, to keep a cat as a pet, communicate with it in many ways, and live cooperatively with it. When a human ‘speaks’ to a cat the animal doubtless hears, for the most part, meaningless grunts and sounds, and yet something is conveyed and something is understood by the cat. If we are to imagine that orders of consciousness exist that are to us as we are to cats, then it’s no leap to guess that indirect means of communication would not be some triviality, or some meaningless gibberish, but rather a necessity.
Shortly after Kelley first met Dee—when the former still went by Edward ‘Talbot’—the two had a falling out, and Dee concluded that his new skryer was a deceptive and untrustworthy person. Dee’s wife Jane had an intense dislike of him, and there was even suspicion that he may have been a spy or a renegade Catholic priest. What was known for sure was that he was a convicted criminal (accused of forgery and counterfeiting).15 The general view is that Dee put up with Kelley because as a ‘sensitive’ or ‘medium’ it was expected that his personality would be unconventional in some ways. As Colin Wilson wrote in reference to Kelley, ‘Occult abilities often seem to be accompanied by instability of character.’16 (This is also often the case with tribal shamans, who are commonly regarded as eccentrics or social outcasts). Like an eccentric or irascible artist, the dubious elements of Kelley’s character were overlooked by Dee in favor of his talent. This is a psychological theme that is basic to the alchemy of joining between ‘opposite’ personalities.
Adventures on the Continent
In September of 1583 Dee and Kelley, along with their wives, departed for the Continent. They went to Poland and then to Prague, where in the summer of 1584 Dee had an audience with Emperor Rudolf (1552-1612). It is difficult to overstate the significance of this emperor, as a figure straddling the eras of dominant religious dogma, occultism, and the approaching Age of Reason. Rudolph was Holy Roman Emperor for the last thirty-six years of his life, as well as a member of the powerful Austrian House of Habsburg.
Rudolph was strongly interested in astrology and alchemy, something not as notable as one might think, as these arts were more mainstream in Europe at that time (roughly in the way that modern science is now—the Scientific Revolution was only in its infancy during Rudolph’s reign). Nevertheless Rudolph was unusual in being a major head of state who was involved in a life-long pursuit of such matters as the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ (the prize of material alchemy). He even undertook some alchemical experiments in his own laboratory. Accordingly, Rudolph sought out many of the prominent alchemists of his day, including Dee and Kelley. As Frances Yates put it, ‘Hiding himself in his great palace at Prague, with its libraries, its ‘wonder rooms’ of magico-mechanical marvels, Rudolph withdrew…Prague became a Mecca for those interested in esoteric and scientific studies from all over Europe. Hither came John Dee and Edward Kelley, Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler…Prague under Rudolph was a Renaissance city…a melting pot of ideas, mysteriously exciting in its potentiality for new developments.’17
Alas, any period of happiness for Dee and Kelley at the Emperor’s court was not to last long. There is a record of Dee conveying a message from the angels to Rudolph, one that was decidedly brazen and disapproving of the Emperor. It didn’t go over well, and for that as well as due to pressure from Rome about suspicions of Dee and Kelley’s occult practices, the wizards were soon banished by Rudolph. (This was an especially dangerous time for potential heretics, as the witch craze persecutions and burnings had peaked between 1580 and 1630, especially in Germany, where thousands were killed at that time). Dee and Kelley did not go far, however, spending almost two years at a castle in Trebon (in southern Bohemia) as a guest of the powerful nobleman Vilem Rozmberk (himself an enthusiastic occultist and patron of alchemists).
The end of Dee and Kelley’s association was brought about, at least in part, by a strange wife-swapping incident in 1587. The angel Madimi—the only Enochian angel who seems to have expressed anything approaching ‘human warmth’ toward the two magicians18 —had communicated to Kelley that a block between the two men could only be resolved by them sleeping with each other’s wife. Despite Dee’s reluctance, and despite the noisy protestations of the wives themselves, the ‘angelic command’ was apparently consummated. Not long after the two wizards apparently had had enough of the angels, and their séances came to an end.
That Dee’s wife Jane was much younger than Dee, attractive, and had long been of some interest to Kelley, naturally makes the whole thing suspect to an amusing degree. Some have speculated the obvious, that Kelley engineered the matter not just to sleep with Jane, but to hasten the end of his commitment to Dee, so that he could pursue his work in alchemy (which is in fact what happened). However there appears to be more to the matter than the usual cynical interpretation. A pointer to this greater perspective was first suggested by a key teaching from the angel Uriel (via Kelley) that underscores an important issue in the matter of all Great Work (the alchemical union of opposites). It occurred at the very beginning of Kelley’s association with Dee. The words were:
There must be conjunction of minds in prayer, between you two, to God continually. It is the will of God that you should jointly have the knowledge of his angels together.19
The occult scholar Donald Tyson, in his book on Enochian Magic (1997), suggested that a strong Gnostic element in the teachings of the Enochian angels was reflected in the idea of a Gnostic (or ‘Tantric’) union called for between Dee and Kelley—a union that often takes the form of actual sexual joining. Tyson argued that if this could not be achieved directly between the two, the next best thing was for them to share their wives, as a wife (at least in the Christian context of that time) was thought to be of ‘one flesh’ with the husband.20 Other scholars, such as Donald Laycock, have suggested that the whole thing was an expression of possibly latent homosexuality in Kelley.21 Part of Laycock’s argument stems from Kelley’s reluctance to marry, and the known fact that when he did—only at the express ‘instruction’ of the angels—his relationship with his wife was formal and strained. Be that as it may, the key probably lies in the original words cited above attributed to Uriel, which is the essential idea that two minds and two wills, joined together in common cause, are much more powerful than a solitary mind and will.
As Tyson noted, ‘There has never been a more unlikely pairing of personalities than Dee and Kelley. They were as different as day and night.’22 That, as we repeatedly see throughout the history of conflicted relationships in the metaphysical domain, is no simple or random inconvenience, but is rather a prerequisite for that specific psycho-spiritual alchemy that has the potential to bring about vast growth and profound awakening. ‘Opposites’ don’t merely attract, they actually need each other in order to resolve and integrate deeper psycho-spiritual patterns. The irony around Dee and Kelley is that although both were practically obsessed with higher knowledge (certainly in Dee’s case) and the matter of material alchemy (i.e., Kelley’s infamous ‘red powder’), it may never have fully occurred to them that they themselves were the key alchemical ingredients of their work together.
As I see it, Tyson’s ‘Gnostic’ view of the wife-swapping command from the angel Madimi is an interpretation that is going in the right direction. This strange directive from the angel (or from Kelley’s mind) tends to be marginalized, dismissed as an anomaly that was merely heralding the end of the odd partnership between the two Renaissance wizards. And indeed, it was after this event that they drifted apart, with Dee eventually returning to England at the behest of the queen and Kelley pursuing alchemy for Emperor Rudolph in Bohemia (with ultimately futile—and fatal—results). However in order to make sense of Dee and Kelley, and in specific the alchemy of their relationship, it’s important to bear in mind the ultimate purpose behind all legitimate spiritual teachings of whatever stripe—which is that they all teach awakening. This ‘awakening’ may be presented variously as escaping from illusions, escaping from inner enslavement, or escaping from general immaturity, but the bottom line is that it ultimately involves guiding the seeker toward a glimpse of the Unity of reality, of what Plotinus called ‘the One’, and along with it the illusion of separation.
