230 of 237 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2005
This is one of the most compelling books I've ever read.
MOST mainstream Christians will attack this book. MOST mainstream Jews probably will too. And, I predict the authors will be probably be denounced by Islamic clerics at some point for their treatment of the religious personality Muhammad (which is very illuminating).
Freke and Gandy, working on the premise that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were all originally Gnostic (deep wisdom) traditions, completely pick apart the Literalist streams of each tradition, and their scholarship totally slams the self-serving ego-driven political shenanigans of each of the faiths as well--again, specifically in their Literalist forms.
The Jewish Fantasy Factory:
The section on the Jews is absolutely fascinating and asserts from the historical record how a monism of Jewish identity as a people is a problematic idea; the authors suggest multiple sources for the Jewish ethnic roots, and go on to suggest -- again from archaeological evidence and the historical record -- that their mythic odyssey out of Egypt, and the Israeli claim to Jerusalem, is a complete fabrication, driven, in essence, by a religious and cultural identity crisis of sorts that still fuels the conflicts of today and is driven by Literalist interpretations of what was originally a myth-line.
A number of the formative myths in the Jewish tradition, the authors assert, are actually derived and inspired from exposure to Greek tradition, while they go through the Tanakh/Torah (the Old Testament) with something of a fine-tooth comb and, in a truly riveting manner, show how its authors were essentially attempting to synthesize a number of competing desert Pagan traditions in the region.
The Most Famous Man Who Never Lived:
The premise of the section on Christianity I was already familiar with, having read one of their other equally powerful and controversial books, Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians. But, again, I found myself truly fascinated to learn that certain books that comprise the "universally agreed upon" Christian canon (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts--renditions of Peter and Paul) were almost single handedly emphasized (Bishop Irenaeus), whose word-sculpting was, quite intentionally, attempting to suppress and debunk the Gnostic stream of Christianity (which relates to the Jesus myth more as a personal initiatory, archetypal, and transformative process rather than a literal historical set of events involving a quasi-divine/human person).
Freke and Gandy articulate with a real shine how Irenaeus was simply attempting to compete for followers in Rome at a time when it had become a spiritual marketplace of sorts. Irenaeus sought to establish a viable tradition in Rome, and in time, thanks to Constantine, it worked, for the Literalist version of Christianity was offered political support by the state of Rome and all other versions were declared as heresy (funny, isn't it; heretics declaring those following the path closer to the original essence as heretics?)
Almost with the same deftness of a detective story one finds in such fictional works as The Da Vinci Code (only this book is real), The Laughing Jesus unveils how the theme, archetype, and imagery of: 1) the virgin birth, 2) the idea of the Son of God, 3) the murder/crucifixion of the "godman", and 4) the resurrection, are all connected to a number of Pagan myth lines (worked with symbolically in various Mediterranean mystery schools for thousands of years) that actually pre-date Christianity (and its myth formation) by 1,000 years.
Going through each tradition and their version of "Godman" -- Egypt (Osiris), Greece (Dionysus), Asia Minor (Attis), Syria (Adonis), Persia (Mithras), and Alexandria (Serapis), to name only a few -- Freke and Gandy articulate how the myth-formers of Christianity, in essence, borrowed (plagiarized) from these earlier compelling themes. They also clearly assert that such myth-forming and myth-following is not a threat in the Gnostic Christian context, whereas in the Literalist vein everything is, well, taken quite literally -- and therefore poses a real threat to the authority upon which the Church bases itself.
Muhammad: From Mystic to Mobster:
Pardon my French, so to speak, but Muhammad [The Religious Figure] in the book gets a serious ass-whipping. One senses the disappointment in the authors that such a beautiful tradition as Islam could fall prey to the clutches of the individual ego of Muhammad later on in his life (as he turned military war-lord), and then --really by example-- be hijacked by Literalists within the Islamic tradition to assert their own political goals, but the authors also reiterate that it was predictable; that it happened with the Christians and Jews as well.
