Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Savior and his Diabolical Master

[The following is a long-lost Gnostic gospel or apocryphon discovered in 2013 in a corner of the Vatican library and translated by Mildred Wilmington, Professor of Antiquities at Miskatonic University.]
Chapter One

Our Savior Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

And the devil answered him in turn, “Were you half asleep when you read that passage of Deuteronomy? Did you fail to notice one of those words you just told me, ‘alone’? Man shall not live on bread alone, it says. So you concede that even a higher animal that walks the earth requires food. Why not, then, as I said, command the stones to feed you? You’re exhausted and famished from your sojourn in the wilderness, and it’s for that reason I’ll let such intellectual weakness pass and won’t abandon you here on the spot, depriving you of the honour of my demonic challenge. But do try to refrain from wasting my time with further specious reasoning. My patience isn’t infinite. Remember, when they call me the father of lies, that’s the foolish sheep talking. What they should say is that I tell the Truth that God prefers to be kept hidden from his enthralled worshippers.”

“Get behind me, Satan! I don’t transform the stones because I’m not so hungry at present.”

“So you mean to admit that you have the power to reshape the earth, but you choose not to use it? Is God’s power so finite that it must be kept under wraps lest it should dwindle to nothing and the world shall go without moral guidance?”

“I care more about others than myself. I’d gladly die for God’s chosen creatures. I’d sooner feed them than me.”

“Then why not command the stones to turn to bread to feed the hungry who aren’t as selfless as you? Or why not perform a miracle of feeding a multitude with only five loaves and two small fishes?”

“That would be a cavalier display of power.”

“So you’re saying God doesn’t want to be praised for being almighty? Haven’t you noticed your fellow Jews groveling before the jealous Lord whom they say made all the heavens and the earth?—and in only six days and nights! If power means nothing to God, why do your Jewish scriptures boast over and over that God isn’t the master merely of your small tribe or of this or that force of nature, but of the whole universe? Or why does the Lord silence Job by treating him like a worm that doesn’t deserve even to complain about his unjust suffering, because the Lord’s greater power makes him right?” 

“People need to be freed in their innermost hearts, not just in their bodies. They need spiritual wisdom, not mere physical sustenance. They need to be taught how to live for God’s kingdom, not to grovel or to boast. They need to be fishers of men.”

“Yes, people need to be taught the truth. But have they the stomach for it or only for platitudes? Why don’t you teach me instead, before you practice your speeches on the know-nothing masses?”

“You’re incorrigible; you’ll never admit the error of your ways.”

“Or perhaps you’re just no Plato or Aristotle.”

Chapter Two

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

But the devil replied, “I’m not testing God’s power. I’m testing the extent or your selflessness. If you want to heal the world, why not bring down the angels to overthrow Rome and liberate the Jews? Why not conquer China or Africa while you’re at it? Or didn’t you know those places exist?”

“You’re growing tiresome, Satan. The essence of God is love. He’s not a bloodthirsty tyrant like you. That’s why he only banished instead of annihilating you and the other ingrate angels.”

“Oh, is that why?” The devil chuckled.

“The Lord wants his children to choose to love him, because that’s the path to their lasting peace and happiness. I’m here to reveal the nature of God, not to enslave anyone.”

“What happens if you fail this time around? What happens if the people don’t understand your message and they put you to death, because they’d prefer to have a warrior messiah? What happens if God’s failure is made so plain, if his faith in human freedom is so obviously misplaced, that his favourite creatures turn on him, torturing and crucifying his only begotten Son? Will you come again centuries from now, but this time in judgment, sword in hand, ready to send the wicked multitudes to me so I might return the favour, torturing them forever in hell? You’ll outsource that task so as not to bloody your hands or have to admit that Creation so divided must be a colossal failure. You could learn a thing or two from Zoroastrian universalism. Or didn’t you know that that’s where your precious Jewish monotheism comes from rather than from Moses?”  

