John Davidson: The Gospel of Jesus ( review ).

In Search of His Original Teachings.

Virgin and child

Sections:


The Gnostic Jesus.

Other revolutions in Jesus scholarship seek to reveal a Jesus hidden from history: a survivor of crucifixion; a shroud imprinter; an Eastern sojourner; as well as an iconoclast, of ritual Judaism, for equality before God, etc.

John Davidson's book seeks another hidden Jesus, the gnostic teacher. The gnostics claimed that Jesus taught a secret lore ( indeed alluded-to in canonic scripture ). They were suppressed as heretics, and little known of their writings, till the sensational find at Nag Hammadi, in 1945.
Davidson draws freely on these and other ancient non-canonical texts, explaining their mystical inspiration.

The first part of The Gospel of Jesus reads like any historian concerned to show how the canonic, indeed all, writers were subject to human error creeping into the manuscript copying, and to human limitations of understanding what they were writing.
Nor were the gospels life stories of Jesus. They had other concerns at heart. So, they cannot be taken for granted as historical documents. It makes sense to follow the evidence, critically, across prescribed lines.
Ian Wilson's good introductory book Jesus, the Evidence does just this.

The extant Christian gospels, from before the end of the second century, but not in the Bible, may be obtained from Andrew Bernhard's website ( earlygospels.net ). Not being a mystic or having any experience in that line, I didnt see their significance, till reading Davidson's interpretations.
His volume of over one thousand pages breathes new life into many suppressed, neglected, forgotten, damaged or fragmented manuscripts.

This background of mystic knowledge or gnosis is used to throw light on the less obvious of Jesus' purported sayings, especially in the spiritualised gospel of St John.

Davidson claims that Jesus' teachings are consistent with what other mystics have taught. There is a greater reality than that of every-day life, just as tidal froth is not the whole existence of an ocean, tho it might seem so to beach dwellers.
He gives examples of the 'oceanic feeling', mystic experiences of vastly expanded consciousness and well-being, reminiscent of William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience.

John Davidson's earlier books, Subtle Energy and The Web of Life combined traditional Indian meditative experience with Western fringe science of the body's energy fields. Davidson was a Cambridge physicist. But he was not just talking about human auras as electro-magnetic fields, akin to the Earth's aurora. Rather, the implication is there are higher or subtler, less gross manifestations of existence, than the material one we are so absorbed in.

One of the introducers to these books admitted he didnt relate well to the oriental terms. ( Neither did I. ) I think he meant the 'chakras' and the like. As Carl Jung said, we in the West are like children compared to Eastern understanding of mind.

These earlier books put me off, at first. But the style of The Gospel of Jesus is accessible. There is no mystical or scientific jargon. Instead, Davidson introduces mysticism to us, thru the spiritual teacher the West is most familiar with.

The start of chapter 27 sums up:

In our exploration of his teachings, we have seen that Jesus taught some simple, fundamental mystic truths. God is to be found within, he said; the path to him is that of the Word; the Word is to be contacted through the 'Word made flesh', a living Son of God, by means of mystic baptism and spiritual practice. And, while practising these spiritual exercises, a certain way of life and mode of conduct is required. This, in essence, is the mystic teaching of Jesus and of all the other great mystic Saviours.

Now that Davidson has substantiated this thesis with such a wealth of corroboration, really a much shorter book would not come amiss, to spell out the above quotation. I am not qualified to do that. However, a few words about the above terms and conditions, of the mystic path, may help. My comments are just one uninitiated person's hazarding at meanings. They are not meant to be taken as authoritative, or even necessarily right. Everyone can try their own definitions.


God is to be found within.

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God is the unified strength of love beyond imagination or sense. Hence 'within' us, in a manner of speaking, because our logic and perception can only put together a view of the world in parts, rather than a god-like omniscience of seeing the whole picture. God is beyond all the categories of space and time, life and death, mind and matter, or whatever.


The Word.

The Word is familiar from the beginning of St John's gospel. Davidson describes it as the creative power of God, for which he provides many other metaphors from the ancient mystical literature.

Throughout history, God's creative Power has been called by a multitude of names and expressions. Amongst the Christian and allied literature alone, it has been called the Word of Life, the Word of God, the Creative Word, the Logos, the Image of God, the Wisdom of God, the Voice of God, the Cry, the Call, the Holy Name, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Power, the Nous, the Primal Thought, Idea or Mind of God, His Command, His Law, His Will and His Ordinances.

In the metaphorical language so beloved of the Middle East, it has also been described as the Living Water, the Bread of Life, Manna from Heaven, the Breath of Life, the Medicine of Life, the Herb of Life, the Tree of Life, the True Vine, the Root, the Seed, the Pearl, the Way, the Truth, the Letter and many other figures of speech.

The 'Word made flesh', a living Son of God.

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God sends his dearly beloved Son, a soul, who is his perfect representative, into the world, in human form, to save or redeem souls trapped in the material cycle of existence. The mystic view is that the body is a prison, we are all too willingly jailed-in by our passions. These are for short-lived pleasures, that usually have a down-side, leave us dissatisfied, are subject to diminishing returns, which may lead to hopeless misery, unless our lives can somehow be turned around.

