The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of His Original Teachings - Reviews and Comments
Only rarely is a work of this nature published which can be instantly recognized as a classic. John Davidson's new book, The Gospel of Jesus, will be essential reading for anyone seeking or researching the Jesus of history.
It is interesting to ask why this book has never been written before. The manuscripts and other texts cited to illustrate the beliefs and understandings of Greeks, Jews and assorted Palestinians of the immediate pre- and post-Christian era are readily available to scholars, but have often been dismissed as worthless, heretical or simply irrelevant. Yet if one wished to study, say, the speeches of Winston Churchill you would first consider the historical situation of the time, the hopes and aspirations of the audience, and the influence of later events and subsequent generations who came to regard him as a super hero. This book does exactly that. It strips away the layers in a unique way and reveals a Jesus who may seem unfamiliar or even unrecognizable to some.
Every Christian creates or has created for them an image of Jesus that is valid or relevant for them. Some persuade others that their vision has greater validity than others. Possibly John Davidson has created yet another image: Jesus the mystic, the spiritual Master, Jesus the gnostic. An image which fits his understanding of spirituality. What he does do which is so compelling, however, is to provide new interpretations of many parts of the New Testament that were previously difficult to understand.
Mysticism is little understood by the popular mind, and Jesus the mystic may be a surprising image. But many will be fascinated by the rich and universal spirituality, common to all the major world religions. This spirituality must be closer to first century Palestine than the sanitized version taught in theological colleges today. More importantly, it must be closer to the spirituality taught by Jesus and lost simply because it so hard for the Western mind to grasp.
The roads that lead to a true understanding of God may not be so dissimilar after all.
Stephen Broughton M.A. (Cantab)
Broadcaster and Founder Member of the 'Sea of Faith'
In this work, John Davidson has probed the origins of Christianity in a provocative and illuminating way. By carrying us back to our beginnings, we see both the brilliance of essential Christianity and the distortions through which this tradition has been filtered through the ages. It is a gold mine of new insights.
Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark (now retired), New Jersey
Author of Resurrection: Myth or Reality?
I am very grateful to you for bringing this fine book to my notice.... At the back of the dust jacket are a couple of sentences from Bishop Spong which I can completely identify with. And I wish I could say the same for Stephen Broughton's views, although I do sincerely hope that the book is widely read and given the scholarly attention it deserves. I cannot see how anybody can quarrel with John Davidson's chosen point of view because he makes his own intentions very clear from the start. It is rare to find someone who says: this is what I want to do and who then proceeds to examine seriously and in adequate detail why the official scriptures and related literature need to be interpreted in a mystic manner. The enormous strength of the book is also its understandable weakness.
Strangely, much of what he says was known and discussed in my theology classes in Poona, India in the early 1960's but certainly not in Davidson's powerful and integrated way. I find the book very stimulating but remain, alas, unconvinced by some of the interpretations, which, I repeat, the author is fully entitled to explore. Specifically, his treatment of reincarnation is more satisfying than that of resurrection. I fear that professional Scriptural exegetes (a class to which I do not belong) will hardly be charmed by Davidson's seemingly superior confidence. I hope that what I have said does not appear negative because this is a book I will always value and treasure, despite my reservations.
Father Lancy Pereira S.J., Bombay, India
Jesus has been talked and written about in every conceivable manner for two thousand years. Yet, strangely enough, he has rarely been studied as a mystic. It is one of the achievements of John Davidson's remarkable and thought-provoking book to restore to us Jesus the perfect mystic and Master.
It may be a new thought - or indeed it may be anathema - for many to think of Jesus primarily as a teacher of a universal mystic path, and one who was born to teach and initiate (baptize) those few of his time and place who were ready to hear his words and act upon them.
What this book makes abundantly clear is that Jesus did not come to found a religion which bears his name and which has become the central fact of Western civilization.
The apparent paradox of the Masters is that they give a universal spiritual teaching which is the same for all men and all times, yet a particular Master has a certain number of pre-selected disciples only of his own generation and location. Without the return of the Masters over and over again, the great plan of the Lord in sending his beloved Sons is always distorted and crystallized into the form we call a religion.
