This article was sent to me by a good friend of mine. It suggests that Jesus may have been executed in a manner other than crucifixion, and that crucifixion was perhaps not as common as thought.
I personally do not think it matters. If Jesus even actually existed(which I believe he did), then to me, his teachings and example matter more than his death. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to discuss Gnostic views of Jesus, and my opinions on them.
One thing the Gnostics have that modern-day Christians do not, are Infancy Gospels. I have not read most of them, as I have not gotten to that section in The Other Bible. But what I have read shows how important many Gnostics felt Jesus' birth and childhood were.
One such Gospel is the Infancy Gospel of James, also called The Gospel of James. It is essentially a more detailed retelling of the Nativity Story that we inevitably hear every year at Christmas. It tells of Mary having to prove to the priests that she is, indeed still a virgin. As they are going to Bethlehem, Mary goes into labor, and so they find a cave(which I find more believable than the traditional version, personally). Joseph goes to find a midwife. He is assisted, in essence, by The True God, who in a show of power, stops time:
Now I Joseph was walking, and I walked not. And I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up unto the pole of the heaven and saw it standing still, and the fowls of the heaven without motion. And I looked upon the earth and saw a dish set, and workmen lying by it, and their hands were in the dish: and they that were chewing chewed not, and they that were lifting the food lifted it not, and they that put it to their mouth put it not thereto, but the faces of all of them were looking upward. And behold there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still; and the shepherd lifted his hand to smite them with his staff, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the stream of the river and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not. And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.
Another that I find particularly interesting, is The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This one details Jesus' life from birth up until the time he is lost in the Temple by his parents at age 12. It actually depicts young Jesus as kind of a hellion. Another kid bumps into him, and he strikes him dead. Joseph scolds him, and he brings the kid back to life. There are several instances in like manner - a peer annoys him, so he kills him, and the kid's parents run to Joseph, who lectures Jesus, who brings the kid back to life. Jesus does seem to at least like animals, as shown at age 5, where he makes several clay birds, claps his hands, and they become real and fly away. And finally, on one instance, he brings a kid back to life to clear his name, as this time he actually didn't kill the kid:
IX. 1 Now after certain days Jesus was playing in the upper story of a certain house, and one of the young children that played with him fell down from the house and died. And the other children when they saw it fled, and Jesus remained alone. 2 And the parents of him that was dead came and accused him that he had cast him down. (And Jesus said: I did not cast him down) but they reviled him still. 3 Then Jesus leaped down from the roof and stood by the body of the child and cried with a loud voice and said: Zeno (for so was his name called), arise and tell me, did I cast thee down? And straightway he arose and said: Nay, Lord, thou didst not cast me down, but didst raise me up. And when they saw it they were amazed: and the parents of the child glorified God for the sign which had come to pass, and worshipped Jesus.
Another common element in Gnosticism is to separate Jesus the human from Christ the spiritual entity. Many Gnostics view(ed) the serpent in the Garden of Eden as another incarnation of Christ, for opening the minds of humanity to their true nature and the nature of the being that created the material world, as evidenced in The Testimony of Truth:
It is written in the Law concerning this, when God gave a command to Adam, "From every tree you may eat, but from the tree which is in the midst of Paradise do not eat, for on the day that you eat from it, you will surely die." But the serpent was wiser than all the animals that were in Paradise, and he persuaded Eve, saying, "On the day when you eat from the tree which is in the midst of Paradise, the eyes of your mind will be opened." And Eve obeyed, and she stretched forth her hand; she took from the tree and ate; she also gave to her husband with her. And immediately they knew that they were naked, and they took some fig-leaves (and) put them on as girdles.
But God came at the time of evening, walking in the midst of Paradise. When Adam saw him, he hid himself. And he said, "Adam, where are you?" He answered (and) said, "I have come under the fig tree." And at that very moment, God knew that he had eaten from the tree of which he had commanded him, "Do not eat of it." And he said to him, "Who is it who has instructed you?" And Adam answered, "The woman whom you have given me." And the woman said, "It is the serpent who instructed me." And he (God) cursed the serpent, and called him "devil." And he said, "Behold, Adam has become like one of us, knowing evil and good." Then he said, "Let us cast him out of paradise, lest he take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever."
But what sort is this God? First he maliciously refused Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge, and, secondly, he said "Adam, where are you?" God does not have foreknowledge? Would he not know from the beginning? And afterwards, he said, "Let us cast him out of this place, lest he eat of the tree of life and live forever." Surely, he has shown himself to be a malicious grudger! And what kind of God is this? For great is the blindness of those who read, and they did not know him. And he said, "I am the jealous God; I will bring the sins of the fathers upon the children until three (and) four generations." And he said, "I will make their heart thick, and I will cause their mind to become blind, that they might not know nor comprehend the things that are said." But these things he has said to those who believe in him and serve him!
This view is further discussed in Tertullian's Against All Heresies:
To these are added those heretics likewise who are called Ophites: for they magnify the serpent to such a degree, that they prefer him even to Christ Himself; for it was he, they say, who gave us the origin of the knowledge of good and of evil. His power and majesty (they say) Moses perceiving, set up the brazen serpent; and whoever gazed upon him obtained health. Christ Himself (they say further) in His gospel imitates Moses' serpent's sacred power, in saying: "And as Moses upreared the serpent in the desert, so it behoveth the Son of man to be upreared." Him they introduce to bless their eucharistic (elements). Now the whole parade and doctrine of this error flowed from the following source. They say that from the supreme primary Aeon whom then speak of there emanated several other inferior Aeons. To all these, however, there opposed himself an Aeon who name is Ialdabaoth. He had been conceived by the permixture of a second Aeon with inferior Aeons; and afterwards, when he had been desirous of forcing his way into the higher regions, had been disabled by the permixture of the gravity of matter with himself to arrive at the higher regions; had been left in the midst, and had extended himself to his full dimensions, and thus had made the sky. Ialdabaoth, however, had descended lower, and had made him seven sons, and had shut from their view the upper regions by self-distension, in order that, since (these) angels could not know what was above, they might think him the sole God. These inferior Virtues and angels, therefore, had made man; and, because he had been originated by weaker and mediocre powers, he lay crawling, worm-like. That Aeon, however, out of which Ialdaboath had proceeded, moved to the heart with envy, had injected into man as he lay a certain spark; excited whereby, he was through prudence to grow wise, and be able to understand the things above. So, again, the Ialdaboath aforesaid, turning indignant, had emitted out of himself the Virtue and similitude of the serpent; and this had been
the Virtue in paradise--that is, this had been the serpent--whom Eve had believed as if he had been God the Son. He plucked, say they, from the fruit of the tree, and thus conferred on mankind the knowledge of things good and evil. Christ, moreover, existed not in substance of flesh: salvation of the flesh is not to be hoped for at all.
In continuing with this view, it was believed that Jesus was believed to have been born and raised the traditional way - Jesus was not born of a virgin, and was a completely normal human being. The Christ entered Jesus at his baptism by John. This is mentioned in Irenaeus' Against Heresies:
CHAP. XXVI.--DOCTRINES OF CERINTHUS, THE EBIONITES, AND NICOLAITANES.
1. Cerinthus, again, a man who was educated(8) in the wisdom of the Egyptians, taught that the world was not made by the primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him, and at a distance from that Principality who is supreme over the universe, and ignorant of him who is above all. He represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men. Moreover, after his baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the unknown Father, and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.
As well as Hyppolitus' Refutation of All Heresies:
Cerinthus, however, himself having been trained in Egypt, determined that the world was not made by the first God, but by a certain angelic power. And this power was far separated and distant from that sovereignty which is above the entire circle of existence, and it knows not the God (that is) above all things. And he says that JeSus was not born of a virgin, but that He sprang from Joseph and Mary as their son, similar to the rest of men; and that He excelled in justice, and prudence, and understanding above all the rest of mankind. And Cerinthus maintains that, after Jesus' baptism, Christ came down in the form of a dove upon Him from the sovereignty that is above the whole circle of existence, and that then He proceeded to preach the unknown Father, and to work miracles. And he asserts that, at the conclusion of the passion, Christ flew away from Jesus, but that Jesus suffered, and that Christ remained incapable of suffering, being a spirit of the Lord.
And finally, one Gnostic view holds that The Christ left Jesus' physical body at the crucifixion, and therefore the Christ was never crucified. One small description of this is found in The Apocalypse of Peter:
When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said "What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?"
The Savior said to me, "He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me."
It is for this reasons that the Gnostics did not believe in a physical resurrection, but a spiritual one, akin to the Buddhist concept of nirvana.
So what do I believe, exactly? I'm not entirely sure yet. I do believe Jesus existed. If the stories are largely or solely metaphorical(and Gnosticism has no requirement of believing in anything literally, unlike mainstream Christianity) it would not change anything. In fact, I do pretty much believe they are metaphorical. I believe reincarnation is a possibility, and that Christ, like Buddha, came to show us the way of "escaping the cycle" through our actions. In fact, many Gnostics(today, at least) equate Christ with other Messiah figures or enlightenment figures, the most common being Buddha, Krishna, and the Horus-Osiris-Isis godfigures of Egyptian mythology, viewing these as other incarnations of Christ, or other versions of the Christ story. I find it kind of comforting, the thought of Jesus growing up as a normal person like you or I, even being a difficult child, to then have an epiphany at his baptism and begin serving a higher purpose.
Since I have used plenty of quotes in this post, I will not end with a verse this time. Running a little short on time to find a good one.