Remembering what we have learned so far, let us not forget that it would be these Essenes of first century A.D. which would, after the crucifixion of Jesus, identify Jesus with their theological Angel-Messiah which was likewise crucified in the heavens. Thus, we find this group of Pythagorean-Buddhists, who are today labeled "Essenes," gravitating toward the Jesus Movement in Palestine. These Essenes brought with them their syncretistic religious beliefs which were an amalgam of Indian, Buddhist, and Pythagorean religious beliefs which were immersed within Second Temple Judaism. Today we call these religious beliefs "Christianity."
Many think of Pythagoras, cir. 580-500, only as a geometrician; but his activities included every field of knowledge. Diogenes Laertius declares that he did not "neglect medicine,'' and that he was the first who taught metempsychosis (Life of Pythagoras, I, p. 11-14). And he was the first who propagated this doctrine in the Graeco-Roman world, declaring that he could remember four previous incarnations (Tertullian, De Anima, XXVIII). He made important contributions to music and astronomy; he was a metaphysician, a natural philosopher, a social revolutionary, a political organizer, and the universal theologian. He was one of those all-embracing intellects which appear at rare intervals.
Ancient literature teems with references to Pythagoras. From the beginning of his manhood, he was engaged in intense political activity; and he was driven from his native Samos in 529 B.C.E. by the tyrant Polycrates, who judged him subversive. He there. upon migrated to Italy, and at Croton established a school of philosophy where he lectured to classes consisting of six hundred students. He created also a political organization which exercised a very wide influence. This consisted of celibate brotherhoods whose objective was their own moral regeneration through a communist reorganization of society (notice the connection to the later Essenes). The Pythagorean order was therefore at once economic, religious, and political. Although it must originally have been designed only as a community of dedicated saints, the astonishing fact is that the Pythagoreans in less than two decades became so numerous and so powerful that they were able to assume the public power without any resort to force. Since this was a drastic reconstitution, which sought to halt the progress of society into private property, by reversion to communism, violent repercussions were inevitable. In 510 B.C.E., the tyrant Cylon attacked the revolutionaries and drove them out of Croton after which they reorganized at Metapontium, where Pythagoras met his death by an assassination concerning which various versions are extant. According to one, he was burned in a temple, like Zoroaster; according to another, he was murdered in a beanfield, because he would not cross it; according to a third, he starved himself to death as a protest against the prevailing luxury and gluttony.
Following the death of Pythagoras, the brotherhoods again grew rapidly in what was known as Magna Grecia (southern Italy) until about 450 B.C.E., when the protagonists of private property and monogamic marriage assaulted the saints everywhere, murdered them indiscriminately, and sacked and burned their residences. Diogenes Laertius says that many others were burned at the stake in mass executions. Thus, the world's first communist revolution (or counter-revolution) was drowned in its own blood. Everything indicates that the Pythagoreans, like the early Buddhists, practiced nonviolence and non-resistance; for even though they were at one time in control of society, they neglected to provide themselves with arms; and they never raised their hands in self-defense. Their only weapons remained a fervent appeal to the moral sense, the threat of hell, and the promise of eternal bliss in heaven. The Buddhist-Pythagorean-Essene morality required of one smitten upon one cheek to turn the other also (sound familiar?).
The massacres at Croton of the Pythagorean brotherhood marked the end of Pythagoreanism as an overt political force. One of its outstanding protagonists, Lysis, escaped to Thebes, in Greece, where he became the tutor of the noble Epaminondas. Philolaus, one of the great expositors of Pythagorean philosophy, also lived and worked in Thebes at the end of the fifth century; but he was able to return to Italy with others of the brethren, including Archytas, where they established a great center at Tarentum. After 350 B.C.E., Pythagoreanism became far less a philosophical school than a purely religious cult; and as such it continued to attract devotees and exercise direct influence for at least seven or eight centuries. This we learn from many sources; and particularly interesting is a passages in Justin Martyr which explains that when, as a youth, he eagerly sought enlightenment, he went first to a "very celebrated" Pythagorean; but when he was told that before he could be initiated into esoteric mysteries, he must first master music, geometry, and astronomy, he was discouraged and turned to the Platonists instead. Presumably, these also required too much; for shortly we find him a Christian lecturer in Rome.