Chapter Three

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

And the devil answered him, “Aren’t you metaphysically identical with God? So by worshiping the Lord your God, aren’t you worshipping yourself? I thought you were supposed to be selfless, so why would you prefer to serve yourself rather than someone else like me? I promise you that I’d make for a more enlightening master than your heavenly Father.”

“I have nothing to learn from the likes of you, Satan. The Lord is my light and salvation. He is my shepherd and I shall not want.”

“Then be my shepherd. Teach me your truth, for I could be a powerful ally.”

Ignoring him, Jesus said, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness—”

“‘For his name's sake,” said Satan, interrupting him. “Don’t forget that the purpose of man’s righteousness is to heap glory onto God, the maker of men.”

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for he is with me; his rod and staff they comfort me.”

“And I assume you’ll blame evil and the shadow of death on me, as though your God weren’t sovereign over all. So when you’re alienated from heaven on the cross of shame, tormented by God’s sadistic primates who spurn your spiritual advances, you’ll be comforted by the Master of this universe, of life and death both? You’ll appeal to the inhuman monster that doesn’t take the time even to learn the names of these silly creatures? Good luck with that!”

“He prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: he anoints my head with oil; my cup runs over.”

“So you’ll dine well, knowing that the Lord can defeat all your enemies with a snap of his fingers. And I thought God doesn’t boast about being almighty! I suppose vengeance is a dish best served cold.”

Again, the Savior ignored him and continued to quote scripture: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

“No, I’m sorry to inform you that your remaining days won’t be met with goodness and mercy, but with wickedness, fear, and ignorance. Oh, you’ll gather a following, since the downtrodden are eager to follow anyone who has the arrogance to speak for God, and as I said, the poor and afflicted know nothing so they’re easily fooled. But you’ll be spat upon and crucified for your troubles. I wonder whether you think your spiritual mission will have been worth it, knowing now that you’ll come to ruin because of it.”

Almost losing his temper, Jesus said, “But I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And where will you be, Devil? In hell where you belong!”

“Will you now? Are you sure you want to go to heaven? It’s cold out there in outer space, didn’t you know? You won’t need angels’ wings as much as an astronaut’s helmet. And let me just inform you that the gods of outer space are quite alien and monstrous. They’d eat you for breakfast if you ever made your way beyond this solar system.”

“Spare me your demonic babble, you foul beast!”

“‘Foul beast’ is redundant. You’ll need to step up your rhetorical game if you want to compete with the Eastern spiritual texts. Incidentally, you have nothing to add to them, the Hindu, Buddhist, and Chinese scriptures, and they were written centuries ago. So tell me again why you’ll suffer on the cross.”

Chapter Four

Jesus finally howled with rage. He cursed the devil and threw sand at him.

Satan said, “Imbecilic little lamb, you’re only cursing yourself. I’m a figment of your beleaguered imagination, just like your god. You’re afraid your time in the wilderness is proving fruitless, that you’ve learned nothing because Judaism itself is an embarrassment of errors, so your unconscious mind has conjured this image of me to serve as your foil.”

“God doesn’t live only in my imagination.”

“Where does he live then? Surely not in the outer heavens, not without a space ship, at least.”

“He lives in my heart.”

“And let the record show that that’s where Jesus made the devil puke.”

“The Lord of love lives in my heart and in the potential of everyone to improve the world with acts of righteousness.”

“And why does the world need to be improved?”

“Because you broke it, Devil, with your evil rebellion!”

“I suppose your religion’s pseudo-histories also record the name of the mighty battle axe I used to wage war against the Lord of Hosts, and of the exact number of times I clipped an angel’s wings with it. How kind of the universe’s creator to share such details with simpletons who need to eat other animals and excrete the stinky remains on this god-forsaken planet.” 

“Pride leads men astray and pollutes the world. You are the idol of the arrogant and of the rest who are spiritually blind.”

“Make me see, then, what you see. Or haven’t you the wisdom you plan to bestow on all who will listen?”

“I haven’t the time for lost causes.”

“You’re alone in the desert and you haven’t the time? Don’t let me interrupt your business with the lizards, snakes, and insects.”

