Mysticism of the Apostle Paul

Begins Thursday, September 10 and will be ongoing
11 am-noon

Mysticism of the Apostle Paul 
by Dr. Jim Goss

In preparing for a class that will begin in September on Zoom about the mysticism of Paul, I decided to write up a little of what to expect in the class, so that those who are interested might be able to do a little preparation. In the process of rethinking early Christianity, it occurred to me that Paul seemed to have more in common with some of the materials that appeared in the Nag Hammadi collection, such as the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Truth than he did with what became orthodoxy. Second century Christians who were labeled heretics often cite Paul’s letters, and offer extended meditations on some of his thoughts. Why is Paul so important in their writings, I wondered? That thought began to fester in my mind.

After reading works by Albert Schweitzer and Alan Segal (see information at the end), it became clear that I needed to change my views of Paul. Now I see that Paul was a visionary (in the Jungian sense developed below) and that he fits in a line of succession that begins with the prophet Ezekiel, goes through the book of I Enoch, Jewish apocalyptic texts, the angel liturgy at Qumran, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, and finally to the Merkabah or Throne mystical texts of later Judaism. While Paul is more deeply indebted to early Jewish mystical texts and thought, second-century “heretical” Christians incorporate Greek and Roman insights into their works to further develop Paul’s views. We will explore these issues in more depth in the class.

Carl Jung talks about two kinds of artistic expression: one he refers to as “psychological” and the other he calls “visionary.” Psychological works draw material from conscious human life, such as emotions, passions, and everyday events. Visionary materials derive from a deeper part of the human mind that surpasses ordinary human consciousness. Arising from the depths, these works may reveal something glamorous, demonic, grotesque, or something of great beauty and joy. Visionary material is primordial in nature and comes out of the unconscious that may be both exhilarating and shattering to an individual, and is visualized in images much like dream material. I suspect Ezekiel (et. al.) believed he actually saw God’s glory in heaven while riding on a chariot driven by four living creatures, just as I think Paul was convinced he had actually traveled to the third heaven. Jung’s insights will be used to translate those ancient mystical visions into the depth psychological language of the twenty-first century. The mystical literature of Paul’s precursors and successors is visionary and will be interpreted like dream images or aspects of the active imagination. I hope we may entice our own imaginations in reflecting upon the archetypal images encountered in the ancient visions.

Paul, unlike Ezekiel and others, does not tell us what he saw when he traveled into the heavenly paradise.  Instead, he says his vision is unutterable. Nor does he tells us much about his vision of Jesus on his way to Damascus that transformed him into a follower of the newly emerging Christian movement. Nevertheless, I believe what he saw, and what he thought it meant, is sprinkled throughout his letters. While we will go over this material more carefully in class, in brief Paul believes he saw and was transformed by the cosmic power of Jesus who is now occupying the throne next to God in heaven. The cosmic Christ becomes the power that he says transforms his ego and empowers him to become an apostle. This power, he claims, is incarnated into believers when they are initiated by the ritual of baptism. We will go over all these assumptions, and delve into their possible relevance for our own understanding of the Christian faith.

Zoom link here
Meeting ID: 990 2226 9042
Passcode: 960704
By phone: +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)

Information for Further Preparation
Materials that will be germane to the class that you may want to read are:

Ezekiel, chapters 1 and 10;
I Enoch, chapter 14
Daniel, chapter 7:1-14
Mark, chapters 1:9-11, 13:24-26 
Revelation, chapter 4
Thomas, sayings 59, 15, 82 & 83 
Gospel of Truth, 41,3-43,24
Philippians, Chapter 2:6-11
Romans, chapter 6:1-11
Galatians, chapter 1:11-17
2 Corinthians, 12:1-10

Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of the Apostle Paul  
Alan Segal, Paul the Convert
Michael Lieb, The Visionary Mode: Biblical Prophecy, Hermeneutics, and Cultural Chang

A gifted scholar and popular teacher, Dr. Jim Goss serves as DCC’s Theologian in Residence. He is Professor Emeritus of the Religions Studies Department, California State University, Northridge.

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