Did Jesus exist?
The controversy as to whether Jesus was a real person has raged in recent years. On the one side are the “mythicists” who argue that the gospels are fiction and that Jesus was originally a pagan god. How else can we explain why Christians thought of Jesus as the Son of God? Or why the bread should be his flesh and the wine his blood? Or why early Christians believed that Jesus would rule the universe at the end times? On the other side are the scholars and church authorities who say that the idea that Jesus was not real is absurd.
The Rock and the Tower cuts through these entrenched viewpoints. It shows why neither the traditional view of Jesus as a man nor Jesus as a pagan god, can explain the evidence. Using the simple but powerful “shaman paradigm,” the book analyzes the early sources to separate the signal from the noise.
The idea behind the “shaman paradigm” is that new religions start with a shaman who has spiritual revelations from a “visitor from heaven.” The Rock and the Tower shows why Jesus must be the “visitor from heaven” and not the shaman. The main thrust of the book is the search for the shaman’s identity and the uncovering of their story.
What is revealed is extraordinary. And yet, in retrospect, the truth has been hiding in plain sight! The shaman is shown to be the most revered person in Christianity after Jesus himself. And is it really surprising that the founder of the religion of love is a woman?
Note about the book
If you have a serious interest in Christian origins, if you really must know what actually happened, this book is essential. It is a big book in more ways than one. The paperback is over 750 pages. And the scope of the book is huge. The book analyzes the early evidence to deduce the pattern of events. It does not pull any punches. Traditional Christians will find literal and fundamentalist beliefs challenged. But they will also discover the spiritual wellspring of their religion. The Rock and the Tower is written for the general reader and does not presuppose any specialist knowledge. However, please bear in mind the size and scope of the book. This is not a little light reading! But if you accept the challange it will reward you with a range of fascinating insights.
A female shaman. Her spiritual bridegroom, the Christ. The creation of a religion of love that swept across the ancient world.
Mary the shaman
The Rock and the Tower restores Mary to her role as the founder of Christianity. In the guise of Mary the Virgin, the mother of Jesus, she has always been the most prominent woman in both Christianity and Islam. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches place her almost on a level with Jesus – she is even called the co-redeemer.
Why should Jesus’ mother be given such an exceptional position? Jewish culture was patriarchal, and we know nothing about the mothers of most other prominent Jewish men of the time, not even their names.
But the mother of Jesus is not the only Mary in the gospels! In fact, almost every female follower of Jesus is called Mary. The idea that there were four, or perhaps five, women all with the same name strains credibility. The book explains how all these characters can be traced back to the one and only shaman Mary.
The other prominent Mary is the Magdalene. Typically Mary Magdalene is presented as a younger figure, perhaps even a prostitute. Following the success of the Da Vinci Code, there has been much speculation that she was Jesus’ wife. But The Rock and the Tower shows that the characters of the Magdalene and the Virgin are two aspects of the same woman.
A major element of the book is the quest for the meaning of “the Magdalene.” This is shown to come not from the town of Magdala, as is commonly supposed, but directly from the word for “tower.” Mary Magdalene means “Mary the tower.” It is the symbol of the tower that holds the secret of the origins of the Jesus movement. The book traces the tower back to a Jewish text existing hundreds of years before Christianity where it is found in parallel with “the rock” from which comes the name “Peter.” The book shows why both the rock and the tower are titles that belong to a shaman.
The image is from a panel in the Stephansdom in Vienna. It shows Mary with the symbol of the Magdalene, the tower. But the woman on the panel is Mary the Virgin!
The Virgin Birth
“She has given birth and has not given birth.” (Acts of Peter)
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph but not yet married who conceived from the Holy Spirit. Even many Christians have problems believing this story of the virgin birth! Some skeptics see it as an attempt to explain Jesus’ illegitimacy. The book shows that this is not the case. It traces the origins of the virgin birth to a tradition that Mary had given birth, but that the birth was not physical. This tradition is found in multiple early sources. Mary, the virgin shaman, was seen as the means by which Jesus had been reborn into the world.
