A Course in Biblical Mysticism

Table of Contents

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Introduction

This is a syllabus for a course of study. A thorough study will require reading material that is not included in this syllabus.

Objective: This course offers a comparative cultural anthropology study of the unique intellectual approach from which the Christian Bible is written. It presumes the student is Western and is not wholly aware of what it means to be Western, or how radically different it is from the culture promoted by Scripture.

Structure: The material is presented in a standard academic Western approach. The course first summarizes the meaning of Western cultural identity. We will review seminal sources that help to reveal the formation of Western intellectual assumptions. Then we will turn to the contrasting approach of the people who gave us the Bible. This approach assumes the biblical identity is profoundly alien to Westerners. This course presumes familiarity with typical Western academics on at least a baccalaureate level of education.

It is not necessary to actually read whole libraries. There is nothing wrong with reading good summaries as a review of previous surveys. Some of that material will be summarized here, but the reader will cheat himself if he has never read the sources.

Those with a purely academic interest in the subject can benefit from this survey. However, let the reader make no mistake: This course is a weapon aimed at the very heart of Western Civilization. The West is a battered and leaky vessel, and passengers would do well to disembark at the earliest opportunity. Such a departure requires a conscious choice in favor of some other means to moving through life. This course assumes consciously and without debate that the biblical civilization is both different and better.

Perspective: There has to be a reason, leading to a motivation, for bothering with all of this study. Simply acquainting the reader with history and literature is not an end in itself. At some point we have to admit we hope people change, that they adopt an outlook and sense of purpose informed by all of this background.

Virtually all of humanity stretching back into the dim mists of ancient times was born into a social context. Someone always took the responsibility of teaching and training the youth in the ways of those among whom they were born. The primary means was the collective mythology of the culture and society. While in common usage the words "myth" and "mythology" tend to be used as handles for dismissing something as irrelevant to real life, in reality this is nothing more than rejecting one mythology for another. The function of mythology in any society is providing structure for addressing oneself to reality.

All societies operate on a mythology as the very ground from which thought itself is formed. The frame of reference, the matrix and structure in which the hooks are fixed for catching and holding experiences so that sense can be made of them, cannot come from nothing. The human mind is wired that way. Western society pretends its own matrix is reality itself, but that very belief is mythology by academic definition. Every previous civilization that came before Western Civilization asserted the same thing, and civilizations that follow will be just as dismissive of the West as the West is of all those coming before it.

It would be of little use to organize and offer a course such as this without an underlying motive of trying to sell readers on the idea of adopting something that is better, more consistent with reality, than the Western view. Failing that, the readers will at least be able to grasp the nature of what they choose and what they reject more consciously.

Therefore, the following study is cast in terms of implications. It is not enough to study Western Civilization; there is a wealth of courses on that subject itself. The same is true of previous ancient civilizations. While some courses are critical in approach, the underlying assumption is to help you celebrate being Western, or at least see the potential for moral goodness in Western Civilization. It's a call to be proud. This course counters that call, and attempts to define the same wealth of facts and theories as something worthy of shame.

If we could restate the description of this course, it would be one of comparative morality. Most people never consciously examine the fundamental assumptions of what constitutes and defines "good" and "bad." Rather, they simply assume that their own view is roughly equivalent to that of God Himself, as it were. It never occurs to most people that their own context is just one of many possibilities. Worse, virtually the entirety of Western Christianity assumes their Western brand of religion is precisely what is portrayed in the Bible. The aim of this course is to show that assumption is manifestly false. Not that any one tradition within Western Christianity is better than another, but the entire collection is wrong because they all share a common set of false assumptions.

The thesis behind this course is that the biblical viewpoint is radically different from what is held by virtually every Western Christian, regardless of their traditions and labels. All the more so is this true of readers who claim to follow Christ. If you aren't a biblical mystic, you are not following Christ.

Spoiler

Maybe you don't want to read all the stuff listed in this syllabus. Maybe you agree with what you have read so far and don't need the supporting sources. Or perhaps you simply want a preparatory digest of where this whole thing is going. What follows is the spoiler, giving away the plot and ending of the story.

The Western view assumes, often without stating directly, that the entire universe is the full extent of all existence. With this is the assumption all reality is theoretically within reach of the human understanding. Not so much in the sense of knowing all things about it, but humans can eventually know enough to make rational choices that are unlikely to fail the underlying intentions. Thus, humanity is fully capable of knowing, understanding, and rightly judging what is and what we can do with it. It doesn't matter what the problem is, we humans can eventually fix everything if we simply try, says the Western thinker. The Western Christian simply adds God as an accessory.

The Bible assumes Creation is far more extensive than this universe. This universe is but a temporary bubble, a small intrusion of sorts, into the greater ineffable reality. This universe as we know it is fundamentally false; it is under the Fall. It is inherently flawed and unworthy of preservation in that human sin pervades the whole thing. At some point ahead of us, this will all come to an end and in this way alone will human suffering end. Humanity itself is fatally flawed and incapable of understanding even the full extent of what is here, never mind what is beyond. However, mankind has the potential for connecting to what is beyond, a faculty which is far above the human intellect. The intellect does not easily surrender to the higher capacity, and actively fights it.

The difficulty is the Western view is deeply burned into human consciousness. Even when people understand intellectually the difference in cosmology and anthropology, the reflexive thoughts and expectations still operate on the assumption of the unitary universe. In terms of how this damns Christian religion, people keep expecting God to redeem human space, when He pointedly said this was not a priority. They keep trying to create an ideal "Kingdom of God" on this plain of existence, when it simply is not possible. Humans cannot possibly be perfected in any real sense; our world cannot be fixed and God promised He most certainly would not fix it. He intends to replace it, and that process is so utterly cataclysmic that we cannot possibly imagine it.

Scripture does offer an optimal existence until then. Something in how God made things still responds to His moral standards. Whatever "Truth" is possible for human understanding, it is defined as this moral fabric, which is a direct reflection God's very personal character. It is utterly impossible to discern from mere human reason; it is only knowable by revelation. Further, the full implications of revelation cannot register in the mind, but require that higher faculty. In the human consciousness, revelation is but a shadowy indicator of ineffable truth. Human thought and communication can never be more than a shadowy reflection of some higher reality. Revelation took place historically within a series of covenants, contextual statements of how to live in pursuit of that optimal existence.

If there was a single fatal element in this false worldview of the West, we could probably point to the logical structure upon which the entire Western world is built. Even while Western wisdom cynically doubts humanity might ever actually rise to the standard, Westerners cling to some rational pursuit of objective truth that serves as a god in effect. Whatever good there is that we could have is contained entirely within this universe. Thus, most Christians imagine God as somehow constrained by reason, when He has bluntly stated in His revelation that reason is a poor substitute for moral truth. The Western mind imagines something impersonal and objective as the ideal. The biblical mind asserts there can be no objective truth, that all truth is merely a reflection of God's Person.

He can remake the universe on the fly to suit His whims, and has been known to do so just to prove the point. Whatever it is we imagine we might someday know about the rules and laws of our physical existence, they will never fathom the full truth, because God seems to suspend those rules and laws of nature. If you imagine His activity as a suspension of the rules, an intrusion into a stable and active system, you would miss the point entirely. It is more the case He is forcing a broken system to conform to His higher rules and laws. So called "miracles" are simply a restoration of justice.