We learn something of practical Pythagoreanism as it existed in the first century from The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (by Philostratus), according to which this prophet and wonder-worker had a divine birth, absorbed the wisdom of Pythagoras, and practiced celibacy, vegetarianism, and voluntary poverty; he healed the sick, cured the halt and the blind, drove out devils, restored the dead to life, foretold the future, and taught the mysteries of religion. Finally, it was said that he never died, but went directly to heaven in a physical assumption (does this sound familiar with what is written in the New Testament about Jesus?).
The Pythagoreans were definite monotheists, as various Christian writers bear witness: "God is one; and He is not . . . outside of the frame of things, but within it; but, in all the entireness of His being, is in the whole circle of existence . . . the mind and vital power of the whole world" (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation, VI). According to this pantheistic concept, God becomes a universal, spiritual force, an idea which the Stoics were to adopt. It is clear that no anthropomorphism could attach itself to such a theology; and the Pythagoreans naturally forbade any representation of the deity in pictures or statues,in this respect resembling both the Jews and the Zoroastrians.
A passage in Archelaus (Disputation with Manes, p. 51) attributes the dualism of Manes to Pythagoras, who was thus credited with originating the doctrines he borrowed from the Brahmanas and the Persians because he first proclaimed them in Greece. The Zoroastrian base of Pythagorean metaphysics is revealed in the doctrine that the soul, which is our higher principle, is imprisoned in this mortal body as in a tomb, and that the latter is governed by evil passions, which are our indwelling Furies [desires] (Hippolytus, Refutation, VI, xx-xxi). We must not, declared Pythagoras, be the slaves of our own bodies (Ibid., xxii); and we can improve and save our souls by escaping from the domination of the flesh.
As sexual consummation was considered the prime pandering to the indwelling Furies [desires], every passion, in fact, every symbol related to it must be repudiated. We know that the Pythagoreans felt an overwhelming horror for beans; Diogenes Laertius says that this was, according to Aristotle, because they resemble the human testicles. Hippolytus declares that it was because, when they decay, they emit an odor similar to that of human seed; and when sprouting from the ground, they resemble the female genitals (Ibid., I, ii).
And thus we find that by the sixth century B.C.E. there had already appeared three important movements in which men repudiated marriage: and for three quite different reasons. The primitive Orpheans did so because of what they considered the extreme misconduct of women; the Buddhists to escape Brahmanic exploitation; and the Pythagoreans because of metaphysical dualism, which made all sexual passion the mark of ultimate wickedness, the essence of original sin. One needs to take note that the Essenes would later develop from a Zadok movement which welcomed marriage into a cult of celibate communists. One easily sees the influence of the Orphic, Buddhist, and Pythagoreans upon the Essenes in these instances.
Perhaps the most important single element in the Pythagorean myth was the descent of the Master into hell and his seven-year residence there, which made him the final authority on this subject. In spite of the skepticism of Tertullian, Eusebius, and other Christian writers, the ancient pagans believed this tale just as implicitly as Christians accept the existence of heaven and hell, which, oddly enough, Pythagoras himself first introduced into the occident. Diogenes Laertius states that when Pythagoras returned from the nether world, he related that he had seen Homer and Hesiod suffering tortures because of their slanders against the gods; and he says that Hermippus had related that the great prophet "came up withered and looking like a skeleton, then went to the assembly and declared that he had been down to Hades . . . His disciples were so affected that they wept and wailed, looking upon him as divine." Pythagoras assured all who did not embrace his doctrine and discipline that the tortures of this dreadful place were prepared especially for them, while mansions in heaven awaited his own elect. One needs to take just a second and think about the exclusive salvation as espoused by the Essenes, as influenced by Pythagoras, as well as the Essenic religious evolution which today is called Christianity. According to Eusebius, "Pythagoras . . . declared to the Italians that the doctrines which he had received . ..were a personal revelation to himself from God" (Oration of Constantine, IX).