The rebirth of Jesus was the same as his resurrection, and both were spiritual rather than physical. The idea that Jesus had a spiritual body is known as Docetism. The church views Docetism as the earliest heresy, for it was prevalent in the first century. But the book shows how Docetism goes back to Mary and the origins of Christianity.
The virgin birth story is evidence that something like Docetism existed before the gospels. When the gospel account of Jesus as a man who had lived in the recent past developed, the accounts of a spiritual birth to a virgin were interpreted as a spiritual conception followed by physical birth. So we get the story of the virgin birth that we find in the gospels.
The Song of Thunder
In the early Christian text Thunder: Perfect mind there is a fascinating section that goes back to early traditions about Mary:
I am the whore and the holy one, I am the wife and the virgin
This records the identity between Mary Magdalene (the “whore” and the “wife”) and the Virgin Mary (the “holy one” and the “virgin”). It continues a few lines little later:
I am the barren one, and many are her sons
I am she whose wedding is great and I have not taken a husband
I am the midwife and she who does not bear I am the solace of my labor pains
We find the same concepts here as we find in other sources, the idea that Mary has given birth and yet has not given birth.
Interview with the author
The book is described as a “shaman paradigm” book. Is it part of a series?
The idea is to write a group of books around the shaman paradigm concept. Each book will explore a separate aspect. The Rock and the Tower is the first of these books and searches for the identity of the shaman. But each book will also be independent and can be read on its own.
What is the shaman paradigm?
The shaman paradigm comes from the idea that the origins of Christianity are not a special case. Most likely Christianity started in the same way that other religions start. There is a pattern that reoccurs time and again. A shaman founder has revelations from a spiritual “visitor from heaven.” They recruit followers who accept the teachings of the visitor from heaven as passed down through the shaman. The shaman and his or her followers will deviate from the established religious practice, justifying their actions by the authority of the visitor from heaven. The established religion will reject these innovations, and a breakaway religion will have formed.
Can you give some examples?
One example the book explores is Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons, who was visited by the angel Moroni. This is a good exemplar because the Mormons were founded relatively recently compared to most religions, so events are well documented. The book also discusses the spiritual experiences of some early Gnostics. For example, Marcus claimed to have got his teachings from a female spiritual visitor who was a form of the heavenly Tetrad. But the pattern is so universal that I am sure everyone can think of some examples.
Do you think these visitations were real?
I don’t think that is a useful question to ask for a historical investigation. For a rational explanation, we must rule out any physical miracles that contradict the laws of science. But I think we are at liberty to interpret the revelations as being spiritually true if we wish, or, alternatively, as being a purely psychological phenomenon.
So how does the shaman paradigm apply to Christianity?
What is unique about Christianity is that the gospels present Jesus as both the founder/shaman and as the subject of the religion. His role is overloaded, and this is the sign that there is something wrong with the gospel account. To find out what is wrong we must ask ourselves a simple question. Who is it that Christians look to as the authority for their beliefs? The answer is that they look to Jesus. In the gospels, Jesus never talks about any visitor from heaven. The authority he claims is purely his own. He just tells his followers what to do. No real shaman would pass on his revelations like this. No, Jesus is not the shaman. He is the visitor from heaven.
So you do not believe in the historical Jesus? That Jesus was a real person?
No. And that is not just because of the shaman paradigm. I do not see how the historical Jesus concept, which is so beloved of the scholars, makes any sense. The book goes into this by reference to three views of Jesus: the traditional, the traditional secular and the mythical. It explains why we must reject all three.
The traditional church view of Jesus makes sense in religious terms but is contradicted by science. In this traditional view, Jesus is the Son of God and gives his followers incontrovertible proof of his divine status. This proof comes from his miracles. He raises people from the dead and is raised from the dead himself. No wonder his followers accept him as their authority and as an object of worship!
