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Two Myths and Two Rites for the Origin of Christianity

Summary and Translation of Jean Magne's Essay


This is Klaus Schilling's summary and translation of the essay of Jean Magne, "Deux mythes et deux rites a` l'origine du christianisme".  http://assoc.wanadoo.fr/cercle.ernest-renan/Magne.htm

Outline of the Original Article


The Starting Point and the Method

Of the Mass at the Last Supper

The Accounts of the Last Supper

The Last Supper with the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

Of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes to the Account of Emmaus

The Original Myth and those Which Derived from It

The Gnostic Exegesis of the Account of Paradise

   The Apocryphon or Book of Secrets of John (1)

   The Hypostasis of the Archons (2)

   The Untitled Writing on the Origin of the World (3)

   Testimony of Truth (1)

The Progressive Reversal of the Gnostic Exegesis

The Identification of Jesus with Sabaoth and of the Father with the God of the Bible

Jesus Lowers with the Row of the Messiah, of Christ

The Baptismal Epiclese of the Acts of Thomas

The Baptism in Oiling

Baptism and Purification



Since enlightenment times, the following patterns appeared for judging the historicity of the Gospel Jesus:

1.       The literalist, fundamental perspective

2.       The distinction between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history, starting with Reimarus shortly before the French revolution, and, in various colors, carried on for example by D.F. Strauss and E. Renan during the industrial revolution.  Those try to write a history of Jesus deprived of miracles and other faith exaggerations.

3.       The skeptical historical perspective expressed by A. Schweitzer and later carried by Loisy, Dibelius, Bultman, stating that scripture cannot be used at all to make solid historical statements about the life of Jesus.

4.       The ahistorical perspective that does not see any sufficient reason for assuming an historical Jesus, for example by Couchoud, Drews, Ory, Magne, and Wells.  Here it's not sufficient just to make historicity improbable, but it's also required to explain the road of early Christianity without an historical Jesus.

5.       The logion-historical perspective in the aftermaths of Bultman, started by Kaesemann, J.M. Robinson, Conzelman, and the likes, who try not to uncover the life, but at least authentic sayings (or authentic parts of those) of an historical Jesus.

6.       The structuralist movement concentrates on the material as is delivered and denounces anything else as fruitless speculation: explanation instead of interpretation.

Jean Magne's special approach since the late 1960s revolves around the role and history of the Eucharist in early Christianity.  It is shown that Christianity proceeds from the exegesis of the tale of Paradise on earth.  Some of the texts found in Nag Hammadi around 1945 and published some decades later are readily usable for confirmation of this.

The central punch line is the identification of the bread of the Eucharist with the fruit from the tree in midst of Eden, eaten by the first humans, which upset YHVH and made him expel them from paradise.  In consequence, Jesus and the serpent are seen in close relation, if not modalist identity.

Jean Magne had a monastic relative who provided him with lots of material on the Latin rites and traditions circling around the Eucharist, still in usage in Catholic liturgy in those days.  The obnoxious phrase found there is "haec dona imprimis quae tibi offerimus pro ecclesia." There have been different non-equivalent ways of translating this phrase.

'imprimis' may be understood as first in temporal order, or as a priority of values.  'pro' may mean intended for, or in the name of.  So one combination could be "these gifts that we offer unto you in the first place in the name of the church".

Magne concentrates primarily, if not exclusively, on textual analysis considering both internal and external argumentations.

Another important aspect is that Magne studies primarily the textual evidence on the Eucharist, as a central topic throughout Christian history, as its interpretation developed through the centuries.  The rite of the Eucharist will lead us back to the myth in which it originated.


The Catholic mass involves a single blessing for both bread and wine, whereas the synoptics and Paul bless bread and wine separately.  This implies that the liturgical practice of a single benediction was established before the general acceptance of the description of the supper as we have it in the canonical texts.

Then Magne proceeds to show that proto-Mark may not have included bread blessing, only blessing of the cup, by comparing the tales of Luke and Mark.

Bread being originally absent in the tales of the supper, the Eucharist must have it from somewhere else, and Magne identifies the multiplication of breads as the source.  It is treated in the canonical Gospels, especially in John's.  The seven breads of Mark's and Matthew's gospels are identified with the perfect doctrine with which Jesus feeds the people of the world.  The longer version using five breads only is a later allusion to the five books of the Thorah.

