29. A Near Eastern parallel to the atman-brahman motif


The castration of Ouranos who would come and by force unite himself to Ge[1], is the splitting up of cosmic unity, and as the symbol of this division, El Cronos (and Mithras and Resheph) carries the two world pillars in his hands. (Also Mithras' killing of the bull is the killing of primordial unity to allow room for the light, the travels of the sun and the moon in their cars). Therefore the human sacrifice to Ouranos is the boy called unity, Je(h)ud (Praep.Ev. 1,10,44, cf. 33: monogenés). His killing is, like the killing of the sacred bull and the purusha sacrifice, creation of cosmos by the cutting up of primordial unity[2]. In death and in the afterlife man returns to this mystic unity, as is seen from a figurine of clay found among graves, and now in the Museum of Cartage (12 cm, from the 7-6th cent. BC, A.Parrot et al., Les Phéniciens, fig. 166). His body is close to the shape of the standing stone, it has the marks of androgyny, and on his breast there is a giant cross uniting left and right, up and down. Standing stones from the Punic area show the androgyny connected to the life after death. In Selinus, in the eastern part of Sicily, by a temple for Zeus Meilichios, were found many stelai, erected over the ashes of sacrificed animals, and crowned w double busts of male & female[3].

At the palace at Mari is pictured a god, who seems to rise out of the primordial mountain being one with the starry sky. The picture has the contours of a stele. He is the union of light and darkness, black but surrounded by an aura of light. With his body and stretched arms he is uniting earth and heaven, right and left[4].

In early Syrian Christianity Jesus is called Ihidaja, “the only one”, “unique”, cf Greek: monogenés, John 1,18. Now acc to 1.Henoch 49,3, the “Son of Man” is the place where the just deceased are united after death: “In him (the Son of Man) dwells the spirit of wisdom and the spirit that offers insight...and the spirit of those who have passed away in justice”.

J-E.Ménard[5] has shown that Syrian speculations (known from Liber Graduum) about primordial man, Adam, as a perfect being ruling over the whole universe, are the key to the Gospel of Thomas with its ideal of the “single one” (monachos). To become united to this “man of light” is salvation: ”Blessed is he who shall stand by the beginning”(logion 18). In my own book, Dåben og Himmelrejsen til den skjulte Adam, I have tried, with the help of the Mandaean notion of the Secret Glorious Adam as macr´anthropos and world pillar, to show that salvation in the early church could be understood as being united to Christ as macr´anthropos. We are here dealing with an exact parallel to the Indian motif of atman, man’s soul, being united to Brahman, the big cosmic soul, and mystical experience is the key to this notion.

Philo says: ”For when the prophetic mind becomes divinely inspired and filled with God it becomes like the monad, not being at all mixed with any of these things associated with duality”[6].

Monogenés (“the only begotten”, the Unique) is a symbol of the consciousness of the mystic, a symbol of the mystical experience of everything united in love and harmony. Therefore Monogenes is also called “the beloved”. Jamm and Mot, the sons of El in the Ugarit texts, are jdd  “El’s loved one”. In the story about Isaac going to be sacrificed, Isaac is called jahid (“the only one”), in LXX translated into Greek agapetos = “the beloved”, cf the same words used about Jesus by baptism and glorification, Mark 1,11 & 9,7. It is exactly by baptism and final glorification that the symbolism of the mystical macr´anthropos is used in the early church[7]. Ginza[8] is about “the young boy”, who is “the just, great, unique one”. In the Valentinian Gnostics we read about Arké (“the beginning”) who is Monogenés & Nous (“pure mind”, i.e. mystical intuition). In the Ptolomaic Gnostic system Monogenés = Nous is born of Bythos (“depth”) as the fruit of the union between the Eternal Father and Enthymesis (“female desire”), i.e. by the union of male and female cosmic principles.[9] As the unity of all diversity he is Polymorphos Monogenes, Act. Thom. 48. Acc. to Philo, God is Father, Episteme (knowledge), mother, and cosmos is Monos & Agapetos, “the only and beloved son”, ebr. 30[10].

Enoch travels to the “living waters” and to the river of fire in which the sun sets (1.En. 17,4f.). From the holy mountain of God he travels to Mt. Zion (24-26), and he travels from east to north, west and south, becomes king of the universe and learns a lot of astronomical secrets, and is finally reborn in a child of light (Noah) with eyes like “sun beams”(106,2). He is the typical sun hero finally apotheosed as the “Son of Man” (70-71).

The Son of Man has to be seen on the background of the OT tradition of theophany: ”he comes” in his Father's “glory”, i.e. he is theos epiphanés.

