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The Gospel of Philip

New Page -- 19 May 2006

The Gospel of Philip is one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels (or New Testament apocrypha). That is to say its sayings and wisdom might be (according to Wesley Isenberg, for example), "best interpreted from a Gnostic perspective". Its brief and enigmatic statements emphasize "the sacramental nature of the embrace between man and woman in the nuptial chamber" [1] -- a decidedly gnostic theme.

The text was probably not authored by Philip the Apostle, but inasmuch as Philip appears to be the only disciple who is mentioned in the text, the title refers to him. The only extant copy of the gospel was bound in the same volume as the Gospel of Thomas, one of the fifty-two texts discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt [2]. All fifty-two volumes had been "secreted in a jar and and buried in the Egyptian desert at the end of the 4th century, when Gnostic writings and pagan ones were being burned by the official church." [1]

Like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip is a "sayings gospel", consisting primarily of wise sayings allegedly by Jesus. Significantly, Philip's gospel "attributes to Jesus acts and sayings quite different from those in the New Testament." [2] And this is where it gets into trouble with the Church hierarchy, inasmuch as the text constitutes, among other things, a very early source for the idea that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus.

"As for the Wisdom who is called 'the barren,' she is the mother [of the] angels. And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and used to] kiss her [often] on her [...]. The rest of [the disciples ...]. 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.'" [3]

Of all of the passages from the Gospel of Philip, this is the one which tends to first get everyone's attention! The idea of Jesus and Mary Magdalene setting up housekeeping and looking forward to conjugal bliss tends to garner the attention of the gatekeepers of traditional religious interpretations. This is despite the fact that it is almost certainly true that Jesus did indeed marry Mary Magdalene (i.e. the Wedding at Cana), that the two followed the rather strict observances of their sect's view on married life [4], and that as the wife of Jesus -- and the source of the holy bloodline (the Desposyni) -- Mary Magdalene was honored by the Knights Templar in the series of Notre Dame ("Our Lady") cathedrals of northern France which mimic the constellation of stars in Virgo.

And yet the emphasis on the fundamental question [pardon the pun] of whether or not Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married tends to override what is likely the more significant aspect of the quote. The key is in the last two sentences -- which the astute reader might want to read again. The implication could well be that Mary Magdalene was one of those who saw the light, while the complaining disciples were still blind to the true meaning of Jesus' reason for being. Mary and the boys were alike in the darkness, but when Jesus turned on the lights, only Mary could see.

This is not the sort of thinking that would appeal to the hierarchy of a struggling Church. When Philip goes further and criticizes "common Christian beliefs, such as the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection as naive misunderstandings," [2] it becomes clear why the Church fathers were so incensed [pardon the pun]. Such challenges to authority could not be tolerated and the Church patriarchy -- specifically Pope Gregory I in 591 C.E. -- reacted by labeling Mary Magdalene a whore in serious need of redemption.

"She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? ...It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts." [5]

Whoa! That sounds serious! At least to an anal retentive who was in fear of all things feminine. And thus the perceived need to downgrade Mary Magdalen.

"Mary Magdalen was in the late sixth century recreated as an entirely different character to serve the purposes of the ecclesiastical hierarchy." [6]

It's all just a matter of policy changes in the form of papal edicts in order to accomplish various nefarious goals -- similar to the imposition of celibacy on priests in order to prevent their children from inheriting church property. However...

[In 1969, the Catholic Church officially repealed Gregory's labeling of Mary as a whore -- "though the image of Mary Magdalene as the penitent whore has remained in the public teachings of al Christian denominations. Like a small erratum buried in the back pages of a newspaper, the Church's correction goes unnoticed, while the initial and incorrect article continues to influence readers." [5]]

Philip's description obviously suggested other dimensions for understanding the true history of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And this has served as the lightening rod for attacks from fundamentalists and against another gospel. But Philip also challenged other fundamental wisdom. For example...

