COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY: THE GOSPEL OF NICODEMUS

Balladeer’s Blog continues examining various accounts of dead and resurrected deities, as is customary at this time of year.

facepalm jesusTHE GOSPEL OF NICODEMUS – Despite the title of this gospel, Nicodemus doesn’t even show up until section five. This alternate scripture started out as The Acts of Pilate, and covered the story of Christ’s trial and execution from the point of view of Pontius Pilate. This half of the gospel serves the purpose of making Pontius Pilate look even more reluctant to prosecute Jesus than the canonical gospels do.

Naturally, this makes Pilate – and therefore the Roman Empire – look better, and the Saducees and Pharisees – and therefore the Jews – look worse.

In later centuries a second part was appended to The Acts of Pilate and it became known as The Gospel of Nicodemus instead. This second part treats us to the most detailed account of Jesus’ descent into Hell to free the virtuous souls who have found themselves trapped there since the time of Adam and Eve.

That journey is a treasure trove of material for comparative mythology buffs. There are echoes of descents into the Netherworld by goddesses like Inanna, Demeter, Frigga and others as well as themes reminiscent of Anat and Baal, Isis and Osiris, all the other dead and resurrected deities of the world.

In addition to parallels to all those seasonal myths of the pagan world this gospel features another intriguing element. Not only does it depict Satan’s reaction to Jesus the Redeemer’s invasion of his domain to free the wrongly damned, but Hell itself is presented as a sentient entity that actually speaks. The conversations and relationship between Satan and the infernal region that is both his prison and his kingdom make you wish more of such material had survived.

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