By James David Audlin. Adapted from The Writings of John Restored and Translated, and The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume I, published by Editores Volcán Barú, and The Revelation to John, to be published soon by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.
Voltaire once quipped: if God made man in his own image and likeness, then man (non-inclusive language intended) has certainly returned the favor. And Xenophanes before him said not only do the black Ethiopians have black gods, and the Thracians gods have red hair like the Thracians themselves, but, if horses or cows could paint pictures, they would depict gods that resembled horses and cows.
Little is known about Jesus, but the organized Christian religion has seized control of every extant detail and how to interpret it, filling in the mystery with doctrine, and instructing its believers exactly what to think about him, and to believe that it is their own view. Thus all mystery is dispelled, and the vaunted nature of Jesus tightly controlled as a tool to maintain and extend the worldly control and wealth of religious powers.
But mystery, I believe, is a good thing. And I believe that when we free our minds from organizational control we find in the mysterious shreds of information we have of Jesus that they form a cipher, a mirror, in which we encounter not Jesus so much as ourselves. For two thousand years, interpretations of his life have said far more about the interpreters than about the master. Scholars have mocked each other for creating a Jesus in the other’s image, little realizing not only that the accusers do the very same thing, but that this is inevitable to human nature, and a good thing. For the mystery serves as a mirror: in our image of Jesus we find our own spiritual nature revealed. And I believe that in finding ourselves in the nature of God, the reverse is true, and we find God revealed in our nature. Such is the true meaning of a personal Savior!
Indeed, the canonical gospels tell of Jesus’s transfigured appearance. Several early noncanonical texts, and early Christian writers such as Irenæus, speak of Jesus as appearing in a multiplicity of images. This was not to suggest he was not a historical figure, or that, as a real person his physical form was not fixed in nature, but to express a spiritual truth, that Jesus comes to each of us as we are, meeting us in our nature, and leading us on from there. In the noncanonical Acts of John, for instance, some disciples at the same time see Jesus variously as a child, a handsome youth, and a bald older man with flowing beard; sometimes he is solid to the touch and sometimes immaterial. The Gospel of Philip says: “Jesus took them all by surprise, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to perceive him. … He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to humans as a human. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone. Some indeed saw him, thinking that they were seeing themselves, but when he appeared to his disciples in glory on the mount, he was not small. He became great, but he made the disciples great, that they might be able to see him in his greatness.” Origen, an early Christian apologist, quotes this agraphon (saying not found in the four canonical gospels) of Jesus: “On account of the sick I was sick, and on account of the hungry I was hungry, and on account of the thirsty I was thirsty.” And the canonical gospels have Jesus say, after a similar comment, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers [and sisters], you did for me.”
The modern cant is to dismiss these descriptions of a Jesus-of-flowing-appearance as Gnosticism or Docetism. Current-day scholars label as “Gnostic” (often with a disparaging literary sneer, sometimes insinuating certain modern-day “New Age” values that are alien to these works) any ante-Nicene theological view that is unfamiliar to them, or that doesn’t fit snugly within the Pauline-Nicæan framework that became the foundation of institutional Christianity.
But this Jesus-of-flowing-appearance is not Gnostic. The most common quality that helps us recognize the rather amorphous Gnostic movement is that it is dualistic: texts are likely to speak of a “good God” and an “evil God”, responsible respectively for creating a good world and this world, which is not good but mixed or else outright evil, and often not really real. This world not being good, Gnosticism is often marked by a condemnation of the human body, especially its sexuality. It is also noted for a tendency to insist that doctrine must be accepted not by rational thought about solid facts, but by meek acceptance “on faith” on the part of the neophyte of what is taught by the elders: this fits with the meaning of the Greek word from which the term is derived: γνωσις (gnōsis) refers to a sequestered wisdom that is only handed out to those who have merited it. If anyone was Gnostic in the early Jesus movement, it was Paul. Paul, the author or ascribed author of much of the New Testament, the architect of the main framework of orthodox Christian belief for the past two thousand years, was a Gnostic. Paul’s letters repeatedly disparage this universe and discourage our involvement with it. He invests his “evil god”, Satan, with power all but equal to God’s, and puts this universe firmly in Satan’s hands (Ephesians 2). He says our physical nature is riddled with appetitive sin and subject to injury, sickness, old age, death – he even mentions body odor (II Corinthians 2:14-16)! Since in this life we have carnal bodies, which for Paul must be subdued, he insists that the best life is lived in celibacy.
Nor is this vision of Jesus Docetic. Commonly misdefined, Docetism properly speaking is the doctrine that Jesus had a body, one that was fully sensible, including to the touch, however it was not a human body of flesh subject to injury, sickness, age, and death, but one of immutable spiritual substance. Scholars still argue today about whether Paul was a docetist; perhaps he was, perhaps not, and perhaps as with so many other things he waffled on this matter, depending on his audience. (Paul’s propensity for equivocating reminds me of one of Groucho Marx’s quips: “Those are my principles; and, if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”) The important question here, however, is whether John the Presbyter might have reason to believe Paul was a docetist. And the answer is clear. In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul says that though Jesus “existed in God’s own form [μορφην] … he voided [εκενωσεν] his nature, taking on the form [μορφην] of a slave, coming in human semblance [ομοιωματι], and was found to be human in appearance [σχηματι].” In Romans 8:3 he writes: “God sending his own son in the semblance [ομοιωματι] of sinful human flesh.”