This book explains, as few others have had the freedom or confidence to tell us so clearly, how the religion of Jesus came to be founded. Many other mystics of Jesus' time and place were written out of history, their names preserved only in the tracts which decried them as heretics.
Yet, wonderfully, enough of their writings remains for an observer who possesses the key of the universal mystic path, as John Davidson does, to show us in fascinating detail what these neglected and suppressed mystics taught. Their contributions throw light not only on the gospel of Jesus but on the spirituality of the time.
So we find, for example, the writings of Simon Magus, said to be a successor of John the Baptist, denounced in the works of the orthodox Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. The very rigour of the account provides evidence to reconstitute the suppressed teachings of an authentic mystic.
Or take the mystic Basilides whose 24 volumes of Interpretation of the Gospels are known only in quotations by ... Clement of Alexandria.
There are many such heroes in this book wonderfully restored to us, along with what must be the real voice of Jesus himself. History has been cruel to Mani, for example, and his followers the Manichaeans; it has been little better to the Mandaeans or, to take a more recent example from the book, to William Tyndale.
Tyndale bravely compiled the first translation of the Bible from Greek to English in 1525, not for his own glory, but so that his countrymen could have the gospels in their own mother tongue. Like many another, Tyndale paid the supreme price.
Remarkably enough, many of the sources used in this book were already available, but were sitting, neglected, on library shelves. While the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the last fifty years has transformed our understanding of the hidden teachings of immediately before Jesus' time, many other ancient texts were to hand, even translated into English, for an enterprising researcher armed with the key of the universal mystic path to unlock.
It is no less a part of John Davidson's achievement to have recovered the words and names of many other mystics of Jesus' era. From the dusty archive room their voices speak loudly and clearly and lovingly out of the centuries of neglect.
Take a few examples:
Jesus said, "I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind."
Gospel of Thomas
Those who say that the Lord died first and then rose up are in error, for he rose up first and then died... Those who say he will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.
Gospel of Philip
The Son of the Living God, the Physician of souls ...
He revived the dead from the death of their sins.
He opened the eyes that were closed at the time of the an born blind.
He caused the ears of the unhearing soul to hear.
Psalms of Heracleides
Yet it is the voice of Jesus which sounds most brilliantly in these pages. By going back to the earliest authentic texts and examining exactly what Jesus said and did not say, much as a forensic expert analyses minute evidence and builds up a larger universe from these details, we learn many things about Jesus' teachings and parables, and indeed the events of his life and death.
Later translations, commentators and theologians inevitably bring their own colouring to the picture. But we have in this book a rare thing: a book about Jesus which lacks dogma.
It must be the hardest task of all to distance oneself from the conditioning of two thousand years and a childhood in the culture of Christianity to see Jesus clearly as a perfect mystic, speaking strongly and freshly, direct to us.
As the author says in his Introduction, "When one studies the teachings of Jesus pure and simple, one finds they speak directly to the human heart."
This is what one discovers in these thousand or so pages: not a treatise of airy-fairy waffle which so often passes for mysticism, nor a personal and self-indulgent philosophical system, but a logical and wonderfully organized exposition of Jesus' inner teachings of the heart and spirit.
The Gospel of Jesus may well become the Path of the Masters of our time. It is equally as ambitious as Dr Johnson's classic text, and similarly it succeeds....
John Davidson is the author of half a dozen earlier works in the area of mysticism and science, including Subtle Energy, The Web of Life and The Robe of Glory. But none of his previous studies have the depth and breadth of this new and exhaustively researched review of Jesus and his teachings in the light of universal mysticism.
This book is not only for those of a Christian background. On one level it might be seen as a case study of the great and recurring human drama of good and evil, with the universal theme that God becomes man so that man can become God, by teaching and following a gospel of pure love; and yet the Shabd mystic almost inevitably is destroyed by those he would save, and once safely dead his teachings can be moulded into the religion of the state.
But you must judge for yourself. The book has been commercially published in the UK, but printed in India, with every effort made to keep its cost to the minimum. It is a provocative study of the sort that changes how you think and feel. Read it with care because it's unlikely you will be the same afterwards.