Philo and mystical Judaism share the idea of a heavenly being/angel, Israel, “the one who sees God”[11]. This is exactly the background of the Monogenés notion of John 1,18 + 47 + 51, where the Son of Man reveals himself as the new Jacob-Israel.

In fact there are close parallels between the gods of the folk religion in India and the gods of the Near East, ex: the sun warrior, who creates space in the universe for the wind to blow and the sun to run its course and the rain to fall, is personified in the god Vishnu, the shepherd in Krisna, the great hunter in Shiva. And even the cycles of time and the rebirth of the great god of eternity are common belief in both the Near and the Far East.

One of the most important insights in the modern effort to understand the background of Jesus and the New Testament is found in a rather modest work by Hugo Odeberg, "Die mandäische Religionsanschauung"[12]. In Jewish rabbinical tradition there is a tendency to judge harshly about Enoch and Enosh, quite contrary to the Bible for  which Enosh was the first to call on God´s name Gen 4,26, and Enoch  was the man “walking with God”. Obviously the rabbinical tradition from the 3rd cent. was fighting a mysticism linked to Enosh (surviving in the Mandaen traditions about Enosh) and Enoch (surviving in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd book of Enoch). Acc. to 1.En 70f., Enoch is taken up to heaven and changed into the “Son of Man” and put on a throne as the ruler of the world. The main motif in this religiosity is the ascension of a man to the heavenly realm.

In commenting on John 3,13 H.Odeberg[13] has collected sufficient examples to prove the importance of this motif: “2.En 1-21 tell of Enoch´s ascension into heaven … 22ff. relate how Enoch is transformed into a Celestial Being. Acc. to Test. Levi 2,5ff. the Patriarch Levi ascends to heaven while in sleep. Similarly Baruch in 2 Bar and Isaiah in Asc. Isa. The ascension of St.Paul, acc. to 2.Cor 12,2.4 ("whether in the body or out of the body", he could not tell), is well known. 3.En 3-16, 48C speak of Enoch´s translation into heaven and transformation into Metatron, the Unique Celestial Being. 3 En 1,2.42-48A narrates Rabbi Ishmael´s ascension into the highest heaven and his visions there in a manner suggesting that that such ascension was the regular aspiration of the mystic of the circle. Tosephta and TB Hag,b preserve the well-known tradition of the four ‘who entered Paradise’…The mystical experiences in question, hence also the aspirations to ascend on high, were prominent with R.Yohanan ben Zakkai (about 40-80 A.D.) and his school”. Odeberg (ibd. p.74) also mentions Corpus Hermeticum IV: the baptism in the great bowl. The purpose of this baptism is the same ascension to God.

Now in John 3,13ff. it is stressed that Jesus is the sole mediator of ascent and this is given in the baptism “of water and spirit” 3,5. It is very important to see the unity of motifs in this 3rd chapter of John: the ascension to heaven, v13 (a) is closely connected to the “entrance into” and the “seeing the kingdom of God” v.4 & v.5 and the baptism hinted at in v.3 (b) and the mentioning of the spirit v.8 (c ) - i.e. the spirit received at Christian baptism, but not by the baptism administered by John the Baptist v.6 & v.22-31(d). Just as in the Mandaeic version of this religiosity baptism is the means to ascend and become one with the heavenly man (in Mandaeic terminology “the Hidden Adam of Glory”) and not so much ecstatic experience.

The “Son of Man” in Dan 7,9-14 is a personification of the “holy of the Highest” and the key to the scene is the “thrones” put up, i.e. the key to the scene is apotheosis: man enthroned in heaven.  Also the name Metatron (Greek: =Meta-Throne) must be understood on this background. “Son of Man” by Ezekiel is the name used for little man entering the circle of the angels. The “Son of Man” is elevated, and the believer is elevated in him to eternal life, John 3,14f. He who commits himself to the Son of Man, to him the Son of Man will commit himself before the angels of God.

Characteristic of Metatron is that he is given all the power of God to rule the world and to judge the living and dead. Exactly the same is said about Jesus and the “Son of Man”, Matt 28,19 & 25,31. Metatron is told all the secrets of God (Odeberg p.204), but he does nothing of his own will, but only the will of the Holy One[14], cf. Matt. 11,27.

He is called the “little Jahveh”, cf. how Jesus in a unique way acts on behalf of God, and even uses the expression “I am”, a translation of God´s own name JHVH. (Metatron as one with the Shekinah).

Now in 1.En, Enoch is transfered to heaven and becomes the “Son of Man”, but the “Son of Man” exists as prior to creation, he is much older than Enoch, a primordial being, cf how in the Gnostic “Book of Jeu”, Jeu is called “the great man”, “the first man”, i.e. macr´anthropos.

