Acts 7

In this chapter of Acts, Stephen is tried by the Sanhedrin [1]. In answer to the charges laid by members of the Synagogue of Freedmen [2], he re-tells the story of the Jewish people, then presents the accusation to the Jewish leaders that they are prideful and irreligious [3], resistant to the urgings of the Spirit of God, murderous of the prophets, murderers of Jesus, and ultimately lawless. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen sees Jesus, the glory of God, and God Himself. When he tells the crowd what he sees, they become enraged, cover their ears and yell, rush at him, drag him out of the city and stone him [4]. Stephen, however, is no longer at their mercy. He asks Jesus not to hold the crowd responsible for his murder, commends his soul into the hands of Jesus, and “falls asleep[5].” 

In this chapter, we also meet Saul.  We are told that the witnesses against Stephen lay their clothes at Saul’s feet as the crowd is stoning Stephen and that Saul gives his approval to the stoning of Stephen.

So, there are three central issues. How does Stephen’s telling of the story of the Jewish people compare and contrast with scripture as we have it?  What is Stephen’s experience of God? And what is Saul’s role in Stephen’s death? 

As to the first, consider Stephen’s version of Jewish history. It begins with the departure of Abraham from Mesopotamia (Iraq) to live in Haran in Chaldea (Syria) and then to Canaan. In Canaan, God foretells Abraham of the future enslavement in Egypt and teaches him the rite of circumcision. Abraham circumcises Isaac, Isaac fathers Jacob, and Jacob becomes the progenitor of the twelve tribes. He calls the children of Jacob “the twelve patriarchs,” and says that “the patriarchs” sold Joseph into slavery. This is an odd locution that implies that Joseph was not a patriarch. Stephen tells of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt, the famine, the arrival of 75 of Jacob’s family in Egypt (Gen. 24 says 70; Ex. 1 says 75), and the burial of Jacob and his sons in a cave in the land (Stephen calls it a tomb) that in Schechem Abraham purchased from Hamor (Genesis says it was Ephron the Hittite).

Stephen turns to the story of the genocide ordered by the new Pharoah in which the Hebrews are told “to throw out their newborn babies.”  Exodus says they are instructed to throw the babies into the Nile. The adoption of Moses, his training, his slaying of the Egyptian, and his flight from Egypt follows the account in Genesis closely. It specifies that Moses thought that the Hebrews would recognize that God had chosen him, but Exodus does not claim this. Fleeing to Midian, Moses waits 40 years for God to speak to him through the burning bush. Stephen says that Moses led the Israelites for 40 years, though it was longer. He calls the visitation on Mt. Sinai that of an angel, though Exodus is clear that this is God Himself. Stephen recounts the Golden Calf, but then says that God turned against the Israelites by turning them over to the worship of heavenly bodies, a point that is not found in Exodus. Stephen quotes from Amos, but the quote is loose. The first line matches, but the second line mentioning Molech and Rephan is found only in the Septuagint, and in the third line Stephen says the exile is “beyond Babylon,” while Amos says it is “beyond Damascus.”  Stephen then finishes the account by focusing on the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon’s building of the Temple, and a repudiation of the Temple as the dwelling place of God based on Isaiah 66:1-2.

Clearly there are major differences between the Jewish scriptures that Stephen knew and the scriptures that are accepted today. Some of the differences are due to the currency of the Septuagint Bible, which is widely regarded as flawed and which has been replaced by more modern translations. But some variations could be due to oral traditions.

As for Stephen’s experience of God, it is more direct than any other character in the Bible, except perhaps Moses. He is not only filled with the Holy Spirit, but he actually sees God (and Jesus) in Heaven. He is so intoxicated with the experience of the divine that he does not feel pain, fear, or anger from being stoned. Instead, he is able to forgive his enemies even as they are killing him. And he does not die, but rather falls asleep. 

Saul’s role in the stoning of Stephen is presented as relatively benign. We are not told that he casts a stone or orders any stone to be cast. But what does it mean that those who are stoning Stephen lay their clothes at his feet? And was he a member of the Sanhedrin?  It seems unlikely that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, since they were elders, some perhaps drawn from the high priest’s clan and they would have been expected to be men of learning, probably not associated with a trade of questionable purity like tentmaking. As for the laying of clothes at Saul’s feet, it certainly meant that he was trustworthy and of too high a station to participate in the stoning directly.
 
