Authors born between200 BCE and 200 CE
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Generosity and Injustice
Finding What Is Lost
Rights of Women
Jesus of Nazareth (approximately 4 BCE-30 CE) was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, Galilee. The facts of his life are a matter of debate. One view is that Galilee was strongly influenced by Greek civilization and that Jesus could be viewed as reflecting Greek culture. However, recent archeological investigations suggest that Jesus was an integral part of Jewish culture, because widespread Greek or Roman influence in the area did not appear until many years later. Consequently, Jesus would have been a type of Jewish prophet that healed the sick, performed exorcisms, engaged in prayer, sometimes taught, and was recognized as being close to god. Such prophets were often termed "sons of god".
The alternative, non-Jewish character attributed to the person known as Jesus Christ was developed over a long period of time, without a balanced effort to portray the historical personage. Of the many gospels describing the life of Jesus, four—Mathew, Mark, Luke and John—were selected at the end of the Second Century as meeting the needs of the Catholic branch of the new religion. This branch emerged as a hierarchical, male-dominated church claiming to be an essential intermediary between people and god and asserting authority by succession from the disciple Peter. The picture of Jesus that emerges from these gospels is of a charismatic speaker capable of inciting violence—overturning the tables of the money changers at the Jewish temple, for example. This, together with prophesying a new kingdom of God that would ensure peace on earth and plenty of food for all, probably led to his death by crucifixion. Subsequently, the new Catholic church made the physical resurrection of Jesus in his previous bodily form an article of faith.
In other gospels, Jesus preached the equality of women and the concept that the kingdom of God was to be found within each person, implying direct access to enlightenment or god. These Gnostic gospels frequently portrayed the resurrection as a non-physical. The established church made every effort to destroy the Gnostic gospels, particularly after Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Amazingly, a set of the gospels survived buried in Egypt for 1600 years, to be discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. Thus, we now have two somewhat different accounts of the life of Jesus. We do not know who wrote any of the gospels, although they are usually attributed to a particular disciple who spoke generations earlier. Furthermore, insertions appear to have been made by the writers and subsequent editors wishing to lend credibility to a particular doctrine.
In 1985, the Jesus Seminar, a group of religious scholars, initiated a detailed effort to determine which words from the four gospels (plus the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas) could most probably be attributed to the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and thus throw some light on his character. Over 200 scholars from religious institutions and faculties around the world were involved in this task. The picture of Jesus that emerges from the words selected is of a person who taught, by means of aphorisms and parables, an ethical perfectionism suited to an immanent new kingdom. He was at odds with some aspects of Hebrew values and rituals but accepted Hebrew scriptures and frequently quoted them in relation to how people should behave.
Jesus went against tribal custom by advocating love for one’s enemies, rather than the eye-for-an-eye philosophy of Leviticus. He said that people sharing his values were more dear to him than his family, and he told his followers that religious dietary laws should not prevent them eating whatever they were offered. He pointed out that one should learn from both fortune and misfortune. He judged individual acts on their own merits, favoring equal rewards independent of the amount of work done and did not advocate punishing a transgression if it produced greater harmony. Jesus clearly believed that the way of life he advocated would comfort the poor, the starving, and the distraught. He appears to have had a coherent system that stood on a par with those of other great sages. On the basis of the selected words, the historical Jesus did not teach his followers that he was a supernatural being.
Below, most of the sayings that the Jesus Seminar considers likely to be attributable to Jesus of Nazareth have been extracted from the five gospels they studied. The Seminar replaces the phrase "kingdom of God" in the King James translation of the Bible with "God’s imperial rule" or with "God’s domain". Presumably it is the rule governing the universe that is being talked about. Thus the alternative phrases "the unvarying way" or "the way things are", might be used, just as they have been used previously in the sayings of Lao Tzu and Siddhata Gotama.
The Gnostic gospels have not been subjected to a similar linguistic analysis. However, as they provide a more humanistic view of women in society, some relevant passages touching on this theme are also presented. In these excerpts, when Jesus speaks of making women men, it is assumed that it means giving them the rights enjoyed by men.
1 God’s imperial rule is not coming visibly, and people will not say, "Look! Here it is!" or "There it is!" for God’s imperial rule is within you.
2 To what can I compare Gods imperial rule? It is like yeast which a woman took and mixed with a bushel of flour, till it all rose.
