The period of history that began with the first century B.C. and ended with the year 414 A.D. was an important one for the Western world. During those five hundred years certain causes were set in motion, the effects of which we are still feeling at the present day and will continue to feel for some time to come. This period of history should be carefully studied by every one calling himself a Christian. For it contains not only the life record of Jesus, but also the story of a Church that grew, in that comparatively short space of time, from a single individual to a powerful political organization. It is of equal importance to the Theosophist, for it witnessed the beginning, the growth and the final destruction of one of the greatest Theosophical Schools in history, marked the death of the Mysteries, and sealed the doom of the old religions, sciences and philosophies for many centuries.
In the first century B.C., the Theosophical Movement and Christianity were one, Jesus the Christ being a great Theosophist, and the work he tried to accomplish forming part of the program of the Theosophical Movement. But from the first century A.D. onwards, the Theosophical Movement and Christianity gradually separated; in the year 414 A.D. the work of the Theosophical Movement of that day was destroyed by the Church that called itself Christian.
In trying to find the causes that led up to this catastrophe, the Theosophical Movement and Christianity must be studied side by side. This study will be as fair and impartial as it is possible to make it, and each side will be allowed to present its own case. The story of the Church will be taken from Catholic historians and from the writings of the early Church Fathers themselves. The story of the Theosophical Movement will be drawn from the best historical sources available, and the teachings of the great Theosophists of the period will be presented in their own words. Direct quotations from the different writers will be given, and the motto used will be that of the Theosophical Society: There is no Religion higher than Truth.
There are many persons, even in this enlightened day, who consider Christianity as a unique religion, the Bible as the only revelation of God, and Jesus Christ as His only-begotten Son. If this were true, it would mean that, during all the vast procession of the ages, there has been only one expression of Truth. But Truth, as every thinking person will admit, is universal, and could not have been limited to a single expression. Even if it had been so limited, this fact would not enhance its value. The fact that two and two make four is none the less important because the whole world knows it.
If Christianity is an expression of universal Truth, it will gain, rather than lose, by a recognition of its identity with other expressions of the same truth. If the Bible is a revelation of God, its truth will become more apparent if it is found to agree with other “revelations.” If Jesus was a “Son of God”, his position will become still more secure when he is recognized as a member of a great Fraternity of Perfected Men, all of whom have presented identical doctrines.
The study of the history of these five centuries will disclose an important fact: that there is nothing unique in Christianity. It will show that Jesus was not a unique character, but only one of a long line of Teachers. It will show that the Bible is not a unique book, but only one of the many Scriptures of the world. It will show that there is not a single dogma, ritual nor ceremony in the Christian Church that has not been taken bodily from the so-called “Pagan” religions. Finally it will show that not even the term Christian is unique.
Many persons believe that Christianity has been in existence for only two thousand years. But history shows that the terms Christ and Christians were well known to writers like Herodotus and Aeschylus fully five centuries before the “Christian” era, and were simply borrowed by the later “Christians” from the Temple terminology of the Pagans. The early Church knew this to be a fact, for it is openly admitted by no less an authority than Justin Martyr, one of the foremost Christian writers of the second century.
The terms Chrestos and Christos came from the Mysteries. There the word Chrestos was used to designate a disciple on probation, a neophyte, one who was preparing himself for initiation into the Mysteries. When the candidate had passed through the Chrestos condition, or the probationary period, and had finally reached the state of an Initiate, he was anointed and became a Christos.
The word Christos also meant the “Way” or the “Path.” When the Chrestos addressed his Master, he said: “Thou art the Path.” After the disciple had been initiated himself, the same words were repeated to him by his Teacher. “I am the Way”, said Jesus, after he had become a Christos. “Thou canst not travel on the Path until thou hast become that Path itself,” says the Voice of the Silence. And H. P. Blavatsky reiterated the same idea when she said to her pupils: “Do not follow me; follow the Path I show,” meaning by that: “Do not follow my personality; follow the Christos-principle within yourselves, the only ‘Light on the Path’ that really exists.”