They describe Muhammad as someone who was profoundly influenced by both Jewish and Christian thought (and culture), and -- as a response -- initially began a powerful process of bringing forth a mystical path of Gnosis for the Arab world. However, they then describe, again drawing straight from the historical record of battles, and from lines within the Qu'ran, how, after having been snubbed by both Jews and Christians (not acknowledged as a prophet), Muhammad began to interpret his divine mission as one of imposing Islam on the world (not at all different in tone from the early Christian Church's Inquisition, or the evangelizing, missionizing, and proselytizing of a great many Literalist Christians today).
The chapter on Muhammad, which does give a nod to the Gnostic Sufis within the cultural milieu of Islam, is a compelling read that requires that we look at the personality and full psychological range of Muhammad. I also found it personally very interesting that such Islamic customs as ordering women to wear veils actually was derived from early Byzantine Christian practices.
The first half of The Laughing Jesus is a radical debunking of all Literalist interpretations of each of these traditions. The second half of the book is dedicated to exploring Gnosis in the present day, as educated people, what the authors suggest certain Christians, Jews, and Muslims *knew* and *know* was the truly transformative core of the traditions but which were hijacked by political agendas.
The fact that the real spiritual essence of each of these traditions was overcome by Literalist propaganda shouldn't cause a person to lose sleep at night. The fact that the holders and followers of each of these Literalist traditions hold the seats of power in global politics, however, is disturbing. This book touches on how this reality is a phenomenon that is dictating decisions that determine what is happening to our economy, foreign policy, and the environment (note: Armageddon-minded Christian Literalists don't really care about global warming or the financial viability of future generations if they believe it's all going to end up in a fire ball in the end anyway; why concern ourselves with sustainability, environmentally or financially?).
On the one hand, I find such a book promising. It can potentially shock some people out of religious apathy and/or cultural sleepwalking, or out of the absurd cultural monism and religious conditioning that leads toward the huge barriers to interfaith dialogue.
On the other hand, I find some of my own personal conclusions that I derived from the book to be troublesome; that given the particular ideologies that are running this country (Christian Literalists), and the particular ideologies that are *required* to oppose the West (Islamic Literalists), we could be barreling full steam ahead toward a much more prolific global clash than the likes of 9/11 or the Iraq war.
But, that is probably one of the clearest articulations in the book of all -- that the environmental crisis, as well as the conflict in the Middle East is all tied to Literalist propaganda, not just by Islamic Literalist/Fundamentalists, but also by Jewish Literalists and Christian Literalists/Fundamentalists alike.
The conclusion of Part One of the book (called The Bathwater), which I completely agree with, is that all of this is a formula for disaster if the leaders of these faiths, the practitioners of these paths, and the larger society as a whole does not find its own authentic Gnosis. This is where Part Two of the book (called The Baby) comes into play...which I won't comment on because it would be like telling you the end of a really good movie.
Summary and Conclusion:
Practicing Christians, Jews, and Muslims definitely need to read this book. Everybody else probably should too, because much of what it describes assists greatly in understanding what is both truly redeeming in each of these wisdom traditions, while also helping to paint a clear picture why each of these traditions are also being hijacked by a narrow-but-widening band of religious psychopaths who could end up making Armageddon a self-fulfilling prophecy.
--Frank MacEowen, M.A., (...)
209 of 222 people found the following review helpful
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_The first thing to remember when reading or speaking about this book is that it is in no way an attack on the existence of God. What this book is, is an attack on false, literalist dogma that has so dangerously distorted the true Reality of God for so much of Western history. Let me say that I read the authors' first two books on this subject (more than once), and this third volume is a more than worthy culmination.
