The Historical Jesus, The Mandaeans of John the Baptist, & The Place of Light

 

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GospelofThomas/

The following document is considered public domain and is free to distribute with blessings by the author. His only stipulation is, if you use it commercially please donate money profits to charity.

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Please note the author confuses the Ginza Rba with the canonical Prayer book of the Mandaeans (Qlasta)

 

We have purified our hands in Kushta In the Name of the Living Gods!

We have purified our hands in Kushta and our lips in faith.

We have uttered words of radiance and were absorbed in thoughts of Light.

Thou, my Lord Yeshu d-Hiya, art blessed and praised and thy praise is established.

Great is the strength of Life; abounding the glory of the mighty Life! Honor rests upon the Uthras who sit in glory.

This is prayer and praise which came to them from the great place of Light and the everlasting Abode.

We praise with it when we have risen from our sleep, before any have spoken falsehood.

For anyone who prays this prayer there will be forgiving of sins and transgressions in the great place of Light and in the everlasting Abode.

And Life is transcendant.

Extract from the Mandaean text, Qulasta (Hymns of Praise)

 

 

 

The author of this text is Rick Van Vliet

Introduction

 

The eschatology of the major monotheistic religions, Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc., is very similar, particularly the Christians and Muslims. It will be demonstrated, that the eternal life of the historical Jesus as found in the Gospel of Thomas, and the Mandaean followers of John the Baptist, are very similar, and very different from the above. In addition to showing the general parallel, several strong explicit parallels between the Mandaeans of John the Baptist, and his disciple, Jesus, never before mentioned in published biblical scholarship, will be pointed out. Keep in mind, we have 1800-year-old physical scraps of Thomas, and although generally considered ancient to varying degrees, the physical pieces of paper of the Mandaeans are only a few centuries old, and recopied many times. It is far more likely that Thomas is closer to the original.

 

The Gospel of Thomas and the Historical Jesus

So, what did the disciples of Jesus believe while the Roman citizen Paul, was still persecuting them? Paul, in Galatians, says he learned nothing from James and the disciples, and didn’t agree with them. What did the disciples believe? What was their Gospel? 

In 1945, Muhammad ‘Ali al-Samman, on a trip to kill a man, stopped in the middle of the Egyptian desert, near a hill, for the night. He stuck a shovel in the ground and hit a large sealed jar, buried in the sand. With dreams of treasure, he dug it up, and broke it open. It contained over a dozen leather bound books, and a small cloud of paper fragments that scattered to the wind like a host of butterflies. 

Muhammad figured it might have value, but after killing the man, he was in trouble, and he left it with a Coptic priest, whose mother occasionally used some pages for kindling for the fire. Also, his brother in law stole some and sold it for a little folding money. This immediately got the attention of the authorities because the paper itself was 1,600 years old, and it was talking about Jesus. That’s very rare. You can list all the older ones on one of these pages. They quickly got to the bottom of it, and the remaining books, and fragments were saved. 

It was mostly second century, capital “G”, Gnostic Gospels, followers of Paul, with few parallels to the Christian Gospels. It also contained some oddball stuff like Plato’s Republic, and the non-Gnostic, Dialog of the Savior. It also contained the long lost Gospel of Thomas, with hundreds of strong parallels to the sayings of Jesus in the Christian Bible, and zero parallels to Paul or the second century Gnostics. Zero. It is a Coptic copy of the Greek original. Several scraps of the original Greek version, 1800 years old, were found a century ago, in an Egyptian garbage dump, but no one knew they went together or what they were. They are as old as any physical scraps of Mark, Matthew, Luke, or Paul, (about 200AD), and as common at that age. 

The Gospel of Thomas is now considered by many if not the overwhelming majority of academic biblical scholars of the historical Jesus to have been written decades earlier than the Gospels in the Christian Bible. It claims to be written by the “twin” brother of Jesus, (Thomas means twin), the disciple, Thomas, the “doubting Thomas” of John. Elaine Pagels has made a minor career lately writing about how the Christian Gospel of John was written to refute the Gospel of Thomas. Perhaps the most important evidence is the Jesus Seminar, 200 academics who met over several years, and took a secret vote on what sayings of Jesus were genuine in the Bible Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. There has been nothing like it before or since. A far higher percentage of Thomas was considered likely to be genuine. The book with the details is called The Five Gospels. 