In order to comprehend Pythagoreanism, we must understand the great social forces at work in that extraordinary sixth century B.C. Private property, class divisions, and economic exploitation had broken down the equalitarianism of the primitive community: it was therefore communism which was conservative or reactionary, and private property which was dynamic and revolutionary, carrying within itself an intense individualism, constituting a new center of loyalty, which in time made the adhesions of communal society impossible. Pythagoreanism sought to re-establish communism, but on a higher plane than that of primitive society, which was an automatic growth; the communism of Pythagoras was to be regulated by the strictest social control. It was intended to achieve the greatest possible good, but for a society consisting of, and acting in unison as, self-determining individuals. Pythagoreanism certainly did not succeed in its objective; but it did remold the ethical standards, the spiritual interests, the speculative doctrines, and the metaphysical concepts of the ancient Greek world. Had it not been for Pythagoras, the doctrines of hell and heaven might never have permeated the occident.
Not only did that sixth century consolidate the position of private property; it was also the first in which man became introspective and self-conscious. It was therefore a period of great religious upheaval throughout the world; men began asking the ultimate questions: what are we? whence came we? whither do we go? what is the mystery of life? In Persia it was Zoroaster who attempted to solve these conundrums; In India it was Gautama and Mahavira; in China it was Confucius; in Judea it was Ezekiel and Jeremiah; and in Greece it was Pythagoras, the greatest of them all.
Now let us make a summary statement. If you know anything about the Essenes, you just read in the account of Pythagoreanism the main tenants of the Essenes. The Essenes had as their core doctrines:
Answer for yourself: Does any of this sound familiar when you read of the Essenes? But more than that, are not these beliefs to be found in either the earliest Christian sect as found in the pages of the New Testament or espoused in Gentile Catholic Church dogma? They sure are! Again, this is more than a coincidence. The above is proof positive that the Essenes in the days of Jesus were not a conservative Jewish sect; rather, they had rejected much of Judaism and gravitated more toward Pythagorean-Buddhist beliefs.
Pythagoras, late in the sixth century B.C.E., incorporated in his religious synthesis the Eleusinian Dionysus. He appropriated the soter (savior) of the Eleusinia, who was born as Zagreus from Zeus and Persephone, who was killed as a child and eaten by the Titans, who was reborn from Semele as Dionysus, and who became the savior of mankind. But we must separate the Orphism which Onomacritus engrafted upon the Eleusinia and that proclaimed by Pythagoras. The former contains not the slightest hint of the Brahmanic metempsychosis (Indian reincarnation), the Buddhist ethics, or the Persian dualism and eschatology with which Orphic-Pythagoreanism is surcharged. When Diodorus speaks of Orpheus' "fabulous account of his experiences in Hades and the punishments of the unrighteous . . .which are figments of the imagination'' (History, I, p. 96), he was referring to a document written by Pythagoras or a Pythagorean, and, as usual, accredited to the Thracian prophet.
Pythagoras created his Neo-Orphic system, including its metempsychosis, eschatology, ascetic discipline, and communist brotherhoods, he set forth these innovations in "some poems of his own making" which he ascribed "to Orpheus'' (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras, I, 1). Even as Onomacritus wrote Orphic poems describing the death of Zagreus and the origin of the human race, so Pythagoras wrote others embodying his own doctrines, which he, like his predecessors, ascribed to the original prophet.
That Pythagoras absorbed the religions of Greece, Egypt, Persia, Chaldea, and India we learn from sources, of which the following are typical:
"Pythagoras . . . had himself initiated into the rites and mysteries not only of Greece, but also of foreign countries . . . he learned Egyptian . . . journeyed among the Chaldeans and the Magi'' (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras, I, 1).
Clement of Alexandria declares that Pythagoras was a pupil of Zoroaster and a disciple of the Brahmanas [India] (Clement of Alexandria, Misc., I, xv).
