Secrets of the Lost Gospels of Jesus

There were more than just Four Gospels of Jesus but many other stories of his life rejected by the early church as heretical as Tony McMahon discovers

Imagine a completely different story about Jesus Christ – one that diverges from what we get in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It does exist. In all those lost gospels rejected by the early Christian church. The texts thrown out because they didn’t conform to orthodoxy.

Secret gospels that minority Christian sects held on to and copied assiduously. With very different views of Jesus – some that he was simply a man while others that he was a supernatural being with no human substance. These gospels were burned, suppressed and banned. And only thanks to chance discoveries and archaeology have we any idea that they ever existed.

Those who oppose any study of the Lost Gospels today will claim – breathlessly – that the reason our gospels were chosen was because authorship could be verified. But no serious bible historian (as opposed to literal evangelical) really thinks the gospels were written by the apostles. “Matthew”, “Mark”, “Luke” and “John” were names added later – and bear no relation to the illiterate followers of Jesus. In fact, the authors of the four gospels were Greek speakers – not Aramaic peasants.

Not just four gospels – but all the lost gospels too

For fifteen hundred years, Christians have grown used to the idea of just Four Gospels.  But these are the magic four that the early Church decided, for a variety of reasons, were acceptable to the faithful. The current compilation took a while to take root and to be universally accepted – and there are still differences between, say, Catholicism’s bible, Protestantism’s bible and that of the Eastern Orthodox church.

So what happened to the missing Gospels?   They were suppressed, burnt, condemned and so on.  But over the years, they have stubbornly turned up in other writings or simply been dug out of the ground.  A list of those Gospels and their translations can be found here.

Lost Gospels of James and St Peter

These include the Secret Book of James, the Gospel of St Peter and the Gospel of the Egyptians.  The latter was condemned for its insistence on sexual abstinence as a way of breaking the endless cycle of life and death and taking all our souls skywards to heaven.  This would not do as the church insisted we had to go through an earthly cycle to, as it were, prove our worthiness to go to heaven.  The earthy teacher and invigilator for this admittance exam for entrance to heaven would, of course, be the church.

In fact, any gospel that threatened the power and very raison d’etre for an earthly church was roundly condemned.  As were gospels – like that of the Ebionites – which presented Jesus as too mortal (and Jewish) or those that failed to present him as mortal enough (the Marcionites and Gnostics who saw him as a purely divine force to be understood through a kind of transcendental meditation).

Gaps in the life story of Jesus filled by the Lost Gospels

Interestingly, these gospels offer more information on key parts of the bible story.   The Infancy Gospel of James gives a whole heap of detail on Mary’s birth to an elderly couple who had given up hope of having children.  It explains why the Temple insisted on her marriage to the carpenter Joseph and then tells how Jesus was born in a cave with Salome acting as midwife.  As Herod’s troops approach, Jesus is hidden in an animal trough to avoid detection.

The Gospel of St Peter is at the more anti-Jewish end of the Gospel spectrum.  As the noted scholar Bart Ehrman has noted in his excellent books on biblical texts, you can crudely divide up gospels in to those that lean more towards a mortal and very Jewish Jesus and those that lean towards a more divine figure and tend to blame the Jews for his crucifixion.

In the Gospel of St Peter, Pontius Pilate is completely exonerated for the death of Jesus.  By washing his hands, he really has refused to have anything to do with the trial and it’s Herod Antipas who passes the death sentence.  The Coptic church took this interpretation a step further by looking at Pilate as a virtual saint.

Jesus the Vegetarian in the Lost Gospels

The Gospel of the Ebionites portrays Jesus and John the Baptist as vegetarians and Jesus takes a decidedly dim view of animal sacrifice in the Jewish Temple.   This makes Jesus a Jewish reformer – probably in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of the Temple and the soul searching that took place among Jews.

This event took place decades after the crucifixion but it shows how what was happening as these Gospels were written insinuated in to the stories.  Basically, the Gospels (including the four we know) were often part of a polemic between different Christian/Jewish groups.  They simply put words in to the mouth of Jesus and his apostles to support their view.

Mary Magdalene way more important in the Lost Gospels

The Gospel of Mary controversially places Mary Magdalene above the disciples – not just in the affections of Jesus but as a follower.  As with many of these Gospels and the four we know (mainly written in the very late first century and most in the second century AD), what we can actually discern here are some early disputes between Christians.

In this case – are women allowed to preach and hold high position in the church?   The argument is portrayed in a dispute within the Gospel between St Peter and Mary Magdalene.   Peter is obviously telling Mary Magdalene to get back in the kitchen and make some tea for the lads (I’m joking) while Mary has different ideas.  This same story of a bust up between the two appears in at least three other suppressed Gospels – the Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of St Thomas.