It is beyond the scope of this paper to argue that point, but some highlights can be listed. 

  1. Thomas is almost always the more concise and logically tight way of stating the same sayings. Almost universally, in biblical and other historical scholarship, (at least previous to the rather inconvenient Thomas), considered strong evidence of being the older/original version. 
  2. For the previous century, majority opinion was that there were several sources for the synoptics, Mark, Q, Special Luke, and Special Matthew. All separate, no parallels. And Thomas? When they discovered Thomas, which one was Thomas in? Which source did it use? All of them. Either Thomas was last or Thomas was first. And if Thomas was first, why was it the only one that knew all sources? A far simpler explanation is that it’s the source for them all. 
  3. The beautiful Lilies sayings in Thomas, Matthew and Luke. Both Matthew and Luke have the same copying error, a common copying error when copying Greek to Greek. Thomas doesn’t have the error. The version in Matthew/Luke, has to go back at least two generations to be correct like Thomas. From Robinson, Harvard Theological Review, “By way of conclusion, let me draw two inferences from this little study that point the way for biblical scholarship of the next century: First, the flood of new source material from early Christianity that has emerged over the last half century not only provides its own new information about early Christianity, but also provides material for understanding better the traditional source material, the New Testament itself. A scribal error in Matthew and Luke, because it was already in Q, has corrupted the text of one of the oldest small sayings collections in the New Testament, containing material that has usually rightly been ascribed to Jesus himself. Now a noncanonical gospel fragment of the early third century and an erased text of Matt 6:28 from the fourth century produce the text as it was prior to the scribal error, and containing other traits of primitiveness. The canon has always been seen as the official norm for the noncanonical material, but in this case it is the noncanonical material that corrects the very wording of the canon itself and may well be nearer to what Jesus actually said.”  
  4. From the viewpoint of science, there is no explicit superstition whatsoever in Thomas. No supernatural beings, no miracles. There’s plenty of rather incomprehensible stuff, but nothing explicitly supernatural. (No reason to expect anything unusual to happen in the street outside.) Who would have edited that out? What committee, what gospel evolving over time would leave out all explicit superstition? Far more likely it came from one rather unusual man. 
  5. The strength of the sayings…

The Gospel of Thomas was not included in the Christian Bible, and it’s clear why. No son of God, no miracles, no angels or demons, or Satan gods, or hell. You don’t pray to the Father, it’s no big deal if you cuss him, he never talks to anyone, and it’s not clear if the Father having an opinion makes sense. No resurrection, no Judgment Day, no dietary laws, no Heaven in the clouds, etc. 

It contains almost all folksy sayings of Jesus found in the Christian Bible, blind leading the blind, blessed are the poor, speck in your brother’s eye, timber in yours, etc., all of them are in Thomas.  

 


As Stevan Davies points out in “Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas”: “Twenty-one of the 36 Markan sayings have parallels in Thomas: 58%.  Of the 21 sayings where Jesus addresses his “Associates,” 16, or 76%, have parallels in Thomas..  Of the 9 sayings labeled “parables” by Mark, 8 are to be found in Thomas (89%).

Of the 21 Thomas paralleled sayings, 20 are either addressed to Associates or characterized as parables or both (95%). The only exception is the “render unto Caesar” chreia.”

 


Same wise sayings, but Thomas has a very different viewpoint on eternal life. The basic eternal life outlook of the historical Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas can be seen in the following two sayings, the twin bookends of Thomas, both paralleled to some extent, with a different twist, in the Christian Bible:Jesus said, “If those pulling you say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ the birds of the sky will go before you. Or if they say that it is beneath the ground, the fish of the sea will go in, preceding you. And the kingdom of God is within you and outside you..Thomas 3a (Greek) If graven images are those misleading you into some false idea of heaven being somewhere else, that’s the Second Commandment. And it’s from a 200AD scrap of paper, and paralleled in the Christian Bible. About as close to the historical Jesus as you can get. And the very similar, and equally poetic 113…His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? <Jesus said:> It will not come while people watch for it; they will not say: Look, here it is, or: Look, there it is; but the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it. Thomas 113

So, the Kingdom isn’t somewhere else, its here now. Unlike the second century Gnostics, Jesus didn’t think this is hell, he thought this is heaven, spread out upon the earth, within us and outside of us, if we would only open our eyes and see it.

