India in Primitive Christianity - Alexandria

India In Primitive Christianity

Adi Buddha described by Hodgson—Abrasax

Adi Buddha described by Hodgson—Abrasax described by Matter—Close points of contact—Mithras—His death and burial at Easter—Abrasax an individual, and also the whole body of the faithful, like Sangha, and also St. Paul's "Christ"—Points of contact between Kattragam and the Logos of Philo—Abrasax has two serpent legs—So has Padmapâni in the sculptures of Jemalgiri—Close analogies between Sekkraia and Serapis—Each is half man, half stone—Description of the advent of the Son of Man in the Gospels, quite different from what was expected, but quite in harmony with S’iva's Pralaya.

I will open this chapter with a noteworthy description of the Supreme Buddha as conceived in the Buddhist books that came from Nalanda to Nepal. It is given to us by Brian Hodgson. I will then quote what Matter tells us of the God of Basilides. Linked together, the passages read curiously.

According to Hodgson the Buddhists hold that "Ishwara, the Supreme God, the Absolute, is Nirvritti, and Nirvritti is this: to know the world to be a mere semblance, unreal, and an illusion,—and to know God to be one, and Pravritti to be the opposite of this sublime science, and in fact the practice and notions of ordinary men. Therefore, according to Nirvritti Adi Buddha is the author and creator of all things, without whom nothing can be done, whose care sustains the world and its inhabitants, and the moment he averts his face from them they become annihilated, and nothing remains but himself."*

Now from Matter we learn that the God of Basilides was "unborn, unmanifested, nameless—He who hides himself in the plenitude of his perfections."

When he manifests these they take the form of countless beings, all analogous to himself. Each of these is not a mythical fancy without substance. Each is really God; and without him they and their worlds fade away into nothingness.

In connection with these emanations, Matter details what he considers a curious piece of letter puzzle, the "Abrasax." These letters make up three hundred and sixty-five, and Abrasax is the God that rules the Pleroma, the manifested world, the Indian Pravritti, as distinguished from the unmanifested, the Gnostic Buthos, the Indian Nirvritti. Abrasax is plainly the year-god.

In this letter puzzle the mightiest mysteries were said to be concealed.*

Matter tells us also that Μειθρας, the Persian Buddhist divinity, has a name whose Greek letters also make up three hundred and sixty-five, and who is also called the "Word." Tertullian said of this god that it imitated the "Mystery" of the Resurrection. Fermicus, a Christian controversialist who lived in the fourth century, tells us what that "mystery" was. Every year Mithras was supposed to die at Easter. In the form of a stone he was buried with great pomp in a cave. Then in a day or two he rose again with much rejoicings and illuminations.

But the most important of the ideas recorded by Matter as held by Basilides, I take to be this:—That Abrasax was at once a single divine being, and also the entire body of the Emanations that were manifested (la totalité des intelligences qui composent le Pleroma).* Does not this bring strangely together the Buddhist and the Christian Vice-God? Sangha also is at once one individual and all the congregation of faithful souls. And St. Paul held the same idea that the "Christ" was the body of all the faithful:—

"For in him the Pleroma of Divinity wholly dwelleth" (Col. ii. 9).

Whilst Christianity remained Jewish all art illustration was impossible, as Mr. King in his "Gnostics" points out. This gives an importance to the Gnostic gems which filtered in as talismans.

Matter tells us the certain stones (les pierres de Basilides) were viewed with special importance. These are plainly what in England we call the "Gnostic Gems."

Plate 24 gives some of the most important. They throw much light on our special subject.

Epiphanius tells us that certain "heretics" even in his day had a god with serpent legs, "and they called it Abrasax." Tertullian also attacks certain Christians "who have taken unto themselves gods with wings, or with the heads of dogs, or of lions or serpents from the legs downwards."

Basilides died A.D. 136, and Epiphanius lived about A.D. 400, so Abrasax (see , fig. 1) must have been the symbolised representation of the manifested Supreme, the Logos, for a considerable time.

