The Mystical Jewish Jesus

The mystical traits ascribed to the earthly Jesus as well as those ascribed to the heavenly Jesus are deeply based in Jewish mysticism.  As NT scholar Marcus J. Borg has observed, Jesus was a Jewish mystic immersed in the stream of Jewish mystical tradition.  It is especially important to know that describing Jewish mysticism, and placing Jesus within it, means not only describing “Old Testament” Judaism, but also – and most importantly – describing Second Temple (or “intertestamental”) Judaism.  The Jesus movement was born into that timeframe, not into “Old Testament” or “Bible” times.  It inherited Judaism’s mystical ideals, terms, and practices as developed up to the point of John the Baptizer’s innovations,  and up to  its inception in Jesus’ mystical experience.  But the intertestamental period flourished with new ideas beyond those found in the Torah and Prophets.  Jesus and the early Jewish sectarian movement that formed around him adopted and adapted features of this “modern Judaism” (i.e., “modern” relative to all that had gone before), giving new life and expression to the experiential knowledge of the spirit .

So when discussing Christian origins it must always be borne in mind that Jesus and the Judaism of his day were no longer “Old Testament” categories, but rather very new and interesting ideational and cultural phenomena.  Therefore, it is not always correct to judge by “Old Testament” or Torah standards what Jesus might plausibly have said or done, for the reason that he was acting as a denizen of the Second Temple period, not of the ancient Judaistic time period.  This fact has huge repercussions for biblical scholarship, because now any study of Jesus and his times is obliged to factor-in Second Temple phenomena – for example,  the Dead Sea Scrolls, or reports about religious figures who were Jesus’ contemporaries.  Pauline and Johannine studies are illuminated by the mystical beliefs and practices not just of ancient Judaism, but (crucially) by Second Temple thaumaturgy, “ascent,” magic, angelomorphology, prayer and meditation.

The Jesus that scholarship seeks is a Second Temple Jewish mystic, the threads of whose work can be at least partially glimpsed in the fabric of Second Temple esotericism.


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