Notes

1. The nature of the Sanhedrin is described in the Catholic Encyclopedia
2. Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia
3. Acts 7: 51 “Uncircumcised in heart and ears” echoes Jeremiah 4:4
4. No judgment is issued by the religious court, so stoning cannot be an acceptable punishment. 
5. This is the first instance of dying being termed “falling asleep” (other instances occur in 1 Cor, 1 Th, and 2 Peter).  This portrayal of death is not typical of other Jewish scripture.  In the gospels, falling asleep is associated with inattention or sloth, as when the disciples fall asleep at Gethsemane.
6. The irony of Stephen, an ordinary man, lecturing the religious leaders of Jerusalem on theology is very rich. If there is any point to God’s expenditure of one of His early workers on scolding the Sanhedrin, it may be in illustrating that Truth is freely available through the Holy Spirit. The licensure of holiness through the Temple and the religious bureaucracy is completely void of meaning.

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33 Comments on “Acts 7”


  1. I have never been comfortable with accepting Pauline scripture. Saul was a persecutor and when he saw the light he remained a persecutor, though he changed ostensible sides.

    On a completely other note I have been reading the Gospel of Sri Tripura which is an Indian scripture, very powerful and worth reading if you want to understand the eastern concept of divine consciousness.

  2. Charles II Says:

    It’s a huge jump from a few passages of the epistles to concluding that Paul was unconverted and unrepentant. First, there were probably several authors of the epistles. Second, it’s likely that a few passages were inserted by church fathers to give authority to their own ideas. But, finally, Paul became a prisoner who was executed. During that period was he also an oppressor?

    I’m too weary right now to look at Sri Tripura, but when I feel more up to it, I will read it.


  3. I do not hate Paul, but I do not consider him an apostle like Thomas was. I’d be happy to discuss at greater length but I don’t intend to annoy you. Nothing I have said forbids you from regarding Paul as equal to an apostle if you wish.


  4. Btw, I do not say he was unconverted or unrepentant. Many people are converted and repentant without thereby becoming equal in authority to an apostle.


  5. Interestingly, no less a person than Thomas Jefferson considered Paul the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. Take it for what it’s worth, but I object to his treatment of women in particular as unworthy of regard.

  6. Charles II Says:

    Paul calls himself the least of the apostles, but an apostle nonetheless.

    There are only a few passages dealing with women that are ascribed to Paul. We know that he treated a number of women as equals. I commend to you this essay by Sister Barbara Leonhard, in which she proposes that the harsh passages about women represent later additions, because they are not consistent with his recorded dealings with women.

  7. Michael Says:

    Thanks, I’ll read the essay and consider it, but even if Paul was the least of the apostles (and I maintain just because he called himself an apostle does not make him any more of one than any of the other 500 people that he himself claims Jesus appeared to), there is less regard given to true apostles like the above mentioned Thomas who in my opinion have a much truer and better appreciation of the doctrine of Jesus. If it is difficult to know what was Paul’s own view versus those of later corrupters, it remains that it is of less value to us than those of the genuine apostles who knew Jesus when he was living in human form.


  8. (oops, appear to have been logged out of wordpress earlier — not to confuse anyone.)

  9. Charles II Says:

    Well, I don’t think we would have much of an understanding of what Jesus was teaching without Paul’s brilliant expositions. It was Paul who elaborated on Jesus’s cryptic comment in Matthew 5 about coming to fulfill [GK., pleroo; a better translation might be “to complete”] the Law, not abolish it, turning it into a statement of liberation. Rather than parsing scripture to see whether every action we take is in accord with commandments, a Christian looks at his/her own heart to see if their intentions are sincere and done from love. Thus Jesus completed the Law with the two highest commandments: to love God and one another. We need no longer labor under the strenuous requirements of the Law. Without Paul, that would have been unclear and, indeed, the Epistles are devoted in significant measure to unpacking this very large idea.