3 It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the wild birds roosted on its branches.
Luke 13: 19
4 It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, “Look here!” or “Look, there!” Rather, the Father’s imperial rule is spread out upon earth, and people don’t see it.
5 Again, God’s imperial rule is like a dealer in search of fine pearls. He found one costly pearl, and went and sold everything he had, and bought it.
6 So I tell you, ask, and what you ask will be given you. Search, and you will find what you search for. Knock, and the door will open to you. For it is always the one who asks who receives, and the one who searches finds, and the one who knocks to whom the door opens.
7 You must always treat other people as you would like to have them treat you.
Matthew 7: 12
8 Love your enemies, treat well those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
9 If you love only those who love you, what merit is there in that? For even godless people love those who love them.
[A lawyer said that it was written in Hebrew Law (Leviticus: 19,18) that a man should love his neighbor as himself, but who was his neighbor?]
10 Jesus replied: A man* was on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers, and they stripped him and beat him and went off leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be going that way, and when he saw him, he went by on the other side of the road. And a Leavite also came to the place, and when he saw him, he went by on the other side. But a Samaritan*** who was traveling that way came upon him, and when he saw him and was moved to pity, and he went up to him and dressed his wounds with oil and wine and bound them up. Then he put him on his own mule and brought him to an inn, and looked after him there. Next day, he gave two pieces of silver to the innkeeper and said, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will pay you on my way back". Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?
The lawyer answered, "The one who was kind to him." Jesus said, "Go and do as he did".
* probably a Judean, **a Jerusalem temple official, ***a tribe antagonistic to Judeans
11 There was a crowd sitting around him when they told him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you."
He answered, "Who is my mother; who are my brothers?" And looking around at the circle of people sitting around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! whoever follows God’s imperial rule is my brother and sister and mother"
Mark 3: 31-35
12 You have heard that they were told, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If any one strikes you on your right cheek, offer the other to him too; and if anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if a person in authority forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. If anyone asks from you, give to him, and when anyone wants to borrow from you, do not turn away.
13 Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, and you will not be condemned. Forgive others and you will be forgiven.
14 Do not worry about getting food and drink to keep you alive, or about clothes to cover your body. Is not life more important than food, and the body more than clothes?
Matthew 6: 25
15 Which of you with anxious exertion can add one foot to his stature? Why should you worry about clothing? See how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin, and yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his splendor was never arrayed like one of them.
16 Carry no purse nor wallet nor shoes, and do not stop to swap greetings with anyone on the way. Whenever you go into a house, first say, "Peace to this household!" If there is a man there who loves peace, your blessing will rest upon him, but if there is not, it will come back to you. Stay at the same house, eating and drinking what they offer you. . . Do not change from one house to another. Whenever you come to a town and they welcome you, eat what is offered you. . .
Luke 10: 5-8
17 Listen to this and grasp it! It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that pollutes him, but what comes out.
Matthew 15: 11
18 Can you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes in the stomach and then is disposed of to a drain? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they can pollute a man.
19 Here I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So you must be as wary as serpents, and as guileless as doves.
20 There was a rich man who had a manager, and it was reported to him that this man was squandering his property. So he called him in and said to him, "What is this that I hear about you? Draw up an accounting of your conduct of my affairs, for you cannot be manager any longer!"
Then the manager said to himself, "What am I going to do, because my master is going to take my position away from me? I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, I will make sure that when I am removed from my position people will take me into their homes." So he called in each of his master's debtors.
He said to the first one, "How much do you owe my master?"
He replied, "Eight hundred gallons of oil."
And he said to him, "Here is your agreement; sit right down and change it to four hundred!"
Then he said to another, "And how much do you owe?"
He answered, "Fifteen hundred bushels of wheat."
He said to him, "Here is your agreement; write twelve hundred."
And his master praised the dishonest manager, because he had acted shrewdly.
For the worldly are more astute than the other-worldly when dealing with their own kind.
21 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. He agreed with the laborers to pay them a dollar a day, and sent them to his vineyard.
He went out about three hours later and saw others standing in the market place with nothing to do. And he said to them, "You go to my vineyard, too, and I will pay you what ever is right." So they went. He went out again about twelve and about three, and did the same. About an hour before sunset he went out and found others standing about and he said to them, "Why have you been standing about here all day doing nothing?" They said to him, "Because nobody has hired us." He said to them, "You go to my vineyard, and join the others."