To summarize the differences in academic terms: Western logic is primarily analytical and the language is descriptive. Biblical logic is symbolic, with the meaning of the symbols rooted outside this universe. Biblical language is parabolic and indicative.

Note on Recommended Readings

When readers see the term "encyclopedic articles," this covers the entire range of sources that function as encyclopedias. Feel free to check several different ones. That could be sites like Wikipedia, About, and such. It could be any traditional encyclopedia, some of which also have online editions. When it comes to antiquities and archeology, this is one of the few areas where Wikipedia does a reasonable job.

Part 1

Chapter 1 – The Meaning of Western

What does it mean to "Western"?

While we could make the case for suggesting we live in the Post-Modern age at the twilight of Western Civilization, we could equally argue the vast majority of Westerners aren't actually far beyond what we call Modern in the academic sense, essentially the period of Western history since 1500 AD. In terms of how people think and operate, we are still deeply rooted in the Enlightenment. And while the Western Church was involved, the net result leaves human operations in our current world as overwhelmingly agnostic and secular. The vast majority of Western Christians today think in terms of the Enlightenment and its appeal to reason.

It's good to go back and read the cream of Enlightenment writers. They claimed to recover and carry on the tradition of the classic brilliance of Greco-Roman Civilization. While other civilizations were studied avidly, it was the classics from Greece and Rome that held center stage.

But every civilization has its unique mythology, the underlying ground of assumptions about reality itself and the meaning of meaning. The underlying frame of reference was some measure of Greco-Roman Civilization mixed with a pervasive European tribal mythology. We could refer to this as mostly German tribal mythology, but that misses the point. Much of what we know about the older nations the Germans overran indicates they held the same basic worldview.

The Enlightenment is a strong mixture of European pagan mythology upon which was rebuilt some elements of the Greco-Roman Civilization. It's not a question of what the originating thinkers in each stage of history taught, but the effects of what they taught. We read history and literature of the past, not so we can know what it should have been in purity, but to see how human nature broadly interprets what thinkers promote. That's what the social sciences seek to show. We pursue Western Civilization's sense of self-awareness in answering the question, "How did we get here, to this situation?" At every stage of our journey, we need to understand the impact of pervasive philosophical changes on the broader, less educated population and following generations.

Thus, Western Civilization is broadly the result of recovering Greek and Roman ideals, but reinterpreted equally ancient European pagan values.

Chapter 2 – Greek Philosophers

Mythology is the heart and soul of every civilization.

In academic terms, the mythology of the people is the very soil from which any civilization grows. Whenever people ask themselves what is good or bad, and what they shall do in this or that context, the answer will always reflect their mythology. It is well nigh impossible to read from conscious thinking back into reconstructing a lost mythology, but if we know anything at all about how the people thought, we can easily discern a myth that they never believed, because it had no effect on how they lived.

It would be easy enough to find an abbreviated discussion of Ancient Greece on sites like Wikipedia. The very depth and breadth of the subject itself, and the vast horde of sources behind it, help to ensure that whatever Wikipedia can share with us on the subject is broadly trustworthy even as it skips over a vast amount of detail. While we could find a sizable library of reading material in Ancient Greece, it's neither the facts nor exactly the literature that informs our objective. We need to understand it, not as an entity in its own right, but as a critical influence in what Western Civilization is now.

We don't need to invest a large amount of time and attention to threshing out the facts of history and winnowing them from the legends of literature. Instead of that vast wealth of knowledge that has already consumed a great many minds and lives, we need juicy bits of understanding how art and history worked together. One textbook describes the early Greeks and the essence of their disunity within a common cultural background. If they were to ever get anything done, they had to find a way to harness their passions or remain forever vulnerable to threats from other nations.

Perhaps because they were a restless and vehement people, the Greeks came to prize the "classical" virtues, which they were the first to define. For them, the ideal lay in moderation, or a golden mean. They valued order, balance, symmetry, clarity, and control. Their statues revealed their conception of what man ought to be – a noble creature, dignified, poised, unterrified by life or death, master of himself and his feelings. Their architecture, as in the Parthenon, made use of exactly measured angles and rows of columns. The classical "order," or set of carefully wrought pillars placed in a straight line at specified intervals, represented the firm impress of human reason on the brute materials of nature. The same sense of form was thrown over the torrent of human words. Written language became contrived, carefully planned, organized for effect. The epic poem, the lyric, the drama, the oration, along with history and the philosophic dialogue, each with its own rules and principles of composition, became the "forms" with which, in Western Civilization, writers long continued to express their thoughts.

[From page 12 of R.R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World, subtitled "To 1815" (volume one of a two volume set). 8th edition, McGraw-Hill, 1995.]

It can be argued the Greeks were the first to decide that advanced math was not magic, nor properly part of magical lore. There might be plenty the eye could not discern, but human logic was sufficient to tease out everything a man could act upon consciously. The Greeks were stoutly and self-consciously human-centered in their philosophical assumptions. Man was the measure of all things. Not average persons here and there, but the ideals that men could conceive and reason about could lead to the ultimate answers to all the proper questions about reality.

Among the many Greek philosophers, three names continue demanding our attention: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Socrates taught Plato, and we know of him only what Plato tells us. Plato taught Aristotle, and the latter refers to a wealth of material from Plato that apparently never got into written form. Among the random accidents of history, Aristotle was selected to educate Alexander the Great, who went on to become the single greatest evangelist of Greek learning even as he conquered a large portion of the earth's surface. It was not a mere projection of power, but a passionate ardor in offering what he believed was the greatest gift he could offer mankind. He didn't enforce the Greek tongue on his realm; he persuaded the people to embrace it as a lover.

We are told Alexander paid from own personal treasury for the building of libraries, filling them with books, and establishing Greek styled academies and gymnasiums. His successors struggled to maintain that self-conscious Greek culture of learning. They do no call themselves "Greek" but "Hellenes" (English spellings vary) based on the legend of Helen of Troy. Thus, Alexander the Great was the premier Hellenizer in history. So deeply did Greek learning penetrate that, some time later when Greece was but a glorious memory, the recognized center of Greek culture was Alexandria, Egypt.

One signal element in the underlying assumptions of Greek culture, as noted above in the quotation from Palmer and Colton, is a conscious approach to the use of language. One of the most powerful and lasting influences on Western Civilization was how language was used to communicate thoughts. Western languages as a group are described broadly as concrete, descriptive and nominative, with all sharing a tendency to precision. That is, scholars of each language struggle to set forth limits and constraints to prevent words being so flexible as to have no practical use. The primary power of language in the West is how clearly and concretely the idea can be expressed.

This is closely wedded to the fundamental approach to thought itself. The philosophers themselves would discuss words, their etymology and how they should be used. While Plato is credited with the basic idea, it is Aristotle who invested so much effort in defining what we can call "knowledge": What can we say is real? However, in practice, the question is more of, "What can we claim to know such that we can act on it?" While Aristotle acknowledged there could well be gods and such, mythology was not a trustworthy witness in the sense of man having a meaningful interaction with them. Religion was useful in quelling the fears of some minds, perhaps, but when it came down to the business of constructing a broad understanding of the universe in which we live, we can relegate it to a lower status. Belief is distinguished from knowledge.

