I want to open a space in your imagination concerning the Gospel of Mark. A vessel of considerations for a different way to think about what concepts like ‘revelation’, ‘salvation’, and the entire idea of religious striving means. I hold that the usual and widespread way of looking at these sorts of things are extrememly unfortunate and guarantee confusion. We’ve been sold a bogus conceptual framework by the ‘experts’, the theologians, evangelical pastors and institutions espousing church dogmas. Often but not always this falseness has been inadvertant. The remedy for this must be individual and entirely reject anything smacking of received authority.
I want to begin by clarifying a couple of things because the topic can be provocative. First, if you have your own deep or even casual relationship to Mark I do not mean to impugn or criticize it. I merely want to highlight shortcomings in what I have found to be the usual ways of relating to the text (this applies as well to all the Gospels and indeed all of scripture, but I have to focus somewhere) and I do so only in a spirit of suggestion. If you find some ideas helpful or triggering a deeper look, good. If you want to remain where you are, fine.
Second, there are many many people who know more about this subject than I do, and also many who have worked on these ideas more extensively. I am not hoping to be portrayed as expert. Instead, what I hope to do is to inspire a new kind of curiosity about these matters, and if I accomplish that in even a small percentage of those who read this, I am happy. I do not think it matters if your stance is athiest. This may even carry certain advantages as long as you are open-minded (-hearted) because you may not need to wrestle with allegiances to lifelong attachments to “what you’ve been taught”.
You could choose to read or re-read Mark in support of this article. If you do so, however, do not treat it as a normal text, as “information”. It wastes your time to not attempt to open yourself in the way you might while reading Homer or watching an absorbing drama. Trust the skill of the author(s) despite all the intervening millenia and translations. Another effective alternative is to listen to it. A little over a year ago, I did this four or five nights in a row before sleep, using an ASMR narration. This is itself an interesting experience if you’ve never partaken. It leaves you free to watch the video component as well or just close your eyes.
According to Mark
There is a brevity and concision to Mark. It explicitly omits from the narrative anything before the appearance of Christ within Jesus, which began with the dove’s descent at the river Jordan. (John’s Gospel bears a similar focus, except for the enigmatic prologue which sets the tone by equating Christ with the initial creative Logos force at the very outset of all things as a member of the Godhead). Mark also is exceedingly brief concerning the events after the Crucifixion. The author of Mark seems expressly concerned about the deeds of Christ upon earth, a brief three-year stint within a human physical body. The myriad ways in which this unique physical body was ancestrally prepared is what the Old Testament is fundamentally about. But the period of thirty years during which the figure of human Jesus was born and unfolds prior to the descent into him of Christ is left untold here, considered as ancillary. The Mark narrative reads like a continuous uninterrupted adventure of a veritable magician actively wandering the lands, aware about everything, and bent upon delivering his revelation and healing force with every moment of his energies, all marshalled by an incredible yet loving superhuman power of will. Mark’s Christ is on the move and getting things done, constantly and with infinite foresight.
If you compare the personality of the pre-Christ-indwelt Jesus, as described within the early portions of the gospels of Matthew or Luke with this magician of compassionate will Christ as depicted in Mark, you really have a hard time seeing how they could be the same person. This comparison alone gives great weight and illumination to the significance of the image of the descending dove at the Baptism. Recall that it is Jesus, pulled out of the waters by John the Baptist, who himself gazes up and sees the coming spirit of Christ entering into him. And then he is transformed. He is no longer simply Jesus of Nazareth. This transition, I feel, has to be seriously considered by the aspirant or researcher. And it almost never is.
[1:10] And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
[1:11] And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
[1:12] And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
This formulation I have just given will already carry the odor of heresy to some who live and breathe in some form of doctrinal orthodoxy. The thing I would advise is this: You are free to believe or take as a foundation that the Biblical text is to be assumed as the Godly truth. (I don’t do this because of the presence of so many translation and copy and editing errors over 2000 years.) But you are not free to assume the Godly truth of some interpretation placed upon this text by a pastoral or institutional authority! Therefore, the only sensible and honest course is to read for yourself, think, and remain open to various interpretations and see what comes. But now I want to go further: Jesus, speaking of the person before the Baptism, was an extremely special human. This is indicated in various childhood and infancy episodes in Luke and Matthew, and as I mentioned, in the entire significance of the Old Testament and the meaning of the “Covenant” for the Hebrew people. One element of Jesus’ exceptional spiritual nature was his ability to see beyond ordinary physical reality. Similarly to what the Old Testament prophets could do.
My interpretation is that Jesus could see the descending dove, and the rending asunder of the heavens because he possessed spiritual vision: clairvoyance. After all, the spirit of Christ would best utilize a very exceptional vehicle in which to walk the Earth for three years. Not merely a humble carpenter. Yes it is of course valuable and even essential that the unforced quality of humility as it embraces a love for all humanity should characterize the figure in whom the Christ — a lofty element of the Godhead according to John’s prologue — is able to descend. But this should not then be seen as the only necessary quality or even the primary one. Is it not a bit convenient, for people who do not wish to exert themselves to think about things, to simply buy into the purity of simple humility as the germane factor here?
