The First Christians Part 1: The Gnostics

Christians 153 Years Before Christ?

by Kat Kent, January 1, 2017

Eqyptian “Gnostics”

Many people believe that Christianity arose and became a prominent belief in the world almost overnight. Suddenly the Jesus Christos appeared and the world changed. History debunks that theory rather gregariously. Christianity evolved from the same process as all other religious belief and was rife with conflict among believers in their own particular god myth as well as among non-believers. It was anything but a simple overnight process, and history shows that if it were not for the brutal force with which it was spread, it would not have become such a momentous movement, nor would there have been a huge migration towards a belief originally thought to be the product of “idiots” as the pagans would describe its creators. In fact, it was the least popular of the hundreds of Christos sects that began forming as early as 100BCE.

“Doctrine of Incarnation”

Most of the world, 80 percent, were at this time pagans, or polytheists (those who believed in multiple gods). 2% of the population were Jews who believed in monotheism, a belief in only one creator god and highly unusual for the time.  A myriad of eastern religions claimed the balance of the world’s religious followers. The idea of a “christos” or messenger from the gods, was not a new one. Called the “doctrine of incarnation”, it had evolved and been established in Egypt’s Osiris religion at far as 10,000 years prior. It stated that man could only be saved by a god who had lived as human, and experienced human suffering. There were actually a total of 36 historically recognized “virgin born” saviors of man, with 16 of those “crucified saviors of man” spread throughout as many recognized religions, not to mention thousands of professed god/men who played more minor parts or whose following was too small to be considered an organized group.

In the Roman world, the Roman religion and gods had lost favor, and the idea of sons of gods and sacred kings who came to save the world were extremely popular. Most of the world accepted Mithra as the “true” savior of man. Mithra was the Persian religion’s equivalent sun/son god. His story very closely matches that of the soon to be created Jesus narrative. Stripped of his “miracles” of which history has made no mention, Jesus would have been like any of the hundreds of “christos” peddling their brand of religion all over the Roman Empire.

Under Nero, 54CE to 68CE, fiction writing thrived as a major source of entertainment in the Rome. There were many poets, play writes and novelists creating works of all sorts. But religious writing and myths were extremely popular, much like the Dan Brown and Steve Berry novels of today. The Mithraic myth and his narrative was the most popular belief at the time, and thus, Nero proclaimed Mithra the god and protector of the Roman Empire.

At this time, Plato’s much more ancient teachings were used to form proto-Christian beliefs and doctrine. Plato was a pagan and a gnostic, as were his contemporaries, Pythagoras and Philo. Most of the early Christian church fathers, such as Pantaenus, Origen, Clemens, Alexandrinus, Gregory and Tertullian were also Gnostic.

Most Jews also denied Jesus historical existence from the beginning, and of course none has ever been proven. But the Jews themselves, some of whom founded the Jesus cults, were not without problems of their own. Jews had long been considered the most barbaric of all religious cults, as well as the most stubbornly backward. A small minority cult who believed in monotheism, Jews claimed to be God’s “chosen people” who were given laws to govern their life through Moses. Thus Jews did not accept Roman law or any other. Pagans found Jewish rituals to be offensive and often illegal under their laws. Jewish dietary restrictions and superstitions were considered “nonsense” and founded in ignorance. Their belief in polygamy and divorce garnered condemnation from the Greeks and Romans, who were at that time more focused on family life. Jews were also first to obnoxiously denounce all other religions but their own, something that was unheard of in civilized society. Jews were extremely disrespectful to other religious groups and felt it their duty to God to destroy others altars and churches. Jews became the most hated of all religious groups in the Roman Empire, and eventually that hatred spread to all of Europe. By the early first century, Judaism had split into four main sects in response to divisions among believers. These groups combined still only made up 2 -3% of the population. Some of the least content among the Jewish faith groups felt that the religion had been too barbaric and backward in it’s application of Moses’ law, and that mankind had evolved past the need for such an oppressive existence. Many preached a new law was part of the expected message from god being served by man’s new savior.