Turning to the traditional secular view, a real historical Jesus could not have performed those miracles or been resurrected. Without physical miracles, the proof of Jesus’ divine status disappears, and his authority disappears. He is just a crucified peasant preacher. And crucifixion was the accursed death of hanging from a tree. It showed that God had rejected the crucified person as a false prophet.
Another problem is that a realistic historical Jesus could not have taught all the things that Christians believe today. If he had thought he would rule the universe at the end times, then he would have been severely mentally ill. He could not have believed that the bread was his flesh and the wine his blood. Nor could he promise his followers the Holy Spirit after his death. He would not have known of his own approaching death, and he would not have been resurrected after that death. These are not minor features. They are the essence of Christianity.
So under the historical Jesus paradigm, there would have been a massive U-turn after the death of Jesus. His followers would have to replace the genuine teachings of Jesus with a completely new set of teachings, none of which go back to Jesus, and some of which are the exact opposite of what he supposedly taught. I know of no other example where the followers of a revered religious figure changed his teachings in this way after his death. It just wouldn’t happen.
Most people who do not think that Jesus was a historical figure believe he was a mythical figure, such as Dionysus. But you reject this also?
Jesus was not a pagan god, no. The book examines the possibilities such as Osiris and Dionysus. It concludes that the best candidate is the Sumerian god Dumuzi, the consort of Inanna. We know he was worshipped in Judea. In fact, we know from Ezekiel that he was actually worshipped in the Jerusalem temple itself. He was represented as both a shepherd and a fisherman, so there are obvious links with Jesus. Although innocent, Dumuzi is sacrificed and is taken down to the underworld in exchange for Inanna. Like Jesus, he returns from the dead, but only partially, for six months of the year.
But you do not think that Jesus was Dumuzi?
I do not think there was a direct read-across from Dumuzi to the Christ myth. But there was a probable influence. The Jesus movement used the same spiritual techniques.
You mean the shamanic rebirth?
Yes. To die, to travel to the underworld, to be reborn is the essence of shamanism throughout the world. I think the followers of Dumuzi were doing just this, and the Jesus movement probably got the technique from them. It was part of the religious environment from which Christianity developed.
What form did this take in Christianity?
In the Jesus movement, the initiate would share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can see glimpses of this in Paul’s letters. He makes the strange statement to the Galatians that Christ was crucified in front of their eyes. Perhaps this was a physical enactment. More likely it was all about creating an imaginative experience in the initiate, and convincing the initiate that this experience was “real”. So they believed they were actually present at the crucifixion.
So why did this practice stop?
The movement expanded very rapidly and could not cope with the number and geographical spread of the new recruits. The crucial role was the mediator who induced the experience in the initiate. This person had to be a shaman. I think the apostles were trained to do this – certainly they all had to be capable of seeing the spiritual Christ. But there were too few of them, and this lack only intensified when the movement’s leaders were killed under persecution. All central control was lost, and in the resulting chaos, the gospels came into being. The central myth was included within the gospels in the form of a story. This was a brilliant development because it industrialized the process. All you had to do was copy the gospels and distribute them. A person would listen to the gospels as they were read aloud and imaginatively enter into the story. If they believed in the gospel story and were spiritually capable, they would undergo the transformation and be reborn in Christ. This is what I call in the book the “Easter Egg”.
So you do not believe that the gospels are historical accounts or biographies?
The gospels are religious documents. They were written for a religious purpose. They are instruments of transformation. We must never forget that. In the gospels, Jesus is a man, and yet he is also much more than a man. Secretly he is the greatest power in the universe. Yet he has consented to die to save others. It is this dual nature, both man and God, that gives the central myth of the crucifixion and resurrection its power.
It sounds like anyone who reads the gospels with belief can get back to the same religious experience as the first Christians.
I think there is a difference in intensity. The original transformation mediated by a shaman would have been very powerful compared to just reading the gospels. But, yes, there is a continuity of religious experience from the very start right down to the modern day. This is an important principle. A religion has to work from the very beginning, or it will never succeed. It has to give its converts something, and that something is a personal spiritual experience. And Christianity in its fully formed state, as it existed very early on, even in the 30s AD, did just this. But the religion that the scholars think that Jesus taught would not have because it is just too tepid.
