Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Esoteric Ritual during the New Testament Era

Esoteric Ritual During the New Testament Era

Writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices show that for two centuries before and after Jesus Christ, certain religious groups practiced rituals that included anointing patrons and the receiving of celestial robes. Teaching about the use of secret names and tokens took place along with passing through the temple veil into the presence of God. Revelations of the secrets of creation and the exaltation and deification of individuals were presented. Ascension into various levels of heaven rfepresenting different degrees of glory was a part of the ceremony. The need for moral purity was taught, and Eternal Marriages were performed.


Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. Afterwards, the youth was dressed in a white robe, and anointed with oil and given a new name. This ritual was sacred and not open to non-family members to view. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified. for Deceased Ancestors is referenced in 1 Corinthians 15:29 "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" Baptism for deceased ancestors was practiced by Marcionites, an early Christian group, Orthodox Christian groups; Coptics (who even practice it today on occasion); Ethiopian Christians, called Abyssinians; and early Roman Catholics, as reported by Augustine and others.The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles.

· Sacred Ordinances

Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their esoteric practices sacred and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 200) made a statement “But if there is any other matter which ought to be told, let the bishop impart it secretly to those who are communicated. He shall not tell this to any but the faithful and only after they have first been communicated. This is the white stone of which John said that there is a new name written upon it which no man knows except him who receives.[i]

Clement of Alexandria claimed to possess a secret tradition of knowledge (Greek gnosis) handed down from the Savior to the Apostles and on to Clement himself by way of certain of his teachers. “Clement represents this secret discipline to which he gives the title of gnosis, or gift of knowledge, as having been conferred by our Lord, after his resurrection, on James the Just, John, and Peter, by whom it was communicated to the other Apostles; and that by these the treasure was committed to the seventy disciples, of whom Barnabas was one. . . the secret discipline thus instituted by Christ was familiar to those who had been his masters and preceptors,”[ii]

“The multitude professing Christianity were therefore divided by them into the “profane,” or those who were not yet admitted to the mysteries, and the “initiated,” or faithful and perfect. . . and as none were permitted to be present at these “mysteries,” as they were termed, save those whose admission into the fellowship of the church was perfect and complete, so likewise was it expected that, as a matter of duty, the most sacred silence should be observed in regard to everything connected with the celebration of them, and nothing whatever relating thereto to be committed to the ears of the profane.”[iii]

· 40 Days Between Christ’s Crucifixion and Ascension

In Sophia Jesu Christi: “After He had risen from the dead, when they came, the twelve disciples and seven women who had followed him as disciples, into Galilee. .. where they were now at a loss in regard to the true nature of the universe, the Plan of Salvation, the Holy Providence, the excellency of the Powers, about all that the Redeemer did with them, the secrets of the Holy Plan of Salvation, then there appeared to them the Redeemer. “ [iv]

· Instruction to Adam

In the Apocalypse of Adam, it is related that mystical instruction was given by three heavenly messengers to Adam. Jesuit scholar George MacRae summarizes:’ Father Adam explains how in the Fall he and Eve lost their glory and knowledge. Through the revelation imparted to Adam by three heavenly visitors, however, this knowledge is passed on to Seth and his seed.”

An Egyptian Christian book, the First Book of Adam and Eve describes their posture in prayer: “Then Adam and Eve raised their hands unto God, praying and entreating Him to drive Satan away from them”

· Preliminary Ordinances

Cyril of Jerusalem gave the most complete description of Preliminary Ordinances (Initiatory Rites) (translated into English in 1951[v]). [Even though Cyril was a Bishop in the Roman Church about 350 A.D., his views on the Trinity and original sin are similar to LDS’ today.] He wrote five catechetical (kat-i-ket-i-kuhl) lectures for the newly baptized. “As soon, then, as ye entered, ye put off your tunic; and this was an image of putting off the old man with his deeds. . . ye were naked; in this also imitating Christ, who was naked on the Cross, and by His nakedness put off from Himself the principalities and powers, and openly triumphed over them on the tree. . . truly ye bore the likeness of the first-formed Adam, in the garden, and was not ashamed. Then, , ye were anointed with exorcised oil, from the very hairs of your head to your feet, and were made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ.[vi]

The ointment is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses, and while thy body is anointed with the visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit. And ye were first anointed on the forehead . . . Then on your ears: that ye might receive the ears which are quick to hear the Divine Mysteries. . . Then on the nostrils. . Afterwards on your breast,; that having put on the breast-plate of righteousness, ye may stand against the wiles of the devil. . .[vii] (see )