Yet mythology did answer some very real questions, in the sense that Aristotle simply accepted the notion inherent in Greek myths about the limits of the universe. It's not so much what Aristotle said as how he said it. His underlying assumption was that this universe is the fullest extent of reality. If there were gods, they were inside it, despite being unseen by human eyes (most of the time). Whatever the underworld might be, though the River Styx might not be on any maps, it was part of this universe. Whatever reason and logic men could summon, it must of necessity apply to anything and everything worthy of discussion. Otherwise, it wasn't worthy of consideration. Thus, the logic of Aristotle, particularly as it came to be understood and used by others, placed all knowable things inside the boundaries of reason, and by default, within this one universe.

The legacy of the Greek philosophers made man the master of all things, and his rightful god was reason.

Recommended readings: Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"; encyclopedic articles, surveys or summaries of Aristotle's works, as his surviving works are too condensed and challenging for most folks; encyclopedic articles on Greek mythology. Even some novels do a good review of Greek philosophy, such as Sophie's World.

Chapter 3 – Roman Organization

Alexander's empire had established the pattern for what followed in the West.

The net effect of what Greece accomplished was to close off forever any consideration of otherworldly inquiry. It didn't extinguish religious yearnings, but relegated them to superstition and a lesser concern. Building an empire in such a world requires ensuring the citizens have three basic needs covered in one way or another. First, there is a sense of physical security. It's not so much the actual security itself, but the perception of relative security from typical threats to life -- starvation, disease and predation. Second is something to occupy the intellect. Greeks thought they had that worked out very well. Third is a sense of identity, an awareness of belonging to something worthy. It took Philip and his son Alexander to refocus that so that the Greek peoples were united enough to pose a valid threat to other empires and kingdoms, in pursuit of Hellenistic glory.

The Greeks seemed to understand these human needs on some level, but all their various efforts to implement such grand ideals turned out to be unsustainable. The Greeks were so preoccupied with the ideals that they never could quite tolerate the reality that human nature could not be forced to rise beyond a certain level. They understood instinctively that the mass of humanity could not ascend to the understanding of philosophers, or the virtue of noblemen, or the talent of artisans. But they never quite understood how to bring their theories to reality. It required a race of people with a more pragmatic turn of mind.

The Romans did that. Something fundamental to Roman social structure and the character of their civilization answered the need of discovering what people could tolerate for a sustainable empire.

Roman philosophy, literature, architecture and art were not uninspiring, but nonetheless relentlessly practical at some fundamental level. They were the first in the West to effectively plan around human weakness, taking for granted that everyone had a price. When you make Roman policy and expectations consistent with their best interests, using a mixture of policy tinkering and threatening, people tend to find a way to participate meaningfully and keep things working. No one gave thought to rarefied dreams of perfection, but to pragmatic discernment of what could be had in the real world.

They understood how to get the most from amassed resources to accomplish great feats of engineering, including engineering human behavior. We note in passing, for example, that Rome was the first empire in history to discover that a very high investment in military equipment and training purchased consistent victory despite surprises. An exceptionally high degree of uniformity at the lowest level of the standard infantryman, arming them more heavily than other armies provided for their more elite troops, made Rome's legions hard to match. While the communities all across the empire had a duty to provide their best men for the army, for the individual soldier it became a high privilege. Government expenditures on the military were carefully programmed to maximize the very limits of human capability. Rome managed to invest overall quite a bit more in their military forces with far fewer sudden and shocking demands on the productivity of the people.

Without digging into the specific details, we notice the Romans seemed to have absorbed the Greek Civilization without entirely plumbing the depths of what it meant. Where the Greek language and education was established, they simply assumed the administration in place. They changed only those elements of Greek government necessary to give them reliable control. Farther north and west, where the Greeks had not paved the way, the people were encouraged to learn Latin if they wanted to be involved in government and commerce. Wherever Rome sent her troops, they brought her engineering, organizational and legal influences.

Romans understood the basic needs of the people they ruled. For the most part, they stayed out daily affairs. A subject could retain his allegiance to his national identity throughout the empire. Wherever the unique character of some little kingdom made wholesale adoption of Roman policy too shocking, the Roman administrators made adjustments. They never pushed where they weren't willing to back it up fully with force. Extermination was always an option, but they were hesitant for one simple reason: People were primarily an economic asset.

Never mind what Roman writers and philosophers said was most important to Rome; the actions of the government always seemed to place naked economics at the center of their efforts. It was economics that finally brought Rome down. Virtually everything else she understood quite well, but restraining greed was the ultimate failure. It seemed everyone operated from the wordless demand of some unconscious god that they must have just a bit more the next time around. At some point, they failed to recognize they had reached the practical limits and were unwilling to accept the natural equilibrium. They exchanged their devotion to order for a devotion to hedonism.

The necessity of hiring more and more German mercenary armies on the frontier to fight other German tribes, mercenaries that weren't truly absorbed into the Roman Civilization, was the path to their final failure. Rome didn't so much fall as they were simply taken over by their own hired thugs.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic articles on Ancient Rome -- Wikipedia is particularly good for this topic.

Chapter 4 – Germanic Mythology

The actual history of what happened starting from the decline of Rome is not nearly so important as how events shaped Western Civilization.

It's not as if Rome was completely forgotten, but her power and influence in cultural terms were packed away for future reference. Ragged portions of Roman influence remained visible throughout the period we call the Dark Ages of Europe. The mixed Germanic tribes causing all the chaos were generally quite fond of what Roman Civilization offered, but bore with them such an overwhelming mass of their own native culture that it took some time to recover.

We can't really call it an invasion; the Germanic nations were migratory. The chaos they brought was simply the nature of their lifestyle. They seldom ever invaded as a force, but simply raided now and then until their target was overwhelmed, collapsed to some degree, and then the raiders simply colonized what was left. No one should suggest they weren't as intelligent as any other people, just not at all organized except in a very loose sense. Keeping track of the various groups, their names and their dialects is a monumental task still ongoing. What matters for us is the collection of common cultural features they all seemed to share in varying degrees.

Again, the question for us is not what they did, nor especially how they did it, but the effect of their time as the dominant force in the lands of Europe. We are just barely able to read from the cultural impact back into some scattered records that explain at least some of that effect. The primary element is their mythology in terms of how it so deeply and thoroughly steered their lives.

Two primary images arise for us from our standpoint: Thor and Oester. We can extract from their varied portrayals the quintessence of German manhood and womanhood. These portrayals are still with us as fundamental to our Western culture today. Most people simply cannot imagine one basic fact: When it came time to pay an indemnity for lost personnel, a woman's weregild was twice that of any man of the same social rank. Underneath all the noise and appearances, women ruled society in things that mattered most. The most stable image is that of the household matriarch, an image associated with the goddess Oester. They were the keepers of the hearth and in a very substantial way, controlled the fundamental identity and values of society. Their control was hardly absolute, but over the long term, uncontested.

The image of Thor is likewise the foundation of Western manhood. The Greeks to some degree and Romans more so, seldom actually feared death. It was simply wired into their worldview, a fundamental duty. The subtle difference was for German men to fear it, but to still face it bravely as their duty -- the point of duty being by far the substance of their bravery. The fear is seen peeking out from behind their stolid sense of duty at moments when they are caught off guard. Their primary defense against fear was anger, turning most threats into a personal insult. By comparison to Romans and Greeks, the ideal German man is somewhat of an overgrown boy. Whatever was meant by maturity was not hard to fulfill. For them, facing danger was a game. While a significant portion of their resources went for toys and buying prestige, they weren't taken too seriously during peacetime at home. They were sent off to hunt, cultivate and build to keep them out of the way. At times, they would gather to party and discuss their important government decisions, but these things remained highly variable and almost chaotic. The stability of their existence was still in the hands of their women.