"Philo," says Keim, "described his god as a simple entity. He disclaimed for him every name, every quality, even that of the Good, the Beautiful, the Blessed, the One. Since he is still better than the good and higher than the Unity, he can never be known as—but only that he is. His perfect name is only the four mysterious letters J. H. V. H.—that is pure being. It was the problem of theology as well as religion to shed the light of God upon the world and lead it again to God. But how could this being which was veiled from the world be brought to bear upon it. By Philo, as well as by all the philosophy of the time, the problem could only be solved illogically. Yet by modifying his exalted nature it might be done. If not by his being, yet by his work, he influences the world. His powers, his angels, all in it that is best and mightiest, the instrument, the interpreter, the mediator and messenger of God, his pattern and first-born, the Son of God, the Second God, even God himself, the divine Word is Logos, communicate with the world."*


The popular idea is that Philo got all his ideas about the Logos from Plato, but in Alexandria at Philo's date there were ideas added that could not have come from that source. The Yoga S’âstra of Patanjali was the chief Bible of the Mahayana Buddhists as we have seen, and in that work the inconceivable, the Great Absolute, took no interest in mortal affairs. This doctrine was transferred to Alexandria, and even to the Christians for a French wit has styled Tertullian's "Placid" God a "Dieu inutile"; but Plato's rigid logic would not probably accept such a God, for if we can know nothing about the Great Absolute, how can we know that he takes no interest in mortal affairs? Then again the Word by the Gnostic Kabbalists was practically interpreted to mean the letters J.H.V.H., made into a divine being. This was plainly derived from the A.U.M. of the Yoga S’âstra. A third question that arises is this—Did Philo know anything of the Cingalese god Kattragam, and had Kattragam (or Kârttikeya) connection with the Gnostic time god, Abrasax. Kârttikeya as the God of War was very popular in Ceylon for the seaman Knox tells us that the shrines of the Dewales bristled with weapons, but the Wiharas were quite without them.

Kattragam (like Abrasax) used the cock for a symbol. It figured on his banner. His temple was more honoured than the wihara erected for the worship performed by the King. He received from Buddha the chief power to cure the sick, "especially those of royal blood"; also to perform miracles; to assist men in distress; and to do good to animals. Once a year he had in Ceylon a magnificent festival. All Ceylon assembled, and also Hindus from the Malabar and the Coromandel Coasts. On the tallest of elephants, seated in an ivory howdah profusely be-gemmed, the god passed along, accompanied by drums, and lighted torches. The festival lasted fifteen days. Then with much mystery a golden sword was carried in a palanquin to the nearest river to "cut the water" (arrest its flow). The gold sword was apparently as much honoured as the god, and was carried back carefully to the Temple.* This gold sword explains much of the popular enthusiasm for Kattragam. Ignorant natives, in abject terror of the thousands of evil spirits around them, would seek a protection in the gold sword. As it is stated, that Kattragam was the Son of S’iva and his wife Pattinee or Durgâ and was, moreover, the God of War, what better safety?

Now Abrasax and Padmapani, the Buddhist "Præsens Divus" according to Hodgson, have each two serpents for legs. (See Fig. 2, Pl. 24 of Padmapani, taken from a bas relief of the sculptures of Jemalgiri). And the ritual . of the followers of S’iva, when scrambling for the flesh and blood of S’iva as the dying year, seems certainly to have reached the Buddhists, for we find this amongst Hodgson's quotations:—

"From between his (Padma Pani's) shoulders sprang Brahma, from his forehead Mahâdeva, from his two eyes the sun and moon, from his mouth the air, from his teeth Sarasvatî," and so on and so on.* Remember that from the belly of the S’ivan Victim sprang the Serpent King. Abrasax was certainly two serpents from the belly downwards.

Let us now compare Kattragam and the Logos.

"The Logos is the son of God the Father," says Philo (De Profugis). Kattragam is also the Son of God, the God whose followers started all the subtleties about the Logos.

"The Logos is superior to all the Angels" (De Profugis) .

Kattragam as the god of war commands all the Devas.

"The Logos is the Physician that heals all evil." Kattragam in Ceylon is the chief healer as well as the chief fighter, practically identical functions when healing means battling with evil spirits. Hence the importance of Kattragam's gold sword, and the big shield of Abrasax.