Hippolytus states that "Pythagoras came to Zaratus the Chaldean, who explained to him that there are two original causes of things . . . two daemons, the one celestial, the other terrestrial'' (Hippolytus, Refutation, I, ii).
A passage in Herodotus proves that even in 450 B.C.E. it was well known that the Orphic-Bacchic mystery was also Pythagorean and that its funerary customs were Egyptian (Herodotus, Persian War, II, p. 81).
Pythagoras appropriated the ultimate Eleusinian savior, because he was the center of every mystery-cult. In the new synthesis, however, soteriology was only a single element: for now, at long last, eschatology and social or class ethics became equally fundamental in the doctrinal theology of Greece.
By creating this amalgam, Pythagoras revolutionized the thinking and the morality of the western world in a way that still hangs heavily over our entire culture. The dying god-man was no longer sufficient for eternal blessedness, and, since this involved an elaborate system of ethical renunciation, religion ceased to consist merely in ceremonies, rituals, and festivals, or even in an elaborate and difficult theology: it became a radically transformed way of life, a rigorous and lifelong discipline.
At this point, let us briefly recapitulate the eschatology from which Pythagoras drew in order to formulate his own. In Egyptian religion one finds that only a small proportion of all souls ever reach the judgment seat; the rest simply fade into nothingness. Those fortunate enough to stand before Osiris and to be adjudged worthy by him, were admitted to the Elysian Fields, where they continued in very much the same manner as in their earthly lives. Those souls adjudged wicked were destroyed when the beast Apep ate the heart and when the Khu was thrown into the Lake of Fire. The concepts of metempsychosis, universal immortality, or a system of post-mortem punishments were unknown.
In Persia, the immortality of every human soul was assumed. But there was no metempsychosis: each birth involved the creation of a new soul which could belong to one human being only. At death, the righteous went to heaven, the wicked to hell, where terrible tortures were to be inflicted upon them until the renovation of the universe. For those who were neither wicked nor righteous, a third place, Hamestagna, was prepared, in which souls would be retained until the judgment. Finally, the Zoroastrians were universalists: at the renovation of the universe, all souls were to wade through a river of molten metal for three days, and, as a result of this purification, achieve everlasting blessedness.
Again, one finds that the eschatology of the Brahmanas was quite different: for, together with
the caste system, they devised the doctrine of transmigration and gave souls to every fish, fowl, insect, and beast. And to the caste system and to the doctrine of metempsychosis, they added a realistic concept of hell-torture, more detailed and ferocious than that of Persia. All of this was an instrument of class suppression and exploitation, but, as it turned out, the doctrine of hell was a two-edged sword: for the Gainas and Buddhists turned it against their enemies, the Brahmanas.
Neither Buddhism nor Gainaism had been established in India at the time when Pythagoras could have journeyed there; but the ideology of these movements was already rife, and the Samian sage could have absorbed them, as he certainly did. There was, however, an important difference: for the Pythagoreans did not repudiate labor; but instead of working for an exploiter or for self-aggrandizement, they were the first who established the principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
Orphic-Pythagoreanism was the world's first great synthesis of religious components. We find, first, the Dionysiac sacrament, by which the devotees were believed to achieve divinity; second, the doctrine that souls transmigrate from age to age until, by Orphic initiation and life, they attain blessed immortality or, by outrageous sin and crime, are consigned to eternal hell-torture: third, the conviction that all humanity is metaphysically separated into the children of light and those of darkness, the Elect and the Reprobate, and that only the former have the power of adopting the Orphic way of life; fourth, the persuasion that the essence of righteousness consists in renouncing all carnal and material things, all the sensuous pleasures of this world; fifth, the conclusion that by adopting the celibate, communist, vegetarian, and equalitarian way of life, all aggressions will cease and salvation be assured.