Why do we need a Savior if life is so short, anyway? For Davidson, the answer is that the death of the body is not the end of our problems. We are immortal souls, and the passions, that consumed our minds, continue after we lose the body to temporarily satisfy them. Inevitably, those worldly passions draw us back to further corporeal existence. The baser the passions, the baser the existence.

Davidson concurs with the doctrine of reincarnation, to the extent that one's sins may transmigrate one's soul even into the body of a lower animal. He does point out that some animals are perfectly loving and true, whereas many humans are 'bestial'. Presumably, their souls would swop bodily forms, in the karmic scheme of things. But how reincarnation might work leaves much to be understood.

The largely successful but illegitimate banishment of reincarnation from official Christianity is discussed in The Original Jesus by Gruber and Kersten.
( They describe the tremendous extent of the Buddhist mission and compare similar teachings to those of Christ, tales of whom are astonishingly anticipated, re the Hindu Krishna, as well as by other religious legends. )

Davidson says that every mystic had a master. To escape from the prison of the body, while we are still alive, is 'an outside job'. It needs the help of a Savior to show us the escape route. And one's lifetime is the only chance to effect that escape ( normally taking innumerable lifetimes ). After death, the soul's unreformed mind is simply drawn back to its spiritual level of corporeal existence.

This resembles those prisoners, who have become institutionalised. When they are set free, they simply stay where they are, or gravitate back to their old haunts. Or, if that is not permitted, they get themselves re-committed.

With regard to needing a master to spiritually reform ourselves, Davidson says:

If we advise others to do something which we do not do ourselves, then it is unlikely to have much effect. As the saying is, example is better than precept. Masters are always perfect examples of everything they teach. Hence, if a Master is to teach the necessity of a Master, it is necessary for him to have a Master, too. Later followers characteristically like to portray their Master as if he had no Master, for they do not like to think that their Saviour was ever in need of help himself. But in order for a Master to convince others that in order to find the kingdom of God it is necessary to have a Master, he himself must have a Master. Otherwise, his own life would contradict his teaching and few discriminating people would believe him.

Mystic baptism.

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In Gospel Truth, Russell Shorto discusses this process, with John the Baptist in the role of Jesus' inducer. 'The Big Dipper', as he calls him, introduced baptism, as a cathartic experience for the purging or cleansing of sins. Unlike the costly animal sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple, John's baptism in the holy river Jordan redeemed the pious poor. This alleviating their grinding poverty, no doubt, made the exploiting authorities his enemy. Jesus would be under suspicion, by association with the Baptist, and also destined for execution.

In his attitude to baptism, as well as the gospel healings, and indeed to the crucifixion, Davidson reveals himself to be a true son of the ancient gnostics. Like them, he is only interested in the existence of a spiritual Christ after the crucifixion. The orthodox tended to think in terms of a physically resurrected Jesus. This may be because Jesus was secretly revived but superstition triumphed over the nature of his re-appearance.
Hence, Christian graveyards, where the bodies of the dead are all laid out, to rise again on the day of judgment.

For Davidson, this question of Christ's prolonged stay on earth would be a minor matter compared to Jesus, as the holder of the keys to eternal life.
The author substitutes physical happenings for spiritualist interpretations of them. Submerging or sprinkling people in water -- what good does that do? He reasonably asks. Religious ritual is regarded as a forgotten remnant of spiritual practise, which alone makes possible profoundly blessed other-worldly experience.

One interpretation of baptism is as symbolic of re-birth, not merely in physical water, but in the Living Water of heaven, achieved by initiation into the spiritual mysteries.


Spiritual practise.

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Davidson views miracles as a Master's ability, as God's agent on earth, to re-create things. His sense of miracles is that they are both grandiose and largely futile:

As fascinating as it may be to witness physical miracles, the simple fact is that miracles in themselves do not confer spirituality. Spirituality comes through spiritual practise, through purification of the mind and the cleansing of its myriad impure tendencies, freeing it from the force of many ingrained habits. How can simply witnessing a miracle do that? Nor do miracles confer true faith in and reliance on God. Faith in God develops naturally as the ego is worn down.

It is understandable, then, that Davidson has no time for whether the still mysterious Turin shroud is genuine.
Davidson believes the Savior is more concerned with spiritual healing than healing the body, which soon dies, anyway. This gnostic transcendentalism perhaps loses touch with Jesus' humanity. As both Ian Wilson and Russell Shorto say, some of Jesus' miraculous cures are recognisable from modern cases of faith healing, hypnotism and exorcism. Some patients may have called to be released from psychosomatic and multiple-personality disorders, that oppressed them.

However, the gnostic John Davidson sees most significance in the mystics, including Jesus, using the miracles --

as metaphors for spiritual truths. We are all spiritually blind, deaf and dumb. We are crippled and have forgotten how to walk straight in this world. We are carrying a heavy burden of weaknesses and sins from which we need to be healed. Our will power is paralysed and withered by our attraction to the world of the senses. In fact, we have become spiritually dead and full of darkness -- we need to be raised from the dead, to come out of the tomb of the body, not after four days but after many ages. Spiritually, we 'stinketh' with the accumulated sins of many lifetimes!