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, "Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with those who came last and ending with those who came first."
When those who were hired about five o'clock came they received a dollar apiece. And when those who were hired first came they expected to get more, but they too got a dollar apiece. And when they received it they grumbled at their employer, and said, "These men who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have put them on the same footing as us who have done heavy work throughout the day in the blazing sun."
But he answered one of them, "My friend, I am doing you no injustice. Did you not agree with me on a dollar? Take what belongs to you and go.
I wish to give the last man hired as much as I give you. Have I no right to do what I please with my money? Why be offended because I am kind?"
22 A man once planted a vineyard and fenced it in and hewed out a wine press and built a watch tower, and he leased it to growers of grapes and left the neighborhood. At the proper time he sent a slave to the tenants to get from them a share of the vintage. And they took him and beat him and sent him back empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them. And they beat him over the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another; and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed.
He was left with only one to send, his dearly loved son. At last, he sent him to them, thinking, "They will respect my son."
But the tenants said to one another, "This is his heir! Come on, let us kill him, and the property will belong to us!" So they took him and killed him, and threw his body outside of the vineyard.
What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will put the tenants to death and rent out the vineyard to others.
23 God’s imperial rule may be compared to a king who decided to settle accounts with the men who served him. And when he set about doing so, a man was brought in who owed him ten million dollars. And as he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all he had, in payment of the debt.
So the man threw himself down before him and implored him, "Give me time, and I will pay you all of it." And his master's heart was touched, and he let the man go and cancelled the debt.
But when the man went out he met a fellow servant who owed him twenty dollars, and he caught him by the throat and began to choke him, saying, "Pay me what you owe!" His fellow-servant threw himself down before him, and begged him, "Give me time, and I will pay you." But he refused and went and had him put in prison until he should pay the debt.
When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went to their master and reported the whole matter to him. Then his master called him in and said to him, "You wicked man! I cancelled all that debt of yours when you entreated me. Ought you not to have taken pity on your fellow-servant, as I did on you?"
So his master in his anger handed him over as to the jailers, until he should pay all he owed him.
24 A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the property." So he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son turned all he had into cash, and went away to a distant country, and there he squandered his property by reckless living. After he had spent it all, a severe famine struck that country, and he became homeless and starving. So he went and hired himself out to a resident of the country, who sent him into his fields to tend pigs. And he would have been happy to fill himself with the pods the pigs were eating, as no one would give him anything.
Then he came to his senses and said, "How many hired men has my father, who have more than enough to eat, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and tell him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your eyes; I am not fit to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired men!"
So he left to go to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and pitied him, and ran and threw his arms around him and kissed him. Nevertheless, his son still said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your eyes; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired men!"
But his father said to his slaves, "Quick, get out my best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And get the calf we are fattening and kill it, and let us feast and celebrate, for my son here was dead, and he has come to life; he was lost, and he is found !"
So they began to celebrate.
His elder son was in the field. When he came in and approached the house, he heard music and dancing, and he called one of the servants to him and asked what it meant.
He replied, "Your brother has come back, and your father has killed the calf he has been fattening, because he has gotten him back alive and well." The elder son became angry, and would not go into the house. And his father came out to urge him in.
Then he said to his father, "Here I have served you all these years, and have never disobeyed an order of yours, and you have never given me so much as a tender young goat so that I could entertain my friends. But when your son here came, who has run through your money with women of the street, you killed the fattened calf for him."
The father replied, "My son, you have been with me all the time, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because your brother was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and is found!"
25 What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep, and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field, and goes in search of the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he puts in on his shoulders with joy, and when he reaches home, he calls in his friends and neighbors, and says to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!"
26 Or, again, what woman who has ten silver coins and loses one, does not light the lamp and sweep the house and look carefully everywhere until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls in her friends and neighbors, and says to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost!"
27 Listen: A sower went out to sow, and as he was sowing, some seed chanced to fall along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was not much soil, and it sprang up at once because the soil was thin. But when the sun came up it was scorched and withered away, because it had no root. Other seed fell among thistles, and the thistles sprang up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And some fell on good soil, and came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.
He added, "If you have ears to hear, then hear!"