The initiate received a new name after the clothing.[viii]

· The Endowment

Male initiates wore mitre or priestly cap “much as though a sphere were to be divided through the centre, and one half thereof to be put upon the head… It has no peak at the top, nor does it cover the whole head as far as the hair extends, but leaves about a third of the front part of the head uncovered. It is attached by a band,.” [ix]

“Sacred vestments include a girdle or sash and a robe worn over the shoulders. The robe is worn on different shoulders, depending on the degree within the priesthood.”[x]

All those who were admitted to the inner sights of the mysteries had a formula or pass-word. . [xi]
“Come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers spread; but make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ” [xii] (Eucharist and baptism were part of esoteric ordinances in 2nd & 3rd Century Christianity.)

· The Prayer Circle

A prayer is offered by the [officiator] in behalf of those in the circle and the others attending which included the giving of thanks, petition for blessing to be pronounced upon the Eucharist, and petition ‘for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world, for kings, for soldiers and allies; for the sick, for the afflicted, and in a word, for all who stand in need of succor[xiii]
The names of those to be prayed for were written on parchments, which from being folded twice, were called diptychs[xiv]
In the Stromata, Clement of Alexandria, in describing the prayer circle, says “So also we raise the head and lift the hands to heaven. ” The First Century Odes of Solomon explains that this posture was adopted in imitation of the Savior on Calvary: “I stretched forth my hands and sanctified my Lord: For the extension of my hands in His sign; And my expansion is the upright tree.”
3rd Nephi Ch 19 Jesus appeared to his 12 disciples and the multitude in the form of a prayer circle. [xv] - -

· The Veil

In the Gospel of Philip, the Savior gave various “seals” and passwords necessary to ascend to the highest heaven: “Here at the veil are imparted the secret “seals” and “pass-words”, which allow free passage through each of their spheres[xvi]
In one narrative, the Primeval Man is drawn up to heaven by celestial messengers: .. The Living Spirit extended his right hand to Primeval Man. The latter seized it and thus was drawn up out of the depths of the world of darkness. . . He was returned to the paradise of light, his Celestial home, where his kin awaited him.”[xvii]

· Celestial Marriage

Egyptian Christians considered Celestial marriage to be their most holy mystery. The Gospel of Philip states that “those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated”[xviii]One receives them [the male and female powers] from the mirrored bridal chamber.[xix]if anyone becomes a son of the bridal chamber, he will receive the light.” [xx] “The heavenly man has many more sons than the earthly man. If the sons of Adam are many, although they die, how much more the sons of the perfect man, they who do not die but are always begotten.”[xxi]

Clement (of Alexandria) believed that marriage and procreation are an intrinsic and positive part of God’s plan for the human race. In this way, the human being becomes the image of God, by cooperating in the creation of another human being. The married man who must devote himself to the administration of a household is a more faithful reflection of God’s own providential care.” [xxii]
Clement felt that marriage “was good practice for life as a god[xxiii]

The Gospel of Philip taught that the existence of the world depends on the mystery of marriage: “Great is the mystery of marriage! For without it the world would not have existed. How the existence of the world depends on man, and the existence of man on marriage.[xxiv]

· Rejection of Esoteric Ordinances (part of the Apostasy) xxv

Various reasons for the rejection of Esoteric Ordinances during the Fourth Century:
- Nicene Creed became antithetical to Theosis and Divinization
- Emperor Constantine [xxv]couldn’t condone secrecy which might organize against state’s authority.
-2nd Century fragmentation of Christian authority
-Hellenism – Greek thought based on Socrates’ rationalism
-Roman (intellectual) fight against Gnosticism (esoteric) resulted in the Roman Church’s burning of the Apocrypha
-Rejection of Jewish esoteric traditions xxv