Ok, so far, so good in general. (Granted, at times, this sure doesn’t’ seem like heaven.) The concept is somewhat similar to an abstract Buddhist/Greek Cynic outlook with some kind of enlightenment required to see it. But when we get to the specifics, there are some sayings about light and life in Thomas that are rather incomprehensible, although in parts, some are paralleled in the Christian Bible. Some not paralleled in the Bible at all, and therefore lost to the world for 1600 years, are:

Jesus said: This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away; and those who are dead are not alive, and those who are living will not die. In the days when you ate of what is dead, you made of it what is living. When you come to be light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you have become two, what will you do? Thomas 11

The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us how our end will be. Jesus said: Since you have discovered the beginning, why do you seek the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who shall stand at the beginning (in the beginning), and he shall know the end, and shall not taste death. Thomas 18

Jesus said: Blessed are the solitary and the elect, for you will find the kingdom, for you came forth from it, (and) you will return to it again. Thomas 49

Jesus said: If they say to you: Whence have you come?, say to them: We have come from the light, the place where the light came into being of itself. It [established itself], and it revealed itself in their image. If they say to you: Who are you?, say: We are his sons, and we are the elect of the living Father. If they ask you: What is the sign of your Father in you?, say to them: It is movement and rest. Thomas 50

Jesus said: The images are revealed to man, and the light which is in them is hidden in the image of the light of the Father. He will reveal himself, and his image is hidden by his light. Thomas 83

Jesus said: When you see your likeness, you rejoice. But when you see your images which came into existence before you, which neither die nor are made manifest, how much will you bear? Thomas 84

Jesus said: The heavens will be rolled up and likewise the earth in your presence, and the living one, (come forth) from the Living One, will not see death or <fear>, because Jesus says: He who finds himself, of him the world is not worthy. Thomas 111

So, we have this place of light, you go to and come from or something, and this Living One, apparently the same thing as the Living Father, who radiates such bright light you can’t see him or something, and these worlds, such as the one we are in now, that come and go with you perhaps becoming light in the place of light as they do.

Traditionally, biblical scholars just throw their hands up in the air, or claim it’s from Paul’s second century Gnostics, (although, rather inconveniently for the theory, they can’t seem to find any parallels whatsoever.) Perhaps scholars often claim they’re from the second century capital “G” Gnostics because they seem spooky like the Gnostics.

Well, these sayings lost in a jar in the sand for 1600 years, do have parallels, and in some cases, very close ones. And all in existence and available centuries before that jar was found in the sand.

The parallels aren’t to the second century Gnostics, they’re to the alleged followers of John the Baptist, the Mandaeans, of southern Iran and Iraq.

Like that’s a shock. After all, so the story goes, (in the Christian Bible, the Gospel of Thomas and the Mandaean texts), at one time, Jesus was one of them.

 

The Mandaean Followers of John the Baptist

 

In southern Iraq and Iran, there lives a small, tight religious group that doesn’t accept converts, and is rapidly blinking out of existence. They claim to be the original followers of John the Baptist and have apparently lived there for close to 1900 years. Unfortunately, many were killed or driven out by Saddam Hussein, and most of the survivors are now scattered all over the world. The few that remain are still being persecuted.

When Islam overran Iraq, Muhammad made a special exception for the Mandaeans. They are on the short list of tolerated religions with the Christians and the Jews. They’ve learned to introduce themselves to Christians as followers of John the Baptist. Although they think Jesus was a real man, and a follower of John, they say he was a false messiah, and that he took the secret teachings of John, and gave them to everybody. Muhammad they like even less, and call the Son of Slaughter. They have Jewish roots, including Adam, Noah, etc., and especially “let there be light” but have a minor grudge against the Jews too. Seems they think everyone persecuted them at one time, and no doubt there’s some truth to it. They are certainly persecuted now.

