Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Ezekiel: Lesson 5
Jewish doctrine was complete by the time of 1 Enoch, well before the emergence of Christianity of Gnosticism (knowledge of hidden things.). Gnosticism is the philosophy that only a few have special knowledge. This tradition would seem by extant evidence that it was the house of Zadok of the priestly professional class that was the conservators of this tradition. Jacob Neusner, an author and Professor of Religion at University of South Florida understood that the Zadokite priests were the founders of the Qumran community of Essenes. It would also seem from a historical perspective, that Yahshua was influenced by this doctrine because he consistently called Himself the “son of Man.” In Christian theology there is speculation that both John the Baptist and Yahshua were devotees of the Qumran community. Over the gulf of time and in our theology, we can more clearly see what this doctrine and the visions of Daniel and Ezekiel portend.
The “Son of Man” doctrine as evidenced by texts from Daniel to 1 Enoch demonstrates that this was the essential element of priestly theology for at least 500 years between Ezekiel and the Parables section of 1 Enoch, and it still continues to flourish in the Merkabah mysticism.
The early Gnosis identified with “Christianity” which evolved out of Judaism can be seen in the Cologne Mani Codex where it demonstrates how Gnosis evolved as a dialectical process (method of logical argument). This Manichaean myth describes a Gnosis experience, namely the encounter with self. The codex tells how “The Twin” revealed himself to Mani at the age of 25. “I recognized him and understood that he was my Self from whom I had been separated. Mani had been like his father Patek before him a member of the Jewish “Christian” Elkesaite sect in Babylonia. Mani assumed the name of Apostle because he interpreted his Twin as the Paraclete (Holy Spirit). Jewish believers had been entirely convinced that the Holy Spirit was a feminine hypostasis. This presupposes the conjunction and spiritualizes the acts of mikveh (baptism), rebirth, and anointment.
The priestly laws of purification were always that such observance would endow man with divine character. “I am the L-rd your G-d; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am holy” 9Lev. 11:44). And in Enoch’s vision, the divination of man as that son who is to sit on the Throne of Glory is most clearly stated to be the final transfiguration in the “world, which is to come.”
From this doctrine of Gnosis, it evolved that the essential meaning of Ezekiel’s vision is that the “son of man,” the human son of G-d, is he who achieved the mystical capacity to see the divine nature of his own higher self. What do we do with Psalm 82:6; “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High.” Isaiah 41:23: “Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.” And what of Yahshua’s answer to the Pharisees in John 10:34; “Yahshua answered them, “Is it not written in your law, I said Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of G-d Came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 36 “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of G-d?”
We need to examine Christian Gnosticism which derived some of its doctrines from the Merkavah doctrine originating with Ezekiel and the priestly class. Secret knowledge was crucial to the doctrine of Gnosticism. Many of the adherents introduced even more pagan ideas into this philosophy.
Gnosticism is prominent in the history of Christianity and we need to understand it for its importance for interpreting certain features of the messianic Scriptures (“New” Testament). Gnosticism emerged in schools of thought within the community of believers in the early second century and soon established itself as a way of understanding Christianity Manichaeism endured as a heretical threat to the church into the fourth century.
Gnosticism is also important for interpreting certain features of the Messianic Scriptures (“New” Testament) Irenaeus reported that one of the reasons John wrote his Gospel was to refute the views of Cerinthus, an early Gnostic. Over against the gnostic assertion that the true G-d would not enter our world, John stressed in his Gospel that Yahshua was G-d’s incarnate Son, which held more clearly to the 2nd temple era of the Priests secret doctrine. Other interpreters of the ‘New” Testament understand Gnosticism to be crucial at many other points in interpreting the ‘New” Testament as will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
The Gnostics who broke away or were expelled from the early church claimed to be the true Christians and the early Christian writers who set themselves to refute their claims are the major source for descriptions of the heretical gnostic sects. Although wide variations existed among the many gnostic sects in the details of systems, certain major features were common in most of them- the separation of the god of creation from the god of redemption; the division of Christians into categories with one group being superior; the stress on secret teachings which only divine persons could comprehend; and the exaltation of knowledge over faith. The church rejected such teachings as heretical, but many people continue to be attracted in varieties of these ideas.