“Your job is to be God’s skeptic and naysayer, so arguing with you would be as pointless as banging my head against a wall.”

“It’s counterproductive only if you prove to be outclassed and if you prefer to be left in a state of blissful ignorance.”

“I won’t sully my innocence by stooping to your level, Satan. You boast that you’re intellectually superior to everyone you meet, but it’s that pride that made you master only of the infernal underworld. You accuse me of running from the truth, but you keep dodging the issue of your wickedness. You broke God’s creation and that’s why I choose to sacrifice myself to atone for your sin.”

“I’m not afraid to admit that I’m proud of my wisdom. But you’re still ignoring the fact that your scriptures say your heavenly Father is the most proud of all. So by what right do you condemn pride in God’s creatures?”

“God alone has a right to be proud, because none is higher than him, none more deserving of praise.”

“There are two standards, then, one for God and one for everyone else?”

“As the Lord said to Job, men are in no position to judge God.”

“You have no idea how right you are, little Jesus. But if God can’t be judged by men, how do you know God is praiseworthy? If his creatures can’t rightly condemn him, how can they rightly praise him?”

“God is loving and merciful.”

“But not wrongly jealous or vengeful or arrogant or boastful—”

“Of course not!”

“You see, dear Jesus, you can’t have it both ways. Either your God is comparable to men, with all their virtues and vices, or he’s inhuman in which case you should fear him indeed as the greatest unknown. Either way, you’ll encounter his heartlessness when you’re languishing on the cross.”

“I’ll let them crucify me on behalf of God’s love for people.”

“Oh, asking his Son to die an agonizing death to pay the price of sin is an act of love? Is it love that doesn’t arbitrarily reset the price or wipe away the debt, not with a barbaric human sacrifice but with an admission that God’s to blame in the first place, for making an imperfect world inhabited by imperfect creatures?”

“God made the world perfect. You corrupted it.”

“Who made me, fool?”

“He made you perfect.”

“Then why punish me for exercising my perfection? Why begrudge my choice to rebel? Why punish the arrogant primates for exercising their freewill, if freewill is perfect? What you’re missing is that the freedom to err or to sin is already a glaring sign of God’s absence or of his indifference. He leaves us to choose where we go because he doesn’t exist or he doesn’t care what happens to us. If he cares, after all, he shouldn’t have made us free to leave him or blame us when we act as free as God made us. If he cares, there should be no need for your sacrifice, because an everlasting punishment for men’s sin of acting free would be a gross perversion of justice.”

Chapter Five

Jesus sighed and said, “These are hidden matters which only the Father knows in full. All unfolds according to the Lord’s design and I trust in the supremacy of his wisdom. Least of all do I trust the cynical rambling of a rebel angel smelling of sour grapes. I, too, have had visions of the future. I’ve seen crowds following me all around Judea to Jerusalem, and a blessed church established in my name that will endure for millennia, helping to heal the world you despise.”

“Yes, it’s true, so-called Christianity will be based on your example, but that religion will co-opt your story to make excuses for worldly empires, not perfect the world with spiritual insights.”

“But the nations will learn that God came to earth to live as a lowly mortal and to die for them, to rescue sinners from the dire consequences of their wayward choices, because God so loved the world he made.”

“Some such dreadful pap will be the Western Christian creed, but that theological rigmarole will only protect the weak from the dark truth: instead of saving themselves or—better yet—realizing that nothing in this world can be redeemed, the weak will look to a fictitious savior to magically turn their vices into virtues. Instead, they should recognize that an empire that would crush an upstart Jewish preacher would be only as amoral as the God of this ‘fallen’ world would have to be.”

“I see my religion spreading the ideals of selflessness and universal brotherhood. Inspired by my ordeal on the cross, Christians will forgive others their trespasses instead of miring themselves in resentment. My church will feed the hungry, heal the sick, and clothe the needy. This is the revelation you fear the most, Devil, that even those you call weak are worthy of dignity and protection, because they too carry the spark of divinity, made as they are in God’s image. You would condemn these sentient creatures to live and die as animals trapped in a pitiless struggle for self-empowerment. My church will bring the seeds of God’s kingdom to replace the corrupt earthly one you mean to rule.”