Says Philo:—"The just man when he dies is translated to another state by the Logos, by whom the world was created; for God by his said Logos, by which he made all things, will raise the perfect man from the dregs of this world, and exalt him near himself." (De Sacrificüs).

Abrasax has a whip, which makes him the Lord of Hell and supreme judge. The Christos of the Gnostics had the same function. Also he brought not peace but a sword, and could summon more than twelve legions of angels.

All this sheds a flood of light upon the Gnosticism of Alexandria. It was Buddhism filtered through the Kappooism of Ceylon. Samana Deva Rajah and his Nâgas is reproduced in Ialdibaoth, a serpent God with his seven serpent-headed sons. Then the Goddess Pattinee is equally prominent. It was the aim of Philo, one of the Gnostics, ever to be the "Servant of Sophia," the inspirer of all that is good. The most holy book of the Alexandrine version of the scriptures is called "The Book of Wisdom." (Sophia), in the same way that the tractates of the higher mysticism of the Buddhists are called Prajñâ Pâramitâ, the "Wisdom of the other Bank."

But Pattinee is also the Gorgon, a popular Gnostic gem. She is the Serpentine Durgâ.

Another plagiarism is noteworthy. Sekkraia, the god, half stone, half man, sits on his stone in one of Mr. Upham's drawings, and has in his hand a cup of wine. Now the chief god of Alexandria was Serapis, and his conventional head (Pl. 24, Fig. 4) is crowned with a wine cup and tree markings, the wine of the Tavateinza Tree. His hair is a coiled serpent.

This gives a meaning to one of the most popular of Gnostica mulets. Here is Sekkraia, the god, half man, half stone. In the mysticism of the Kabbala the "Cup of Libation" designates the fourth or highest grade in the progress of the mystic. Some trace a version of this idea in the legend of the Sangreal. Another gem (, Fig. 3) shows the god half man, half stone, still more clearly. He figures as a King and also a Yogi. King's "Gnostics" gives several specimens of this design. Each has the long hair of the Yogi and the Nazarite. Each has a beard; each also has his arms crossed. Mr. King dates the rise of Serapis from the building of Alexandria. The earliest statue—that at Sinope—had Proserpine (Durgâ) for his wife. Serapis has two faces like S’iva in India, and Janus at Rome. He was called Soter (the Saviour), as Tertullian* tells us, for he healed body and soul. But Mr. King says that in his earliest form he was the Lord of Hell, and Judge of the dead; these conflicting functions have been worked into Christianity. Tertullian talks of the "three natures" of Soter. The gems throw a light on this. Fig. 6 gives plainly the Trinity of S’iva-Buddhism One—the Yogi with a beard (Tertullian's "Unmanifested Supreme"). Two—the wife, the Buddhist Dharma, the Gnostic Sophia; and the third emblem is the Elephant with the Rod of Hermes, two Symbols of the Spiritual life. Fig. 5 makes this still more plain. Here we see the Elephant, like Buddha, coming from Nirvritti to the manifested Pleroma.

Herodotus, who speaks in a very circumstantial manner of the deities, and of the religion of the Egyptians, makes no mention of Serapis, His worship was not introduced to Rome until 146 A.D. Serapis is described as a sort of Jupiter-Æsculapius. In the second century his temples in Egypt, called Serapes, numbered forty-three, at which great cures were effected. His symbol was the Serpent, and he was pronounced one of the infernal gods; and Jacobi in the "Dictionnaire Mythologique" says that his statue, which Ptolemy replaced with that of Sinope, was a block of granite rough and formless.

And the reader will perhaps remember Gibbon's account of the Serapion at Alexandria whose pompous colonnades, upraised on a vast artificial mound one hundred steps above the city, glittered with golden statues like the Mahâdewayo Vihara in Ceylon; and possessed "arches, vaults, and subterranean apartments,"* presided over by the goddess Anaitis, the special patroness of the Brides of the God.

At Sinope, an early statue of Serapis with three heads marked the rise of the Nile, and also, like Trailinga Is’wara, the Past, the Present and the Future.

