PART 3 – THE AGE OF THE APOSTLES
James, Mary and the gospel of belief
Now the behaviour of Mary was displeasing to her family and they considered her as one mad, one possessed by demons. Her family had tried to stop her but she escaped from them. She had told her disciples, “You must leave behind fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. You must follow Jesus instead.” So she disowned her family and her family disowned her.
Yet she had one brother, James, who was less against her than the others. And in this brother James she sowed the seed and one day, years after the start of her ministry, the seed was ripe and ready for harvest. She took her beloved brother James down to the tomb with Jesus and gave him the resurrection. And James saw his spirit.
And after the initiation of James, Jesus spoke to Mary thus. “My heart groans for the sons and daughters of man. For many are called but few are chosen. But even the dogs who come to the table should be allowed to eat off the scraps. It is time to tell my mysteries in a form which all can understand.”
As Jesus says in the gospels:
I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat (Mark 8)
The ‘been with me three days’ recalls the descent into the tomb. Yet the multitude have nothing to eat – that is they do not have the bread of life and are still hungry. They have descended to the tomb with Jesus yet have not received the resurrection. In Mark this is followed by the account of the feeding of the four thousand, the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The loaves stand for Jesus himself. Fish under the water are images of the soul but fish that have been raised up out of the deep stand for the spirit. The story is about how the spirit and the bread of life (Jesus) can be split and shared many times and yet there is still more than enough for everyone. Indeed there are even scraps left over – seven large baskets full in the literal account of Mark. And who are the scraps for? Not the gentiles, but those who would feed but do not have the spirit, whether Jew or gentile.
In John there is a story about Jesus appearing to his fishermen disciples by the shore of the sea of Tiberias some time after his resurrection:
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, Friends, have you any meat? They answered him, No. And he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. (John 21)
What does this mean? The disciples are told not to fish on the left side which stands for the Gnostic spiritual revelation but on the right side which stands for salvation through belief. The reason Jesus tells them to do this is to feed the hungry. The catch on the Gnostic left side was meagre because many are called but few are chosen. The pneumatic elect are few indeed.
But the catch on the right hand side, that of belief, is vast! John is the most spiritual of the gospels yet it is also a gospel of literal belief. In this story we are given the reason why the author of John denies gnosis in favour of belief. But the comparison is false because the nets of belief bring up no fish.
And Jesus continued thus. “There are those who have been given the gift of sight and who can see. They it is whom have known the resurrection and the kingdom. They have the life of the spirit and the riches of heaven. But they are others, poor in spirit, who cannot see. Yet although they cannot see they can still believe. And by this belief they can yet be saved. So my mysteries must be cast in form in which they can believe. They must be told as a story. If a person hears this story and believes in it completely then that person shall also experience a form of the resurrection and rebirth. And to seal this rebirth let that person go down naked into the water and come up as one reborn. For this baptism of water shall stand for my greater baptism of death and rebirth. The stripping off of garments shall stand for the stripping off of the flesh.”
“Yet such a one will be reborn blind. As a man may feel the blowing of the wind but not see it so they will feel the spirit inside them but not see it. To them the spirit will be a mystery that comes to them from outside. They will call it the spirit of god and they will not understand that it is indeed themselves. And they will remain a slave to a law. For they will not have the freedom of those who have been given the spirit in truth. But for those who remain slaves I will set up a new law, the law of love.”
“In their blindness they will require guidance. It is those who can see who will guide them. For if a blind man lead a blind man, then both fall into a pit. So those who are blind must not lead or judge each other. That must be done by the sighted. For a man should not remove a mote from his brothers eye until he has removed the plank from his own eye.”
“Yet those who are blind shall not be least in my sight. Blessed be those who are poor in spirit, those who have not seen yet have believed. They too will gain my kingdom. But they must do so slowly and with much labour and groaning. Instead of the wall being demolished in one instant they must tear it down brick by brick by their good deeds and simple faith. And so they will gradually come into the light. But those who watch over them must be ever vigilant for the signs that one is ready for my mysteries. And thus those who start out blind may also in time be perfected.”
Thus it says in John:
Jesus says to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20)
And as it says in Mathew as the first of the beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mathew 5)
And so the mysteries of Jesus were composed in the form of a story. That story was the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. It was the story of how Jesus came down in human form. The story of the son of god who was crucified, who went down into Hades and who was resurrected on the third day. But in this story there was no Pilate, no Romans, no high priests, no Jerusalem. It was a story set without time and place. But those who would believe were told that it really happened, that Jesus really did come down in the flesh, that he really did meet with crucifixion and that he really was resurrected. And all these things were true, but true in a different way than the believer thought. And once the believer was ripe for initiation then they would see Jesus and Achamoth for themselves and would understand the truth of the story in this different way.
And Jesus said to Mary “It is time to stop wandering. Go with James to Jerusalem and there shall James be the head of my church. And look for men who can take my word far and wide to the ends of the earth. For they shall be apostles of the good news.” And thus was it done. James set up a house in Jerusalem and Mary lived quietly with him as his sister. And although James pleaded that he was unworthy he became the acknowledged leader of the Jesus sect. Now Magdalene meaning “the Tower” has another meaning “the Great”. So James took the name “the Less” or “the little” to distinguish himself from Mary. And only those initiated into the mysteries understood that it was James’ sister, keeping quietly in the background, who was the true leader of the Jesus movement.
James also became known as the brother of the Lord and the brother of Jesus. These names were attributed to him because of his relationship to Mary. There were given to him both because he was Mary’s brother, and Mary was believed to be the incarnation of Jesus, and because Jesus was his brother in law (in Aramaic the same as brother) because Mary was Jesus’ ‘sister’ and ‘wife’.