In addition to these descriptions of early Christian leaders like Irenæus and Origen, occasionally we find in early iconography depictions from Asia of Jesus with an Oriental appearance, from Africa as a black man, and so on. Occasionally modern artists have dared to image Jesus as having a sexual-erotic aspect to his naturek as even a woman, almost always to a reception of massive derision and even book-banning and the removal of offensive depictions from museum walls, notwithstanding the chimæra, the lie that we humans have a right to free speech.
However the vast preponderance of Jesus imagery, especially that sanctioned by the organized Christian religion, depicts him with the skin, hair, and eyes of a Northern European – when he was surely far from that in his physical appearance. This cannot be accident: it delivers a message to all non-white people that they by their very natures fail to be like Jesus and God, by their very natures they are lesser, and that the White Man is superior and is ordained by God to control all others as his minions, taking from everything of value, including their labor and their raw materials, and replacing their own culture with his own.
Modern Westerners are obsessed with their outer appearance. They spend hours every day grooming themselves, putting on makeup, buying and dressing themselves, checking their look in the mirror, taking pictures of themselves, and assessing others almost entirely on the basis of their own physical natures. These early descriptions and the iconography and art depicting Jesus as anything but the strutting white male reflect his actual teachings that we all have the image of God stamped in our natures, no matter our unimportant outward appearances.
Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are predisposed to read the ancient texts assuming that descriptions of Jesus are physical – when they are spiritual, when they are meant to teach us that he is one with us, and we one with him. Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are nonplussed and offended by images of an African Jesus, a Native American Jesus, a female Jesus.
What, then, should we make of these early descriptions of Jesus with mutable form? We should understand them the same way we do efforts ancient and modern to find the nature of Jesus, the sacred nature that Jesus lived and taught, in ourselves. We are all made in the image and likeness of Elohim, the Bible teaches us – and that is all of us, of both genders, of all sexual orientations and races and ages and abilities and appearances and economic-social statuses.
Jesus’s teaching, in sum, is that we should reject outer appearance as our way of judging the worth of ourselves and others – indeed, we should reject judging altogether, and seek to be one with each other and the God-in-us just as Jesus did (John 17:21-23). We should not even love others in the way we love ourselves, for many of us fail even to love ourselves. Rather, what Leviticus 19:18 literally tells us, and what Jesus meant by quoting it, is that we should love others as ourselves: recognize that they are us, and we are them, that your neighbor is you, and you are your neighbor: that we must be truly one with all.
Jesus indeed often speaks about this matter in the canonical gospels, especially John, though clearly his teachings are universally honored but rarely actually followed. But nowhere does he do so more clearly than in two related agraphons (quotations attributed to him from outside the four canonical gospels). The first comes from a scholar who is called today Pseudo-Cyprian. This third-century and probably Irish scholar, in his Liber de duobus montibus Sina et Sion, 13), says he found this quotation in an epistula Iohannis discipuli sui ad populum (“a letter of John his [Jesus’s] disciple to the people”). That is, it comes from a fourth letter to his seven congregations from John the Presbyter, an eyewitness to Jesus and one of his larger group of disciples.
Ita me in vobis videte, quomodo quis vestrum se videt in aquam aut in speculum.
See me in yourself as any one of you sees himself in water or in a mirror.
The second is found in a passage in the early second-century potpourri titled the Acts of John, one that I conclude is also genuinely by the Presbyter:
Λυχνος ειμι σοι τω βλεποτι με. Αμην.
Εσοπτρον ειμι σοι τω νοουντι με. Αμην.
Θυρα ειμι σοι προυοντι με. Αμην.
Οδος ειμι σοι παροδιτη. [Αμην.]
I am a lamp, therefore, to one who looks at me. Amen.
I am a mirror, therefore, to one who thinks of me. Amen.
I am a door to one who passes through me. Amen.
I am a way to the wayfarer. [Amen.]
Given what Jesus was originally teaching, I reject the false idol, the Roman godling that struts above the world at the command of religious and political potentates. I reject too Blond and Blue-Eyed Jesus, Divine Son of the Big White Guy With a Beard Behind the Sky, the pretty but inhuman image caught unmoving in the amber of veneration, and in his manifestation as the Great White Father forced down the throats of non-white people throughout the world.
Give me instead a Jesus who lives and breathes, who loves his wife and children, who loathes hypocrisy, who enjoys talking about faith, who loves to laugh – for that is my nature too. This is the kind of Jesus I find in the Gospel of John: the gospel reflects my nature. In the commentaries to these restorations and translations of the works of the Presbyter I support my assertions with facts and careful deductive logivc, for my view is right-for-me. But I know it may be wrong-for-you. Don’t condemn me; tell me what Jesus you see in this mirror, the Gospel of John! Back it up with facts and logic! And then, let us enjoy a good conversation about the face each sees in the mirror of faith. And let us love this One who shows you yourself and me myself in himself!