The Fisherman and the Net: Geometric Symbolism in the Gospel of John (II of II)

The full geometric symbol of the Jesus and fish catching parable from left to right with the Net consisting of two tetraktys, 16 (17) squares in all, each of which is 153 in width and in total each, 612 in length for each side (the gematria value for Zeus)

The full geometric symbol of the Jesus and fish catching parable from left to right with the Net consisting of two tetraktys, 16 (17) squares in all, each of which is 153 in width and in total each, 612 in length for each side (the gematria value for Zeus)

 

What we’re left with if we are to believe this geometric formulation of the miraculous tale of Jesus and the fishes with his seven disciples in the Sea of Galilee in the Gospel of John is a geometric figure – if transposed from top to bottom rather than left to right is one which the inner circle represents the boat and includes circles of circumference of 1925 (gematria value of “Simon Peter”) representing each of the seven disciples, with Simon Peter being in the central location of the seven disciples within the circular boat, the boat itself having a diameter of 1224 which is the gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”, and a radius of 612  which is the gematria value of “Zeus”.  The net, again cast to the right of the boat by the disciples for the catching of fish and represented by another vesica piscis with a width of 612 and a height of 1060.  Furthermore, each of the rhombus squares within the net have a width of 153, there are 17 rhombuses in total (including the encompassing rhombus), and the numbers 1-17 when added together also equal 153.  The perimeter of the net in its entirety is 2448, or 153 x 4 x 4.

The final geometric construct has a top portion whose dimensions are determined by the gematria value of the gematria value for “The Fisherman’s Coat” (1060 again) as well as the gematria value of “Simon Peter” (1925).  This figure rests above the circle representing the disciples in the boat whose dimensions again are determined by the gematria value of “Simon Peter” (1925).  The final figure, now at the bottom of the figure, representing the net that was cast by the disciples to the side of the boat, contains a vesica piscis shape precisely equivalent to the one that contains Peter’s coat at the (now) top of our figure, the net having a perimeter of 2448 and consisting of 16 rhombus squares, each 153 in width, and whose vesica piscis width is 612, the gematria value for “Zeus”.

 

Geometric Transliteration of the tale of Jesus and the miraculous catch of 153 fish showing the three distinct and yet related perspectives on reality of which the Soul, via the Logos, bridges the two to provide for the ascent of the Soul into the upper realms.

Geometric Transliteration of the tale of Jesus and the miraculous catch of 153 fish showing the three distinct and yet related perspectives on reality of which the Soul, via the Logos, bridges the two to provide for the ascent of the Soul into the upper realms.

Here the inner circle includes the seven disciples with the boat, where each inner circle has a circumference of 1925 (“Simon Peter” gematria value), the diameter of the overall circle representing the boat having a value of 1224 (gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”) a radius of 612 (the gematria value of “Zeus”), with the net itself having a width of 612 as well and therefore a height of 1060, again closely related to the gematria values for both “Apollo” and “Pleroma” which is calculated using the square root of 3, of which 153 is an important factor as established quite clearly by Archimedes, and where each of the rhombus squares within the net are 153 in width and where the perimeter of the net in its entirety is 153x4x4 or 2448.

The final geometric construct, in our diagram placed on top of the whole figure, is sized by the gematria value of Peter’s coat (1060 again) and is placed precisely above the circle representing the disciples consistent with the circle representing the net below the disciples boat, with a vesica piscis shape exactly like the one that contains the net below the circle representing the boat, and containing within it a circle of diameter 612 and cut in half by presumably Peter’s coat, resembling the setting Sun, again a significant symbol in the mystery and esoteric traditions that flourished in classical Greek antiquity.

Leaving aside for a moment skepticism that might arise from the construction of this geometric diagram simply from the number 153 combined with the gematria values of some key terms in the language itself from which the shape is constructed, one must keep in mind that the Gospel of John more so than any other Gospel, is the one that contains the most explicit references to the Greek philosophical tradition that preceded it, most notably with its reliance on the Logos as a primordial construct from which the universe first emanates and which is associated with Jesus himself as the Logos incarnate in the world of man.

 

But the symbology of the geometry embedded in the story is not finished yet however, for there is a whole other level of geometric values and relationships that can be drawn out of the diagram if you extend it a bit further.  Drawing on metaphysical theories of a divine triad which reflected the complete cosmic world order and specifically mankind’s place in it, once can view the top most circle – the one representing Peter – as representing the ultimate reality, the One of the Neo-Platonist tradition which had begun to take shape at around the same time that New Testament canon was established – most notably with Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus who although were not Christians, still were able to flourish before the pagan traditions were wiped out as the Christian orthodox Church consolidated power.

In this extrapolation of the cosmology embedded in Plato’s Timaeus, and in a tradition that synthesized not only Stoic principles but also Peripatetic (Aristotle) philosophy, the Monad, Dyad and Triad of the Pythagoreans had evolved to reflect the indivisible One from which all of creation emerged, the divine Intellect, or Mind which albeit a reflection of the One was the source of the Dyad, or the multiplicity that was found in the material universe, and then the Soul which was contained attributes of both, both divine and sensual, the goal of life being the ascent of the Soul into the realm of the Good, the abode of intelligibles of Forms, until ultimately a union of the Soul with the Demiurge was possible, consistent with the mystery traditions of Greece, and Egypt, which came before them.

In this sacred geometry than can be gleaned from the parable of Jesus and his disciples and the miraculous catching of the 153 fish, the bottom-most geometric figure which constructed from the gematria values of “Fishes” and “The Net” represents the material world to which our bodies are bound, via the metaphor of the Net, which requires grace, or in this case the messiah Jesus Christ (the Logos in the flesh to the early Christian communities), to release us from this bondage.  The message of the symbology is then that through the belief and faith in Christ and his teachings, as reflected in the middle tier of circles representing the disciples of Jesus who carried forth his message, that this transition from the material world to the spiritual world could in fact be realized.

The connection between Jesus and the Temple at Delphi and Apollo is further crystallized by the fact that if you draw a full circle around the entire diagram, all three circles symbolizing the disciples in the boat, the net and fish, and Simon Peter, the circumference of the circle itself is 7690, 769 being the gematria value of “Pythios”, the holy name for Apollo at the Temple of Delphi.  In this larger geometric symbology, the connection between Jesus the new savior and the Temple at Delphi and Apollo, the historically most significant religious center in the ancient Hellenic world, is born out by the fact that if you draw a full circle around the entire diagram – all three circles symbolizing the disciples in the boat, the net and fish, and Simon Peter – the circumference of said circle is 7690, 769 being the gematria value of “Pythios”, the holy name for Apollo at the Temple of Delphi.

 

Full view of the geometric form of reality encoded in the parable if the miraculous fish story in John which derives the ultimate connection of the three realms with the Temple of Delhi, namely Pythios whose gematria value of 769 is the circumference of the all-encompassing circle.

Full view of the geometric form of reality encoded in the parable if the miraculous fish story in John which derives the ultimate connection of the three realms with the Temple of Delhi, namely Pythios whose gematria value of 769 is the circumference of the all-encompassing circle.

Furthermore, the underlying mathematics that illustrate this divine triad can also be seen by starting with a square with width of one side of a square with equal to 1, representing God the Father of the Christian and the One of the Neo-Platonists.  The diagonal line within this square where each side is again of width 1 is equal to the square root of 2, or 1.415 – the approximate gematria value for “The God Apollo” (1415).  This level of reality is represented by the Nous, or Intellect of the Neo-Platonic triad, the Logos of the Hellenic philosophical which is referred to directly in in John 1, representing the intermediary principle that facilitates and mediates the divine/spiritual and material worlds.  And then the material world, Plato’s World Soul, represented by the Net, or the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition represented by the height of the vesica piscis that is constructed with a width of the square root of 2, the diagonal of our initial square with each side having a length of 1.  The height of this final vesica piscis is equivalent to the square root of 2 x the square root of three.

The identification of the One which corresponds to the upper portion of the geometric figure which is constructed above with the side of a perfect square, the identification of the bridge between the one and the many (the Logos) as the diagonal within the perfect square whose value is equivalent to the square root of two – 1.415 roughly equivalent to the gematria value of “The God Apollo” which is 1415 – and then the height of a vesica piscis which is constructed from the same dimension of the perfect square whose diagonal is the same width as the vesica piscis from which can be derived the height of the vesica which yields the square root of two times the square root of three, or 2.448, the perimeter of the net in the geometrical symbology above which again is the gematria equivalent to “Fishes” and “The Net” in the story as related in the Gospel of John, a value and shape (of the net) which not surprisingly he equates to Plato’s World Soul.

In its essential mathematical form then, the parable of the story of Jesus and the miraculous catching of fish by his disciples after he is resurrected can be boiled down to the symbolic representation of the three fold view of reality which was prevalent in esoteric and mystical traditions in the Hellenic world at the time of Christ, starting with a square of sides of 1, corresponding to the Neo-Platonic One and underlying unity of all creation (God the Father), the square root of 2 which is the geometric mean between 1 and 2 (the Monad and Dyad respectively) which in the Greek world was symbolized by Apollo (“The God Apollo” gematria value of 1415), the mediator between the heavenly and earthly worlds presiding over the Temple of Delphi, and then lastly Plato’s World Soul, the “Net” of material reality to which we are all bound denoted by the number 2448 (gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”) which is almost precisely equivalent to the square root of two times the square root of three (actually 2.448) and represents the height of the vesica piscis which encompasses the net whose width is equal to the diagonal length of the square with sides of 1 (square root of 2).

These Neo-Platonic esoteric elements can be mapped directly to the Christian theological doctrine of the Trinity, where the One of the Neo-Platonists corresponds to the Father of the Christian, the net of the World Soul corresponds to the Holy Spirit which manifests in the material, sensory world, and the Son of God – Jesus – as the mediator between the two worlds, the Logos of the Hellenic tradition who is manifest in the flesh for the salvation of mankind.  Note that this connection to this Greek philosophical tradition and to the Logos doctrine specifically is called out in the opening verse of the Gospel of John itself – “In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God and God was the Word (logos)”[1].  This Logos construct in many respects represents the penultimate theological bridge between the divine and material worlds in the synthesized and most evolved form of the Greek philosophical tradition, at least how it was absorbed and adopted by the early Christian theologians (and Gnostics).  In the Neo-Platonic tradition which continued to evolve somewhat independently of early Christianity, it was referred to as Nous, or the divine Intellect, but the concept was the same – it was the means by which the supernatural could become materially manifest, implying order and reason behind the construction itself and at the same time not being an independent force as it were but one which was metaphysically equivalent with its ontological parent, the One, as well as its ontological child, the (World) Soul[2].

It is not inconceivable then, especially given the first marginalization and then later persecution of the Gnostic sects which attempted to bridge the Hellenistic philosophical doctrine with the interpretation of the meaning of Christ and his message, that the authors of this particular Gospel would try and encode the esoteric and symbolic messages that had been passed down through Pythagoras, Plato and then others within the text itself, burying the meanings in hidden relationships in a story and parable, related to fish of course, that all of the followers of Christianity could glean something from, while at the same time glorifying Jesus as one who was raised from the dead and as a performer of miracles.

 


 

[1] Translation directly from the Greek, i.e. literal translation taken from http://biblehub.com/text/john/1-1.htm.

[2] This triad, in both the Neo-Platonic tradition as well as in the early formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, were described as being of one substance, or of one underlying essence, where three hypostases in one ousia (substance or essence) came to be accepted as the standard and orthodox position regarding the Trinity in early Christianity.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypostatic_union.

The Fisherman and the Net: Geometric Symbolism in the Gospel of John (I of II)

At this juncture a word must be said about some astronomical events and progressions that were at work around the time of Christ which played some role in the formulation of the interpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus and in particular his association with the Zodiac sign of Pisces, or the “fish sign”.  Specifically here we’re referring to the progression of the equinoxes, within which the timeframe of Jesus’s birth takes on significant importance.

First and foremost it must be recognized that astronomy, theology and philosophy were very intertwined disciplines in antiquity.  This tradition can be seen across all ancient, early civilizations (Sumer-Babylon, Mesoamerican cultures, Indo-Aryan peoples, the Persians, etc.) whose reliance on the stars and an understanding of the passage of seasons was a matter of life and death and cultural and social survival, rather than a simple scientific enterprise.  To know astronomy was to know God to the peoples of antiquity and this was reflected in its incorporation into philosophic, mystic and theological disciplines in antiquity across cultures across the globe.

Despite some basic astronomical ignorance of the ancients – like for example that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the other way around – the ancients did show, particular in the West, a very solid understanding of not only the dates of the equinoxes (the two times a year when the length of the day and night are equivalent) but also a good understanding of what is called the precession of the equinoxes, an astronomical phenomenon caused by the very slow movement of the shift of the Earth’s axis, akin to the bobbling of a top, that takes approximately 26,000 years, causing the falling of the dates of the equinoxes to move ever so slightly westward along the ecliptic, the opposite direction that the sun moved across the same path.  The ancients didn’t of course understand why this occurred completely, but they did understand that these equinoxes moved ever so slightly in a regressive path across the ecliptic, through the constellations of the Zodiac, and this progression like all astronomical phenomena had great significance to the sages in antiquity.[1]

So what the ancients knew quite clearly was that, according to their geocentric astronomical viewpoint, the Earth traveled around the Sun every 365 days, that twice a year the day and night were of equal length, i.e. the equinoxes (from the Latin words for equal, “aequus”, and night, “nox”), and that every 26,000 years or so there was a shift of the equinoxes to a (preceding) zodiac sign, a transition from Aries to Pisces occurring at approximately 100 BCE, just around the time of the birth of Christ and shedding some light on the visit of the Magi priests from the East at the time of his birth.

The precession of the equinoxes follows the following progression, timing that was clearly well understood during the second half of the first millennium BCE (and perhaps understood much earlier although the evidence for this is unclear and scant at best) with the astronomical discovery being attributed to Hipparchus the Greek mathematician and astronomer in the 2nd century BCE.[2]

 

  • Age of Taurus (Bull) – 4500 BCE – 2000 BCE
  • Age of Aries (Ram) – 2000 BCE – 100 BCE
  • Age of Pisces (Fish) – 100 BCE – 2700 CE
  • Age of Aquarius (Water-bearer) – 2700 CE ff.

 

Having established the astronomical significance of the transition into Pisces in the Zodiac at around the time of Christ it is no surprise that we find stories relating Jesus to fish in the literature surrounding his life and teaching.  In particular we have two such miraculous stories relating to Jesus and the catching of fish in the Gospels, the first of which can be found in the Gospel of Luke where the miraculous catching of fish is attributed to the joining of Peter, James and John as disciples of Jesus (Luke5:1-11) and the second story comes toward the end of the Gospel of John after Jesus is killed[3].

As already mentioned the gematria values for “Jesus” and “Christos”, 888 and 1480 respectively were not only related to the magic square of the Sun being factors of the special number 74, which along with 111 and 666 are special numeric characteristics of the magic square of the Sun, but also relate back to the tradition of the Temple at Delphi as the geometric mean between 888 and 1480 is equal to 769, which is the gematria value of the Greek word “Pythios”, the name for Apollo at the Temple of Delphi.  Perhaps the most mysterious and perplexing example of geometric symbology via gematria comes from the story of Jesus and the casting of the net and catching of 153 fish in the Gospel of John, the Gospel that shows the most Greek philosophic influence (Logos, etc.).