This is all very well—arriving at a felt unity with ‘the All’ may seem at first glance appealing to the average person who considers themselves intelligent, sensitive, and increasingly tired of the standard values of egocentric ambitions and goals. But as any sincere spiritual seeker soon discovers, the path is fraught with traps and difficulties. These difficulties largely boil down to one essential truth: try as we might, there is a part of us, which for argument’s sake we can call the ‘ego’, which is not truly signed up for this process. It has no more interest in being ‘One’ with everything than the average person has of sharing their bank accounts or kitchen with a stranger on the street.
The problem with the whole idea of the ‘spiritual path’ is that it fails (much more often than it succeeds) to deal with the need to reconcile opposites. In the case of human awakening to a higher or even sublime potential, these opposites commonly take the form of ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’—or in more individual terms, ‘soul’ and ‘body’. The reason why true enlightenment is so rare is because most people are heavily identified with matter—the body, material attachments, and all the very real matters of survival. As A Course in Miracles wisely states, ‘Never underestimate denial.’ The ‘denial’ it is referring to is that which belongs to the ‘spiritualized ego’—the part of us that is often posturing on the spiritual path, pretending to be further along, or more sincere in our spiritual intentions, than we actually are. For most, this spiritual pretension is not actually conscious. One may identify wholly with being a ‘spiritual person’ while remaining largely blind to the reactionary elements in one’s subconscious mind.
Of course, in the end it may indeed have been that the wife-swapping assignment was purely Kelley’s cynical device, but the matter of motive is less important than the underlying theme that the event illustrates, and it is this: in order to personally break through our limiting barriers, we almost always need to push the envelope, to go to the edge, and often, beyond. Those familiar with the traditional Tarot deck have seen renderings of the Fool card that generally depict a jester-type wandering blindly to the edge of a cliff, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he’s about to step into an abyss. It is implied by such imagery that to step into an abyss is to head into the unknown, with every possibility that one will not return as the same person. It speaks to the essential inner need to ‘die’ so that we can truly live—to let go of those fears, inhibitions, and timidities that impede our empowerment, expansion, and passionate fulfillment as human beings, rather than merely human potentials.
The personalities of John Dee and Edward Kelley are typically regarded, by students of the esoteric, as a mere pair of hands to serve the work of their ‘inner genius’ (or the agendas of non-human intelligences). In that light, their ultimate purpose is understood to have been to cooperate in order to bring forth a complex system of magical power that would somehow be of use to the world. Some would even attempt to argue, especially in the case of Dee, that their work was ultimately an indirect influence behind the subsequent ‘Rosicrucian Enlightenment’ of early 17th century Bohemia followed in short order by the Thirty Years War, emergence of Cartesian rationalism, and eventual triumph of Western science.
What is more commonly overlooked is that Dee and Kelley came together in order to provoke each other to a higher level of individual development. They were indeed opposites in many ways, and apart from the fact that in a strange manner they needed each other, in different circumstances their connection would have been unlikely. If all relationship is an arena for learning and growth, it’s clear that Dee and Kelley succeeded to some degree, if only for the considerable difficulties their partnership endured, and survived, for the better part of a decade. That they parted on reasonably good terms was something of a minor miracle.
It is equally clear that their work together failed in other respects. Nothing really came of their Enochian system, and they failed to land consistent patronage (despite gaining the attention of some of the most powerful figures of 16th century Europe). In short, they failed to exert the influence on European politics that they believed (at least in the case of Dee) the ‘angels’ were guiding them toward.
Dee returned to England in 1589, leaving Kelley behind. His precious library at Mortlake had been ransacked by a mob when he was out of the country (although he did manage to salvage about two-thirds of it). Dee’s remaining eighteen years were not especially noteworthy. He struggled financially, and had to ward off accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, especially after Elizabeth’s death in 1603 (her successor, King James I, was not sympathetic toward the occult as Elizabeth, at least to some degree, had been). In 1605 Dee suffered further loss when his wife Jane, and several of his children, died in an outbreak of the plague. He passed away in late 1608 or early 1609 at 81 years old, exceptional longevity for that time. The life of this remarkable scholar and wizard had spanned the reign of five monarchs.
Kelley met an ignominious end about a decade after parting from Dee. Initially he enjoyed some success as an alchemist in Europe, allegedly producing certain amounts of gold from mercury, but by 1591 Emperor Rudolph, growing impatient with Kelley’s failure to produce larger quantities, had him imprisoned. After two years he was released, but by 1595 was imprisoned again. There are no confirmed records of how Kelley died, but the legend has it that in 1597 he fell from a prison tower he was attempting to escape from, later dying from his injuries. He was 42.
1. What Israel Regardie did to single-handedly rehabilitate the image of the controversial 20th century mage Aleister Crowley, Yates and French largely did for the sake of John Dee. Some of the better works on John Dee, his associates, and Enochiana, are the following: Charlotte Fell Smith, John Dee (1909); Peter French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (1972); Donald C. Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary (1975); Geoffrey James, The Enochian Evocation of Dr. John Dee (1984); Donald Tyson, Enochian Magic for Beginners: The Original System of Angel Magic (1997); Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I (2001); Gerald Suster, John Dee: Essential Readings (2003); Joseph Peterson, John Dee's Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic (2003); Stephen Skinner and David Rankine, Practical Angel Magic of Dr. John Dee's Enochian Tables (2007); Lon Milo DuQuette, Enochian Vision Magick (2009); Egil Asprem, Arguing with Angels: Enochian Magic and Modern Occulture (2012); Aaron Leitch, The Essential Enochian Grimoire: An Introduction to Angel Magick from Dr. John Dee to the Golden Dawn (2014).
2. Peter French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1987 edition), p. 24.
3. Ibid., p. 31.
4. See Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964), pp. 187-188.
5. Donald Tyson, Enochian Magic for Beginners: The Original System of Angel Magic (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 1997), p. 17.
6. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 149. Yates did allow, however, that the quality of Kelley’s trickery (if it was that) indicated, if nothing else, his impressive familiarity with Renaissance magic.
7. Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 1.
8. Aleister Crowley, with Victor Neuburg and Mary Desti, The Vision and the Voice (Boston: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1998), p. 7.
9. Ibid., p. 7. Crowley felt a deep identification with Kelley, so much so that he believed Kelley to have been a ‘previous incarnation’ of him. Veracity of this aside, there are notable parallels between the two, such as elements of roguery, intelligence, shamanic sensitivity, resourcefulness, hobnobbing with the famous, and not to mention sleeping with other men’s wives.
10. Gerald Suster (editor), John Dee: Western Esoteric Masters Series (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2003), p. 139.
11. Israel Regardie, The Eye in the Triangle (Phoenix: New Falcon Publications, 1993), p. 14.
12. See Patrick Dunn, Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2008), pp. 94-100.
13. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited (Hudson: Lindisfarne Books, 1999), p. 92.
14. Meric Casaubon, A True and Faithful Relation (first published in 1659), p. 84. The entire book is available online at www.themagickalreview.org
15. Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001), p. 166.
16. Colin Wilson, The Occult (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. 272.
17. Frances Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge Classics, 2002), p. 26.
18. Tyson, Enochian Magic for Beginners, p. 37.
19. As rendered in modernized English by Woolley, The Queen’s Conjurer, p. 158.
20. Tyson, Enochian Magic for Beginners, pp. 33-34. Some commentators believe that Tyson’s work was marred by his view that the Enochian angels had a specific agenda (unrevealed to Dee or Kelley) which was aiding in ushering in the Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, although to Tyson’s credit he does not pass his interpretation off as dogma, but rather stresses it is speculation and advises the reader to treat it accordingly. See Tyson, p. xvii.
21. Donald C. Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Angelic Language as Revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley (York Beach: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2001) p. 53. Though it is unclear why Laycock does not suggest the same thing of Dee; although Dee was married, marriage itself does not preclude possible latent homosexual tendencies.
