Institute for Research in the Roots of Mysticism

The Mystery of the Sunrise and the Son of Man

Symbols of Mysticism in the Jesus-movement

In the early church the most common time for the baptismal service was at sunrise on Easter Day or at Pentecost. First the baptismal candidate was standing facing west towards the sunset, renouncing the devil, and then he was turned towards the east and the rising sun and confessed his belief in the Holy Trinity (F.J.Dölger, Die Sonne der Gerechtigkeit und der Schwarze,1918). After that he was taught the Lord's prayer and could as a true child of God stand up while praying with his arms lifted towards the sunrise where the penitent and the unbaptised had to pray with a kneeling gesture Apost Const. VII 45,11. Baptism was looked upon as a “raising up” to “standing” in the eternal presence of God and baptism was already by Justin Martyr called “the enlightenment”. Odes of Solomon 36, 1ff: “I rested on the Spirit of the Lord and it lifted me up. It made me to stand on my feet in the high place of the Lord before his perfection and glory while I was praising him…The Spirit bore me before the face of the Lord and although I was a human I was called the shining son of God…for after the Greatness of the Highest the Spirit made me…”(The believer is changed to macrocosmic dimensions, a motif we will deal with below)2.

In a very important book, Laktanz und die philosophische Gnosis, 1960, Antonie Wlosok has proved the importance of the symbol of “raising up” as a symbol of salvation. It is already by Philo closely connected to divine enlightenment, recreation and being “made firm by the firmness of God”. In Philo Logos is often seen as a pneumatic stream of light, and God as the Sun of the sun. Enlightenment is inflowing wisdom, the spiritual sunrise in the soul of the true believer who is seen as a prophet after the model of the Old Testament prophets. It is common to interpret this light symbolism as a take over from Hellenistic mystery cults, but it seems much more likely to see it as an interpretation of the theophanic traditions known from the Old Testament and preserved by some Essene ritual. It is obvious that Philo has great admiration for ascetic groups like the Essenes and the “Therapists” (probably also an Essene group). The last mentioned are described as the true contemplaters of divine wisdom, and Philo's tractate describing their religious life (De Vita Contemplativa) culminates in a description of their cultic re-enactment of the Exodus from Egypt. After a nightly vigil starting with a holy meal and continuing with a singing of hymns, the night reaches a climax of ecstasy where finally the voices of the men's choir mingle with the voices of the female choir, and both choirs engage in a wheeling dance intoxicated with “sober drunkenness”. Before sunrise they all go out and stand erect turned towards the rising sun, and this is by Philo called a “standing together (Greek: systathéntõn) with the Father, the creator of all” (90), thereby imitating the choir led by Moses and Miriam standing on the “higher ground of the opposite bank” (86) praising God for the salvation of their crossing through the Read Sea. This Exodus-ritual has obviously grown into a ritual of eternal salvation by crossing through the chaotic waves of death to the high grounds of the Promised Land, the paradise mountain in the presence of the sun breaking forth from Eden3.  Also in the early church Jesus is seen as the leader of a wheeling dance and a chorus in the night of the Jewish Easter, Acts of John 94f. The song sung during the dance shows that the dance is meant to lead to some kind of mystic unity with Jesus. Jesus sings: “I would be united, and I would unite…A mirror am I to thee that perceivest me… Behold thyself in me who speak.”

The feast of tabernacles had a similar dance: on the second evening of the feast the leading men of the Jews assembled in “the courtyard of the women” and performed a dance with lots of lit torches whirling through the air. This dance would last the whole night through, but towards sunrise two priests with silver trumpets would stand ready on the top of the 15 stairs leading to the inner courtyard, and the moment the rising sun showed its first spark of light on the eastern horizon they would start blowing the trumpets and walk through the dancing crowd and through the Eastern gate, and the people would stand turned towards the rising sun to greet the Glory of the Lord coming to his temple. Later the direction towards the sunrise was changed into a direction towards the temple (as this was later felt as a more appropriate place for the presence of God). The coming of the Glory of JHVH as “the Sun of Justice” to fill the temple with light and with the presence of God is an old theophanic ritual closely connected to the “Enthronement of JHVH” symbolism, connected with the Ark of the Covenant originally standing in the Holy of Holies. Certainly the feast of tabernacles also shows traces of old hierogamic ideas, the succa, the hut made of green branches being a symbol of fertility and wedlock between the King of light and the dark queen of the earth and the city of Jerusalem. Even the temple is named a succa for God on Zion.

This is the reason for the close connection between baptism and “bridal chamber” in early Syrian ritual. Also the rituals of “the Therapists” have a so called monasterion (25). The word is here met with for the first time, and it has to be dissolved into its components monas and sterizein = “to make firmly standing in unity”. Cf. that Philo is describing the calling of a prophet as a second birth and a journey “from duality to unity” (Quest in Ex II,46 & 29). The standing one is God (deus solus constanter stat), but also about the pneumatic it can be said: ad similitudinem eius (=dei) constanter stans (Quest in Gen III,55 & IV 25). “The sure God is the support and stay, the firmness and stability (bebaiótês) of all tings, imparting as with the impress of a seal to whom He will the power of remaining unshaken”,Somn.I,158. In Philo God is called ho hestòs = “the standing one”, Mut 54ff. The same title is used by Simon Magus about God, and according to L.Cerfaux4, Simon has borrowed it from Alexandrine speculation. Now acc. to the Homilies of Clement Simon was a pupil of John the Baptist, and the Mandaean baptism a late descendant of an early Baptist sect from the Jordan valley is called the “raising up” of the baptised to eternal standing, so it seems to me that this special symbolism of “standing firm” has to be seen as baptismal terminology going back to a ceremony where the candidate is first falling down before God and then raised to his feet and made standing before God as one of the “Sons of God” and members of his sod, HIS COUNCIL, where he makes his will known to the prophets. Already in the Old Testament the false prophet is he who has not stood in the council of God and listened to his decisions.

Acc. to Philo the true believer is an ecstatic/pneumatic after the model of the Old Testament prophets, and the highest bliss is “standing firm in the one God (en mónoi theõi stênai)”5. The symbolism of standing is closely connected to the symbolism of visio dei. Firmness and stability/standing comes from “seeing (God)…and being seen”, Philo Somn II 226 “fallen is the royal mind…did not the Framer of all that lives raise it up and establish it, and planting in it farpiercing eyes, lead it to the sight of the immaterial world”, Mut 56. For a long time Abraham was a Chaldaean believing in the stars, but God “opened the eye of his soul” and “instead of darkness he saw pure light-glory” Abr.70. “Like when … by sunrise the darkness is driven away, the all (ta panta) is filled by light, in the same way God the supernatural sun …shines into the soul,” Virt.164. This is a “sunrise” (anatolé) in the soul. Wisdom is only by God “who enlightens the All with most clear light, that is with himself” (Fuga 136). “Light”, Logos, “Wisdom” and “Holy Spirit” are closely connected words in Philo. Wisdom is not only reception of dry information, but an inner change caused by the vision of light and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Working only from its own natural conditions and from its own capacity to understand, human nature is blind.

The same evaluation of man as made of dust and therefore weak and unable to understand is found in the Qumran texts, and even here we meet the importance of a vision closely linked to the sunrise: “I thank you, Lord, for You have enlightened my face for your covenant,…and as the safe dawn of early morning have You shown yourself to my destiny… They have not listened to your voice and felt your word, but they have said to the vision that brings knowledge: “Not true”. Through me You have enlightened the faces of many….for You have given me knowledge of the secrets of your wonders” (1 QH IV, 1ff; 39ff; 72ff). Also Philo talks about secrets: “Very holy mysteries” which cannot “be told to the uninitiated” (Cher 42; 48). It seems obvious that the religious goal in Qumran is not so much the painstaking study of scripture as the direct communication with God through words felt and heard directly. The symbolism of standing is also found at Qumran: “On a place of standing thou hast set me”6. And it seems obvious that Philo is deeply inspired by an Essene version of Judaism. The key to early Christian baptism, and to important motifs in both Philonic writing and in the Hodayoth from Qumran is a ritual very similar to the calling of Ezekiel to become a prophet Ez 1,28-2,2: After the coming of the divine light-glory

a) “And I fell upon my face”

b) A divine voice sounds: “Stand up upon your feet”

c) “And the Spirit came upon me and took me and lifted me and made me stand upon my feet”. Cf. Matt 17,6f: “And he touched them and said: Stand up and fear not!”