In the Gospel of John story, Peter and 6 other disciples are in a boat fishing all night in the Sea of Galilee and have caught nothing.  In the morning, Jesus (unrecognized at first) asks them from the shore if they have caught anything to which they replied no.  He then instructs them to cast their net to the right side of the boat after which they catch a large number (haul) of fish and after which they recognize the man to be Jesus.  Peter then puts on an outer garment (ἐπενδύτην), jumps from the boat (“casts himself into the sea”) and swims ashore to meet him, while the rest of the disciples came ashore to find Jesus and a fire of coals with fish and bread waiting for them.  Jesus then instructs them to bring their net full of fish which they find has 153 fish in it and despite the great load, the net itself had not been broken.  The disciples then eat with Jesus on the shore, it having been the third time that Jesus had revealed himself after he had been crucified.[4]

Keeping to the geometric and mathematical symbolism of the selection of the number 153, we also find references to a very similar story regarding the calculation of fish in the mythical narrative surrounding the life of Pythagoras as reported by Iamblichus as well as Porphyry, both Neo-Platonists philosophers writing some few centuries after Christ but presumably drawing on much older sources, and both clearly showing significant influence by Pythagorean teachings.  The story is related by Iamblichus, the earlier of the two authors from the third/fourth century CE, below:

 

AT that time also, when he was journeying from Sybaris to Crotona, he met near the shore with some fishermen, who were then drawing their nets heavily laden with fishes from the deep, and told them he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught.  But the fishermen promising they would perform whatever he should order them to do, if the event corresponded with his prediction, he ordered them, after they had accurately numbered the fish, to return them alive to the sea: and what is yet more wonderful, not one of the fish died while he stood on the shore, though they had been detained from the water a considerable time.  Having therefore paid the fishermen the price of their fish, he departed for Crotona. But they everywhere divulged the fact, and having learnt his name from some children, they told it to all men.[5]

 

In this Pythagorean story/myth, which is most definitely associated with the miraculous powers attributed to Pythagoras and contributed to his fame there is no mention of the number of fish in the net, despite the attempt by later Biblical and esoteric historians to try and connect the two stories directly.  What does seem rather odd however, is the narrative of the story and how similar it is to the account of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish at the end of John.  Whether or not the story is attributed to Jesus, and the geometric symbolism tied to and built off of the number 153 is constructed off of that myth/fable remains an unverifiable connection to say the least but the general parallels cannot be ignored, especially since the esoteric geometric symbology which can be constructed from the story itself, stemming from the specific number of fish that are called out as caught in the net that is cast from the boat of disciples, show signs of Pythagorean mathematical and symbology as we have come to understand Pythagorean cosmology and esoteria through antiquity as interpolated by later expositors of his doctrines, again such as Iamblichus and Porphyry, the Neo-Platonist philosophers who are contemporaneous with early Christian theological developments and who clearly held Pythagoras in such high esteem, viewed him as the father of Greek philosophy, and presumably had access to oral as well as written traditions about his life and teachings which are lost to us now.

One might legitimately ask why this number 153 has come to be understood as carrying such great mystical and symbolic meaning.  Despite its very special properties as a number in and of itself (sum of the values 1-17 consistent with the sacred Pythagorean tetraktys triangular shape which followed a similar pattern albeit stopping at 4), and one which clearly shows evidence of knowledge of the latest mathematical developments in late Hellenic antiquity (Archimedes for example who presumably drew from earlier sources to establish the closest know fraction to the value of the square root of three which represents the length/height of the vesica piscis), one could easily right off the numeric value as simply a count of the number of the fish that were actually caught.  For it is not too far-fetched a hypothesis to believe that the disciples, being fisherman themselves, were simply counting the number of fish that Jesus had so miraculously brought into their net.

But this does not explain the geometric symbology that can be crafted and developed from the story itself, starting with the number 153, designing a geometrical circular figure that contains seven same size circles which represents the seven disciples in the boat, each with a circumference of the gematria value of “Simon Peter”, the key figure in the story as 1925.  These seven circles, each with a circumference of 1925 consistent with the circle representing Simon Peter of circumference 1925, reside within a larger circle which encompasses all seven circles representing the disciples which in turn symbolizes the boat, has a diameter of 1224, which is equivalent to the gematria value in Greek of both “fishes” and “the net”.

 

Figure 1: The geometry symbolism of Simon Peter and the disciples in the boat, where the circumference of the circle representing the disciples being equal to 1925 and the diameter of the circle of the boat being equivalent to 1224, the gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”.

Figure 1: The geometry symbolism of Simon Peter and the disciples in the boat, where the circumference of the circle representing the disciples being equal to 1925 and the diameter of the circle of the boat being equivalent to 1224, the gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”.

At this point Jesus tells the disciples to recast their net to the right side of the boat, using the symbology of the net which has significant esoteric meaning in antiquity, having been quoted by Proclus as a metaphor for the manifestation of the material world which is covered by a net, or web of objects of the senses and mankind’s desire of the same, as well as by the Template of Delphi practitioners whose omphalos stone which formed important element to its divination ceremonies and was considered by some in the Delphic circles to be the center of the world in antiquity, was also covered by a net to effect the same symbolism of the world of name and form from which the individual soul must liberate itself from in order to ascend to the higher realms of spiritual illumination.  The same symbology is used by the Vedic/Hindu tradition to describe the world of Maya, or illusion, which is also symbolized by a net which catches spiritual aspirants and from which they must escape to realize the true nature of reality and attain spiritual illumination and freedom from the bonds of the sensory, material world which is governed by desire.

In the miraculous fish story relayed in John, the disciples then cast the net to the right side of the boat, which following the gematria numeric symbology creates a circle just to the right of the circle of the boat which carries the disciples with the special properties of a vesica piscis being formed whose left outermost edge tangentially brushes up against the center of the circle of the boat (whose height of course is also the square root of 3 which is closely related to the 163 number value that connects the whole geometric symbol.  This net that is case to the right of the boat that rests within the vesica piscis also carries with it special geometric properties as it can be filled with an oblong polygon whose corners align with each center side of the vesica piscis and whose top two corners line up with the top and bottom of the vesica piscis, forming an oblong square which, when cut into a four by four square, visually representing a net one might add, has the special mathematical properties of having its height equal to 1060 (the gematria value of Apollo – the height and width times the square root of 3) a perimeter equal to 2448 or 612 x 4, where each small square across each perimeter of the net is equal again to 153 (153×4 = 612).

Once the boat has been constructed with 7 circles of circumference 1925 (gematria value of “Simon Peter”) and the net has been created just to the right, adjoining to the circle of the boat via the vesica piscis with height of approximately 1060, and the net itself has been broken down into 4 by four squares, reflecting the visual representation of the net, whereby each square is 153 in width and the total perimeter of the square with the 16 inner squares having perimeter of 153x4x4 = 612×8 = 2448, double the gematria value of both “fishes” and “the net” in their Greek transliteration.  The net itself in this geometric diagram is incidentally made up of two Pythagorean tetraktys appended to each other, one on top of the other, where the base of the triangle is 4, the next level is 3, the next two and the top 1 which of course is known to have very symbolic and esoteric meaning in the Pythagorean schools.  The number 153 is reflected in this geometric construction as well as the total number of rhombuses (also referred to as an equilateral quadrilateral), including the outer rhombus itself has not only a width of 153, but also contains 17 rhombuses in total, again including the larger all encompassing rhombus within which all of the other rhombuses are housed – as also already pointed out, 153 is the sum of the numbers 1-17, the number of components in the geometric net.

 

Figure 2: Geometric symbol representing the casting of the net to the right of the boat containing the seven disciples.  The height of the vesica piscis being equal to 1060, and the perimeter of the net having a value of 2448, when divided into 16 equivalent squares (which is two inverted Pythagorean tetraktys on top of each other), each square is 153 in width, the number of fishes caught in the net.

Figure 2: Geometric symbol representing the casting of the net to the right of the boat containing the seven disciples. The height of the vesica piscis being equal to 1060, and the perimeter of the net having a value of 2448, when divided into 16 equivalent squares (which is two inverted Pythagorean tetraktys on top of each other), each square is 153 in width, the number of fishes caught in the net.

The net itself in this geometric diagram can be broken down into two Pythagorean tetraktys appended to each other, one on top of the other, where the base of the triangle is 4, the next level is 3, the next two and the top 1 which of course is known to have very symbolic and esoteric meaning in the Pythagorean schools (see Figure below).  The number 153 is reflected in this geometric construction as well as the total number of rhombuses (also referred to as an equilateral quadrilateral), including the outer rhombus itself has not only a width of 153, but also contains 17 rhombuses in total, again including the larger all-encompassing rhombus within which all of the other rhombuses are housed – as also already pointed out, 153 is the sum of the numbers 1-17, the number of components in the geometric net.

The next, and final level of geometric symbology that can be drawn out of the parable is can be constructed using the gematria value for the fisher’s coat which Peter places on himself before he leaps out of the boat to swim to Jesus on the shore.  The gematria value for the transliteration of “The Fisher’s Coat” or “overcoat” in Greek is 1060, laying out the dimension for the height of the vesica piscis, whose width in turn is 612, the gematria value for “Zeus”.  Its height in turn is closely correlated to the square root of 3, which we know is associated with 153 as well as determined by the closest known approximation for the square root of three at the time, or 265/153 as established by Archimedes some three centuries prior if not earlier.  1060 in turn is not only very close approximation for the gematria value for Apollo (1061) but also for the gematria value of “Pleroma” (1059), which conceptually plays a significant role in early Christian and Gnostic circles, is found in the New Testament and Gnostic treatises, and denotes the complete totality of existence.  Inserted in this vesica piscis is also a representation of Simon Peter, again a circle with circumference of 1925 and a diameter of approximately 612, the gematria value of “Zeus” which is the width of the vesica piscis.

 

 

 

[1] The Zodiac is a circle of approximately 30 degree divisions of celestial longitude that are centered on the ecliptic, 12 divisions in all that are associated with the various animals and mythical figures with which we are familiar, starting with Aries and ending with Pisces.  The calendar and Zodiac astronomical system is attributed to the Babylonians, more specifically the Chaldean people, who came to be known to the Greeks as synonymous with astronomy – for example the magi of the East in the New Testament which anticipated the birth of Christ based upon astronomical phenomena.  The origins of the twelve signs of the zodiac which correspond to the twelve months of our Gregorian calendar can be found as far back as the first millennium BCE.

[2] Although the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes is attributed to the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (circa 190-120 BCE), whose work on precession was continued by Ptolemy, some scholars attribute this knowledge at least at a superficial level to the Babylonians and/or the Egyptian civilizations and priests prior to the Greeks.    This precession is sometimes referred to as the Great Month, the precession through the entire Zodiac being referred to in this context as the Great Year.

[3] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_catch_of_fish for a brief account of both of the miracle accounts.

[4] John 21:1-11.  See http://biblehub.com/text/john/21-1.htm.

[5] Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras Chapter VIII, translated by Thomas Taylor.  London: J.M. Watkins 1818.

A Walk with Moses

Moses and his One God: Jewish Roots

Christianity and Islam are the most wide spread and influential monotheistic religions in the world today by any measure, and both sprung from and were heavily influenced by the monotheistic religions, and metaphysical and philosophical systems, that preceded them most notably Judaism, but Zoroastrianism as a close and far less recognizable second. These influences are evident by the effective incorporation of Judaic mythology and tradition into the Bible and Christian tradition, the explicit references to the Jesus and the Abrahamic roots of Islam in the Qur’an, and less explicitly to the incorporation of many of the themes and divine principles of Zoroastrianism into Christianity. But to fully understand the process by which these monotheistic faiths became so widely adopted, and monotheism became almost synonymous with civilization, one must look into ancient times and analyze the underlying historical socio-political forces that were at play while these faiths and religious systems evolved.

Judaism has its roots deep in ancient history, and in many respects represents one of the oldest and most well documented ancient monotheistic traditions. Some of the historical narrative of the Old Testament can be placed well back into the second millennium BCE judging by the historical evidence from within the Old Testament itself as well as archeological evidence independent of the scripture. The Jewish tradition was born out of the eastern Mediterranean and shows marked Sumerian and Babylonian influence, this can be seen most predominantly in the mythology and historical narrative of Genesis whose creation and flood stories share many common attributes with its Sumer-Babylonian neighbors.

Judaism today, and from its outset upon its founding by Moses, teaches that there is only one God and no other God is to be worshipped other than He, namely Yahweh. The Jewish mode of worship, its religious practices and ritual, and even its ethical and moral precepts, are based upon both an oral and a written tradition as encapsulated in what they call the Torah, the sum total of which is said to have been handed down by Yahweh to Moses directly and are captured in the Books of Moses, or the first 5 Books of the Old Testament of the Christian canon, which encapsulate the heart of the Torah in the Jewish faith.

As far as when Moses might have lived, if you use the events in the Books of Moses themselves and marry the timeline therein to archeological and other historical evidence which more narrowly identifies the timeframe of the Egyptian and Babylonian Pharaohs and Kings for example, you end up with a mid-15th century BCE date give or take for the Exodus, which puts Moses’s life and works somewhere in the middle of the second millennium BCE if we presume he is an actual historical figure which is probably not that far fetched as could be said of many pre-historical mythical figures which in all likelihood had some basis in fact from which their stories emerged.  But the oldest extant documents of the Jewish faith however, date from the Hellenistic period some 1000 years or so after Moses supposedly lived, so we’re looking at roughly one thousand years or so of oral tradition before the scripture is actually written down and such writing survives down to us directly. This extant literature include Hebrew and Aramaic papyri with biblical fragments such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then literature in Greek such as the Septuagint which was compiled in the late 3rd to middle 2nd century BCE or so.

The Jewish Canon: The Tanakh and the Talmud

The written tradition of the Jewish faith is centered around the Tanakh, which is the name in Judaism given to the canon of the Hebrew Bible, along with the Talmud, which consists of the commentary of thousands of Jewish Rabbis compiled over centuries on topics ranging from law, ethics and customs, theology and philosophy, as well as history and mythology, and provides the basis for Jewish law. According to the Talmud, much of the contents of the Tanakh were compiled by the Men of the Great Assembly by 450 BCE or so, although this date is disputed among modern scholars, most of whom believe that the canonization of the Tanakh as it stands today wasn’t finalized until the 2nd century BCE.[1] The Tanakh is broken down into three sections, almost all of which are included in the Christian canon as part of the Old Testament: the Torah, or “teaching”, the Nevi’im or “prophets”, and the Ketuvim or “writings”. The Torah represents the heart of the Jewish written tradition and is loosely translated into English sometimes as “law”.

The Torah consists of the Five Books of Moses, i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books are also sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch, which means “five books” in Greek. The Torah tells the story of the history of the Jewish faith from the origin of the universe to the subsequent early generations of mankind, along with the detailed account of the life of Moses and his leading of the Jews out of Egypt back to their homeland in Israel. It is in this part of the Torah that we find the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, within which the Jews (and related Abrahamic religions which stem from it) are bound to worship Yahweh as the one and only God, are prevented from worshipping idols, etc. The Nevi’im, or “Prophets”, consists of eight books and cover the history of the Jewish people from the time Jews enter the land of Israel until the time of Babylonian captivity under the prophet Judah in the early 6th century BCE. Books of the Nevi’im include Joshua, Judges, Samuel I & II, Kings I & II, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The Ketuvim, or “Writings”, sometimes referred to by the Greek name Hagiographa, consists of eleven books which include the Book of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Daniela and Chronicles among others.