The Nordic branch managed to preserve their legends a bit better, so that the most substantial literature is theirs. Thus, we have the English tale of Nordic legends in Beowulf. Most students never read past the first half of the story, and it's quite dreary enough as it is. Not in the telling, but utterly devoid of the joy in living itself, just a few bits of fun and games stolen now and then from a gray existence. A serious threat comes almost as a relief; finally, something worthy of getting yourself killed. It was otherwise a society of near terminal boredom.

Aside from the virtuosity of talent for battle and frightening enemies through sheer insanity, the most highly valued art was the telling and singing about such exploits.

Recommended readings: Obviously, Beowulf, particularly the first part of the larger legend. An interesting novel with a well-researched background for the pre-Christian Danish tribal warrior society is Byzantium by Stephan R. Lawhead (cheap on Amazon).

Chapter 5 – The Western Church

While reading the German legends can be a bit gloomy, the history of the Western Church is downright painful.

We recognize academically the difference between religion and spirituality. An essential element of human nature is an apprehension of things beyond the self, things that are higher and more powerful than humanity itself. The degree to which this apprehension may intrude into the consciousness, we call it spirituality. Religion is properly the organized human thinking, teaching and activities which seek to answer the pull of spirituality. The depth and breadth of that pull varies almost infinitely across humanity; so also does the question of what shape and place religion should hold in our existence. While theology is the rational inquiry into religious questions, mythology historically precedes reason and religion both. Religion invariably conforms to the mythology of the people involved, seldom consciously chosen.

German mythology offers no consistent or substantive view of the afterlife, with spiritual and corporeal existence inextricably intertwined. That is, such were their thoughts insofar as they thought much about it at all, since philosophy and theology simply didn't exist among the tribal Germans. Once they encountered Christian teaching, the Germans overwhelmingly preferred heretical doctrines such as Arianism. In essence, Arius taught that Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father, but a distinctly lesser, created being. While not directly linked to the Gnostic heresies, Arianism drew much from the broader philosophical assumptions that also gave us Gnosticism. The various theological controversies of the early church were problem enough, but they reflected something much more subtle and sinister.

Jesus was an ANE man preaching an ANE religion. It's hard to imagine that anyone could not see the otherworldly focus of His Hebrew Mystical background. Yet before the last of Apostles died around 100 AD, we know that quite a few of those earliest churches were slipping away from that focus into a very worldly outlook. The trend continued until the church leadership in the time of Constantine couldn't wait to receive his official declaration in favor of whatever organized Christianity had become at that time. Having drifted far from the tribal organization fundamental to anything Hebrew, churches had become increasingly Greek or Roman in their internal structure and rituals. Constantine first made them welcome in his councils; it was all too easy for church leaders to simply become part of the government. With that, the Christian religion became a slave of government policy.

Once Constantine abandoned the western half of his empire, the church hierarchy was the last vestige of Roman government still functioning. Survival as an organization took precedence of everything else, and external trappings become pretty much the entire identity of the Christian religion in the West. In the confusing mess of German tribes jockeying for power and preeminence in and around Rome, the church saved herself by compromising with whoever held political power over the migrating tribes. The Church was the sole source of social continuity for just about everyone, as the Church coaxed Germans into embracing as much of Roman Civilization as they could tolerate.

Thus, in their lust to maintain the same political privileges they held under Constantine, the Church leaders curried the favor of whoever was the secular ruler in the vicinity of Rome. At some point, the ascendant German ruler embraced Christianity as his official religion; the deeper question of much it changed the ruler is seldom examined. In relative terms, this official adoption spread rather quickly. As the Church began to reorganize within the new reality and gained a large degree of feudal power, she became the potential counterweight to any ruler. The final wedding was under Charlemagne who took the title Holy Roman Emperor.

Civilizing the rowdy German warriors was far more than simply manipulating them into a Christian confession. The Church was at pains to tame their wild mythology. Not so much the legends and tales, but the meaning of those tales was a challenge. What we now call "chivalry" is almost entirely a construct of Church scholars putting a coat of polish, a Christian religious veneer on German tribal social customs. While there was a great deal more filler with notions of honor and civility, it retained the subtle matriarchal focus. That is, women were portrayed as inherently saintly and men had to constantly rise to their expectations. It's not hard to see how veneration of Mary became so important, rather displacing, yet merging with, Oester as the Queen Goddess.

The question of religion at the point of a sword simply signals how religion is used. Were there no pretense that it really answered the questions of spiritual apprehension, it would have been consistent with prior human history. The Roman Church today is far nicer than she was at the height of her power in the Middle Ages. Rather early, she seized the question of spirituality, the otherworldly element of Christian faith, and locked it away in a dungeon. The Western Church had so deeply absorbed the Greco-Roman assumptions about reality that nearly every vestige of the Hebrew mystical outlook was forgotten. Over time, the mere mention of wanting to get to know genuine spirituality could get you tortured and killed.

In effect, the Church acted on the assumption that man's intellect was not fallen. She virtually denied the existence of the spirit. All that God might think to do among humans was completely entrusted to the political organization of the Church hierarchy, with virtually no reference to the Spirit Realm. There was no Kingdom of Heaven in terms of what the phrase implied about a higher realm and spiritual apprehension; the visible church organization was all you were permitted to think of as the Kingdom of God. Mysticism was never completely forgotten and continually beckoned those within the Church; as late as 1700, a priest named Fenelon started down that path (the Quietism controversy), only to be dragged back by Church officials. The phrase "saving your soul" became the excuse for the most unspeakable terrorism. We note that Roman political philosophy was self-consciously dehumanizing, and the Roman Church absorbed this as an instinct. Where Church officials held genuine political authority, they were as a whole easily more brutal and hateful than most honestly pagan German lords.

Rather early in this process, all of Western Europe faced what they considered a serious threat of Islamic conquest. You can read about the victory of Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 732 AD. What isn't so easily found is discussion of how the rather prolonged contact with Islamic Civilization actually intensified the fundamentally secular view of the West. The Muslims brought a far better organized mathematics, virtually inventing Algebra, along with advancements in medicine a range of other natural sciences. Fewer still will openly admit the Church absorbed a lot of this in their basic worldview. At the same time there was vast underground scholarship examining various Old World philosophy, giving birth to the earliest Western secret societies.

The Church maintained a chokehold on all scholarship, at least in theory. When Church leaders fully realized that these evil Muslim hordes controlled the ancient lands on which Jesus walked, they sensed a sinister threat to their control. If wandering scholars and soldiers could independently go and research some of the existing classical documents and artifacts of Greek, Roman and even some Hebrew civilization, they might counter the claims of the Church hierarchy regarding facts. This would weaken her claim to moral authority over the question of what it meant to be Christian. This gave rise to the Crusades and the propaganda claim of freeing the Land of Christ from the filthy pagan Muslims.

Not only were the Crusades a strategic failure in the long run, those scholarly soldiers rediscovered a vast wealth of classical Greek and Roman art and literature. On the one hand, the Church also absorbed the classics in the guise of Thomism, the work of Thomas Aquinas consciously bringing theology under the sway of Aristotle. Meanwhile, the ferment of rediscovery and the weakening hand of the Church's stranglehold on intellectual pursuit brought us the Renaissance.