Christos, or Christ, is therefore not a special title belonging to any one individual, but is a state or condition, the last stage in the long series of progressive awakenings of the soul. The Christos, or Christ-principle, lies latent within every man. Jesus had completely awakened this principle in himself. Therefore he is known as Jesus, the Christ.
As far as secular history goes, there seems to be no accurate record of Jesus. If he lived in the first century A.D. we would naturally expect to find references to him in the works of the great historians of that century. But Philo Judaeus, who lived in Palestine during the very years that Jesus is supposed to have been teaching there, never mentions him, and Josephus disposes of his whole career in one short sentence. Even that sentence, which is interpolated between incongruous paragraphs in one of the works of Josephus, (Antiquities of the Jews: Book xviii, chapter 3) is considered by scholars as spurious and a palpable forgery.
The second century offers little more. Neither Plutarch nor Dion Cassius, the two great historians of this century, refer to him. Suetonius, in his Life of the Twelve Caesars, speaks of the Jews that were banished from Rome during the reign of the Emperor Claudius because of the disturbances they were making at the instigation of one Chrestos. But as Jesus is supposed to have been in Jerusalem at that time, he could not have been the Chrestos to whom Suetonius refers. The Emperor Hadrian, also writing in the second century, does not mention Jesus, but speaks of the Christians, calling them worshippers of Serapis. This is because the Christians of that day, having no image or picture of Jesus to remind them of their Teacher, adopted the image of Serapis, who was always represented with long hair and wearing a garment reaching to his feet. The image of Jesus with which we are familiar at the present day is this same likeness of Serapis.
The ecclesiastical history of Jesus is quite as disappointing as the secular. Up to the year 180 A.D. none of the Christian writers seem to have known when Jesus was born, how long he taught or when he died. Some claim that he taught only one year, others extend the term of his ministry to ten and even twenty years. During the latter years of the second century an altercation took place between a man called Ptolamaeus, and Irenaeus, one of the foremost Church Fathers. Ptolemaeus argued that Jesus was too young to have given out anything of importance. Irenaeus rebuked him and accused him of
“Destroying Christ’s work, and robbing him of that age which is both necessary and more honorable than any other; the more advanced age, I mean, during which, also, he excelled all others.”
And then, having no certain data to furnish, he throws himself back on tradition and claims that Jesus had preached ten years, and that he was at least fifty years old at his death.
With such a lack of accurate historical data and such disagreement among the Christians, it is evident that we must look elsewhere for more dependable information. As Jesus and his twelve disciples are said to have been Jews, it is possible that Jewish history may be more correct than Christian.
One statement, which is commonly accepted by historians, and which furthermore, has the backing of actual history, is found in the Jewish Gemara, the section called Sepher Toldos Jeshu. In this story, Jesus is said to have been the son of a man named Pandira, who lived in the first century B.C. during the reign of King Alexander Janneus. Ernst Haeckel, in his Riddle of the Universe, finds in this story the solution of Jesus’ non-Jewish characteristics. Mr. Haeckel says:
“The statement of the apocryphal gospels that Pandira was the true father of Christ seems all the more credible when we make a careful anthropological study of the personality of Christ. He is generally regarded as pure Jewish. Yet the characteristics which distinguish his high and noble personality, and which give impress to his religion, are certainly not Semitical. Now the name of Christ’s real father, Pandira, points unequivocally to a Greek origin; in one manuscript, in fact, it is written Pandora.”
The Sepher Toldos Jeshu corroborates the apocryphal statements in regard to Jesus’ Greek paternity, and describes the years of his early youth:
“Mary, having become the mother of a son, named Jehoshuah, and the boy growing up, she entrusted him to the care of the Rabbi Elhanan. And the child progressed in knowledge, for he was well gifted with spirit and understanding. Rabbi Jehoshuah, son of Perachiah, continued the education of Jesus after Elhanan, and initiated him into the secret knowledge. But the King Janneus, having given orders to slay all the Initiates, Jehoshuah Ben Perachiah fled to Alexandria, in Egypt, taking the boy with him.”