We have unearthed a religiosity with strong mystical features centred on the heavenly man bearing the name of God, Phil 2,9. To become one with him is mystical theosis.

This is the purpose of baptism where you become one with Christ and is lifted up to heavenly places. You are even given God´s name and incorporated into the mystical unity, John 17,11; and finally become one with primordial man by seeing his mystical glory, 17,22-24.

Now we know that many fragments of 1.En were found among the Dead Sea scrolls and we know the mystical tradition attached to the feast of Tabernacles where the holocaust altar was circled with the word “I and He” hinting at a mystical union with God[15]. It seems reasonable to assume that the old tradition of apotheosis through a journey along the circling road of the sun to ascent on the heavenly mountain was still very much alive among the Essene society of “therapists” with their wheeling dances in imitation of the Exodus towards the “heavenly highland” of God. And from there were passed on to the small Baptist societies along the Jordan valley, where also the Mandaean sect seems to have its origin acc to the research done by G.Widengren and his pupil E.Segelberg[16].

In rabbinical tradition the unification of the celestial man and his earthly appearance in the flesh is the reason for the angels ascending and descending on the ladder of Jacob (and in John 1,51) as proved by Odeberg[17].

In 1.En there exists a perfect parallelism between the "just ones" and the "Son of Man" with the "Just" as his most prominent title (cf. in later kabbala the Zadik). Just as the "Son of Man" in Dan 7 is the symbol of the apotheosis of the people of God, so is Enoch the symbol of an apotheosis of the "just". This apotheosis of Enoch is connected to investio & unctio: a change of clothes from his earthly robe to "Garments of God´s Glory" and he is anointed with the Lord´s "holy oil", 2.En 22,8f and he is to stand before the Lord´s face for ever 21,3; 22,4-6. The "standing one" as he who has conquered death is a common expression in the tradition connected to Simon Magus, who, acc to the Homilies of Clem.  was the most prominent pupil of John the Baptist. "Eternally standing" is also the final goal aimed at by the Mandaean baptismal ritual. Apophasis Megale, the famous document circulating in the name of Simon Magus, hails God as He who "stood, stands and will stand", a variation of the mystical formula of God as the union of present, past and future existence "He who was, is and will come". This formula hails god as the mystical unity even of time, and is especially used in the Johannine writings where Jesus is seen as sometimes a very young man, sometimes a middle aged, and sometimes a very old man (Acts of John). So we must assume, as the original setting of early Christianity, a circle gathering around John the Baptist, and baptism as the sacred act of ascension to a status as one of the "Glorious Ones", the "Sons of God", the angels. But mystic vision and ecstatic journey to heaven was also experienced.

       In Dan 7 the "Son of Man" is the symbol of a 5th empire: the 4th empire symbolised by the 4th monster crushing everything with its teeth is dethroned by the "Ancient of Days", and the power over the world is given to the "Son of Man", who is the symbol of the faithful believers, called the "Holy of the Highest".

       In the New Testament 1.Enoch is quoted as holy scripture. In this book, Enoch is finally elevated to heaven and changed into the Son of Man and given the authority to rule on behalf of God. In 3. Enoch he is even given the name of God, he is called "little Yhvh" and Metatron, i.e. the one who has his throne next to God. The Son of Man as one who is elevated to heaven and given the kingdom of God is also behind the answer given by Jesus to the high priest: "Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting by God´s right hand and coming with the clouds". But not only Jesus is elevated to heaven and given all power in heaven and earth, also the believers belonging to the Jesus-movement: "As my father has offered me kingdom, I offer you to sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel". Also in the vision of Daniel there are thrones set up in heaven.

       We have here a religious movement sharing the aspiration to be one with God, but not only that: expecting to share his rule over the world.

       The explanation for that must be the old notion of a heavenly council consisting of the sons of God. Already in Ugarit, man hopes, when he dies, to become one of the ilim, "the gods". "When a famous hero or king died, he was united with the god whose "son" he was"[18]. The phrase used about the death of Krt is: Krt shrk ´il = "Krt will unite with El". de Moor draws the reader's attention to the word shirk, later to become terminus techn. for the gravest possible heresy in Islam: to elevate other beings to the same level as God.


The enthronement of a man symbolizing Mandaean truth and religion as ruler over the eternal heavenly hosts, and therefore named "little Enosh", i.e. the youngest of the eternal beings, has its perfect parallel in the enthronement of Enoch, in 3.En called "youth"[19] and in the New Testament, Hebr 1,4.