The Tanakh and Talmud were mostly written in Biblical Hebrew, although some parts written in Aramaic, a closely related Semitic language. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic (as well as Arabic) are in the Afro-Asiatic/Semitic family of languages, a distinct branch of the language tree from the Indo-European languages from which Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and most modern European languages descend, the branch which includes English of course. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic were written in an alphabet system that was closely related and derived from the Phoenician alphabet system which is also the parent alphabet for the Greek, Arabic, and Latin/Roman alphabets. The lineage of these different ancient languages and their corresponding alphabets is important because it implies that direct translations of some ancient Hebrew words are not found or are lost in translation in modern European languages[2].

Writing and Language: The Codification of Sound and Meaning

Alphabet systems of course, i.e. the systems of writing used to represent spoken words or concepts, are correspondents to the spoken word – letters grouped into words and in turn sentences collectively represent words that are strung together in some fashion that convey meaning. In other words a spoken language and its alphabet are related but not necessarily equivalent, which is why it’s impossible for example to know exactly how some ancient dialects and languages were pronounced even if the written language survives down to us[3]. Furthermore the development of alphabet based language systems in general, a development of the second millennium BCE or so, represents a major evolution in the history of mankind, reflecting man’s ability to codify and document much more abstract and complex concepts than previous generations that had yet to invent alphabet based writing systems, and allowing for a much more accurate transcription and communication of ideas. Contrast today’s, or even Ancient Greek or Latin, alphabet systems/languages with the first writing systems that mankind developed – for example cuneiform (circa 4th millennium BCE) which was the form of writing used by the ancient Sumer-Babylon peoples, or the somewhat later (circa 3rd millennium BCE) Egyptian hieroglyphs, both systems of writing which were not (at least initially) alphabets per se, but were “idea” or “picture” based writing systems consisting of what linguists call logograms, aka ideograms or pictograms, where each symbol represented a specific concept or idea.

Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle that lived prior to the invention of alphabets, or prior to the invention of writing itself for that matter, did not have the luxury of being able to communicate sophisticated ideas outside of oral traditions, mouth to mouth so to speak. Note that oral communication in and of itself does not distinguish mankind from the rest of the life on the planet, for example whales or apes can communicate with each other orally and have even been shown to have different “dialects” that vary between geographic regions and specific names, or sounds, for individuals. In many respects, what distinguishes mankind from the rest of the species on Earth is writing, a development which supports the systematic construction of ideas and concepts that in turn allowed mankind to flourish, and ultimately dominate, life on Earth.

Prior to the development of writing however, for tens of thousands of years at least, mankind (homo sapiens) leveraged the same tools as many of the other species on the planet for communication, namely oral communication and the creation of sound vibrations to communicate ideas between individuals. Hence the sacred perspective mankind had on almost all ancient language and forms of writing – the Sanskrit of the Indo-Aryans, the Hebrew of the Jews, and even the hieroglyphs of the Egyptians, they all believed that language and writing itself was wrapped up in and fundamentally related to the divine, as they perceived the whole world to be essentially.

An Example: Torah, Nomos and Lex

As an example of how a word, a concept, can be disfigured and lose its fullness and richness of meaning as it moves through successive languages and centuries and the underlying socio-political and theological context is lost, let’s look at how the Hebrew word Torah, which carries so much significance in the Jewish community, has come to be more understood as law or custom rather than the full revealed and complete theological and spiritual framework that it implied to its ancient ancestors. The word “Torah” in Hebrew is derived from a root that means to “guide” or “teach”, so a good translation for the word directly into English might be “teaching”, “doctrine”, or “instruction”. But in the Greek Septuagint which was transcribed in the first or second century BC in old Koine Greek, the Hebrew torah was translated to the Greek nomos, which loosely translated to English is “law” or “custom” but in practice actually had a much more complex and rich meaning in the ancient Greek civilization from which the word emerged.

The translation of torah to nomos, and in turn to the its Latin successor lex, which has a much more direct association with what we consider “law”, has historically given rise to the notion that Torah signifies or emphasizes laws or customs rather than the implying the complete historical and socio-religious narrative captured in the scripture of the Jewish faith, i.e. “teaching”. A Greek Orphic hymn to the god Nomos illustrates its depth of meaning of this concept to the Ancient Greeks, at least to those who used the word to translate the Hebrew torah in the few centuries before Christ, which gives the reader perhaps a more broad understanding of what Torah really signifies in Hebrew:

“The holy king of gods and men I call, heavenly Nomos, the righteous seal of all: the seal which stamps whatever the earth contains, and all concealed within the liquid plains: stable, and starry, of harmonious frame, preserving laws eternally the same. Thy all-composing power in heaven appears, connects its frame, and props the starry spheres; and unjust envy shakes with dreadful sound, tossed by thy arm in giddy whirls around. ‘Tis thine the life of mortals to defend, and crown existence with a blessed end; for thy command alone, of all that lives, order and rule to every dwelling goes. Ever observant of the upright mind, and of just actions the companion kind. Foe to the lawless, with avenging ire, their steps involving in destruction dire. Come, blest, abundant power, whom all reverse, by all desired, with favouring mind draw near; give me through life on thee to fix my sight, and never forsake the equal paths of right.”[4]

So the Greek nomos, at the time that the Hebrew Old Testament was transcribed into Greek, is akin to the maat of the Egyptians, the personification of which becomes the Greek god Nomos in the Orphic tradition. Having said that, given how steeped in tradition and custom the Jewish faith is, still following today in many respects the ways and customs of the ancient Judaic hunter/gatherers that made it down through the Books of Moses to subsequent generations, one can see why an association with Torah and “law” could have developed over the centuries and stuck, but the true meaning of the word and its relation to the Jewish faith in general is best understood when looking more closely at its etymology.  Words and ideas lead to understanding, or misunderstanding as the case may be.

Moses the Prophet Scribe: Fact or Fiction

Getting back to the history and evolution of Judaism though, given the dating of written Torah toward the end of the first millennium BCE at the earliest, and scholars best guesses as to when Moses actually lived, we were left with at least a thousand years or so before the teachings of Moses were actually transcribed to paper, leaving plenty of room for doubt and question as to whether or not a) Moses was the author of the Books attributed to him, or b) what the actual socio-political factors were that drove its adoption and prevalence among the Jewish people for a thousand years after Moses died and handed over the care for the Jewish people (and state) to his successor Joshua.

Ancient oral traditions were powerful no doubt, but how much was lost or transformed within these 1000 years before the Jewish canon was transcribed by the Men of the Great Council in the 5th century BCE and the centuries thereafter? This oral tradition problem, or prophetic separation if coin a term, existed in almost all religious systems, at least the ones that are most commonly practiced today. Even the Qur’an was not written down by Mohammed himself, implying that even if we leave aside the problems of language and socio-political interpretation of the text, we’re still left with some level of prophetic separation, the time period and possible miscommunication of ideas between what the prophet actually said, or communicated, and what was actually written down, or transcribed.  This is reflected in the Islamic tradition by for example slightly different versions of the Qur’an that have persisted down to present day.

As far as authorship goes for the Pentateuch itself, it is very much debated by modern scholars and theologians as to whether or not it can be established that Moses was in fact the true author, although the fact that the five books provide a consistent and cohesive narrative would seem to indicate that there was a single author or editor who compiled at least these 5 books. Furthermore, there are plenty of references in the Books of Moses themselves, as well as throughout the rest of the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, that indicate that Moses is in fact the author in question, but identifying whether or not this individual was in fact the historical Moses or some other later individual who later wrote down the narrative remains a matter of speculation.  [In the author’s view it was more likely that the latter were true, which would be consistent with most other ancient religious traditions where various written texts were compiled under the name of some historical prophet at some later date – the Vyasa of the Vedic tradition, Zarathustra of the Avestan lore, and even Orpheus being examples of such transcription.[5]

Conclusion: A Prophet, A Canon and a Faith

The core of the Jewish faith and tradition however rests in the Torah, and from the Jewish vantage point its author, at least the first five books, is Moses. The Moses to whom Yahweh revealed his message to directly, which was captured in the Torah, in both written and oral form, and passed down through the ages via the Rabbinic scholars and teachers into present day.  According to the Jewish tradition, the contents of the Torah were “revealed” to Moses by Yahweh himself, in the very same way the Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic faiths had at their core the belief that their scripture was revealed by the one true God of their respective faiths through their respective prophets – Zarathustra, Jesus and Mohammed respectively[6].

But with Moses and Judaism, as was the case in each of these other ancient monotheistic traditions, the prophet taught the message of the one true God to students and followers, their people, and then generations after these teachings were transcribed from the oral tradition into written form in order to unite its people, each revealed tradition transcribed in the language that was prevalent in the civilizations within which the religions flourished. For the Jews it was Ancient Hebrew, for the Zoroastrians it was Old Avestan, for the Christians it was Greek and then Latin, for the Muslims it was Arabic and Atenism it was hieroglyphs. The language within which each of these ancient religious frameworks was documented reflected and mirrored the civilization within which they took root, each civilization unique in its own way and this uniqueness was reflected in the prevalent language and form of writing which was most common place, for language and civilization evolved together no doubt.

But the development of these religious systems, when looked at from the perspective of the context of the civilization from within which they emerged, along with the canonization of the scripture itself, shared the same basic evolutionary structure.  [Atenism, if we could call it a “religious system” is perhaps the lone exception but you could argue that even this tradition had a prophet, the Pharaoh himself who was a representation of Aten in human form and therefore the “scripture” and writing surrounding the faith, given that hieroglyphs themselves were viewed as a divine manifestation as well, could be looked at as “revealed”.]  So with the Jewish monotheistic tradition then, we see some outside influences on the scripture itself from Sumerian, Babylonian and other Canaanite mythos, but the faith, as with all of the Abrahamic traditions, is centered around the belief in the direct revelation of the Word of God to its prophet, Moses, and the subsequent transmission and codification of this revelation to its people. But what should not be lost, and is true most certainly for Christianity and Islam as well, is that the canonization and standardization of the faith and its practices down through the centuries after the passing of its prophet, was intended to unite its people, and somewhat distinctly for the Jews, to legitimize and establish their ancestral homeland in Israel.


[1] There is also credible historical evidence at least that indicates that the final Jewish canon in its present day form was still as yet finalized by the first century CE, as reflected for example in the writings of Jewish historian Josephus among others, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanakh#History.

[2] For example the translation from the original Hebrew of the phrase “Ten Commandments” is apparently a fairly late rendition of the Hebrew which is perhaps more directly translated into English as the “ten statements” or “ten sayings”. The statements are given in 17 verses in both Exodus (20:1-17) which tells the story of when they are initially given to Moses and then in Deuteronomy (5:4-21) where God re-states the commandments to the younger generation who are entering the Promised Land.

[3] This point becomes relevant in linguistics when for example word pronunciation becomes an important part of distinguishing and categorizing language families.

[4] Orphic Hymn 64 to Nomos (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :

[5] See http://bible.org/seriespage/introduction-pentateuch for a fairly detailed account of the scholarly debate and evidence of the authorship of the Pentateuch.

[6] Vedanta as reflected in the Upanishads and the Vedas holds the same belief, namely that the scripture was divine revelation and therefore was to be held sacred.

The Gnostics: Jesus as the Revealed Logos

In contrast to what we would consider the more orthodox interpretation of Jesus through the doctrine of Logos, and incorporating the Wisdom tradition of the Jews at the same time, we find another influential Gnostic teacher who comes from the academic and intellectual milieu of Alexandria, namely Valentinus (c. 100 – 160 CE). Although born and educated in Northern Egypt and Alexandria, Valentinus spends his most productive years teaching in Rome and at one point, according to Tertullian, was considered for the position of the Bishop of Rome but started his own group after he was passed over.

Although none of Valentinus’s writings are extant, we know of the popularity of his school (Valentinianism) as well as many of its tenets and beliefs from Clement of Alexandria, who writes that Valentinus was a follower of Theudas and that Theudas in turn was a follower of St. Paul, from the early Christian theologian and apologist Irenaeus (c. early 2nd century – 202 CE) whose best known work, Against Heresies (c. 180), is a five volume work of which only fragments of the supposedly original Greek text exists but a full Latin version is extant which defends (what has come down to us as) orthodox Christianity against the various so-called heretic Gnostic schools that were prevalent at the time, with a special emphasis on the school started by Valentinus and the Gospel of Truth:

 

But the followers of Valentinus, putting away all fear, bring forward their own compositions and boast that they have more Gospels than really exist. Indeed their audacity has gone so far that they entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the apostles, and so no Gospel of theirs is free from blasphemy. For if what they produce is the Gospel of Truth, and is different from those the apostles handed down to us, those who care to can learn how it can be show from the Scriptures themselves that [then] what is handed down from the apostles is not the Gospel of Truth.[1]

 

The copy of the Gospel of Truth, which Irenaeus refers to explicitly in his Against Heresies and is attributed to the Valentinian School, was discovered in the Nag Hammadi Library collection in the second half of the twentieth century and is believed to have been authored in the middle of the second century CE, in Greek. In this Gospel, the life and tribulations of Jesus are not called out specifically as they are in the four canonical Gospels, and instead there is a focus on the creation of the known universe in error (in personified form), and the delivery of Jesus (a messiah) to the earth to show us eternal life – to (re)establish the wisdom of gnosis, “knowledge”, which in itself grants salvation. This salvation, this blessing of eternal rest, comes to those who have experienced “gnosis”, a transcendental state of awareness where the object of worship “knowledge” is merged entirely in the worshipper. The gnostic tradition no doubt, for all intents and purposes reflects a deep esoteric and mystical teaching that was said to have come straight from the master (Jesus) himself – the “secret” teaching. This was the pinnacle state of Plato the mystic, where the man once bound in the cave to perceive shadows, is released from his prison and shown the true divine realm which was illuminated by the Sun, of which the images in the cave were but shadows.

The Gnostics were true mystics, but faithful to the worship of Jesus in their own way, not in his physical form as having been born in the flesh, liberated oneself, and then was crucified in the flesh by Pontius Pilot, but his message of immortality. He was Logos personified, and in that sense he could never have been born, every present since the beginning of time. This idea of the dichotomy of God the father and Jesus the Son, which theologically speaking is the most radical notion that we find in the Gospels themselves, and the very reason why he was put to death in the first place (he refused to admit otherwise).   But to the Gnostics, in contrast to the as of yet germinated orthodox interpretation of Jesus’s life, with a focus on the life of the flesh, it was what Jesus taught was inside of all of us, our birthright in fact, if we could just merge ourselves into knowledge itself – the blessed Gnostic. The philosophy shared some Platonic features as well to be sure, for it was the existence of the One, Being itself, that the Gnostic could truly know. Logos was still the key, the connecting force and principle that bound the eternal cosmos to the individual Soul, in whose image it was created.

The metaphysics behind Gnosticism, despite being poorly documented given the mystical and esoteric nature of the movement, nonetheless must have sat on a sound Peripatetic and Platonic foundation, but Plato’s hidden mysticism was drawn out and put at the forefront of the message, for it was Plato’s Good and Same, his Being and Becoming, his One, that could upon constant contemplation and reflection could be fathomed, and in so fathoming one could become One, and the Indefinite Dyad could cease to Be. The world of Forms and Ideas whose penultimate source and final end was the Good, the Sun of gnosis in outside of Plato’s cave, through which the shadow of the greatest and perhaps most brutal of persecutions could be seen as the greatest salvation for mankind.