Then follows a series of adventures which show that Jesus supplemented his initiation into the secret wisdom of the Jews with an additional acquisition of the secret knowledge of Egypt.
Two points stand out in this old story. The first is that Jesus lived during the reign of King Alexander Janneus, which was in the early years of the first century B.C. It is a matter of history that King Janneus actually did persecute and slay hundreds of Initiates, who in those days were called “Innocents”, “Infants” and “Little Ones”. But the reign of Herod, in which Jesus is supposed to have lived, contains no record of such a massacre.
The second point is that Jesus was initiated into the Mysteries of the Jewish Temple in his early youth, and later went to Egypt, where he was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries. These two points are corroborated by the Masters and by H.P.B. She says:
“The position THEY give to Jesus, as far as we know, is that of an Initiate who recognized no difference—save the moral one—between men; who rejected caste and despised wealth; and who, finally, lived a century before our vulgar, so-called Christian era.”
Jesus is constantly referred to as an Initiate in Theosophical literature. H.P.B. says: “Let the world judge Jesus for what he was—a Mahatma, a Perfected Man.” And Mr. Judge, in the Ocean of Theosophy, describes him as an Avatar, a member of the great Fraternity of Adepts. If he was a true Initiate, as these words imply, and a member of that great Brotherhood which is the custodian of the Wisdom-Religion, then he must have taught the same Theosophical principles that we study today. For, as H.P.B. says,
. . . if he was an initiate of either the Pythagorean Essenes, the Chaldean Magi, or the Egyptian Priests, then the doctrine taught by him was but a portion of the “Secret Doctrine” taught by the Pagan hierophants to the few select adepts admitted within the sacred adyta. —Isis Unveiled II, 94.
These words give a clear indication of the places where Jesus gained his knowledge and received his initiation. It must have been among the Pythagorean Essenes (who were the descendants of the Egyptian Hierophants) or among the Nazarenes (who were the descendants of the Chaldean Magi). He must have supplemented his knowledge of the ancient Egyptian and Chaldean systems with that acquired through the study of the Pythagorean and Buddhistic philosophies, for:
1, all his sayings are in a Pythagorean spirit, when not verbatim repetitions; 2, his code of ethics is purely Buddhistic; 3, his mode of action and walk in life, Essenian; and 4, his mystical mode of expression, his parables, and his ways, those of an initiate, whether Grecian, Chaldean or Magian (for the “Perfect,” who spoke the hidden wisdom, were of the same school of archaic learning the world over), it is difficult to escape from the logical conclusion that he belonged to that same body of initiates.—Isis Unveiled, II, 337.
Let us go back in thought and try to reconstruct those years of Jesus’ life, when his mode of action and walk in life became Essenian. We remember that, after the persecution of the Initiates by King Janneus, Jesus and his teacher Rabbi Jehoshuah fled to Alexandria in Egypt. It would be interesting to know what sort of an impression this great cosmopolitan city made upon the young man. He must have been astonished at the magnificent Palace of the Ptolemies and the grandeur of the Museum and its gardens. He must have watched the galleys riding upon the blue waters in the shadow of the great lighthouse of Pharos and wondered about the strange countries from which they came. He must have gone out into the western quarter of the city and climbed the rocky hill that led to the Temple of Serapis, whose image was one day to be substituted for his own. He must have visited the great library of the Bruckion and examined some of its seven hundred thousand scrolls. He must have met some of the learned Jews who, like himself, had been initiated into the mysteries of the Kabala. But fascinating as the great city of Alexandria must have been, it did not hold the secrets that Jesus came to Egypt to garner.
Just south of the city of Alexandria there lived a community of men and women known as the Therapeutae. They formed an inner group within Alexandrian Judaism, an esoteric circle of illuminati, or wise men. Jesus’ knowledge of healing and the many “miraculous” cures attributed to him point to the fact that he must at one time have been a member of this community. They were the true mystics of that day, and Christianity is indebted to them for many of its mystical expressions.