  10. I don’t think we have much of an understanding of what Jesus was teaching without Thomas’s recorded sayings Gospel, like I said. But I will gladly grant that Paul was as capable as any commenter on what he did not himself participate in. That his words may help to clarify some things for some people is obvious, but just as surely they confuse and confound others, whether those words were his own or attributed to him by a later commenter.

    Again, I don’t want to attack Paul here, he had great value to your own understanding and I’m happy for that, but the Pauline church which rejects Thomas is not doing any service to understanding.


  11. It should be mentioned also that it is understood in Jewish tradition that the only commandments that matter are to love God and treat your neighbor as yourself. Some have explained this better than others, I will try to express the idea that we are all one shared consciousness and God exists within each of us as ourselves, as we exist in every cell of our own body as ourselves. Therefore, to injure your neighbor is to injure yourself.

  12. Charles II Says:

    Hm. Well, the Gospel of Thomas was excluded from the canons because some sayings weren’t consistent with most people’s understanding of what Jesus was all about. For example:

    7. Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.” The general understanding in Christianity is that what goes in your mouth does not have spiritual consequences; what matters is what comes out of your mouth. This focus on the material nature of identity seems very un-Jesuslike.

    12. The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.” I like the epistle of James, and he certainly was an influential leader in the early church, but to place him supernaturally above all the other disciples seems like a human invention.

    27. “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the (Father’s) kingdom. If you do not observe the sabbath as a sabbath you will not see the Father.” This is a heavy burden to people who may not have a choice as to whether they observe the sabbath. It would exclude all but observant Jews from seeing the Father, since there are prohibitions on using electricity and cars and travel that Christians do not accept.

    There are some sayings from Thomas that are perfectly consistent with the canonical Gospels and there are others that may have mystical value. But I can see why the church rejected them.

    I would also disagree that Jewish tradition dismisses the other commandments as less relevant. Most of orthodox Jewish life is devoted to doing all the things that fulfill those lesser commandments. Rules about diet and plates and when to turn the lights out and who may say a prayer and what it must contain… I don’t know how people manage to do all of these things and live life.

    As for the meaning of the two commandments, your explanation is adequate, though I would refer you to the parable of Enyadatta.


  13. Let me take the last first, and then take the Thomas sayings one at a time after that. I appreciate very much this dialogue and I hope we will both gain a better understanding from one another.

    I liked the parable of Enyadatta, and I agree that we are whole and complete. Since each of us is in fact the dwelling place of God, there is nothing else we need. We manifest ourselves and experience the world we create. When we fear one another we fear ourselves, and cause our own suffering. You and I are one, though seemingly different, as my hand and my foot are different, but both are my body.

    I am a born and raised Jew. My family was not orthodox but neither are the vast, vast majority of Jews. We attended a Reform synagogue and the primary thing that we needed to know was the Shema. “Shema Y’Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel the Lord is our God the Lord is One.” We did not keep Kosher, and nor did most of my Jewish friends. I had a Bar Mitzvah, and was confirmed. I wasn’t entirely in favor of doing these things at the time, but I did them.

    Okay, I want to go look at some parallel translations of the sayings you quote here and then I’ll comment on them in a bit.


  14. Hm. Well, the Gospel of Thomas was excluded from the canons because some sayings weren’t consistent with most people’s understanding of what Jesus was all about.

    That seems highly arrogant. Jesus’ sayings to Thomas were not expected to be understood by most people, or in some cases even by the other apostles, that is why Thomas said at one point (Saying 13), “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.”

    If you accept Thomas as an apostle then you should regard as words as those of an apostle. That does not mean you should be expected to understand them without some meditation.

    For example:

    7. Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.” The general understanding in Christianity is that what goes in your mouth does not have spiritual consequences; what matters is what comes out of your mouth. This focus on the material nature of identity seems very un-Jesuslike.

    Again, “the general understanding in Christianity” is entirely, completely beside the point here. That understanding excludes a general recognition of Thomas, because these writings were concealed for thousands of years and only rediscovered in the last century. So to say that Thomas must be wrong because most Christians don’t believe X is an invalid argument.

    As to the meaning here, you know of course that metaphors are being used. This saying is not about dietary laws.