 

That is the gospel of him whom they seek, which he has revealed to the perfect through the mercies of the Father as the hidden mystery, Jesus the Christ. Through him he enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He enlightened them and gave them a path. And that path is the truth which he taught them. For this reason error was angry with him, so it persecuted him. It was distressed by him, so it made him powerless. He was nailed to a cross. He became a fruit of the knowledge of the Father. He did not, however, destroy them because they ate of it. He rather caused those who ate of it to be joyful because of this discovery.[2]

 

But to the Gnostics the manifestation of the eternal Logos in the flesh meant that there was an element of imperfection in the universe, at least from our lowly perspective. Christ was the consort of Sophia, our Jewish wisdom goddess who was associated with the Isis, the savior, of Egypt. It was the tradition of Wisdom, and the vengeful God of the Jews that the Gnostics could not recognize as the state of universal affairs. And in so doing, they associated Yahweh with the Demiurge of Plato, who thought he mastered and created the whole universe but in fact there was another layer of heavens and gods above him, from which Sophia and Christ emerge, and in so doing rectify the erred and flawed condition of the universe of man. Sophia and Christ her consort is the mythology that is created to explain the possibility that the Logos of God could actually appear in the flesh. Their conception of Jesus as the Word in the flesh was established to provide the theological bridge between world of men and the world of God which had been drawn asunder since mankind was cast out of the Garden.

This was the rift between the orthodox interpretations of Christ and Gnosticism. Leaving the mystical bent of the Gnostic tradition aside, which in and of itself threatened the emerging authoritarian structure of the Church, there was still a major theological divergence, from a cosmological perspective, that it spoke to major rifts in the two seemingly compatible faiths. There were two seemingly juxtaposed interpretations of the message of Christ in the centuries that followed his death – the one orthodox view that his life, in its divine character, its extraordinary and miraculous beyond belief story line, was in itself his message. And his life should be worshipped, and sanctified and celebrated. And to accommodate this they needed a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit which moved the waters at the beginning of time itself, must be of the same “substance”, of the same nature, undivided and ontologically equivalent and yet different manifestations of the great unified force of the undivided One, hence the doctrine of the Trinity which has come down to us. The Gnostic view looked more upon his life not as existing actually but took more of an esoteric and mystical vantage point, where the Christ was not actually born and did not die but in fact lived eternally as a manifestation of the Logos.

 

Another Gnostic classified teacher from Alexandria around this time was Basilides who flourished from approximately 117 to 138 CE, a contemporary of Valentinus, whose teachings he must have been exposed to at least some extent, as well as Justin Martyr whose life was spent further to the East somewhat outside of Alexandrian influence. He claimed to have inherited his teachings from the apostle Matthew, is known to have been one of the first commentators on the Gospels (entitled Exegetica) – although his work exists only in fragments and quotations from detractors unfortunately – and is also known for having developed a cosmology and world order that differed quite significantly, at least according to Irenaeus, from the majority of the other “Gnostic” traditions. His teachings must have been popular however for it is said that his followers, known as Basilidians, persisted for at least two centuries after his death in Alexandria.

 

The Christian philosopher Basilides of Alexandria (fl. 132-135 CE) developed a cosmology and cosmogony quite distinct from the Sophia myth of classical Gnosticism, and also reinterpreted key Christian concepts by way of the popular Stoic philosophy of the era. Basilides began his system with a “primal octet” consisting of the “unengendered parent” or Father; Intellect (nous); the “ordering principle” or “Word” (logos); “prudence” (phronêsis); Wisdom (sophia); Power (dunamis) (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24.3, in Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures 1987) and “justice” and “peace” (Basilides, Fragment A, Layton). Through the union of Wisdom and Power, a group of angelic rulers came into existence, and from these rulers a total of 365 heavens or aeons were generated (Irenaeus 1.24.3). Each heaven had its own chief ruler (arkhôn), and numerous lesser angels. The final heaven, which Basilides claimed is the realm of matter in which we all dwell, was said by him to be ruled by “the god of the Jews,” who favored the Jewish nation over all others, and so caused all manner of strife for the nations that came into contact with them—as well as for the Jewish people themselves. This behavior caused the rulers of the other 364 heavens to oppose the god of the Jews, and to send a savior, Jesus Christ, from the highest realm of the Father, to rescue the human beings who are struggling under the yoke of this jealous god (Irenaeus 1.24.4). Since the realm of matter is the sole provenance of this spiteful god, Basilides finds nothing of value in it, and states that “salvation belongs only to the soul; the body is by nature corruptible” (Irenaeus 1.24.5). He even goes so far as to declare, contra Christian orthodoxy, that Christ’s death on the cross was only apparent, and did not actually occur “in the flesh” (Irenaeus 1.24.4)—this doctrine came to be called docetism.[3]

 

But this somewhat superficial reading of Christ’s message had deeper levels of meaning to the Gnostic community, a community which also boasted close lineage to the Apostles themselves – Valentinus to St. Paul and Basilides to Matthew. Both these early Gnostic teachers were from Alexandria of course, and their doctrines focused less on the physical life and death of Christ but the eternal message that lied within his secret teachings. This was a mystic uprising, one that had many heads and many variations in practice, but they were at the least united on Christ as the consort of Sophia, and that it was the flawed Demiurge who needed to be bailed out of his self-created predicament by Christ the savior. But their worship of the prophet was consistent, but they disagreed on how his message was to be carried on. To the Gnostics, and even to Clement of Alexandria (among others such as Irenaeus most notably) who spoke against them, it was Jesus who was the new song for the new age. They just disagreed on the song itself, but their tune was not altogether different. The message spoke of eternal life, and Christ’s role in granting it to all of mankind, but how Christ fit into the eternal celestial and cosmological structure that underpinned creation itself, well this was a major theological divide between the two early competing interpretations, if one could simplify the various schools under two separate banners, of the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Gospel of Thomas, one of the other great finds in the Nag Hammadi Library collection of scrolls, is non-canonical, and contains what are thought to be quite early sayings and teachings of Christ, much of the material being found in the canonical Gospels pointing to either a common source of all of the material or perhaps to the earlier origins of the Gospel of Thomas work, or to the existence of an even earlier source, a source given the code name “Q” from which the Gospel of Thomas and the synoptic Gospels drew on heavily. The latter view is probably the most dominant one amongst early Biblical scholars, that is the existence of an earlier source Q from which all these Gospels drew, but it is also believed that perhaps the Gospel of Thomas had ties with Syria where sentiment for Thomas was strong.

The Gospel itself is composed of 114 sayings which are attributed to Jesus, almost half of which strongly resemble similar passages in the canonical Gospels, the others being of perhaps more Gnostic origin as they are not found in any of the canonical Gospels. In all likelihood however, it does appear that the Gospel of Thomas, although categorized as Gnostic given its exclusion from standard biblical canon and its existence in the Nag Hammadi Library texts which at some level define what we now refer to as Gnostic literature, does represent a valid and very close connected tradition to the teachings of Jesus himself, and this Gospel, like the majority of the other Gnostic texts, does not emphasize the great prophet’s death and resurrection and its meaning for the salvation of mankind, but on the notion of the knowledge which he revealed to his followers, hidden in secret teachings and rituals which the masses could not understand or comprehend – a notion that clearly found few proponents in the early Christian Church Fathers.

 

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father’s) kingdom.”

They said to him, “Then shall we enter the (Father’s) kingdom as babies?”

Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].[4]

 

The theme of the Gospel of Thomas runs from esoteric teachings of inner, hidden knowledge as evidenced from the quotation above, but reference to a variety of other parables some of which are also found in the canonical Gospels, speaking to the validity of the tradition represented by the Gospel of Thomas as well as the varying interpretations of the message of the historical Jesus that existed in the few centuries after his death. In this gospel, Jesus’s divinity is not explicitly referred to, nor is the story of his death by crucifixion or resurrection from the dead, the theme of the Gospel is the “hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down”, as is stated in the introduction, the hidden and secret nature of the teaching lended itself to Gnostic classification, and clearly it circulated in Gnostic like esoteric and mystical communities as evidenced by it being found in the Nag Hammadi Library, which also contained an excerpt from Plato’s Republic mind you.

Another Gnostic classified text which is worth mentioning is the so-called the Apocryphon of John from the second century CE (it was known to Irenaeus and mentioned in his Against Heresies) which survives in four extant manuscripts in varying lengths, three of which were found in the Nag Hammadi Library, and narrates an alternative story of creation which can only be looked at as an attempt to the synthesize the Demiurge of Plato, the Yahweh of the Jews and the one true God the Father that Jesus speaks of in some sort of coherent story line. The cosmological account describes the single unified and eternal principle of the Monad from which all creation comes forth and from which the Aeons emerge, Light (which is synonymous with Christ) and Mind being some of the basic constituents of the early creation and from which further Aeons and powers are created. Eventually one of these Aeons, Sophia, without consent of the Monad and without the aid of a male companion brings forth an entity named Yaltabaoth, who is the first of a series of fallible and less that purely divine heavenly creatures called Archons and from which our heavenly and earthly creation is formed and from which salvation, via Christ, is required in order that eternal life and balance to the universe be restored.

The Pistis Sophia, a Gnostic text of somewhat later origin from maybe the third or fourth century CE, relates the gnostic teachings of Jesus to his disciples after he is resurrected from the dead, alluding to period of 11 years that he taught his disciples after his death by crucifixion. In this text Sophia also plays a prominent role and is associated as the consort of Christ, the revealer of mysteries, the Heavenly Mother, the Psyche of the world and even as the female aspect of Logos. The Pistis Sophia describes the highest realm of the light, the nature and subsistence of souls after death, and the way of salvation through initiation into the mysteries of Christ. This book quotes from Psalms, from prophets of the Old Testament, as well as from some of the canonical Gospels and despite its Gnostic bent retains some of the core Christian theological features that survived in the orthodox Christian theology, with an altogether esoteric and mystery cultish bent consistent with the Gnostic sects and schools of thought from which it must have emerged.

Although it’s hard to sum up and categorize the position of the various Gnostic sects which from a certain vantage point sat in opposition to the more orthodox interpretations of Christian theology as espoused in the Epistles of Paul and the canonical Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, it is clear that this tradition represented some sort of threat to the growing power of the Christian authority which chose to focus less on his “mystery” and “secret doctrine” and more on his birth, teachings and resurrection as relayed in the canonical Gospels, and the reliance on his words as captured therein that spoke to Christ the savior as being the only gateway to heaven.

 

According to the Gnostics, this world, the material cosmos, is the result of a primordial error on the part of a supra-cosmic, supremely divine being, usually called Sophia (Wisdom) or simply the Logos. This being is described as the final emanation of a divine hierarchy, called the Plêrôma or “Fullness,” at the head of which resides the supreme God, the One beyond Being. The error of Sophia, which is usually identified as a reckless desire to know the transcendent God, leads to the hypostatization of her desire in the form of a semi-divine and essentially ignorant creature known as the Demiurge (Greek: dêmiourgos, “craftsman”), or Ialdabaoth [Yaltabaoth], who is responsible for the formation of the material cosmos. This act of craftsmanship is actually an imitation of the realm of the Pleroma, but the Demiurge is ignorant of this, and hubristically declares himself the only existing God. At this point, the Gnostic revisionary critique of the Hebrew Scriptures begins, as well as the general rejection of this world as a product of error and ignorance, and the positing of a higher world, to which the human soul will eventually return. However, when all is said and done, one finds that the error of Sophia and the begetting of the inferior cosmos are occurrences that follow a certain law of necessity, and that the so-called “dualism” of the divine and the earthly is really a reflection and expression of the defining tension that constitutes the being of humanity—the human being.[5]

 

 

 

 

[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.11.9. Quotation from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Truth.

[2] Gospel of Truth, translation by Robert M. Grant. From http://gnosis.org/naghamm/got.html.

[3] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for Gnosticism. http://www.iep.utm.edu/gnostic/

[4] Gospel of Thomas, verse 22. Translation by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, from http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html.

[5] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Gnosticism. http://www.iep.utm.edu/gnostic/

The Seeds of Christianity: The Hellenization of Judaism

With light and insight shed on the competing philosophical and theological systems from the 3rd century BCE to the first few centuries after the death of Christ and the advent of early Christianity, Middle Platonism and Stoicism in particular, we now have the intellectual building blocks from which we find the foundations of early Christian theology are constructed and through which the canonical Gospels in particular, which encapsulate the core life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, are viewed and interpreted by early Christian theologians and apologists. In this period of theological history, the focus turns toward interpretation of these books which stemmed from the tradition surrounding Jesus’s life and teachings from which the New Testament canon was constructed by the early Church, as well as the Old Testament on which this tradition squarely rested, in light of Hellenistic philosophy which was the intellectual philosophic standard of the times.

In the works of the early Christian apologists and theologians, we find the exploration of the notion of good and evil, fate versus free will, salvation, the meaning of Christ and his resurrection, the role of wisdom and law, etc. as reflected in the Old Testament canon and the New Testament books all within the philosophical and metaphysical framework of the Hellenic tradition that preceded it. In these early phases of Christianity, before the doctrine of the Trinity is established, the role of Reason – Logos – is seen as the hand of God so to speak, and then only later, as the doctrine of the Trinity becomes more mature and is firmly established in Christian orthodoxy, Christ himself is looked upon as a manifestation of this Logos in human form, the so-called Word of God in John (which was written in Greek of course as were all the Gospels), whose first 18 verses, i.e. the Prologue, encapsulate this Hellenic philosophical interpretation of the meaning of (the Jewish) Christ perhaps more so than any other New Testament language:

 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 This one was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being that has come into being. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This one came for a witness, in order that he could testify about the light, so that all would believe through him. 8 That one was not the light, but came in order that he could testify about the light. 9 The true light, who gives light to every person, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own things, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But as many as received him—to those who believe in his name—he gave to them authority to become children of God, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a husband, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about him and cried out, saying, “This one was he about whom I said, ‘The one who comes after me is ahead of me, because he existed before me.’” 16 For from his fullness we have all received, and grace after grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the one and only, God, the one who is in the bosom of the Father—that one has made him known.

 

In this oft quoted passage, we see here not only very close references and analogues to Genesis[1], but also a classically Stoic, or perhaps better put a classically Hellenistic philosophical interpretation of the birth and teachings of Jesus, ignoring the reference to John the Baptist which plays a central role here clearly in John’s conception of setting the stage for the tale of the life of Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke – known collectively as the synoptic Gospels because they share many of the same characteristics and story line – are distinct from the Gospel of John in many respects, especially given the clear Hellenic philosophical influence we see in John.

Within the context of later Christian theological development, we see a clear shift away from the view of the supremacy of Reason over God, and a focus more on salvation through Christ. The tradition almost inverts the priority with the doctrine of the Trinity, where Reason is not the pinnacle of metaphysics as it is in the Neo-Platonic tradition quite explicitly and in the Peripatetic tradition implicitly, but Reason – or more specifically what has come to be known as the Word – is looked upon as a medium through which the power of the Trinity moves through man, and is personified in the Son of God, Jesus, who is the one and only savior of mankind.