_The first half solidly deconstructs and demolishes any claim to historical accuracy or legitimacy for the Holy Books of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem religious traditions. All Holy Books are the work of men, not of God (including Gnostic books, but Gnostics realize this.) Personally, while I was aware of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources in the Tanakh, I was amazed to find that it appears to have been compiled as late as the first century BCE- and by the Maccabees in order to justify a rule so ruthless that it would put the Taliban to shame. Nor did I realize that the Romans were actually allies of the Maccabees against their Syrian Greek foes (which explains much in terms of creating a false religion and history for political ends.) An excellent case is also made for the origin of monotheism among the Greeks and not the Jews (read your Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Plato.) It is also this first half that emphasizes the difference between the Gnostic and Literalist traditions. The Gnostic is the true and original Christian (or pre-Christian) who sees in Jesus the allegorical ideal of man awakening to his true origin and nature. The Literalist is one who bullies everyone into blind belief in dogmas that obstruct and distort true experience of God. There is an excellent table that spells out the specific differences between the two. As for the critique of Islam, well, how could a copy of a copy of a bad original be anything less than the worst of them all...?
_The second half of the book deals with the nature and obtainment of Gnosis. The authors' model holds that Gnosis is a natural state akin to lucid dreaming (dreaming, yet consciously recognizing that you are dreaming.) You experience a shift in consciousness and perspective. Your ordinary world and life does not disappear as you enter some new supernatural state or dimension. No, but your consciousness expands to the point that you realize that your old everyday life, including the your old sense of self, is not the totality of existence. You realize that you are part of a greater "life-dreamer" which is dreaming both itself, as well as, everyone and everything. You realize that we are all part of this great dreamer and are all connected at this higher level. We are all One. The purpose of life is to awaken and personally experience to this knowledge- this Gnosis. This section of the book points the way.
_Having first touched upon the Gnosis over a dozen years ago, I like to think that I possess an intuition when it comes to teachings on the subject. I am not saying that reading this book will get you to the ultimate goal, but it will put you on the right path. It will plant the genuine seeds that will burst forth from dreaming unconscious.
150 of 158 people found the following review helpful
The first half of the Laughing Jesus is a fierce attack on "literal" Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The authors claim that Judaism's claim to the be the world's first monotheistic religion is a lie, that the God of the ancient Judeans was cruel and jealous, and that the stories of Moses are utterly false. The authors also claim that Christ never lived and that the "literal" church fathers trashed Gnostic Christianity to create a severe patriarcal faith; one that is often brutal. Of Islam they describe Mohammed as a man (actual in this case) utterly corrupted by his own faith and power. He becomes a kind of spiritual mobster. This corruption led to his becoming egomaniacal and creating a faith at war with the rest of the world - at once militant and bloodthirsty! For some readers these claims will astonish and create many new questions, others will find it repeditive and predictable. I found the writing a little too "easy" and personal to be as credible as the authors I believe would have preferred.
The second half of the book is a description of gnostic Christianity, which I found very compelling. It is a form of philosophic thought with many similarities to taoism, Buddhism, and Indian Vedantic thought. However, I really liked how the authors were able to differentiate gnostic Christianity from these other traditions and describe an approach to living that was creative and dynamic. Eastern philosophies often fail to provide approaches to living that capture the spontaneous quality of living in preference to modes of life that are synthetic, espousing requirements for "loving-kindness" and other life modalities that are subtly judgmental and coercive. Also in their rigorous denial of selfhood and existence of the "I", they leave readers in a kind of static limbo where choice is absent and irrelevant. The authors of the Laughing Jesus provide readers with a way of understanding choice and action without undermining the integrity of the philosophy. Strongly recommended.
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2005
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This is the fourth or fifth book I've read of Timothy Freke's and/or Peter Gandy's. This particular book is the culmination of The Jesus Mysteries and Jesus And The Lost Goddess. The full impact of this book is realized when read as the third installment of this trio of books. However, it can be read alone without those and the impact will still be great.
The first half of the book is a severe indictment of the three Western religious traditions...Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The fundamentalist, literalist spirit of these three religions is exposed for all to see. Each one is an anachronism, way past its time, and really of no value to the 21st century.
After delivering this stinging polemic against the literalist spirit, the authors offer up for our consideration a new perspective... an expansion of a very old perspective but in 21st century language and explanation. This perspective is referred to as Gnosis...simply the experience of Oneness. Freke and Gandy take the ancient Perennial Philosophy, strip it of archaic language and talk to us in modern, 21st century lingo.