    Here is the Lambdin translation:
    (7) Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

    Let’s look at just the first part of the saying. If the lion is blessed when eaten by the human, how does this conflict in any way with an understanding that what goes into your mouth does not condemn you? As to “not having spiritual consequences” — I don’t agree. You are not condemned by what you hear but in hearing you may even receive a blessing. What you speak, is meant by what comes out of your mouth.


  15. Also, accusing Thomas of focusing on the material nature of identity is to completely misunderstand him, and is at odds with almost all contemporary interpretation of these sayings.


  16. 12. The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.” I like the epistle of James, and he certainly was an influential leader in the early church, but to place him supernaturally above all the other disciples seems like a human invention.

    Are you objecting to the fact that Thomas said that Jesus called James his successor, or just the description of James’ righteousness?


  17. 27. “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the (Father’s) kingdom. If you do not observe the sabbath as a sabbath you will not see the Father.” This is a heavy burden to people who may not have a choice as to whether they observe the sabbath. It would exclude all but observant Jews from seeing the Father, since there are prohibitions on using electricity and cars and travel that Christians do not accept.

    Prohibitions on electricity? I don’t think electricity was being harnessed when these words were written. You are applying a thoroughly modern Jewish orthodoxy to something entirely different. Observing the Sabbath does not mean you must follow a bunch of rituals. It means taking a day of rest and meditation. It is not a burden, it is a joy.


  18. Regarding James, I think you might find Acts 15:13-21 worth considering. His judgment was the judgment of the council of apostles.

  19. Charles II Says:

    I accept Thomas as an apostle, Mahakal, but do we know that the apostle wrote the Gospel of Thomas? As with most things theological, there’s little evidence one way or another. However, I would point out that the Nag Hammadi manuscripts weren’t just mislaid: they were suppressed because other Christians felt they were dividing and confusing the early church. The gnostics were too few to form a rival sect. Now, you may disagree with the judgment of the early church, but please acknowledge that it’s not me saying that the non-canonical gospels are of lesser value than the canonical ones. It was the bulk of the Christian church.

    BTW, Elaine Pagels loves the Gospel of Thomas. You are welcome to do likewise. I am welcome, at least by myself, not to love it.

    One of the things that troubles me about the Gospel of Thomas is precisely the gnostic tone of it or, as you put it, the suggestion that it’s not meant to be understood by most. Salvation is an urgent, burning question, for which people need straightforward answers. Koans and other forms of recondite knowledge are a luxury.

    And then there’s this: the use of obscurantism to generate an air of mystery to draw in clients is a common racket. Whenever things are unclear, one has to be on guard against genuine teaching vs. sophistry. Are the sayings in Thomas a kind of koan? Or are they sophistry? My feeling is that there are some of both. While my sense on this matter is hardly inerrant, after a while, one starts to feel the difference between the two.

    Mahakal says, “Observing the Sabbath does not mean you must follow a bunch of rituals. It means taking a day of rest and meditation.”

    Not to Jews of that day. Recall that Jesus was crucified in part because he healed on the Sabbath. Failing to observe the Sabbath was a capital offense.

    As for electricity and cars, it’s true that they’re a recent invention. But the Commandments weren’t written to be revised. They were written as absolute and eternal commands from God, who sees all moments in time.

    For the breadwinner who must work seven days a week just to survive, the Commandment to observe the Sabbath adds the shame of being a sinner to the exhaustion of working without rest. The Jesus of the gospels– as shown by Paul– liberated us from having to follow the Commandments literally. That’s why Thomas’s saying seems inconsistent with the Jesus I know.

    Mahakal asks, “Are you objecting to the fact that Thomas said that Jesus called James his successor, or just the description of James’ righteousness?”

    What I object to in the statement is saying that heaven and earth were created for James. This places James on the level of a supernatural being. There’s no argument he was an important leader or that he was reputed to be righteous.

    As for Acts 15:13ff, I’m not sure what is special about it. James proposes something, people agree, it gets done.

    As for Enyadatta, I don’t think you (or the person who posted it) quite got the point. If you want me to explain it, I will, but it’s better to apprehend it directly.


