The Beginnings of Christianity: Essene Mystery, Gnostic Revelation and the Christian Vision Paperback – 1 Jan 1995
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'If you've ever had niggling doubts about orthodox Christian explanations, or you never bought the idea that somehow Jesus and Christianity just "happened" out of the blue in Palestine 2000 years ago, this book is for you. This is a fascinating read. To all those questioning folk out there, I thoroughly recommend it.' -- Roderick Craig, amazon.co.uk
About the Author
Andrew Welburn taught at the University of London, has been a Fellow of the Warburg Institute and taught at New College, Oxford, until 2005.
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Andrew Welburn wisely and makes quite clear that he is not getting into the arguments that do not directly concern him, such as the status of the New Testament canon and what should have or shouldn't have been included. In this sense, Welburn stays completely focused on the specific task he has set himself. In this book he attempts to show that esotericism was not an anomaly in Christianity, but a central and vital aspect of it and its development.
Before saying anything else, I would strongly advise that one familiarise oneself with the ideas and philosophy of Rudolph Steiner. Welburn has been deeply influenced by Steiner, seemingly to the point that Steiner can do no wrong. Steiner's influence permeates the book, and the reader will often encounter comments on how strikingly new evidence from Qumran and Nag Hammadi has just confirmed Steiner's research. In fact, you might be frustrated by the repeated references to Steiner's "spiritual research" that are all over the place.
Through the book, Welburn traces the esoteric aspects of Christianity back to the early development of Judaism, as well as received elements from Zoroastrianism via the Essenes, who seem to have re-interpreted some aspects of Zoroastrianism in light of the individualistic nature of their own Jewish faith. Among other points of discussion are the ways in which John the Baptist showed some affinity with Essene ideas and also how and why a large number of Essenes seem to have become Christian sometime after Jesus Christ vanished. The book includes discussions on Gnosticism, Jesus and Buddha, as well as some chapters on various Gospels.
At some points, Welburn seems to over-simplify things where he sees connections. He seems to accept as a given, for example, pre-Christian Gnosticism, which is still an open debate with little evidence to give any indication either way. He focuses on a very select group of Gnostics. In addition, he attempts to reduce Gnosticism overall to a reaction against the non-mythological tendencies of the Essene fusion of Eastern thought with Jewish individualism and views of time. In Welburn's opinion, Gnosticism was basically keeping a mythological aspect of religion while accepting the reality of this world as a finished and complete product. Basically, Gnosticism was the mythological reaction to the same impulses that produced the Essenes.
On the positive side, Welburn has made some interesting connections, and uses the primary sources well to illustrate various points that he has made. While I would not accept some of his views wholeheartedly, he does present some interesting views and possible theories on what may have happened. For example, he presents a strong case for the Essene influence on early Christians, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. He presents a number of points that indicate that both Jesus and John, (John worked about 10 miles from Qumran, according to Welburn), were familiar with Essene ideas and possibly were associated with the sect. Welburn does not make the claim that John or Jesus were Essenes, but says that it is unlikely, especially considering Jesus' attitude to the Law, which the Essenes were particularly strict about.
The discussion on the Gospel of Matthew was fascinating, and Welburn indicates that there was a previous Gospel of Matthew that was written in Hebrew from which the Greek was translated. Welburn supplies some interesting evidence in support from various sources, and makes a solid case. The Essene influence seems more pronounced in the sections that have survived of this Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.
There is much more to this book, though, which I will not go into here. I found myself very interested in what Welburn says, and found his ideas to be fascinating. He makes some good, strong points, but I also have my doubts on a few others. However, for a book that presents an alternative view of Christian origins focusing purely on the esoteric side, the book is good. I would just reiterate the Steiner issue above before one started to read this. Even if you disagree with him, Welburn gives one the chance to think about Christianity in a new light and develop that thinking in new ways. Overall, it is a pretty good book, though I would not suggest it as an introduction to Christian origins in general.
As is standard for almost all late 20th Century scholars, Welburn uncritically assumes that Jesus existed, even as he presents a totally non-orthodox paradigm of what Christianity was really all about and where it came from. He wonders why the canon doesn't tell about Jesus' initiation practices, even though he explains Steiner's portrayal of Jesus' betrayal, arrest, trial, judgement, humiliation, crucifixion, burial, and ascension as themselves the experiential content of such Christian-style initiation.
Actually I hope Steiner's theory here is a little more complete than Welburn's explanation, which omits the trial and judgment phase of experiential mystic Christianity. The trial and judgment phase of the mystery drama is experientially crucial -- it is here where the mind questions the concept of the sovereign egoic moral agent and judges the idea to be monstrously incoherent, suitable only for animals and children. I don't know if Steiner covers this phase; Welburn doesn't.
At this point in recent history-oriented studies, in such theories as mystery-religion Christianity, the Historical Jesus assumption is just a clumsy and superfluous complication getting in the way, adding complexity without enabling theories to be simplified.
Welburn should at least ask whether the hypothesis of the existence of a single Historical Jesus is helpful for a coherent theory of the true origins of the Christian mystery religion. The *idea* of a historical figure is great and profound, but shouldn't be confused with the *actuality* of a historical figure who undergoes literal biographical events of betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. Welburn, of all scholars, should realize this. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book deserving a strong 5 stars.
As in any study of Christianity compared to mystery religions, this has enough mentions of sacred eating and drinking to hook into the entheogen theory of the origin of religions, and enough mentions of fate, determinism, necessity, or heimarmene to hook into a block-universe determinism theory.
Top-quality scholarship. Strongly recommended for those interested in original Christianity as essentially a mystic experiential mystery-religion. The endnotes contain pointers to related interesting books.
The author often mentions Rudolph Steiner's book Christianity as Mystical Fact.
i.e. the 7 heavens talked about by Paul and the 7 planets in Iranian Chadian texts .
More textual comparison to the essens wording of light and dark are strangely familiar in zoroastrian writings as they too are concerned with light and darkness .
his in depth commentary on steiner's gospel of john was really good The Gospel of St. John get this to go with it this book.
Oh and how similar the hebrew god is to the storm gods of assyrians and canninites respective deities .
i really also liked the chapter on the secret gospel of mark a mysterious document but the authors commentary on it is amazing.
if you think its fake you wont after reading this authors take on it