The authors excell in making this presentation real and meaningful to us moderns. They shine in applying this ancient wisdom of Gnosis to our world today, to our experience today. Going even beyond the gurus of the 19th and 20th centuries, the authors inform us that we still get to be HUMAN and get to be the All...the One. This is the glory of the message of gnosis...We get to experience BOTH the fullness of being human...sometimes separate, alone, and afraid, AND the peace and serenity of knowing that we are safe and One with all that is. Gnosis is BOTH/AND and not EITHER/OR. It is a recognition of one's individuality AND one's unity with the All.
Gnosis, or Lucid Living, is a viable and necessary alternative to the separateness and alienation so prevalent on the planet today. Go for it. You won't regret it.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
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This is the third in Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy's books about Jesus (The Jesus Mysteries and Jesus and the Lost Goddess having preceded this one). The book is actually 2 books, split almost exactly at the mid line. The first book is an indictment of Literalist religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The second book is an introduction for people who might be interested in Gnosism. In some senses, the first part of this book is a shortened version of their first book, while the second half is a shortened version of the second book. Because I think their first book was one of the most powerful books ever written in this field, all their subsequent books have a hard act to follow (I gave that one 5 stars).
Part 1 goes over briefly a lot of the material Freke and Gandy cover in their previous books. This time, however, much of their focus is on Islam and Judasim rather than Christianity. They systematrically dismantle all the pillars of the Jewish and Muslin religions, and show the interplay between the 3 systems. If you're like me, and unacquainted with the Qu'ran and the history of Muhammad, you will find this section particularly interesting.
While this is a well written book and represents a good deal of scholarship, there is an angry tone to Part 1 which weakens the merits of their otherwise sound case. In addition I have some disagreements with the authors on a few minor points. For example...
"...the Tanakh appeared as an incoherent mishmash of texts cobbled together by a bunch of religious extremists in a few generations." (p. 41). Yet doesn't the very mishmash indicate centuries of development, rather than decades. One would expect more coherence if it were a small group of people over a short period.
"Why does Paul never mention an historical Jesus in his letters?" (p. 61). In fact he does. Several times. It may not be the types of detail that Freke & Gandy are looking for, and it may come from OT prophecies and ideas, but one can find traces of the historical Jesus in Paul (e.g., Romans 1:3, 6:4, 6:6; Galatians 1:19, 3:13; Cor 11:23, 15:4) . These references may not actually apply to a Jesus figure who lived at that time, as Ellegard (1999) and others have pointed out, but they do talk about Jesus as if Paul had some knowledge of a real life Jesus.
"...the words 'brother of Jesus' had been added to the inscription [ossuary of James] in the 3rd century." (p. 60). This is by no means a concensually validated point of view. The debate continues.
"Jerusalem was an insignificant place a long way from Rome." (p. 67). There is quite a bit of evidence and opinion that Jerusalem/Israel was a strategically important area not only for its geographic position close to major trade routes and population centers, but also for its agricultural production.
[Constantine] "adopted Christianity as the religion of the empire." (p. 77). I believe that his successor Emperor Theodosius adopted it in 381 AD. Constantine simply no longer made it illegal, and then personally adopted it when on his death bed. Needless to say, this opened the road for Christianity
"...Jesus had appeared to Constantine the night before a great battle..." (p. 77). According to Eusebius in the Church History it was the Chi Rho, taken to be a symbol of Christianity (which may or may not be the case) which Constantine saw, not Jesus. In a later work he changed the story considerably, to include the appearance of Jesus and the impending battle.
Needless to say, these points are relatively minor. Freke & Gandy show their usual level of scholarship throughout, although in this work there seem to be far fewer and shorter footnotes than in previous editions.