Matthew Seal, Science of the Soul Magazine
Can there be anything new to write about Jesus? On the evidence of John Davidson's latest book - a remarkable and readable 1000 pages - most certainly, yes. This is a back-to-basics book with a difference. To begin with the author presents a wealth of evidence that the teachings of Jesus and those of Christianity are at variance. This is not the first book to differentiate Jesus' teachings and the tenets of the religion that was to bear his name, but it is probably the most thoroughgoing exposition of this vital distinction.
The author sees Jesus as a mystic (one of many in the ancient Middle East), and running as a theme throughout the book, he shows how spiritual or mystic teachings are always exteriorized by later generations and moulded to a form that conveys aspects of the inner truths revealed by a mystic, but loses or suppresses the vital spark that a living teacher can convey to a living disciple.
It is a strange fact that Jesus the mystic has been little studied and still less understood. So the time is right for a systematic exposition of his original spiritual teachings of love for God and for one's fellow men. But the book offers far more than a general review of the gospel teachings or a study of the latest Bible scholarship.
The author begins by surveying the New Testament scholarly research of the last 150 years, adding a great deal of his own insight. And he concludes, with the majority of scholars, that although many of the sayings and parables attributed to Jesus in Matthew, LUKe and Mark probably originated with Jesus, these unknown gospel compilers have not only placed the sayings and parables in anecdotal settings which sometimes distort their meaning, but they have also changed them according to their own particular points of view and motives in writing. The gospels, as the author reminds the reader, were not written by the disciples of Jesus, but as much as 50-70 years later. They then underwent three or four centuries of editorial tampering before the first manuscripts were produced which survived to modern times.
The sayings attributed to Jesus in John's gospel, the author continues, are so radically different in style from the sayings in the other three that they cannot have originated in the same mind, and must have been the invention of the author of John's gospel. Since putting words into the mouths of others, especially holy men of the past, was a literary custom of the times, no fraud was intended and - strangely enough - John's gospel may actually present the essence of Jesus' teachings more accurately than the other three, because of the mystical understanding of its unknown author. As many others have concluded, however, the last chapter of St John is a fraudulent addition, added a much later time.
At this point, the book becomes like a detective story, for the author goes on to demonstrate that it is still possible to reconstitute the original teachings of Jesus by reference to the four gospels AND - most importantly - to a wealth of other early Christian and allied documents, some of which have been only been discovered during the last half-century, while others have been deemed heretical since the fourth century AD. Just as a navigator can determine the location of a distant point by getting a fix on it from different places, so by searching through all the earliest records of Christianity is it possible to ascertain the common denominators among the beliefs of the earliest Christians, thereby leading to an understanding of what Jesus really taught.
Here, the story takes another interesting twist for it becomes apparent that the picture of the teachings which emerges from this approach is that of the mystic path of the Logos or Word as the creative Power of God. Early Christians had a great many other names for it, demonstrating its importance to them. This path is universal, for it has been taught by mystics of all times from many parts of the world. It is the basis of the Upanishads (where it is called the Aum); it is prevalent throughout the Old Testament and Judaic writings; Zarathushtra taught it; there are more than echoes of it in the Qur'ān; many of the great Sufis taught it; and it was also taught by Guru Nanak and his successors. Indeed, a great many Indian and Middle Eastern mystics over the last 4000 years of history have taught it. It is one of the world's perennials, and it has later been made the basis of many religions. In fact, one of the fascinating aspects of The Gospel of Jesus is that it is a detailed exposition of the teachings of the Logos or mystic Word with all the clutter of orthodoxy and religion stripped aside.
It becomes clear from the author's study that (very broadly speaking), early Christianity was divided into two main streams - the esoteric and those that followed the teachings of Paul. Paulism, with its belief in a physical resurrection and an End-of-the-World which was just around the corner (both drawn from Paul's background as a Pharisee), ultimately became the 'orthodox' Christianity which Emperor Constantine decided to make into the religion of his new regime. This assured its survival. Yet, as the author points out:
"One of the most remarkable features of Paul's teaching is that very rarely, if at all, in his extensive letters does he ever seem to allude specifically to any of the sayings or discourses that we associate with Jesus through the gospels or even in any of the gnostic or other, non-canonical sources. It is as if Paul had never read any of it or if he had, was not interested. But unless the gospel teachings never actually originated with Jesus, they must have been extant at that time and the absence from his letters of almost anything that can be attributed to Jesus can only be accounted for either by his lack of knowledge of it or his lack of interest."