The main object of Jesus’ stay in Egypt was, however, to gain a knowledge of the Egyptian philosophical system, which could be acquired only through initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries. These secrets were held by the descendants of the ancient Egyptian Hierophants, the Essenes, one group of which was known as the Konoibi. Jesus established connection with this group, and it is probably through them that he was eventually initiated into the secret wisdom of Egypt. Where this initiation took place it is impossible to say. The true Initiate does not speak of these sacred matters to the world at large. But, considering the connection of the Essenes with the ancient Egyptian Hierophants, it is highly probable that Jesus passed his final initiation within the sacred precincts of the great Pyramid of Gizeh, whose walls had often witnessed the initiation scenes of different members of the royal families of ancient Egypt.
The great Pyramid of Gizeh (now called Cheops) stands upon a low hill overlooking the yellow sands of the vast Libyan desert. Within it is a narrow passage leading up to the King’s Chamber, as it is now called, but which in olden days was the Holy of Holies, or Chamber of Initiation. At the top of this passage is a narrow gate that leads directly into the initiation chamber. Did Jesus himself climb this very passage and go through this “strait gate” on the day of his initiation? What else did H.P.B. mean when she said:
. . . the narrow upward passage leading to the King’s Chamber had a “narrow gate” indeed; the same “strait gate” which “leadeth unto life,” or the new spiritual rebirth alluded to by Jesus in Matthew vii. 13 et. seq.; and that it is this gate in the Initiation temple, that the writer who recorded the words alleged to have been spoken by an Initiate, was thinking of.—Secret Doctrine I, 318, footnote.
Having passed through the “strait gate that leadeth unto life”, the neophyte entered the Holy of Holies. On one side of this chamber there stands a great porphyry sarcophagus. This was the Baptismal Font, upon emerging from which the neophyte was “born again”. At the time of his initiation, the candidate was attached to a couch in the form of a cross and plunged into a deep sleep. He remained in that condition for three days and nights, during which time his spiritual Ego is said to have “ascended into Heaven and descended into Hell,” while his entranced body remained within the sarcophagus. On the night before the third day he was carried to the entrance of a gallery, where at a certain hour the beams of the sun struck him full in the face and he awoke to be initiated.
In this story of initiation, we find the source from which the Christian Church drew the Apostles’ Creed as well as the rite of Baptism and the story of the Crucifixion. Whether Jesus went through this rite within the Egyptian Pyramid or in the river Jordan, the idea is the same. The New Testament does not mention his initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries, but the Gospel of Matthew records his later initiation:
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water, and lo, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.”
Jesus’ crucifixion on the Cross of Calvary may, or may not have been an actual fact. The method by which an Initiate loses his physical body is of little consequence to him. But the “Cross of Calvary” which was always laid upon the breast of the Initiate after his new birth was of vital importance to him as well as to the world at large. For it spoke of the regenerated man who had crucified the man of flesh, and proclaimed to the world:
JOY UNTO YE, O MEN OF MYALBA
A PILGRIM HATH RETURNED BACK “FROM THE OTHER SHORE”
A NEW ARHAN IS BORN.
Jesus had been driven out of Judea in his early youth because of his initiation into the secret wisdom of Israel. During his stay in Egypt he had augmented this knowledge through his initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries. This initiation had proved to him that the secret wisdom of the Jews and the Egyptians was identical. As Eliphas Lévi says: “He had divined the occult theology of Israel, compared it with the wisdom of Egypt, and found thereby the reason for a universal synthesis.” But as Jesus’ mission was particularly to the Jews, it became necessary for him to return to his native land as soon as possible, in order to carry on his chosen work.
Both the New Testament and the Sepher Toldos Jeshu agree that Jesus returned to Judea after his stay in Egypt. The Gospel of Matthew says that he remained in Egypt until after the death of Herod, so that the prophecy might be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” The Sepher Toldos Jeshu reports that he returned to Judea after King Janneus had ceased his persecution of the Initiates. But the Jews, knowing of his experiences, complained bitterly against him, declaring that he had discovered the secrets of their Temple and was profaning them by giving them out to the common people. Jesus, however, was not disturbed by these accusations, and so, according to the Gospel of Matthew:
He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: He shall be called a Nazarene.