The latter gospel is very interesting.  St Thomas is said to be the apostle who takes Christianity to India.  While in India, he encounters a huge snake that reveals itself to be the devil.  I love this encounter where Lucifer explains the difficult relationship with a father who he feels has been rather unfair to him – here is a quote:

And he said unto him (devil to Thomas): I am a reptile of the reptile nature and noxious son of the noxious father, of him that hurt and smote the four brethren which stood upright.  I am also son to him that sitteth on a throne over all the earth, that receiveth back his own from them that borrow.  I am son to him that girdeth about the sphere and I am kin to him that is outside the ocean whose tail is set in his own mouth.  I am he that entered through the barrier in to paradise and spake with Eve the things which my father bade me speak unto her.  I am he that kindled and inflamed Cain to kill his own brother and on mine account did thorns and thistles grow up in the earth.

One thing to note about the Thomas gospel is that Jesus is rarely challenged as he sets down the law of his father.  But in Gospels that are regarded as earlier than Thomas – the so-called Oxryhynchus 1224 Gospel written very close to Jesus’ death – Jesus has to argue hard with his opponents in the market place.

Well, there’s plenty more than can be said about the Apocrypha – the term used for the Lost Gospels.  If you thought there were contradictions in the accounts of the four Gospels authorised by the Church (compare their accounts of the empty tomb discovery for example), then you’ll find plenty more confusion when you add these in to the mix.

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Nuns go into religious ecstasy at the site of the crucifixion

Eight years ago I was at the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem and queued to see the site where Jesus was crucified. This huge medieval place of worship encompasses both Calvary and the tomb of Jesus. Or so it’s been claimed since the time of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century after Christ.

The Holy Sepulchre is divided between different Christian faiths – Catholic, Orthodox, Syriac, Ethiopians, etc. And they’re not beyond fighting each other in turf wars within the church walls. Anyway, back to the place where Christ was crucified. As I queued in 2012, some Russian nuns in front of me where in quite an ecstatic state as my video shows. Apologies for the quality of digital cameras in those days!

Was Jesus blond or not?

I’m being a bit flippant of course. But there are still people who get incredibly upset if you dare to suggest that Jesus might not have been something approaching blond and blue eyed.

The ethnicity of Jesus has been exciting people for two millennia. From very early on in the history of the church, there was a concerted attempt to divorce Jesus from his own Jewish background. To do this meant emphasising his alleged divinity over his human self.

At its most extreme, there was the Third Reich in the 20th century trying to turn the Messiah into a member of the master race. Some Nazi occultists even tried to suggest that he was descended from a special race of humans from the Arctic!!

Before we get going on the whole Jesus being blond or not question – a quick note to say that I’m going for the spelling “blond” and not “blonde”. Largely because I know American readers tend to use “blond” more. Though in Europe they can be more interchangeable and in France it’s blond for a man and blonde for a woman.

Anyway, that’s you grammar obsessives dealt with! Now on with the show…

Jesus – probably not blond

The first thing to state is that there’s nothing much by way of a physical description of Jesus in the four gospels of the New Testament. We’re not told if he was tall, short, dark or fair. Brown-eyed or blue-eyed.

And we’re not informed because it wasn’t deemed to be important to the early faithful. Some Christians even took the view that the human form was something evil that we needed to shake off. So the physical appearance of Jesus was not a thing to dwell on.

Did the Romans turn Jesus blond?

But then Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire – we see a big change. Any lingering reservations about graven images of Jesus fly out the door. He is the new God of the Romans!

Roman depictions of Jesus drew on pagan iconography more than you might like to think. On the Vatican museum website, there is a photo of a statue of Christ as the good shepherd and an acknowledgement that this imagery borrowed heavily from that of Apollo.

Apollo was a God of the sun with a halo and forever at this most youthful and virile – and possibly blond. Jesus also sometimes pops up in Roman Christian art as Apollo’s father – Zeus – enthroned in majesty. He acquires long hair and a beard – though more often dark haired than blond.

Jesus – not blond and with short hair

In the Greco-Roman tradition, philosophers and people of great learning were bearded. But at the time that Jesus was alive, the Roman elite were clean shaven and short-haired. Only after the Emperor Hadrian in the following century do emperors go bearded.

Among Jewish people in Judaea, there’s a suggestion that clean shaven may also have been seen as desirable. In his letters, St Paul doesn’t appear to approve of the hipster look declaring that “long hair was a shame unto a man”. So our long-haired blond Jesus wouldn’t have impressed Paul very much.