Next Magne heads to the Emmaus account, where Jesus encounters two disciples that don't recognize him immediately, and they walk some way together, having conversations.  The disciples seem disappointed about the one they mentioned to be their messiah, coming to set Israel free from Roman bondage.  Jesus goes to correct their disappointment, and breaks a bread previously blessed, opening their eyes, and then is recognized by the disciples.  This reminds straight to the paradise scene, where the first human couple recognized its nudity after having eaten the fruit from the tree offered by the serpent, opening their eyes.  Thus Emmaus and Paradise Tree accounts run largely on parallel rails.

So we came, starting from the liturgical communion practice, over the supper account, the multiplication of breads, Emmaus, finally to the probable origin, the account of the forbidden fruit.

But now it remains to explain how such an origin is possible as it conflicts with the orthodox Christian exegesis of the forbidden fruit account, as an event that causes damnation for mankind.  Here the Nag Hammadi texts come in handy.

At some point in the eastern Mediterranean world, someone must have concluded that the God revealed in the Genesis account was an inferior one, enviosuly forbidding man to eat from the certain tree and being upset when it actually happens.  That great Archon also lacks foreknowledge, having to ask about Adam's whereabout.  That god also shows a lot of other deficiencies throughout the Tanakh.

In various variants this is found in various scriptures from Nag Hammadi.  Not all of the NHL deals with the paradise account, the most emergent ones are the Apocryphon of John, the Hypostasis of the Archons, the Origin of the World, and the Testimony of Truth.


The texts of the NHL are partly found for example on P. Kirby's site on early Christian writings (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com).

First the Apochryphon of John is treated.  Here Jesus says: "but it was me who incited them to eat", confirming the Emmaus-Paradise tree parallel.  But through second century interpolation, the formal identification is denied immediately afterwards.  That it's an interpolation, this is seen by the inconsistency it causes: the interpolator says, the coital and procreational consequences, instigated by the serpent, are exclusively for the serpent's sake, but, as earlier in Genesis, it's of course YHVH who explicitly ordered his creatures to procreate fruitfully.

By that time, judeochristianity already had started the concept of identifying Satan and the serpent, which isn't even explicitly derivable from the Tanakh.  So the original intention was to identify YHVH with the Devil, or some similar form of denigration.  Magne also notes that the pre-interpolated doctrine of the Apochryphon is found in the secret supper of the medieval Cathars.

The Hypostasis of the Archons is shortly cited to emphasize that YHVH lacked foreknowledge, whereas the serpent did not lie.

The Treatise on the Origin of the World (the title is a scholarly construct not found in the codex itself) maintains the original gnostic context and sees the fruit of the obnoxious tree as truly inspirational.  The tree of life is sun-colored, The tree of knowledge, next to it, is moon-colored.

The latter's role is to awaken the souls who are marionettes of the archons and prepare them for the tree of life.  Then the prophesy of the serpent is dealt with, who pronounces the fruit of the tree to give the ability of distinguishing good people (pneumatics) from bad ones (hyletics).

In the Testimony of Truth, the Genesis paradise tale is recounted briefly and then commented: but what sort of God is this? YHVH is reproached with envy, vengefulness, lack of foreknowledge, and similar vices.  The serpent is seen again as the great enlightener, so the identification with Jesus is strongly suggested.

Jesus is also suggested as identified with the wand of Moses and with the snake model Moses suspended in the desert in order to dispel the false vipers who bite the Israelites.  Towards the end, the text is badly preserved, but it can be seen that a lot of polemics is contained against the doctrine and practice of the orthodox Christianity as well as against those Gnostics who made too many compromises with the common people, especially Valentinians, Basileidians, and Simonians.

The following parts will show the rebuttal of the Gnostic myth in subsequent orthodox tradition, which identified the paradise snake with Satan.


The gnostic myths often make the paradise account be preceded by an account of a fall of a Sophia, from which the first Archon who created the illusionary world, and its offspring, come forth.  Sophia rebukes and punishes the first archon for its arrogance, throwing it down the abysmal Tartaros.  One of the offspring, Sabaoth, converts and is rewarded by Sophia with the throne in the seventh heaven.

Thus some later Gnostics divided the archons apart into a good one, Sabaoth, and an evil one, who turns later into Satan, the ruler of the Aion of this world.  Note that Genesis puts the Bounty of the angels a few chapters after the paradise snake tale, so the identification of devil, Satan, Lucifer, and the serpent is nowhere near straightforward.

The Jews could not be content with Sabaoth just being a subdeity, but there was a way to reconcile them: Lord Sabaoth of the Gnostic myth was interpreted as the outer face of the Jewish God.  Jesus, in a first step, became identified with this repentant archon, thus distinguished from the supreme God.  This Jesus appeared in two forms, as a serpent in Paradise and in human shape during the reign of Tiberius.  Also, Jesus' father had to be changed from the former archon to the supreme God.