Pythagoras imported into the Grecian world the metaphysics and eschatology of Persia, the metempsychosis of Brahmanism, the ethics of the Upanishads, and the funerary customs of Egypt, and united all these with the Orphic-Dionysiac soteriology. The only significant alterations made by him were, first, his institution of a perpetual hell for the incorrigibly wicked and his abolition of Nirvana in favor of eternal mansions in heaven for his Orphic saints; and, second, his rejection of an idle mendicant brotherhood in favor of one which was industrious and self-supporting and, therefore, proud and aloof, self-respecting, and independent. Buddhist monachism was adopted by the Catholic Church; the Pythagorean by the Essenes.
Since all the literature of the elusive Pythagorean brotherhoods has been lost, and since they provoked nothing but contempt from the great pagan writers, we are forced to glean our knowledge of them from fragmentary references. We find in them at a time even preceding Buddhist monachism, a religion which was not merely a mystery-cult, not simply a theology and an eschatology, but an all-embracing way of life. These tightly-knit groups of celibate men who renounced family and private property were called thiasoi and constitute one of the most astonishing phenomena of history. Their metaphysical and speculative doctrines were those of Plato and Vergil; but their discipline and their soteriology were something totally different.
It is very doubtful that these brotherhoods possessed temples, or constituted religious congregations in the modern sense; but it is certain that they were bound together by the strictest vows and by the strongest moral, doctrinal, and emotional bonds.
All Pythagoreans were vegetarians who renounced sex, family, and private property. There were also societies of female celibates, because we read that "the virgin daughter of Pythagoras was the head of a band of virgins and instructed them in chastity" (quotation from Plato's Timaeus, reproduced by Jerome, Against Jovianus, I, 42). We are told that Pythagoras "distributed his pupils into two orders, and called the one esoteric, but the other exoteric. And to the former he confided more advanced doctrines.... Whenever anyone repaired to him with a view of becoming his follower, the candidate-disciple was compelled to sell his possessions, and lodge the money with Pythagoras, and he continued in silence to undergo instruction, sometimes for three, but sometimes for five years. And on being accepted, he was permitted to associate with the rest; and remained as a disciple, and took his meals along with them [this is identical with the corporate structure of the Essene community and brotherhood]. If otherwise, however, he received back his property, and was rejected. These persons, then, were styled Esoteric Pythagoristae (Hippolytus, Refutation, I, ii).
The Esoterics were the Elect who, at the end of life, would escape the circle of birth and death; the holy meals to which they were finally admitted were the daily sacrament in which they consumed the body of Dionysus symbolically and so became immortal Bacchoi (sure sounds like the mass in the Catholic Church to me which finds its origin in sun-worship). Initiation was an irrevocable step; once the hand was laid to the plough, there must be no turning back. Origen tells us that "the Pythagoreans used to erect a cenotaph to those who had apostasized from their system of philosophy, treating them as dead" (Contra Celsum, III, ii). Diogenes Laertius declares that the Pythagoreans practiced baptismal purification constantly to renew and maintain their sanctity, a ceremonial which the Jewish Essenes adopted from them (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras).
Laertius declares that Pythagoras forbade his disciples to pray for themselves; he enjoined chastity; he required them "to put all their possessions into one common stock," he lectured to them for five years while they remained silent, after which, if they passed their examinations, they were permitted to speak to the Master and be initiated into the brotherhood. He forbade not only the eating but also the killing of any animal or other living creature, since all of these share with us the privilege of possessing a soul; his disciples ate uncooked food only and pure water was their drink. Together with his Esoterics, Pythagoras wore a spotless white robe of linen; wool was prohibited, since it came from an animal. He prescribed the most intense ethical soul-searching as a dally discipline. He forbade all use of oaths, declaring that it is a man's duty "to make his own word carry conviction." He required his disciples to give honor and precedence to their elders in the order of their worth and seniority. He taught that we must regard nothing as our own private property, that we must support the established government, that we must never injure any living creature, that we must never give way to such emotions as fear, grief, or hatred. He believed that gods (divine agencies) and men are akin, that is, that they are emanations from the same universal soul, which is God. Providence is a divine fact, and constitutes that fate by which the world and every individual life is ordered. The soul is distinct from physical life, is alone immortal, and its essence is Reason, which is indestructible. "The most momentous thing in human life is the act of winning the soul to good," that is, of enabling it to escape this physical prison house and the power of the Furies which infest it. We must always pay divine worship to God, in reverent silence, in white robes after daily purification, which is to be had by cleansing and lustration, by avoiding contact with death and birth and all pollution, by abstention from the meat of animals, and by performing the mystical rites of the cult.