This ritual is closely connected to a theophany, to a “coming of the Lord” in the light of the rising sun “filling” the universe (ta panta) with its glory. It gives eternal standing in the presence of the Lord and intimate communication with him through his Holy Spirit. It is a new birth from above.

The symbolism of upraising is taken over by Philo from the Essene society where salvation is to be saved from the chaotic sea and the depth of Sheol and raised up to standing on the firm rock in a “sevenfold light”, the paradise mountain, see the important article by J.Jeremias about the rock at the centre of the universe (“Golgatha und der heilige Felsen”. Angelos II,1926).“and from the abyss of Sheol you have lead me up to an eternal height and I shall wander on even ground” (1 QH III, 19f.). There are also traces in Philo of OT-theophanic traditions with the characteristic phrase ta panta from Is 6 (Hebrew: qol ha´ares): “God, who enlightens all world with the most clear light, which is himself”, de Ebr.139. “Just as when the sun has risen, the darkness will disappear, and the whole world (tà pánta) is filled (plêrountai) by light, so God rises and shines on the soul and disperses the dark night of passions and evil”, Virt 164. Cf. Conf 60: “when the beam of the virtues rises like the rays of the sun”. Then the prophecy Zech 6,12: “Behold a man whose name is Sunrise (anatolê)” is interpreted as pointing to Logos “the eldest son, whom the Father of all … calls His first-born”, ibd. 62f.  

In a rather damaged part of the Hodayoth (1 QH XVI,3-5) we find a strong concentration of language describing the OT-theophany: ”Holy Ghost…fullness (melô´) of the heaven and the earth…your glory (kabôdka) fullness…and the place of standing for justice”, cf Is 6,3: “fullness of the whole earth is his glory”. Also the NT and Gnostic term plerôma has its background in the terminology of the OT-theophany. Certainly this tradition must still be alive at the time of the early church. Clement of Alexandria tells us that when the Tris-hagion was sung the whole community would jump in the air as a symbol of their being changed into angels participating in the song of the cherubim, Is 6,3.  Philo uses the words imparting of Holy Spirit, firmness (bebaiótês) and impressing a seal and even unction when describing the holy act of raising up, exactly the same terminology as in 2.Cor 1,21. (The ceremony of raising up in the “Gospel of Truth” from Nag Hammadi  and in the Odes of Solomon is dealt with in E.Segelberg7.)

In one of the Dead Sea Scrolls called ”The Book of Mysteries”(1QMyst) the author writes about “the mystery about what is going to happen”. Ordinary man knows not this mystery but his listeners (“You”) will be granted a “sign”: “The injustice shall disappear for ever and justice will be revealed as a sun, creating order in the world…knowledge shall fill the world”. Cf. the morning prayer of the “therapists”: ”at sunrise they pray for a fine bright day, fine and bright in the true sense of the heavenly daylight which they pray may fill their minds. At sunset they ask that the soul may be wholly relieved from the press of the senses and the objects of sense being in its own synedrium and council.”Cont vit 27. Note how sunset and sunrise become important symbols of divine light filling the mind and of the mind’s concentration on the heavenly council of elim, i.e. “sons of God” by darkness blurring the contours of the world of the senses.

But also in Philo’s own theology we find the sunrise as an important symbol, Leg. all. I.46.”just as the sun when it has risen fills the gloom of the atmosphere with light, so virtue also, when it has risen in the soul, illumines its mist and disperses its darkness”.

Josephus tells us about the Essenes that “towards the Divine they show their respect in a special way: before sunrise they will utter no words about worldly matters, but some prayers inherited from their fathers, in which they implore it to rise” (de Bell II, 128). It is a tradition from the temple of Jerusalem (later abolished). Each morning the Levites would rouse God with the call from Ps.44,24:”Wake up, why do you sleep Adoni? Rise!” (About these “rousers”, ma´urîm, Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterbuch,III,629.) The sunrise is God’s epiphany.

There is obviously a whole cluster of motives found in Philo and recurring in the symbolism surrounding early Christian baptism at sunrise: illumination by divine light, unction, standing, being firmly grounded, receiving the Holy Spirit, second birth from above, sealed by God. Also the notion of the “two roads” (Philo Immut 180 cf. 1 QS III,18ff) with catalogues of virtues and vices so characteristic of early Christian catechetical tradition is found in Philo, who is the author of the longest list of vices ever written, de Sacrif 32. Both in Philo and in the Qumran texts this motive is closely connected with the dogma of the two spirits, acc. to the important investigations done by Marc Philonenko8 an Iranian import, also to be found in the Jewish Christian writings called the Pseudo-Clemetine Homilies. Philo deals with the two spirits in QE I,23; Imm.142ff.159ff.180ff.

“The nation (here the whole of mankind) is a mixture of both (these powers), from which the heavens and the entire world as a whole have received this mixture (typical Iranian terminology: gumêcisn, is the cosmic mixture of god and evil9). And this mixture is in both the wicked man and the wise man but not in the same way. For the souls of the foolish men have the unbounded and destructive rather than the powerful and salutary (power), and it is full of misery when it dwells with earthly creatures. But the prudent and noble rather receives the powerful and salutary (power) and, on the contrary, possesses in itself good fortune and happiness, being carried around with the heaven because of kinship with it.” (In the background is also felt the Platonic notion of the two movements of the world-soul.)

All the above mentioned parallels between Philo and the Essenes should give us reason enough to conclude that Philo is closer to the Essene movement than to the Pharisees. The goal of salvation both for Philo and the Essenes is to become an angel, one of the eternally standing ones serving before the God, contemplating his glory, a prophet listening to God making his decisions known in his heavenly council. And this goal is reached by participating in the old ritual theophany: the coming of God’s glory in the sunrise to his temple to fill the universe and be enthroned on the seat of the cherubim.

Enoch and Early Christianity

In 2.Enoch (acc to the Danish translation by E.Hammershaimb and A.Bugge written somewhere between 50 BC and 70 AC) the rapture of Enoch is described in a way very similar to the ascension of Christ, 2.En 18.

There are 7 heavens, the 3rd is the place of paradise, and Enoch has the experience of ascension through these heavens before his final rapture. The purpose of this ascension is the revelation of all secrets, the participation in God's all-embracing knowledge. (Typical of mystic visions is this sudden feeling of understanding all secrets)

The ethics preached by Enoch do not mention the law of Moses (given much later), but are very much socially orientated: it comprises giving clothes to the naked, serving the widows and fatherless, sharing ones money with the poor and needy (cf. Luke 3,11). It stresses meekness and patience without retaliation and revenge: revenge belongs to the Lord. By helping the poor, man is creating for himself “a shelter” when the time of tribulation and pain comes, 13,83-89. (Jesus: by helping the poor, you will get friends who will receive you in heaven.)

There are many beatitudes linked to the moral commandments of Enoch, and to the description of the paradise of the righteous there is a chain of 8, rather similar to the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount 2.En 13,40-49. Other beatitudes are contrasted with curses like the beatitudes in Luke 6: “Blessed is the one who talks peace and has peace”. “Cursed the one who destroys those living in peace” (13,102f.).

By devestio, anointing and investio in an alba gloriosa, Enoch is made like one of the angels “eternally standing before the countenance” of the Lord 9,23-30. In early Christian baptism something very similar takes place: by the devestio and investio with the white alba baptismalis and the anointing, man is “confirmed”, made firm, that is “standing in eternity”. It seems that there is already by Philo hints suggesting an unction giving Holy Spirit and eternal standing in the presence of God. Philo speaks about “a sacred unction… .in order that (men) may be inspired to receive the holy spirit” (Quest Ex II,33).

The macr'anthropos-symbolism is connected to an angel called Adoil. In Adoil's stomach the “great aion” was hiding, that is the light that “carries the whole creation... And I saw that it was good…And I said to the light: “Ascend on high and be firm, and be the foundation of the higher elements!” And there is nothing higher than the light”, 11,9-15. Obviously Adoil like Adam Kadmon is the primeval light created on the first day: Gen 1,4 is quoted. The name Adoil seems to come from the Hebrew word  'ad = “eternity”. When the end of the world comes, time will be annihilated and become “one aion”, but not only time, “years, months, days, hours”, also all the righteous will “be united with the great aion, and the aion will at the same time be united to the righteous, and they will become eternal. And there shall be no more toil among them, nor pain or sorrow or waiting for violence or trouble or night or darkness, but always a great light for them…and their faces shall shine like the sun” (17,5-9). This description of the final goal of salvation is very similar to the one in Rev 21,4 & 22,5, but with a certain mystical taint: salvation as becoming one with light and aion-macr'anthropos.