In exploring this notion of what has come down to us as the “Word” in New Testament and Christian canon and theology, and its place within the tripartite theology of the Christians (the Trinity), it’s important to have a clear notion as to the history and context of the term as it used by the author of John, and its meaning within the philosophical community from within which it emerges in the first few centuries after Christ, particularly in the Gnostic tradition which was shunned by later Christians as heretical but which exerted at least some influence over early Christian theological development, even if only as a point of reference for its critics.[2]

 

Perhaps the most fleshed out philosophical notion of Logos in the Judeo-Christian tradition can be found in the work of Philo of Alexandria (c.20 BCE – 40CE), a Jewish philosopher who synthesized the tradition of Moses as reflected in the Old Testament directly into the Hellenistic philosophical tradition, landing on the idea of Logos as one of the core theological and philosophical principles upon which his theological scheme rested, a scheme which placed Moses as the most revered and esteemed of all philosophers in antiquity. [Interestingly, Philo’s works were mainly conserved in the Christian theological tradition despite his Jewish heritage and that the main thrust of his teachings were the legitimization and synthesis of the teachings of Moses (Old Testament) into Hellenistic philosophy, even going so far as to suggest that the Greek philosophical tradition borrowed from the Jewish sage rather than emerging independently.]

Philo’s work can be roughly categorized between his Old Testament exegesis and commentary and his more philosophical treatises that dealt with more classical philosophical problems such as ethics, free will, the nature of the soul, etc. A good summary of his doctrine of Logos and its influence on subsequent Christian theological development can be found in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Philo:

 

The pivotal and the most developed doctrine in Philo’s writings on which hinges his entire philosophical system, is his doctrine of the Logos. By developing this doctrine he fused Greek philosophical concepts with Hebrew religious thought and provided the foundation for Christianity, first in the development of the Christian Pauline myth and speculations of John, later in the Hellenistic Christian Logos and Gnostic doctrines of the second century. All other doctrines of Philo hinge on his interpretation of divine existence and action….

In the Septuagint version of the Old Testament the term logos (Hebrew davar) was used frequently to describe God’s utterances (Gen. 1:3, 6,9; 3:9,11; Ps. 32:9), God’s action (Zech. 5:1-4; Ps. 106:20; Ps. 147:15), and messages of prophets by means of which God communicated his will to his people (Jer. 1:4-19, 2:1-7; Ezek. 1:3; Amos 3:1). Logos is used here only as a figure of speech designating God’s activity or action. …

The Greek, metaphysical concept of the Logos is in sharp contrast to the concept of a personal God described in anthropomorphic terms typical of Hebrew thought. Philo made a synthesis of the two systems and attempted to explain Hebrew thought in terms of Greek philosophy by introducing the Stoic concept of the Logos into Judaism. In the process the Logos became transformed from a metaphysical entity into an extension of a divine and transcendental anthropomorphic being and mediator between God and men. Philo offered various descriptions of the Logos.[3]

 

The general consensus is that Philo’s philosophical and allegorical work is less innovative and more reflective of the current thinking among Jewish scholars in his day. Philo was a product of the intellectual melting pot of Alexandria which we know had strong ties to Hellenistic philosophy, his writings show clear signs of this. But at the same time, Philo is first and foremost a Jewish scholar. His work is an exegesis of Jewish tradition, mythology and history in the light of Hellenistic philosophy which was considered to be the intellectual benchmark of the times. His work to a large extent is meant to establish Moses as one of the great philosophers of antiquity and his allegorical interpretation of Genesis for example follows the lines of the Greek philosophic tradition of interpreting mythology allegorically, a tradition that was well established by the time of Philo.

With Philo we do have a significant break from the more orthodox Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament however, a well-documented tradition that is reflected in the (Hebrew) Old Testament that covers the history of the Jewish people roughly from 2000 BCE to 350 BCE or so, starting from the moment of creation in Genesis, to the world of primordial man/woman and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, to the time of Moses and the Exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt (circa 1280 BCE), through the construction of the First Temple dedicated to the worship of Yahweh (Elohim) by King Solomon around the 10th century BCE, through the period of Babylonian captivity and exile to the (re) construction of the Second Temple under Persian rule circa 530 BCE. This long period of Jewish history effectively comes to an end with the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and teachings, and the (orthodox) interpretation thereof of course captured in the New Testament scripture, works that reflect a significant Hellenic influence not just linguistically (there were written in using the Greek language) but also theologically as subsequent theologians incorporate the mysterious role of the living Christ into their Abrahamic monotheistic tradition, i.e. enter Christianity.

All of this history, representing the lineage and trials and faith of the Jewish people is captured in the Old Testament, In Hebrew, and in it we find the core tenets of the Jewish faith stemming in large part from the covenant that Yahweh makes with Moses when he leads the Jewish people out of Egypt, i.e. the Ten Commandments, and the introduction of the Torah or “law” which is captured primarily in the five Books of Moses and is established to guide the Jewish people, a people that are distinguished by their long history of trials and tribulations and exile from, and re-establishment of their homeland in modern day Israel and their three thousand year relationship with the Temple of Jerusalem, a place that not only plays a significant role in the Old Testament but also of course continues to play a significant role in Middle East politics even today.

It is in the Torah that we find seeds of all of the Abrahamic religions which are so prevalent in the world today, representing more than two-thirds the global population. But this history and culture, the language (Hebrew), the mythology, etc. becomes deeply Hellenized starting in the 3rd century BCE after Alexander the Great conquers Israel/Judea and incorporates the land into the Macedonian Empire, marking the beginning of the period of Greek influence over the Middle East and Northern Africa (Egypt primarily) and establishing the social and political foundations for Western civilization.

 

This Hellenization process of Judaism, which lays the groundwork for the later interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the advent of Christianity, has essentially two parallel transformations that take place in the last half of the first millennium BCE. The first path is represented by the writings that are accepted within the orthodox Jewish community that reflect (relatively later) interpretations of the Torah. These texts were primarily written in Hebrew (and to a lesser extent Aramaic as with the later books such as Daniel and Ezra) and were the last works to be incorporated into the Jewish canon as the Ketuvim (Writings) between the 1st century BCE to the second century CE. This is the so-called Wisdom tradition that has Jewish roots but is essentially adopted and incorporated into the Christian tradition albeit transformed theologically and otherwise into the doctrine of the Trinity and the deification of Jesus.

The second parallel track of the Hellenization of Jewish theology takes place primarily in Alexandria and starts with the commissioning of the translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Greek proper, a work commissioned by the Ptolemaic Dynasty that takes place starting in the 2nd century BCE supposedly by seventy Jewish scholars (hence the name of the work as the Septuagint or simply LXX). The lasting import of this translation cannot be over stated as it represents not just the beginning of the direct availability of Jewish history and theology in the Hellenic world but also represents the beginning of the interpretation of Jewish theology into the more modern and widely accepted Greek philosophical framework and syntax which had evolved independent of the Semitic/Hebrew culture for at least a thousand years. It is from the tradition of the LXX that not only the influential pseudo-Christian theologian Philo of Alexandria comes from, but also from which the New Testament and its interpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus are crafted and squarely rest.

The LXX categorized a good portion of what were later to be incorporated into the Ketuvim as the “Wisdom Books”, a categorization stemming primarily due to the significant Hellenic philosophic influence that is displayed that marks a departure from earlier Jewish canon, characterized primarily with the role that Wisdom (the Greek σοφία or Sophia) plays as one of the defining features of Jewish history and theology. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs which are all part of the Ketuvim fall into this Wisdom literature category, along with the Sirach and Book of Wisdom which were included in the LXX and therefor in almost all Christian Old Testament literature, but are not included in the Jewish Old Testament (Tanakh).[4]

 

In the main, wisdom was greatly valued and eagerly sought during the Second Temple, and the wise became the teachers of the young and the models of the old. An extensive Wisdom-literature, of which large portions may have been lost, sprang up in continuation of the Proverbs of Solomon. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) proves, on analysis, to be a compilation of writings which belong in part to an older generation; and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which recent research has reclaimed for Jewish literature, may also be classed among these Wisdom-books.

In all these books wisdom is extolled and invested with divine attributes (Ecclus. [Sirach] i. 1-26, iv. 11-29, li. 13-30, and especially xxiv. 1-29, where it is identified with the law of Moses; Test. Patr., Levi, 13; Enoch, xlii. 1-2). The book on astronomy and cosmography in the writings of Enoch is described as celestial wisdom (Enoch, xxxvii. 2, xlix. 1-3, lxxxii. 2-3; comp. Book of Jubilees, iv. 17, xxi. 10), and Noah’s book on healing (Book of Jubilees, x. 13) belongs to the same class.

Under the influence of Greek philosophy wisdom became a divine agency of a personal character (Wisdom vii. 22-30), so that Philo terms it the daughter of God, “the mother of the creative Word” (“De Profugis,” §§ 9, 20), while as the creative principle of the world, wisdom occurs in Targ. Yer. to Gen. i. 1 (comp. Ḥag. 11b; Gen. R. i., where the Torah takes the place of wisdom; see also the midrash on Prov. iii. 19 in Jellinek, “B. H.” ii. 23-39, v. 63-69). In Christian and Gentile Gnosticism, wisdom became the center of speculation (see Gnosticism). The so-called Fourth Book of Maccabees, a philosophical sermon on self-control with reference to the seven martyred sons of the Maccabean heroine, is another contribution to the Hellenistic Wisdom-literature.[5]

 

This Wisdom tradition, which again has its roots in Jewish philosophy, represents at a very basic level a synthesis of Greek philosophical thought and Judaism, with some strong connections that can be drawn, particularly with the Book of Wisdom or the Wisdom of Solomon and Isis, the ancient Egyptian Goddess that was associated with the throne and royalty, eternal life and salvation, light and order – maat to the Egyptians, kosmos and/or nomos to the Greeks and the torah of the Jews – all characteristics that are attributed to Wisdom in Old Testament scripture, again particularly in the Book of Wisdom which is a fairly late (1st century CE) work[6]. This salvation attribute to Sophia, which runs as a consistent theme in Jewish Old Testament commentaries and interpretations of the Second Temple Period as Yahweh personified as Sophia is looked upon as the savior of the Jews, along with her association with light, order and the Sun, is to gain significant traction in the Gnostic tradition that takes root after the death of Jesus and his life and teachings are adopted and interpreted by various schools and sects throughout the Mediterranean, particularly in Alexandria which is the source of many of the Gnostic sects which are prevalent in the first few centuries after Jesus is crucified and before Christian orthodoxy takes shape.

Although at first glance this slight shift in emphasis in the interpretation and analysis of Torah into an albeit simplified pseudo-Greek philosophic framework might seem inconsequential, it marks the beginning not only of a new phase of Jewish exegesis, but also establishes the philosophical framework from which Christianity in all its forms is constructed, Gnosticism included.

Another important figure in this Hellenization of Judaism leveraged by the early Christian Church Fathers and theologians is Josephus, a first century CE Jewish scholar and historian who initially fights against Rome during the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE) when the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed and is later adopted by the Roman Emperor Vespasian first as a hostage and interpreter and then later granted freedom.

In his first major work entitled The Jewish War, or Judean War, Josephus accounts the struggles of the Jews in Judea from the capture of Jerusalem by the Seleucid (Greek) ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164 BCE to the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans. His second major work, which is authored in Greek and is oft cited by Christian theologians as evidence for the historical Jesus as well as John the Baptist, is entitled Antiquities of the Jews (circa 94 CE) and covers Jewish history back from the Garden of Eden up to the 1st century CE Jewish War against Rome. The last major work by Josephus which is extant is Against Apion, a defense of Judaism as a classic religion and philosophy addressed to detractors and critics of the Jewish faith which were presumably prevalent at the time, Apion and Manetho specifically.

The Jewish literature that is extant from this period – from the Wisdom Books that come down to us as part of the Old Testament literature which personify Wisdom as the agent of salvation, order and knowledge to the Jews, to the work of Philo the philosopher and theologian who applied a classically Greek philosophic lens to Old Testament interpretation, resting on Stoic and Platonic themes and language to explain the true meaning of the Old Testament to the Greek intellectuals and authorities of the time, to Josephus the Jewish historian who interpreted the Jewish tradition from an historical perspective for the Greeks and Romans during the first century CE – all established the foundations, set the stage almost, for the interpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, in all its forms, which was to provide the theological and historical foundations of Christianity, perhaps the most influential religious (and political) movement of all time. A movement ironically enough which diverges significantly from the prevalence of truth and order as prime metaphysical and philosophical building blocks as had been so well established by the Greeks (and to a lesser extent Jews) to the rise in prevalence of the role of salvation and eternal life, through Christ, as the core tenets of faith.

 

[1] Genesis 1:1-1:5 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth— 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good, and God caused there to be a separation between the light and between the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Lexham English Bible, from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=LEB.

[2] Much insight into early Gnostic philosophical development was gained with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 and the subsequent translation of the texts therein. In the twelve leather-bound papyrus codices that were discovered as part of the Nag Hammadi library were mostly texts labeled as Gnostic, but also some works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum as well as a partial translation of Plato’s Republic speaking perhaps to the eclectic philosophical milieu within which philosophic schools, and in turn libraries, evolved during this time period (circa 4th century CE).

[3] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE-40CE) entry. http://www.iep.utm.edu/philo/#H11

[4] Sirach and the Book of Wisdom are referred to as deuterocanonical, a term used to describe certain passages or books of the Christian Old Testament that are not included in the Hebrew/Jewish Bible proper.

[5] Jewish Encyclopedia, entry on WISDOM – http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14950-wisdom.

[6] For a detailed account of the similarities and parallels between Isis and Sophia in the Book of Wisdom see Isis and Sophia in the Book of Wisdom, Harvard Theological Review by John S. Kloppenborg (1982), 75, pp 57-84 and for a more broad picture of Second Temple Period Wisdom literature and themes in The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), pgs 212-225 – chapter on Wisdom of Solomon and Biblical Interpretation in the Second Temple Period.

The Enlightenment: The Tree of Knowledge Takes Root

After the fall of the Roman Empire and into the middle and latter part of the Middle Ages in the West, mainly in the period from the 11th century CE until the end of the Renaissance and the advent of the Scientific Revolution, the beginning of which is marked by the work of Copernicus (1473-1543 CE) who upended the basic astronomical assumptions of geocentrism which had been prevalent for the prior three thousand years, the intellectual community and the preservation of the teachings of the Ancient Greek and Latin philosophical texts, philosophy in the broad sense of the word which included astronomy, logics, mathematics, ethics, etc. was primarily centered around Christian monasteries and Churches.  The establishment of true institutions of higher learning and educational reform occurred later in the Renaissance, even though the curriculum was still very religious at its core and was propagated and sponsored by Christian Churches and monasteries and otherwise advocated and controlled by the Christian authorities.

During the Middle Ages, translations of the original Greek and Latin texts were not readily available to the public, leading to the propagation of truth by the relatively few and the keepers of knowledge being representatives of various religious authorities rather than stemming from an independent intellectual community.  The standard cosmological and astronomical world view at that time was of course geo-centric of course and had its roots again in the works of the Greeks, most notable Aristotle and then Ptolemy from an astronomical perspective, which was then leveraged by Judeo-Christian theology to justify human kind’s special place in the universe as reflected in Genesis, which in turn Mohammad/Islam borrowed and incorporated.  Any idea that was put forth that opposed this Judeo-Christian world view where God created mankind in his own image, and where Earth was the center of the Universe, was not received well to say the least and in almost all cases led to excommunication and banishment, which of course makes the work of Copernicus all that more revolutionary given its controversial nature.

