EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK
Who is the Man with a Jar of Water?
The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy:
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine:
Thine is the friend of All Mankind
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind:
Thine loves the same world that mine hates,
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell gates.
Socrates taught what Meletus
Loath’d as a Nation bitterest Curse,
And Caiaphas was in his own Mind
A benefactor to mankind:
Both read the Bible day and night
But thou read’st black where I read white.
(William Blake) The Everlasting Gospel
"Of all the controversies with which the fathers of the early church entertained themselves, few seem as irrelevant to the contemporary mind as that which concerned the duration of Jesus’ ministry. For about eighteen centuries the common assumption throughout Christendom has been that, between Jesus’ baptism by John and his crucifixion by Pilate, three years elapsed. This is based on a legitimate interference from the number of Passover festivals mentioned in the Gospel of John, and it is difficult to see how anyone could, or would even want to, challenge it. And yet it was a dispute over which a considerable amount of ink was expended towards the end of the second Christian century. Irenaeus, orthodoxy’s first systematic apologist (writing about 185 CE), goes to great leghts to prove that Jesus exercised his ministry over many years in order to counter the contention of various Gnostic groups (principally the followers of Valentinus) that Jesus taught for one year only and, further, that ‘he suffered in the twelfth month’ (Irenaeus, page 200).
An idle piece of pedantic squabbling, we might be tempted to conclude. But we would be wrong to conclude this. The controversy was not just over any arbitrary twelve-month period. It concerned the solar year, which begins at the spring equinox, and Valentinus’ claim is absolutely startling: the career of Jesus is connected with the sun's annual journey through the heavens, and he implies that the various stages of it correspond to the signs of the zodiac.
For Valentinus and his followers, the Gospel story is not a rudimentary biography of a single individual, pieded together from reminiscences of eye-witnesses or those who had known eye-witnesses, but in allegory, in which the sun’s cycle, from its ‘birth’ in Aries when spring begins, to its ‘death’ in Pisces twelve months later, symbolically reflects the spiritual cycle of the Gnostic initiate on his journey towards spiritual liberation or enlightenment. This is why Valentinus’ claim that Jesus died in the twelfth month (March, the twelfth month of Pisces) was so crucial to his case, and why Irenaeus was at such pain to refute it.
There is no reason to suppose that this and other Gnostic ‘heresies’, which Irenaeus condemns so roundly and, at times, parodies so shamefully in his five-volume work, were new ideas which had parasitically attached themselves to a history-based Christianity. Gnosticism was certainly not new in Irenaeus’ time. Although it flourished in the second Christian century, its roots go back much further, some scholars tracing its ancestry back to the religion of ancient Iran, others favouring an origin in Judaism. Whatever its precise origins, it was never a unified religious movement but an approach to spiritual matters which transcended conventional boundaries. It was dualistic, and generally associated the world of matter and flesh with evil. The task of the aspirant was to attains spiritual freedom by overcoming bondage to the flesh. Despite the variety of ways in whch it manifested, Gnosticism was concerned with the interior life of the spirit, with ‘illumination’ that could be attained through prayer, meditation and the performance of specific rituals. God was to be experienced within the depths of the individual, rather than demonstrated rationally or objectified historically. ‘Gnosis’, which comes from Greek word for knowledge, is not primarily rational knowledge, but ‘insight’. ‘Gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself. And to know oneself ... is to know human nature and human destiny ... Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously, to know God’ (Pagels, page xix)."