Macro-anthropos as the Great Symbol of Mystical Religion 

About Gayomart, the primeval man of Iranian myth it is told that his seed which was also his life-essence was ejaculated at the moment of his death10. After he was killed by Ahriman he returns in the humble form of Mirhe and Mirhiyane, man and woman, who sprout from the earth in the shape of  rhubarb-plants. The reason for this strange story is the notion that duality and first and foremost the duality between male and female gender comes from the killing, that is the splitting up of divine unity in the primordial being, who in some texts is also seen as a divine bull. For 3000 years Gayomart was without any movement, but after the attack of the devil Ahriman on the world, he moved for 30 years11.

What we have here is the distinction between normal consciousness in the world of change and movement and a mystic ideal consciousness in an almost timeless and immovable world. After the killing of Gayomart, Ohrmazd took his seed (or “form”, that is his spiritual substance) and gave it to the sun, and it is now the light of the sun12.

Gayomart was the mystical light of which the light of the sun is only a reflection, a secondary product. Gayomart had, acc. to a late Islamic text, no wife, but got pregnant by the mercy of God. We have here the faint traces of original androgyny.

The gnostic god or heavenly Aeon called “Man”, Greek: anthropos (H-M. Schenke, Der Gott “Mensch” in der Gnosis, 1961) is also to be understood as pure human mind before its getting entangled in the world of phenomena. Human thought before it got enslaved by earthly matters.

A description very similar to the Gayomart-myth is found in a Mandaean text, The Thousand and Twelve Questions13:

And then he was baptised …7 times, was baptised with the baptism of Hibil and his brethren, and raised up himself, Adam-Shaq-Ziwa. And thus did he establish his Body, and all the mysteries were established, and the Body took shape and shone forth and was effulgent in itself and gave out light. And he (Adam-Shaq-Ziwa, i.e. “the heavenly Adam with limbs of radiance”) remained alone for a thousand years endless until living Seed went forth…and he devised and created seven worlds of radiance (ziwa) at his right and seven worlds of light (nhura) at his left” … (Acc. to Drower ziwa represents the male, and light, nhura, the female aspect of creation.) Note the connection between baptism and raising up oneself as macr´anthropos.

The mystic experience could be defined as a feeling of unity with cosmos or with cosmos in its ideal state before falling into deterioration, a feeling of the small and lonely individual soul being taken into and united to the great soul of cosmos or god, micr´anthropos united to macr´anthropos. S.Wikander14 and G.Widengren15 have shown that acc to old Indo-Iranian belief man is after death taken to heaven and given a golden throne, a wreath and a cloak worked with gold and many jewels: the Vohu Manah-cloak (in India the Brahma-cloak) symbolizing the deceased's soul being united to the great soul of the cosmos called Vohu Manah. Acc to Bundahisn the reason for lack of peace on earth is Vohu Manah not walking among some men. Vohu Manah is the first of the seven Amesha Spentas, guardian of the cattle, cosmic power permeating the universe like the wind, the world soul and even the highest divine element in man. To understand the figure of the Son of Man we must understand such parallel figures as Gayomart and Vohu Manah. In Daniel 2 we have the great vision of macr´anthropos consisting of the five elements, a typical Indo-Iranian dogma16, and even called by the old Iranian word raz  = “mystery”. In the New Testament we have throne, cloak and wreath as the typical eschatological expectations, and the description of God as the “Ancient of Days” (Dan 7) is influenced by the Iranian description of the god of eternal time, Zervan. S.Wikander has shown17 that this god lives on in a late description of Zal-Zar, (zar = “the old one”), father of the national hero Rustam. This Zal has already from birth white hair, and is already from his birth called “the old one”, and he says: “My years are countless”.

It should be noted that in Egyptian religion we have similar mystical eschatological expectations. J.Bergman has defined the mystic vision as an experience of “unity with the universe” (“Einheit mit dem All”18), and he has shown traces of mysticism in Egypt linked to the god Atum. Atum is understood as coming from the word tm “the whole, all, everything, the universe”, but also, “bring to its end, fulfil”.  And the following formulas are put in the mouth of  the dead one: “I am Atum”, “I am the universe”, “All belongs to me”. Atum is the “One” and the “All” (der “Eine” und “das All”). He contains all modes of existence: Pre-existence, Life and Afterlife. Cf. the prologue in the letter to the Ephesians where Christ  “in him” contains both predestination, election and eschatological goal and is described as macr´anthropos.

It was with a revelation which God granted me that the mysterium was made known to me”, Eph 3,3-6. The mysterium Paul talks about is the mystical revelation of Jesus as macr´anthropos. He has “insight into the mysterion concerning Christ”.... “revealed by the Spirit (also) to the apostles and prophets” … “that the Gentiles inherit together (with the Jews) and are body together with and partake together (with the Jews)…by being united with Christ Jesus”. Christ has a body of cosmic dimensions incorporating both Jews and Gentiles. This macr´anthropos is higher even than the angels and therefore it can preach the many-coloured wisdom of God even to the powers and rulers in the heavens. In Eph 1 the mysterion is God´s plan “to sum up all things in Christ under him as the head”.

Another symbol of macro-cosmos is the tree of life with or without the snake ascending. It is often seen as the mystic unity of all light (a sevenfold light  - in Zach 4,2f. seven times sevenfold light, cf. the sevenfold light accompanying the vision of Jesus, Rev 1,13-6).

Already in his doctoral thesis Vetekornet,1944 Åke V. Ström pointed to the Iranian Vohu Manah as the background of the Son of Man title, and in the foreword to Vayu, S.Wikander and the coeditor K.Rønnow venture the suggestion that the cult of this “Arian” god of the wind Vayu/Vata, who is also the god of the breath and the soul of the universe seen at the breath of god, is the forerunner of the mysticism of the Upanishads as well as the mysticism of the Gnostic movements of the Middle East19.

The Iranian influence on the worldview of the Qumran sect and its belief in the two spirits governing the good and evil deeds of all men is obvious. A similar dualistic worldview dominates the early Christian baptismal ritual with its renunciation of the spirit of darkness and lies and its confession to serve the “spirit of truth”. As proved in my book Dåben og Himmelrejsen the investio with alba baptismalis is deeply influenced by the mystical Vohu Manah-notion and seen as the taking on of Christ as macr´anthropos and “the heavenly Adam”, and the baptismal rite is a symbolic anticipation of the soul's ascension to heaven.

In the abovementioned Madaean text is found the following phrase20:

Any man who revealeth the secrets… I will expunge from my scroll because he separated himself from the worlds of light… and from my garment”... “For I…am Mara dRabutha; …I am any Nasoraean man, for I am the Nasoraean who standeth in prayer and …offereth up this raising up (qaiamta). For (on) every man that traceth this sacred barrier, the glory of Life cometh. I am he (the Nasoraean) and he will possess mighty strength like Anush-' Uthra, for I, Mara dRabutha, am Anush-'Uthra (i.e. Enosh ibd.p.112)”. Mara dRabutha (“Lord of Greatness”) is another name for Macr' anthropos, who in a mystic way is one with the priest (Nasoraean) ritually raised to eternal standing before God, a unity proclaimed with the formula: I am he.

The notion of the heavenly man/Adam and the earthly man/Adam is an important part of the  symbols surrounding and interpreting baptism both in the early church and in Jewish-Baptist sects from the Jordan Valley as proved in my work Dåben og Himmelrejsen, part 1,1982(in Danish).

G.Widengren21 has proved that the old Indo-European notion of macroanthropos who deteriorate through four world-ages (from the Golden Age to Silver, Copper and Iron Age) and finally comes to an end before the rebirth of a new world is taken over in Dan 2. That the heavenly Adam as macroanthropos is the mystery hinted at in the Gospel of Thomas is proved by J-E. Menard22.

What is the reason for the strange notion of the macr'anthropos? The macr'anthropos-symbol is the clearest indication of mysticism. Man being changed to the great man with cosmic dimensions is the symbol of the typical mystical experience of the extermination of the small ego by its being united to the cosmic soul penetrating the whole universe, the symbol of the mystical experience of the unity of the All. Often God is seen as totally transcendent. Only by being changed to macr'anthropos who is also primordial light one can see God. (Cf. the teaching of the gospel of John that God cannot be seen and only through the Glory of Christ can the Glory of God be transmitted to man.)