Although hard to generalize across all of Western Europe, during the Middle Ages the mode of teaching is most commonly referred to as scholastic, which although was a curriculum that was markedly religious, Judeo-Christian to be more specific, it did included a critical review of the ancient Greek and Roman literature and included core teachings on math, logic, and astronomy among other subjects that today we might see as part of any core curriculum at university.  It is from these humble beginnings that a “classical education” was born.

Although the term scholasticism is sometimes associated with a philosophical framework, in this context the term mainly refers to the method of teaching that was employed by academics during the late Middle Ages that involved positing various truths or theorems that were thought to be well established and putting them to rigorous rational test via dialectic means by the students and teachers alike, in some sense harkening back in some respect to the teaching modus operandi of Plato with respect to utilizing the opposing viewpoints on a particular subject to elucidate truth.

Arguably the pinnacle of scholastic thought is in the work by the Italian philosopher and theologian from the 13th century CE Saint Thomas Aquinas.  His teachings, which encapsulate in many respects what we consider to be scholasticism today, are captured in his infamous Summa Theologica, a work which although unfinished, was intended to be an instructional and teaching guide for theologians of his day.  The work was primarily intended to establish the truth and supremacy of the teachings of the Bible and Christianity, but it did have a philosophical bent however, and it drew on wide variety of philosophical and theological traditions ranging from classical Greek philosophy (Aristotle and Plato), Muslim philosophy (Avicenna and Averroes), the Jewish philosophy of Maimonides, and of course a variety of Christian sources and texts.  In the Summa Theologica, a work that is said to have profoundly influenced Dante’s Divine Comedy, Aquinas attempts to establish the unequivocal existence of God as well as establish a moral and ethical foundation within the Christian teachings, as well as the importance of Christ as a messenger of God through which God’s teachings and ultimate salvation can be realized.

Aquinas also wrote several commentaries on Aristotle’s work – On the Soul, Nicomachean Ethics, and Metaphysics – and his metaphysics is markedly Aristotelian despite the theological nature of his work.  To Aquinas, as with Aristotle and later Muslim philosophers who interpreted Aristotle’s teachings in a wholly religious context, God is the prime mover and universal first cause from which all motion, all activity emanates and provides the rational basis for the existence of the soul and by extension the justification for a moral and ethical life.  Aquinas in no uncertain terms believed and attempted to establish the existence of God and the importance of Christian teachings in general to the salvation of the soul however, but his work is unique in that he draws on many of the different philosophical traditions that came before him and was extremely influential on scholasticism in general which effected the teachings of the Church for the next few hundred years to no small degree.

 

What is natural cannot be changed while nature remains.  But contrary opinions cannot be in the same mind at the same time: therefore no opinion or belief is sent to man from God contrary to natural knowledge.  And therefore the Apostle says: The word is near in thy heart and in thy mouth, that is, the word of faith which we preach (Rom. x, 8).  But because it surpasses reason it is counted by some as contrary to reason, which cannot be.  To the same effect is the authority of Augustine (Gen. ad litt. ii, 18): “What truth reveals can nowise be contrary to the holy books either of the Old or of the New Testament.”  Hence the conclusion is evident, that any arguments alleged against the teachings of faith do not proceed logically from first principles of nature, principles of themselves known, and so do not amount to a demonstration; but are either probable reasons or sophistical; hence room is left for refuting them.[1]

 

The first institutions in the West to be considered Universities in any sort of modern sense of the term were established in Italy, France, Spain and England in the late 11th and the 12th centuries for the study of arts, law, medicine, and of course theology – places of higher learning such as the University of Salerno, the University of Bologna, and the University of Paris.  But the pace and acceleration of intellectual thought and teaching really took hold in the West in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries with the more broad availability of texts via the advent of primitive forms of printing alongside the this spread of a pseudo-university system that had been established throughout Europe to teach the intellectual elite.  Irrespective of the means by which intellectual thought and scholarship was taught throughout the Middle Ages, a period which extended well into what modern historians call the Age of Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries marked by the spread of universities and advent of printing and greater availability of books to the wider public, despite the markedly Christian theological bias of the curriculum, the Greek and Latin classics remained a core part of the teachings and means of instruction.

Although this culmination of intellectual development is not something that can be pointed to specifically at a place in time per se, it corresponds roughly to what later historians have called the Renaissance, which in turn drove the Scientific Revolution, from which the lives of notable scholars such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and then Newton are products of.  The works of these great intellects in turn drove the Scientific Revolution which spearheaded thought and intellectual evolution across a wide range of disciplines in Europe and beyond, disciplines that ranged from the purely philosophical – metaphysics and rational explanation and proof of the existence of God and relevance of Christian Scripture – to the socio-political which attempted to reconcile the role of the state/monarchy and its relationships to its people and subjects as well as the rational justification for morals and ethics, all of which go well beyond what we today call science even though all of these advancements were a product of the Age of Enlightenment in one respect or another.

During this time, the core curriculum in these universities if you could call them that was mostly made up of Platonic, Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and other Greek and Roman scholarly work in the original Greek and Latin to provide the intellectual framework and semantics within which the world, and in turn God and Christ, should be perceived, an intellectual framework that went well beyond just a blind faith in God and the Bible.  But make no mistake about it, these universities and their teachers were very much grounded in Christian faith and belief and the curriculum that was being taught had to align with these beliefs else excommunication and banishment was the norm.  This rigid orthodox view of intellectual alignment with the Church lasted right up until what wee refer to as the Age of Enlightenment comes to a close, typically marked by the publishing of the work What is Enlightenment by the eminent German philosopher Immanuel Kant at the end of the 18th century.

So even despite the passage of over a 2000 years after Aristotle and Plato and other Ancient Philosophers that came after them set down their teachings in Ancient Greece and the broader Mediterranean region, a period which was marked by the preeminence of first the Roman, then the Byzantine and Islamic Empires, a good portion of these core ancient Greek and Latin texts and their associated commentaries which provided the metaphysical and theological underpinnings of Abrahamic monotheism, particularly the schools of Aristotle and Plato, still remained a core part of the syllabus and curriculum of the intellectual community.

These works, despite their aged heritage, formed the semantic and metaphysical structure within which intellectual development was pursued up until the Age of Enlightenment where the field of science first emerged as an independent field of study.  Even if these ancient works and writings were looked at as in contrast to or in exposition of the current way of thinking or what was to be taught, they still formed the basis of the dialogue and upon which modern interpretations of Scripture were based.  Aristotle primarily set the table with respect to logic, metaphysics and the study of natural philosophy, Plato and his subsequent interpreters provided the intellectual connection between Christianity and philosophy and metaphysics in general (Neo-Platonism mostly), and then Ptolemy, Aristotle and Euclid provided the astronomical and mathematical foundations, all the while Plato’s mode of learning, namely dialectic, formed the basis for which learning and education took place, as evidenced by the prevalence of scholasticism in the Middle Ages marked most notably by the writings and subsequent influence of Aquinas.

 

As Charlie began studying the time period and great thinkers from what modern day historians have termed the Age of Reason and the Scientific Revolution in the West, he wasn’t looking for an historical narrative per se but was searching for the roots of this mechanistic and altogether atheistic worldview, the seeds of which he found in the works of the notable philosophers and theologians of this period and yet still struggled to pinpoint its origins, despite the fact that it was very clear that the Ancient Greek and Roman literature provided for the academic foundation of the scholars of this period.  After much research, he saw the best way to frame the intellectual developments of this period of tremendous intellectual expansion was via the semantic and logical framework laid out by Aristotle some two thousand years prior, for this was the way the intellectuals of the period approached their studies primarily.

From Charlie’s perspective, the categories of knowledge or intellectual developments of this period were best categorized within the same intellectual context and categorization of knowledge as put forth by Aristotle, or epistêmai in Greek which was the word that Aristotle used.  And it was Aristotle’s categorization of the different fields of study, the classification of knowledge itself or what we call today epistemology, which remained the best way to classify the developments of the Age of Enlightenment and the branches of knowledge, of which science was but one, which emerged from this period in our evolutionary history and has carried us through to the 21st century, a century which is marked by deep specialization in all fields, science as well as philosophy and the arts, specialization which was wholly absent from the intellectual pursuits of the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the West.

Although there were a variety of developments in thought and scholarship during the Age of Reason and Scientific Revolution, all of them shattered the very foundations of the belief systems that had been present for the prior two thousand years, namely that the world was created by an anthropomorphic God, that mankind was created in God’s image, that the Bible was to be taken literally with respect to its historical and mythological narrative, and that the Earth was the center of the universe.  All of these tenets were at the core of monotheism and the Abrahamic faiths, faiths which provided for the very cultural and socio-political foundations of Western Europe at the time.  These intellectual attacks of the Scientific Revolution, if you could call them that, were three pronged from an Aristotelian perspective:

 

  1. Theoretical epistêmai / first philosophy: developments in metaphysics or first philosophy in an attempt to establish the existence of the One, or God, via rigorous rational and logical proofs.  These developments started mostly with a Neo-platonic and Christian theological bent but later morphed into more sound metaphysical systems which questioned the existence of an anthropomorphic God at all (what could be loosely categorized as the development of deism or naturalism),
  2. Theoretical epistêmai / natural philosophy: the development and evolution of natural philosophy as a separate branch of intellectual pursuit with the emergence of the foundation of analytical geometry, algebra and calculus alongside developments in astronomy which not only toppled the geocentric conception of the universe but also the notion that mankind held a special place in the universe as was put forth in the Bible,
  3. Practical epistêmai: developments in socio-political and economic theory that questioned the role of the state and the power of the Church and attempted to establish a science of individual behavior and an optimal form of government, all of which had a profound effect on the evolution and role of government in this period and drove several major revolutions in Western Europe and what was to become known as America.

 

The scope of intellectual developments during this period were very much aligned with the theo-philosophical developments that were trademarks of Hellenistic philosophical developments except the difference now was that with the proliferation or printing and the acceleration of intellectual exchange, developments along each of these intellectual lines could be done collectively and collaboratively at a much faster pace than could be done in ancient history, certainly not to the extent that peer reviews and collaboration occurs in the modern age with the proliferation of electronic modes of communication but certainly a marked improvement over what had been possible during the Dark/Middle Ages and the centuries that preceded them.  The intellectual developments that had marked the prior two thousand years were no longer in the hands of the few, and as the knowledge contained therein spread, its implications were felt more broadly in society.

In many respects, the Age of Enlightenment is best known for its developments in socio-political theory, developments which led directly to the evolution/revolution of the political landscape in Europe and America marked most notably by the English Revolution in 1688, the American Revolution from 1775-1783, and culminating in the French Revolution in 1789-1799 which marks the end of the Age of Enlightenment according to most modern day historians.  These socio-political advancements, corresponding roughly to Aristotle’s practical philosophy and following in many respects the tenets set forth in Plato’s Republic, drove not only greater freedom of thought and religious tolerance throughout the West, but also established separation of powers in several key Western governments, the beginning of the principle of separation between Church and State, as well as the establishment of socio-economic optimization and collaboration as the underlying goal of government.

These socio-political developments in practical philosophy that in many respects define the Age of Enlightenment were to name a few:

 

  • The English Thomas Hobbes (1588-1689), who although supported the notion of sovereign authority developed social contract theory in his seminal work Leviathan,
  • The empiricist John Locke (1632-1704) whose theories of mind, knowledge, and social contract theory influenced Voltaire, Rousseau and Kant among other Enlightenment thinkers as well as provided for some of the founding principles of the American Revolution,
  • The renowned and prolific author Voltaire (1694-1778), who perhaps in many respects best synthesized many if not all of these socio-political developments of this time period in his writings, and
  • The Scot Adam Smith (1723-1790), sometimes referred to as the father of modern economics and perhaps best known for his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations establishing the basis for modern economic theory.

 

All of these authors and political and social revolutionaries all came from this period of history and did much to establish the foundations of Western government with its separation and balance of powers as well as set the stage for advancements in freedom of thought and exchange that ran parallel with and supported developments along Aristotle’s first and natural philosophical lines, i.e. the advancements of what we today refer to as science which formed the core of the Scientific Revolution which ran parallel to the Age of Enlightenment.

But these authors and their works were concerned about codes of ethics and systems of governance more so than they were concerned with the nature of reality and mankind’s place in it and so in this respect they were of less interest to Charlie other than the fact that without the advancements in these areas, developments in natural philosophy would not have had the opportunity to blossom within social structures that supported freedom of thought as they did.  In other words, if the environment for free thinking had not been strongly established in Western Europe during this time period, it would have been next to impossible for the great scientific minds of this time to collaborate and build upon each other’s work to create the breakthroughs in metaphysics and science that emerged as part of what we now call the Scientific Revolution.

But it was developments in first philosophy and natural philosophy that were more interesting to Charlie, for in these areas you saw considerable and rapid developments across a variety of disciplines that fundamentally overturned mankind’s view of the world and his place in it, dovetailing into the mechanistic worldview that Charlie saw as endemic in modern society, the origins of which he was searching for now that his thesis had been established.

Leaving the realm of practical / socio-political philosophy aside then, you had two major themes and areas of advancement of thought that rapidly evolved as civilization in Western Europe began to stabilize at the end of the Middle Ages that established the foundations of modern materialism/mechanism; one along the lines of metaphysics or first philosophy which explored the boundaries of knowledge (epistemology) and its relationship with the divine, the existence of God upon a more rational and reasonable framework and the moral and ethical implications thereof, and another along the lines of science or natural philosophy (astronomy and physics mostly) that radically challenged the conception of the universe and mankind’s place in it that had been prevalent for the prior thousand years or so that directly and forcefully called into question blind faith in Christian Scripture and the Church which had held such a strong chokehold on Western civilization since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century CE.

The scientific or natural philosophical developments are typically grouped together in the period known as the Scientific Revolution, a period which begins with Copernicus (1473-1543 CE) in the 16th century and culminates with the work of Isaac Newton (1642-1727 CE) in the 18th century some two centuries later.[2]  This period is marked by significant advancements in mathematics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry and did much to transform society’s views on the ability to explain and understand natural phenomenon in general, reinforcing the notion that simple faith in God and the underlying creation ex nihilo was in need of considerable revision and needed to be replaced with a much more complex and rational worldview, one that had its foundations in logic, mathematics, and geometry.

The Scientific Revolution can be viewed through the lens of just a few great thought leaders that made the most lasting contributions to modern science, although it’s important to understand that contributions were made by many others that supported the efforts of these great scholars who will remain obscured by history and the passage of time.

In chronological order you have first and foremost Copernicus (1473-1543 CE) who was the first to formulate a heliocentric model of the universe, followed by Kepler (1571-1630 CE) whose work on the laws of planetary motion provided for some of the foundations of Newton’s laws of gravitation, then Galileo (1564-1642 CE) who made marked improvements on the telescope along with observations which reinforced Copernican’s theories of heliocentrism, then Leibniz (1646-1716 CE), a somewhat more obscure scientist/philosopher who made advancements in calculus, binary number theory and the mechanical calculator, the French philosopher and naturalist Diderot (1713-1784 CE) who was the chief editor of the world’s first Encyclopedia which had profound influence on the dissemination of scientific knowledge throughout Europe, and then of course culminating in the work of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727 CE) who laid down the foundations for classical mechanics with his laws of motion and theory of universal gravitation.