Mr. Moncure Conway, commenting on the exceptional concealments of the body of Serapis, likens them to similar veilings when the body of the Bambino of Aracœli is exhibited. But the mythology of Ceylon sufficiently explains the matter. If a portion of the body of a god is sometimes of flesh and sometimes of stone it would not do to show too much of him.*

The ideas which we call Messianic, which were in existence just before the epoch of Christianity, were derived from many sources. From the prophet Micah, the Jews had been taught to expect an earthly conqueror, who was to destroy all the enemies of Israel and to set up the Chosen Race upon the "Mountain of the Lord" resplendent with the "gains" (Micah iv. 13) of his conquests. This Messiah was certainly a man, for according to Daniel he was to be cut off. Then came the influence of a very old Persian book, the Bundahesh. In it Soshios or Soshyans comes with his angels to effect a general resurrection, and to send the wicked to eternal suffering with Ahriman in hell.

A work, the "Apocryphal Book of Enoch" seems a version of this work Judaised, with Jehovah for Ormuzd and Satan for Ahriman. A similar resurrection and a judgment is there described, but Soshios is an angel, and the leader of the heavenly host in the "Book of Enoch" is Jehovah in one part of the book, and "Messiah," the "Son of Man" in another. This work is quoted by St. Jude, and it was viewed as part of Scripture by Tertullian.

A fifth influence must be mentioned, overlooked for a long time, but now held by scholars to have had great influence with the Gnostic societies at that time abundant.

"Five hundred years Ânanda," said Buddha, in the Culavagga, "will the doctrine of the Truth abide."* It is urged that this prophecy must have excited the Gnostics, for Buddha's death is fixed at 477 B.C., and a new Buddha would be due exactly at the time of the coming of Christ. Now it is a noteworthy fact that each of these five descriptions is radically unlike the "Coming of the Son of Man" as depicted in the three first gospels. For his coming was to effect a complete destruction of the earth, and the million billion star-systems of the Kosmos:—

"The sun shall be darkened and the moon shall no more give her light, and the stars in heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken" (Mark xiii. 25).

Heaven and earth were to pass away, and a new heaven and a new earth were to come down from heaven. Under such circumstances all the descriptions of eternal punishment in a cave under the earth with Ahriman or Satan must be more recent additions. If the Son of Man of the Gospels were really to come as described, there would be no Cave in the centre of the earth, no Satan, no wicked at all, and the verse in Mark more than implies that the celestial cohorts would have come to an end. It is true that these descriptions in modern pulpits are made to refer to the taking of Jerusalem, on the strength of an interpolated passage in Luke, but that is quite irrational. The epistles, which were much earlier than the Gospels, announce that the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved at the coming of the day of God (2 Peter iii. 12). That phenomenon was not observed at the taking of Jerusalem.

Now if we turn to the Buddhism of Ceylon we may find a possible explanation:—

It was believed that S’iva at stated periods effected the complete destruction of the Kosmos, and annihilated both men and gods. Then he created a new Kosmos. This idea had come on to S’iva-Buddhism.

In the Mahâwanso "Kappos" (Kalpas, Sansk.) are constantly mentioned, periodical destructions that come like a thief in the night. Their arrival, says Mr. Turner, can be no more calculated upon than a man can guess how many mustard seeds there are in a mountain one yogana in height made up entirely of mustard seeds.*

"It," says Mr. Upham, writing of Ceylon Buddhism, "is philosophically described as a circle. The universe arises in beauty and excellence, and enjoys a golden age of excellence and peace. It deteriorates as it passes through a determinate series of changes from its brightness and glory; the stature of its inhabitants diminishes; and the perfection of its fruits and every other natural quality become proportionately lessened and impoverished by stated degrees, until the arrival of the period of their destruction, for which three agents are periodically assigned, namely fire, water and wind. Each of these causes has its exact limits. The last is the final and grand cataclysm, which sweeps the whole system into general destruction."

Matter believes that the chief battle in the early stages of Christianity was between the Old Testament dualism derived by the Jews from Persia, and Gnosticism. It was said of Basilides that he made the devil a divinity. Readers of this work will see the falsehood of this: indeed, Matter refutes it from the Gnostic's own writings. But much of the Christianity of the priest, which was totally different to the Christianity of Christ, seems to be a compromise between these two antagonistic forces. The fate of the wicked, as I have shown, to be confined for ever and ever with Ahriman in the flames of hell, would be an impossibility to Basilides, who believed that the Supreme God burnt up the systems from time to time. On the other hand the idea of two omnipotent gods, different and yet the same, one-half much concerned for, and the other entirely callous to, the fate of mankind their offspring, which is the basis of the Logos and also the Trinity idea, would be pronounced utterly irrational except in regions where the philosophy of the followers of S’iva prevailed.