We note in passing, again, official doctrine is less the issue than the broader impact of belief. When Dante wrote his Divine Comedy, it really didn't matter what he intended. There is very real sense in which his allegory became a powerful influence on the Church. The behavior of Church hierarchy betrayed a sense that it was official doctrine. Even as the Reformers renounced the notion of Purgatory, for example, their net behavior and teaching still gives credence to the underlying assumptions about reality that pervades Dante's work. Official doctrine expressed in the likes of Westminster Confession gives mere lip service to the otherworldly notions and confuses religion and spirituality.

Western feudalism carried the seeds of its own destruction. When rulers both secular and sacred found new ways to spend far more money, they found the old economics of land-based production wouldn't pay the bills. Traders discovered they could making big profits, but only if they twisted the rulers' arms. They did so by dangling money in front of them, purchasing charters and such. Little by little, the feudal chokehold gave way, not just on trade and self-government, but in scholarship and the arts. It was the birth of the social middle class and her pretensions to claiming the turf previously reserved for nobility. That genie could not be put back in the bottle, and the Renaissance was followed quickly by the Reformation.

Martin Luther's 95 Theses were hardly original. The complaints were not new, having been voiced for quite some time by priests serving within the Vatican offices. His posting of them was in a manner and location that seldom elicited public notice. The Church was hardly so uniform as to suffer no debates between passionate and earnest men of good will. The whole thing could have been quietly resolved as had been done countless times before within the existing Church hierarchy. However, Luther's questions fell into a critical turning point in European politics as a whole. The Church hierarchy felt compelled to crush all dissent, valid or otherwise. Further, scandalmongers seized up his complaints as propaganda, looking to make money by blowing it all out of proportion. Luther became a pivotal figure quite by accident. In many respects, Lutheran religion is not radically different from Roman. What matters more is the process that Luther as a political hot potato started.

The Reformation was, if anything, an even more cerebral kind of Christian religion. Ever more did human reason take the throne over faith. Reason became the justification for ripping political power from the hands of the Roman Church. The Reformers had their own political agenda. Without the need for political restraints of the old Church hierarchy, the Reformation leaders were free to indulge in what they considered pure reason for a purer religion. In essence, it was more of the same fundamental departure from the original teachings of Christ and the Apostles, but it was still a religion on the point of a sword. Eventually the question of spiritual apprehension reemerged as a separate issue, opening the question of what place religion should hold in human life.

Thus was born a very secular religion and secular government.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic articles on Arianism and other Early Church controversies, Constantine and noting particularly how he paganized Christian religion, Mariolatry, Scholasticism, Thomism and Thomas Aquinas, and Charlemagne. The works of Francois Fenelon are available in many forms, but encyclopedic articles on Quietism can help. Any brief reviews of the historical period in Europe covered by the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation would make a good refresher. If you are going to read any part of Dante's Divine Comedy, annotated translations are highly recommended. The Westminster Confession of Faith also needs a bit of commentary. One of the best examinations of the very nature of feudalism can be found in Marc Bloch's Feudal Society.

Chapter 6 – The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was the pinnacle of Western Civilization.

To understand the theological flavor and ritual traditions of any Christian denomination, one need only trace its birth. Broadly speaking, American expressions of Christian religion range between Medieval (Catholic and Episcopalian), Early Reformation (Lutheran and Evangelical), Late Reformation (Presbyterian, Reformed, Anabaptists), English Post-Reformed (Methodist, Puritan, later Baptists), and those that arose later in reaction to these various threads. There are a handful of denominations that reflect a strong element of the American religious revival around 1800, but everything else seems to rehash those previous themes. Each reflects the mythology of their birth with varying degrees of change as the social mythology drifts. Yet for the most part, virtually the entire range of American Christianity is deeply stained by the Enlightenment.

It's not enough to understand what the Enlightenment was in historical terms. In this course we understand it most clearly from the impact it had on the intellectual climate. This intellectual movement had a dual center of gravity in London and Paris where a burgeoning middle class presence was tightly packed in exploding prosperity. They dared to challenge the Church and religion itself, along with the full range of aristocratic institutions. A new generation of aristocrats was actually willing to sponsor this social uprising, some out of sheer boredom with the constraining trappings of power. It was time to put away the old Germanic sense of duty and discipline as the only answer to a dreary world, and try to bring light and joy. They were rediscovering yet again that the delights of rational thought applied to areas of life previously off limits such analysis. They were heady times.

However, there was one seriously fatal mistake in the midst of all this playful exploration. The culprit was Rousseau, sadly deluded by the conviction he could actually start from scratch in reasoning to truth. It hardly matters what he concluded or whether anyone consciously accepted his thesis; his audacity is what people absorbed. This was more than Aristotle picking through the wreckage of failed reasoning from his predecessors, but a fresh assertion of the limitless powers of human reason. But while Aristotle still allowed for things he could never understand, the seed was planted via the German mythology that crystallized the unspoken assumption that the known and knowable universe was the full limit of things. Having only the bad example of the Church and a few contentious rebels from the Church, spirituality was considered an integral part of religion and discarded as a single package. The otherworldly perspective was dispatched once and for all.

That near-universal apprehension of higher things was harnessed to the question of what man could accomplish. Previous boundaries to inquiry and exploration served only to crush the souls of men, so the rejection of all boundaries became a primary doctrine. Sin was a mere question of pragmatism. The question was never, "Why?" It was always, "Why not?" Any spiritual yearnings were dismissed as superstition. This didn't so much happen during the Enlightenment as it arose from it; this was the fundamental effect of the various expressions of Enlightenment pursuits.

In many ways, America was the quintessential expression of the Enlightenment. The US Constitution is built directly on this intellectual movement, starting from scratch. The colonists were widely varied enough they could agree only not to repeat what had long been established in Europe and remained generally inescapable. Given the very strong but highly varied religious background in the colonial leaders, the only safe course for unity was to allow the dominance of the quintessential Enlightenment answer to religion: Deism, now known as Unitarian Universalism. While the Deist approach to the question of spiritual apprehension was entirely Aristotelian in shape, the underlying German morality was simply assumed as self-evident truth.

Modern feminist doctrine is little more than the current logical extension of this mix. Never mind the specifics of feminist politics; notice the underlying theme of materialism as expressed in the nest-building instinct of the European Earth Mother. The assumption that men are inherently troublesome boys with too much power therefore requires the women take them in hand and tame them, making them nice in the modern day extension of chivalry. Everyone has to be assumed equal and we dare not let anyone end up with a cookie smaller than everyone else got. That's little more than the logical extension of things like human rights, democracy and equality. The West has always been inherently feminist and the chief deity was always female.

Of course, it has always been utterly impossible to level human society. The mere suggestion is dehumanizing, patting them on the head and saying it's okay to be an individual snowflake so long as the consequences of individuality don't interfere with the universal Mommy Spirit's plans. At the same time, almost the entire female population can't resist impulsively offering their favors to the tiny handful of men who are talented, yet refuse to be nice and chivalrous. Meanwhile these same women make endless justifications and rationalizations about each dalliance separately, and still demand of every other man the niceness that makes men despicable to them. They are no longer much interested in literal motherhood, but take a Nanny's approach to all political and social questions.