All of these great thinkers and their associated intellectual advancements came under significant fire during their time from the established authorities which were still very much grounded in Christian fundamentalism, particularly in the early part of the Scientific Revolution which ran up into considerable resistance from the Church establishment which held a strong chokehold on the curriculum of the Universities of the time.  Suffice it to say that all of these philosophers, scientists and authors wrote and published at considerable risk of excommunication and banishment, Copernicus and Galileo most notably, speaking to their roles as not only philosophers and scientists, but revolutionaries as well.

These scientific developments were supported with philosophical developments and the advancement of systems of metaphysics during the same period, developments which emphasized the role of scientific method and empiricism, which not only supplanted Aristotle’s theory of knowledge, but also replaced centuries of blind faith and belief in the authority of God and Scripture.  As a byproduct of these efforts, which no doubt can be looked at as evolutionary and progressive rather than regressive or stifling in any way, the Aristotelian notion of existence, his being qua being, its relationship to the soul and ethics and politics, along with the context within which the Earth and its most successful species mankind was viewed in the universal world order, was very much turned on its head.  All of these developments, revolutionary no doubt (hence the name of the period Scientific Revolution) did not however topple or completely cast aside the notion of existence of God, a fact which was surprising to Charlie as he studied developments during this period, but the connection between natural and political philosophy, physics and metaphysics, and ethics became very much fragmented and in fact forever became separated as independent intellectual pursuits.  


[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles. Book I, Chapter 7.  From http://www.egs.edu/library/thomas-aquinas/quotes/.

[2] The philosopher and historian Alexandre Koyré coined the term Scientific Revolution in 1939 to describe this period in Western civilization.  While the start and end dates of the Scientific Revolution are debated, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” and Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, “On the Fabric of the Human body” are often cited as marking the beginning of this period, sparking follow on developments along many lines in what we today call “science”.

Knowledge and the Intellect: Extracting Truth from Scripture

Outside of his thesis coming together, with some clear indicators of cultural borrowing among Ancient Western civilizations with respect to the development of theology and philosophy, Charlie now had a much better context within which to view Niels’s letter which attacked the validity of mystical experiences within the context of religion and spirituality.  Charlie’s now had at least an historical narrative that could explain Niels’s position, and could at the very least establish historical precedence for the legitimacy of the mystical experience despite its lack of objectivity in the classic, western empirical sense.

For it seemed clear that somewhere along the way as monotheistic and more standard and canonized theological doctrines took root in antiquity, monotheism basically, the direct divine revelations that were the root of the power and authority of the priests and shamans of pre-civilized man which transformed into the heads of mystical/mystery sects of the ancient world, dissolved into more structured forms of worship and standard interpretations of religion that were enforced by policy and law, and then eventually by the sword as Christianity and Islam became the dominant religious forces in the region.

This shaman like authority which rested on these so-called mystical experiences and direct revelations and perceptions of the command of the god in question was first usurped by rulers and kings as civilization emerged and spread throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, and then consolidated and synthesized into standard religious doctrine that was integrated into an imperial strategy that was intended to not just serve the spiritual needs of its people but also to connect and establish the boundaries of various empires, binding together its people through religion as much as language and culture in a more broad sense.

This direct communication between the world of gods and men was clearly an artifact of pre-civilized man, a man and a society where the shaman/healer played a powerful and pivotal role in their lives and was the caretaker of belief systems that not only connected its people but also gave their lives meaning and purpose within a cosmic context, marked by belief in the immortality of the soul and the role of the gods in establishing and keeping order in the universe as well as in the lives of men.  As far as Charlie could gather, this connection between the world of gods and men which was the cornerstone of the ancient priest’s and shaman’s power, was the same power that was rested upon by the priests of the temples of ancient society, in Ancient Greece and Egypt clearly, and these same priests grew extraordinarily influential and powerful as civilization emerged and evolves and continued to play a strong role in shaping society and establishing the cosmic and universal order and mankind’s place in it.

And yet despite Western monotheism’s aversion to these so-called pagan and barbaric traditions which were characterized by complex rituals, incantations and spells even, sacrifices and undoubtedly induced higher states of consciousness by hallucinogenics or other intoxicants, it was these very same experiences, these “revelations” of the prophets of Abraham and his descendants, which these great religions rested on to legitimize their teachings and their religious practices to their followers.  Except the monotheistic faiths of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, now great religions but who in their infancy were just competing sects within a world of many competing gods and religious doctrines within which people were affiliated with either by birth or then later by choice, rested on the notion that it was only their prophet’s message that was “true”, that all other prophets and their associated messages and laws were not to be obeyed, and that in fact these other competing theological doctrines and practices led to eternal damnation and unending suffering – this last tenet being the main characteristic of these major religious forces which has been so manipulated by political and religious leaders over the centuries to force their beliefs on others and consolidate power.

With the advent of monotheism the direct perception of the divine had been relegated to the select few, just the prophets themselves, and the followers of these faiths, which represented some 4 billion people or so throughout the world in modern times, were confined to view God through their eyes.  But it wasn’t through the eyes of the prophets that the followers of these religions were guided in fact, if you actually took the time to study the source of these so called divinely revealed scriptures and the relationship that these words had to the lives and teachings of the prophets which they spoke of, what you found was that at best you were actually reading and interpreting these teachings, these messages, divinely revealed or not, through the eyes of subsequent interpreters and translators of the messages of the prophets as reflected by the by the authors of the scriptures who in some cases didn’t’ even have direct contact with the prophets themselves and in many cases had political motive as the driving force behind the creation of the scripture to begin with.

Irrespective of the lack of direct connection between these so called divinely inspired words and the teachings of these prophets, be they messengers of god or not, what struck Charlie was the self-serving nature of the intent and purpose of the scriptures and the establishment of these structured and highly organized religious systems, which went hand in hand with the subjugation and in many cases violent termination of the pagan rituals and theological belief systems which competed with them.

Charlie couldn’t help but ask the question, “How were these people chosen?”  What made them so special exactly?  If Moses could talk to God, and so could Muhammad and Jesus, why couldn’t he, or any one of us for that matter?  If there was a God, would he exhibit what seemed to be such an extreme form of favoritism?  If he was as benevolent, omniscient and powerful as all these doctrines said he was, the creator of the universe and all living things in it, the creator and harbinger of the world order and the protector of mankind, why wouldn’t he be more egalitarian in his approach to his “children”?

And furthermore didn’t Jesus teach “knock and it shall be opened”, “seek and ye shall find”?  How did that part of his message get lost or transformed into only through Jesus can you be saved?  Did Jesus ever say that?  Buddha, one of the great religious figures of all time most certainly didn’t teach anything that even resembled that doctrine, emphasizing that it wasn’t through any God that ultimate salvation was to be achieved but through the following of the Path that he laid out, one of virtue and self-restraint, the very same characteristics that could be found in almost all of the Greek philosophical traditions, which were the same metaphysical and theological doctrines that were leveraged and utilized by Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians to provide a more rational and metaphysical foundation for their scripture and doctrine that went beyond mere faith in the “supposed” words of a “supposed” prophet.

Was Buddha flat out wrong?  Was he just some religious quack who spent too much time in contemplation and meditation and lost his mind (interesting expression in fact).  Were all his followers going to burn in hell for eternity as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims would have us believe?  The more plausible explanation seemed to be, if you just stopped and thought about it for a bit, and studied how these teachings have survived down to us and how they have been manipulated down through the ages by men of power and greed, that just maybe the messages of these great prophets had been bastardized and disfigured, or at best misinterpreted in translation as they were handed down to us, and that maybe these were in fact great prophets but that their teachings had been lost, a major theme in Islam in fact except somehow the Muslim community seems to believe they are immune to the same features of religious decay as “messengers of God” have their teachings documented, transcribed, interpreted and in many cases manipulated for personal gain and power.

Charlie’s tennis buddy and amateur theologist Niels had argued, like many orthodox Western religious practitioners might, that mystical states, so called altered or higher states of consciousness which formed the basis of what could be loosely categorized as Eastern religious doctrine which taught the practice of meditation and personal perception of the divine as the means to salvation, or in Eastern terminology more aptly referred to as liberation or enlightenment, should not be considered a valid means to the realization of Truth because it was an entirely subjective experience and therefore had no empirical basis in reality.

As Charlie looked at Niels argument now however, Niels wasn’t only taking an orthodox and literal religious interpreters view, i.e. only the Word of God can be used as an instrument of Truth – or placed in a Christian theological context which was Niels’s background that it was only through the path that is laid out to us in the Bible that a soul could be “saved” – but knowingly or not he was also taking a pure empiricist view of reality and truth at the same time, resting his argument on the presumption of the reality of existence if and only if it can be empirically verified, verified by some other person or via some sort of experiment.

But implicit in this argument was that the Bible, the Word of God, was in fact the Truth and had an empirical basis of reality, an assumption that Charlie fundamentally disagreed with after taking a look at the origin of this Book and the context within which it was created and its standard canon was established.  How Niels, and other fundamentalist Western interpreters of theology for that matter, established the “reality” of their scripture, a fundamental notion of all of the Abrahamic religions and the scripture which its doctrines rested upon, and thereby held that the Word of Yahweh, God or Allah as laid out in their scripture was the only means of salvation or means to Truth, was a total mystery to Charlie and seemed lacking of any rational foundation, even after he had made considerable effort to try and ferret out the merits of such an argument.

What seemed painfully obvious however, was that these beliefs, belief in these scriptures as they were handed down to followers and students of these religions, belief which rested firmly on the life and teachings of their prophets who supposedly had direct communion with the one and only God, and thereby established the saving power of their respective teachings, was a matter of faith and had no basis in reason, just as the Eastern traditions taught that it was through the practice of meditation and contemplation of the divine which led to enlightenment.  From an empirical point of view, neither doctrine or belief system could be looked upon as more valid than the other, neither system of belief relied on faith any less than the other in its basic principles, and neither was certainly any less subjective than the other.

From Charlie’s standpoint however, embedded in the Eastern tradition of meditation practice was an implied form of empiricism, a feature that seemed to be absent from the Western religious doctrines.  For in meditation practice what you are ultimately doing is “testing” the existence of pure consciousness, refining and honing the methods of its attainment, experimenting with ritual and the molding of the mind into purer states of consciousness to see what lay beyond the veil, to see if there was perhaps something more, something that lay behind and beyond this materialistic world which Niels held to be the last and final word on Truth.

Perhaps this was a stretch of empiricism and scientific method as we know it today, methods which form the basis of all of the physical sciences which are so important and relevant to all of us in the modern world, but certainly the Eastern method exhibited scientific tendencies if you could call them such, the science of the mind, rather than blind faith in the transliterated, transcribed and translated words of a Book that was authored some two thousand years ago by some unknown set of authors and scribes.

As Charlie argued for the validity and utility of the practice of meditation as a valid means to illumination and enlightenment, he even found that he could make a case for reason itself being subjective.  For was it not Reason, or perhaps better termed rationalization, that Niels rested his argument for the ultimate saving power of scripture on?  Relying on thousands of years of doctrinal belief and faith in the Bible as interpreted by the Church as the cornerstone of his argument.  How could all these people, all these great men who were held in such high esteem in Western society, be wrong?

But the realm of thought was the creation and manifestation of the mind just as the subjective world of meditation was.  In fact the practice of meditation, as taught by any of the Eastern philosophic or religious schools, was in some sense a scientific like exploration of the mental world, a quest to determine if there existed a reality beyond the world of subjects and objects which was such a marked attribute of the mind, an evolutionary characteristic of our species in fact.

Because this distinction between the subject or perceiver of reality and that which was perceived, i.e. the materialistic and objective world, was in fact a requirement for all of the features of mankind which have supported our evolution over the last 100,000 years.  It is the marked characteristic of our species of apes, Homo sapiens, i.e. the genus of apes that can think, discern, understand and communicate.  Our evolution and distinction from the rest of the species on the planet, and ultimate rise to supremacy over all of the other species on the planet, rests squarely on this faculty, rests on our mental abilities, without which we would be wallowing in barbarism and eking out survival no doubt.

Our species begins its world domination first with the invention and creation of fire for warmth and protection, then followed by tool making which was a requirement to sustain life and eat.  These basic building blocks of mankind’s earliest societies are subsequently followed by the honing and refinement of the practices of hunting, and later agriculture and farming, which no doubt required some form of language and communication, which as more complex societies develop to support greater numbers of people living communally leads to the development of more complex systems of words and symbols to facilitate more complex communication and support a more complex social structure.  It is the development and evolution of language that underpins and supports this spread of more complex societies, to the advancement of civilized man in fact.

And as more complex societies develop, and there exists a need to communicate ideas not only over large distances and between and amongst generations of peoples, to encapsulate and communicate more abstract ideas, systems of writing are invented, perhaps the greatest invention in the history of mankind.  An invention which is an absolute requirement to the establishment of more complex social structures which are needed to facilitate the exchange of goods, services and ideas between and amongst not only individuals but also societies and civilizations as a whole, which establishes the basis for not only mankind’s absolute dominion over the entire planet but also allows us to evolve a collective intellect which can build upon itself from generation to generation, one of the keys if not the key to the advancement of mankind into the modern era of science.

These advent of complex societies, mankind’s first civilizations, supported by language and systems of writing which codify and transcribe the various languages spoke by various societies and civilizations, leads to the development of more structured religious systems to support the spread of human populations and societies throughout the world under a single beacon of faith.  Language and writing at the same time allow for the development of more complex, rational and logical physical and metaphysical descriptions of reality which allow us to more firmly establish our dominion over the earth, but also at the same time root our systems of thought into a framework that is based upon the various classification of materials along with their essential constituents (e.g. earth, air, water, fire).

It is this classification of reality into subjects and objects, language and constructs evident in Aristotle’s Categories and his definition and description of existence (being qua being) in his Metaphysics, we have established the intellectual framework of reality in the West which persists even to this day.  And over time what Charlie found was that in this intellectual framework the objective world is broken off and held to be distinct and separate from the spiritual or subjective world, i.e. the existence of objects or things that could be manipulated or acted upon by us as a species are established and held distinct from the subjects who act on these objects to produce various effects and outcomes.  This hard bifurcation of reality wasn’t necessarily emphasized or pronounced as monotheism takes root in the West up through the Middle Ages but was a marked feature of later philosophic development as the field of science breaks off of and sits in contrast to the world of the spirit, or religion, a byproduct of the Scientific Revolution as far as Charlie could gather (more on this later).

But in this monotheistic reality that is described in the teachings and scripture of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, all of which rested on the tenets of Greek philosophy to a great extent (in particular Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian), mankind looks upon itself as the ultimate rulers of this objective world, gods in fact in a very real sense.  A world which although from a monotheistic point of view is looked upon not only as the creation of some sort of supreme being who at the very least is all knowing and all powerful, but also looked upon as a world which mankind holds some special dominion over – as in each of these traditions there exists the belief that man (and woman) was created in God’s image and was given divine authority over the earth by God himself, fundamental tenets that are revealed to the Abrahamic prophets repeatedly throughout the ages.

And in this language that mankind created to describe the world around them, all subsequent mental constructs must be framed.  This is an effect and natural byproduct of the development of language.  It is its power and at the same time it’s limitation.  For this very same set of symbols, words, relationships and correlations which in toto are perhaps best described as beliefs systems which underlie our languageconstructs that evolved in parallel with and as a necessary prerequisite to the development of civilization and at the same time facilitated and underpinned not just our survival as a species but also the domination of the planet and control over the material world in a way that no other species in the history of our planet has done – must at the same time form the framework within which all human experience must pass through.