We must also emphasize that, according to the Pythagoreans, the practice of communist brotherhood was the minimum prerequisite for blessed immortality, since only under such a system can ethical purity be attained or injury to our fellow-men be avoided. Aggression and exploitation are not, according to Pythagoras, the only crimes: the mere enjoyment of comfort or personal wealth while others suffer want is a sin for which there can be no forgiveness and cries for vengeance to the throne of God.
The ethical foundation of Pythagoreanism was simply that, since it is impossible to obtain private wealth except through social injustice, and more important, since all members of the human race are blood brethren and therefore equally worthy, it is impious for any one of them to possess more than any other. This is the overwhelming fact which all the Elect will realize and the principle by which they will reconstruct their lives. Under this morality, it becomes the inescapable duty of the capable and the industrious to support those who cannot or do not work. It is obvious that this can never be a rational principle: it belongs in the realm of emotion.
In Pythagoreanism we have the first great fusion of almost all the basic elements which constitute the Gospel Jesus; and we know that the ancient world was filled with erudite and fervent missionaries who preached these doctrines in a manner similar to that later described in the Christian Didache. It was these propagandists whom Plato regarded with such loathing and contempt. "Mendicant prophets," he declared, "go to rich men's doors and persuade them that they have a power committed to them by the Gods of making an atonement for a man's own or his ancestor's sins by sacrifices or charms . . . binding heaven, as they say, to execute their will. And they produce a host of books written by Musaeus and Orpheus . . . according to which they perform their ritual, and persuade not only individuals, but whole cities, that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices . . . which . . . are equally at the service of the living and the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, which they say redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them we shall incur the most dreadful doom" (The Republic, II).
Such were these Orphic prophets who claimed the power to bind and to loose in heaven; who performed mysterious rituals, sacrifices, or sacraments intended to save the soul from hell; who claimed authority and power to relieve the tortures of the damned; who based their preaching upon scriptures said to be divinely revealed; and who promised to redeem their disciples from their personal as well as their original sin.
We know from a passage in Plato that in his day the Pythagorean societies were well known: "Even in this day such as denominate themselves from the Pythagorean manner of life appear to be somehow eminent beyond others" (Ibid., X). Although we possess only scant information concerning the thiasoi after the fourth century B.C.E., there is little doubt that they continued at least to the time of Josephus; for he declares that the Essenes "live the same kind of life as do those whom the Greeks call Pythagoreans" (Antiquities, XV, x, 4) which proves that both of these disciplines still flourished during his lifetime.
After having read this then there is no way to say otherwise than the Essenes, who became the backbone of the early Christian movement in Palestine, were the first Christians and Christian theology was grafted and shaped by them. Often this "theology" was diametrically opposed to Moses and the Prophets, and their oral traditions were later recorded by them as "Divine Oracles" and they would shape the doctrines later associated with Jesus of Nazareth. What is of major importance for the Christian to realize is that many of these Essene doctrines regarding salvation as attributed to Jesus were nothing more than earlier Essene doctrines concerning their sun-godmen redeemer (Angel-Messiah) which originated from sun-worship. Sadly, we read these documents today, like the New Testament, never realizing we are reading a great synthesis of theology and ideas which found their origins in Pythagoreanism, Buddhism, Brahmanism, Zoroaster, Egypt, and even earlier. To find the truth about the historical Jesus takes a lot of reading and investigation. I hope this has helped by giving you a few more puzzles pieces in constructing the truth about Yeshua.