Terence McKenna on Weird Jesus

Passages from Gnostic Gospels with commentary from the psychedelic bard

Terence McKenna has been dead for almost 20 years now, and yet he keeps putting out new content through Lorenzo Hagerty’s Psychedelic Salon and a whole network of independent Youtube channels.

One such channel, We Plants Are Happy Plants, has recently published a compilation of Terence’s comments on the lesser-known myths featuring Jesus Christ. I decided to transcribe some of them and supplement them with quotes from relevant materials.

The central document for this clip is the Gospel of Thomas—Thomas the Doubter, McKenna’s favorite:

The Gospel of Thomas is older than Luke and Matthew, and it contains a whole bunch of stories called “infancy stories”, stories of Christ as a child and young man.

They are the weirdest stories!

And what does this word “weird” mean? It means that they have a strange vibration about them. It is this strange vibration that caused them to be excluded from the canonical books.

As an example, in the Gospel of Thomas, there is a story about Christ as a young child, in which several times he just zaps people dead when get in his way…

McKenna then reads a little passage, which I’m replicating here. The full text is available online.

The stories of Thomas the Israelite, the Philosopher, concerning the works of the Childhood of the Lord.

I, Thomas the Israelite, tell unto you, even all the brethren that are of the Gentiles, to make known unto you the works of the childhood of our Lord Jesus Christ and his mighty deeds, even all that he did when he was born in our land: whereof the beginning is thus:

This little child Jesus when he was five years old was playing at the ford of a brook: and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools, and made them straightway clean, and commanded them by his word alone. And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things (or made them). And there were also many other little children playing with him.

And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: Lo, thy child is at the brook, and he hath taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds, and hath polluted the Sabbath day.

And Joseph came to the place and saw: and cried out to him, saying: Wherefore doest thou these things on the Sabbath, which it is not lawful to do? But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. And when the Jews saw it they were amazed, and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do.

But the son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph; and he took a branch of a willow and dispersed the waters which Jesus had gathered together.

And when Jesus saw what was done, he was wroth and said unto him: O evil, ungodly, and foolish one, what hurt did the pools and the waters do thee? behold, now also thou shalt be withered like a tree, and shalt not bear leaves, neither root, nor fruit. And straightway that lad withered up wholly, but Jesus departed and went unto Joseph's house. But the parents of him that was withered took him up, bewailing his youth, and brought him to Joseph, and accused him 'for that thou hast such a child which doeth such deeds.'

End quote. McKenna puts the document away and continues:

And it goes on. Eventually, he straightens the guy out. But not before he zaps two more people dead.

To interject briefly: my own favorite parts of the Gospel of Thomas have to do with the nature of language.

The concerned parents of these children that Jesus “zaps” describe his superpower a couple of times: “Whence was this young child born, for that every word of his is an accomplished word”; and then later: “And they that saw it were sore afraid and perplexed, and said concerning him that every word which he spake whether it were good or bad, was a deed, and became a marvel.”

This is how I understand this.

The Gospel of John calls Jesus “the Word that became flesh.”

This means he was a physical embodiment of the linguistic nature of our reality; the living essence of the meta-language that lies underneath all other languages, from DNA to mathematics to Ancient Hebrew to C++. He was the basic principle of reality expressed in a form of a human, and, moreover, this was a perfect—meaning, correct—way to express it.

Now, when such an entity speaks, there’s only only thing he can say, and that thing is the truth. When Jesus says, “behold, now also thou shalt be withered like a tree,” he’s making something like a mathematically correct prediction about the little boy’s future. The world has no other choice except to comply with what the living foundational principle says.

He uses language so perfectly that every word is “accomplished", indistinguishable from an action.

After killing another kid, blinding the adults that accused him of doing so, and scolding his father for trying to discipline him, Jesus gives a masterclass in Hebrew to a Hebrew teacher.

We think “learning letters” means memorizing what they look like and what sounds they stand for. This passage seems to argue this could be considered a surface-level acquaintance with, but certainly not knowledge of the alphabet—or at least that’s how I read this, and how I’ve always felt anyway:

Now a certain teacher, Zacchaeus by name, stood there and he heard in part when Jesus said these things to his father and he marvelled greatly that being a young child he spake such matters.

And after a few days he came near unto Joseph and said unto him: Thou hast a wise child, and he hath understanding. Come, deliver him to me that he may learn letters. And I will teach him with the letters all knowledge and that he salute all the elders and honour them as grandfathers and fathers, and love them of his own years.

And he told him all the letters from Alpha even to Omega clearly, with much questioning. But Jesus looked upon Zacchaeus the teacher and saith unto him: Thou that knowest not the Alpha according to its nature, how canst thou teach others the Beta? thou hypocrite, first, if thou knowest it, teach the Alpha, and then will we believe thee concerning the Beta. Then began he to confound the mouth of the teacher concerning the first letter, and he could not prevail to answer him.

And in the hearing of many the young child saith to Zacchaeus: Hear, O teacher, the ordinance of the first letter and pay heed to this, how that it hath lines, and a middle mark, which thou seest, common to both, going apart; coming together, raised up on high, dancing, of three signs, balanced, equal in measure: thou hast the rules of the Alpha.

Now when Zacchaeus the teacher heard such and so many allegories of the first letter spoken by the young child, he was perplexed at his answer and his instruction being so great, and said to them that were there: Woe is me, wretch that I am, I am confounded: I have brought shame to myself by drawing to me this young child.