Marc'anthrpos is also primordial light, cf. John 17,24 (the vision of the glory given to Jesus before the foundation of the world) and 17,22f (this great glory takes the individual ego into the perfect unity). By Philo macr'anthropos is called “heavenly man”, Logos and Israel = “He who has vision of God”.

The book of Daniel, the books of Enoch, the symbols surrounding early Christian baptism, the Mandaean secret Adam as macr´anthropos, all bear witness to a Jewish milieu with a strong influx of Iranian eschatology centred around the mystical macro-anthropos and seeing life after death as the soul's ascension to heaven and light, but already in baptism being clothed with its heavenly garment of light. In 2.Enoch, Enoch is taken up to heaven and undressed, anointed and dressed in “clothes of glory”. 1.En 62,15f: “And the righteous and elect shall have risen from the earth…and they shall have been clothed with garments of glory. And these shall be garments of life from the Lord of Spirits: And your garments shall not grow old, nor your glory pass away”. Already in 1934 Rudolph Otto23 pointed to old Indo-Iranian parallels in the Kaushitaki-upanishad: The ascension to heaven of the soul as the great eschatological goal is a feature not known to the earlier prophets and their belief in Yahveh. The end of the heavenly journey is both in India, Iran and in the Enoch-litt. the soul being presented to the highest God. (In India after having been invested with the brahman-cloak.)

In the early church, mystic union is not only felt in baptism, but also in real mystic vision. To obtain this vision one has to empty oneself of selfish ambition and egocentric thinking, trusting in oneself and every feeling of individual existence. The old “I” has to die. As proved by prof. Antoon Geels in a research project at Lund University, Sweden, mystic vision is mostly given to people in personal crisis and total despair, and this is perhaps the reason for Paul's teaching that Christ will show his powers of resurrection in the same degree as the old man, old Paul, is crucified and dying. Also the Pauline teaching that man is trapped in his body of flesh, and the contrast between flesh and spirit, is typical of a religiosity where salvation is the soul's ascension to heaven.

Mystic union linked to the putting on of a baptismal robe is obviously behind the formula Gal 3,26f.

In Nordic myth, Ymir is primeval man and macr´anthropos. He is killed by Odin and Odin's two brothers, Vile and Ve, and out of his giant body they fashion both earth and heaven. His name makes him identical with the Indo-Iranian figure Yama/Yima. As in many non-biblical religions, creation is seen as a murder, a sacrifice of a god who is the symbol of primeval mystical unity, cf. Baal's attack on El, the highgod living inside (and as Bet-el being one with) the primeval mountain, Lel, the starry vault of the night sky, and El's son (avatar), Jam, is torn to pieces and scattered. Vile and Ve and Valhal must be seen in connection with the Indo-Europaean anti-god: Old Indic: Vala - a daemon who steals cattle, Tocharian: valu (“dead”),Lithuanian: ve.le (“soul of a dead person”), Luwian: ulant-(dead”), Old Russian: Veles, Volos, Vles, Latvian: Vels, cf the root *wal-, Indo-Eur. Word for “sovereign”. Both Beelzebul and Odin are the leaders of the train of dead spirits.

The Mysticism of Philo of Alexandria

One has to distinguish between 1) Ecstasy, being filled with the Spirit of God.  As proved by H.Leisegang, Der heilige Geist, 1919 Philo uses the descriptions of the state of enthusiasmos and mania known from Greek authors. In this state the afflicted person acc. to Philo often looks like one being drunk (that is heated, his complexion turning red, his heart being full of joy) but it is a “sober intoxication”, H.Lewy, Sobria Ebrietas, 1929.

2) True mystic vision. Philo is part of the religious and philosophic climate in Alexandria where Neo-Pythagorean thinking blends with the Middle Platonic tradition. The Neo-Pythagorean philosophers are typical ascetics trying to cleanse the soul for the reception of the “One”. True mystic vision is vision of supernatural light and the individual soul becoming one with God or some heavenly figure very close to God (in Merkabah-mysticism Metatron or the cherubim, in the Enoch-litt. the Son of Man, in early Christianity Christ) or becoming one with the universe as macr´anthropos).  It seems to me that Philo is more than an admirer of prophetic ecstasy. He is also familiar with mystic vision.  To achieve both 1) and 2) one has to fly from one's old self and body and flesh. The human light and reason have to be extinct before the arrival of God's Spirit. The soul has to be naked, stripped from the body and its pleasures. (This is obviously also the background for the Pauline Flesh and Spirit duality.)  The reason for this “selftorment” is not only ethical selfdenial, but the higher purpose is (acc. to Hans Jonas24)  to wipe out the EGO on all levels of thinking to make room for the mystic experience. One has to go out of the body and “suffer like a foolish and witless child” (acc. to Jonas a formula typical to the language of mysticism, ibd.p.103n.3).

3) A ritual where the initiated is receiving some kind of unction and sealing, making him “standing” upright in the presence of God. There are traces of such a ritual in some of the writings of Philo25. In 2.En 22,4-9 Enoch is anointed as a sign of his apotheosis, and this enables him to “stand before the Lord in eternity” and see the “face of God”. “And this oil was more than gleaming light, its unction was similar to sweet dew; its smell was like myrrh and it shimmered like the sunbeams”. This could be part of a priestly initiation democratised and practised by the sect of the “Therapists” or Essenes so greatly admired by Philo for their ascetic lives. The Hebrew word for priest cohen has the original meaning “standing” (before God), and priests were anointed with (sealed with) an X on the forehead.

Philo is eager to criticize the teaching of the “Chaldaeans”26 who think that man by his Nus, i.e. his intellectual capacity, is able to reach deeply into the secrets of the universe and great nature and thereby raise himself even to the highest point of heaven, walking in the ether and learning about the movements of the sun and moon and stars. But to Philo cosmos is not God and Nus is very weak. Abraham must leave the city of Harran (“Height”) and even leave himself and “go out of himself” “like one filled with prophetic enthusiasm”, letting go of oneself and becoming inflamed by divine love (Quis. Rer. 69-75). The divine Logos (“the word/wisdom of God”) shows itself unexpected to the lonely soul and gives it joy surpassing every hope (Somn.I,71).

In the so called Religio-historical school in Germany the term Christ-mysticism was used about what was considered the very centre of Pauline Christianity27. In baptism and in the Holy Communion the believer was united to Christ and taken into the “body of Christ” and a life “in Christ” (Greek: en Christo).  But not only was Paul living his life en Christo. Christ was also living in him. Mostly this Christ-mysticism was supposed to have taken its terminology from Hellenistic mystery cults and early Gnosticism. Today it seems more likely that early Christian monastic mysticism had its forerunners in the desert-dwellers of Qumran. The strict ascetic life in the silence of the desert at the Dead Sea has a certain purpose: to achieve the direct communication with the God of the old prophets. It seems to me that the spiritual life in Judea at the time of Jesus was divided into two main streams: the juridical law-abiding party of the Pharisees and a more enthusiastic religiosity represented by the Qumran-Essene party and Philo. Acc. to Josephus the Essenes were trustworthy foretellers of the future (i.e. prophets). Acc. to the Pharisees that direct voice of God and gift of the Holy Spirit had become extinct. The war with the Romans must have given many people an outspoken scepticism towards enthusiasm and all the golden promises of enthusiastic prophets. Just as enthusiasm in modern Christianity is often slacking off due to the constant failure of prophecy. So the party of the Pharisees came out of the war as the only true interpreters of the Jewish legacy. But Christianity continued the belief in the Holy Spirit of God. Simply because the law-abiding religion has one great problem: the illusion of the freedom of the human will. Josephus tells us that the Pharisees believed in the free will of man, that is in the ability to follow the commandments of the law. But in the Qumran texts as in Rom 7 the powerless conditions of fragile man and human willpower are stressed. Man can only serve God by receiving God's power to serve. By his own nature he is “dust”, “fashioned out of clay”, “made of flesh and cannot fulfil the will of God”. So in Philo, as in Qumran, as in the early Pauline church it all becomes a question of receiving the Holy Spirit and the inner presence of God or Christ. 