And this hang up about long hair continues into the Middle Ages with Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 12th century ranting against the king and his court being too hirsute. Then, according to an account, he took a pair of scissors and cut the king’s hair!

That said, Jesus had already acquired long flowing locks in most images of him – especially on the cross.

America and the blonde Jesus

It’s in the United States, in the 19th century, that we see the greatest angst over the skin and hair colour of Jesus. Especially in the slave-owning southern states where owners spent a surprising amount of time vexing about what kind of Christianity to impose on their slaves.

What they didn’t want was slaves to view Christ as a supreme master of all to whom they could appeal or emulate. After all, Jesus knew the lash of the whip and died humiliated on the cross. That sounded more like a slave’s life than that of a master.

So, there seems to have been a certain impetus among white Americans to ensure that Jesus was depicted very much as a Caucasian European. Even his Jewishness evaporates. And with the rise of the Mormons comes the idea that a fair-skinned Jesus even visited America after his resurrection.

Jesus the blond working for the enemy

In 2010, Aurum Press published my biography of the black British boxer Errol Christie – No Place To Hide. Errol was a good friend and sadly died of cancer in 2017. He often used to remark how his Jamaican mother would invoke the name of Jesus during family rows.

But he would look at the blond, blue-eyed representation on the walls and wonder just whose side the risen Christ was on. He certainly didn’t look like a champion for black rights, Errol used to quip to me.

The Bloodline of Jesus and the Knights Templar

Did Jesus have a family by Mary Magdalene leading to a long bloodline that had to be defended by the Knights Templar? If there was a bloodline of Jesus – was it located in southern France or the deserts of Qumran in modern Israel? Did Jesus die on the cross or did he somehow survive to raise a family?

Let’s try and get to the bottom of this. I’m going to take you on a quick tour of biblical, medieval and modern sources that point to the possibility that Jesus was a husband and father. And that there was a Bloodline of Jesus – descendants sometimes referred to by the word Desposyni.

JESUS BLOODLINE SOURCE: Gnostic gospels excluded from the New Testament

There are a number of gospels that have come to light over the years that were rejected by the early Christian church for inclusion in the New Testament. Now, orthodox Christians and evangelicals will say flatly – that’s because they were wrong or heretical. But then, heresy is in the eye of the beholder. And what was heretical at one point in church history was not in another.

In 1945, in the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi, several bundles of texts were unearthed after nearly two millennia in the ground. These turned out to be what are called “apocryphal” gospels on the life of Jesus. They had a very gnostic flavour to them. And by gnostic, I mean a belief in a type of Christianity that was firmly suppressed by the mainstream church in the first centuries after Christ.

The books had titles like the Gospel of Truth; the Sophia (wisdom) of Jesus Christ; the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit and On the Origin of the World. They also included the Gospel of Philip; the Gospel of Thomas; the Apocryphon of John and the Letter of Peter to Philip. And let’s be clear – none of these books are forgeries. They were written within the first two centuries after the death of Jesus. The question is whether they have any theological authority – as far as the church is concerned.

What we get from these gospels is a very different picture of Jesus Christ, his mission on Earth and who the early church was really led by. I won’t go into all the complexities about gnosticism. But with regards to Jesus – his family members (brothers and even sisters) seem to have had leadership roles in the early church. It really was a family affair!

And Mary Magdalene was a far more important figure to Jesus than we have been led to believe. She was not the insignificant figure described in the four accepted gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Neither was she the prostitute that she became at the hands of the early church. In fact, it was only as late as the sixth century AD before she was characterised as such by Pope Gregory.

Worse for mainstream Christians – Mary Magdalene understood the message of Jesus while followers like Peter and Matthew floundered badly. In the gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is described as being very close to Jesus and his “companion”. Now, we get into the quicksand of translating ancient Greek and Coptic. Needless to say, there’s been plenty of heated debate but not much light on whether the word “companion” in these texts suggests a friend or a wife.

JESUS BLOODLINE SOURCE: Alleged Cathar teachings

We jump forward a thousand years into the medieval era. Southern France is convulsed in revolt against the Catholic church. A sect called the Cathars exercised huge influence and even won over members of the aristocracy. They rejected the Catholic sacraments, had their own priesthood (that included women) and spurned the ostentatious wealth of the Pope and his venal bishops.

They also, it is claimed, subscribed to an old view that Mary Magdalene had indeed been married to Jesus. Some academics question that the Cathars believed this – though they don’t deny that Mary Magdalene being married to Jesus is mentioned by these heretics.

Interestingly, the Cathars also embraced the gnostic version of Christianity that we find in the Nag Hammadi scrolls. And they even talked about God the Father being married to a female deity in heaven.

