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In Colossians 1:15-19, we read:

The beloved Son is the Image of the invisible God,[1] the first-born over all creation:[2] For through him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created through him, and for him:[3] And he is before all things,[4] and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church:[5] who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead [i.e. those yet without “true Life=hayyā“]; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him all fullness [plērōma] should dwell.

Notes and Commentary:

[1] Firstly, it should be noted that the term “invisible (God)” does not merely reference that which is imperceptible to the physical senses, but more correctly that which (in traditional metaphysical terms) is Absolutely Unmanifest, even to supra-sensory perception or noetic contemplation. Secondly, the “Image” of God as the first self-determination of the Absolute (elsewhere identified with the “first-born Son”, “first born Word”, “Word of Truth”, or “the First Originated” Mubdaʿ al-Awwal) in the earlier doctrines as seen in e.g. the works of Philo of Alexandria and the Letter of James, is essentially supernal, supra-physical and supra-sensory: the pre-existent Mediator between “the Father” as Godhead (compare Atsmut עצמות, Deus absconditus, Theos agnostos, Ghayb al-Muṭlaq ‘the Absolute Mystery’) and all of creation. In Neoplatonic terms, the First Originated as the first self-determination of the Godhead is known as the First Intellect (Arabic ʿAql al-Awwal, or ʿAql al-Kulli ‘the Universal Intellect’).

We can see an approximation of this in the works of Philo who writes: “And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, ‘And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and you;’ [Numbers 16:48] neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities.” (Who Is the Heir of Divine Things, 205).

As we also read in John 1:1-5: “In the beginning [and in principle] was the Word [in principia erat verbum], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness does not comprehend it.”

Likewise, regarding al-Ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyah (the Reality of Muhammad) considered as the first self-determination of the ineffable Godhead (al-Ḥaqīqat Ḥaqā’iq ‘the Reality of Realities’), we are told by al-Qashani that “(Muhammad was) the first self-determination with which the Essence at the level of Unity determined itself before any other forms of self-determination. So all the infinite self-determinations became actualized through him … [A]ll the self-determinations (of the Absolute) are arranged in a hierarchy of genera, species, kinds, and individuals, all being disposed in a vertical order. So (Muhammad) comprises in himself all of these self-determinations without leaving anything. He is, in this sense, unique in the whole world of Being; nothing can compete with him, because nothing is found equal to him in the hierarchy. In fact, there is above him only Essence at the level of its absolute Unity, which transcends all self-determinations, whether that of an attribute, name, description, definition, or qualification.” (Translated and cited in Toshihiko Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p.237.)

Note that all of the aforementioned sounds remarkably similar to the pre-existent, supernal “Image”, “Pattern” or “Ideal” upon which the Jewish Tsaddiq (Righteous Pillar) is “established” as a “Perfect copy” (compare the Sufi Insān al-Kāmil “Perfect Man”), as we read in the Zohar (1.59b): “Noah was a Righteous One [i.e. a Tsaddiq]. Assuredly so after the heavenly Pattern [i.e. Adam Qadmon as Protanthropos ‘Principial Man’]. For it is written [Proverbs 10:25]: ‘The Righteous One is the Foundation of the World’, and the Earth is established thereon. For, this is the Pillar that upholds the world. So Noah was called Righteous in this world … and acted so as to be a Perfect copy of the heavenly Ideal.” The same is said of James-the-Tsaddiq in the Gospel of Thomas (Logion 12): “In the place you [the disciples] are to go, go to James the Righteous, for whose sake Heaven and Earth came into being.” [Emphasis added]. Note also what the Shīʿa philosopher Ḥasan Lāhījī (1621-1709) writes of the Perfect Man: “Absolute non-being is manifested only in and through absolute being. For any other than Perfect Man, access to this degree is difficult, for Perfect Man is the most perfect of beings and the very cause of the coming into existence of the world.” [All emphasis added]. (Translated and cited in Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, New Lebanon NY: Omega Publications Inc., 1994, p.118.)

