Everyone but the most sheltered Christians have known for centuries about the alternate, or apocryphal gospels. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the four canonical or “official” gospels that were accepted by the mainstream church but there were dozens of other gospels with wildly varying versions of the story of Jesus. (I’ll also be covering alternate versions of the Koran in the near future, so start those death threats coming again, Muslim fanatics!)
With my love of mythology I first got into those other gospels when I was 18 and that was long before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code fouled the territory by attracting countless conspiracy kooks to the subject of these obscure writings. It complicates conversations now because when many people hear you discussing the apocryphal gospels they think you’re a paranoid crackpot looking for the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene around every corner.
At any rate it’s fun to wonder what form Easter celebrations would have taken if the following rejected gospels had been accepted as “official.”
6. THE ACTS OF THECLA – Since the Gospel of Mary has gotten so much attention following the success of Dan Brown’s writings and their screen adaptations I decided to throw a spotlight on the neglected woman named Thecla instead. Thecla supposedlybecame a follower of the man called “Saint” Paul after hearing him speak in Iconium. In this book Paul is depicted as an advocate of refraining from all sex, even when married, which points to the probable Gnostic origins of The Acts of Thecla.
Thecla abandons her fiancee and her family to follow Paul. In Antioch she finds herself in trouble for rejecting the sexual advances of a highly placed official. Thecla is arrested for this (on a charge of “felony cockblock” I’m assuming) and undergoes a series of persecutions. Naturally she prevails in the end and in her ballsiest (as it were) move she baptizes HERSELF, and not just in any old body of water but in a pool filled with ravenous seals. Take that, John the Baptist, with your prissy “seal-free” baptisms. Thecla is at last reunited with Paul, who authorizes her to share fully in spreading the word of Jesus.
5. THE INFANCY GOSPEL OF THOMAS – I like to refer to this enjoyable book as “The Young Jesus Christ Chronicles”. This banned gospel deals with the infancy and childhood years of Jesus in much greater detail than any of the other gospels, official or otherwise. Much of the Infancy Gospel centers around a toddling Jesus getting used to his godly power and being reproached by his parents when he shows off by performing miracles like molding clay pigeons and then bringing them to life. He also uses his power to deal with bullies, mess with his teachers and do his chores. I’m serious. Various African myths also deal with their demigods coping with their extraordinary abilities during childhood.
This gospel should not be confused with The Coptic Gospel of Thomas, which consists of 114 (yes, Rosicrucian conspiracy kooks, 114) sayings attributed to Jesus. Most are fairly unique, while others bear similarities to Jesus’ teachings in the canonical gospels. There is also The Acts of Thomas, describing Thomas’ deeds as a Christian missionary in India after the Crucifixion. If you’re also into Manichean and Hindu myths this book of acts makes for some nice comparative mythology, especially regarding the “enlightening twin” of Mani’s teachings. (Remember, Thomas was sometimes considered Jesus’ twin)
4. THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS – Yes, it’s the “tell-all” memoir of the figure remembered as the traitorous apostle. Among the many explosive aspects of this gospel is the credence it gave to the long-argued possiblity that Judas lived on for a time after Jesus’ death and may have even had disciples of his own, like the other followers of Jesus when they dispersed. The other gospels generally depict their attributed author (yeah, right) as being the apostle who was closest to Jesus and who understood his teachings the best. The Gospel of Judas plays the same game, even going so far as to imply that Judas alone was privy to a particularly secret teaching of Jesus.
This “secret” is a full-on, flat-out Gnostic interpretation of Jesus and his mission. Jesus is shown laughing at the disciples’ misunderstanding of who he really is and identifies the god of the Old Testament with the Demiurge. The “Savior” is even referred to in connection with the goddess Barbelo from Gnostic myths. The gospel gives us a Judas who is the only apostle who understands the real nature of the cosmic drama that Jesus is taking part in, and that he needs Judas to betray him to his death in order to facilitate his return to the Pleroma, Gnosticism’s version of Heaven ( to simplify the concept for the sake of brevity)
This is also one of the alternate gospels that deals with Docetism – the belief that Jesus did not have an actual physical body. Christ is presented here appearing to his apostles with the body of a child at some times and as an adult at others.
FOR THE REMAINING TOP ALTERNATE GOSPELS CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO: https://glitternight.com/2012/04/01/the-top-six-alternate-gospels-and-scriptures-part-2/
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