Part 2 of the book is a recruitment speech for Gnosism, followed by a brief self-help exercise manual for developing gnostic wisdom. Depending upon your point of view, this part of the book will be viewed with anticipation or gloom. My personal predilictions are on the side of the authors, hence I enjoyed this part. However, I can imagine that for others it may be unsettling.
This section of the book is further weakened by a lack of structure, lots of repetition, and a curious lack of mention of all of Jesus' own gnostic sayings. This is not to say that Freke & Gandy completely ignore Jesus' (or Paul's) gnostic wisdom, but I would have expected more references.
In summary, Freke & Gandy's book is well worth reading, and the sections on Judaism and Islam add value to the wonderful wisdom of their first book. Anyone interested in the historical Jesus, Gnostics, and early biblical literature will find value here. And for those of you, like me, who have little knowledge of the Qu'ran and its relationship to Judiasm and Christianity, the book is an excellent bridge.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2005
50 years ago when I was sent to Sunday School, and had to get confermined in the Presbyterian Church, I always felt that something wasn't right, I went to Vietnam and knew that was political, but still something told me that what I learned from 17 years of going to Sunday School, something was not right, I now feel that the Religious Leaders knew this all along, but why did they hide it? So if they wouldn't show it , Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy did. This is one great book. They answered almost all of my questions. I had read several books on the Templers, and the Freemasons, somebody was trying to carry on the truth, the organized church killed so many people in the name of god, so many wars had been fought in the name of god, I couldn't fiqure out why, but now I know, Thanks to the authors of this book. I know I'm going to look into Christianity before The Roman Church, The niciean consul, I can't believe the church won't open up in 2005. People their ain't no Santa Clause !!!
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2005
After their first two books on Gnostic thought, I was very anxious to read this latest book by Tim Freke and Peter Gandy. It didn't disappoint me at all. The Literalist (as the book refers to them) faction of Christianity (and of other religions as well) will be apoplectic over the book's well-written, well-researched and thoroughly annotated indictment of what we've been fed as truth for the last two millenia.
The second half of the book explores how we, as the human race, can pull ourselves up and out into an exciting era of "enlivenment." It, too, is very thorough and scholarly as well as being an easy read. Though it is very thought provoking, I might add.
I read with great puzzlement one reviewer's accusation of "too many exclamation points." I didn't remember this at all, so I skimmed back through the book to find some. It took a lot of searching, but I found three placed in three different, but very appropriate, spots. I imagine there are more, but not enough to distract. When one is deeply dreaming, I suppose an exclamation point can be very annoying.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2005
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This book goes beyond the authors' first two books, "The Jesus Mysteries" and "Jesus and the Lost Goddess," both outstanding books. It explores Gnosis, and shows how to experience "enlivenment" which is living in a state of enlightenment. Nice term, which I think they coined.
The authors are somewhat, well, brutal, in their treatment of literalist religion, but who can blame them given the past and present brutality of literalist, fundamentalist religion? No lame apologists here!!
Other books are also being released along the same lines, notably "The Pagan Christ" by Tom Harpur, which is a must-read. This author, along with Freke and Gandy, shows how mystical Christianity is just like mystical Pagan religions, hijacked by the third Century power-hungry Church into a dogmatic, literalist religion. All these authors are not out to destroy Christianity, but really to help prevent its self-destruction as more and more people read books like these and realize that there never was a historical Jesus. The Christ is the God-fragment within us waiting to resurrect us from the lifeless lives that we lead....no matter what our religion; the same as the Atman of Hinduism, the Buddha-Nature of Buddhism, and so on.
I liked the gentler style of the previous two books better, though; this one more kind of grabs you by the ear and yells into it...(grin). But it is yet another phenomenal book by two great authors. Visit [...] its worth a visit.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2005
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A must read. This book accurately and soberly makes some of the most important points about religion we all must understand. Many may find it offensive, which is a tribute to the bravery of the authors. I think the thoughts put forth in this book may very well be a source of salvation in these dangerous times.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2005
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Religions are culturally out of date-- closed belief systems create hate instead of love.
Spirituality is open-ended and encourages harmony worldwide.