This is not just a thick book. It’s a veritable encyclopedia. On almost any given page we’ll read lessons in history, etymology, sociology, psychology, exegesis, philosophy, and comparative religion. The book is also a highly intellectual, highly persuasive rant. In many places, as when Lash, whose web site is www.metahistory.org, describes the role of Julius Caesar in the burning of Alexandrian Library and Caesar’s leadership of the genocidal campaign in Gaul, our usual view of history gets turned on its head. Ditto Lash’s comparison of Europans—his word for the pre-Christian European Pagan tribes—to the tribes of the New World: the Europans were massacred by the armies of the Roman Church and its popes and kings. Europan survivors went to the New World and did as they’d been done to. Genocide begets genocide. The process took more than a thousand years of historical time, but it’s characteristic of the “victim-perpetrator bond” we see still today in abusers who abuse. “From our current perspective,” Lash writes, “it is difficult to imagine how a people [Europans who became Europeans] could attack and dismember their own culture, and annihilate the very foundations of their cultural and historical existence. But, if we could imagine how that happened, might we not better understand what we are currently doing to ourselves today on a global scale” (p. 56)?
Not In His Image is the story of true, classical Gnosticism. Classical Gnosticism is not, Lash says, to be found in the books of Elaine Pagels and her fellows. What Pagels and others are writing is a co-opted version, one influenced by and acceptable to Judeo-Christian-Islamic authorities. They give us a Gnosticism invented by those authorities because they didn’t understand the early Gnostics because they’d killed them all off—the book opens with the murder of Hypatia—and burned and destroyed as much of their wisdom as they could find. Here’s an illustrative story. The greatest corpus of Gnostic literature was buried around 345 C.E. at Nag Hammadi less that fifty miles from the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. Just across the Nile from Dendera are the ruins of an early Coptic temple, whose leader, Shenoute of Athribis, was a close ally of Cyril of Alexandria, the instigator of Hypatia’s murder. A remnant of the persecuted Gnostics took refuge in the temple at Dendera after her death. Shenoute wrote to Cyril that these heretics possessed “books full of abominations” that had to be destroyed. “I shall make you acknowledge the archbishop Cyril,” Shenoute warned the Gnostics, “or else the sword will wipe out most of you, and moreover those of you who are spared will go into exile.” “If anyone wonders what happened to the thousands of teachers and students of the Mystery Schools of antiquity,” Lash comments, “here is the answer in one line” (pp. 164-65). It’s the same thing happened throughout Europe, in the New World, in crusades, and in witch hunts both religious and political.
Not In His Image tells a scary story. In many places, it reads like conspiracy theory. Four thousand years ago (according to the story we can read in Genesis), one Melchizedek, a king of unknown origins (Genesis 14), hijacked the faith of one Abram, making him promises on behalf of the being Lash calls the off-world god. But Melchizedek didn’t just fade into the Palestinian desert; his followers and descendants lived on among the Hebrews. They came to be called the Zaddikim, who by about 200 B.C.E. were a terrorist cult living mostly at Qumran and who we know about primarily because of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Lash says the people who lived at Qumran were not the happy, hippie Essenes we’ve heard about but terrorists and rigorists whose agenda was promoting the One True God who was the off-world god.) The Zaddikim survived Roman massacres. Their teachings became part of the Roman Church. Their teachings can even be found in the 1918 Russian Revolution. What Lash sees in four thousand years of history is a conspiracy of religio-psychological abuse and terrorism that continues to infect the world today. It’s a plague. Paul was its Typhoid Mary. It’s a “cult of the righteous.” Lash calls it the “redeemer complex”:
[The] redeemer complex has four components: the creation of the world ex nihilo by the male creator god; the selection of the righteous few to fulfill a divine plan; the mission of the creator’s son (the messiah) in the plan; and the final apocalyptic judgment in which the world is destroyed so that the righteous can be saved by the accompaniment of divine retribution. The first component, creation of the world by a male creator god, can be found in many variants worldwide, but biblical myth differs from other creation scenarios by its exclusion of a feminine deity. This exclusion is an arresting factor, to say the least. Scholars now recognize the enormous, sustained effort it took to produce and enforce a sacred narrative focused on a male deity without a female counterpart (p. 58).
Gnosticism, Lash carefully explains, is not a Christian heresy but a full cosmology taught in Mystery schools throughout the world. He includes many kinds of Mystery—Druid, Tantric, Egyptian, Eleusinian—and finds either links or origins in tribal creation stories as well. The cosmology of classical Gnosticism is extraordinarily complex: In the preexisting Pleroma there arose a goddess (or Aeon) named Sophia who plunged out of the Pleroma and became embodied as the earth we live on. Sounds like the Gaia Hypothesis? Precisely. Lash finds additional support for the Gnostic myth (he uses the word in the sense of a symbolic story, not a make-believe one) in modern physics. The Gnostic myth, he says, “can be read as applying to the inner dynamics of the Galaxy. The myth clearly suggests astrophysical processes yet unknown to science, but perhaps beginning to be glimpsed in plasma physics, complexity theory, and the new vision of emergence” (p. 174). Because Sophia was unpaired (there’s a lot of sexual metaphor and energy in the classical Gnostic myth), out of her solitary passion there arose Archons, a freak species, alive in their own way, kind of like androids. The chief Archon is Yaldaboath, a being the standard-brand religions know as God. This is the mad, demented, schizophrenic off-world deity who imagines and then proclaims that he created everything. We can read about him in the so-called holy books. He’s the true source of evil in the world, and one reason the Fathers of the Churches (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) hated Gnostic teachers so much was that they (the Gnostics) denied that the One True God can be the source of both good and evil. The Gnostics posited the Pleroma, source of good, and the Demiurge (Yaldaboath, God), source of evil. Besides, when Sophia morphed into the earth, she became part of a three-“planet” unit (Earth-Sun-Moon) that was captured by the Archonic solar system (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, et al.). Ever wonder why Earth is the only planet with life on it? Why even though the sun’s temperature has risen thirty percent since the creation of the earth, it has always nurtured life on our one small planet? It’s because of the loving relationship between Sophia/Gaia/Earth and Sabaoth/the Sun.
Yes, this is all very confusing. It’s highly abstruse. It’s cosmology way beyond and above the musings of theosophy and metaphysics. Half the book is a detailed explication of the Gnostic myth with the best documentation Lash can provide. It’s hard going—you know those books where you read a paragraph and space out? This is one of them.
We modern pagans, who wonder why people still worship gods who punish the people they’re said to love, why people worship a man hanging on a cross, why people commit terrorist acts they say are inspired by their gods—we may be the children of the vanished Gnostics. Classical Gnosticism, as Lash describes its beliefs and practices, sounds good. Maybe if the world could return to the philosophy of classical Gnosticism, it would be a better place. In these days of continual warfare and global warming, it’s certainly worth finding out.
~review by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
Author: John Lamb Lash
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006
438 pp., $35