  20. I’m working backwards again…

    As for Enyadatta, I don’t think you (or the person who posted it) quite got the point. If you want me to explain it, I will, but it’s better to apprehend it directly.

    Perhaps Enyadatta rewards a rereading, as do most sutras. I will read it again and consider.

    What I object to in the statement is saying that heaven and earth were created for James. This places James on the level of a supernatural being. There’s no argument he was an important leader or that he was reputed to be righteous.

    As for Acts 15:13ff, I’m not sure what is special about it. James proposes something, people agree, it gets done.

    As Acts makes clear here, James was the head of the church in Jerusalem, and his righteousness was above reproach — for the sake of such a man was the world brought into being. This is the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek, King of Jerusalem — not Emperor of Rome. So Thomas helps us understand that it is not to Rome that we should look — though Rome destroyed Jerusalem.


  21. Okay, back to the top…

    I accept Thomas as an apostle, Mahakal, but do we know that the apostle wrote the Gospel of Thomas? As with most things theological, there’s little evidence one way or another. However, I would point out that the Nag Hammadi manuscripts weren’t just mislaid: they were suppressed because other Christians felt they were dividing and confusing the early church. The gnostics were too few to form a rival sect. Now, you may disagree with the judgment of the early church, but please acknowledge that it’s not me saying that the non-canonical gospels are of lesser value than the canonical ones. It was the bulk of the Christian church.

    It was the Roman church which suppressed all opposition to its rule. I do not acknowledge them to be any kind of authority. I acknowledge it was not you who made this judgment that the people should be denied knowledge. It is likely that Thomas was one of the earliest Gospels to be written, in fact perhaps a century before the synoptic gospels which themselves are generally believed to have been compiled from an earlier “Q” sayings gospel.

    Whether this was written by Thomas’ own hand, I cannot say but then Paul clearly employed an amanuensis. You hold Thomas to an unreasonable standard, indeed. It is not that you must submit to this authority but you must agree, I hope, that a faithful Christian should want to know what Thomas said of Jesus’ sayings, and should never be impaired from doing so.

    BTW, Elaine Pagels loves the Gospel of Thomas. You are welcome to do likewise. I am welcome, at least by myself, not to love it.

    One of the things that troubles me about the Gospel of Thomas is precisely the gnostic tone of it or, as you put it, the suggestion that it’s not meant to be understood by most. Salvation is an urgent, burning question, for which people need straightforward answers. Koans and other forms of recondite knowledge are a luxury.

    You are entitled to believe what you like, but you cannot welcome yourself. It is Elaine Pagels’ thesis that Paul was Gnostic. I find your demand that scripture be always transparent to everyone beyond unreasonable. These are not koans, and they are clear to those with a little understanding.

    And then there’s this: the use of obscurantism to generate an air of mystery to draw in clients is a common racket. Whenever things are unclear, one has to be on guard against genuine teaching vs. sophistry. Are the sayings in Thomas a kind of koan? Or are they sophistry? My feeling is that there are some of both. While my sense on this matter is hardly inerrant, after a while, one starts to feel the difference between the two.

    They are neither koans nor sophistry. Your failure to understand them is not evidence of any such thing.

    Mahakal says, “Observing the Sabbath does not mean you must follow a bunch of rituals. It means taking a day of rest and meditation.”

    Not to Jews of that day. Recall that Jesus was crucified in part because he healed on the Sabbath. Failing to observe the Sabbath was a capital offense.

    This is so wrong I hardly know where to start. First, it was not violation of Jewish laws that caused Jesus to be crucified, indeed it was not the Jews who crucified him. That is another lie that the Roman church long spread, when it was the Romans who killed Jesus.

    It has never been a capital offense not to observe the Sabbath. However it is a commandment that is a very important labor law, among other things. It guarantees a day of rest for you and all of your workers as well. It should be regarded as a religious innovation worth protecting.

    But there are reasons that the Sabbath may not be kept; there are circumstances that require one to break it, and there has never been a time when this was not the case. When your house catches fire, you do not refuse to put it out because it is a Sabbath. It is true that some of the Pharisees condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, but he was not stoned for it.

