The Mystery of the Bleeding Woman and the Healing Garment of Jesus

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6th Century mosaic depicting Christ healing the Bleeding Woman – Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna (Image Source:

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The following exposition is neither intended to promote any particular religious worldview or stereotype, nor is it offered as any form of ideal hierocosmology or instructional praxis. It is simply a case-based study that explores a foundational totemic ‘type’ and some examples of its adoption and development (or dissociation and polemical distortion) in later allegory, symbolism and mythos. Inasmuch as the article attempts to identify or clarify some of the perceptions, beliefs and history of the periods discussed, as well as to unpack layers of typology*, myth, allegory and symbolism, this should not be viewed as an endorsement or advocacy of those perceptions, beliefs or convoluted layering.

In the interests of comparative typology, the article occasionally revisits and reassesses the typological interpretations of Gerald Massey (1828–1907). Although Massey is a debated figure whose works are at times challenging, particularly his early works, this is part due to the limited sources that were available in the late nineteenth century. As Massey himself noted in his 1907 work Ancient Egypt: “This is but the rough sketch of a pioneering pen;” and it is only as a pioneering rough sketch that his quotes should be viewed and appraised in this present article. The present writer believes that the selected Massey quotes make sense in the context of the article, and it would be a waste of Massey’s often insightful work to “throw the (proverbial) baby out with the bathwater”. Notwithstanding these limitations and Massey’s occasional venture into speculative error, he nonetheless developed a ground-breaking interpretation on early sign language, and the extent to which this mode of representation influenced totemic representation, mythology, uranography (the mapping of the observed celestial sphere), and—by way of typological adoption-reorientation—certain aspects of religious symbolism and allegory. One should also keep in mind that much of the early criticism levelled at Massey’s typological approach—the notion of a comparative typology outside of, functionally related to, and at times foundational to, religious typology (which nonetheless does require context-specific interpretation)—came from the religious and theologically biased Establishment of his time that ironically lacked sufficient ethnographical, paleoanthropological and semiotic education, as well as having an aversion to the historical-critical method that has subsequently proved most valuable in academia. Regarding Massey’s work in general—and the same might be said for this present article—it is ultimately the task and responsibility of contemporary scholars and researchers to review, assess and selectively extract what data is useful; to dismiss or correct where necessary; and to fine tune this otherwise valuable typological approach to interpretation.

On a final note; although metaphysical aspects are briefly discussed in the article, it is not primarily a metaphysical exposition, and these aspects can best be followed in the relevant works of e.g. Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, René Guénon, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Algis Uždavinys, Tom Cheetham, Samuel Zinner, etc.

*Typology is the study of the classification and development of various ‘types’ or ‘kinds’ based on the association of similar characteristics. Characteristic types include e.g. prefigurative signs, symbols, motifs or themes (e.g. mythical and religious typology). From the perspective of comparative typology, it can be said that typological development occurs not only across time, within any given tradition, but includes development across different traditions and across different mediums and modes of representation and communication.

Part I: The Totemic Blood-Mother and the Supra-Totemic Pneuma, Nous or Logos

In the Gospels of Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 8:40-56 we read about a woman who had been “bleeding for twelve years” and was miraculously healed when she touched the garment of Jesus. Apart from a literal historical reading of these verses, the present writer will propose another interpretation based on a number of typological signatures which suggest that this episode originates as allegory. Moreover, notwithstanding its explicit faith-based orientation in the Christian canon (faith being the stated reason for the healing of the woman), the underlying typology and symbolism strongly suggest that it derives from a mystical, esoteric or proto-gnostic portrayal of the human:

1. Initially identified with the physical body (the corporeal “flesh”) and its uterine source, primarily in association with the life-giving blood of the mother, which literally provides nutriment for the developing fetus (at the foundation of the human body). It will be argued that the mother-blood or “blood-Mother”, perceived as genetrix and creative source, is to be viewed as totemic; compare “those born of women” in Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28 and Thomas 46, and partly alluded to in Augustine’s remark (De Civitate Dei, 10.26) addressed to Porphyry: “But you do not believe that this mind [i.e. nous] is Christ; for you despise Him because of the body that He received from a woman, and because of the shame of the Cross.” Further associated with this identification with the blood-Mother are ancient customs, rites and taboos—first established in totemic societies—that originate in a formal recognition of the “coming of age” of the pubescent girl at the arrival of her menarche (first menstrual “period”). In Orthodox Judaism this rite of passage is ceremonially set at twelve years old, and the present writer proposes that this is the typological foundation of what appears to be a garbled reference to the woman “bleeding for twelve years” as per the gospel accounts. In other words, the typical age of the arrival of the menstrual cycle appears to be conflated with an allegorical figure—irrespective of age or sex—totemically identified with the Mother-blood (hence the woman or female ‘type’ as the typical form in the underlying allegory).

2. Yet the bleeding woman is purportedly healed of her supposed physical affliction when she touches the garment of Jesus. Normative Christianity will see in this a medical condition that was miraculously healed in a profound moment of faith. Contrary to this interpretation as per the gospel rendition, we will instead be focusing on the ‘garment’ of Jesus—the evident agency of the supposed ‘healing’—and comparing it with the supersensory “Robe of Glory” as a gnostic vesture and investiture that, for example, we read about in The Hymn of the Robe of Glory from the gnostic Acts of Thomas and in the gnostic Pistis Sophia (where Christ is essentially identified with the Robe of Light and Glory). These in turn can be compared with the “radiant, white clothes” of the transfigured Jesus (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29), Enoch’s transformative “clothes of [the Heavenly Lord’s] glory” (2 Enoch, 22), as well as the “robes” given to the “Sons of the Light” who are “glorified by those who give glory” in the gnostic Trimporphic Protennoia. All of the above, in their attributes of sovereign light and glory, should be considered ontologically homologous to the Mazdaean Xvarnah/Khvarenah “Light of Glory”, the Manichean “Pillar of Light” or “Column of Glory”, and the Ancient Egyptian “pure garment of the perfect Akh” (i.e. the luminous nous/pneuma).

The allegory of the healing of the bleeding woman is also partly discussed in Andrei A. Orlov’s article “Vested with Adam’s Glory: Moses as the Luminous Counterpart of Adam in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Macarian Homilies” which provides further evidence for the pre-Christian typology of the luminous ‘garment’ as an agency of ‘healing’. Gershom G. Scholem also discusses this mystical garment (ḥaluq) of light or glory in chapter 8 of his work, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition. Given the strong Judaic elements to this typology and its noticeably mystical or esoteric orientation, one wonders if the motif of the healing garment—as presented in the gospel episode—first originated in a form of esoteric or gnostic midrash? Assuming a Judaic typology, one also wonders if the Christian rendition in the Synoptic Gospels was primarily an attempt to counteract the mystical portrayal of the luminous garment (identified with Christ) that heals or saves? The mystical or esoteric (Jewish ‘gnostic’) interpretation makes more sense as a logical development of the Judaic typology than the canonical or normative Christian account where the garment is merely material and perceived as incidental to the event—its established agency and symbolism becoming redundant and ignored. This of course is not to deny the faith aspects of the Christian verses, but to emphasize that these verses are not drawing from literal biographical history.

Before continuing with these two distinctions and associated identities—and their relation to “what some scholars dub the ‘theology of clothing’ or the ‘metaphor of garment’”[1]—it is necessary to first examine one of the proposed origins of totemic culture as related to the mother-blood, menarche and key associated customs. It is hoped that the reader will be patient with this lengthy exposition, as it is integral to our understanding of the underlying typology of the “bleeding woman” and how this contributes to our understanding and hermeneutics of the broader motif as it might have been expressed in the religious context of the first century. Read more

The Eternal Imām as “Standing One”

© 2017 D. Catherine

The Arabic qiyamah ‘rising, resurrection’ and al-Qāʾim ‘the Standing One’ etymologically derive from the Arabic qiyam ‘standing’, from the root q-w-m or qāma ‘to stand up’. Esoterically, this alludes to the activation of the innate Universal/First Intellect (ʿaql al-kulli/awwal): to be noetically awake—in the full sense of the faculty—and to be ‘upright’ in gnosis of the divine Principial with its relevant Attribute of al-Qayyūm ‘the Self-Existing One’ (upon Whom all others depend).

The Arabic Imām ‘leader, pattern’ etymologically derives from the root ʾamma ‘to precede, be in front, lead’. This not only refers to the physically manifest Imām who stands before the congregation during ritual prayer, but esoterically this also alludes to the pre-existence of the Eternal Imām who is also ontologically primary and Principial and thus Stands before creation itself. According to Zachary Markwith:

Some gnostic Shīʿa have also spoken of the ‘Imam of one’s being.’ Here the Imam is envisaged as the personification of the Intellect (ʿaql) or eye of the heart (ʿayn al-qalb), which is the subjective ‘Imam’ of the believer […] It is this spiritual archetype that summons humans to their higher nature and is in fact identical to it. The Imam helps to orient us towards the heart, which is the locus of revelation (waḥy) for the prophets and inspiration (ilhām) for the saints. In ʿirfānī Shīʿī epistemology, it is through the Intellect or the ‘Imam of one’s being’ that one is oriented towards and guided to the Divine reality.[1]

In the following pre-Islamic examples, take note of references to this “Standing” which alludes to the metaphysical divine Principial or the Eternal Imām as ‘Pole’ or ‘Pillar’ in divinis—the ‘Hidden/Secret Adam’ of the Mandaeans, or the ‘Hidden God/Power’ of the Elkasaites—who is also pre-existent and thus Stands “before”:

You alone created the Righteous One, establishing him from the Womb … to Stand before You in Everlasting abode, illumined with Perfect Light forever with no more Darkness in unending Eras of Joy.
— Qumran Hymns: 1QH 15.8–18.29

And the “Sons of Zadok” are the Elect of Israel, called by Name, who will Stand up [or ‘go on Standing’] in the Last Days.
— Qumran Damascus Document: CD 4.3–4

John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water: but there Stands one among you, whom you know not.”
— John 1:26

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep Standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
— Galatians 5:1

Incomprehensible Air, without beginning or end. In this is the Father who sustains all things, and nourishes those things which have a beginning and end. This is He who has Stood, Stands and will Stand, a male-female power as the preëxisting Boundless Power, which has neither beginning nor end, existing in oneness.
— ‘Apophasis Megale’ of Simon Magus, via Hippolytus in G. R. S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, p.173.

And [the One] Standing there raised above all that which has being, we kneel to It as to the Rising Sun, blinded in our eyes.
— Proclus

The Lord said, “Blessed is he who is before he came into being. For he who is, has been and shall be.”
— Gospel of Philip

To reiterate: “He who has Stood, Stands and will Stand” (qāma), “who is, has been and shall be” (Christus aeternus, the Eternal Imām), is both pre-existent and metaphysically Principial, and in such way ‘stands’ before (thus in the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas 19 it is “he who is before he came into being”). This is arguably prefigured in the pre-existent, supernal “Ideal/Image” upon which is established the “Perfect copy” of the Jewish Tsaddiq ‘Righteous (Pillar)’, who is said to be “the Foundation of the World” (Proverbs 10:25, Zohar 1.59b) and who was exemplified in James-the-Tsaddiq “for whose sake Heaven and Earth came into being.” (Gospel of Thomas, Logion 12). Read more

The Pre-existent James and his Father Alphaeus/Cleophas as Khalipha (‘Caliph’)

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James ‘the Just’ as Zaddik (Tsaddiq ‘Righteous One’)

James the Just - Zaddik - Son of Alphaeus

In the introductory “Epistle of Clement to James” in the “Pseudo-Clementine” Homilies, James the Righteous (AKA James the Just) is addressed as “the Bishop of bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the Holy Assembly of the Hebrews and the Assemblies everywhere.”

From the perspective of first-century Judaism, James (Hebrew Yaʿakov or ‘Jacob’) was also the Opposition High Priest[1] (in contradistinction to the Herodian-installed ‘Sadducee’ High Priest) and he was the revered Tsaddiq ‘Righteous One’ of his time—hence the name James the Righteous (Yaʿakov ha Tsaddiq). According to Proverbs 10:25 and the Zohar (1.59b), the Tsaddiq is “the Perfect copy of the heavenly Ideal,” “the Foundation of the World” and “the Pillar that upholds the World”. Read more