Take him away, therefore I beseech thee, my brother Joseph: I cannot endure the severity of his look, I cannot once make clear my (or his) word. This young child is not earthly born: this is one that can tame even fire: be like this is one begotten before the making of the world. What belly bare this, what womb nurtured it? I know not. Woe is me, O my friend, he putteth me from my sense, I cannot follow his understanding. I have deceived myself, thrice wretched man that I am: I strove to get me a disciple and I am found to have a master.

I think, O my friends, upon my shame, for that being old I have been overcome by a young child; and I am even ready to faint and to die because of the boy, for I am not able at this present hour to look him in the face. And when all men say that I have been overcome by a little child, what have I to say? and what can I tell concerning the lines of the first letter whereof he spake to me? I am ignorant, O my friends, for neither beginning nor end of it (or him) do I know.

Wherefore I beseech thee, my brother Joseph, take him away unto thine house: for he is somewhat great, whether god or angel or what I should call him, I know not.

This whole situation finally put the little “god or angel or whatever I should call him” in a good mood, and he fixed the people he had previously cursed.

And as the Jews were counselling Zacchaeus, the young child laughed greatly and said: Now let those bear fruit that were barren and let them see that were blind in heart. I am come from above that I may curse them, and call them to the things that are above, even as he commanded which hath sent me for your sakes.

And when the young child ceased speaking, immediately all they were made whole which had come under his curse. And no man after that durst provoke him, lest he should curse him, and he should be maimed.

Back to McKenna:

There’s another story in the Gospel according to Philip, where Christ and the apostles are moving from one town to another, and he becomes hungry. He approaches a bush at the side of the road, and he says “Make thou food!” Nothing happens. He says it again: “Make thou food!” Nothing happens. He says it again… And the final line of the incident is “And he destroyed it with fire.”

So we see there an alien Christ, a Christ that we can’t relate to.

But also, you have to remind yourself how dull our ear is to the Christ that we do know. For instance, I’m sure, if you’re into this at all, you’re familiar with the famous Gospel passage where he institutes the Eucharist:

“Take ye and drink, for this is my body and this is my blood, which is being shared unto the conversion of many, for the new and never-ending covenant.”

This hit like a bomb-shell. And it even says in the Gospel’s description of it: “And many drew away from him at that time.”

I mean, that was too much—preaching that you should eat the flesh and drink the blood of the teacher. People said, We’re checking out on this, it’s gotten too weird.

Now, we’ve had 2,000 years to smooth it all out and explain what he really meant, and how it’s okay and it’s this wonderful, beautiful, symbolic, stigmant (?) of theophagia, et cetera, et cetera… But, how about when it was raw, and you were there at the table, and this rap went around? It would be, I think, quite peculiar…

It’s interesting that when the Franciscans reached the mushroom cults of Central Mexico in the 16th century, they said, “What do you call this stuff?” And they said, “Oh, we call it teonanacatl, it means flesh of the gods.” They were appalled, and immediately, the Inquisition went to work, and everybody who would admit to that was put to death, because it was such an appalling notion…

And yet it was an exact formulation of the Eucharistic mystery.

On the church’s non-reaction to the discovery of the Gnostic literature:

There is enough material to suggest that Christ was someone’s follower, and that what he was saying had been said a generation earlier by someone else, of whom we have no trace. And, you know, this is hot hot stuff, because it just cannot be that way if you’re orthodox…

It’s scandalous that the Nag Hammadi library is not more widely discussed, because it presents the strongest doctrinal challenge to Christianity in its history. There’s never been anything this explosive because it casts such doubt on the moments of the origins, and such doubt on whether or not we have any contact with the career of a Galilean who was a son of a carpenter and so on… It just seems to explode the entire foundation of Christian hermeneutics.

There’s excitement in the schools of theology, they are totally aware of this, but it doesn’t seem to have filtered down to the lay level, and perhaps it never will. It may be like The Grand Inquisitor. This thing, coming out from the ground, is the most unwelcome thing that could appear on the scene in modern Christianity. It fouls it up hopelessly.

You realize that when I refer to The Grand Inquisitor, I mean the scene in the Brothers Karamazov, a story of Christ returning to the city, in which the Inquisition is happening, and his dialogue with the Grand Inquisitor—who knows full well that it’s Christ that he’s talking to—and who explains to him that he shouldn’t have come, they have things well in hand, it’s only going to make a problem.

I mentioned at the beginning that Terence has referred to Thomas the Doubter as his favorite of the apostles. I’ll end with a quote, in which he explains why:

My favorite Gospel story is the story of apostle Thomas, who was not present when Christ came to the upper room the first time after the resurrection. Later, Thomas came to the apostles, and they said, “The master has been here.” And he said, “You guys have been smoking too much of these little brown cigarettes from Lebanon. We saw him crucified. Unless I put my hand into the wound, I will not believe it.”

And then time passed, and Christ came again to the upper room, and he said: “Thomas, come forward. Put your hand into the wound.” And then he did, and my interpretation of this story is that, alone among all humanity in all times and places, only one person ever touched the incorporeal body of God: Thomas the Doubter did, because he was the only one who had his shit together enough to doubt.

And so, if you doubt, they will actually let you put your hand into the wound. If you don’t doubt, they will give you any kind of crap and send you happily along the way.