This stage is mirrored in something called pre-Pauline hymn of the epistle to the Philippians, 2:6-11 which underlines the parallels between Paul's Jesus and the Sabaoth of the gnostic myth.  Also some other traces of this stadium [?] in the NT, the patristic and liturgical literature are given.

Of course it still offended Jews to have now Sabaoth as a second deity, violating their monotheistic claims.  Thus Jesus could not be kept as Lord, but had to be lowered to a different status, and precisely that of the Messiah announced by the prophesies of the Tanakh, as the canonical Gospels now state it.  The crucifixion is integrated from its astrological-geometrical [gematrial?] sources.  The roman representants [representatives?], the Saducean priests, and Herod adopt the role of the celestial powers.

So far to the development of Jesus from the gnostic roots to Judaised Christianity, as derived from considerations about the holy supper, in the remaining part of the article Magne turns to the second important rite of Christianity, the baptizing ceremony, its development and mythical foundation.


The apochryphal romance 'acts of Thomas' (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/actsthomas.html) contains an epiclesis on the baptismal ceremony, in chapter 29, which concludes with "Come, holy spirit, and cleanse their reins and their heart".  Now compare this with the Paternoster of Luke's gospel [link], where not the spirit is invoked, but God is ordered to send the spirit.

Together with the earlier invocation "Come, thou holy name of the Christ that is above every name," this leads close to the sacramental formula of Corinthians.

So what to do with the invocations in between? They appear to have been older, and the first and last having been added for the sake of trinitarian Christianity.  Some of the invocations are to female entities: note that the Aramaic term for spirit is of female gender.  The invocations are paralleled by Isaiah 11:2-3.  The five members in the last of the seven invocations are also found in Manichean writings, and in Epistle of Eugnostos and Sophia of Jesus Christ from the Nag Hammadi Library.  The aramaic ruah and the Greek nous get identified.

An important non-biblical source for ancient baptism is the Corpus Hermeticum, which contains a baptismal ceremony in the Crater in the 4th Treatise.  (A crater or krater is a mixing bowl for mixed wine.)  The English version here is from G.R.S. Mead.

3.  Reason (Logos) indeed, O Tat, among all men hath He distributed, but Mind not yet; not that He grudgeth any, for grudging cometh not from Him, but hath its place below, within the souls of men who have no Mind.

Tat: Why then did God, O father, not on all bestow a share of Mind?

H: He willed, my son, to have it set up in the midst for souls, just as it were a prize.

4.  T: And where hath He set it up?

H: He filled a mighty Cup with it, and sent it down, joining a Herald [to it], to whom He gave command to make this proclamation to the hearts of men: Baptize thyself with this Cup's baptism, what heart can do so, thou that hast faith thou canst ascend to him that hath sent down the Cup, thou that dost know for what thou didst come into being!

As many then as understood the Herald's tidings and doused themselves in Mind, became partakers in the Gnosis; and when they had received the Mind they were made perfect men.  But they who do not understand the tidings, these, since they possess the aid of Reason [only] and not Mind, are ignorant wherefore they have come into being and whereby.

Like the inventor of the Eucharist started with Genesis, putting the communion bread in the place of the fruit of the tree, the inventor of baptizing started with the Ch. IV dialog: Baptize yourself with this cup filled with the mind (nou~s) that the Lord sent us.

This is essentially different from the conservative understanding of 'baptize' as atoning for sins inside the Jewish cult, but it constitutes a conversion to a new cult, freeing oneself from the bondage of the creator YHVH.

To this, the baptizing formula corresponds: I renounce Satan and its works (which is YHVH and his cult!) and will attach myself to Jesus Christ for good.  It's interesting that 'nou~s' got translated to 'ruah' but retranslated to 'pneuma', as is hagion pneuma for holy spirit.

Very shortly, Magne then treats the unction ceremony.

So finally Magne leads back from the liturgical rituals of baptismal and Eucharist ceremonies to its mythic origins in the paradise transgression and the hermetic dialogue, respectively, constituting the salvific conditions.  From the affirmation of the paradise transgression comes the Gnostic doctrine, from its rebuttal over time the orthodox Christian one.


From Christianity to Gnosis & from Gnosis to Christianity: An Itinerary through the Texts to & from the Tree of Paradise

by Jean Magne

Hardcover, 251 pages

Publisher: Brown Judaic Studies

Published 05/01/1993


ISBN 1555408559


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