The followers of the esoteric school - which, significantly, included the descendants of Jesus' original Judaean disciples - held that Jesus had taught many things later proclaimed heretical. Among these were that Jesus had taught reincarnation; that John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Matthew, Judas Thomas, John the apostle and many others had all taught and practised vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol; that Jesus had taught his disciples meditation; that the eucharist was not an outer ritual, but an inner, mystic experience of communion with the Living Bread and Living Water (both being metaphors for the creative Word); that even in the earliest eucharist ceremonies, water was used, not wine; that Jesus had not been born of a virgin, but in the usual manner; and that both the resurrection and the second coming should be understood spiritually, not literally.
They also had a different idea about what was meant by the "Only-begotten Son of God", about the true nature of baptism, about whether Jesus had been unique or one of many such mystics, of the real meaning of Jesus' miracles, of how to actually contact the Creative Word or Logos, of the real character and extent of heaven, and of a great deal more besides. But you must read this extraordinary book, to see and judge for yourself. The author has left nothing out and it is no small achievement that he keeps the interest going right until the last page. Even in the epilogue, the reader is in for a final surprise.
John Davidson has been writing on science and mysticism for a number of years. A graduate of Cambridge University, UK, he works both in India and UK. Among his previous books are Subtle Energy, Natural Creation or Natural Selection?, The Web of Life and The Robe of Glory. But this is his most ambitious book to date and is a considerable achievement given the range of source materials and, even more daunting, the huge weight of scholarship that could have overpowered anyone other than a tough-minded venturer into the field. The fact that the resulting book is easy to read and well-paced, with even the odd touch of light relief, is an additional pleasure.
The Gospel of Jesus has also been well-produced, in India, and a note in the preliminary pages explains that to make it as accessible to as wide a readership as possible, the entire production stage, up to printing and binding, was performed as a service, freely given. It is perhaps a little example of practising what the subject matter preaches - although using such a loaded term as "preaches" does a disservice to this compelling, yet undogmatic book.
Your Gospel of Jesus is absolutely wonderful!
D.E., Goult-Gordes, France
Thank you and your colleagues ... for your service in writing and publishing The Gospel of Jesus - it was a most welcome surprise to find it in the bookshop and it made an absorbing Xmas present (to myself!)
Well done and thank you again.
J.K., Plymouth, UK
I've been reading your book The Gospel of Jesus this month, and deriving a good deal of benefit from it. So, first of all, I'd like to say, thank you very much!
However, since I'm an ordained clergyman in the Church of UK, I've found that, since I agree with what you say, it's made my work very difficult, and I am more or less in the process of resigning my post. But - on with the new!
To be exact, I've just begun a fortnight's study leave to get myself sorted out. But I don't think I can get sorted out until I begin meditation in the way you've described....
Once again, thanks awfully for your book - it's really good.
Reverend P.J., Cheltenham, UK
Thank you very much for writing The Gospel of Jesus. I am only reading it and have a long way to go, but I wanted to say you are the first person who seems to be pointing the right way - to look inside for God. I haven't experienced the light and things you talk about, but all my life, I think, looking for God has seemed to be the most important thing...
J. W-M., Bridport, UK
I was touched and thrilled to receive your wonderful book today. Thank you so much for sending me something so precious and so helpful. The moment was appropriate because I was just preparing to write a chapter on Christ for the new book I am finishing and was waiting for inspiration. What a marvellous work of devotion and insight and how nourishing it will be to all kinds of people who have lost their trust in the old forms of religion and are searching for something that can really reach the depths of the soul.
Anne Baring (author), Alresford, Hampshire, UK
Handling your book, I am again lost in amazement at the encyclopaedic knowledge you have of the various writings you refer to and quote from and at your immense erudition.
Reverend R.P., Bath, UK
I've been meaning to write and tell you how much I'm enjoying The Gospel of Jesus. I am astounded at the evident amount of research, analysis, and sound thinking that went into writing the book. It obviously was very carefully edited, and nicely put together. Congratulations!
Brian Hines, Salem, Oregon, USA
Author of God's Whisper, Creation's Thunder
I have read The Gospel of Jesus, and I am deeply impressed with the book. Words cannot describe the greatness of the contribution to mankind. I can see this book being a steady contributor for many, many years to come. It is beautifully and masterfully written, researched, and presented....
Again, congratulations on the magnificent service you have been privileged to perform .... The Gospel of Jesus feels like a wonderful tribute to our wonderful Master. And a major blessing to the rest of the world. I'm so glad the book has finally been written. The world has needed it so desperately.
Joyce Brandon (author), California, USA
I want to congratulate John with all my heart for his magnificent work. I have glanced at The Gospel of Jesus. The book is remarkably edited.... I have a feeling that "Someone" held John's hand while he was writing it.... The giant pile of documentation that he has gathered and assimilated must represent many years of work....
C. de D., Dilbeek, Belgium
I have just read your Gospel of Jesus, and I feel I must express my gratitude for writing a book that finally shines light on a subject that has baffled me for years.
You have led me on the search for truth, a search that allows no person rest, since childhood I've been trying to find answers to questions and finally coming to the conclusion that there are no answers, we are not meant to know....
Thank you once again for the publication of a very enlightening book, which I feel would benefit most people if they could only be bothered.
K.E.T., Stockport, UK
What a real humdinger it is!... It is tempting me into weeks (perhaps months) of sleepless nights!
F.E.W., Leatherhead, Surrey, UK
I have now read about 700 pages of your book and am amazed at its scope. No wonder it is called a classic of its kind. I have ordered a copy for the (Friends') Meeting House library and will be collecting it early this week....
D.G.D., Northampton, UK
Thank you so much for the copy of The Gospel of Jesus which I received from your publishers recently. I felt so privileged and uplifted to have a copy of the fruits of all your work - and curiously, it coincides with a revival of interest I am having and have been having since I went to India for the second time last summer, where I began to read Gandhi's views of Jesus' teachings as a path of non-violence.... I have now graduated from Cambridge and finished my theological studies, realized my ignorance and that my search is a life-long, or even eternal one!
W.W., Sevenoaks, Kent, UK
... through the support from above and below, your mind never seems to have thrown the bridle even once. It is one flow of thoughts from the beginning to the end and He must have wanted it.... It is never boring, at intervals too some humour lightens the serious story as well as "death knell to the ego", "naughty schoolchildren", "fish in an aquarium" and other pointed truths.
For a disciple it has many comforting places, but as well as exhorting ones and such of practical use.... I wonder when the clergy begins to get nervous, since He now steps into the open forum, after all is well established....
The way to attack the problems, the formation of chapters, the long careful discussions, the typesetting, the altrose cover, the arranging of the literature, the index all are beautiful....
B.S., California, USA
I have been reading The Gospel with great joy. It so beautifully brings out the sweetness of the truth about Jesus and seems in some way to put an end to the frustration we have all felt about the way the Bible has been previously presented. I am not expressing myself very well. I think the New Testament had a stronger influence on us than we thought, and to have a book like this is a deeply enjoyable experience....
In this book, a professional scientist writes about religion, specifically, about Jesus. It is a spectacular accomplishment, totally honest in its outlook and impressively comprehensive in its scholarship.
I must admit that I am only halfway through its thousand pages. I am not reading it rapidly, but am annotating the margins of each page, in ink! It may take me the rest of my life to finish it (I am 77 and I read it only on Sundays for an hour or two), but already I know that I will never find a more scholarly and insightful work which honestly seeks to discern the true character of Jesus.
Perhaps because I share the same scientific temperament as the author, we have a common bond that unconsciously brings us together. Davidson has studied and written exactly as I would like to, provided I could commit myself to devoting the immense amount of time and energy to meticulous scholarship, as he had done.
In this book the character of Jesus is incomparably broadened and sharpened by bringing in many sources that were ignored by the political and administrative forces that finally determined the content of the New Testament. There are hundreds of lengthy quotations about Jesus from over three hundred sources that were written in the first five centuries after his death. Furthermore, each quotation is rephrased by the author for further clarification.
Here is an example: "Jesus said, 'If the flesh came into being because of the spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty.'" This is quoted by Davidson from the Gospel of Thomas which is rejected by fathers of the Christian Church, for it suggests that the soul may have derived and evolved from its life in the body, rather than vice versa. I find that "twist" fascinating!
Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that the historical Jesus actually spoke this thought, but somehow it does not matter. The Bible is a collection of many noble, and some not so noble, thoughts of human beings, but it has been edited for "proper" content by many biased editors with tunnel vision.
In this book many insights are given that point toward the existence and the character of the divine in human life. And I find them inspiring! Nowhere else have I found any writing on religion that approaches the dedication and illumination of this book. Page after page I am enthralled by my introduction to many obscure and unknown writers who, in their admiration for Jesus, have put their inspired words into his mouth in much the same way as the New Testament writers have done.
It is clear that I cannot praise this book enough. However, it is written for the seeker, not for the believer.
T.M., Schenectady, NY
John Davidson has written a masterpiece on the esoteric meanings and mystical teachings of Jesus in the Gospels of the New Testament. Only a fellow soul on the spiritual path could reveal and convey the real meaning of the Gospel of Jesus as it was truly intended. Mr. Davidson illuminates not only the New Testament but other important spiritual and mystical writings and mystic teachers throughout the ages (Mandatory reading for everyone, not just Christians, scholars/historians of the Bible, and mystics)....
When the inner esoteric meaning of the Gospel of Jesus is revealed to the reader by Mr Davidson, profound revelation will be the result. Most books on the Gospels/Jesus are written by scholars with little spiritual awakening and acumen, and hence scholarly and sectarian dogma results with little understanding of true spirituality.
The only two caveats of Mr. Davidson when reading this book are, that he is an avid vegetarian and proponent of Gurus/teachers to help guide us (no doubt from eastern teachers influences on him). Further study of true mysticism without sectarianism for readers on the spiritual path is the Rosicrucian organization AMORC, which is whole-heartedly recommended.
Zensasone, New York
If you are prepared to consider a new way of looking at Christianity, and religion generally, this can be life-transforming book. It certainly transformed mine! For me, it was as if all the confusing jigsaw pieces of Christianity which I just didn't understand suddenly fell into place. So, if you can accept "orthodox" Christianity, you probably won't like this book, but if you have always felt that certain things just couldn't be right (eg eternal damnation, misogyny, literalism), then this is the book for you - thoroughly researched, well-argued and convincing.
A reader from Bavaria
This book is superb. It helped deepen my faith in Christ and in Christianity.
It brings together a lot of dispersed or lost information and allows us to see just how many different meanings have been and still can be attached to Jesus' life and resurrection. If you seek one orthodox reading of religion you'll be upset. If your faith gives you confidence to consider many different possibilities then you'll enjoy this book.
M.P.D., Strathaven, UK
I have been studying the mystical, spiritual side of religions for about 10 years. Till now I have never come across a book that delves into the mystical meaning behind the bible.... The author has truly performed a labour of love in researching the material for this book.
If you're serious about understanding the why?, how? then buy this book and read it with a open mind.....you won't be sorry. This book is a must !
John Davidson's The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of His Original Teachings is insightful into the history of the Bible. It points out how marginal notes drifted into the holy book during transcription.
He relates how early Christians did not consider the writings holy scripture and freely changed them when inspired, like a street Rap, for several hundred years after Jesus departed. They used a common, even vulgar Greek, which Jesus knew and liked as well as Aramaic.
Davidson reviews costs and means of producing various types of parchments. He points out that scriptural accuracy was inversely proportional to guilt (ding) of the work. No versions survived for the first 500 years as the weather destroyed them.
He tracks various families and styles of errors that were introduced by scribes trying to copy line by line. When the numbering system was introduced and how it may have affected the readings. God did not chisel it in stone 2000 years ago. Know thyself, Love thy neighbour and Serve the Lord, mighty one.