But for the benefit of those of our readers who are not enthusiastically gifted it must be stressed that the Pauline Christ-mysticism is “Kultmystik” (W.Bousset), a mysticism imbedded in the symbols of baptism and Holy Communion more than it is visions and rapture and mania. Paul in 1. & 2.Cor. seems very much against endless speaking in tongues and against those who indulge in selfishness, boasting of their “high visions”, and he even warns against those who are ruthless against the flesh. If it was only a question of raving madness and supernormal states of mind, early Christianity would not be able to compete with the ecstasy of those serving Attis or the great Syrian goddess.

The reason for Philo being so much an enemy of the human flesh and body is because it is the vehicle of desire and creates many turbulent and dark feelings and thereby becomes an obstacle to mystic vision. (“For dissonance from decency, and disharmony are death to the soul”, Quest in Ex 38):

For if, O mind, thou dost not prepare thyself, excising desires, pleasures, griefs, fears, follies, injustices and related evils, and dost (not) change and adapt thyself to the vision of holiness, thou wilt end thy life in blindness, unable to see the intelligible sun. If however, thou art worthily initiated and canst be consecrated to God and in a certain sense become an animate shrine of the Father,  (then) instead of having closed eyes, thou wilt see the First (Cause) and in wakefulness thou wilt cease from the deep sleep in which thou hast been held. Then will appear to thee that manifest One, who causes incorporeal rays to shine for thee and grant visions… For the beginning and end of happiness is to be able to see God. “(Quest in Ex II,51). Normally this mystic vocabulary is brought into connection with Egyptian mystery cult and its initiations. But it is much more likely that it is the initiations into the “spiritual temple” of the Essenes and Therapists Philo has in mind. To Philo the final goal of Jewish piety is to become a prophet: “But the calling above of the prophet is a second birth better than the first. For the latter is mixed with a body and had corruptible parents, while the former is an unmixed and simple soul…with no mother but only a father, who is (the Father) of all” (ibd.,46), cf. John 1,13. The goal is apotheosis: “a holy soul is divinised by ascending not to the air …but to (a region) above heaven” (ibd.,40). “They ..make a migration to a holy and divine place, which is called by another name, Logos. Being in this (place)… they see the Master in a lofty and clear manner” (ibd., 39). In Logos there is vision.

Just as for the early desert fathers the great goal is unity (unity of the soul and mystic unity with the macroanthropos who is the highest symbol of cosmic unity). “For when the prophetic mind becomes divinely inspired and filled with God, it becomes like the monad, not being at all mixed with any of those things associated with duality. But he who is resolved into the nature of unity, is said to come near God in a kind of family relation” (ibd., 29). God is called “the truly existing One” (47). There is continuity between Philo and the desert fathers and the Gospel of Thomas, which is the first to use the phrase monk - Greek: Monachos (= “the lonely, the one holding unity”).  But also in the notion of two kinds of humans: One being like Adam “earthborn”, the other “from ether and without a body”, (46, all quotations are from the translation of R.Marcus from the ancient Armenian version of the original Greek text, now lost).

The mystic symbol of the macroanthropos is found by Philo in a paragraph (Quaest in Ex II,117) that contains an interpolation by a later Christian scribe, so it is a little difficult to decide for sure if the following words are the words of Philo: “The head of all things is the eternal Logos of the eternal God, under which, as if it were his feet or other limbs, is placed the whole world, over which he passes and firmly stands.”

Merkabah Mysticism

A survey of all the most important works on the influence of early Jewish mysticism on early Christianity is given by Jarl E. Fossum, The Image of the Invisible God, 199528. To this has to be added April D. De Conick, “Seek to See Him”: The Influence of Early Jewish Mysticism and Hermeticism on the Gospel of Thomas, 1996 and ibd, “Becoming God's Body: The Kabod in Valentinianism”29, where the author stresses the important fact that the cosmic Body of Christ, Eph 1,22f.; 4,7-16, and the comprehension of “what ís the breadth and length and height and depth”, Eph 3,18f., has to be understood on the background of the macr'anthropos of early Merkabah mysticism. Jarl Fossum and his pupil April De Conick have definitely brought our understanding of the background of the New Testament an important step further with their insistence on the importance of early Merkabah mysticism and its hopes of being changed into the body of the Heavenly Man, a body of glory and fire with cosmic dimensions, but see also C.R.A.Morray-Jones: “Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkabah Tradition”30 and the very important book of Nathaniel Deutsch, The Gnostic Imagination. Gnosticism, Mandaeism and Merkabah Mysticism, 1995, where Odeberg's and E.S.Drower's enumerations of parallels between Jewish mysticism and Mandaeism are further developed. The older levels of Mandaeism are the witness to an early Gnosticism centred on the “Secret Adam of Glory” very similar to the Adam Kadmon of Jewish Mysticism.

G. Scholem has dealt with the “Garment of God” as an important part of the Merkabah-vision31. The teaching about the garment of light in which God shrouds Himself in the hour of creation is secret lore and passed on in a whisper. The stars were created by the light that issues from this garment shining from one end of the world to the other and engraved on both sides with repetitions of God's holy name (JHVH). In the theurgic ritual described in the Sepher Halebush (from the early post-talmudic period) the magic garment in which the initiate robes himself is inscribed in a similar manner32.  In the Midrashim on the revelation on Mt.Sinai we find the idea that the purple garment, which was given Israel in the hour of revelation, reflects the Garment of God in the hour of creation. It came “from the splendour of His glory”.

This cosmic garment seems to be an Iranian import, cf. Widengren's description of the Vohu Manah-garment. Scholem mentions the Iranian material to be found on many pages of R.C.Zaehner, Zurvan,1955 but draws no conclusion as to the origin of this notion.

An important question is: where did the Gnostic movement so prominent in the second century A.D. come from?  An important characteristic of this movement is the belief in a creator-god who is rather stupid compared with the real God ruling over the transcendent realms. Already Philo has put the creation of the world into the hands of angels assisting God. And acc to the apostle Paul the Torah was given to man by angels. The first Gnostic, Simon Magus, has obviously gone a step further: To him the angels creating the world have cruelly imprisoned the soul of Helen (the symbol of anima salvanda) in the false world of their creation. The reason for this negative evaluation of the creator and the created world of our senses is mysticism. The mystic vision is often felt as an out-of-body experience, an ascent from this world of form and colours to the uncreated eternal and real world.

By mystic vision we understand a very specific experience of a) unity between all opposites, b) vision of supernatural light and c) the spectator's ego being obliterated - either transformed into fire/light or dissolved into the great Ego of the Macranthropos, or being united to God and d) a feeling of being transported to trans-mundane locations, beyond time and space and e) feeling ecstatic joy, “sober intoxication” and knowledge, “gnosis”.

John and Paul

Following the suggestions of Hugo Odeberg and Peder Borgen, Bread from Heaven, 1965 Jey J.Kanagaraj, “Mysticism” in the Gospel of John, 1998 tries to see the background of the Gospel of John as “a mystical community, which used to see God's glory in Christ especially at the time of worship”33.

Some scholars think that John is polemic against early Merkabah mystics and their ascent (John 3,3ff.) pointing to the incarnated Christ as the object of vision. But the polemic in John 3 is against the Pharisees not mysticism. John obviously thinks that ascension is possible “in Christ”. But real mystic experience and mystical ascent is a rear thing only experienced by the very few. The majority is given the same unity with the angelic world through the ritual i.e. through the participation in the angelic worship of the Qedusha-singing and through the sacrament of baptism. This participating in the angelic world through worship is the reason for the Shabbat Shirot (i.e. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice) fragments found in Qumran cave no. 434 and for the Trishagion playing such a major role in both early Christianity and Merkabah mysticism. It is mostly only the leader (Enoch, Simon Magus, Christ) who experiences physical ascent, in the case of Jesus visible paradoxically to the human eye in his elevation to the cross.

In the Gospel of John two mystical traditions merge:

A) The theophanic tradition of the Old Testament linked to God's taking up his abode on Zion in the temple of Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles and the mystic calling “I and He” during the solemn circling around the alter. This circling is a ritual journey through the “Prehistoric” “Gates of Justice”, “Gate of the Sun”. It is a circling with the sun to the top of the world mountain, the holy navel of the earth, to spiritual ascension in the fire on the altar seen as a pillar of smoke/fire connecting heaven and earth.