A similar argument could be put forth regarding clairaudience in that the voice of God is also heard at this moment (verse 11). Some spiritual capacities must also be attributed to John the Baptist in view of his remarks about what is about to happen. The problem is as follows. The usual way of thinking about accounts like this, on the part of believers, is that everyone on hand could sense and be aware of such occurrences. A passing seagull or a child at play. Because of the strong unconscious modern tendency to take everything literally and materialistically, and frankly, as simply and without effort as possible — even when the subject matter is supposedly miraculous. But the text does not say this! So one who believes this is making an assumption, or an interpretation. My interpetation is different. There have been extraordinary human figures throughout (and before) history who bore within them special spiritual capacities which enabled them to receive and comprehend revelations from non-physical non-human sources: gods. When Jacob wrestled the angel, you would not have been able to setup a ringside event and sell wine and pretzels to a crowd, because only a special individual like Jacob would even perceive what was going on! This is the way one has to think about miracles. What was amazing and radically new about Christ is that a God of the order of the Godhead itself had descended into a human host and performed deeds openly which the masses could perceive! This, by the way, is the reason why the Pharisees, the Hebraic elders, were so riled up about Christ “performing signs” openly — to the degree that they resolved to kill Jesus. Not because they were jealous for power, which is a silly and superficial interpretation. The Jewish scholarly elite knew about the potentiality for miraculous deeds as a consequence of sufficient and proper spiritual development, but regarded direct knowledge of them as something unsuitable for the public masses and to be mediated by a highly selective and lengthy process of inner preparation — a spiritual initiation in accordance with their traditional handed-down mysteries. This is also something almost never thought about by contemporaries.
Another Example Involving Reincarnation
A second general reality much more familiar to the ancient world than is acceptable nowadays, and therefore forming the seed for much confusion when interpreting old myth and scripture, is the reality of human reincarnation. Reincarnation of human souls and the possible cultivation of spiritual capacities of perception beyond ordinary sensory-based cognition: these are the twin phenomena whose dismissal plagues the modern mind with countless errors. If one simply takes the possibility of these two realities into consideration as remotely conceivable, then the reading of ancient history, legend, myth, and sacred scripture suddenly opens into a new clarity. All it takes is openness. Uncritical belief is decidedly unneeded or desirable. I will illustrate the general widespread acceptance of repeated earth lives with an example from Mark, which occurs shortly after the feeding of the four thousand with a few crusts of bread and small fishes.
[8:22] And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
[8:23] And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
[8:24] And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.
[8:25] After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.
[8:26] And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.
[8:27] And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?
[8:28] And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.
[8:29] And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
[8:30] And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.
Here we see it quite casually remarked that some consider Jesus to be the reincarnation of the spirit of John the Baptist, who had only been executed recently. Another opines that it is the Old Testament prophet Elias who now returns to earthly life in the figure of Jesus. Other past Israeli luminaries are also put forth as possibilities. Finally it is Peter who corrects that Jesus is in fact Jesus of Nazareth but bearing the Christ, the principle of the Word within the Godhead who has incarnated within him. Thou art the Christ! It is also important that this brief passage serves to distinguish between Jesus the man and Christ the god — a distinction which is often blurred among believers and pastors alike.
How Did Gospel Authors Know?
Theologians of all persuasions, believers and otherwise, have mentally contorted themselves to construct a factual, academic, and historic picture of how the scriptures, especially the four gospels, came to be. The accepted story runs like this. Mark’s gospel arose first, by about 60 A.D., having been composed and assembled by a disicple connected with the orginal Paul, known as John, also called Mark. Matthew and Luke are said to have followed closely upon this seminal source, relying upon it as a kind of basis, filling in details about the pre-Christ life of Jesus and even his genealogy, supposedly via some combination of painstaking scholarship and compiling of interviews of people who remembered actual events. This entire picture has always bothered me, seeming, as it does, to be a superimposing of modern day sensibilities and research methods onto the Mediterranean civilzations of two millenia ago. But the narrative at the other end of the spectrum struck me as equally unsatisfying and poorly substantiated. Namely that real holy guys got into a state of devotional receptivity and received the words of God like a dictation and wrote stuff down at fever pace.
I think the answer lies between these two unrealities, although in some ways it is closer to the second one. Again, the reasonable conclusion seems to me to be apprehension of past events via claivoyance. Consider the following fragments where Christ is being privately questioned by Annas, the Jewish high priest related to Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate, who due to his position of authority, is trying to make sense of the angry accusations of the Jewish scribes in contrast to the enigmatic figure of ‘Jesus’ stading before him. It is a responsibility he clearly is uncomfortable about. Note in both cases it is made explicit that no disciples are any longer present. These scenes take place immediately after the seizure of Christ Jesus upon the betrayal by Judas. (Mark’s version of the Pilate conversation is characteristically brief and to the point, but John’s version is filled out more and clearly indicates Pilate retreating with Jesus privately — which is why I’ve included it.)