The Christian myth was an outgrowth of this “kinder” Jewish thinking and of course, they too believed that their god and religion were superior to all others. Christians took this belief further by proclaiming the Jews had not recognized the messenger sent by God, who had already arrived and was living among them. However, early Christians could not agree on who that messenger was, with many claiming to be “the one”.   And all religions at this time taught that this new savior of man had “Gnosis”, the secret knowledge from God that would send the “aeons” home and thus change the world. In fact, the earliest “biographies” of Jesus depict him as a compassionate teacher who irritated the Roman authorities because of his gnostic teachings on materialism, and human compassion. There was never any mention of any other exploits like miracles, attacks on temples, or strange astrological events happening during his presence. Nor was there mentioned a miraculous virgin birth or a crucifixion.

To examine early Christian belief among the various sects, one must first understand the concept of “gnosticism”, as all early Christian cults professed this concept as their own. “Gnosis”, is the secret knowledge served only by God. There were pagan, Jewish and far eastern godless philosophies who also accepted a belief in Gnosticism. Gnostics believed in dualism, or a world of good versus evil. Matter was considered evil, spirit was considered good. A true “God” was considered wholly spirit, unknown to humans. The divine realm, “Pleroma” was created by God first creating other divine beings called “aeons”. But an imperfect divine being had been created who had to be removed from the divine realm, and thus created the material world in which to reside. This malevolent God created other evil beings designed to capture and imprison the mother God and imprison her on his earth in various human bodies. These humans and their descendants would have the divine spark within them. Gnostic knowledge was a system designed to show you how to liberate these aeons from their human hosts. Only a true divine aeon could learn this secret knowledge.

A follower of gnosticism did not follow a particular doctrine, but was considered as one “who knows”. If a man could gain the favor of one of these god/men, he might be shown the favor of ascending to the heavens with him, but there were no guarantees. Wandering with these self professed god/men became a popular pastime for young men, who found the Roman economic world at that time to be as volatile as our own today. Their teachings encouraged creativity and freedom of expression, not in rote memorization of unified religious belief. Most were more balanced in representing the feminine aspect of the “divine”, as well as it’s male counterpart.

Simonian Aeonology

The roots of the Christian belief can be traced to Antioch in Syria, where the term “Christian” was actually created long prior to the reported incarnation of Jesus. It referred to a group of Syrian Judeao “gnostic Christians” who believed that Simon of Samaria, or Simon the Magas, was the Christ , the messenger from God foretold in the old testament. This character seems to have been created from two pre-Christian era mythical characters named Saman and Magas, two Syrian teachers. The followers of Simon taught “Simonianism”, a derivative of an astrological ideology called “Mandaeism” which dates back to the 4th century BCE, which existed as a bridge between the more ancient Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Simon himself was said to be a “magician” of sorts, and his followers practiced various incantations and spells. This cult revered Adam, Noah and particularly John, the Baptist, but rejected Abraham, Moses and ultimately Jesus.

A century later, Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist and traveling teacher, mentions him in both of his surviving works. In his First Apology, which was actually an argument intended to convince the emperor, Antoninus to have mercy on the a small infant group of 2nd century Christians being persecuted:

Justin Martyr

“…after Christ’s ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:–

“Simoni Deo Sancto,”
(“To Simon the holy God.” )

And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Meander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetaea, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his.”

Simon’s group obviously became very influential on early Christianity along with others, especially with the first two cults who recognized a teacher named “Jesus” (Yeshua, Jeshua, Joshua or other language equivalents). But it would be centuries before these groups would identify as “Christian” or give the title of “Christ” to Jesus. In fact, well into the 5th century CE, there remained a large community of these “gnostic Christians” who did not think Jesus to be “the one”.

The First Christians Part II: the Ebionites

The First Christians Part III:  the Marcionites

Sources:
“The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors”, Kersey Graves, 16th edition, 2001 Adventures Unlimited Press
Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authenticity, the Teaching Company 2002,University of NC at Chapel Hill, Professor Bart D. Ehrman
The Christ Conspiracy, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Acharya S (DM Murdock), 1999
http://ebionite.com/
http://peopleof.oureverydaylife.com/ebionites-beliefs-2922.html
http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/ebionites.html
The Catholica Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen
Justin. First Apology, Chapter XXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *