Jesus Christ Was A Shape-Shifter, According To This Ancient Egyptian Text
You know Jesus, right? Son of God, born in Bethlehem, great with fish, and wine for blood? He was a good guy who could do a lot of cool stuff. According to this one super weird ancient Egyptian text, one of the cool things he could do was shape-shift. The text, which dates back about 1,200 years, details the well-known crucifixion story with a few twists. It was discovered in 1910 by villagers who were digging up a former monastery in the desert near Al Hamuli in Egypt, after which it was purchased by American financier J.P. Morgan and added to his collection in New York City. As a result, it wasn't until recently that the strange version of events was brought to light. This retelling, while probably not true or even all that sane, is definitely an interesting fold in the story of Christ.
The story comes from Saint Cyril
Most of the stories in the Bible were written by guys who supposedly hung around Jesus while he was handing out fish and loaves. You know, guys with boring names like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The version of the crucifixion with a shape-shifting Jesus comes from the much flashier Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived during the fourth century. Aside from writing this fascinating story, Cyril catechized people preparing for baptism during Lent, although it's unclear exactly how he became a bishop or found the time to write his view of the life of shape-shifting, superpowered Jesus. The story is written in the Coptic language, which was spoken in Egypt until about the 19th century, and it details a dinner between Jesus and Pontius Pilate prior to the crucifixion.
Jesus transforms into an eagle in the story
In Saint Cyril's version of events, Pilate desperately wanted to keep Jesus from crucifixion, and also, incidentally, Christ could apparently change form. Pilate invites Jesus over for dinner on a Thursday, and upon arrival, Jesus blesses the Roman commander's home. Pilate says:
Well then, behold, the night has come, rise and withdraw, and when the morning comes and they accuse me because of you, I shall give them the only son I have so that they can kill him in your place.
After Pilate offers to switch Jesus with his son, the soon-to-be-condemned religious leader says thanks, but no thanks. He tells Pilate:
Oh Pilate, you have been deemed worthy of a great grace because you have shown a good disposition to me.
Then, Jesus turns "incorporeal," and Pilate loses sight of him before he reappears in a vision as an eagle that's being killed. It's not clear if this is meant to be taken literally or if his representation as an eagle is a symbol for freedom or divine power. We can't exactly call up Cyril and ask, and after all, he's describing a person's dream. How do you delve into that without making assumptions?
It answers some questions raised by the Bible
We all know the story of Judas Iscariot, the follower who was bribed to kiss Jesus as a sneaky way to identify him to the guards who'd come to arrest the Son of Man. In the original crucifixion story, this was done because he'd only just recently arrived in town and they couldn't exactly Google him, so not everyone knew what he looked like. Still, you'd think Judas could just describe him, right? In this new version of events, however, the purpose of Judas's kiss was because no one knew what he would look like this time. The text reads:
Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him [Jesus], for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat colored, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man.
The powers of Jesus are never fully explored
According to Cyril's story, Jesus can change his features, age, and even species, but because much of the text is unavailable, it's not known how this ability came in handy outside of these specific events. While there are multiple copies of the manuscripts at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, no researchers have managed to read the whole text.
There are a few reasons that the documents are hard to read: Coptic definitely isn't the most well-known language in the 21st century, but the real issue is the physical condition of the manuscript, which wasn't properly stored for hundreds of years. It could very well be an alternate version of the New Testament that shows Jesus transforming throughout Cyril's text, but it's likely that we're never going to know what's in the rest of the pages.
Researchers are pretty sure Jesus couldn't shape-shift
Many religious stories featuring magical powers are apocryphal. The writers of these stories usually used such devices as mystical transformations or returns from the dead as nothing more than metaphors. It's likely that Cyril didn't mean that Jesus could literally transform into an eagle, just that he had a spirit similar to an eagle. Roelof van den Broek, the author behind Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ, notes:
In Egypt, the Bible had already become canonized in the fourth/fifth century, but apocryphal stories and books remained popular among the Egyptian Christians, especially among monks. I find it difficult to believe that he really did, but some details, for instance the meal with Jesus, he may have believed to have really happened. The people of that time, even if they were well-educated, did not have a critical historical attitude. Miracles were quite possible, and why should an old story not be true?
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