· Conclusion

If Joseph Smith taught a number of esoteric doctrines that were unknown to have existed in the early church during his time, but which research and uncovered documents (during the 1950 to 1970 period) now show were part of early Christianity, one has to conclude that he was inspired of God. Yale literary scholar Harold Bloom, wrote a book called The American Religion, in which he writes of Joseph Smith: "I can only attribute to his genius or heavenly intervention his uncanny recovery of many elements in ancient Jewish theurgy [xxvi] that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly." The Church which Joseph Smith restored is the original Church of Christ, as revealed in the many documents of the first three centuries after Christ .
[i] Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 23:14, in R.P.C. Hanson, Tradition in the Early Church (London: SCM Press, 1962, 32
[ii] Johann L. Mosheim, Historical Commentaries on the State of Christianity, 2 vols, (New York; S. Converse, 1854), `:375-376
[iii] Mosheim, Historical Commentaries on the State of Christianity, vol 1, 390-391
[iv] The Sophia Jesu Christi, in NTA 1:246 In one other Gnostic document, the Apocalypse of Adam, it is related that originally such mystical instruction was given by three heavenly messengers to Adam. Jesuit scholar George MacRae summarizes:’ Father Adam explains how in the Fall he and Eve lost their glory and knowledge. Through the revelation imparted to Adam by three heavenly visitors, however, this knowledge is passed on to Seth and his seed.” MacRae, G.W., Introduction to the Apocalypse of Adam, in Robinson, ed., the Nag Hammadi Library in English, 256
[v] Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Theologian
[vi] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 20, in NPNF Series 2, 7:146-148 (translated into English in 1951)
[vii] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 21, in NPNF Series 2, 7:148-151 (see )
[viii] Arthur McCormack, Christian Initiation (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1969(, 65
[ix] Jerome, Letter to Fabiola, quoted in Marriott, Vestiarum Christianum, 13-14
[x] Wellnitz, “The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple,” 20
[xi] Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, 298
[xii] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 23:21, in NPNF Series 2, 7:156 (see
[xiii] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 23:4-8, in NPNF Series 2 7:153-154 (see
[xiv] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 23:9-10, in NPNF Seies 2, 7:154-155 (see
[xv] Book of Mormon, 3rd, Nephi Chapter 19
[xvi] Gospel of Philip,
[xvii] Widergren, Mani and Manichaeism, 52. Cf. Compton T.M., “The Handclasp and Embrace as Tokens of Recognition”
[xviii] The Gospel of Philip, in Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English 142 (translated into English in 1977)
[xix] Ibid, p 139
[xx] Ibid p.151
[xxi] Ibid p. 135
[xxii] David G. Hunter, Marriage in the Early Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992 ), 15
[xxiii] Wagner, After the Apostles, 180
[xxiv] The Gospel of Philip, p 139
[xxv] Constantine's reign as Roman emperor (A.D. 306-337) dramatically changed the direction of Christianity, though in ways far different from those portrayed in The Da Vinci Code. This grew out of his strategy for unifying his empire by creating a "catholic"—meaning universal —church that would blend elements from many religions into one.
While Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity in 312, he wasn't baptized until on his deathbed 25 years later. In the intervening years he had his wife and eldest son murdered, and from all appearances he continued as a worshipper of the sun god. Long after his supposed conversion he had coins minted with a portrait of himself on one side and a depiction of his "companion, the unconquered Sol [sun]" on the other.
The "Christianity" Constantine endorsed was already considerably different from that practiced by Jesus Christ and the apostles. The emperor accelerated the change by his own hatred of Jews and religious practices he considered Jewish.
For example, at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), church authorities essentially replaced the biblical Passover with Easter, a popular holiday rooted in ancient springtime fertility celebrations. Endorsing this change, Constantine announced: "It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast [Easter] we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul . . . Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd" (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3, 18-19, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1979, second series, Vol. 1, pp. 524-525).
Constantine's affection for sun worship had earlier led him to endorse Sunday, the first day of the week and a day dedicated to honoring the sun, as a weekly day of rest in the Roman empire . This created considerable hardship on those Jews and true Christians who continued to keep the biblical Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. (A century later the Council of Laodicea would essentially outlaw Sabbath-keeping and Christian observance of the Old Testament Holy Days.)
Constantine's merging religious practices produced a corrupted Christianity that meshed paganism with biblical elements; for example the followers of Isis adored a Madonna nursing her holy child. Many Christians did not make a clear distinction between this sun-cult [Mithraism] and their own. They held their services on Sunday, knelt towards the East and had their nativity-feast on 25 December, the birthday of the sun at the winter solstice.
" Did the empire surrender to Christianity, or did Christianity prostitute itself to the empire? When we consider the vast differences between the mainstream Christianity of today and the original Christianity of Jesus Christ and the apostles, we can trace much of that change to Constantine and the religious system he put in power.
[xxvi] “The working of divine agency in human affairs”


Paul said...

So, Joseph reveals things that are hidden from the entire world, including the greatest scholars of the day, without having had any formal education, and Bloom explains it away by crediting him with 'genius?' What would be the source of such genius? Either Joseph was a prophet restoring an ancient order unknown to the world or he was the luckiest charlatan the world has ever seen. The odds against the latter are so ridiculous that Joseph actually being the prophet he claimed to be is by far the more plausible explanation. Genius or demon, indeed!

Big Tom the Great and Magnificent said...

