On the Gospel of the Holy Twelve
From: Strange New Gospels by Keith Akers
In the late nineteenth century, G. J. R. Ouseley published “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve.” It has been reprinted at various times since then, sometimes without Ouseley’s name, and sometimes without his “Explanatory Preface.” I first came across it in the 1980’s in a book titled “The Humane Gospel of Jesus.” It is said to have been “preserved in one of the Monasteries of the Buddhist monks in Thibet, where it was hidden by some of the Essene community.” It condemns meat-eating, alcohol, animal sacrifice, and recommends vegetarianism, “daily ablutions,” and community of goods.
There apparently really was an ancient gospel called “The Gospel of the Twelve” which was mentioned by Origen. This is briefly mentioned in The Apocryphal New Testament (London: Oxford University Press, 1924) on page 10.
But is it really derived from an Aramaic text, found in a monastery in Tibet? First of all, there are numerous problems with the work. It quotes from all four of the gospels and from the letters of Paul; it contains references to rituals from the later church, and to the “trinity” (a word that never occurs in the New Testament); it also contains references to such non-Biblical species as cats, rabbits, and an ape. And in fact, the real origin of the work is not hidden very far. In an early twentieth century edition published in London, an “Explanatory Preface” precedes the text. Ouseley’s name has been removed, and the Preface is signed “The Editors of the Gospel of the Holy Twelve” (though evidently a similar explanation appeared in earlier English-language versions of the book, with Ouseley’s name at the bottom). Here is part of what this Preface says:
Their “Gospel of the Holy Twelve” was communicated to the Editors, in numerous fragments at different times, by Emmanuel Swedenborg, Anna Kingsford, Edward Maitland, and a priest of the former century, giving his name as Placidus, of the Franciscan Order, afterwards a Carmelite. By them it was translated from the original, and given to the Editors in the flesh, to be supplemented in their proper places, where indicated, from the “Four Gospels” (A. V.) revised where necessary by the same.
To this explanation, the Editors cannot add, nor from it take away. By the Divine Spirit was the Gospel communicated to the four above mentioned, and by them translated, and given to the writers; not in seance rooms (where too often resort the idle, the frivolous and the curious, attracting spirits similar to themselves, rather than the good), but “in dreams and visions of the night,” and by direct guidance, has God instructed them by chosen instruments; and now they give it to the world, that some may be wiser unto Salvation, while those who reject it, remain in their blindness, till they will to see.
From this passage, it is clear that no manuscript in Aramaic has ever been seen, or is claimed to have been seen, by Rev. Ouseley. Rather, it is Swedenborg, Maitland, Kingsford, and Placidus (all having died, some very recently, by the time Ouseley received this work) who received the gospel, and who simultaneously translated it into English, and then communicated this to Ouseley and his associates in some miraculous manner. So whenever and however Ouseley received it, it was already in English. Presumably, although this information is not spelled out, the fact that the manuscript is in Tibet in some monastery was also communicated to them by Swedenborg, Maitland, Kingsford, and Placidus. No one has every discovered any such manuscript, in Aramaic or any other language, in any Tibetan monastery.
However, to make things more interesting, there are several versions of this gospel which are circulating without Ouseley’s “Explanatory Preface.” This has left some people are under the impression that this is a text which really was originally found in Tibet and translated from the Aramaic. In fact, in Europe there are German and Swedish editions of this work which leave the impression that Ouseley actually did discover the manuscript during a trip to Tibet in 1881. Never mind that Ouseley himself never claimed to have gone to Tibet, and in fact was fairly open about the process by which he received it, making it clear that this is in fact a “channeled” work. Annie Besant, one of the leaders of the Theosophical movement, understood the situation quite well and gave the book a rather negative review, describing its spiritualist sources and calling it “a strange book.”
There can be no objection to regarding this as a sacred text. Perhaps it was received through divine inspiration, just as many Christians regard the New Testament as divinely inspired. But as historical evidence, it would not convince anyone who was not already convinced of its divine origin.
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