But what Aristotle was the first to do, work which has provided the foundations of Western thought to no small degree, was to develop a comprehensive theory of knowledge that was based upon the principles of comprehension, principles which he described in terms of causation.  That is to say we have knowledge of something, we understand it, if we can understand why it exists, or in other words if we understand the different factors which bring about something into existence.  And in order to develop this theory, he had to first establish a theory of existence to make sure that there was no ambiguity around what could be said to exist, which from Charlie’s standpoint is where the break of the world of matter and the world of spirit begins, all the way back to Aristotle.

He further groups these “things” into categories and subcategories, genus and species for all things that exist, “things” which were denoted by words in a given language (Greek in this case) and “things” which in Plato’s world were physical manifestations of abstract Forms or Ideas which represented the true essence of a “thing”.  And once he had established this categorization of objects of the physical world, and had a theory of existence which underpins it, he establishes a broad theory of knowledge which is based upon the comprehension of the qualities which describe a “thing”, being qua being, aspects of which are wrapped in a theory of causation which once fully understood yielded knowledge of a thing in the purest sense.  It is within Aristotle’s intellectual framework, his metaphysics, that the first truly rational framework of reality is described, from which the very existence of the world can be viewed in a comprehensive and fully descriptive way.

And in his theory of knowledge, which rests on these principles of the comprehension of the various types of causes which bring about a “thing’s” existence, he establishes the prerequisite of causation to existence itself.  For in his model of reality existence and causation go hand in hand.  And the most crucial of all the types of causation to Aristotle was the final cause – telos in Greek which can be translated as “end”, or “goal” – which represents in his model the ultimate purpose of this thing which provides the foundation for its existence and the understanding of which provides true knowledge, which to Aristotle is the highest, or “first” philosophy.  This notion of telos more than any other is latched on to by the monotheistic religions, particularly Islam, to provide a rational foundation to their faith based dogma as revealed in scripture, even though there is no underlying creative force or principle in Aristotle’s philosophy, simply knowledge and the tools and metaphysical framework that are to be employed to achieve such knowledge.

Which brings Charlie back to Niels’s argument that the only valid and real Truth is that which exists in and is seen through the “scripture”, which in the case of Niels’s argument specifically refers to Christian scripture, i.e. the Bible, but at the same time he makes the argument Islamic scripture, i.e. the Qur’an, as well.  This argument against the direct perception of the divine as against, or in contrast to, the Truth inherent in Bible not only didn’t seem to hold any water with Charlie but also seemed to be in direct contradiction to the message of the prophets which played such a significant role in the development of such scripture, Jesus in this case, whose actual teachings had been watered down and interpreted and transliterated by subsequent Christian theologians over the centuries until somehow, someway, the Bible itself was looked upon as the last Word on all matters and was to be interpreted literally in order that salvation could be achieved rather than the teachings of Jesus himself which are encapsulated, hidden almost, in the four Gospels.

The Truth must be based upon the literal word of the scriptures?  The interpretation by scholars of a work interpreted by a scholar of an original work whose source was unknown?  And yet somehow that was more logical, more reasonable, more scientific and empirical approach to the acquisition of knowledge or Truth than the practice of meditation which at its core was an attempt at direct union, communion, with the divine from which the physical world, and mankind, was created from?  Yes it was true that the eastern philosophical and mystical traditions encouraged you to use your mind to liberate yourself from the world of name and form, but it was the use of this same tool, the mind, that Niels appealed to when he ascribed to and argued for the primacy of scripture as the basis of Truth.

The practice of meditation assumes the existence of duality, the distinction of the subjective and objective world.  What is that you are meditating on?  Who is the meditator?  What is the nature of that which is meditated upon?  And at the same time the intent of the practice, the goal if you will, was to lose, or go beyond, the distinction between the subject of observation and the object of contemplation, to use a thorn to remove a thorn as Ramakrishna taught.  To travel beyond the world of name and form into the root of all things, to experience directly what the Vedantic philosophers called Satchitananda, or Existence Knowledge Bliss Absolute.  Naming the nameless.  Wrapping words around that which is the source of all words but was the ultimate goal that was taught by all the true prophets down through the ages, Jesus being no exception.  How Muhammad, or his followers for that matter, might argue that he could gain access to this direct divine revelation of Allah but that no one else could have access to this ultimate source of all things was a mystery to Charlie, and seemed to be the core problem with the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, or Christianity, for that matter.

But you have to start somewhere in a quest for answers, in a quest for Truth or in Aristotelian terms in the quest for knowledge or epistêmai.  And it’s from within this world of name and form from which any interpretation of biblical scripture, or reality or existence itself, that the journey must begin.  The world framed by language and writing within which the all of teachings of the Abrahamic prophets are handed down to us, in the Old Testament of the Jews, the New Testament/Bible of the Christians or even the Qur’an of the Muslims.  But that is just the beginning.  As the Greeks taught and as the Rishis of the ancient Indo-Aryans taught as well, it is with both Reason and Logic, the tools of the intellect of the individual mind, subjective reality in fact, which must be used to cut through this world of Maya, this world of name and form which is characterized by the endless pursuit of desire which is the root of all suffering according to the teachings of Buddha.  The Eastern philosophic tradition, rooted as it was in the practice of meditation and contemplation of the divine, an arguably subjective experience (at least at the beginning), rested on the supremacy of Reason and Logic, the supreme weapons of the Jnana Yogi, tools which Aristotle and Plato held to be paramount as well, upon whose metaphysics these same monotheistic belief systems looked to for a rational foundation.

But Reason and Logic are just the beginning, not the end.  You must start with an abstract thought, or phrase, or image.  And from this one pointed focus, this calming of the mental waves upon the shore of a single gentle, soothing thought or image or syllable(s), arises true awareness.  An awareness that we all come from the source, the telos of Aristotle, from which emanates not only consciousness itself, but all of the animate and inanimate objects in the universe that we are aware of and which defines and constitutes their very existence.

This is in fact the metaphysical model upon which the early Christian theologians based their belief, their faith, in the existence of God as described in the Old Testament and as taught by Jesus.  This is the Neo-Platonic One from which the universe emanates.  And it is from this source which we all drink from, this the same stream of the Infinite which is the ground of existence itself.  An awareness that that which you seek is all around you, and within you, and will still exist long after the name and form that is your human shell disappears from existence, leaving the question of the immortality of the soul aside.  This teaching was implied in all the scriptures and all the religious teachings of mankind, wrapped in the mystery of their respective mythical cosmologies and once they were stripped of their socio-political garments and their consistent and eternal Truth was properly understood from Charlie’s perspective.

So to Charlie it was clear that literal interpretation of scripture, removed and abstracted from any of the truths that could be derived from subjective reality, upon which the practice of meditation is founded, was a gross misinterpretation and misunderstanding of scripture itself.

But the end, and its means, was more complicated than that even though initially the validity of the subjective experience must be acknowledged, the same reality through which any interpretation of scripture must be based.  For the greatest teacher was Life itself was it not?  And Life could be seen and perceived, lived in fact, only by the subject who perceived the material world around him through his intellect, through his mind, the very same instrument that was used to read and interpret Scripture couched in language and symbols, and the very same instrument that was relied upon to ascertain knowledge itself in its purest form, the essential goal of meditation.

But it wasn’t just the “subjective” practice of meditation that could yield this elusive goal of enlightenment, or knowledge, or Truth.  One had to assimilate and incorporate the experience, the knowledge gained of the ultimate connection and synthesis of the seemingly separate and distinct subjective and objective world, of meditation into one’s entire life.  One could not deny one’s place in society, the history of its people, the challenges of survival and making a living in the modern world which was so devoid of any contact with nature or the animal kingdom which played such a prevalent role in ancient mythology and provided the symbols for the description of the world order in Judaism and Christianity and in turn Islam.  One had to bring this knowledge into practical use, what we would call today practical philosophy and what the ancient Greek philosophers, and even Muslim philosophers, falsafa, pointed to when they described the ideal society and the role of the philosopher within it.  This was the hard part, applying the teachings of the prophets to modern times, Charlie thought, and understanding that literal interpretation of any ancient scripture was a lost cause and could only lead an individual, or worse a society as a whole, astray was a starting point at least.

One of main teachings of Swami Vivekananda, arguably from his perspective one of the main goals of his life, was to assimilate all of the different branches of Yoga as they had developed throughout the ages into one sound, coherent and integrated philosophical system.  It wasn’t just the practice of meditation that brought you to enlightenment, practices which fell into the category of Raja Yoga, or the royal yoga as described by Patanjali, but also the pursuit of knowledge and discrimination using the powers of your mind, Jnana Yoga, combined with the intention and longing of the heart, Bhakti Yoga, and last but not least a selfless approach to work and action in general, Karma Yoga, that all formed the complete framework and system from within which the goal of enlightenment and liberation from suffering could be reached.

Back to that nagging question then: How was this altogether subjective approach to liberation or salvation, an approach rooted in contemplation and meditation which was essentially nothing more than the practice of exploring the boundaries and subtleties of the human mind and its connection with the universal Mind, a practice which lay at the heart of the Eastern philosophical traditions and from which Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious ultimately derives, to be altogether discounted as a basis for realization or Truth because of its entirely subjective and seemingly non-empirical nature?[1]

Charlie knew, and it certainly seemed to be hard to argue against, the idea that everything passed through this mental sieve, whether you were reading and trying to understand the word of the Bible or the Qur’an, when you were practicing meditation, when you were hitting a tennis ball, or even just taking a walk in the park and observing nature, all of these experiences were processed by and ultimately comprehended by the use of one’s mind or intellect.  By this definition, from this perspective, everything was subjective.  Hence Descartes’s cogito ergo sum.

The mystical experience of intuitive awareness and inner illumination transcends linear verbal thought.  In it duality is overcome, subject and object fuse: there are no longer perceiver, perceived, and perceiving as separate entities – all three fuse together to become a unity that belongs to the cosmos itself.[2]

Here we have the essence of the meditative experience.  And it’s this experience, this purely subjective experience no doubt but at the same time the goal of which is the transcendence of the distinction between a subject and the objective world ironically, that represents the heart and soul of the eastern mystical and theological systems.

The main difference between the Eastern and Western religious systems from Charlie’s point of view, was simply the difference in emphasis.  The eastern modes of thought emphasized the union, yoga, of the individual soul with the great universal soul.  The Atman, individual self, merging in the sea of the great Self, or Brahman, as described in the Vedas.  The Western tradition emphasized not personal illumination but salvation through a specific message from a specific prophet, to the exclusion of all other belief systems in fact.  This last tenet however was an altogether specifically Western religious idea, and the problem with the Western religious tradition which had such a marked influence on society in the world today and throughout mankind’s history in the last two thousand years was that these traditions were so marked by political bias and so baked in social constructs and law intended to unite a people and create a nation and an empire, that it was very difficult to parse through what the prophets actually taught versus what later interpreters and transcribers of scripture actually understood and in turn documented and wrote down.

In all the Western religious traditions there exists this notion of the fall of mankind, a notion which is looked upon by orthodox and fundamentalist religious interpreters, of which unfortunately Niels represented, as the basis of Creationism.  But the Fall, looked at in allegorical sense, represents the fall of the one into the many, the beginning of the suffering of mankind in the material world which starts when the Tree of Knowledge is eaten from and the recognition of duality, the notion of Self, begins its reign.  After the Fall a new era of mankind had begun where immortality was lost and mankind was thereupon forever forced to struggle to free themselves from the bondage of duality.

It is the goal of meditation to directly experience the unity of all things, to try and travel back to the Garden before the Fall.  The practice of meditation, Dhyana, is the heart of Yoga, ultimately leading to the experience of Samadhi, the last limb of Patanjali’s eight limbed Yoga philosophy, complete union with the divine source of all existence and the recognition of the immortal essence which exists within all of us.  This overcoming, transcendence, of the barriers between the individual and the absolute is the great mystic achievement.  In mystic states we become one with the abstraction of the abstract, and we become aware of our source, and our oneness with it.

This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed.  In Hinduism, in Neoplatoism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think.[3]

Due to the sheer power of the experience, all the great mystics hesitate to describe it in words but at the same time they had to use words to communicate the path, the goal, the reality of it to their followers.  This is why all the prophets through the ages, and all great teachers in fact, use parable and analogy to describe and communicate ideas to their students.  Because the understanding, true comprehension of a teaching, requires the use of the intellect, the mind, to understand the words and symbols that are being used to convey a message.  To describe it and codify it, to bond it to a thought or string of thoughts as it were.

It was yet this realm of words and scripture that Niels would have Charlie believe was the only hallmark of true knowledge.  And yet Charlie knew, and anyone who would dare to follow the train of Reason to its final destination knew, as Aristotle was perhaps the first to do in its purest form, was that reason, logic, and words themselves were only the representations of the human mind created to describe the world around us, and our very existence and the means of perception of the world, which can only be viewed as completely and entirely subjective from start to finish, could be not be ignored or discounted when trying to acquire knowledge, or Truth itself.

Charlie was always fascinated by language.  It was his fascination with language that had formed the root and heart of his discussions with Niels really.  You were at these tournaments, there was a host country with its own native tongue, and then there were all these players from the far reaches of the globe, each with its own tongue and its own unique prism through which they saw the world around them.  There was no denying that and that different perspective on life that was to be found in all of the different players you met from all these different cultures, backgrounds and nations was something Charlie came to relish over the years, and he thought Niels did as well.

So how do you place words on that abstract idea, that core fundamental principle, from which all words come from?  You can’t do it.  Everyone has their own relationship to it, their own unique perspective on the world around them that is based upon their own upbringing and mental make-up, one’s genetic architecture you could say, and one that was subjective in the purest sense of the word, the very same construct which Niels was so quick to dismiss.

But you have to describe it in order to teach it, this was true of any discipline.  You have to frame it with words, Charlie thought, for the message to live and be passed on.  But the words were not the essence of the teaching, any teaching, they were simply the tool that had to be used to convey a thought, an idea or a principle from one mind to another.  But to confuse the teaching itself, the essence of a thing, with the words used to convey the message was a grave mistake from Charlie’s perspective.  And because of this distinction, between a teaching and the words used to describe it, words which invariably had specific meanings in specific times for specific people in specific cultures, it had to be expressed over and over again, for each culture and each nation, to show them the way and illustrate the truth that lay beyond everything that appeared so concrete and so real, particularly in our Western society of modern times which is so deeply steeped in objectivism and materialism.


[1] Jung describes a process called “individuation” as the means toward liberation or freedom from suffering.  In Jungian terms, which although borrows heavily from Eastern philosophy (as can be seen by his reliance on mandalas as the most effective tool for facilitating the process of individuation), the goal is perhaps better described the achievement of psychoanalytic balance and harmony or peace.  But it must be kept in mind that Jung’s theories and practical psychoanalytic work was based off of his work with deranged and very psychologically imbalanced patients so it wasn’t enlightenment that he was necessarily after but simple re-integration and harmony with society for his patients and his theories of mind were centered around this goal for the most part.  Individuation was an altogether psychoanalytic process, very much akin to meditation and the use of mandalas as means to this end is very much aligned with Eastern meditative practices which relies on very similar methodology, for both processes rely heavily on the use of symbols and both rested on the notion of the process of introspection – in Jung’s world via symbology and supplemented by psychoanalysis rather than through the practice of meditation which is emphasized in the Eastern philosophical traditions.

[2] James Hewitt, The Complete Yoga Book.

[3] William James, Varieties of Religious Experience.

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