So who was the shaman?
This question is the main thrust of the book! There are three criteria we can apply to find the shaman’s identity. These are prominence, the first witness of the resurrection and the first leader of the movement.
Taking them one at a time, what is the criterion of prominence?
The idea is that the founder would be very prominent within the movement. They would have been held in the highest esteem by their first followers. This feeling of reverence would have been passed down to generation after generation of initiates. It would be impossible to change this felling of reverence, almost worship, once it had started. We are not looking for anyone obscure!
This criterion reduces the field to a tiny number of potential candidates. The most revered figure in early Christianity is the Virgin Mary. Under the standard explanation, the cult of the Virgin only started later, but I do not think this explains the extraordinarily high regard she was held in by Christians. The other main candidate is Peter, who supposedly was a disciple and apostle. The apostle Paul was also revered, but we can rule him out by the evidence of his letters. He only comes on the scene later. Then there is the dark horse candidate Mary the Magdalene. There is a Mary who is held in high regard in some of the non-canonical texts and who is normally identified with the Magdalene. So we get down to two or perhaps three candidates just by applying the criterion of prominence.
The next criterion is the first witness of the resurrection.
The idea behind this is that the resurrection recalls the first visitation of Jesus to the shaman. So the stories of the resurrection, although literalized, should have preserved the identity of the shaman. This is a very powerful and specific test. But there is a problem. If we examine the early sources for the resurrection, we find there are two versions of the story. In one version it is Cephas who is the first witness and in the other Mary the Magdalene. So it becomes vital to determine which of the two is original. The evidence for Cephas is excellent. It is Paul who says that Christ first appeared to Cephas, and the book shows why this passage in 1 Corinthians must be genuine. The evidence for Mary the Magdalene is, at first glance, more doubtful.
This is surprising. Do not Christians regard the woman at the tomb, and Mary Magdalene in particular, as the first to see the risen Christ?
Yes. The Catholic Church gives Mary Magdalene the title of Apostle to the Apostles, a title that becomes very interesting when viewed through the lens of the Shaman Paradigm! However, many scholars have a more skeptical view. They see the story of Mary Magdalene and the other women as being invented by first-century Christians to give a witness to the empty tomb. They believe that the male disciples had fled to Galilee by this time and that it was in Galilee that their first experiences of the risen Christ occurred. This gave the problem of proving that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that he had been physically resurrected. The women had remained in Jerusalem because they had less to fear from the Roman authorities. So they were written into the account as witnesses. So goes the explanation, but I do not believe that it is true. A great deal revolves around the so-called long ending of Mark. This is the ending of the gospel that is printed in most bibles but which almost all scholars reject as a later addition. The long ending states that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene out of whom he cast seven demons. So it is of vital importance for our search to know if this is early or later. And so we have to go down a bit of a rabbit hole, into the detailed arguments for and against the long ending. But it is a fascinating rabbit hole.
You come to some surprising conclusions?
The conclusion is that the long ending is indeed very old. It is actually earlier than the rest of the Gospel of Mark and was originally a standalone document. I call this early source the “Gospel of the Long Ending”. The book recreates the original Gospel of the Long Ending, which is not quite the same as the version we find in Mark. The original had a pattern of three resurrection appearances, the first of which was to Mary Magdalene. The theme that runs through this very short gospel is that the disciples doubt Mary until they see Jesus for themselves. This greatly supports the idea that Mary Magdalene was the first witness and the shaman. But it leaves us with the problem of explaining the alternative Cephas tradition.
So what about the last criterion, that of the first leader?
The thinking behind this is very simple. The shaman should have been the first leader of the movement because there was no one else at this stage! So if we can analyze the sources to find who, other than Jesus, plays a leadership role, then we have probably found the shaman. This time the sources point to the person called Cephas or Peter as the early leader. Both names mean the same thing, “rock”. Ironically, this is not the person that scholars of the historical Jesus think led the movement after Jesus! They identify James, called the brother of the Lord, as the first leader. And there is some very good evidence that James was indeed in charge of the church at the time Paul was writing his letter.