In those days a Nazarene meant something far more important than an inhabitant of the city of Nazareth. The word Nazar is an ancient one, and is found in many languages. The Nazars were the Magi, or Wise Men; their great prophets were initiated members of that Fraternity of Adepts known to every Theosophist, their doctrines re-statements of the ancient Wisdom-Religion. These Nazars lived in Judea long before the time of Moses. They had built the ancient city of Nazara, where they held their secret rites of initiation. In Jesus’ time the name of the city had been changed to Nazareth, and it was evidently to this city that Jesus repaired. There he continued his study of the Chaldean Secret Doctrine, compared it with the wisdom of Egypt, found further proofs of their identity, and began his work of synthesis.
The synthetic quality of Jesus’ teachings is apparent to every one who is acquainted with the different sources from which he drew his knowledge. One of those sources was the great stream of Pythagorean lore which had affected the occult schools for many centuries. Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Pythagoras had gone through experiences similar to those through which Jesus was then going. He had studied with the Brachmanes in India, had been initiated into the Chaldean Mysteries, and had spent twenty-two years in Egypt before returning to his native land to found his school. Pythagoras had left a strong impression upon every religious and philosophical movement that he contacted, and Jesus had come under this influence in several different places, principally among the Essenes. Therefore, as H. P. Blavatsky says: “All his sayings are in a Pythagorean spirit, when not verbatim repetitions.” A few illustrations will prove the truth of this statement:
From Sextus, the Pythagorean
From the New Testament
“Possess not treasures, but those things which no one can take from you.”
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”
“It is better for a part of the body to be burnt than to continue so in another life.”
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed than to go to hell.”
“Use yourselves as the Temple of God.”
“Know ye not that ye are the Temple of God?”
“The greatest honor which can be paid to God is to know and imitate His perfection.”
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
Jesus’ true position as a Teacher and Savior of humanity can never be fully appreciated without an understanding of the doctrine of Avatars. An Avatar is one who through his own efforts continued for many ages has finally reached the place where reincarnation is no longer a Karmic necessity. He has gained the right to freedom from rebirth, but deliberately chooses to return to earth for the benefit of suffering humanity. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita:
I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness.
The great Avatars appear in definite cycles, and each of the larger cycles includes and influences several smaller ones. The great cycles are those marked by the appearance of Rama, Krishna and Buddha in India, of Menes in Egypt and of Zoroaster in Persia. The Buddha was the last of the great Avatars, and the cycle in which Jesus appeared was one of the smaller ones within the great Buddha-cycle.
The legends surrounding the lives of all Avatars are similar. All of them have a symbolical meaning and should be so interpreted. As Jesus was an Avatar, it is natural that the legends with which we are all familiar should correspond in every way with those of his predecessors.
The mothers of Krishna, Buddha and Jesus are said to have been Virgins. “In the early years of the Kali-Yuga shall be born the son of a Virgin,” says the Vedanta. The Gospel of Matthew states: “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”
Krishna descended from a royal family, Buddha was the son of a King, and Jesus is said to have come from the royal line of David. Krishna was brought up by shepherds, the first disciples of Buddha were shepherds, and Jesus was worshipped by shepherds at his birth and is called the “Good Shepherd.”
Buddha and his cousin Ananda were born at the same time. The visit of Buddha’s mother to the mother of Ananda and the mutual greeting of the unborn children is repeated in the Christian story of Mary and Elizabeth.
Krishna was persecuted by the wicked tyrant King Kansa who, hoping to destroy the new prophet, ordered the destruction of all the male children in his realm. According to the Gospels, the same thing happened in Jesus’ day.
As a child, Buddha astonished his teachers with his great learning. It is said that Jesus discussed philosophy with the Jewish doctors, “and all that heard him were astonished at his learning.”
Buddha went through the temptation of the world, the flesh and the devil as personified by Mara. The Gospel of Matthew records: “Again the Devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them, and saith unto him; ‘All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.'”
