gospels

In 1945 a trove of ancient books were found in the Egyptian desert. These weren’t just any books. These were books about Jesus including the Gospels of Judas, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Phillip and the lost Third Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. These books were Christian books written at the same time as the four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They centered on the mystical aspect of Jesus’ message, the Gnostic, rather than his role as sacrificial lamb of God that is Jesus as teacher rather than Jesus as God.

The priests decided that their power relied upon their ability to provide the only route to salvation whereas the Gnostic gospels spoke of a personal form of salvation. So, they were forbidden and ordered burned. A lone group of rebel priests, now unknown, defied the order of the Bishops and buried them in the desert where they remained for over 1600 years. Nobody can truly understand the message of Jesus, his life and the early Christian church without reading them.

Edited by James M. Robinson with an afterword by Richard Smith discusses the modern relevance of Gnosticism and its influence on such writers as Voltaire, Blake, Melville, Yeats, Kerouac, and Philip K. Dick.Acclaimed by scholars and general readers alike, The Nag Hammadi Library is a work of major importance to everyone interested in the evolution of Christianity, the Bible, archaeology, and the story of Western civilization.

Read it in our sangha library here.

Watch a fascinating documentary on the discovery and significance of the Nag Hammadi library with leading New Testament scholar Professor Bart D. Ehrman here.

The Gospel of Loki

(This is a piece I wrote last year for The Big Issue…)          

 In many ways, I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to write a book called THE GOSPEL OF LOKI. With Marvel’s Avengers saturating both the big and the small screen, it’s hard to get away from Hollywood’s portrayal of these mythological characters. Norse myth is at its most popular since the eighteenth century, and suddenly, even people with no knowledge of Norse mythology are once more becoming familiar with Thor, Odin and Loki.

           Not that they were ever really forgotten: the Norse gods have been with us, in hiding, for well over a thousand years. They are in the days of week; in nursery rhymes; in place names all over the country. Countless artists, writers, poets and musicians have been inspired by their stories.

           As for myself, I’ve been writing my version of Loki since I was seven years old, which means that he owes much of his existence to the child I used to be – solitary, clever, imaginative, and occasionally given to outbursts of rather inappropriate humour. The enduring appeal of Norse myth is, I think partly its humour; which is at times coarse or even cruel, but always vibrant and vigorous. The gods of Norse myth are fallible; flawed; they make mistakes, play practical jokes, fall in love with the wrong person. In short, they are like us, which makes them easy to love, to hate, but most of all, to understand.

           It was my love of these characters – and especially Loki, the Trickster god – that led me to write my first book, which twenty years later became the basis for my RUNEMARKS series. Since then I’ve written three books and several short stories drawing from these traditional tales, the latest of which is GOSPEL, a stand-alone retelling of the myths from the point-of-view of Loki himself, beginning with the Creation, and ending in Ragnarók, the Doom of the Gods.

           So, why Loki? Demonized by historians transcribing the myths after the Christianization of Scandinavia, never popular with those who venerated the old gods, he has always been the odd one out within the Norse pantheon. Christians have been quick to equate him with Lucifer, although anyone familiar with the Trickster myth will see that he is closer to such figures as Coyote, Raven, or even Prometheus, in that he acts as a catalyst for change; rewriting the rules; defying the gods; solving problems, not through brawn, but through ingenuity.

           Until recently he has always been depicted simply as a villain, acting out of malice to bring down the gods. His cleverness makes him untrustworthy (as opposed to the popular Thor, beloved for his straightforward, muscular approach to problem-solving). His sexual ambivalence is worse; his ability to switch gender at will (and even to bear a child) makes him womanish, and therefore devious, to a pagan audience used to more clearly-defined gender roles.