They are a positive, optimistic people, whose religion requires them to immerse themselves in “living water” of a running stream/river. Not to remove sins, but a positive contact with life type thing. In pictures, they are often smiling. They have a variety of holy books. Their language is unique, there are very few translations, and the ones that exist are very hard to find. After all, this is a religion that is still mad at Jesus, 2000 years later, for telling their secrets, and never accepts converts for any reason whatsoever. Even if a Mandaean marries someone outside the religion, that person stays outside the religion. No exceptions. So, clarity on what’s what is hard to come by. No doubt why so many biblical scholars are totally oblivious to their existence. Also, with the texts being hand copied for centuries, it’s far from clear how much comes from the time of John the Baptist, and how much was added later. A near complete list of what exists on the Internet, (or elsewhere) is listed in the references.

The main prayer book is the Ginza Rba. Each section often starts with “In the name of the Great Life” or something similar, and ends with “And Life is victorious,” or something similar, as do many Mandaean texts.

Another key text is John the Baptizer, which gives the history of the Mandaean association with John, the Jews, Jesus, and the Muslims.

There are a variety of other texts, some extremely obscure, including some short hymns/poems. ***

 

Mandaean/Gospel of Thomas Parallels

Both the Gospel of Thomas and the Mandaeans believe we come from the “Place of Light” and will return to it. The worlds come and go, and when we die, we return to the place of light, presumably until the next world shows up. It’s all about light and life. Until that 1600-year-old jar was dug up, there was no parallel in any known religion to the following Mandaean sayings:

Thomas 50
Jesus said:
If they say to you: Whence have you come?, say to them: We have come from the light, the place where the light came into being of itself. It [established itself], and it revealed itself in their image. If they say to you: Who are you?, say: We are his sons, and we are the elect of the living Father. If they ask you: What is the sign of your Father in you?, say to them: It is movement and rest.

Adam`s Deliverance – An Mandaean Hymn

In the name of the Great Life
the sublime Light be glorified.
From the Place of Light I have come forth,
from you, everlasting dwelling-place,
From the Place of Light I have come forth,

and an uthra from the House of Life accompanied me.
The uthraa who accompanied me from the House of the Great Life
held a staff of living water in his hand.
The staff which he held in his hand
was completely full of leaves.
He gave me its branches,
of which the ritual books and prayers were full.
Then he gave me more of them,
and then my suffering heart was healed.
My suffering heart was healed
and my world-shy soul found peace.

Ginza Rba, Chapter 75
Betimes I will come and will fly And will reach the sons of my Name, the sons of my Sign, And the sons of the great Family of Life. I will bind you together into the bundle of Life And I will build you into a great Building of Truth And will bring you forth to the great Place of Light And to the Everlasting Abode.

 


Thomas 83
Jesus said, “
Images are visible to people, but the light within them is hidden in the image of the Father’s light. He will be disclosed, but his image is hidden by his light.The Secret Adam
The Great Primal Father, the hidden radiance.
Ginza Rba, Chapter 75
All arose, prayed and praised the majesty of mighty (Life) And their voices sang to the Glory that is mighty Praising the Radiance which surpasseth (all) radiance And the Light which surpasseth (all) lights, And the Good Being who crossed the worlds, Came, cleft the firmament and revealed Himself….
Ginza Rba Chapter 76
Thou wilt bring us some of Thy radiance, thou wilt lend us some of Thy light. We will enter into Thy radiance will go forth in Thy light…

 


There are many more, but for the sake of brevity, a couple Thomas sayings that are also paralleled in the Christian Bible…Thomas 94
Jesus [said:]
He who seeks will find, [and he who knocks], to him will be opened.Ginza Rba
Those who seek of Him find, and to those who ask of Him it will be given. For to him that standeth at a closed door Thou wilt open the closed door.