B) The Enoch/Son of Man tradition. Vision of God, ascension and apotheosis mediated by the heavenly  “anthropos” and a certain changing of clothes, “Gewandmystik”, a word created by Johannes Leipoldt35. There is in this tradition an element of old Indo-Iranian  motives, of “the Soul's ascension to heaven” (“Himmelreise der Seele”, as W.Bousset's important book from 1901 on this subject is titled). Like Enoch is taken up to heaven after completing his journey on earth, so Jesus is elevated on the cross. Later this tradition develops into the Jewish Merkabah mysticism. What connects the two traditions, A and B, is in fact the journey in the vehicle of the sun, the Merkabah, to eternal standing before God's countenance.

H. Odeberg has rejected a sacramental understanding of John 3,3ff. although it seems rather obvious that it refers to the early Christian baptism rite with its two foci: water baptism, and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Much to our regret the same rejection of a sacramental understanding of the devestio & investio symbolism in both the gospel of Thomas and the Odes of Solomon is found in an otherwise very important article by April De Conick and Jarl Fossum: “Stripped before God. A New Interpretation of logion 37 in the Gospel of Thomas”36. The article is an attempted refutation of the baptismal interpretation of the Gospel of Thomas launched by J.Z.Smith: “The Garment of Shame”37, and further developed by S.L.Davies; The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom, 1983 and of the Odes of Solomon by J.H Bernard, The Odes of Solomon, 1912, further developed by E. Segelberg, “Evangelium Veritatis - a confirmation homily and its relation to the Odes of Solomon”38.  Fossum admits that the Odes sometimes seem to refer to an early Christian rite of unction, but without any kind of water-baptism preceding or following the unction. This does not sound plausible as the unction is an unction of the whole body, a common procedure in connection with bathing.  But Fossum-De Conick also seems to ignore the devestio-investio symbolism already used in the epistles of the New Testament where it seems closely connected to the baptismal paraenesis, cf. the important findings of E.G.Selwyn in his commentary to 1.Peter (The First Epistle of St Peter,1946).  Fossum & De Conick try to explain the devestio/investio symbolism on the background of early Christian asceticism and its striving for “asexual” consciousness and mystic vision. 

The problem is that even in Philo's descriptions of visions of God there are traces of a rite of unction.  Here it is important to mention an article by Otto Huth. In it the early Christian groups are seen as a baptismal movement, centred around a baptism which in its origins (as proved by Geo Widengren) is a royal enthronement ritual ending with the candidate being set up/raised up to eternal standing in heaven in the presence of God. Already the Essenes of Qumran had a secret initiation bringing the initiated into fellowship with the angels and “standing”, and the white garment worn by the members of the order was definitely the “garment of the angels” who in the New Testament always seem to be “men in white garments”, a token of the doksa of the heavenly world.

One of the keys to a better understanding of Paul's letters is the contrast between the body of flesh and the Christ-garment. The flesh, “this body of flesh”, is the very reason for the Torah, the law being so powerless Rom 8,3. The fleshly body means slavery under things destined to perish 8,21. Who will liberate the poor soul from “this body of death” 7,24?  The key to this terminology is the baptismal ritual with the devestio of the old garment symbolising the human limitations of the fleshly body, and the investio of the doksa-garment and the doksa-body, the heavenly body of which the spirit is already a first fruit, 8,11+23.

The doksa is the divine light shining from the heavenly garment/body (8,18+21+30). The great salvation was accomplished in the sacred act of baptism, where the candidate for baptism received a white alba baptismalis as a symbol of his salvation and his being destined to be changed into the likeness of the heavenly man 8,29. Therefore this notion of the heavenly doksa-body is very important to Paul, and he deals with it several times: 1.Cor 15,40ff.; 2.Cor 5,1ff.; Phil 3,21. Of this heavenly/spiritual body the Holy Spirit is the first fruit, that is: in the influx and actions of the Holy Spirit man already experiences his soul being lifted up above the sphere of the flesh.

That the doksa-body is identified with the macr'anthropos can be seen from the early Gnostic writing Excerpt of Theodotus 56: “He hath set His tabernacle in the sun” ..the Lord will come to restore the righteous, the faithful, in whom He rests, as in a tent, to one and the same unity; for all are one body, of the same race, and have chosen the same faith and righteousness. But some as head, some as eyes, some as ears, some as hands, some as breasts, some as feet, shall be set resplendent, in the sun, “Shine forth as the sun,” or in the sun.

When the New Testament speaks about “Seeing/contemplating the Glory of the Lord”, then the Old Testament Theophanic tradition is still alive: When the book of Revelation speaks about the smoke from God's glory filling the temple, then this is typical OT theophany linked to the temple rituals at the feast of the Tabernacles. But obviously this tradition has been spiritualised, perhaps by its passing through the theology of the Qumran community. The vision of God is not quite internalised: the Essene society, Philo writes about, still celebrated the coming of God in the sunrise (and like the Christians reported on by Plinius they assembled before sun rise to sing hymns.) This coming is also an enlightenment of the spectator, cf. the psalms of Hodayot thanking God for enlightenment by his light. By his enlightenment the spectator is changed to an eternal standing before the countenance of the Creator. But enlightenment is also for Paul a mystical ongoing process, 2.Cor 3,18, where one is trying to mortify the fleshly body to be able to live more in the Spirit. The divine investio was accomplished already in baptism, but one has to live accordingly in daily life, striving towards the final eschatological investio. However, within the objective frame of this ritual/sacramental apotheosis of which Enoch is the great Typos (his name means in Hebrew “initiated”), real experienced mysticism was also found. Some of the manifestations of the Spirit were so strong that man felt strongly the presence of God and his powers filling his heart. Rapture and mystic visions were not uncommon, and became for some the main purpose of their Christian lives, even to the degree that they tried to be ruthless to both their bodies and the opposite sex. Such seems to be the case with Paul's opponents, and also with the author of the gospel of Thomas. These circles called upon Jacob, a halfbrother of Jesus, and acc. to some of the old sources a ruthless ascetic “often entering the Holy of Holies”. (This must be in the spiritual temple created  by vision.)

The great visions of God in Ez 1-3 (the mystical fourfold androgynous creatures), Is 6 (the shining garment of God filling the temple), Zech 4 (God as 7 times 7 fold divine light), Rev 1 (7 fold light and the shining crystal sea mixed with fire) have all some mystical features.

G.G.Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom, Esoteric traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (1996) has tried to show that the disciplina arcani of the early church, that is the notion that some of the church's teaching was secret and that there was “information for insiders only”, is not a notion taken from the mystery cults, but inherited from the Jewish background where the apocalyptic seer often stresses the secrecy of some of the future events revealed to him, and where especially the Qumran texts speak about great secrets revealed to the believer. For the Merkabah mystic the study of the scene Ez 1-3 was very awesome and dangerous and should only be undertaken in the presence of a single and very mature pupil.

Modern scholarship (W.Burkert, J-M.Festugiere) tend to see Plato as a mystic, and Plotinos is therefore much closer to his master's teaching than previously thought. In one of Plato’s last sessions with his pupils he tried to give them some understanding of what was really meant by ARETE, and in a typical Pythagorean way tried to use mathematics/numbers and especially the mystical number One. It was a great disappointment that some of the pupils did not understand and even mocked at this attempt. There was a firmly grounded understanding that mystic vision was something exclusive and intimate, something to be revealed only to the very few. And this is certainly the background of 1.Cor 2,1ff.  Paul here speaks of a secret wisdom not available to normal man, but only to be spoken of among the mature and revealed to them by “the Spirit that searches God's depths”.  The content of this wisdom seems to be “God's depths” probably a reference to the cosmological notion of an unending vastness, the Bythos so well known from later cosmology.  What is meant is a mystically coloured experience of the vastness of God similar to the Shi'ur Qoma speculation, the enumerations of the vast proportions of God's body, the gigantic measures of God as macr'anthropos39. This body is identified with God's kabod (=glory) seen in the first chapter of Ez and simply called “the Lord's kabod”, which is exactly the wording used by Paul in 2,8.

1.Cor 2,6 & 3,1ff. Paul develops a contrast between children and grown-up, “perfect” people. Exactly the same contrast is found in 1.Cor 13,10ff.:

between the child's ability to understand and the grown-up and “the coming of the perfect”, between  looking into a mirror, in a riddle and seeing face to face,

between different partial gifts of the Spirit and the total gift of the Spirit, of ecstasy: love,

between a partial knowledge and knowing fully and being fully known.