Gnostics generally distinguished between an inferior god whom they felt was responsible for the creation and the superior god revealed in Yahshua as the Redeemer. This was a logical belief for them because they opposed matter to thought in a radical way. Matter was seen as inferior, sin causing, and always deteriorating; thought or knowledge distinguished persons from matter and animals and was imperishable, capable of revealing god, and the only channel of redemption. We can see in this the teaching of Christian Science. Matter is evil and spirit is good. The gnostic Marcion thus rejected the Old testament, pointing out that the lesser or subordinate god revealed in it dealt with matter, insisted on law rather than grace, and was responsible for our decaying, tragedy-filled world. The god who revealed himself in Yahshua and through the additional secret teachings was, on the other hand, the absolute god, and was not incarnate in human flesh because the absolute god would not enter evil matter- Yahshua only seemed or appeared to be a person, but was not.
Gnostics divided Christians into groups, usually the spiritual and the carnal. We have many varieties of this today. The spiritual Christians were in a special or higher class than the ordinary Christians because they had received, as the elect of the good deity, a divine spark or spiritual seed in their beings, which allowed them to be redeemed. Does that portray some of the denominations today that insist on a special infilling, etc. to be considered one of the elite. The spiritual Christians were the true Christians who belonged to the heavenly world, which was the true one. This belief that the spiritual Christians did not really belong to this world resulted in some Gnostics seeking to withdraw from the world in ascetism. Other gnostic systems took an opposite turn into antinomianism (belief that the moral law is not valid for a person or group). This is also rampant in denominations of today. The “Law is dead” doctrine. They claimed that the spiritual Christians were not responsible for what they did and could not really sin. Thus, they could act in any way they pleased without fear of discipline.
Gnostics placed great stress on secret teachings or traditions. The secret knowledge was not a product of intellectual effort but was given by Yahshua, the redeemer, from the true deity, either in a special revelation or through His apostles. There are denominations today that have Apostles, etc. with supposed special revelations that proclaimed to speak in the Spirit of G-d. The followers of the gnostic Valentinius claimed for example, that Theodus, a friend of Sha’ul’s (Paul), had been the means of transmission of the secret data. The secret knowledge was superior to the revelation recorded in the “New” Testament and was an essential supplement to it because only this secret knowledge could awaken or bring to life the divine spark or seed within the elect. This doctrine teaches that Special Revelation is superior to G-d’s Word. When one received the gnosis or true knowledge, one became aware of one’s true identity with a divine inner self, was set free (saved) from the dominion of the inferior creator god, and was enabled to live as a true child of the absolute and superior deity, Yahshua. To be able to attain one’s true destiny as the true deity’s child, one had to engage in specific secret rituals and in some instances to memorize the secret data which enabled one to pass through the network of powers of the inferior deity who sought to keep persons imprisoned. Today we see other ritualistic forms practiced openly. Salvation was thus seen by the gnostics in a cosmic rather than a moral context- to be saved was to be enabled to return to the one true deity beyond this world.
The Gnostics thought faith was inferior to self- knowledge. The true sons of the absolute deity were saved through knowledge rather than faith. This was the feature of the various systems that gave the movement its designation.: they were the Gnostics, the knowers. Yet, what this precise knowledge was is quite vague. It was more a perception of one’s own existence that solved life’s mysteries for the Gnostic than it was a body of doctrine. The knowledge through which salvation came could be enhanced by participation in rituals or through instruction. Ultimately, it was a self-discovery each Gnostic had to experience.
Origins of the Gnostic Concepts Gnosticism would not have been a threat to the early church if it had not been quite persuasive in the first centuries of the Christian era, and the question of where such ideas came from and what human needs they met must be addressed.
The classic answer to the question of why Gnosticism arose is that it represents the “radical Hellenizing of Christianity.” In this view, the Gnosticism resulted from the attempt of early Christian thinkers to make Christianity understandable, acceptable, and respectable in a world almost totally permeated with Greek assumptions about the reality of the World. The expansion of Christianity from Palestine and its Jewish world of thought to the Roman Empire where Greek thought reigned called for an interpretation of Christianity that was more understandable. Common Hellenistic perceptions, such as the fact that matter and spirit were thought to be alien to one another, were incorporated into this re-statement of Christianity with the various gnostic systems as a result.