JESUS BLOODLINE SOURCE: Taking the Cathar story to the next level

Now, there isn’t a problem for most historians with what I’ve said about the Cathars so far. It’s the work of other authors on the Knights Templar that causes more controversy. So let’s summarise them:

  • Margaret Starbird wrote a 1993 book called The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail. She’s rarely credited with her contribution to the thinking that led to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Starbird argued in her book that the patron saint of the Roma people, Saint Sarah, was in fact the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Saint Sarah was revered in southern France, Cathar territory.
  • Which brings us to The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail originally published in 1982 and written by the trio: Henry Lincoln, Michael Baignet and Richard Leigh – two of whom ended up in litigation with Dan Brown – but that’s another story. This book picks up on the Cathar and French connection arguing that Mary Magdalene fled to France and was sheltered by the Jewish community. This memory was held dear by the Cathars. So, the church had to suppress the Cathars in order to destroy that memory.
  • Proof that Mary Magdalene was in France with child is evidenced by the cult around her that lasted well into the Middle Ages, according to Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince in their book The Templar Revelation. They point to the so-called Black Madonnas that can be found in southern France and the curious depiction of Mary Magdalene with a child.

Picking up on what Picknett says – it should be noted that a very popular abbey for medieval pilgrims at Vézelay in southern France was dedicated to Mary Magdalene and did indeed have an image of a Black Virgin. It also claimed to have the bones of Mary Magdalene authenticated by the Pope himself in the year 1058. And just over a hundred years later, in 1167, it was the site of a mass burning of Cathars tied to wooden stakes.

There are medieval sources that hint at an association of some kind between Jesus and Mary Magdalene such as the works of the friar Ermengaud of Béziers. But Catholics retort along the lines that it was a “spiritual marriage”. However, if you read about the so-called spiritual marriage that a saint like Catherine of Siena believed she had with Jesus then it’s pretty raunchy stuff. It comes across to us as deeply repressed sexual longing.

For all this talk of the Cathars knowing about the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, it’s not really mentioned by Dan Brown. I’ve no doubt he knew about this theory – because of his acknowledged source materials – but decided not to use it in the Da Vinci Code. Who knows why.

JESUS BLOODLINE SOURCE: A lost Dead Sea Scroll

There is another less well known theory that places Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene at Qumran in modern Israel. This was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the years after the Second World War by Bedouin shepherds and then professional archaeologists. It was the centre of a Jewish Messianic community called the Essenes – who held a very dim view of the Jewish Temple priests in Jerusalem.

The book outlining this idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene lived at Qumran is called Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The author, Barbara Thiering, adheres to the “swoon hypothesis” that Jesus fell unconscious on the cross and was rescued. He was then whisked off to rejoin his wife at Qumran.

An interesting variant of this is the 1955 novel The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. It was made into a very controversial 1988 movie directed by Martin Scorsese. But I think it’s a very Catholic story steeped in guilt and redemption. Essentially, Jesus is tempted to magically leave his sufferings on the cross. He marries Mary Magdalene and then when she dies remarries and has children.

But during the Jewish Revolt, he’s then told that it was the devil in disguise as a young woman that tempted him away from his own crucifixion. Jesus then begs to be returned to the cross. He must fulfil his mission and redeem humanity. So in this book, Jesus does take wives and has children but the whole thing ends up as kind of fantasy wiped clean when he resumes his proper painful trajectory.

A 1970s non-fiction best seller The Jesus Scroll had Jesus and Mary Magdalene holed up in the fortress of Masada. I visited there in 2012 and it’s famous for the mass suicide of Jewish rebels resisting Roman rule. The author claimed to have had brief sight of a two thousand year old scroll written by an 80-year-old man at the time detailing his biography. It was none other than a geriatric Jesus describing his decades of married life to Mary Magdalene.

Linking the Knights Templar to the Bloodline of Jesus

In all these theories – and there are more – there is the persistent theme that the Bloodline of Jesus is under constant threat from the Roman Catholic church. Not only the bloodline but all those who acknowledge it. The church will stop at nothing to erase the memory of Jesus having a family.

So – the bloodline needs protecting. And this is where we get a slew of conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar. Please search for all my blog posts on the Priory of Sion and Rex Deus. But in a nutshell – the Knights Templar are conjured into existence by a clandestine network that includes the descendants of Jesus.

Now, opponents of this would obviously point out that the Templars were fully endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church. They enjoyed huge privileges lavished on them by the popes. But then of course that very same church that had raised them – brought them crashing down. The Pope and his agents levelled charges of heresy and sodomy against the knights while imprisoning and torturing them.

So – one may ask – was there an underlying reason for that harsh and cruel treatment of the Knights Templar?