What is generally called Christianity today is not the only form of Christianity that sprung up after the death of Jesus. It is merely the form that suppressed all other forms by one way or another. One of the early main rivals for the dominant form of Christianity was the Gnostic faith.
Gnosticism was not related solely to Christianity. Rather it was a form of Greek philosophical thinking based on truth coming from within.
The early split between Gnostic and conventional Christianity came about because the Gnostics accepted the spiritual resurrection of Jesus and accepted his spiritual teachings. The followers of Paul (now called Christianity) insisted the resurrection was physical. For this “heresy” the Gnostic thought, and its later derivatives such as Cathar doctrines, were ruthlessly suppressed.
The majority of Cathars seem to have regarded him as a prophet no different from any other - a mortal being who, on behalf of the principle of love, died on the cross. There was nothing supernatural, nothing divine about the crucifixion - if indeed it was relevant at all, which most Cathars seemed to doubt.
In any case, all Cathars vehemently repudiated the significance of both the crucifixion and the cross - perhaps because they felt these to be irrelevant or because Rome extolled them so fervently, or because the brutal circumstances of a prophet’s death did not seem worthy of worship.
(The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, 1983)
What seems to have been missed in most discussions is that the differences between Christian thinking and Gnostic/Cathar thinking is not in its ideology, but in its way of thinking. A different thought process.
Christian thinking is solely external and material while Gnostic/Cathar thinking seeks to integrate the spiritual and physical worlds.
The genocide Christianity has practiced against the “heretics” has gone beyond the physical genocide of people into the genocide of thinking.
The Christian church is built on the epistleistic writings of its founder (Paul), with the life of Jesus relegated to a non-essential adjunct. Take away the Gospels and nothing changes in Christian teachings. Take away the life of Jesus from Christianity and we are still left with is the essence of Christianity. A very strange situation.
The reason why Jesus the man is secondary to the epistles is the special place the Old Testament has in the Christian Bible. The Old Testament is the section of the Bible that gives Christianity its authority. The Christian stance is that the Old Testament is the prophetic justification for the coming of a Messiah. It is taken literally that there was to be a Son of God sent to earth to be crucified as the culmination of God’s plan for humanity. Without the justification of the Old Testament, there cannot be Christianity. The only thing that happened to Jesus that makes him the saviour in Christian terms is that he was crucified. The epistles are built solely on the crucifixion, justified by a narrow and selective, literal reading of the Old Testament.
Christians also re-defined Jesus to suit their purposed rather than build their religion on the life of Jesus.
However this may be, his followers were united in the belief that God’s promises had been uniquely and decisively fulfilled in him. Hence they sought to interpret his life of obscurity and rejection, and especially the scandal of a crucified Messiah, as well as the Lordship which they had come to recognise through the Resurrection, by reference to the Old Testament. The Church thus depended for its understanding of itself, and of the Gospel on which it was founded, upon its interpretation of the Scriptures as a book about Christ. In that book it found the key to its understanding of the historical traditions about his deeds and his words, so that the subject of the apostolic preaching was Jesus as seen in the light of Scripture, and it was Jesus as interpreted by Scripture who provided the theme of the Gospels.
(The Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol 2)
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