22. Tyson, Enochian Magic for Beginners, p. 13.
Copyright 2010, by P.T. Mistlberger, All Rights Reserved.
Jesus and Judas
Brothers in Spirit
by P.T. Mistlberger
And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. (Matthew, 26:49, KJV).
The relationship between Jesus and Judas has long been regarded as the quintessential relationship of conflict, involving in particular the theme of betrayal. In the annals of Western literature, perhaps no figure has been as universally reviled as Judas (with Dante notoriously depicting him inhabiting the lowest realm of Hell in a state of perpetual agony). Throughout the centuries the Judas-stereotype has come to be associated with a treachery based on selfish agendas, and far worse, with the stereotype of the greedy and untrustworthy Jew, the ‘Christ-killer’. This stereotype is, however, loaded with internal contradictions—most obvious being that the death of Jesus made possible his crucifixion and (according to Christian doctrine) his resurrection, without which there would be no basis to the orthodox Christian faith. Accordingly, Judas played a key role in the fulfillment of Jesus’ destiny as Messiah. That aside, the relationship between these two figures, though of many possible dimensions (depending on interpretation), is a rich basis for a study in conflict, despite the fact that traditional dogma presents Jesus as of infinite significance, and Judas as a mere common traitor.
As with all the grand historical conflicted relationships, there are two essential elements to consider: first, the outer historical perspective, with particular emphasis on 20th century advances in critical study of the Bible, including the recent discovery of the highly controversial Gnostic Gospel of Judas (see below), and second, the inner psycho-spiritual theme of the relationship, and its applicability to patterns that surface in our own lives.
The Historical Jesus
The idea of a ‘historical Jesus’ needs to be understood as that which differs from a ‘doctrinal Jesus’ or a ‘mystical Jesus’. The doctrinal Jesus—also known by scholars as the ‘dogmatic Christ’—is a figure who conforms to views and conclusions as established by various authoritative councils down through the centuries. The classic example of this is the Jesus who conforms to some of the conclusions of the renowned Council of Nicaea (located in present-day northwestern Turkey) of 325 C.E. It was during this council that the presiding bishops officially set as dogma the Nicene Creed, at the same time declaring the opposing theology (‘Arianism’) a heresy. The Nicene Creed declared that Jesus was ‘of one substance with the Father’—defined by the word homousios—implying that Christ was both fully human and fully God. Arianism was the name given retroactively to the ideas put forth by Bishop Arius (251?-336), who had argued that God the Father was necessarily of singular primacy, and forever superior to the Son (Christ), whom he had created. With the success of the Nicene Creed, the views of Arius—and all other views of Christ that did not acknowledge him as God incarnate—became heretical to orthodox Christianity.1
The ‘mystical Christ’ is something far more nebulous and complex than the dogmatic Christ, because the mystical Christ is, in some respects, the Christ as understood by anyone who has a direct, transpersonal experience that he or she believes reveals something about the nature of Christ. Obviously, there is nothing objective here. The mystical Christ is, in some ways, polar opposite to the historical Jesus, although it is certainly possible to integrate the two to one’s personal satisfaction.
Outside of the dogmatic Christ and the mystical Christ, is the historical Jesus. This is the figure that emerges from a close, rational analysis of the various scriptures, both canonical and apocryphal, as well as from a consideration of secular sources written around the time he lived. The idea of applying historical method to the study of scriptures, and ultimately to that of the figure of Jesus himself, is a relatively recent phenomenon. It had its roots, indirectly, in the rise of modern science during the 17th century ‘Age of Reason’, in particular via the work of Copernicus and Galileo, both of whom combined to alter the world-view within Christendom at that time. The essence of this paradigm shift was that man was no longer the center of the universe, reflecting the new heliocentric (Sun-centered) view of the solar system deduced by Copernicus, and visually confirmed by Galileo. What science had single handedly demonstrated was that the force of reason (via Copernicus’ logic) and empirical observation (via Galileo’s primitive telescope) was enough to overturn an old dogmatic worldview, and completely reorient our understanding of the universe and Man’s role—and most importantly, his relative significance—in it.
It was from this emerging climate of slowly developing intellectual rigor that the first historical studies of Jesus began to appear, mostly via the German scholars Hermann Reimarus (1694-1768) and David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874). It was from these two that the essential pillars of modern biblical criticism developed, these pillars consisting of differentiating the historical Jesus from the Christ of dogma as defined by the early creeds, and of recognizing the large differences between the three ‘synoptic Gospels’ (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), and the fourth Gospel (John).2 Critical scholarship applied to the life of Jesus began to develop further with the work of the important German scholar Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), and then began to hit its stride in the mid 1980s with the founding of the ‘Jesus Seminar’ by Bible scholars Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and others, under sponsorship of the Westar Institute. This group, aided by up to two hundred (mostly liberal) scholars, eventually produced a work that gave a cautious estimation of what exactly Jesus probably did and did not say, based on the words traditionally ascribed to him. The Jesus Seminar concluded that 82% of the words that he is supposed to have said, according to the four traditional Gospels, were ‘not actually spoken by him’.3 (This, predictably, unleashed a firestorm of controversy from conservative Christians, who then attempted to attack the findings of the Jesus Seminar from many angles; one result from the backlash was that some Seminar Fellows had to resign their teaching posts).
Many things emerged from this critical analysis of the Gospels and other associated writings. Above all, the conventional image of Jesus came to be seen as one carefully crafted over many centuries by ‘authorities’ with agendas, perhaps the greatest of these being the decision to create a faith rooted in a claim of spiritual supremacy. The Nicene Creed does not proclaim Jesus as just one incarnation of God (as Hindus do with Krishna), or as just one in a long line of Awakened Ones (as Buddhism does with Gautama Buddha), or as the last and greatest of the Prophets (as Islam does with Mohammad). It rather asserts that Jesus, and only Jesus, was God, and that the words ascribed to him from John’s Gospel, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6, KJV), carry supreme (and ultimately severe) import.
Critical scholarship has in general come to a number of conclusions, and many of these were published in the early 1990s, a heyday for a wider public outreach by scholars of the historical Jesus. Amongst these have been: no evidence that Herod ‘murdered babies’ en masse in the infamous ‘slaughter of the innocents’ in an attempt to eliminate Jesus as a possible rival king; that Jesus was likely born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem; that he never claimed to be the Messiah, or the ‘Son of God’; that he was not born of a ‘virgin birth’; and that the resurrection story, as literally told, is almost certainly a fairy tale.4
There have even been credible arguments advanced that Jesus never in fact existed. These views have been lent weight by the almost total lack of corroborating evidence for the existence of Jesus by contemporary historians of his time. Only one, the famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 C.E.) appeared to make mention of Jesus, but the short passage where he described him has been judged as so ludicrously over the top as to be almost certainly a clumsy insertion by some later Christian scribe. However, further closer analysis has come to view this passage as having likely been exaggerated, rather than fabricated altogether.5 That, along with a general consensus that the surviving letters of Paul, four Gospels, and later Gnostic gospels, in all likelihood describe a person who in some fashion existed, have relegated the ‘Jesus never existed’ position as out of favor amongst even the most skeptical historians.
Nevertheless, the views that emerge of the historical Jesus are enough to seriously alter the faith, to the point where it is barely recognizable as the traditional Christianity that has held sway for the past 1,700 years. This is because Christianity is, above all, a historical faith, resting crucially on the assumed factuality of certain historical events, foremost in importance of which is the resurrection. Without Jesus’ victory over death, his ascension, he is just another Jewish sage, and certainly not the ‘sole Son of God’.