Paul is talking about a love that is also knowledge, also a seeing, a vision. Faith and hope are often by Paul contrasted with seeing, which is obviously the reason for their being of lesser importance than love. But what kind of love is this AGAPÊ, which will be perfected in seeing God and in the complete and intimate mutual knowledge between God and man?

This love described as vision and with the help of the typical mystical formula for intimacy known from the sacred calling used at Tabernacles, “I and He”, and from the Canticles (“my friend is mine and I am his”) can only be the divine love experienced in the mystical vision. This vision is acc. to Bernhard, Super Canticl.: “the sum of all justice, love and perfection, consummatio virtutis and God's presence in the soul and omnium virtutum origo in man. This highest love kindles reciprocated love in the human soul, and the soul loves God with the same longing as the bride her bridegroom”.

Just as in traditional orthodox Lutheran theology visio dei is seen as the goal on the long road towards deeper understanding, Christian maturity and sanctification/perfection.

The mirror-symbol is very often used by Philo (“ungemein haüfig”, acc. to J.Weiss40): the human mind taking its knowledge from the visible world is imperfect when it comes to understanding God, it is like a mirror giving only a reflection. But the true mystic has direct vision of God.

To Paul this true vision is a future, eschatological event, but the very fact that perfect love is something experienced in a vision shows that Paul's language has this strong tainting of mysticism.

Note that “love, the band of perfection” is closely connected to the mystical language of investio and Christ's great body in Col 3,14f.

We have to understand “perfect” here and in 1.Cor 2,6 & 13,10 much more in the light of the mystical notion of the perfect heavenly anthropos. When Paul talks about “a mystery” 1.Cor15,51-4 it is the mystical investio of his perfect spiritual body. In this body there is mystical coincidentia oppositorum, all strife and duality (between man and woman, Jew and Gentile) is dissolved into peace/love. This is the background for the “mystery” in Eph 5,31f and Col 1,15-28 - note the final goal: to “be perfect in Christ”. Just like the Spirit in the believer is the first-fruit of the doksa-body, so is “Christ in you” the “hope for divine doksa”, v.27.

The Religio-historical Background of Early Mysticism

The Syrian background: There are obviously important insights to be found in the fact that the baptismal terminology of the Syrian church (´md), perhaps from the same root as “pillar” (´mod), corresponds with the baptismal terminology of both the Madaean sect (qaiim) and the baptismal formulas (stêrízô) used by the Gnostic Marcosians: to baptize is synonymous with to “erect”, “establish”, “make firm”. To be baptized is to be erected as one of the eternal standing angels before the throne of God, in the circle of his council of elim, i.e. “sons of God”.

But there is more to it: the importance of the “pillar of fire” in Syrian Christianity cannot be explained only by the pillar of fire leading the Exodus from Egypt. The pillar of fire is even identical with the “perfect man”, created in the “baptism of fire”41. This originally cultic terminology, the fire baptism, is also the great goal of the monks and mystics.

The name of the Syrian high-god is Kevan (“the firmly grounded”, cf. the Greek word kiôn, “pillar” a Semitic loanword). He is the planet Saturn-Cronos as the world pillar, the world-mountain. He is also the goal of the daily journey of the “victorious sun”. In the mysteries of Mithras he is the goal of Mithras' journey in the sun's chariot. He is seen as the cosmic pillar with a snake ascending in 7 coils to the top of his forehead. He is the end of the mystic journey to the transcendent realm. This ecstatic ideology is not taken over by the Early Church, but can be used as a parallel notion leading us to a better understanding of the mysticism of the Early Church, the role of the “pillar of fire” and the divine fire as the place where man is purified and made perfect, the divine element also identical with the fire of Gehenna. (I have just completed a major work on old Syrian folk religion, The Origin of our Belief in God.2004.)

In Syrian folk-religion the first-born child had to “go through the fire”, i.e. was brought as a holocaust to Saturn, obviously as a magic ritual to attain power by strengthening the ultimate goal of the divine life-force seen as supernatural fire, the transcendent pillar of fire where the sun eternally renews its life-force. The fire is a symbol of the mystic vision, of God as holy fire and of man being taken into the sphere of God.

The Iranian background: In his chapter, “The Gnostic Attitude”, Geo Widengren42 has made a strong case out of defending R.Reitzenstein's understanding of Gnosticism as an import of Indo-Iranian mystical tradition. Acc. to Widengren this mysticism is especially linked to a pessimistic world view and to an old warrior ideology using the vocabulary of the Iranian feudal system.  As motives imported from Iran through the meeting and merging of Parthian culture with Jewish, he mentions the vision of a heavenly twin also symbolized by a heavenly garment, the world soul as the higher ego of the individual, an ascension of the soul after death to heaven where it is given a crown, a garment, and led to God and even given a throne, and he mentions man's good deeds as the soul's heavenly treasure.

In early Christianity we find traces of a strange notion: Man has a guardian angel who is also his higher ego, a kind of heavenly twin (Acts 12,15), and perhaps even the medium through which one has vision of God (Matt 18,10: “their angels are constantly looking at my Father´s countenance”). We find this notion fully developed in the Acts of Thomas, where salvation is being united to this higher ego. Thomas means “twin”, and his heavenly twin is Jesus to whom he becomes mystically united during his ecstatic singing about the “Daughter of Light” (“his likeness was changed”, 8 “And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas…the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas, but I am his brother”,11). But also in the famous “Song about the Pearl” (108-113), the soul returning to the Orient (which stands for heaven) is received by its heavenly twin in the form of a precious “garment set with gems, spangled with gold”(108,9f, 110,46, 111,66 and 111,72-113,98), and becomes united to it by putting it on. DeConick has dealt with this motif in her book about the Gospel of Thomas, and she refers to G. Quispel who has tried to show that this is a Greek-Orphic import, but it seems much more likely that it is the Iranian notion of the Vohu Manah-garment, which is both higher ego and robe and the medium of mystic vision. In the Song about the Pearl the “garment” is called “the garment made like unto me as it had been in a mirror” 112,76, but also “the likeness of the King of kings was all in all of it” 112,86. Here we find the Iranian motif merged with the Jewish-Christian speculation about the lost glory of Adam (made in the image of God) recovered in baptism (when putting on the white baptismal robe).

“And when I had put it on, I was lifted up unto the palace of peace…and worshipped the brightness of the Father…and at the doors of his palace which was from the beginning I mingled among his nobles…and all his servants do praise him with sweet voices. And he promised me that with him I shall be sent unto the gates of the king, that with my gifts and my pearl we may appear together before the king” (end of the poem). Just as in Iran, Vohu Manah is the one who leads the seer on to the eternal throne of the Highest. In contemporary Jewish thinking it is Metathron who receives the soul at the veil before the countenance of God.

That it is an Iranian motif and not a Greek one is seen from 113,92 where the garment says (acc. to the Syrian text): “I perceived in myself that my stature grew in accordance with his working”. In Iranian eschatology man after death meets his daena who has taken shape after his good or bad deeds. A good man is met by a beautiful young woman, a bad man by an ugly old hag.

In Mazdean religion there is a countless multitude of feminine celestial entities called Fravarti (“those who have chosen,” meaning those who have chosen to fight in order to come to the help of Ohrmazd). Every physical or moral entity, every complete being or group of beings belonging to the world of light, including Ohrmazd…has its Fravarti.

What they announce to earthly beings is, therefore, an essentially dual structure that gives to each one a heavenly archetype or Angel, whose earthly counterpart he is. In this sense, there is a dualitude even more essential to Mazdean cosmology than is the dualism of Light-Darkness, which is its most commonly remembered aspect. (pp.9f).

The “Angel” of the soul is simultaneously its faith and its judge, its existence and its superexistence, its celestial paredros. This fact will be revealed to the soul only post mortem, and that is why Daena, the Angel of the incarnate, is also called “the soul on the path,” that is, the Anima coelestis which the Anima humana meets “on the path” to the Chinvat Bridge.

Etymologically Daena is the visionary soul or the visionary organ of the soul, the light it throws and which makes it possible to see, and at the same time the light that is seen, the celestial figure that comes face to face with the soul at the dawn of its eternity (p.42)


It seems as if the baptismal candidate in the early church, when receiving his baptismal robe, was seen as united to his guardian angel as his higher ego, more or less identical with Christ. This notion seems a strong evidence of mystical thinking surrounding the symbols of baptism. Baptism was seen as heavenly ascent.