I have enjoyed your blog. Keep up the good work!

Weston Krogstadt said...

I finally got to your web page and was very pleased. I read your entire Esoteric post and found it very enlightening. Thank You for posting it.

Bot said...

To view this post in Espanol, go to:

Timothy said...

Having grown up LDS and been through the temple ceremonies many times, I have a thorough understanding of the history and rituals of the Mormon faith. However, I am now Catholic and truly find Catholicism to be the closest today to what Jesus established 2000 years ago. I completely feel like I've come home. And by the way, ancient manuscripts document that the Catholic Mass has remained the same since the time of the Apostles.

hillplus said...


you have sold your birthright for a mess of pottage. You were Israel, made and kept sacred covenants before the world began. Pity....

MJ said...

beThis born has born his testimony: [Yale literary scholar Harold Bloom, wrote a book called The American Religion, in which he writes of Joseph Smith: "I can only attribute to his genius or heavenly intervention his uncanny recovery of many elements in ancient Jewish theurgy [xxvi] that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly." The Church which Joseph Smith restored is the original Church of Christ, as revealed in the many documents of the first three centuries after Christ .]

Tohru Honda said...

I'm doing the best I can to be a good Mormon, but I'm really struggling in this one area: the endowment. Now I haven't been to the temple, and perhaps simply lack in understanding, but I find it hard to believe that an ordinance like that one is of God and not of Joseph Smith. I won't go into the details because I know how some things are deemed "too sacred" to utter. But I will make this comment: the endowment seems too works oriented to be of God. Meaning it sounds as if it teaches that a man is saved by his own keeping of the commandments rather than God's grace that gives the man the ability to have good works in the first place.

Besides, what work of God is ever done in the dark? Are God's people not to shine forth as the morning star that gives light to the day? How can we be light unto other if we keep our works in the dark?

I know the temple has people covenant to keep secrets. I try not to disrespect that. I try to understand. I try to understand how the endowment is of God. But it's hard when I'm the only Mormon in my family, and my family opposes the religion with anti-mormon vigor. How am I supposed to fight against the darkness if I don't know what the light is? I find myself coming up with my own ideas, and I can only pray I'm not deceived, and that God will help me and the church.

Did the Christians have the endowment in their early temple rituals? It's impossible to say because we have no records of early Christian temples. All I've ever seen is records of Jewish temples. Now that's not to say that the Christians didn't build temples after Christ's crucifixion, in which case they'd then no longer have need for the sacrificing animals within the Jewish temples. But I can't confidently say what the early Christian temple ceremonies were without their records. Perhaps God will restore those records one day, but if the endowment was to be kept secret even back then... Nobody would ever know whether or not it was of God because the knowledge of it would never have been passed down. We can only know by the doctrinal principles taught behind it really, although people do tend to follow the leadership blindly regardless.

Bot said...

Tohru Honda asks: "Did the Christians have the endowment in their early temple rituals?"

If you re-read my article carefully, you will see that Early Christians did have the preliminary (washing and anointing), endowment, and sealing (marriage) ordinances. The good news is that we now DO have have written records of Early Christian temple ceremonies.

Were they exactly the same as today's? No, they included singing hymns and the sacrament. They were performed in Early Christian chapels. For example, there are two stone baptismal fonts in the Israel Museum, taken from the basements of 2nd Century Christian chapels (see a photo of one near my name, taken from above).

We now have the Nag Hammadi translations which corroborate today's temple ordinances. Therefore, you should have greater faith than early LDS Saints, who didn't have this concrete evidence of the Restoration of Temple Ordinances.

Unknown said...

I think it should also be said that when we look at the "ways" of our Heavenly Father, it is clear that he uses our bodies, rituals and practices to teach us of the eternal, celestial realm. For example, in the Old Testament, the are 613 rules, laws, whatever a person feels it should be called. This is called the Mosaic Law because it was handed to Moses to teach to the people.

Now, that Jesus Christ has Atoned for our sins, we need to understand that Heavenly Father doesn't change, neither does Jesus Christ. If they choose to teach us of the Celestial Kingdom, and do this through ordinances and practices, what is wrong with that? The purpose is to see the spiritual through it and have mysteries revealed to us as it is given to us individually by our Heavenly Father.

An example of this is the Passover Lamb. Those who understood this realm is temporal and sought the spiritual truth of the Passover were blessed because either they or their descendants would see the coming Atonement of Jesus Christ. Those who only saw/perceived the temporal would only receive the temporal understanding - which does not save.

I hope that helps a bit. I see that you wrote this a while ago.