Limitations of space make it impossible here to cover the full arguments behind the critical scholarship of the historical Jesus. What follows is a brief summary of some of the conclusions of the critical deconstruction done by historians and scholars of the more traditional and important Christian beliefs concerning the events of the life of Jesus. (The interested reader can pursue more comprehensive analysis of these matters in the various writings mentioned in the Notes section to this chapter).
New Testament scholarship has managed, over the years, to reach a strong general consensus about some matters concerning the four traditional (canonical) Gospels. Three—those of Mark, Matthew, and Luke—are called the ‘synoptic’ Gospels, because they share a close similarity in narrative content (‘synoptic’ is Greek for ‘seen together’). The fourth, John’s Gospel, has a much different tone and is believed to have been written a couple of decades later. (Significantly, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar concluded that practically nothing in John’s Gospel ascribed to Jesus was actually said by him).
Scholars are now more or less unanimous that the oldest is Mark’s Gospel, which is believed to have been written down around 70 C.E. (that is, roughly forty years after Jesus’ death). The reason Mark’s Gospel is viewed as the oldest is primarily due to the fact that Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, while differing on some points, share common passages that are all found in Mark. Matthew’s Gospel is believed to have been written around 80 C.E., with Luke’s following shortly after. John’s Gospel is believed to have been scribed around 100 C.E. It is now largely agreed that none of the actual authors of the Gospels went by the names attributed to the Gospels, and thus were likely anonymous scribes.
Problems around the traditional stories of the birth of Jesus begin with the conflicting versions found in Matthew and Luke (Mark and John have nothing to say about Jesus’ birth). The fantastic story of the ‘magi’ from the East, and the strange, mobile ‘star’ that appears and disappears and eventually points out where the infant Jesus is lying in a manger in Bethlehem—a story told in only one of the four Gospels (Matthew)—has long been recognized as myth by serious scholars. The same is believed to be the case with Luke’s tale of a ‘decree from Caesar Augustus’ shortly before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.6 Not only are these stories full of internal contradictions, they were, in the case of both Matthew’s Nativity story and Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, written down approximately fifty years after Jesus died. One has only to imagine how a story told at this time of writing (2010), concerning an event that occurred half a century ago (in 1960), would be subject to distortion—especially given that there was no recording technology in the 1st century and writing amongst the general population was rare enough. Fifty years—essentially, two generations—is a long enough time to cause a story told at its beginning to resemble nothing of the truth that actually happened, once told at the end.
However, in the case of Matthew and Luke, the evidence does not point so much toward problems with memory or the capacity to record past events accurately. The evidence rather points toward a deliberate fabrication of a myth, in order to allow for the fulfillment of certain key prophecies from the Old Testament—prophecies that the authors of Matthew and Luke saw as essential to fulfill for the new Jewish Messiah. They could do this because for them, something much bigger was at stake, a conviction likely based in part on genuine mystical certitude, and in part on a desire to revolutionize the religio-political landscape of the time. The Kingdom of God was afoot, his Messiah had recently walked the earth, and therefore, some sort of fulfillment of prophecy was necessary in order to consolidate the idea that Jesus was the culmination of all that had come before. As John Dominic Crossan pointed out, the important question is not so much the details of Jesus’ birth provided by Luke and Matthew, but the more central issue is why these two Gospel authors are bothering to provide such details in the first place. As Crossan wrote,
Greatness later on, when everybody was paying attention, is retrojected onto earlier origins, when nobody was interested. A marvelous life and death demands and gets, in retrospect, a marvelous conception and birth.7
In other words, a myth is constructed to reinforce the legitimacy of a powerful spiritual teacher, for a greater purpose—one that Matthew and Luke saw as infinitely more important than mere historical veracity.
The number of internal contradiction in the Gospels concerning the history of Jesus, his genealogy, the manner and place of his birth, and so forth, are so many that it soon becomes clear to the unbiased reader that the New Testament is not a true historical document, but rather a document of faith. Even most Christian faithful would not ultimately deny that, despite the fact that the Bible does contain actual history. As the German historian and Bible scholar Rudolf Bultmann pointed out, ‘only the crucifixion matters’; that is, for an actual inner or mystical connection with Christ, or faith in what he represents, the more outlandish New Testament legends and myths are not necessary.
An interesting example of the psychology of faith is found especially in the beliefs developed over the centuries, by Catholics in particular, around Mary, the mother of Jesus. Although she is actually only a minor player in the Bible, with few mentions, her cult grew over the centuries to the point where ‘Marian visions’ are commonly claimed by many even in current times. She particularly came into vogue during the dark times of the Middle Ages, especially during plague outbreaks, where Jesus was seen more as a figure of judgment and righteousness, and Mary regarded more as a source of compassion and mercy. The idea of Mary being a virgin—claimed only by Matthew and Luke, but not by Mark, John, or Paul (the latter of whom wrote that Jesus was ‘born of a woman’)—partly has its basis in a problematic translation of a Hebrew word found in one of Isaiah’s prophecies of the Old Testament:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, KJV).
The original Hebrew word translated as ‘virgin’ was almah, a word that in addition to meaning ‘virgin’, also means ‘maiden’ or ‘young woman’—and it is in these latter meanings of the word that almah is used in other parts of the Bible (for example, in Exodus 2:8, Proverbs 30:19, and other places). The problem arose when the Hebrew version was translated into Greek, at which point almah became parthenos, a Greek word which does indeed mean ‘virgin’. But the original Hebrew word was ambiguous, and was usually employed in the Bible to mean simply a young woman. The Hebrew word used to specifically denote a virgin is betulah, and this is the word actually used in the Bible on several occasion to imply just that (for example, Genesis 24:16, or Deuteronomy 22:13-21).8
I cite this example to illustrate a key point, one that we will consider more fully below, in looking at the archetypal significance of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. The point boils down to, what really matters. The problem with conflict, whether of the large scale sort, or within the micro personal realm, is in the loss of context. Loss of context occurs when matters are improperly prioritized, when perspective is utterly lost. Wars between, or within, religions have found much of their causes sourced in doctrinal differences, which are then used as excuses to justify aggression, or related reasons for conflict. But too often these doctrinal differences are largely a matter of getting caught up in historical trivialities, legends, or outright myths.
There is arguably an equivalent psychological problem associated with the idea of a ‘virgin birth’ and ‘virgin Mother of God’, and it touches on a core issue found in religion in general, that being the relationship between the spiritual and the carnal, between the ‘higher’ and the ‘lower’. To associate the ‘Mother of God’ with virginity is, by extension, to associate the sexual with that which is ‘not divine’. It is to introduce, albeit through the back door, the notion that there is something ‘sinful’, or at the least, not spiritual, in the act of sexual intercourse. Jesus, as God Himself, is so pure that he cannot enter into the world in a natural fashion. The implication is that he himself was a virgin. The message is relatively clear: sex is not divine, or at the least, is beneath the Son of God, and his mother as well.