 


This “Trinity” saying in Thomas is closely paralleled in the Christian Bible, but with the striking difference that Thomas values the Holy Spirit/Breath of God/Life Force of God/Great Life more than the Father. (“Son” in Thomas presumably means son of man/Adam, i.e. humans. Jesus never claims to be a supernatural being.) Thomas 44
Jesus said:
He who blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and he who blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit[/Breath of God/Life Force of God/Great Life] will not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven. Ginza Rba Chapter 80
In the name of the Great Life !
Hear me, my Father, hear me! Draw me upward
(O) Great One, son of the mighty (Life),
Our Father, son of the Life!
The Mandaean Father is the Son of the Holy Spirit. The Father and Son are the same thing, and less important than the Holy Spirit/Breath of God/Life Force of God/Great Life, just like the previously incomprehensible Thomas.

Conclusions

In the study of the historical Jesus, there is no more important document, than the long lost sayings Gospel of Thomas. Unfortunately, the sayings about eternal life are obscure to say the least. There’s something about worlds coming and going, and a place of light that we have come from and will return to when we die, and a God called The “Living Father” (a term only found elsewhere in the Gospel of John), that is hidden in his light.

All these terms, all these concepts, many related to eternal life, are found, almost identically, in the rather obscure, and certainly ancient, Mandaean religion, claimed to come from John the Baptist, teacher of the historical Jesus.

Hello?

And since some of the Thomas sayings, buried in a jar in approximately 350AD, (and tossed into an Egyptian garbage dump in 200AD) have no parallels in any other existing religious texts, but do have parallels with the Mandaeans, their common source is likely much older than 200AD.

The evidence is rather strong that the strange esoteric outlook on existence, and eternal life, found in the sayings of Jesus, as found in the Gospel of Thomas, came from his teacher, John the Baptist. And far from being modified by some second century Gnostics, is the actual words and opinion, of the historical Jesus.

And life is victorious!

References

Gospel of Thomas, and the Historical Jesus:

Unless stated otherwise, all Thomas sayings came from:
http://www.gospelthomas.com
It is no longer available, such sorrow, here is an alternative:
http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html

All Greek sayings of Thomas come from:
www.gospels.net/thomas/

Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas by Stephan Davies:
http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/tomark1.htm
www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/tomark2.htm

An invaluable general source for early Christianity and the Historical Jesus:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, 1993, The Five Gospels, The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, Harper Collins Publishers

John Dominic Crossan, 1991, The Historical Jesus, the Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Harper Collins Publishers

James M. Robinson, Jan 1999, A Written Greek Sayings Cluster Older than Q: A Vestige, Harvard Theological Review

Mandaean Texts:

The Ginza Rba (Canonical prayer book, and apparently very old):
http://www.gnosis.org/library/ginzarba.htm

Adam’s Deliverance (A beautiful poem, and also very old.)
http://www.gnosis.org/library/adamd.htm

The Secret Adam (A rather esoteric text)
http://www.egnu.org/~mandaean/The_Secret_Adam_Drower.pdf

John the Baptizer (The Mandaean history book, with strong commentary by the translator.)
http://www.gnosis.org/library/grs-mead/gnostic_john_baptist/index.htm

And general sources:

http://www.mandaeanworld.com/mandaeanworld1.html (By Mandaeans, with semi-current events and pictures.)
http://www.gnosis.org/library/mand.htm (Probably the best single source for text as opposed to scanned in pictures.)
http://www.egnu.org/~mandaean/
http://altreligion.about.com/library/texts/bl_baptizer8.htm
http://www.iraqfoundation.org/forum/visitor/2000/cmar/14_mandais.html

By same author:

Rainbow19.pdf
PDF of Rainbow19, the chart of all parallels to Thomas from The Five Gospels and gospelthomas.com that demonstrates they all used a modified version of Thomas.