A part of this "man into angel" ideology is the important role played in early Christian service of the trishagion ("Holy, holy, holy…") of the heavenly liturgy[20], see even the first prayer of the Lord´s prayer and the fact hinted at by Clement of Alexandria that the early Christians used to jump high in the air at this moment of the liturgy as if they were getting wings and were ready to fly.

It is vital to understand the importance of the ecstatic practice of  "journeys to the heavens" in early Christianity. There is a very clear example of the journey to heaven in the early Christian document called Ascensio Isaiai 7-11. The journey is seen as an out-of-body experience 8,11: “No man who returns to the earthly body has ever ascended to see what you are now looking at…”

Now in the baptismal rite there was a changing of clothes, a DEVESTIO followed by an INVESTIO by ALBA BAPTISMALIS, symbol of the new life in close communion with the angels (seen as men in white clothes). In Asc. Is, 3,25 it is told that many will change the cloaks of the holy ones and their glory with the cloaks of the money-makers. The investio at baptism was seen as a leaving the old life to participate in the life of children of the light, it was a changing into the ranks of the Sons of God, the angels who see God and are constantly singing to his praise, as a matter of fact it was a symbolic leaving the body of flesh to be clothed in the body of Christ of cosmic dimensions. (Like the Vedic atman joined to Brahman.)

    The rapture of Enoch is a “prototypical event”. The chapter 1.En 71 telling about his ascent adds this interpretation, put into the mouth of the angel Michael: ”All those walking on your (Enoch’s) paths… their dwellings and inheritance will be with you”[21]. Cf. 1.En 51,4: ”All (the just) will become angels in heaven”. The key to understanding the belief in the Son of Man, and the key to the Enoch literature, is this hope for heavenly ascent and an early Jewish merkabah mysticism which believed in ascent (sometimes by means of the divine chariot of the sun, the merkabah). This is also the key to St. Paul’s use of “flesh” and “spirit” as opposites, the flesh, the body is the curtain, the great obstacle preventing the spirit from transcending to the sphere of God. The eminent German scholar Egon Brandenburger has interpreted this Pauline motif on the background of a similar use of “flesh” & “spirit” by Philo of Alexandria, who sees the human spirit as caught up in slavery to the fleshly, earthly sphere and salvation as “going out” and “going up” (“Befreiung als Auszug und erlösender Aufstieg”, ibd. p.154, For a similar interpretation of early Christian baptism see my own book Baptism and Heavenly Journey to the Secret Adam as macroanthropos (in Danish: Dåben og Himmelrejsen til den skjulte Adam, pp.1ff.1983). Baptism in the Pauline churches was seen as creating the union of the small human spirit with the spirit of the cosmic Christ, the heavenly Adam and macroanthropos, by taking off the garment of flesh and putting on the alba baptismalis as the symbol of Christ or his Holy Spirit Rom 13,14; Gal 3,27f.


[1] Philo Praep.Ev. I, 10, 17

[2] That this is the meaning of Mithras killing the bull is rightly stressed by Per Bilde in his beautiful article "The Meaning of Roman Mithraism" in" Rethinking Religion, ed. J. P. Sørensen, 1989, pp.31-47

[3] Cook, Zeus III, 1188-90

[4] Picture restored by A.Parrot, Le Palais, Peintures murales, t.XVII

[5] "Der Syrische Synkretismus und das Thomasev." pp.73ff. in: Synkretismus im Syrisch-pers. Kulturgebiet, 1975, ed. A.Dietrich

[6] Quaest in Exod. II, 29

[7] In Mandaean ritual especially at the masiqta, the mass for the deceased, E.S.Drower, The Secret Adam, 1960, p.22

[8] transl. Lidzbarski, pp.235ff.

[9] Excerpt. ex Theod. 7,10

[10] R.Bultmann, Das Evangelium des Johannes, 1941, p.48, who also mentions the Babylonian Mummu called Monogenes and Cosmos Noetos

[11] P.Borgen, "Philo, Survey of research since World War II", p.153, in: Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II, 21, 1, 1984

[12] UUÅ 1930, Teologi.2, 27 pages, espec. pp.24ff.

[13] The Fourth Gospel, 1929, pp.72f.

[14] ibd., p.205

[15] Odeberg, p.332

[16] See the article by Widengren, Segelberg & H.Schlier in: Der Mandäismus, 1982, ed. by G.Widengren

[17] ibd., p.36

[18] J.de Moor: The Rise of Yahwism, 1990, p.242

[19] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1928, pp.68ff.

[20] Odeberg, pp.183ff.

[21] E.Brandenburger, Fleisch und Geist, 1968, p.69