Son of God
Problems involving the status of Jesus as Messiah and sole Son of God, something emphasized in the Bible and in an extreme way by the early Church Fathers, begin in Luke with his genealogy that attempts to prove that Jesus is a direct descendant of Adam. As numerous critics have pointed out, there is an absurdity in this, and it is simple: if Adam was the Primordial Man, then we are all descended from him. So what was the point of proving that Jesus was? Luke’s attempt here is roughly equivalent to Matthew claiming that a star in the sky was pointing at one particular manger in Bethlehem—when in fact a star in the sky could be demonstrated to be pointing at anything on earth, depending on the perspective one takes in looking at it. (Many interpretations have been suggested for the ‘star of the Magi’, everything from a planetary conjunction to a supernova, and even a UFO, but needless to say, no idea has emerged as the best candidate, beyond this rather restless star being a literary device to aid in Matthew’s desire to have Jesus born in Bethlehem so as to conform to Old Testament prophecies). As the historian G. A. Wells put it, ‘Matthew represents the nativity as fulfillment of prophecy by means of fantastically arbitrary interpretation of numerous Old Testament passages.’9
The deeper problem with Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ genealogy is that they do not cooperate with the claim of the virgin birth. Both have Jesus descending via Adam or David to Joseph (his father). But this makes no sense if he was conceived miraculously via the agent of the Holy Spirit (as traditionally recounted). Either his was a virgin birth, or he was conceived via the aid of sperm from Joseph. If he was a virgin birth, then the whole genealogy chart tracing him back to Adam is nullified. If he was conceived by natural means, then the virgin birth—and the whole cult of Mary as the virgin Mother of God—is erased. As Ute Ranke-Heinemann vividly put it, ‘It’s a kind of theological schizophrenia when the good Catholic can, indeed should, say ‘Jesus is the son of David’, but may never say ‘Jesus is the son of Joseph’—when Jesus is the son of David only through Joseph.’10 Also, the respective genealogies of Jesus offered by Matthew and Luke do not agree with each other.
As the Catholic theologian Hans Kung once wrote about the attempts in the Gospels to define the personal history of Jesus, ‘Today even Catholic exegetes concede that these stories are historically largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary, and in the last analysis theologically motivated’.11 (In part for observations such as these, Kung was forbidden by the Vatican to teach Catholic theology, although he remains a priest ‘in good standing’).
The simple truth is that the historical Jesus of Nazareth is really not reconcilable with the Jesus of faith—the Incarnation (and Son) of God. In a span of around three hundred years, Jesus of Nazareth became the Christ of the Nicene Creed as ratified by Emperor Constantine and a few hundred bishops in Nicaea in 325 C.E. He went from being a wandering Jewish sage—perhaps similar in some respects to a youthful version of Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha)—to God Himself, the Logos, the Infinite One, both the Son of the Father and the Father Himself, forever distinct from mere humanity and human beings.
Beyond all the miracles ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament—and there were many, everything from elemental magic (converting substances, such as water into wine, multiplying food supplies, and controlling weather), to more yogic feats such as walking on water, to the feats of an exorcist (casting out demons), to healing the sick—his most spectacular involved his mastery over death. He is reputed to have brought back to life several people who had recently died. The most famous of those stories involved Lazarus, whom it was reported that Jesus revived four days after he had died.
In the Gospels Jesus is depicted as a powerful miracle-worker, but he was not actually unique in these abilities. During his own time and place mystics and healers—what would perhaps be known today by the more common term of ‘shaman’—were legion. The rest of the world has been no stranger to these wonder-workers and their reputed abilities either. The Orient, in particular India and the Tibetan highlands, has abounded for centuries with mystics and magicians of all stripes, claiming all sorts of spectacular powers (some of which were witnessed by objective observers, and still commonly are). Even being credited with the act of reviving dead people is not a claim unique to Jesus—the famous Indian tantric master Padmasambhava, one of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism, was reputed to have had this power, and even to have taught it to at least one of his disciples.12
However the miracle that set Jesus apart, at least according to his followers, was his own personal conquest of death, in the form of his bodily resurrection three days after his crucifixion. The story of this event is crucial to orthodox Christianity.13 The different Gospels report different details; for example, Matthew has an earthquake occurring after Jesus dies on the cross, followed by tombs bursting open and ‘God’s saints’ suddenly resurrecting. Jesus’ body is eventually taken down, and sealed in a tomb with a heavy round stone. This was reported to have occurred on the Friday (‘Good Friday’). On Sunday (now celebrated as ‘Easter Sunday’), two disciples (Mary Magdalene and the ‘other Mary’) go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, only to discover that the tomb has been opened and the body is gone. The Gospels differ slightly on details, but the essential legend is set in place: Jesus has resurrected, that is, his physical body had mysteriously and miraculously transformed into some sort of ethereal ‘light body’. In some Gospel versions, Mary Magdalene sees this body of light, and converses with it. Jesus tells her to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where he will appear to them. This he does, in a series of events in which the disciples are depicted as being both skeptical (as in the legendary ‘doubting Thomas’ parable) and somewhat dim-witted. Eventually they accept that it is really Jesus, and he ascends fully to heaven.
The fact that the Gospels differ somewhat in details around the death of Jesus is considered, by most Christian theologians, much less important than the essential mystery and teaching that is being transmitted via the story. That is, the legend is more powerful than any ‘accurate history’, because all that really matters is the interpretation of the event, and the inner meaning it carries for any who place their trust and faith in Christ as supreme Messiah.
There is merit to this viewpoint; historical nit-picking does at times seem silly and sort of meaningless when standing in contrast to the deeper meaning intended behind the story, whether that meaning be seen as the reality and supremacy of the personal Christ (as in the orthodox view) or as the reality and supremacy of impersonal Spirit over matter (as in the more mystical Gnostic view). The problem, however, arises when biases are reinforced by legendary stories or mythic events, such as, for example, the racial bias against Jews that was perpetrated by the Church for centuries, all centered on the traitor Judas and the ‘Christ-killing’ Jews. The Gospels framed the Jews as the killers of Christ, even though crucifixion was a Roman practice (never a Jewish one) and it was a Roman Prefect (Pilate) who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus. (It was not until 1959 that Pope John XXIII struck an anti-Semitic phrase (‘perfidious Jews’) from Catholic prayer; and it was not until 1962 that the Catholic church officially exonerated Jews as ‘God-killers’).
The Historical Judas
We are now ready to look at the other main player of this chapter. Judas factors into all of this because as the alleged ‘betrayer’ of Jesus he is the one who sets in motion the events that make possible Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. What actually is Judas’ full role in the Gospels, and what is known of the historical Judas?
In fact, Judas has only a small (if crucial) role in the Gospels, with just over a thousand words dedicated to discussing this shadowy figure. His most notorious moment comes, as is well known, when he betrays Jesus to Roman guards (or in some versions, a mob). This takes place immediately after the Last Supper, a special feast in which Jesus and all twelve disciples were present. However, the four Gospels do not report the events of the Last Supper in the same way; Mark, Matthew, and Luke never mention Judas leaving the Last Supper, which he would have had to do to fetch the guards who arrested Jesus. In John’s Gospel this apparent oversight is corrected, and a scene is described in which Jesus hands a piece of bread to Judas. According to John, it was at this moment that ‘Satan’ entered Judas, and Jesus then says to him ‘What you are going to do, do quickly’. Judas then leaves. (Luke has Satan entering Judas before the Last Supper; Mark and Matthew make no mention of Satan entering Judas).
It’s in the scene immediately following that Jesus and the disciples retire to Gethsemane to a grove of sorts, and as Jesus prays, to his disappointment, the disciples fall asleep. Jesus rebukes them for this but then basically says, ‘never mind, my time is up, my betrayer has arrived’, at which point Judas shows up with the soldiers/mob. He then betrays his master with the infamous kiss. One of the disciples (in some versions, Simon Peter) attempts to use force to protect his master from the guards, but Jesus stops him, uttering the famous line, ‘for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’ (Matthew 26: 52, KJV). According to Mark, Jesus was captured at night because the Jewish priests wished to avoid possible riots caused by crowds protesting the arrest. Jesus is then led off, where he is tried, convicted, and crucified in relatively short order.