    As for electricity and cars, it’s true that they’re a recent invention. But the Commandments weren’t written to be revised. They were written as absolute and eternal commands from God, who sees all moments in time.

    How fundamentalist are you, Charles?

    For the breadwinner who must work seven days a week just to survive, the Commandment to observe the Sabbath adds the shame of being a sinner to the exhaustion of working without rest. The Jesus of the gospels– as shown by Paul– liberated us from having to follow the Commandments literally. That’s why Thomas’s saying seems inconsistent with the Jesus I know.

    You may not be able to take a day of rest every week, but surely you can take a day of rest. What Thomas records Jesus’ saying is that you must take a day of rest and meditation if you want to see the Father. Do so, then, or do not. If you say you can never rest, then you can never have peace. But take a day to rest and meditate and say, “Shalom, Abba” and you shall have it.


  22. I tell you, it is only injustice that ever causes a man to work seven days for survival, for anyone receiving a fair wage can set aside enough in six days for the seventh.


  23. So speaking of koans, would you care to give your interpretation of Enyadatta?

  24. Charles II Says:

    Mahakal says, “As Acts makes clear here, James was the head of the church in Jerusalem, and his righteousness was above reproach — for the sake of such a man was the world brought into being. ”

    Actually, it’s only tradition that says that James was the Bishop of Jerusalem. The passage from Acts does not prove that he was the head of the church, only that he was an important leader. But that’s a quibble. The important distinction is that the text of Thomas does not say “for the sake of such a man.” It says, “for whose sake.” This is not, to my mind, a small distinction. Gnostic writings elevate the importance of the individual to God-like altitudes. Orthodox Christian writings bring God’s Love down from great altitudes to be among us.

    Mahakal says, “you must agree, I hope, that a faithful Christian should want to know what Thomas said of Jesus’ sayings, and should never be impaired from doing so.”

    Absolutely. I trust in the Spirit of Truth. I regard the Gospel of Thomas a probably a tare growing in the wheat field, but the Lord said that they would be allowed to grow.

    Mahakal says, “you cannot welcome yourself”

    I dare you to stop me.

    Mahakal says, “I find your demand that scripture be always transparent to everyone beyond unreasonable. ”

    I certainly didn’t say anything so categorical. What I said is that the idea that scripture should only be accessible to the exclusive few is contrary to the spirit of the Jesus I know.

    Mahakal says, “First, it was not violation of Jewish laws that caused Jesus to be crucified, indeed it was not the Jews who crucified him. That is another lie that the Roman church long spread, when it was the Romans who killed Jesus.

    It has never been a capital offense not to observe the Sabbath. However it is a commandment that is a very important labor law, among other things. It guarantees a day of rest for you and all of your workers as well. It should be regarded as a religious innovation worth protecting.”

    I am well aware who crucified Jesus. But according to the gospels, He was tried by Jewish leaders for religious crimes; for expediency, they then turned Him over to the Romans with the accusation that he was a rebel against Caesar. If you say that is a lie, then accuse the gospelists, because that is what they say.

    But be careful who you condemn. You claim that it has never been a capital offense not to observe the Sabbath. Yet in Exodus 31, it says “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death, whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.

    Mahakal asks, “How fundamentalist are you, Charles?”

    I’ve spelled out my views on fundamentalism in a two-page essay startinghere. Judge me, if you wish.

  25. Charles II Says:

    The only proper way to understand parables is to experience them directly. Analyzing them intellectually is like eating using someone else’s mouth. But… as you wish.

    Let’s read the parable of Enyadatta carefully.

    1. Informational: she was beautiful and narcissistic.
    2. She looked into the mirror but found no head reflected there. What did she see? Well, presumably she saw her head–mirrors don’t usually malfunction– but could not recognize it as a head. This failure to recognize her own head was her delusion.
    2a. Notice also as a point of information that the only way in which she knew of the existence of her head was through seeing it in a mirror.
    3. She was very resistant to reason or persuasion. Through constant repetition of reassurances that she had always had her head, she began to doubt what she had seen in the mirror.
    4. How was she healed? By direct experience: “ouch!”
    5. Informational: only when her joy subsided was Enyadatta genuinely recovered.