We end up with a society that worships youth because it fears death. Extravagant resources are wasted on keeping bodies alive longer and longer, while life has less and less meaning. The otherworldly viewpoint is a joke among Christian pastors. With each passing year more and more churches join the new soft legalism of trying to have a better and more successful existence in the secular world. The only difference between church and secular pop psychology is the addition of religious talk and Bible verses used as a paint job. The Hebrew Jesus is suppressed with vigor and the Cross becomes the incongruous symbol of a fuller and happier life. Meanwhile, all manner of senseless political activism is sold as good religion. Christianity means nothing more than just another big, politically active entertainment business.

Forget what theologians say and teach; Western Christianity as a whole unconsciously assumes the social mythology of feminism as fundamental reality and operates as if there cannot actually be a Spirit Realm.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic articles on the Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and the American Revolution. A survey of Victorian English literature with a view to nascent feminism would be instructive.

Part 2

Chapter 1 – Approaching Biblical Mysticism

Our task here is hard because Western writers seldom acknowledge the mystical element in Scripture unless they are generally hostile to the message of the Bible.

Biblical scholars range all over the map with varying degrees of commitment to the underlying claims of revelation. To the degree they seem to take it seriously as given, they also discount or avoid the mystical element. They either pretend it is simply out of reach to the Western mind, or try to paint it as primitive, even sinister. Western Christian scholars somehow imagine Christ and the Apostles rescued revelation from the evil clutches of those demonic mystics. Exceedingly rare is the Western scholar who honestly appraises the difference and embraces it, too. Readers will be hard put to find defenders of the Hebrew Mystical approach to reading the Bible.

As we shall see, moving from Eastern to Western intellectual assumptions is rather easy. Moving the other way is a monumental task. There has never been a society without a mythology (recalling our academic use of the term "mythology" in the Introduction to this study). The human soul, by definition, cannot gear up to meet reality with any intellectual advantage over animals unless it first has some organizing principle on which to build a frame of reference. Digging into one's personal mythological foundation is a daunting task. It tends to be quite painful. Replacing that foundation is a major struggle many simply will not attempt. The meaning of meaning is a question too few will consider.

It is rare to find a Western scholar discussing Western Civilization in less than glowing terms. We can find plenty of Western critiques of elements or episodes in Western Civilization, but virtually no Western scholar criticizes the thing itself. At the very least it is defended, and is usually praised. You will typically find only a grudging willingness to call anything non-Western "civilization" in the first place. It is also quite rare when a Western scholar discusses any previous civilization in sympathetic terms.

Most of those who do cross over to another mythology tend to close the door behind them. They find it exceedingly difficult to keep their grip on the new truth while holding the door open to others. The ability to keep a foot in both worlds is often more than a viewpoint migrant can handle. This course aims at just that.

Part of the problem is the pervasive Western assumptions about reality. Even those who claim to embrace mysticism generally cling to an Aristotelian unitary universe. There is an unbreakable linkage between having all reality within this universe and having it within reach of the intellect. Western Mysticism is generally defined in terms of a higher form of logic and reason, tends to use familiar words differently, but still stands entirely within reach of native human capabilities. The image is one of tapping into unused parts of the conscious intellect. This is a half-truth.

The very foundation of Western Civilization is the primacy of the human intellect. It rules, must rule. The Hebrew approach finds the mind a useful servant, but a foul master. The Western mystic assumes the necessity of remaining the master of the exploration and the results of it. The Hebrew mystic assumes all humans serve one master or another, and the question is a matter of wisely choosing whom you serve (it's never properly a "what" but a "whom").

It's easy enough to find scholarship recognizing this very substantial difference. However, much of that scholarship is cynical about revelation and willingly appeals to documentation and archeology outside the Bible. Such scholarship places the Hebrew Bible alongside other literature of the same type academically, deriding the notion it is anything special. Within their scholarly examination, the overlap between Hebrew and other ANE cultures is too extensive, and the distinctive elements not significant enough to justify what seems to them a purely political decision to keep Christianity so dominant. Given how Christian religious leaders have handled things historically, you can hardly blame them.

Our problem is digging into Biblical Mysticism with all the applicable Western tools until the door is open far enough we can put them away. Standing outside this doorway, we must of necessity recognize that the very nature of what's beyond is utterly different from all our Western intellectual expectations. The starting point of this exploration is recognizing that you leave behind any vestigial hope of objectivity. The very notion of objectivity was created wholly within Western traditions, and is absent from, if not ridiculed openly by, every other intellectual tradition in the world since time began. Every prior civilization of which we are even dimly aware gave no place to the primacy of objectivity, as if it were even possible for the human soul to claim it.

It's not as if there would not be some common pool of experience we might share between us within mysticism. There is entirely too much commonality in the human experience of life itself for that. Rather, the optimal use of mysticism as an intellectual orientation requires adopting a common mythology, but doing so consciously. That was the fundamental meaning of Moses spending time on Mount Sinai. He went to meet with God face to face, as it were, to receive a clearly defined mythology selected from the vast trove of what the Hebrew people carried with them up to that point. While forcing such a wholesale change on an entire nation didn't work out too well, a voluntary, fully informed and conscious choice to embrace it is an integral part of the message of Christ.

The unspoken assumption in Jesus' teachings was that God had chosen to speak from within a particular cultural background, with a fairly distinctive mythology. It wasn't chosen at random; the narrative of Genesis lays out the story of how God worked through a chain of individuals to establish that mythology. God consciously built a frame of reference for His revelation. The Covenant of Moses was not simply a short list of treaty obligations we call The Ten Commandments. It was the entire narrative history of a particular thread of events leading up to that moment, with a body of understanding about His expectations for humanity. Our task is to discern what from that covenant repository remains universally applicable once outside the historical context.

On the one hand, the rituals and customs prescribed by Moses were not radically new to the Hebrew people. It was all familiar. So similar was it to the pagan religion of the Canaanites that Israel was constantly slipping and sliding into the local idolatry. It simply wasn't that different in their minds. On the other hand, Moses made a radical claim that went over the heads of most Israelis: All other deities are imaginary. There was no other god ever; there had always been only one God in the first place. To the degree that might have registered, the common Israelite had no trouble thinking other religious expressions might be a valid alternative and that Moses was being crabby and exclusive for political reasons. They rejected the idea God chose Moses as his primary representative.

The only way to quell such a natural reaction was for individuals to experience God themselves. Not indirectly, as a spectator to the mighty miracles, but they must experience Him directly. Despite the very concrete evidence that others could not reproduce the miracles of Moses, there remained a solid resentment against him. Some of the most earth shattering experiences could not change their fundamental thought processes. It was too easy to dismiss or associate events with a different meaning. But that personal encounter with God as your Sovereign Lord changes everything.

The degree to which that experience is available to everyone is impossible to define. We can state with certainty only that it is necessary, and indicate correlations of what comes with it, but each individual must of necessity get there on their own.

The definition of mysticism itself is not about the content of your minds, but the pathway you take to arrive at your thoughts and beliefs. In the ANE tradition, mysticism is the apprehension of truth from outside the conscious mental processes. Revelation second-hand -- told or written -- can start the process if the mind is ready to accept that input. However, the ultimate goal is to permit the individual their own unique connection with that higher truth from within, to establish their own individual link to that other realm of existence. This whole thing assumes quite contrary to Aristotle that this universe is not the extent of things, but is frankly a lesser existence aside from the ultimate reality. Plato and his Ideal fall short of this, because the ANE mystic assumes the human mind has no capacity to handle that Ideal. It requires a separate faculty that belongs to that other realm, a linkage initiated on the other end.