As for what happened to Judas, the Gospels offer differing accounts. Matthew has Judas accepting thirty silver coins for betraying Jesus (an echo of an Old Testament prophecy), but after his arrest, overcome with remorse, Judas throws the coins away and hangs himself. John depicts Judas prior to the betrayal as both the treasurer of the disciples, and an embezzler, thus already setting the stage for his later traitorous act. As described by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles (immediately following John’s Gospel) not only does Judas not undergo any remorse after Jesus’ death, he actually buys a piece of land with his money, but then one day suddenly falls down and has his ‘bowels gush out’, dying an agonizing death.
More than one historian or writer has noted the obvious: Judas appears to be a literary device, someone needed to provide a cause and effect link to initiate Jesus’ spectacular demise and resurrection. As John Shelby Spong noted, ‘The whole story of Judas has the feeling of being contrived.’14 His presence as an actual character is not convincing, if for no other reason than that his purpose for betraying Jesus is never really explained (apart from the standard profit-motive). Paul, whose writings actually predate even the oldest Gospel (Mark) by about twenty years, makes no mention of Judas at all. The conjectured missing ‘Q’ Gospel (believed by scholars to be the source of the common sayings found in Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark) does not mention Judas either.
However, the entire New Testament narrative is weakly (or barely) corroborated in any 1st century historical records, so in that regard Judas is not much different from his master whom he betrays. His significance, as with Jesus, is archetypal, psycho-spiritual, and symbolic—a difference that does not diminish its power, despite what religious fundamentalists might assert. Before looking at the symbolic meaning of Jesus and Judas and their relationship, there is one more piece of history to mention, and it is the controversial ‘Gospel according to Judas’ that was discovered in Egypt around 1978 (the exact date is uncertain), but only made widely known to the public in 2006.
The Gospel of Judas
The mid to late 20th century was a highly interesting time to be alive for historians of Christianity, with two spectacular finds occurring in Egypt and Israel: the Gnostic Gospels recovered in Nag Hammadi in 1945, followed by the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran between 1947 and 1956. These in turn were followed by the Gnostic Gospel of Judas. The story of the discovery of the latter reads something like a cross between an Indiana Jones tale and a historian’s worst nightmare. In brief, the book—or ‘codex’ as ancient manuscripts are usually referred to as—was discovered in a cave in Egypt by some peasants, who sold it cheaply to a local dealer, who then tried to sell it via the potentially lucrative (but generally shady) international antiquities market. Over the next few decades this valuable document failed to find a permanent buyer for the steep price being asked for it. In the course of passing through a number of antiquities dealers and languishing in several inappropriate locations (including a safe deposit box and even a brief spell in a lawyer’s kitchen freezer), it degraded badly in quality. By the time it was finally purchased, properly safeguarded, and examined by manuscript restoration experts, it had crumbled to pieces and was almost beyond saving. However after several years of painstaking work the text was partially restored. All this was ultimately financed by the Maecenas Foundation in Switzerland, and later by the National Geographic Society, which in 2006 published its findings in its monthly magazine, and commissioned a television special and book, both broadcast and published in 2006.
The Gospel of Judas as discovered is in Coptic (the language used by the early Christians in Egypt). According to carbon-14 dating performed in 2005, the Gospel was estimated to have been written somewhere between 240 and 320 C.E.15 It is speculated (though not proven) to be a translation of an earlier Greek document written around 150 C.E. The Gospel is essentially a Gnostic interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. Parts of what it actually says are disputed—the original translation presented by the National Geographic team was attacked by other scholars, and viewpoints have arisen that appear to be diametrically apart. For example, the main version has it that Judas was not the betrayer of Jesus, but rather was his closest disciple and secret accomplice (something that is remarkably similar to the version of Judas presented in Martin Scorcese’s 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the 1960 Nikos Kazantzakis novel). That version has been challenged by some scholars who find evidence that Judas in the Gospel is presented as a ‘demon’ who is indeed betraying Jesus. Yet another interpretation has him as being tricked by Jesus into believing that he was helping him.
The Gospel of Judas is controversial for other reasons; in some scenes, it depicts Jesus as bursting out laughing at his disciples, displaying behavior that seems surprisingly ‘edgy’ and ‘crazy wisdom-like’, unlike the conventional Sunday School image of Jesus as morally unblemished and showing a consistently saintly demeanor (although, even that view has to overlook the bizarre scene described in both Mark and Matthew where Jesus curses a fig tree, causing it to die, for no apparent reason other than that he was hungry and annoyed that the tree was barren).
As mentioned, a main thrust of the Gospel of Judas is that he is presented as an aid to Jesus, a disciple following instructions, and therefore as not a traitor. The Gospel also appears to imply that Judas was in fact the most advanced of the twelve disciples, thus following a classic Gnostic theme of inversion (compare, for example, the Gnostic idea that the Serpent of Genesis was a liberator and Yahweh a false god). In short, because the Gospel of Judas was written at a time when Gnostic ideas proliferated and were all part of a widespread multiplicity of competing Christian or quasi-Christian schools of thought, its prime value is more as a reflection of Gnostic ideas during its time. It cannot be taken to be some secret, ‘true’ statement about the role of Judas, if for no other reason than it was almost certainly written after both the canonical Gospels and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.
The idea of Gospels (such as that ascribed to Judas) being written down around 300 C.E., concerning events of the 1st century C.E., does not tend to represent much of significance for the casual observer—after all, whether 17 centuries or 20 centuries ago, both are long ago. Yet analogously, Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking Principia was written in the late 17th century—just over three hundred years ago from the time of this writing. Were nothing of Newton’s life and work recorded during his time, anything written about him now attempting to portray his life and ideas would be acknowledged to be hopelessly speculative. And this is why 3rd and 4th century Gnostic Gospels can only be taken as being representative of Gnostic traditions of that time. The entire story of Jesus is barely one step removed from myth as it is, even based on the late 1st century accounts of his life via the traditional Gospels. Writings such as the Gospel of Judas as ‘historical’ documents are therefore little better than a legend of a legend. (As mentioned, the Judas Gospel is speculated to derive from a 2nd century Greek text, especially since a ‘Judas Gospel’ was in fact mentioned by the 2nd century Church Father Irenaeus, but here the same problem remains—if true, what is being depicted are 2nd century Gnostic views, not 1st century history. To extend the analogy, compare 20th century ideas—whether from literature, politics, science, or spirituality—to those of the 19th century. A hundred year gap may not seem like much when it is viewed historically from far in the future, and may indeed be but a wink in time on the large scale, but it is in fact a vast gulf from the perspective of present time reality).
The whole idea of historical revisionism begins to miss the point when we seek to employ it as a tool to redefine a faith. The historical Jesus certainly has his place, and the work of recent scholars like Funk, Crossan, Borg, Mack, et al, can only be seen as both sincere and important. If nothing else, their work helps to put a well needed dent into the staid bulwark of unreasoning fundamentalism, and its more troublesome offshoots of intolerance and prejudice. To note openly, honestly, and intelligently the many internal contradictions in the Bible, and to attempt to excavate from its words the ‘real Jesus’, is not to diminish the spiritual symbolism and power of Christ, but rather to help purify the tradition of blind and insensitive dogma.