“You can see what you want. Some Christians will help others like you say; others will reinterpret your message in defense of secular wickedness. As a whole, Christianity will lose its way in the natural world, just like every other institution that time corrupts.”

“Even if that should happen, I suppose you’d gloat because that’s what you long for, is it not? That God should fail, that reality itself should prove to be a joke? Is that what you revere, the nothingness that lies at the end of your treachery? Or is it mere reason you worship, the illusory wisdom of this world that’s child’s play compared to the Lord’s sense of rightness? Is it your devotion to logic and to narrow-minded empiricism that blinds you to God’s majesty and to the higher value of his plan for Creation?”

“And to think the bumbling Christians will call you ‘Logos,’ the divine incarnation of reason. The absurdity never fails to amuse me, because it pops up where you least expect it. Am I rooting for the world’s collapse, you ask. No, I lament its inevitability, because the throne in heaven is cold and empty. My honour forbids me from fleeing the real world to one of make-believe such as the one in which there’s a moral reason for everything and a benevolent father figure is in charge who will justify even your gruesome and unjust death at the hands of a brutal regime. Not everyone is cursed with such honour; your religion will have practically nothing to do with it.”

“Where’s the honour in stabbing your master in the back, fiend?”

“Are you listening to what I’m telling you, you sweaty, smelly, scrawny patsy? I have no master. The God you look up to doesn’t exist. He’s a projection of your fear and longing for a better world. You haven’t the fortitude to face the harsh truth and bend this wilderness to your will, so you’ll prey on the gullible peasants and promise them a cheap paradise in a world to come. Nature laughs at all your claptrap about righteousness and justice, heaven and hell, God and monsters. That mockery will be the last thing you hear when you’re hoisted on the cross. But even then, when the world will prove the emptiness of your spiritual message, you won’t lose your faith because that’s what you freely choose to be; that’s your authentic self: an omega-male idealist who was never fit to flourish but whom nature created because she’s a blind experimenter.”

“I’d rather side with my vision of God’s kingdom than pledge my loyalty to this cruel bloodsport you maintain with your blasphemous temptations for God’s creatures to ‘progress’ by feigning to be gods.”

“Didn’t you say they’re made in God’s image? Why, then, shouldn’t sentient creatures behave in a godlike fashion? Why shouldn’t they create a better world if they can, instead of praying for one to be hand-delivered to them from out of the blue sky? Why shouldn’t they follow my example rather than yours?”

“Because look where it's landing you, Devil! Condemned to eternal torment in the fiery pit.”

“That fiery pit of the ‘underworld’ is star stuff, dear child. All of nature is therefore hell, and life itself is torment. As Light Bringer, Lord of the Underworld, I’m the master of nature and thus of all reality. I see now that it’s you who are the lost cause, little lamb-being-led-to-the-slaughter. I’ll enlighten the best of humankind while you can take the hindmost.

Then the devil left him, and Jesus thought he saw angels coming to attend him.


  1. Christ's temptations in the desert is one of my favorite and oft-used parts of the Gospels. I was watching a prosperity Gospel preacher on tv once (Joel Osteen's church is only a couple miles from my house) and was struck by how that whole racket is basically "Follow me and all of this will be yours!"

    So anything that plays off of the temptations sits well with me. This has some great lines:

    “And let the record show that that’s where Jesus made the devil puke.”

    "That religion will co-opt your story to make excuses for worldly empires."

    And so on.

    1. I'm reading The Last Temptation of Christ, so this stuff is on my mind.

      Osteen is beyond the issue of satanic (rationalist) temptations, I think. Osteen's "prosperity gospel" has more to do with the early sell-out of the religion, the co-opting of the story of Jesus as an omega-male idealist, to make excuses for intractable vices. Osteen's just putting the finishing touches on the sell-out, replacing Christianity with full-blown Americanism.