James and Mary were linked in tradition. The Gnostic sect of the Nassenes attributed their teachings to Mary the Magdalene and they said that she had got them from James. It was actually the other way round, that Mary had taught James. The confusion is not surprising as it was James who was the visible head of the church and Mary who visibly was just his devoted sister.
The most persuasive direct link between James and Mary is from the gospel accounts of the passion story. In these accounts three women, Mary the Magdalene, Mary of James and Mary of Joseph are hopelessly muddled providing evidence that all three were really the same.
The oldest gospel, Mark, has Mary the Magdalene and Mary of James visiting the tomb of Jesus –
And the sabbath having past, Mary the Magdalene, and Mary of James, and Salome, bought spices, that having come, they may anoint him .. (Mark 16)
However previously in Mark there is a reference to Mary as mother of James and Joses:
And there were also women afar off beholding, among whom was also Mary the Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less, and of Joses, and Salome … (Mark 15)
And there is also another reference to this same Mary as being Mary of Joses –
and Mary the Magdalene, and Mary of Joses, were beholding where he is laid. (Mark 15)
In some existing manuscripts Joses is replaced by Joseph in both places. In fact Joses and Joseph are two forms of the same name.
Mark also gives us information about the family of Jesus:
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? (Mark 6)
This information is suspect because of the Christian habit of referring to each other as brothers and sisters. Collectively the followers of Jesus also seem to have been known as the brothers of Jesus or brethren of the Lord. This makes it questionable as to whether some or all of Mark’s list are really siblings.
If Mark’s list of brothers is taken at face value then Mark’s reference to Mary the mother of James and Joses causes a fundamental problem. For Mary the mother of James and Joses must be the same as Mary the mother of Jesus. At this critical moment why does Mark refer to her as the mother of Jesus’ brothers rather than as the mother of Jesus himself?
The gospel of Mathew followed Mark in using ‘Mary the mother of James and Joses’ the first time but then switches to ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’, perhaps reflecting the authors own doubts on the matter. Luke de-emphasises the women and only refers to their names once as ‘Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary of James’. John differs form the others and puts at the foot of the cross ‘his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene’. In John it is Mary Magdalene alone of the women who goes to the tomb.
What has happened can be reconstructed. Mary, as the unmarried daughter of Joseph, is known by her fathers name as Mary of Joseph. For many years she also lives with her brother James as part of his household and she becomes known also as Mary of James. Finally she is known among the followers of Jesus primarily as the Magdalene. This has given rise to traditions that the crucifixion and resurrection was witnessed by Mary the Magdalene, Mary of James and Mary of Joseph – in reality all the same woman. Mark has these names available to him and understands that Mary of Joseph and Mary of James are the same person. James is also known as the brother of Jesus and some call Mary the mother of Jesus. He thus interprets Mary of James as meaning Mary the mother of James. The author of Mark knows nothing about Joseph who only becomes the wife of Mary and the step-father of Jesus in the later gospels of Mathew and Luke. He interprets Mary of Joseph in the same way as Mary of James and so mistakenly takes Joseph as the brother of James and hence the brother of Jesus. In one place he inserts the word mother into the description of Mary of James and Joseph (Joses) to make clear to his readers who this Mary of James and Joses is. But he keeps the original form in other places.
When the authors of Luke and Mathew come to write their gospels they follow Mark’s mixed use of the names in their passion narratives. However they do know of a Mary of Joseph who they understand is also the mother of Jesus. They interpret this as meaning that Mary the mother of Jesus was married to Joseph.
Finally when the author of John writes his Gospel he deals with the problem presented by Mark’s use of Mary mother of James and Joses by making these James and Joses cousins of Jesus. Their mother Mary becomes a sister (cousin) of Mary the mother of Jesus and he calls her husband Clopas which is a variant of the name Alpheus given in Mark as the name of the father of the disciple James. But he also has available to him the same tradition that Mark drew upon that Mary of Joseph was present as an observer of the crucifixion. Writing a good deal later than Mark, and after the nativities of Mathew and Luke have become accepted, the author of John naturally interprets this Mary of Joseph as Mary the mother of Jesus. He therefore puts the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross.
The other name which occurs in Mark, Salome, is that of the female disciple whom in the Gospel of Thomas says of Jesus ‘Thou hast mounted my bed [or couch], and eaten from my table’. She is a pneumatic Christian who experiences Jesus as a spirit. The description in Thomas recalls the description in John of the disciple whom Jesus loved who appears to share a couch with Jesus. Not that Salome was this disciple who was really Mary. Rather the two women whom both have had direct spiritual experience of Jesus become confused together at times. Salome has experienced the resurrection and her role as a witness of the passion is remembered in the gospels of belief. However her actual experience took place later than Mary’s.
The special role of Cephas and Cephas’ relationship with James is indicated by the considerable confusion over who was the leader of the early church. The tradition from the beginning of the movement was that the leader was Cephas. Yet the visible leader became James even though the initiated still turned to Cephas as their real leader. This gave two traditions. The stronger tradition was that it was Cephas (Peter) who was the first leader appointed directly by Jesus. But others said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the early leader.
In Jerusalem, James and Mary searched for those who would be the apostles. One of these was the one who would afterwards be known as Peter. Almost nothing is known of him except that he was a Jew. After his baptism he took his name from Mary’s male identity and became Peter. As a result he was later hopelessly confused with Mary’s male identity. He went out and became the main apostle of the Jerusalem sect and spread the word far and wide.