Ultimately, however, it is not the written words we need be exclusively fixated on; the need rather is to devote attention to our own presence, our own subjectivity, our own being. Joan Acocella, writing in The New Yorker about the Gospel of Judas, summed it up simply and concisely:
All this, I believe, is a reaction to the rise of fundamentalism—the idea, Christian and otherwise, that every word of a religion’s founding document should be taken literally. This is a childish notion, and so is the belief that we can combat it by correcting our holy books. Those books, to begin with, are so old that we barely understand what their authors meant. Furthermore, because of their multiple authorship, they are always internally inconsistent. Finally, even the fundamentalists don’t really take them literally. People interpret, and cheat. The answer is not to fix the Bible but to fix ourselves.16
Indeed, if we are sincerely interested in what it means to be a conscious human being, we must ultimately look to ourselves rather than to exploring the endless mazes of historical detective work (however interesting that might be). The observation to ‘fix ourselves’ is lucid and to the point. But how exactly do we fix ourselves? It is one thing to recognize this most essential of all issues, and another to understand what exactly it implies. In the case of Jesus and Judas, it is of course less about the two historical characters, whether or not they existed or what actually happened between them. That is the story, the myth, and carries real spiritual weight only inasmuch as we can understand what it has to teach us about ourselves.
An essential point to note, one that is both primary in all conflicted relationships and a main theme of this study, is contrast. A white spot appears whitest on a pure black background. The very negativity of the figure of Judas only serves to enhance the purity of Jesus, and vice versa. As archetypal figures, the two clearly need each other. The old expression is, ‘if Judas had not existed, God would have had to invent him’, but perhaps more to the point, we would have had to invent him, especially given how Jesus is portrayed to be. Judas is the fall guy, the ‘go-to’ man needed to keep us from examining ourselves. His act of treachery with Jesus is regarded as some sort of ultimate sin (and he is duly punished in literary canon, as in Dante’s violent treatment of him), and he has accordingly been equated with the worst stereotype of the Jew—self absorbed, greedy, secretive, untrustworthy, and ultimately traitorous. His figure lies at the roots of anti-Semitism, a cultural disease that reached its macabre culmination in the German concentration camps of the Second World War.
Judas keeps us from examining ourselves because as the ‘betrayer of God’, his treachery cannot be surpassed. However foul our deeds may be, his will always be fouler, and thus cause for projecting our own shadow elements ‘out there’, into the body of another, and so never having to fully assume responsibility for our own heart of darkness. Judas, betrayer of Christ, is the ultimate distraction, the ultimate convenience to aid in turning away from the abyss of our own ego.
That of course only addresses Judas the traitor, the Judas of what became orthodox Christian doctrine, the Judas who became inextricably linked with the stereotyped deceitful Jew. The Gnostic Judas, the Judas who appears to be presented in the Gospel of Judas, is merely another dimension of the traditional Judas; in essence, the inverse—instead of betrayer, now he is the ‘undercover agent’ of God. Either way, whether traitor or secret agent, he is made special—not in the common meaning of that word, but rather more in the sense of someone disconnected from the Whole.
As mentioned, Judas as traitor serves as an ultimate scapegoat, a Dante’s Inferno-suffering freak who always allows us a reprieve from gazing straight into our darkest potential, because by contrast, he is always darker. The inverse of this sort of scapegoat is one who has distinct status at the other end of the pole. This figure, the Gnostic Judas, is indispensable for other reasons—as Jesus says in the Gospel of Judas,
But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man who bears me.17
The ‘sacrifice’ refers to the death of the body of Jesus, in turn liberating the spirit of Jesus. (This of course is a reflection of the Gnostic idea that the material body is flawed and irrelevant and need only be cast away—contrasted to the orthodox Christian view that Jesus’ physical body was itself resurrected). This sacrifice is brought about by Judas ‘handing over’ Jesus to the authorities, a phrasing that indicates he was simply doing Jesus’ bidding. But the wording ‘you will exceed all of them’, and other suggestive lines from the text, indicate, once again, a special status for Judas. He is, accordingly, the archetypal chosen one—whether as a betrayer, or as a secret agent.
Judas, in the tradition view of the canonical scriptures, is not just deceitful, he is demonic. This is at least according to two of the Gospels (Luke and John), which proclaim his possession by Satan:
Then Satan entered into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the Twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude. (Luke 22: 3-6, KJV).
And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. (John 13:27, KJV).
Standing behind Judas is Satan, and thus the polarity between Jesus and Judas is reduced to its primordial essence, the struggle between God and Satan—between good and evil. We see clearly here the dualism that is the very basis of consciousness in its relation to all that it experiences. That is, our very conscious identity is defined by contrast to that which appears to be different from us. Religious dualism—the notion of pure good vs. pure evil—was birthed originally as a political tool, a device to unify people, much as how Emperor Constantine sought to unify the fragmented Roman Empire in the early 4th century C.E., by convening the Nicene Council and establishing the absolute indivisibility between God and Jesus. This is then rendered into, If you are with us, you are with God; if you are not with us, you are not with God.
The psychopathology of this, on an individual level, is reflected in the division in human nature between the ‘realm of light’ and the ‘realm of dark’; between heaven and hell; between saint and sinner; between spiritual and material; between spirit and sex; between poverty and wealth. That then gives rise to the urge to condemn and attack whatever is different, as in racism, sexism, class discrimination, and the entire unholy panoply of prejudices conceivable by the human mind.
In the traditional view of Judas, not only is he traitorous in a fashion that is ultimately ludicrous (because of how it is so purposeless), but he is generally assumed to suffer eternal damnation as a result of his acts. He is apparently beyond forgiveness, and so he becomes a powerful symbol for the inner disconnection of a person from a part of their own being. He represents any part of us that we forsake, that we seek to eliminate by stuffing down into some remote ‘hell’, the realm of the irredeemable and unforgivable. As Solzhenitsyn once famously wrote in his Gulag Archipelago,
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
If we destroy a piece of our own heart, we inevitably seek to destroy someone or something else as well. Ultimately we cannot but treat the world as we treat ourselves. Jesus’ famous injunction, imploring us to ‘love our enemies’, bears mention here:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, KJV).
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. (Luke 6:27-36, KJV).
That these versions from Matthew and Luke are similar, but are not found in the older Mark Gospel, indicates to historians that they are sourcing from the missing ‘Q’ Gospel (‘Q’ is from the German Quelle, meaning ‘source’). The Jesus Seminar scholars rated these passages as being of a high probability words actually said by Jesus, particularly the directive to love your enemies.18 What does it mean to love our enemies? As Robert Funk put it, the saying is vintage Jesus, because ‘it cuts against the social grain and constitutes a paradox: those who love their enemies have no enemies.’19
‘Loving our enemies’ is, however, more than a clever psycho-social device to disarm those who are opposed to us. The injunction is not to be taken superficially, as some false piety, some phony holiness. It rather is reflective of some of the deepest wisdom of mystical tradition, perhaps nowhere echoed more clearly than in these lines from the famous little sourcebook of Chinese Taoism, the Tao Te Ching:
See the world as yourself.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as yourself;
then you can care for all things (13).20
The key is to see the world as us. That is the key teaching at the core of most wisdom traditions, but the way Jesus tackles it is unique, and so starkly radical that it immediately grabs our attention. (As Ian Wilson wrote, ‘the power of Jesus is that he always contains an element of the unexpected.’) Jesus here represents our capacity to forgive in a profound and radical way, to ‘be big’ in the truest sense of those words. When we react petulantly, vengefully, we tend to diminish our spirit in some way. Not that passionate expression is to be denied—it is rather that our passion is to be re-directed back toward a love of truth. The surest way to do this is to stop wasting our passion, our life-force, on hating, on righteously condemning others, on ‘maintaining enemies’.