    So here is my explanation: the head is representational of the self. In a mild state of kensho, one may see oneself as being in union with the world. The self then seems identical with the world (viz., “You and I are one, though seemingly different, as my hand and my foot are different, but both are my body.”)

    And there is some truth to this, but it’s fundamentally delusional. Hit me over the head, and I, not you, will say “ouch!” In Christian terms, the vine is not identical with the branches. The branches may wither, but the vine does not. And yet the essence of the vine flows through the branches. We are united with the world in that Christ is in us and we in Him, but each carries and climbs onto his own cross.

    Once we recognize who we really are, the joy subsides, and we go about life normally. In just living, we are genuinely recovered from the madness of seeking to know ourselves.

    Kapleau frames it a bit differently. He calls the head the Buddha nature and says that not seeing the head is what happens when people are told that they have Buddha nature but don’t know where to see it. So they search desperately, binding themselves metaphorically to the pillar in meditation. They are clouted by the kyosaku or verbally, and this propels them into recognizing what was always part of them. I would say that we both understand the parable of Enyadatta in our own ways.


  26. Actually, it’s only tradition that says that James was the Bishop of Jerusalem. The passage from Acts does not prove that he was the head of the church, only that he was an important leader. But that’s a quibble. The important distinction is that the text of Thomas does not say “for the sake of such a man.” It says, “for whose sake.” This is not, to my mind, a small distinction. Gnostic writings elevate the importance of the individual to God-like altitudes. Orthodox Christian writings bring God’s Love down from great altitudes to be among us.

    I’m not sure how you define gnosticism and as I said, Pagels considers John to be gnostic. In my opinion, Thomas was not gnostic. He was the apostle to India, and he approached things from an eastern perspective as that is who he preached to. The Roman church objects to these teachings which Thomas attributes to Jesus, thus calling Thomas a liar. You wish to quibble over the specific words used in particular translations of ancient texts, in order to reduce Thomas without understanding him. It is said that the priests of Rome guard the door and do not themselves enter.

    Mahakal says, “you must agree, I hope, that a faithful Christian should want to know what Thomas said of Jesus’ sayings, and should never be impaired from doing so.”

    Absolutely. I trust in the Spirit of Truth. I regard the Gospel of Thomas a probably a tare growing in the wheat field, but the Lord said that they would be allowed to grow.

    Thomas, twin of Jesus, apostle, was some kind of unwanted weed? I appreciate you have no desire to suppress the truth, but of course the Roman church did so most assiduously.

    Mahakal says, “you cannot welcome yourself”

    I dare you to stop me.

    Boo! Okay, you’re welcome anyhow, and this is your place!

    Mahakal says, “I find your demand that scripture be always transparent to everyone beyond unreasonable. ”

    I certainly didn’t say anything so categorical. What I said is that the idea that scripture should only be accessible to the exclusive few is contrary to the spirit of the Jesus I know.

    I did not make the claim that scripture should only be accessible to an exclusive few, only that it may require a certain amount of understanding first in order to interpret it. That understanding is available to anyone, however. Let who has ears, hear. This is the way all scripture is written.

    I am well aware who crucified Jesus. But according to the gospels, He was tried by Jewish leaders for religious crimes; for expediency, they then turned Him over to the Romans with the accusation that he was a rebel against Caesar. If you say that is a lie, then accuse the gospelists, because that is what they say.

    But be careful who you condemn. You claim that it has never been a capital offense not to observe the Sabbath. Yet in Exodus 31, it says “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death, whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.”

    The penalty for desecrating the Sabbath was death. The penalty for doing work on the Sabbath was excommunication. The Sanhedrin turned Jesus over to the Romans, and the Romans crucified him, as you know. But then for thousands of years the Romans persecuted the Jews and blamed them for killing Jesus. In fact the members of the Sanhedrin at that time were subject to approval and removal by Rome, and were selected for their loyalty to Rome. They were not a proper Jewish governing body at all, but a puppet under occupation.

    Mahakal asks, “How fundamentalist are you, Charles?”

    I’ve spelled out my views on fundamentalism in a two-page essay startinghere. Judge me, if you wish.