Paul’s doctrine, as expressed in Colossians 1:15-19, is prefigured in the works of Philo of Alexandria, e.g. “[T]he Image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made” (The Special Laws 1.XVI.81). In the gnostic Trimorphic Protennoia, it is instead the pre-existent Virgin Mother “Meirothea” who calls Herself “the Image of the Invisible Spirit.” As to the nature of the “Son”—the pre-existent Being—compare the (First) Apocalypse of James: “(The Lord said to James) … When you come into their power [the 3 toll-collectors], one of them who is their guard will say to you, ‘Who are you or where are you from?’ You are to say to him, ‘I am a son, and I am from the Father.’ He will say to you, ‘What sort of son are you, and to what father do you belong?’ You are to say to him, ‘I am from the Pre-existent Father, and a son in the Pre-existent One’;” which is further qualified in the verse: “…And then you will reach Him-who-is, and you will no longer be James; rather you are the One-who-is.” Compare Galatians 2:20: “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”

[2] Regarding the verse: “the first-born over all creation,” compare the Letter of James (1:18): “Of His own will, He [the “Father of Lights”] brought us forth by the Word of Truth (logos alētheias), that we should be a kind of first fruits [apo-archē “from Origin”] amongst His creation.” Compare also Philo’s supernal “first-born Word” (On the Confusion of Tongues, XXVIII.146) or first-born Son (of God)” as First Logos (On Husbandry, XII.51). In reference to James’ “Word of Truth” (as the Perfect Gift [teleion dōrēma] from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow [i.e. undifferentiated and unconditioned].” in the Letter of James 1:17), compare the Islamic kalimatin min Allah (a “Word from God”) or kalimatuhu (“His Word”). Compare also the Mandaean “Letter of Truth… which has come here to thee [Yahya Yohana] from thy [supernal] Father” (Translated in G.R.S. Mead, Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandaean John-Book, London: Watkins, 1924, p.47).

Philo’s “first-born Son (of God)” (AKA “the first-born Word”, AKA “the Image of God by which all the world was made”) prefigures Paul’s “The beloved Son is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation: For through him were all things created.” Both prefigure John 3:16, which the present writer will interpret anew: “The divine Absolute loved (ēgapēsen) the created order (kosmon) such that he gifted (edōken) it with [an indwelling and gnosis of] his Principial Emanation/Being (mono-genē); that whosoever is brought into Persuasion (pistis) [of this divine Principial, the “first-born Word”], shall not perish but attain/maintain (echē) Eternal Life (aiōnion zōēn).” This is reflected in the (First) Apocalypse of James: “…And then you will reach Him-who-is, and you will no longer be James; rather you are the One-who-is.” See also: Timothy Scott, “The Great Man,” The Wisdom of the Divinity in the Word of Adam – Part 1, Bezels of Wisdom, 2016 (Retrieved 2016-02-24).

[3] Regarding the verse: “all things were created through him, and for him,” compare the Gospel of Thomas (Logion 12): “In the place you [the disciples] are to go, go to James the Righteous, for whose sake Heaven and Earth came into being” [emphasis mine]. In the rabbinical B. Ta`anit (24b) we read: “Every day a Heavenly Voice issued [from Mt Horeb] and declared: “The whole world is sustained on account of Hanina my son… ”

[4] I.e. metaphysically pre-existent, meta-historical and Principial. Compare the Gospel of Philip: “Blessed is he who is before he came into being. For he who is, has been and shall be” (i.e. “This is He who has Stood, Stands and will Stand, a male-female power like the pre-existing Boundless Power, which has neither beginning nor end, existing in oneness.” — Simon Magus, Apophasis Megale).

[5] Regarding the verse: “he is head of the body, the church,” compare the Mandaean: “Look on me, Miryai, my daughter… Look on me who am thy mother! My daughter art thou, and the daughter of all of the priests. Thy head is the great chief of the Temple [emphasis mine].” (Mead, Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandaean John-Book, p.68). Recall that James was the Opposition/Tsaddiq High Priest in the Temple and was called, in Greek, Episcopos (essentially “Head”, literally “Overseer”, or in Hebrew the Mebaqqer of the Jerusalem Assembly, and was noted as the “Bishop of bishops” in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies). Following the Adoptionist standpoint of the Ebionites, the present writer believes that James as the presiding Tsaddiq was the traditional source of what Paul would later say: “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), and as such, James was given divine authority as Mebaqqer (Episcopos, “Head”) of the Jerusalem Assembly. According to Epiphanius (Panarion 78.7.7), “[James] was the first to whom the Lord entrusted his throne upon earth;” and the Homilies is addressed to “James… the Bishop of Bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the Holy Assembly of the Hebrews and the Assemblies everywhere.” Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 2.23) states that James was “the Lord’s brother, who had been elected by the Apostles to the episcopal throne at Jerusalem;” and the Syriac Apostolic Constitutions (8.35) informs us that James “was appointed Bishop of Jerusalem by the Lord himself.” In the Homilies (11.35), Peter says: “Above all, remember to shun any apostle, teacher or prophet who does not accurately compare his teaching with James… and this, even if he comes to you with recommendations.”

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