28 A man had a fig tree growing in his garden, he went to look for fruit on it, and could not find any.
And he said to the gardener, "Here, I have come for three years to look for fruit on this fig tree, without finding any. Cut it down. Why should it go on using up the soil?"
He answered, "Let it stand this one year more, sir, till I dig around it and manure it; perhaps it will bear fruit next year. But if it does not, you can have it cut down."
29 Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins, or if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and run out, and the skins will be spoiled. New wine must be put into fresh skins. No one after drinking old wine wants new, for he will say, "The old wine is better."
30 A man once gave a great dinner, and invited a large number to it, and when the dinner hour came, he sent around his slave, to say to those who were invited, "Come! for it is now ready!" And they all immediately began to excuse themselves.
The first one said to him, "I have bought a piece of land, and I must go and look at it. Please have accept my apologies."
Another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to examine them. Please excuse me."
Another said, "I have married, and so I cannot come."
So the slave went back, and reported this to his master.
Then the master of the house was angry and said to his slave, "Hurry out into the streets and squares of the city, and bring the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame in here."
The slave came back and said, "What you ordered, sir, has been done, and there is still room."
And the master said to the slave, "Go out on the roads, and among the hedges, and make those there come in as well I want my house to be full."
31 How blessed are you who are poor, for God’s imperial rule is yours!
How blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied!
How blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh!
32 If you have money, don’t lend it at interest. Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you won’t get it back.
33 There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
34 And the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But the Savior] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [were offended]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness."
35 Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
36 But they were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us?
Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you.
But rather, let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us and made us into Men.
Mary 5: 1-3
37 Peter said to Mary, "Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Savior which you know but we do not, not having heard them".
Mary answered and said, "What is hidden from you I will tell you". And she began to speak to them these words: "I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, ‘Lord I saw you today in a vision’. He answered and said , ‘Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the mind is there is the treasure’. I said to Him, ‘Lord, how does he who sees the vision see it, through the soul or through the spirit?’ The Savior answered and said, ‘He does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind that is between the two that is what sees the vision and it is [...]’"
Mary 5: 5-11
38 [Several chapters of the Gospel of Mary are missing, in the surviving text Mary is in the middle of her account] . . . "And desire said, ‘I did not see you descending, but now I see you ascending. Why do you lie since you belong to me?’ The soul answered and said, ‘I saw you. You did not see me nor recognize me. I served you as a garment and you did not know me.’ When it said this, it (the soul) went away rejoicing greatly. Mary, 8:10-12
"Again it came to the third power, which is called ignorance. The power questioned the soul, saying, ‘Where are you going? In wickedness are you bound. But you are bound; do not judge!’ And the soul said, ‘Why do you judge me, although I have not judged? I was bound, though I have not bound. I was not recognized. But I have recognized that the All is being dissolved, both the earthly things and the heavenly.’
39 "When the soul had overcome the third power, it went upwards and saw the fourth power, which took seven forms. The first form is darkness, the second desire, the third ignorance, the fourth is the excitement of death, the fifth is the kingdom of the flesh, the sixth is the foolish wisdom of flesh, the seventh is the wrathful wisdom. These are the seven powers of wrath.
"They asked the soul, ‘Where do you come from slayer of men, or where are you going, conqueror of space?’ The soul answered and said, ‘What binds me has been slain, and what turns me about has been overcome, and my desire has been ended, and ignorance has died. In an eon I was released from a world, and in a type from a heavenly type, and from the fetter of oblivion which is transient. From this time on will I attain to the rest of the time, of the season, of the eon, in silence.
42 When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her. But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, "Say what you wish about what she has said., I for one do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas."
Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things. He questioned them about the Savior: "Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?"
Then Mary wept and said to Peter, "My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?"
Levi answered and said to Peter, "Peter you have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.
1-3, 5-31 Adapted from The New Testament, An American Translation by Edgar J. Goodspeed. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1923. The identification of texts most likely to be attributable to Jesus of Nazareth were taken from The Five Gospels, A New Translation And Commentary by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993.
An excellent introduction to the Gnostic gospels is contained in The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1982.
4, 32 The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. Robert J. Miller, ed. Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 1992, 1994.
33-42 The Nag Hammadi Library in English, by James M. Robinson. Harper, New York, 1977. These translations are available on-line at the web site of the Gnostic Society.