In point of fact, an atmosphere of Cingalese Buddhism was battling with Jewish influences in those early Christian days. Take the ideas concerning the punishment of the wicked and the rewards of the just. Each of these is now held to be eternal; but in one passage of scripture Satan and the sinners are described as being shut up in the fiery pit for a thousand years. Also the bliss of the just in the new Jerusalem, like that of saintly natives of Ceylon in the palaces of Tavateinza, is also limited to "reign with Christ a thousand years."

Another point seems to connect Alexandria and Ceylon—the action of "devils" in causing disease, and the action of the disciples of Serapis and Jesus in curing it. Tertullian, in speaking of the first, says that they "inflict on the body diseases and many grievous mishaps, and violently visit the man with sudden and extraordinary aberrations."

And he says of the healers they are "Sorcerers also truly in respect to the cure of diseases," and that they often cause the diseases magically before they proceed to cure them.§ In St. Luke's Gospel (x. 17) we learn the great success of the seventy who were sent forth to "heal the sick."

A passage from Professor Harnack may be here cited, dealing with Christian times.

"The whole world and the circumambient atmosphere were filled with devils. Not merely idolatry, but every phase and form of life was ruled by them. They sat on thrones. They hovered around cradles. The earth was literally a hell, though it was and continued to be, a Creation of God."*

A graver point is the question of sex. The women of the Nicolaites, the Prodiciens, the Carpocratiens and others, proclaimed that the laws of chastity were not binding; and an influential female leader, a woman named Agape, enunciated ideas very similar to those current in a temple of S’iva; and she persuaded a large bevy of Agapetes to become in all innocence and zeal "Brides of the God."

One point more. It was held in Ceylon that between the earth and Mienmo the fabled holy peak, corresponding to the Jewish Zion and the Greek Olympus, were millions of Spirits. The space was called the "Jugandere." Had these spirits any affinity with those of the Archon of St. Paul (Eph. ii. 2) who had the domination of the air. Hippolytus tells us that the Great Archon, Abrasax, had three hundred and sixty-five heavens.

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Suggestions for Further Reading


262:* Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal," p. 46.

263:* Matter, "Histoire du Gnosticisme," p. 413.

265:* Keim, "Jesus of Nazara," Vol. I, p 281.

266:* Upham, "History of Buddhism," p. 52.

266:† Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal," p. 88.

266:‡ Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal," p. 88.

267:* Cited by Hodgson from the "Gunakaranda Vynha," p. 88.

268:* Adv. Valent. Chap. xxv.

269:* Gibbon, "Decline and Fall," Chap. XXVIII.

269:† Mr. King tells us that the Serapion was of a style "totally different from the native Egyptian or Grecian model," but exactly agreeing with that of the Hindu Temple of S’iva in Tanjore. He cites a curious letter from the Emperor Hadrian to Servianus. "Those who worship Serapis are also Christians; even those who style themselves the Bishops of Christ are devoted to Serapis. The very Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to adore Serapis, by others to adore Christ." ("The Gnostics," pp. 68, 69).

270:* Conway, "Demonology," I., 338.

270:† See Bundahis C. XXX. "Sacred Books of the East," V., p. 120.

270:‡ Compare Chap. I., verse 4, with Chap. CCLXI., 4, 10, etc. Laurence's translation.

271:* Cited by Oldenburg, "Buddhism," p. 327, also Beal, "Romantic History," p. 16.

272:* Turnour "The Mahâwanso," p. 12.

272:† Upham, "Buddhism," p. 3.

274:§ Tertullian "Apology," Chap. XXII.

274:* Harnack's "Expansion of Christianity," Vol. I., p. 161.

274:† Matter. "Hist. Gnost," Vol. III., pp. 33, 34.

274:‡ Hipp. Haer, VII., 14.