    I don’t wish to judge you, and find no fault with you personally. That does not mean we must always agree with one another. I think your idea of lectio divina is quite good, however, and I apply it when I am reading scriptures even of other cultures, in order to treat them with the best good faith possible. Assume that the writer is not trying to deceive you, and that you can fill yourself with the spirit of the truth contained herein.


  27. So here is my explanation: the head is representational of the self. In a mild state of kensho, one may see oneself as being in union with the world. The self then seems identical with the world (viz., “You and I are one, though seemingly different, as my hand and my foot are different, but both are my body.”)

    And there is some truth to this, but it’s fundamentally delusional. Hit me over the head, and I, not you, will say “ouch!” In Christian terms, the vine is not identical with the branches. The branches may wither, but the vine does not. And yet the essence of the vine flows through the branches. We are united with the world in that Christ is in us and we in Him, but each carries and climbs onto his own cross.

    Although the vine and branches are distinct, yet they are the same. This is what the Indians call acintya bheda abheda.

    Once we recognize who we really are, the joy subsides, and we go about life normally. In just living, we are genuinely recovered from the madness of seeking to know ourselves.

    There is nothing to seek, I agree, for we are already complete. That was always my interpretation of this koan.

    I would say that we both understand the parable of Enyadatta in our own ways.

    That seems right.


  28. Let me say a little more on Enyadatta, here. She has a head and she cannot see it. Eventually she is given a bump on the head which allows her to feel it. Then she is able to know that she has her head, which she had all the time.

    Take away a mirror’s reflecting power and you cannot see your head, but where did your head go? It is right where it always was.

    So it is with God who is with us always, though we perceive it or not.

  29. Charles II Says:

    Mahakal says, “The penalty for desecrating the Sabbath was death.”

    Exodus 21 says both “whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people” and “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.” But the term “karath” (cut off) carries the meanings of “destroyed” or “beheaded.” For example, the flood of Noah “cut off” life on earth. And we know that the prescribed penalty was death because in Numbers 15:32, a man is found gathering wood on the Sabbath, and he is put to death. Also in Jeremiah 17, Israel is told through the prophet that just carrying a load through the gates will bring down the Lord’s destroying fire on the city. By Jesus’s time, practicing the death penalty had been abandoned, hence the need to involve the Romans. But Mosaic Law was very clear that simply working on the Sabbath was a capital offense.

    Mahakal, this is as clear as the EO we debated.

    If you don’t want to see it, well, those eyes are in your head, not mine.


  30. Charles, if you acknowledge that the death penalty had been abandoned by Jesus’ time, then it is not very important what penalty might have been imposed in prior times for working on the Sabbath. Let’s drop this argument, as I don’t think it is constructive to understanding. I do not think your reading of cutting off is accurate, but it doesn’t matter. The critical point here is that the Sanhedrin did not execute Jesus. Nor did the Romans care about the Sabbath. The Romans did not want a Jewish uprising, and so they killed Jesus.

  31. Charles II Says:

    To any subsequent reader of this thread: a correct understanding of this issue can be arrived at by reading this, which ascribes the renunciation of the death penalty to the effect of the rabbinic movement (of which Jesus can be thought to be a part) and dates it to about the time of Jesus. Also here, in which the author states that the Jews had no authority to execute anyone under the Roman occupation (he errs, however, in stating that Jews would not crucify; it did occur about a century before Jesus on a limited basis as punishment for rebellion. See Josephus, Wars 1:96-98).


  32. Thank you for those links, Charles, I think they are good. I would caution that Josephus is not regarded as an especially reliable source on this period.

  33. Charles II Says:

    I know about Josephus’s desire to please the Romans, who had by that time put down the Rebellion and crushed Israel, Mahakal. But modern-day Jews, having suffered centuries of very real persecution due to Christian anti-Semitism, have a desire not to have any connection to the crucifixion of Jesus, even if the facts lead in that direction. In trying to arrive at truth, one uses the information at hand, with the understanding that those supplying it may have an agenda. In my view, Josephus’s statement about Alexander Jannai leads toward a coherent understanding of why the story of Jesus moved so many people to join the new sect.


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