"Light and darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For this reason each one will dissolve into its earliest origin. But those who are exalted above the world are indissoluble, eternal." [6]

This passage does not lend itself to a slam-dunk interpretation. Nor is the problem one of being taken out of context inasmuch as the presentation in this single ancient document -- or at least one which is available to modern scholars -- must be considered "rambling and disjointed" or a situation where statements may have been purposefully disjointed from what was once whole paragraphs of thought. [7] In other words, there may have been some notable editing of the gospel -- and for reasons unknown.

And yet there is the suggestion within this passage that dualistic thinking is inappropriate and that all things are connected. This is not so much an issue of good versus evil, but an acknowledgement that such labels are meaningless. Then there is an other worldly aspect which is missing from the standard Big Four Gospels. This and other aspects of Philip's gospel clearly need considerable thought and attention. As does, for example, the below quote:

"...Christ came to ransom some, to save others, to redeem others. He ransomed those who were strangers and made them his own. And he set his own apart, those whom he gave as a pledge according to his plan. It was not only when he appeared that he voluntarily laid down his life, but he voluntarily laid down his life from the very day the world came into being. Then he came first in order to take it, since it had been given as a pledge. It fell into the hands of robbers and was taken captive, but he saved it. He redeemed the good people in the world as well as the evil." [6] [emphasis added]

There is the suggestion here that Jesus laid down his life at the beginning of the world, that others had wrested it from him -- despite the gift having already been pledged -- but that later Jesus redeemed the world. This is a passage fraught with intriguing ideas.

For example, one might speculate - as we often do on this website -- that:

The Jesus at the beginning of the world equates to Adam or one of the other, earliest patriarchs (pre-Abraham)*,

The gift of the world had been pledged by Enki and Ninki, the creators of humankind),

Others (Enlil, et al) had taken the world captive with their religious dogma (in the guise of the Church and its four edited gospels, for example), and

Jesus had redeemed it on behalf of Enki and Ninki (and humankind).

Admittedly, such speculation is pushing the envelope when it comes to the simple quotation from Philip above, but when combined with all of the other suggestions and hints from a diverse variety of other sources, one is apt to become a believer in at the very least the possibility of just such a scenario being what was meant by the author(s) of the Gospel of Philip.

This brief introduction into the Gospel of Philip -- and some possible interpretations of what many of the more enigmatic passages were teaching -- is intended to be more of a trailer than the whole movie. And thus for the true believer it becomes imperative that it's time to step up and buy your ticket. It is strongly recommended that anyone of a religious persuasion read the entirety of the Gospel of Philip. It's not a long document, and it can easily be accessed in its complete form at [6] or [7].

There's nothing quite like doing one's homework before blasting off an irate e-mail as feedback. Besides, the author only reads positive thoughts.

 

*Jesus is reputed by some to be the reincarnation of Adam and other Old Testament individuals. For example, “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.”  (John 8:58) This might suggest that Jesus was the reincarnation of someone who lived before Abraham, or that Jesus existed prior to the that time. Meanwhile, his disciples thought he might be the reincarnation of Elijah, but Jesus explained "that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:12-13)

_______________________

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Philip

[2] Elaine Pagels, "The Treasure of Nag Hammadi," Special Edition, Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, U. S. News and World Report, 2006.

[3] Dan Burstein, "A Reading from Philip," Special Edition, Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, U. S. News and World Report, 2006.

[3] Laurence Gardner, The Magdalene Legacy, The Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy, Element Books, HarperCollins, London, 2005.

[4] Lynn Picknett, "Sacred Sex and Divine Love", Special Edition, Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, U. S. News and World Report, 2006.

[5] Susan Haskins, "The Magdalene Myth", Special Edition, Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, U. S. News and World Report, 2006.

[6] http://www.webcom.com/gnosis/naghamm/gop.html

[7] http://www.theologywebsite.com/etext/naghammadi/philip.shtml

 

 

  The Gospel of Mary Madgalen         The Gospel of Thomas

The Lost Gospels         Fiddling with Tradition

 

Comparative Religions         Mary Magdalen

 

Knights Templar         History 009      Chronicles of Earth

The Gospel of Peter         The Cathedrals of Northern France

Or forward to:

 

The Gospel according to Mel         Sacrifice

Pagan Easter         The Gospel According to Daniel

 

               

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