The notion of meeting one's heavenly image beautified by one's good deeds must somehow go back to the Iranian teaching about the daena, a young woman meeting the soul after death and made beautiful or ugly by the good or bad deeds of the deceased. But the notion of a heavenly man as the image of God, and earthly man as the image of this image must come from Jewish speculations on Gen 1-2.

There seems to be a merging of Jewish and Iranian symbols, and the organizing factor seems to be a world view formed by mystic experience. It is high time that mystic vision of light and fire, experiences of cosmic unity and ascension to heaven are given the place they have in the shaping of Hellenistic religions and early Christianity.

The Jewish background:  Margaret Barker has “proved beyond reasonable doubt” that the secret tradition acc. to Clemens of Alexandria and Euseb handed down orally in the early church is the mystical direct vision of God experienced by the prophets of the OT, and from times of old experienced ritually by the High priest when he crossed the veil to the Holy of Holies. The veil was woven with decorations, making it a picture of the heavenly vault and seen as the curtain that separates heaven from the earthly world of matter. Going beyond this curtain was seen as leaving the earthly body to be invested in glory, to be transformed into an angelic being (Acc. to Philo the Highpriest´s baptisms and changing of clothes before entering is the symbol of his leaving the world of diversity and matter symbolised by the richly ornamented garment in many colours, to enter into the world of pure divine light symbolised by a white linen garment.) As the curtain was seen as the vault, the Holy of Holies was seen as heaven, and going beyond the curtain was also going beyond time and space, and therefore being able to have some prophetic knowledge of both present, past and future (a formula used by both Clement and Ezekiel the Dramatist and in the Apocalypse of Abraham) and even some insight in the secrets of the things God created in the beginning, on the first day of creation. It seems to be typical of the mystic experience that it also gives some feeling of a deeper knowledge (gnosis), as if one was somehow united to the universal knowledge of God. Barker quotes Jacob Böhme, but also modern mystics could be mentioned.

This notion of the direct prophetic vision of God is at the heart of Philo´s theology, and acc to Barker it is old priestly wisdom kept secret to the mob as were the rituals making God's epiphany felt by the priests officiating in the sanctuary. This is also, acc. to Barker, the “wonderful secrets” praised by the “Teacher of Righteousness” in the Qumran psalms called Hodayoth43.

As proved by my own investigations (Dåben og Himmelrejsen til den skjulte Adam,1982, typewritten Danish manuscript) these secret traditions are to be seen as the deeper, mystical understanding of a baptismal ritual performed at sunrise and culminating in a vision of God's glory and like the High Priest of Zech 3 being invested with a “clean garment”. This ritual is obviously taken over from old priestly initiations. And the threatening of Satan, Zech 3,2 develops into the baptismal renunciation of the devil.

Note:

That the Son of Man is raised to a position of lordship over all the angelic powers is an important argument in some of Paul's letters. The letters to the Colossians and the Galatians have this as a theological argument against serving the law of Moses: It was given by angels but Christ is higher than the angels and as the believer is united to this “head of all power and authorities”, Col 2,10f, he is raised high above the angelic powers, Gal 4,3-10, cf. Phil 2,9f.

To my mind this part of 1.Enoch is a rare witness to the Jewish Millieu which fostered Christianity:

1.En 38,2. cf Joh 1,7

1.En 39,5. cf Joh 14,1

1.En 39,5 & 48,1 cf Rev 22,1 cf. 1.En 49,1 cf Joh 7,37f.

1.En 45,3 cf Matt 25,31

1.En 45,4 cf Joh 14,23

1.En 47,2. cf Rev passim.

1.En 48,7 cf Matt 16,17

1.En 50,1 cf Rev 21,23

1.En 50,2 cf Rev 3,21 cf 1.En 51,3

1.En 37,2f. the beginning of wisdom cf Matt 13,35

But most important is the unison singing together with the heavenly liturgy. This Jewish motif taken over by 1.Clement and Ignatius is already dealt with in an important article by David Flusser in the Festschrift für Otto Michel, Abraham unser Vater, 1963

The Kedusha followed by a ”Blessed are you..” (1.En 39,12) is also behind the ninefold ascription of holiness to God in Corpus Hermeticum I44.


1 Cf. the prayer sounding almost like a formula: “save and raise them up (anástêson autoús)”.

2 In the Mandaean baptismal liturgy a rubric reads: “they shall stand up” and then the following prayer is read: “You are upraised and made firm..” “The soul when raised up, set up, has reached its goal (in heaven). It stands between the manas (souls) of Light.” E. Segelberg, Masbuta, 1958, p.90.

3 To Clemens from Alexandria baptism is sfragis and fotisma (sealing and enlightenment) “and you will together with angels dance a wheeling dance around the unborn, indestructible and only true God while God’s Logos will sing together with us”. Protr. 120,1f. Baptism in Protr is seen as mystic vision of holy light and perfect gnosis and Christ is in a baptismal hymn called “Sun of Resurrection (ho tês anastáseôs hêlios)” 84,2 Wlosok, pp.164ff. Cf Odes of Solomon 11,13f: “And the Lord was as the sun on the face of the earth. He enlightened my eyes…”

4 Rech.de Sc.Rel. 16/1926,491ff.

5 J. Rendel Harris, Fragments of Philo Judaeus, 1886 p.74, fragment from the last book in Quest in Ex

6 fragm. by S.Holm Nielsen, Hodayoth, 1960, pp.259f.

7 Evangelium Veritatis - a confirmation homily, ORIENTALIA SUECANA VIII,1959, pp.3-42

8 G.Widengren, A.Hultgård, M.Philonenko, Apocalyptique Iranienne et duálisme Qumrânien, 1995

9 Geo Widengren, DieReligionen Irans, 1965, p. 304

10 Sv.S.Hartman, Gayomart,1953,p.44.

11 ibd p.115

12 ibd, pp.113f

13 ed E.S.Drower pp.227f

14 Vayu,1941,pp.28;42f.;47

15 Die Religionen Irans,1965,pp.38f

16 R.Reitzenstein-H.Schaeder, Studien zum antiken Synkretismus, 1926

17 La Nouvelle Clio,1950,pp.310ff

18 see German article in Mysticism, ed. by Sven S.Hartman and C-M. Edsman,1970 pp.51ff

19 p.X

20 p.111

21 G.Widengren, A.Hultgård, M.Philonenko, Apocalyptique Iranienne et duálisme Qumrânien, 1995

22 Der syrische Synkretismus und das Thomasevangelium, in Synkretismus im syrisch-pers. Kulturgebiet ,1975, ed. by A.Dietrich, pp.73ff.

23 Reich Gottes und Menschensohn, pp.168ff.)

24 Gnosis und spätantiker Geist 2,1,2.aufl.1966,p.104.

25 A.Wlosok, Laktanz und die philosophische Gnosis, 1960, pp.112 & 247f.)

26 Burton Lee Mack, Logos und Sophia,pp.124ff

27 W.Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 2.ed.1921,pp.104ff

28 , especially “Introduction” (pp.1-12) and “The Son of Man's Alter Ego. John 1,51 (pp.135-51).

29 art. in Annual meeting seminar Papers,1995

30 in Journal of Jewish Studies 43,1992

31 Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, 2.ed.1965, pp.57-64; 131f

32 Scholem, ERANOS, XIX, 1951, pp.148f

33 p.309

34 Kanagaraj pp.89ff

35 “Die altchristliche Taufe religionsgeschichtlich betrachtet”, Festschrift für A.Alt, Zeitschr.Univ.Leipzig 3.jahrgang 1953/4.pp.53f

36 Vigilia Christianae 45,1990, pp.123-50.

37 History of Religion 5,1966,pp.217-88.

38 Orientalia Suecana VIII,1959 pp.3-42

39 Martin S.Cohen, The Shi'ur Qomah: Texts and Recensions, 1985

40 Der erste Korintherbrief, 1910,p.319

41 C-M. Edsman, Le Baptëme de Feu,1940,p.172f

42 Religionsphänomenologie, 1969,pp.480ff.

43 M.Barker: “The secret Tradition”, Journal of Higher Criticism 2.1 1995,pp.31-67 & ibd , “Beyond the Veil of the Temple” Scottish Journal of Theology 51.1.1998. The articles can also be found on the internet www.marquette.edu/maqom)

44 Birger A.Pearson, Gnosticism, Judaism and Egyptian Christianity,1990. pp.142f