The unique Biblical Mysticism consciously and willfully embraces the cultural orientation of Moses and his nation as God's one authorized mythology upon which to build. This is accepted as the proper frame of reference for understanding Jesus. There are complications as we shall see, but the struggle before us is the very lack of documentation supporting this approach. We are left with a combination of fragmentary accurate scholarship that is hostile to our intent and a vast ocean of inaccurate friendly scholarship. While Western Christian scholarship contains flashes and patches of accuracy, we are hard put to find anything wholly trustworthy.

The referenced reading material takes on a different flavor in this second part of our course. The student is warned in advance that the task of shifting over to Biblical Mysticism tends to be a long and slow process. Embracing it is merely the first step of a long and frustrating search. Due to the dearth of external materials, the following chapters will be longer and more in depth.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic surveys of Eastern Philosophy, focusing particularly on ANE cultures. The author's essay, East versus West: A Review of Epistemology, can introduce the nature of the conflict.

Chapter 2 – The Ancient Near East

The academic definition of The Ancient Near East (ANE) includes a portion of the earth's surface which runs from the Caucasus on the northeast, across modern Turkey and out to Crete, down to Egypt up through Palestine and around to include all of Mesopotamia out to the Zagros Mountains. It is considered the home of humanity's earliest civilizations.

The first problem we run into is the paucity of readable material on ANE culture and mythology below the graduate level. It is generally not regarded a subject for any serious examination without a highly specialized need. How much would someone use such a study outside the narrow pursuits of academia? Again, that is the Western bias. The entire subject of the ANE is regarded as esoteric with only a few tiny bits of any use to others. The student in this course is left hanging, trusting the material as presented unless he or she wants to really invest serious effort. This course makes no pretense of being the final answer, the one best or correct understanding of the obscure material behind it all; that would be a Western pretense. The assumption here is: If you need more, you'll know enough to seek it out and come to your own conclusions. One can only present, and live by, what one has experienced.

Was it not for the heavy presence of Bible scholars seeking to verify basic geographical and historical facts related in Scripture, there would probably be a lot less interest in the first place.

An interest in finding the locations of cities mentioned in the Bible (such as Nineveh and Babylon) inspired the original English and French 19th century archaeological expeditions to the Near East. These sites were discovered and their excavations revealed to the world a style of art which had been lost.

[Senta German, "Ancient Near East"; Smart History, Khan Academy – accessed 21 July 2013.]

If you go on to read the following pages linked to the article quoted above, you'll discover that the earliest human writing we have dug up so far was nothing more than food inventories on clay tablets (3200 BC). The next nearest item was Hammurabi's Stele quite a bit later. While we might suppose similar tablets would have been used for other purposes, we just don't have much that goes back that far except ample proof the Egyptians weren't the only ones using pictograph records.

Yet another problem to reading directly from the ANE sources is the current cacophony of alternative theories that have appeared in recent decades. There is no way to characterize them all and certainly no way to summarize how seriously we should take them. The course will stick with the older materials simply because they are freely available on the Net. The previously referenced Khan Academy material is very simple and worth a quick read for orientation. If the reader wants more in depth materials, the Sacred Texts website offers several free books out of copyright both online and CD/DVD orders. Their section on ANE is representative of older scholarship. Many universities have online materials, as well -- a good search engine using the key terms should bring more than anyone has time to read.

The Gilgamesh Epic is difficult at best. That is, in the very act of translation, we are given a dose of the Western bias in deciding what words best depict something from an alien world long buried in the sands of time and the literal sands of the Mesopotamian Valley. Without a certain preparatory study, you are just as well off reading a summary or someone's analysis of it. Even though they vary some in what they conclude about the meaning of the story, this in itself helps us realize that genuine mysticism is not about commonly agreed facts but how they can be used. It's about the meaning of things within your own soul and the journey only you can take. The very real historical person behind the name Gilgamesh and his exploits becomes a symbol of something that touches us, but leaves varying fingerprints on each.

Stories do not need to inform us of anything. They do inform us of things. From The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, we know something of the people who lived in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the second and third millenniums BCE. We know they celebrated a king named Gilgamesh; we know they believed in many gods; we know they were self-conscious of their own cultivation of the natural world; and we know they were literate. These things we can fix -- or establish definitely. But stories also remind us of things we cannot fix -- of what it means to be human. They reflect our will to understand what we cannot understand, and reconcile us to mortality.

[Arthur A. Brown, "Storytelling, the Meaning of Life, and The Epic of Gilgamesh"; online as part of Exploring Ancient World Cultures, The Near East section, sponsored by University of Evansville. This is one of the better discussions of Gilgamesh. The original link where this work was published no longer works; I took the liberty of fetching a PDF copy of the page from the Internet Archives.]

The main reason any of this matters to us is that Abraham came out of that world. To understand any portion of Abraham's actions and words requires we know something of his cultural and intellectual background. The identity of the Hebrew people is rooted in Abraham's world, not simply whence he came, but what he later became after his time in Palestine. The other pivotal character is Moses, who was educated in Egypt, the other cradle of ANE civilization. Again, the difficulty is the murky meaning of the surviving texts when passed through the filter of time, language, culture and intellectual orientation. Yes, we have the Rosetta Stone, but how do we ascertain its accuracy? We also have other bilingual Egyptian texts, but the debate continues now two centuries later over what to make of them.

The one thing we need as we move forward is not merely the questions of translating obscure languages long out of use, but how they used language as a means of transmitting something worth the trouble, and why it was worth the trouble. When language was used to record legends and myths, it would seem superficially similar to Greek or Roman legends, for example. That is, we get the same feel about gods, humanity and the universe. Yet the resulting social mythology is radically different between West and ANE. So far as we can determine, the governments, artists and social behavior of the people diverges greatly, and in recognizable patterns of difference. That is, Western societies, even the primitive German tribes, all had some things in common, while the ANE nations all had a different set of commonalties.

One of the things we cannot escape is that wherever we can discern anything of ANE cosmology, it is radically different from anything in the West. We saw previously how the unitary universe was inherent in Western assumptions about reality, whereas the entire ANE believed in at least one other entirely separate realm of existence. So while there seems a degree of similarity in how the myths sound to our ears, if similar tales support an entirely different social mythology, we can only conclude there was a radical difference in how language itself was used.

While Western tongues are rather literal, even in their most lyrical use, by contrast the ANE tongues allowed for a range of parabolic meaning not present in the West. Of course there was plenty of mundane communication requiring a more or less literal meaning, just as there are plenty of places in ANE Mysticism for linear reasoning about physical realities. However, just as mysticism includes an element rooted outside the mundane realm of existence, so the language had to somehow indicate something not restricted to literal expression. The same words and images had to perform a double duty.

Thus, we describe ANE languages as less descriptive and more indicative, and the logic was more often symbolic as opposed the Western analytical approach.

Recommended Readings: Citations in the text above should prove sufficient background reading for this chapter.

Chapter 3 – Abraham from Mesopotamia

If you don't understand Abraham the man, you cannot understand the Bible.

