Western Christianity Triumphed Not By Destiny But Accident

In the beginning there were many different sons of God

John Gray at The New Statesman: In 1950, while travelling in the southern marshlands of Iraq, the explorer Wilfred Thesiger came upon followers of a forgotten religion. They believed in Adam, Noah and John the Baptist and their sacred texts mentioned Jesus, so it had been assumed they were “some kind of Christian”. But in one of their scriptures Jesus was dismissed as a fraudulent sorcerer – “the wizard Messiah, son of the spirit of Lie who has given himself out to be God”. In another, John the Baptist denounces Jesus: “Thou hast lied to the Jews,” he tells him, “and hast deceived man and priests.”

The religion was that of the Mandaeans. Though forbidden to proselytise or carry arms, they endured in what is now Iraq for around 2,000 years. Today their faith has almost disappeared in its homeland, a casualty of the neo-conservative ideology that inspired the American-led invasion in 2003. Most of the 60,000 to 70,000 Mandeans in the country have since been killed, forced to convert to Islam or fled abroad. Only around 3,000 remain, though the religion continues to be practised in the global diaspora…

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More from John Gray: There were “many Jesuses, many Christs – many of them unimaginably strange to us today” – alongside other magi who resembled some of these Christs. Sometimes Jesus had a physical body; at others he was an apparition that left no footprints. There was a Jesus who warned his disciples against “filthy intercourse” and instructed them never to have children. In one account, an angry young Jesus curses a small boy, who becomes withered and deformed; later Jesus curses another boy, who falls down dead. There were Jesuses that hung in agony on the cross, and others who suffered no pain. In addition to diverse Jesuses, there was Apollonius, a first-century Greek philosopher and miracle-worker, sometimes called “the pagan Christ”.

Much of Nixey’s case rests on the revelations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Bible contains only four gospels, which gave us the received image of Jesus. But there were many others, with titles such as the “Gospel of Thomas” and the “Gospel of Truth”, discovered between 1946 and 1956 in the Qumran Caves on the north-western shore of the Dead Sea…

Read the whole article here.

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