Krishna, Buddha and Jesus were friends of the poor and humble. Each of them is said to have washed the feet of his disciples. All three are credited with miraculous cures.
Krishna is said to have died on a cross, nailed to it by an arrow. Buddha is represented in many temples as sitting under a cruciform tree, or with a cross on his breast. The crucifixion of Jesus is accepted by all Christians. After his death, Krishna is said to have ascended into Svarga, Buddha into Nirvana, and Jesus into Paradise.
These few legends alone are enough to prove that Jesus’ life was not in any way unique. No orthodox Buddhist or Brahman would deny the Christian incarnation, for the very corner-stone of their religion is the fact of the periodical incarnations of the Deity. If the Christian world had understood the law of Cycles, and had realized Jesus’ position in the Buddha-cycle, it would have seen that the mission of Jesus was to continue the work commenced by the Buddha, and to spread the same doctrines that the Buddha had taught many centuries before.
It was an easy matter for Jesus to acquaint himself with these doctrines. Three hundred years before his time Asoka, the great Indian King, had sent messengers to Asia Minor, Greece and Egypt carrying with them the doctrines of the Buddha. The Essenes, the Pythagoreans and the Nazarenes had recognized the practical and ethical import of this message, and had incorporated Buddhism into their own systems of thought. The Nazarenes of Jesus’ day were Buddhists, as their own Scripture, the Codex Nazaraeus, informs us, and Jesus, in becoming a Nazarene, had automatically become a Buddhist:
Jesus is the founder of the sect of the new Nazars, and, as the words imply, a follower of the Buddhist doctrine.—Codex Nazaraeus.
Jesus taught nothing that had not already been given out by the Buddha, as every student of Buddhism knows. His Sermon on the Mount begins with definitely Buddhistic precepts, and every word of this Sermon is simply an echo of monastic Buddhism. The Ten Commandments of the Buddha, found in an appendix to the Prâtimoksha Sûtra, are fully elaborated in the Gospel of Matthew. The writers of the four Gospels, (whoever they may have been) were well acquainted with the Buddhist stories, for these Gospels contain pages taken almost literally from Buddhist narratives. For example:
Whosoever, with a purely believing heart, offers nothing but a handful of water, or gives drink therewith to the poor and needy, this meritorious action will not be exhausted in many ages.—Buddhist Canon.
Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.—Matthew x:42.
As Jesus came in the Buddha-cycle, the motive which prompted him to incarnate at that particular time must have been determined by the Buddha’s own special work. The mission of the Buddha was to produce a religious reform based upon a system of pure ethics; the real mission of Jesus was identical.
At the time that the Buddha was born, the religion of his country had become narrow and dogmatic, and all real knowledge had been usurped by the priests. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the same conditions were present in Judea. Both of these great Teachers determined to break down this spirit of dogmatism which was threatening to overthrow pure religion. They both saw the intolerance and hypocrisy of the priests, the futility of their senseless ceremonials and prayers, the outward show of piety that covered their lack of true spirituality. As the Buddha took up arms against the Brahmanical priests, so did Jesus declare war against the proud Pharisees and Saducees. Both of them were reformers. Both of them pointed to ethics as the only secure foundation upon which any true system of religion can be reared. The Buddha called himself Tathagata—”he who follows in the footsteps of his predecessors.” As Jesus followed in the footsteps of his great predecessor, he, too must be called Tathagata.
The study of Jesus’ life, even in the fragmentary way that it has been presented, should give us a much broader view of the position occupied by this great Teacher than the one that is presented by the Church. It shows, for one thing, that Jesus was not a small provincial character with no particular education, but on the contrary was a man of profound learning, who had gathered his knowledge in some of the most powerful occult schools of the day. It shows, furthermore, that Jesus was not a narrow bigot whose knowledge was confined to the Hebrew Scriptures, but was a man fully acquainted with the philosophical systems of Egypt, Greece, Chaldea and the Far East. As he is known to have instituted reforms among all the different sects that he contacted, he no longer appears as the “meek and gentle Jesus” of the Sunday-school, but as a man of power and authority.