To accomplish this, we need a spiritual physician to help us overcome the feverish activities of the mind, to learn how to walk upon the stormy waters of this world, to cast out the devils and demons of human weakness from within ourselves and to overcome the Devil himself. With the help of a Son of God, we must bathe in the pool of Living Water and come up healed after many years of infirmity without anyone having previously helped us to take that dip. We need to eat the true Bread of Life and to drink the wine of divine love at the marriage of the soul with God.

True mystics are not looking for a following but for disciples dedicated to finding the mystic reality. In terms of the parable of the sower, they are looking only for the seed that bears fruit.
It is not enough, Davidson says of those who think they just need to gen-up on all the spiritual practises:

They would have no one to oversee the repayment of their karmic debt, no one to meet them on the inside, no one to guide them externally or internally if they got into difficulties, no one to shower blessings and inspiration upon them in so many ways. They would be trying to climb to the top of an unknown mountain on their own, without real knowledge of the way or how to climb, and they would be likely to get lost or worse. To go adventuring into the realms of one's own being without the guidance of one who knows the way is simply foolhardy.

But what form of spiritual practice or mystic prayer do the Masters teach? Mystics say that the headquarters of the mind and soul in the human body is in the forehead, immediately behind and above the two eyes. This focus of attention has hence been called the eye centre, the centre of consciousness or the thinking centre...But there is nothing physical about its 'location'...It is a mental or subtle centre.

From this point, the attention drops down into the body, spreading out and scattering into the world through the sense organs and the organs of activity. And the more a person's attention strays away from this centre of consciousness, the less is their awareness and consciousness of what is happening to them. Consequently, the more a person is scattered into the world, the less do they realise it. This is a dangerous situation.

Davidson continues that even when the body is exhausted, the mind goes on, in waking or in sleep, subconsciously or in dreams, obsessing one with the world.
To train the mind from running wild, a meditation, such as mentally repeating certain words, is practised with the attention fixed at the eye centre.

Davidson compares this 'labour' of the mind to a child unwilling to go to school but eventually unwilling to leave higher education.

Nevertheless, it only takes a 'degree of concentration and stillness, even of the body' for consciousness to withdraw from the body, towards the eye-centre. There follows a description of the beginnings of how 'by degrees, the soul and mind leave the body and enter the astral realms.' It is like death, except the meditator is in control and still connected to the body.

Meditation is in fact a metaphorical 'death', becoming dead to the desires of one's senses. Luke is quoted:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Crucifixion was a slow torture to death. Likewise, in daily meditation one denies oneself and 'dies' to the temptations of the senses.

Davidson says Jesus describes this meditation on the eye centre, as 'if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light'; but an unscrupulous mind, polluted with worldly ambitions, finds it 'full of darkness.'

As the 'single eye' leads to the 'astral worlds', mystics, such as Jesus, liken it to a 'strait' and 'narrow' 'gate'. That is why 'it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.' That is to say a man encumbered by the possessions and desires of this world, which he cannot take with him to another world.

The gate is also called a door. Meditation is the knocking on that door, that comes from seeking God. As usual, Davidson quotes from canonic and non-canonic mystic texts, to point-up the moral. Seek and you shall find, because the seeking means that God meant you to find. Indeed, the Master or Son of God, may be waiting on the astral side of that door, and himself knock to see if there is an aspirant's soul ready to enter, to be taken thru the mystic realms, back to God.
Hence, the parables that enjoin the servants to be ready for the unexpected return of their Master.


Way of life and mode of conduct.

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To reach God means becoming one with the one God, the ultimate reality. Hence, the need to love God and one's fellow creatures. Whereas, the ego, partial for things of this world, is only a 'counterfeit self', that does not truly represent God, but is like a phoney politician, who puts personal and partisan ambitions before the general interest.
This applies to all of us, of limited sympathies. The imprisoned love, that is pride or tribalism, acts out desires that belittle, deprive or infringe on others. The deadly sins are like a plague of addictions, harmful to all of us, obsessed or victimised by them.

Spiritual practise attempts to do away with a self-centred attitude that leads to doing unjustly by fellow creatures. Meanwhile, one must act as ethically as one can, despite impulses to behave without consideration for others.

A typical example of Davidson's gnostic outlook interprets 'righteousness' as 'spirituality'. Trying to make this world better, he seems to think may be good karma but is no substitute for the quest for eternal bliss.
Tho, his love of animals is evident. A long chapter puts the case that the mystic path requires one to be a vegetarian. All the true masters would say so, he claims, citing many, and arguing they included Jesus. For instance, the fishes are not mentioned in earliest references to the miracle of the loaves.


Since I wrote this review a new paper-back edition has been published by Clear Books ( www.clearpress.co.uk ).
And the author, John Davidson has set up a website ( www.johndavidson.org ).





Richard Lung.


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