The passage quoted above from Matthew referring to God ‘making his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the just and the unjust’, gives a glimpse into the profound non-dualism found in the teachings of all deeply realized sages. Ultimate truth transcends human conventions of good and evil, of just and unjust, and embraces a much vaster totality in which nothing is disconnected from anything else. Significantly, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar rated as very unlikely to have occurred the entire matter around Judas—his being controlled by Satan, his betrayal of his master, his death. In referring to the scene of the Last Supper (in John) where Jesus tells Judas to ‘go quickly and do what you are going to do’, Robert Funk wrote,
All the words attributed to Jesus in this scene, in which he predicts his betrayal, are to be attributed to the storyteller’s craft…all the evangelists represent Jesus as foretelling his fate, with the result that, in some ultimate sense, he is in control of it. John specifically heightens this element by emphasizing Jesus’ choice of Judas as his betrayer.21
It is perhaps fitting that a group of scholars would arrive at such a view. Although analyzing the matter historically, not psycho-spiritually, the conclusion they arrive at is nevertheless consistent with what would be expected from a source of great wisdom; that is, a God-realized master who saw beyond duality, moral polarizing, and inner divisiveness, would have no place in his heart for an irredeemable scapegoat. In a heart that is infinite, none need be forgiven because none have been condemned. There is no Judas the traitor, only Judas, brother in spirit of Jesus.
The Esoteric View
That, at least, is the non-dualistic view (aided by historical scholarship). There is also a final perspective we can consider, and that is the so-called esoteric view. In this interpretation, the historical revisionism is dispensed with, the Gospels taken at face value, and a deeper, esoteric meaning to them is sought—a type of Gnostic re-interpretation. For example, as Richard Smoley points out in Inner Christianity, the four Gospels can be read as representing four distinct domains of human experience, those being the intellect (represented by Matthew), the emotions (Mark), the body (Luke), and the Spirit, or pure consciousness (John).22
In looking at the relationship between Jesus and Judas esoterically, the interpretation seems relatively straightforward, owing to the utter distinction between the two. Jesus clearly represents our True Self, what the Hindus called the atman, or what in some schools of Buddhism is known as the ‘buddha-mind’. He is pure awareness, the eternal and timeless Presence of consciousness. (This is sometimes called the ‘true I’, for convenience sake, however consciousness in this state is not well defined by the pronoun ‘I’, if only because it does not experience itself as distinct from the totality of existence).
Judas, then, would represent the part of our mind that rebels against truth, that is threatened by truth, and that accordingly seeks to undermine truth—to betray it, at all costs (or even for just thirty pieces of silver). The mystical text A Course in Miracles makes reference to the ‘murderous’ nature of the ego, as the part of our being that is so profoundly threatened by truth that it must silence it no matter what:
There is an instant in which terror seems to grip your mind so wholly that escape appears quite hopeless. When you realize, once and for all, that it is you you fear, the mind perceives itself as split. And this had been concealed while you believed attack could be directed outward, and returned from outside to within. It seemed to be an enemy from outside you had to fear. And thus a god outside yourself became your mortal enemy; the source of fear. Now, for an instant, is a murderer perceived within you, eager for your death, intent on plotting punishment for you until the time when it can kill at last.23
The ‘murderer within’ is vivid symbolism for all guilt and self-loathing, and all fear of relinquishing control—the control of our own identity, and the fear of being dominated, controlled, killed, by something bigger. Judas represents our fear of light and truth and life—the ‘Way’ represented by Jesus. Judas is the part of us that fears being ‘killed’ by truth, and so seeks to kill it first.
Truth is a fire and it does, in a very real sense, ‘kill’ us—that is, the part of us that is false, illusory, what the Buddha referred to as our attachments, and the entire constructed edifice of the personal self that seeks to wall itself off from the true reality of the infinite. In that sense, the ‘murderous’ and traitorous face of the mind encompasses more than just Judas, it is also represented by all that fear truth, such as in Peter’s denying of Jesus shortly after his arrest, and of the failure of any of the twelve disciples to attend the crucifixion.
Ultimately, we are all cowards in the face of radical, uncompromising spiritual truth, and if we are not busy running from it, we are involved in undermining it. That does not mean, however, that we need crucify ourselves for this fact. Such a punishment has already been done; we need not repeat it. Our task is, rather, to ‘love our enemies’—in this case, our ‘inner Judas’—to look deeply into the face of fear, to summon compassion for it, and to recognize it as our ultimate teacher. Only then do we rescue Judas, and recognize him as brother in Spirit.
1. Vivian Green, A New History of Christianity (Leicester: Sutton Publishing, 1998), p. 33.
2. Robert Funk, Ray Hoover, et al., The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York, Polebridge Press, 1993), pp. 2-3.
3. Ibid., p. 5.
4. See, for example, G.A. Wells, The Jesus Myth (Chicago: Carus Publishing Company, 1999), pp. 114-177; or Robert Funk, Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a new Millennium (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), pp. 292-296; or, Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994); or Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995); or the works of Bishop John Shelby Spong. Andrew Harvey gives a good general summary, for the non-specialist reader, of many of the conclusions of historical biblical scholarship in his Son Of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998), pp. 5-6.
5. Ian Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence (London: Orion Publishing Group, 1998), p. 43.
6. There are many detailed critical deconstructions of these stories. For a concise (and witty) overview of the contradictions and likely fabrications in Luke and Matthew concerning the birth of Jesus, see Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, pp. 5-33.
7. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), pp. 5-6.
8. See, for example, John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male-Dominated Church (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), pp. 76-80.
9. Wells, The Jesus Myth, p. 115.
10. Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, p. 63.
11. Hans Kung, Christ Sein (Zurich: Ex Libris), p. 441.
12. According to Tibetan documents he taught one of his own students, the legendary Yeshe Tsogyal (757-817 C.E.), how to revive dead people, which she is reputed to have done. See Erik Hein-Schmidt, Advice From the Lotus-Born (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1994), p. 183. For a further recounting of fantastic miracles by Tibetan Buddhist monks, miracles far surpassing, in science fiction-like wildness, anything credited to Jesus in the New Testament, see Keith Dowman, Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal (London: Penguin/Arkana, 1989), pp. 112-113.
13. Here again, despite what many Christians believe, even this miracle is not unique in world spiritual traditions. The Hindu tradition in particular has many legends of ‘yogi-saints’ living in the Himalayas who have maintained ‘light-bodies’, or in Christian terms, ‘resurrection-bodies’, for thousands of years. A good example can be found in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, wherein he recounts the legends of the fabled ‘Yogi-Christ’ of the Himalayas, a saint named Mahavatar Babaji, who is reputed to have maintained a ‘light body’ in the Himalayas for at least two thousand years.
14. John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), p. 203.
15. Tobias Churton, Kiss of Death: The True History of the Gospel of Judas (London: Watkins Publishing, 2008), p. 57.
16. www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2009/08/03/090803crat_atlarge_acocella?currentPage=all (accessed July 24, 2010).
17. Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, Gregor Wurst, editors, The Gospel of Judas, Second Edition (Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2008), p. 51.
18. Funk, The Five Gospels, pp. 145-147.
19. Ibid., p. 147.
20. Stephen Mitchell translation, Tao Te Ching (New York: HarperPerennial, 1988).
21. Funk, The Five Gospels, p. 448.
22. See Richard Smoley, Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2002), pp. 120-136. Smoley’s idea is indeed provocative, although it does not address the Gospel of Thomas, which although non-canonical, is considered by many scholars to be of equal importance to the four traditional Gospels.
23. A Course in Miracles, Workbook lesson #196, paragraphs 10-11. (Glen Ellen: Foundation For Inner Peace, 1992), p. 375
Copyright 2010 by P.T. Mistlberger, all rights reserved.