How do you resolve this contradiction?
Under the shaman paradigm, there is no contradiction! James is the second leader, the person appointed as the successor to the shaman. The contradiction only arises with the historical Jesus assumption, because, of course, Jesus is then the first leader. But this gives the problem of how to fit in Cephas/Peter.
So was James appointed after the shaman’s death?
No. It seems that the shaman appointed James to the leadership role in Jerusalem while he or she was still alive. Effectively the shaman abdicated the role of formal leader. However, it was inevitable that the movement continued to regard the shaman as their true spiritual leader. So James is almost invisible in the Gospels and Acts. The fact that this abdication took place shows us that James must have been closely related to the shaman. The shaman is making way for a younger family member, hoping to establish James in the role so that he can continue the movement after the shaman’s death. And James is based in Jerusalem, which for both practical and religious reasons was the natural headquarters for the movement. This was the area in which it started, where most of the earliest supporters still lived. The evidence points to the shaman relocating to Rome at about this time. Rome might be the center of the Empire, but for the Jesus movement, it was an outpost. So it was appropriate for someone in Jerusalem to take over the leadership role. And besides, the shaman was getting old!
OK. We have gone through the three criteria, but the evidence seems to point to different people.
We have lines of evidence that point to Cephas/Peter and other lines that point to Mary Magdalene. And we have to remember that the most esteemed person in the movement was Mary, the mother of Jesus. But if Jesus did not exist, how could he even have a mother?
That seems a rather fundamental objection to the shaman paradigm. Does not Paul say that Jesus was born of a woman?
It was Earl Doherty who drew attention to the fact that Paul does not actually say this! It is the translators who make Paul appear to say that Christ was born of a woman. The Greek word Paul uses is not the word that he would use if he meant “born.” It instead means something like “appear” or “be made manifest.” Although the word is common in the New Testament, this is about the only place it is translated as “born.” So Paul actually says that Christ “appeared” through a woman, which is very different.
This is getting really complicated! Is Paul saying that Mary the mother of Jesus is the shaman?
That is the implication, yes. But we can cut through all the complexity very simply. For a start, the woman who is the mother of Jesus, the virgin Mary, must also be called the Magdalene. These are just two different titles given to the shaman. We also find the names “Mary of Joses”, which is the same as Joseph, and “Mary of James” in the Gospels. These are the names she would have used in everyday life. A woman would be named in relation to the male, normally her husband. In this case, I think she was initially called Mary of Joses (Joseph) after her father, and later Mary of James after her “son”. The evidence points to James being adopted rather than a biological son: he was probably her nephew. James was one of a group of such adopted sons, called the brethren of the Lord. We find evidence that the mother and brothers were the leadership group when the movement was located in Jerusalem.
This is a very different picture than the normal view!
I think picture is the right word. We are used to the portraits of these figures, both literary and painted. But we must realize that this representation developed over time. If we turn to our earliest source, the Gospel of Mark, the mother of Jesus is mentioned just once in passing. In the Gospels, the title of the Magdalene is only used in conjunction with the resurrection accounts. There is an exception, the Gospel of Luke, where Mary Magdalene is among a group of women funding Jesus’ ministry. But, as the book shows, this exception is secondary. There is no reason why the Magdalene could not have been another title for the woman called the mother of Jesus. This is quite possible even with the historical view of Jesus. But they develop, of course, as very different characters. We are used to seeing representations of the Virgin Mary as the perfect, pure, mother and of the Magdalene as a sexualized image, sometimes even shown partially nude. This is the way renaissance painters depicted them. But it is not related to the historical evidence.
So how do you explain the fact that we seem to have two shamans, Peter and Mary?
It is here that we have to do something even more extreme. We have to regard the name Paul uses for the first witness of the resurrection, Cephas, as another identity of Mary.