           However, to a modern audience, these things are part of Loki’s appeal. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries looked to the Norse myths as a source of heroic inspiration. During the last century, however, we have become more interested in ambiguous heroes; in flawed characters; in complex villains. Loki has more in common with Batman’s adversary, the Joker, than he does with Lucifer; and a modern audience can relate to him with a certain sympathy. His moral and sexual ambivalence; his inability (or refusal) to integrate into Asgard’s society; his outcast status; his subversive temperament; his changes of mood and his almost existentialist sense of humour make him very easy to empathize with. He portrays the insecurities of modern adolescence; the sense of not belonging; the need to make an impact, even a negative one, onto the world of adulthood (represented by Odin and the other gods). And of course, he is funny, even when he is at his nastiest; lifting what would have been a very stolid and serious pantheon into something livelier and more human. This is what I’ve tried to bring out in THE GOSPEL OF LOKI; the humour and the darkness of the myths, and their relevance to us today. There’s no pseudo-Shakespearian English in GOSPEL: Loki uses modern slang as he hurls insults at the gods. He is casually dismissive of religion (even his own), pointing out that gods come and go, faiths becoming mythologies with the passing of years. He even tries to defy Death - and whether he does remains to be seen. Frankly, I rate his chances. So far he has managed to survive the Middle Ages; the Renaissance; the Victorians; Wagner; Tennyson; even Hollywood. Through guile and re-invention, he has become the most popular of all the gods of Asgard. Long may he rule.

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Columban Monks. The Book of Kells. 800 AD.  

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland, or indeed may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created ca. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. 

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Gospels of Reichenau, early 11th century. Cover: Gold, jewels and pearls. Germany. Source

The Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau had probably the largest and most influential European writing school in the 10th and 11th centuries. By order of the highest circles a series of most magnificent liturgical manuscripts were created. This Evangeliar is an outstanding work of the Ottonian period. See the complete book here.

This Armenian manuscript was created in 1475 by a Armenian scribe named Aristakes for the Armenian Apostolic Church

It contains a series of sixteen images on the life of Christ preceding the text of the Gospels, as well as the traditional Evangelist portraits, and there are marginal illustrations throughout. The style of the miniatures, which employ brilliant colors and emphasize decorative patterns, is characteristic of manuscript production in the region around Lake Van during the fifteenth century.

This jeweled and enameled silver binding bears a composition of the Adoration of the Magi on the front and the Ascension on the back.


Numerous inscriptions  spanning a few centuries attest to the manuscript’s long history of use and revered preservation

“As I read the Gospel, I cannot but smile at those who tell us that we are spoiling the poor in offering them our free service. I think no one has given us more than God has, who has given us everything freely. And it is not so bad to have at least one congregation that spoils the poor, when everybody else spoils the rich.”

–Mother Teresa, Heart of Joy

The Bible "TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read) Version"

Genesis

God - “Alright, you two… Don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.”
 Adam and Eve - “Ok.”
 Devil - “You should do the thing.”
 Adam and Eve - “Ok.”
 God - “What happened?!”
 Adam and Eve - “We did the thing.”
 God - “Guys…”

The Rest of the Old Testament

God - “You are my people and you should not do the things.”
 People - “We won’t do the things.”
 God - “Good.”
 People - “We did the things.”
 God - “Guys…”

The Gospels

Jesus - “I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don’t do the things anymore.”
 Healed People - “Ok. Thanks!”
 Other People - “We have never seen Him do the things, but He probably does the things when nobody is looking.”
 Jesus - “I have never done the things.”
 Other People - “We are going to put you on trial for doing the things.”
 Pilate - “Did you do the things?”
 Jesus - “No.”
 Pilate - “He didn’t do the things.”
 Other People - “Kill Him anyway.”
 Pilate - “Ok.”
 Jesus - “Guys…”

Paul’s Letters

People - “We did the things.”
 Paul - “Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you should stop doing the things.”
 People - “Ok.”

Paul’s Letters II

People - “We did the things.”
Paul - “Guys…”

Revelation

John - “When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime, stop doing the things.”

The End

I don’t know where this came from originally (it popped up on my fb), but it’s gold! Kudos to whoever wrote it!