Judaic Foundations of Christian Scripture and Belief

Yakov Leib haKohain

In her book, The Gnostic Gospels, the religion scholar, Elaine Pagels, distinguises between religions of SIN ∓ REDEMPTION vs. those of ILLUSION ∓ ENLIGHTENMENT. Pauline Christianity, as it has come down to us in the mainstream Christian Church, is an example of the former, while its predecessor, Gnostic Christianity, was very much an example of the latter -- along with such Eastern religions as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc.

It is in this Gnostic Christianity that we see most clearly the influence of pre-Christian, Jewish mystical thought. (Although, as I point out in previous posts and several of my published articles, many New Testament authors, including Paul himself, make frequent references to the Jewish "Torah Sh'Baal Peh," or esoteric "Oral Torah.")  For example, Gershom Scholem writes:

"Apart from the Zohar, myth is exemplified most strikingly and magnificently in the most important system of the late Kabbalah, the system of Isaac Luria (1534-72) of Safed, and later in the heretical theologoumena of the Sabbatians, whose Kabbalistic Messianism was in part inspired by Luria. Both the orthodox Kabbalah of Luria and the heretical Kabbalah of Nathan of Gaza (1644-1680), prophet and theologian of Sabbatai Zevi, the Kabbalistic Messiah, provide amazingly complete examples of gnostic myth formation within or on the fringe of Rabbinical Judaism." (On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, page 109.)

Nevertheless, as Pagels points out in her book,

"It is the winners who write history -- their way. No wonder, then, that the viewpoint of the successful majority has dominated all traditional accounts of the origin of Christianity. Ecclesiastical [Gentile] Christians first defined the terms (naming themselves 'orthodox' and their [Gnostic-Jewish] opponents 'heretics'); then they proceeded to demonstrate -- at least to their own satisfaction -- that their triumph was historically inevitable, or, in religious terms, 'guided by the Holy Spirit.'" (Ibid, page 142)

As I argue in my essay, "To Die for the People" (published in The Priest, 1996), it was not 1st-century Judaism that rejected Christianity, but Paulist Christianity that later ejected the Jews. The fact is, as Professors Hickey and Torchenov have been discussing, there are far more similarities between pre-Christian Judaism and post-Judaic Christianity than either religion is currently willing to admit.

I have spent a fair amount of my career over the past 40 years exploring those intersections. (Not, I might add, without having had a few of my fingers and toes chopped off and mailed to my family for the effort.) I'll discuss one such interesection -- the myth of Adam, Eve and the Serpent -- in the second part of this post.

Raising up the Holy Sparks together,

Yakov Leib haKohain, Ph.D.

About the author: external link Yakov Leib haKohain is a Jewish poet, author, teacher and Sabbatian Kabbalist. He holds a doctorate in Jungian Studies and Comparative Religion, and his poetry and essays have appeared in a number of literary magazines and scholarly journals. He is founder and moderator of the Donmeh West forum

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uploaded on 20 June 1999