This classic view of the heretical gnostic sects as a distortions of Christianity by Hellenistic thought has much strength because it is easily demonstrated how the Gnostics could use “New” Testament texts, bending them to their agendas. In 1 Corinthians 3;1-4, for example, Sha’ul (Paul) chides the Corinthian Christians for being “people of the flesh” (NRSV) or carnal when they should be spiritual. This text, with ease, be used as the foundation for supporting the Hellenistic idea of the superiority of certain persons in the Christian community. In this and many other instances, terms or expressions in the ‘New” testament, especially in Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) writings, and those of John, could be lifted out of context and used in ways not originally intended by the authors to support Gnostic doctrines.
The classic explanation leaves some problems unsolved, however. Little doubt exists that there are ideas, attitudes, and practices incorporated into many of the Gnostic heresies that are found outside of Hellenistic thought and much earlier than the second century of the Christian era. In particular, the ultimate goal of the Gnostics-to return to the absolute deity beyond matter and to be in some sense absorbed into the deity-belongs to near eastern pre-Christian mystical thought and not primarily to the Hellenistic world.
The existence of such on-Hellenistic features in the Gnostic sects has occasioned studies of the possibility of there being a pre-Christian Gnosticism which could be understood in itself rather than as a heretical offshoot of the Christian faith. Some researchers came to the conclusion that there was a full-fledged, organized, pre-Christian gnostic religion with a literature and most crucially-the hope of a redeemer who would be send from the true deity and ascend back to him after awakening the spiritual persons to their redemption. Again, if they had known of or understood the Jewish roots of Christianity, they might have found their answers in the Ezekiel Merkavah Doctrine. Some so-called radical scholars even went to far as to maintain that the way the early Christians proclaimed Yahshua was dependent on and modeled after such gnostic expectation. Not having the foundation of the Merkavah Doctrine, they were dismissed as having fancy illusions. This vuew thus came ti be almost the exact opposite of the classic view of the gnostic sects as Christian heresies that made Christianity heavily dependent on Gnosticism. Contemporary scholars say this quite radical view of Gnosticism has been shown to be inadequate because no Christian literacy evidences exists for a full-blown pre-Christian Gnosticism. As for a pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer expectation, it is now generally acknowledged that this was a figment of the researcher’s imagination without any relevant documentary evidence. They were not looking in the right places. I submit I have shown you differently.
Although the radical conclusions of some scholars regarding a highly developed pre-Christian Gnosticism have been discussed, it seems clear that there were many ideas, assumptions, and perceptions about deity, reality, and the relationships of persons to gods and the world that were incorporated into the gnostic sects from outside Hellenistic sources. Two literary discovered have inspired and tended to support this line of research- the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1946 and the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 with many gnostic documents.
The value of the study of Gnosticism for interpreting “New” testament is greatest from the perspective that there was a pre-Christian Gnosticism which was not an organized religion but was more a general attitude among thoughtful persons that although ignorance abounded, through knowledge, one could come to understand one’s true identity and find union or relationship with the absolute deity. This way of conceiving of a pre-Christian Gnosticism supplements the classic view by providing an explanation for the rapid and widespread development of so many diverse Gnostic heretical sects so quickly. This view also offers and explanation of why the “New” testament could so easily be exploited by Gnostic sects. The early Christian preachers and writers seeking to speak and write to be understood, used terms current in the first century world in vague context of Gnostic religious longings and gave them new meaning in the context of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Yahshua.
I wanted to represent a thoroughly Christian view of Gnosticism so that you can compare with information I previously taught in Gnosticism. In essence, the Priestly Secret doctrine if the “Son of Man” was corrupted by Jewish and Christian practitioners who were influenced by Hellenistic pagan religious practices of that period that was part and parcel of the Greek culture.
In the next lesson, we will explore this a little more and move on through the Book of Ezekiel.
Rabbi Tamah Davis
Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue