In response to recent links that appeared in my FB feed regarding a modern hoax called the Kolbrin Bible, I thought it necessary to clear up the subject of alternative Gospels. Basically, everybody is trying to make Jesus out in their own image. This is true of the modern-day New Age movement, and it was also true of both orthodox and heterodox early Christians. Whilst knowledge of the diversity of early Christianity does indeed give new context to Christian origins and the earliest conception/s of Jesus, it does not achieve what so many people are trying to make out.
Whilst I am an unashamed believer in the supernatural, I believe the New Age movement can benefit from a little critical thinking, and we need to be far more cautious about accepting extraordinary claims, which are unsupported by evidence. Everybody wants to believe that Jesus taught exactly what they personally believe in. This shows that even whilst rejecting the doctrines of orthodox Christianity many, many people are still attached to this figure of Jesus.
We need to be willing to accept the overwhelming evidence as it stands regarding the figure of Jesus, and seek out cohesive spiritual worldviews that stand on their own grounds, rather than pretending that existing religions have simply been misinterpreted for all these years. Whilst I actively recommend reform of the worlds faiths, the New Age movement primarily tries to argue that each of the world religions was originally a pure vessel of the same truths. This is simply false, and whilst there is some good intent behind this approach it is ultimately misguided, and will not achieve the ends to which many aspire.
Every once in a while I see a story somewhere online about a revolutionary text that reveals the “true story about Jesus”, you know the one the Church fought for centuries to hide. The general common thread in these stories is that the author/s claim that the text in question reveals Jesus to have really been exactly who they wish he was. That is, some argue that Jesus was really a Gnostic, that he was married to Mary Magdalene, that he was a mere wise human and so forth. Others argue that he went to India and became enlightened from studying with yogis, after which he was able to perform miracles and teach on higher spiritual matters. Others argue that he was an ascended master, a freemason, an alien, an 8th dimensional being and on it goes.
Obviously I do agree that the true origins of Christianity were almost certainly different to what Christian tradition states. Likewise, there are many subjects on which I believe we can reject mainstream consensus views and consider alternative views. There are even some cases whereby views that are considered pretty far out or even ridiculous by many turn out to be quite reasonable and defendable once a deeper investigation is undertaken. However, there is no end to the ridiculous claims that are made regarding these apocryphal Christian –New Age texts (note, I believe we should designate most of the modern examples as New Age texts rather than Christian texts). Hence, I would like to offer my own approach to viewing these texts.
Starting with the ancient alternate Gospels, there were obviously many, many other Gospels that circulated in the first four centuries of the Common Era other than the four that became canonized in the New Testament that we are familiar with. A great number of these were however simply alternate versions of the canonical Gospels. Basically, it seems that just about every single different Christian sect had their own version of these texts, which just so happened to support their own doctrines. It seems to have been par for the course for the leaders of early Christian sects to modify existing texts to their taste, and this applies both for heterodox and orthodox Christians.
There were also a significant number of largely unrelated Gospels, such as those bearing the names of Judas, Mary, Peter, Phillip and Thomas, as well as those known by more generic titles such as the Gospel of Truth (as circulated amongst Valentinian circles). Again, this shows that the leaders (and other members) of various Christian sects weren’t afraid to create new texts to attempt to give authority to their personal opinions. Again, I believe this applies both to the creation of apocryphal and canonical texts.
Finally, there are many other texts that are mentioned in passing in surviving literature that haven’t survived to this day (both due to being deliberately destroyed, and also through not being copied and preserved), and in likelihood many, many more that we have no record of the existence of.
I believe it is quite clear that the majority of texts in the New Testament cannon were not originally composed by authors that shared the theology of orthodox Christianity. Rather, the four canonical Gospels, the primary Pauline epistles, Revelation and possibly a few of the general epistles were originally written by heterodox Christians, and the versions that we are familiar with are Catholic versions. However, this does not mean that Jesus really was a yogi, or a universalist, or an alien, or married to Mary Magdalene.
Many of the apocryphal Gospels date from approx. the mid-2nd century CE through to the 3rd century. Whilst orthodox Christians claim that this makes them all older than the orthodox versions (thus arguing that heterodox Christianity post-dates orthodox Christianity), the truth is that we do not have reliable sources for orthodox Christianity prior to the 2nd half of the 2nd century (with Justin and Irenaeus). Hence, apocryphal texts that date to the mid-2nd century are actually early enough to be contemporaneous with orthodox Christianity, and let us remember again that heterodox Christians also made use of the majority of texts from the NT canon, as well as apocryphal ones (and I should also point out that I believe that late-dating for many NT texts into the mid-2nd century CE is quite credible).
The Gospels of Judas and Mary both feature interesting narratives that are in many ways contrary and complementary to the traditional NT narratives. However, I believe many people miss the greater point of these texts. For example, whilst the Gospel of Judas may present the picture of Judas being asked by Jesus to betray him, the fundamental point of the text was to present knowledge of Jesus received through visions as superior to knowledge of Jesus as passed down by man. Likewise, the same is true of the Gospel of Mary. The idea of Mary being Jesus’s closest companion and bearer of his deepest teachings appeals to many people, but much of the content of the text itself is concerned with upholding the superiority of knowledge gained through visions.
We learn from early orthodox apologists such as Irenaeus that Gnostic Christians believed that knowledge gained through revelations was more reliable than that handed down by man. Hence, Irenaeus was so keen to argue for the authority of the proto-orthodox tradition on the basis of apostolic authority. This was a major point of contention in the 2nd century, and if we accept the authenticity of the primary Pauline epistles than the same is also true of the 1st century.
One way or another, whether or not there was a historical Jesus (those familiar with my work know that I strongly favour a no) all of the earliest Christian texts were inspired by revelations derived from both visions and allegorical readings of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures for those unfamiliar). This is true of the canonical Gospels, the primary epistles, the Book of Revelation, and it is likewise true of various apocryphal Christian texts.
There is abundant, overwhelming evidence for this conclusion, and it does indeed overthrow the traditional Church tradition of Jesus and his disciples. However, it doesn’t mean that the visions of one or another Gnostic Christian sect taught the truth about the true historical Jesus. Rather, it simply means that none of their doctrines were based upon the teachings and actions of a historical man, regardless of whether there was a historical Jesus at the genesis of Christianity. Hence, we should not be so quick to believe that these alternate Gospels revealed some suppressed truth about Jesus. Rather, they simply preserved the doctrines of a competing early Christian sect.
Likewise, as for these modern “Gospels” claiming to be revealing hidden truths about Jesus that have been suppressed by the Church for 2,000 years, they are all either channelled or outright forgeries, or we are in no position to differentiate them from those that are. That is, no evidence has ever been produced (or probably ever will be) to show that any of these texts have any ancient foundations. No mention of these texts is made in any ancient text, no manuscript or other evidence has ever been produced, and they do not correspond with what we do know about early Christianity (and I’m not talking about Church tradition here).
The so-called Kolbrin Bible for example is a completely modern text, 10 or 20 years old at the max. Of course the publishers claim that it has a long sordid history, surviving a medieval fire, which was intended to destroy it, with Christian portions dating as early as the 1st century CE, and Egyptian portions dating to the mid 2nd millennium BCE. However, there is not a single shred of evidence to support these claims. If we were to honour such claims we would likewise accept that the Kybalion dated to the time of Hermes Trismegistos, that the Torah dated to the time of Moses, and that the Vedas preserved traditions that were millions of years old!
In regards to the Kybalion I believe it is an excellent text, though it is most certainly modern (early 20th century). It is simply par for the course for writers of modern occult works to claim that their text is ancient, as if doing so gives it authority. However, we need to leave our critical faculties in check, even when dealing with texts that strike chords within us.
Likewise, as for the Essene Gospel of Peace (also known by a number of variant titles), we have no evidence of the existence of any manuscript for the texts prior to the publication by Edmund Bordeaux Szekely in the mid 20th century. Of course Szekely claims that he copied the text from manuscripts he found in the Vatican library and another Italian library. However, no evidence has ever been produced to verify these claims.
As for the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, that openly admits to being channelled, though it claims to have been copied from the Akashic records (an astral library, home of the history of mankind and other knowledge). I personally accept some examples of channelling as a legitimate supernatural phenomena (though the contents of such works still naturally correspond with the personality of the personal doing the channelling). However, it would be irresponsible of us to simply accept the author’s claim to have channelled the text from a sort of non-physical history book.
I am personally involved in Spiritualism and have had numerous experiences that have convinced me that many people are indeed able to obtain information from non-physical sources that can later be verified. However, I have also found it to be the case that whilst material gained through these methods may prove useful in spiritual progress (and may on many occasions prove to give useful advice pertaining to an individuals earthly circumstances), “knowledge” relating to the “true history of mankind” from these sources are pretty much always unverifiable, and contract other claims made by other channelled texts. Basically, these texts are pretty much science fiction for New Agers. They may feature some useful spiritual advice, but it would be foolish to believe that they truly revealed historical facts that have been lost to the sands of time. This is true of literarily hundreds (if not thousands) of New Age texts, such as “Abduction to the Ninth Planet”, Ramtha’s “White Book”, “Bringers of the Dawn” (all of which I have read) et al, and it is also true of the personal revelations of millions of people who have been told something about who Jesus really was (and the “true history of mankind”) in a meditation or by a spirit guide.
The reason we are so interested in these alternative accounts of Jesus is that we have (rightfully) instinctively felt that many of the doctrines taught to us by orthodox Christianity were false, and we have naturally sought a better spiritual worldview than the one handed to us. However, the problem is that a part of us is still attached to Christianity, and hence we are inclined to attempt to squeeze a square plug into a round hole, in believe that Jesus was truly an enlightened being that taught only truth, and it is only due to some diabolical conspiracy that his true teachings have not survived to us today.
Whilst it is indeed true that the Catholic church has indeed supressed other competing forms of Christianity, and they have indeed interpolated and redacted various texts, this does not mean that the earliest form of Christianity was a pure enlightened religion. Rather, the evidence we have shows us that the author of the earliest Gospel (Mark) was a Greek educated Jew who was pretty pissed of with the Romans about the destruction of Jerusalem (as was the author of Revelation) and certainly believed in much of the traditional Jewish dogma. Likewise, it is clear that the earliest author of the Pauline epistles was not necessarily teaching an enlightened universal doctrine.
It certainly is true that there is much goodness found amongst the words ascribed to Jesus (both in canonical and apocryphal texts), and it is quite clear that Gnostic Christianity was far more mystical than orthodox Christianity. On this last point, we don’t have enough surviving evidence to know enough about every different early heterodox Christian sect to know exactly what they believed. It is likely that some of them could have been considered to be semi-Perennial in their approach to comparative religion (noting the preservation of Platonic and Hermetic texts amongst the Nag Hammadi library amongst other evidence). However, it is commonly the case that religious texts reflect a complex mixture of truth and superstition, inspired knowledge and personal dogmas. All the evidence relating to early Christianity supports this conclusion, and we should accept the evidence as it sits.
If we truly wish to follow a universal, Perennial religion, than let us go about identifying the highest-common denominators in comparative religion, in the same way that scientists and philosophers of science attempt to do in their attempts at constructing unified theories of everything. Or, if we wish to follow an enlightened ancient faith, let us choose one on the basis of its merits.