Christ before Annas (KJV John 19)
[19:19] The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
[19:20] Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
[19:21] Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
[19:22] And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?
[19:23] Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
[19:24] Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.
Christ before Pilate (KJV Mark 15)
[15:1] And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
[15:2] And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.
[15:3] And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.
[15:4] And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.
[15:5] But Jesus yet answered nothing; such that Pilate marvelled.
Christ before Pilate (KJV John 19)
[19:28] Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
[19:20] Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?
[19:30] They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.
[19:31] Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:
[19:32] That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.
[19:33] Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
[19:34] Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
[19:35] Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?
[19:36] Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
[19:37] Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
[19:38] Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.
The question here is: how did Mark or John know about the details of these scenes in order to be able to describe them, allegedly in an absolutely truthful manner? No one is present except Pilate and Jesus and perhaps some sort of off-stage sentry. No disciples or members of the public are present during the encounter with Annas. The usual explanatory mechanism of relying upon the testimonies of eye witnesses does not seem to hold water. Did Mark subsequently interview Pilate or the sentry to obtain their account? Did Christ Himself later provide Mark with an explicit recounting of the episode for the sake of posterity? That seems more than a bit uncharacteristically self-centered. I have included a wonderfully evocative interesting painting depicting this encounter between the worldly pragmatic Pilate and the enigmatic Christ and its confounding private nature. It was executed by the Russian artist Nikolai Ge about 1890. (Ge was no slouching non-contemplative. He set aside a brilliant career in mathematics to turn towards the arts around age 20.)
Here again the spiritual capacities of clairvoyance and clairaudience offer an alternative view of the entire matter — one which I, for one, find vastly more plausible. The writers of the gospels were themselves spiritually advanced figures, initiates if you like, selected by Christ (and in some cases initiated by Him) expressly to write down accounts of momentous happenings for the inspiration of future generations. That is how the gospels, and other scriptural elements, were sourced. Actual previous events were witnessed by initiated disciples in visions of sufficient clarity and detail to produce the written accounts. In the case of John, almost a century afterwards! Clairvoyant spiritual images had to be translated into allegorical and descriptive language, according to the conventions of the time.
Under this scenario, the fact of clairvoyance reaches down into the very creation of the gospels themselves. It gives an entirely different color to the Bible, and incidentally, to all legitimate myth and sacred text. It sheds light upon the differences in accounts among the four gospels. the shifting of emphases among them, according to the predilections of the respective seers who wrote them down. It also, in my view, casts a much harsher than usual light upon the potentially ‘evil’ distortions inherent in transformations due to linguistic translation and personal interpretive determinations made by scribes or modern day editorial committees. Especially grevious, in my opinion, are the bombastic contemporary offerings made in simplified language for the laymen (example). This stuff seems to me to be seriously stripped of actual sacred content or inspiration, and by its very nature will generate confusion and inaccuracies.
In combination with the uncritical denial of human reincarnation, the refusal to accept the possibility of supernatural capacities for spiritual perception has led to deep delusions concerning mankind’s actual predicament on Earth vis-s-vis the spiritual worlds. A main culprit in the propagating of these delusions have been institutionalized religious dogma, which discourages people from puzzling through scriptural mysteries on their own — which is the sacred way things were intended in the first place. The “sin” concerning dismissal of clairvoyance is that lay persons are led away (or superstitiously forbidden) from pursuing their own independent means of spiritual perception via various means in favor of cleaving to imposed simplistic pronouncements. The “sin” concerning dismissal of reincarnation is perhaps worse. For it allows the creation of the dread-inspiring fallacy that people have exactly one adult lifetime in order to come to some meaningful final reconciliation with scripture at the risk of permanently avoiding “salvation” and suffering eternal damnation. So: first obfuscate the truth. Then, scare people to death into accepting it. “There shall be many false witnesses”.
Thank you for reading.
Links for deeper study: (1) Annotated Mark’s Gospel, King James Version ; (2) same but American Standard Version ; (3) ASMR softly narrated version of Mark’s Gospel which is about three hours long ; (4) Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric lectures from 1910-11 “Excursions into Mark” : (5) Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric lectures from 1912 “The Gospel of Saint Mark”.
[ Title Image : Camille Flammarion’s well-known 1888 wood engraving of a travelling seeker poking his head through the obscuring veil of the firmament. Interestingly, the illustration was created for a text about meteorology, weather. I think the original was not colored. ]
► Handy INDEX — scan through all available articles
You wrote, “…the only sensible and honest course is to read for yourself, think, and remain open to various interpretations and see what comes” I could not agree more.
Yes. That is definitely a core sentence or thought in the whole thing.
Intriguing and well-argued.
Thanks Carol. I appreciate your reading.