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Appendix: The Everett Many Worlds Interpretation of the Quantum Theory, and Quantum Immortality

Many people, including those rather well informed on eternal life from the viewpoint of the world’s great religions, aren’t aware that there is also an eternal life from the viewpoint of modern science. It is usually called Quantum Immortality. The quickest explanation is that it’s the same thing as the movie, Back to the Future. In some Worlds, Biff is washing the car, in some Worlds, Biff is the big businessman, and in some Worlds, Biff is dead. We’re talking here about the meaning of life and death from the viewpoint of science. Hello? And what is says, is that we live forever in some Worlds. From that viewpoint, death is not only nothing to worry about, it’s impossible. Many physicists have written about it, perhaps the most notable being Tegmark, and his “Tegmark Suicide Experiment”. (Don’t misunderstand this, suicide is a terrible idea, as Tegmark is the first to say.)

For most of the last century, the Copenhagen Interpretation of the Quantum Theory has been the great foundation of science. The other great pillar of science is General Relativity, but generally thought less important. Most of theoretical physics of the last 75 years has been an effort to shoehorn General Relativity into the presumed more important Quantum Theory.

Albert Einstein hated the Copenhagen Interpretation of the Quantum Theory that has dominated all science for most of the last century, although he helped invent it. Another founder, Schrodinger, who’s Wave Equation produced all the miracles of modern science, hated it so much that he quit science, and took up a much more comforting subject, “What is Life”, and wrote a book by that name. Watson read it, and was inspired to discover DNA, (using X-ray diffraction and, of course, the Schrodinger Wave Equation.)

But Einstein soldiered on in physics, refusing to accept the Copenhagen Interpretation of the Quantum Theory. He had a series of debates with Neils Bohr in the 30’s, and by the end of his life, was considered a pathetic senile old fool by his fellow scientists, for refusing to accept it. In essence, Copenhagen says that a cat is both dead and alive until you look at it, which forces it to be one or the other. It was the only known way you could predict experiments. The dicey question is how the cat felt about being both at the same time. That paradox is called the Shrodinger’s Cat Experiment. It’s all about the meaning of life and death, and it’s been the central controversy about the foundation of physics for the last century.

A couple years after Einstein died, a graduate student named Hugh Everett published his graduate thesis. It’s now called the Everett Many Worlds Interpretation of the Quantum Theory. It is an alternative to Einstein’s hated Copenhagen Interpretation. The Universe is constantly branching into an infinite number of alternate Worlds, all those “what if’s”. Unfortunately, no one cared, and Everett spent his life building Thermonuclear Weapons. But in his old age, some friends encouraged him to re-write it, and publish it. He did so in the 1970’s, and it has now replaced Copenhagen as the absolute foundation of our understanding of existence, from the viewpoint of science. (At least to the majority of top level physicists, particularly the young ones, and those involved in cutting-edge string /membrane theory.) Schrodinger’s cat (like Biff) never experiences being alive and dead at the same time. In some Worlds the Cat and Biff are alive, and in some Worlds they are dead, when you look, you narrow down which Worlds you are in, the one with live cats/Biff or the one with dead cats/Biff.

The current (2007) cutting edge darling of physics is Membrane or “M” theory. It’s replaced String Theory. One of it’s predictions is that the Universe will Big Bang and Big Crunch forever and always will. We will be back. Those Many Worlds from General Relativity are the same Many Worlds from General Relativity, probably as close to uniting them as we will ever get. From that viewpoint, Almighty Quantum Theory is only a handy way of sorting out those Many Worlds created by Dr. Einstein’s General Relativity.

Blessed are the Poor and Persecuted, for theirs is the Many Worlds of the Kingdom of the Father. In another World they will win the lottery. Turns out from the viewpoint of modern science, we all live forever in these Many Worlds, that come and go, and we simply return from what we might as well call the place of light. We have come from it, and will return to it. The end is the beginning, and if you know it, you won’t know death.

God doesn’t roll dice, everything that can happen, does happen, and we will see it all. It turns out Einstein was right, and Neils Bohr and all the others were wrong. Like that’s a big shock.

It’s not that Jesus got close to this almighty science truth, it’s that science is finally starting to approach the truth taught by the Historical Jesus 2000 years ago.

And life is victorious!

References

Many Worlds Quantum Theory and Quantum Immortality:

http://www.hedweb.com/manworld.htm
http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/everett_guardian.html
http://www.higgo.com/quantum/qti.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_immortality
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/steinhardt02/steinhardt02_index.html 

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