This is going to seem absurd to many people. Do you really think that Mary Magdalene is the same person as Simon Peter?
No! We must understand that “Peter” and “Cephas” are not real names at all. They both mean “rock” and, like “the Magdalene,” they were titles. The shaman used the title, “rock,” but she also gave it to one of the brethren, Simon. This resulted in confusion! Paul, who knew both of them, distinguishes between the two by using the Aramaic form, Cephas, to refer to the shaman, and the Greek form, Peter, to mean Simon. But others did not appreciate this distinction, and they become hopelessly confused together in the gospels.
One objection might be that Cephas is male whereas Mary is female. So how can they be the same person?
We must understand that the purpose of using the name Cephas is to protect the shaman’s identity. The shaman is living on Jerusalem, among Jews who regard the Jesus movement as heretics. We know the Pharisees are trying to destroy the movement. Mary, as a female leader of this heretical sect, would be in great danger. The Jews of this time were very patriarchal in religious matters. Not only is Mary teaching blasphemy, but she is also trespassing on the male domain. So she has to hide her identity under a male pseudonym. If the Jewish authorities were looking for a man, then she has the advantage, as a female, of being below their notice. If they knew the sect was led by a woman, it would be much easier to find her.
If this is the “rock” then what is the “tower”?
The tower is the Magdalene. This does not mean that Mary came from Magdala, but comes directly from Migdal, meaning tower. The book traces the tower all the way back to a text called the Animal Apocalypse which dates from at least two hundred years before the Jesus movement. In the Animal Apocalypse, we find both the “rock” and the “tower”. The rock stands for Mount Sinai where Moses communed with God. As a symbol, I think it also stands for the “high places” where the Israelites worshipped God before this worship was concentrated in the temple. As for the tower, it stands for the temple itself.
So both the rock and the tower point to Mary?
The rock and the tower are shamanic titles. They indicate someone able to receive the spirit of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is the new temple, the one not built by hands, that Jesus says will replace the old temple. Paul goes further and says that all Christians are holy temples, but Mary is the first.
There is a lot more to the book than just the identification of the shaman?
In a sense, this is just the beginning. The book aims to recreate the story of Mary’s life from the clues available to us. It traces her history, from her birth to a leading family in an apocalyptic sect, through the early days of the Jesus movement when she seems to be living in the Judean desert, to a period when she has a house with James in Jerusalem and finally ending in Rome.
And how does the book end?
It ends with the confrontation between Mary and a dragon, and the search for her bones.
Not a literal dragon!
No. The early Christians were an illegal sect. They used imagery to hide their secrets, particularly where those secrets concerned their Roman masters. The dragon is the person indicated by the number of the beast, 666. He is the Emperor Nero, who was regarded as the anti-Christ. Mary went to Rome to fulfill a prophecy about going to Babylon. The Christians identified Rome with Babylon. But the confrontation with the dragon ended in her martyrdom, probably by some form of crucifixion, during Nero’s persecution of the Christians.
What is the evidence for this?
There are a number of lines of evidence for the shaman being in Rome along with John Mark. Once we realize the separate identities of the shaman, these lines of evidence gel perfectly to give a consistent picture. But the main evidence for the martyrdom is something I call “the martyrdom source”. Although this has not survived directly, we have no less than nine separate texts that have drawn upon this source. Some of these texts are found in Acts and Revelation, so it can be dated no later than 90AD. But it is also likely to have been known by both the authors of Mark and Matthew. This would place it within a decade or so of the actual martyrdom.
But the martyrdom source does not just report that the shaman has died. It predicts that she will return!
The bones of Mary
One of the extraordinary findings of the book is the likelihood that Mary’s remains are preserved in an institution in a major European capital. Sorry, Da Vinci Code fans, but the capital is Rome and not Paris! The final chapter tells the incredible story of the archaeological excavations under St Peter’s and the affair of the two skeletons. It explains why the bones of Mary may lie unrecognized in storage in the Vatican.