The Genesis account makes no pretense at dating anything; it simply offers pivotal points along the path of revelation. The lack of time structure reflects the broad disregard for precision in things generally, and dating in particular, among the ANE peoples. As noted previously, the earliest samples of writing were inventory records, so it's not as if they didn't know how to do it, but that such things were just the routine business of life. Significant matters to humanity were more a matter of ripeness of time, when things had reached a critical stage. Such things are not planned or scheduled from the human side of the equation. There is reason to believe some portion of statements about how long this or that took in years may be more symbolism than numeric facts, because that's how folks looked at things. It's not deception if everyone talks that way and nobody cares about precision.

They didn't pretend to control all the factors. Life was a matter of internal preparation for things thrown at you. They would have said Westerners believe falsely that they can make big things happen, because just a short time later, it was gone and forgotten. The focus on daily thinking always carried an element of much longer time scales, sometimes even timeless. Oddly, this freed them to seize the moment when unexpected events came along. There was no consciousness of being or doing as separate issues; life was a matter of your commitments and consistent character. The highest value was in knowing what role you played in the bigger scheme of things. You didn't try to understand the world so as to eliminate and control the variables; you needed only be in command of your reactions in the sense of who you are. Measurable accomplishments had little value.

Only in Western societies do we see questions about the nature of a thing (being) and its function or behavior (doing). There is an ongoing debate about whether your identity is a matter of being or doing, and where either question takes precedence in any analytical process. In the ANE, your identity was not a fixed absolute. Aside from pedigree, biographical data might not matter much. Unless your birth name was particularly prophetic, you might well be the only person who remembers it outside your immediate family. Any person with significant authority over you could change your name according to their sense of who you were in their domain, not anything inherent in your being. If all they know is what you do, you were a slave with a functional label. Your sense of identity was contextual to the role you played at the time. A great many ancient names for people were actually titles in that sense; the question in the Western mind of who it was in absolute terms is not considered and cannot be answered in many cases.

Despite appearances, we really don't know all that much about Sumer during the Early Bronze Age. There's only so much you can guess from what you can dig out of the sand, never mind stumbling over any Western biases. If we take the narrative in Genesis seriously, attempting as much as possible to read it from the mindset of ancient peoples, and we attempt to collate events and descriptions with our strongest suppositions about the world in his time, we can make some intelligent guesses about Abraham. Certain things become painfully obvious, such as his high degree of education. We can't know if he knew all the various languages he encountered or whether he worked through translators, because ancient writing would never mention such things. In fact, a man could be said to have done a great many things when it was actually all the physical labor of servants and slaves and the man was never even there. We should assume such to be the case unless something in the narrative specifically says otherwise. Still, people don't even do the things Abraham did without some broad experience and education that matches noble status in the ANE world.

A good guess places Abraham in Sumer near 2200 BC. This is simply a matter of matching events and conditions of his life in the narrative with best-guess dates from archeology. Sumer was a mixture of Sumerians and Akkadians; since later characterizations peg Abraham as Semitic, which precludes him being Sumerian. In the tribal social structure of his times, being still attached to his father's household past age 60 was the norm. With what scant evidence we have, the most likely occupation of his father was related to the temples and worship of the pagan god Sin (pronounced "seen"), the moon god. That's the best explanation for his decision to jump from Sumer to Haran, since the primary connection between those two cities was the presence of major shrines dedicated to Sin. The move would have taken months of travel and was very expensive. They could easily have been in the entourage of some greater person, but they apparently had property and stature enough of their own.

Meanwhile, we know from other sources that the entire Mesopotamian Valley placed a very high value on the lore and literature of previous civilizations. This would have included a great deal of oral mythology and much that we would call Black Magic. At any given time, regardless which empire stood in that area, one could have found a very large number of scholars who would have been experts in religions of all sorts. It would have been the primary area of scholarship. Keep in mind, the ancient version of astrology was the dominant controlling factor of life and correlations of observations and events formed a substantial portion of any library. Monarchs required administrators to have what amounts to a master's degree in this mixed religious background under the assumption that you can't make big decisions without the necessary broad perspective of all that men had done in the past, which included a lot legend. They were conscious of the importance of mythology in forming a view of reality. Regardless of your personal beliefs, you had better understand how the rest of the world sees things.

Abraham could hardly avoid such an education. We don't know what his religious inclinations were before the call of God, nor how routine in his mind was any supposed communication from any deity. However, we know from contextual meaning that this call was a claim on Abraham – "I am now your God; serve Me only." We should suppose the intellectual concept of monotheism was unimaginable, even ludicrous, in those times. It was hardly different from a lesser noble being told he was beholden to a new liege lord; the call was cast in terms of ANE feudal obligations. Such feudalism would have been about the ownership of personnel. Western feudalism is all about land, and the people belonged to the turf. ANE feudalism was all about people, and turf was a matter of projecting your control through your people in subtle degrees of effective occupation and official recognition. A servant of some lord was still under that lord's laws regardless of physical jurisdiction, as it were. This God, whom Abraham knew as El (pronounced "ale"), claimed jurisdiction over all Creation. We cannot estimate much more about how this registered in Abraham's mind in part because we have no idea what means were used to give Abraham this message.

We can safely assume it was part of the lore of his people, so it was in some sense part of the routine traffic between gods and men. We get a hint of all this in the tale of Balaam, hired by Balak of Moab some centuries later, and what seems Balaam's standard employment as a scholar of religions. He had an accurate knowledge of the rituals and means of communication for a known deity that he apparently didn't regard as his own. References to Balaam in the New Testament indicates he knew even more than the Old Testament narrative tells us, because he was eventually able to get Israel in trouble with Jehovah in other ways than direct cursing. The point is this: The people in Mesopotamia knew the God of the Bible on some level with a high degree of accuracy from sources we cannot guess. He would have been one of many recognized deities. The Bible narrative, in context of what would have been common knowledge to the readers, attempts to tell us that God decided to end the long period of lesser involvement in human affairs. The time was ripe and the right man for the job was available. It needed some serious shaping to create the proper character in this man so that what he passed onto his heirs was the best setting for God's further revelation.

If we give ourselves over to Western biases and fantasize about what we want his background to be, we cannot hope to understand anything in the Bible narrative after the Call of Abraham. Our job is to soberly seek what was likely to have been Abraham's worldview and some estimate of what was in his mind. He was the foundation of the Nation of Israel, not simply as a DNA donor, but as a man with a particular driving vision based on a fairly well understood view of reality. If we take seriously any sense of serving the God of the Bible, Abraham's view of reality is part of what God requires of mankind in order to please Him.

While the high degree of education and the peculiar Mesopotamian worldview were essential, the urban wallow with its peculiar prejudices was all wrong. One of the most shocking things God required of Abraham was to engage a lifestyle his people detested. For the highly civilized valley residents, those tent dwelling traders were nasty, barbaric thieves. They called them Amorites, which is only vaguely an ethnic label. In the ANE mind, race and blood were not as critical as one's identity by lifestyle. The mention of tents and the ritual of circumcision were mere symbols of the much larger image of someone uncouth, uncivilized and untrustworthy. It was a symbolic death for Abraham to become part of this culture. The Bible disparages those who trust in their city walls and urban lifestyle; we see how that arises from Abraham's conscious embrace of nomadic living.

The whole idea was to force him to rely on God alone as his lord and defender and not on much of anything in this world. It helped to create a type and level of mysticism not inherent in the ANE. The foundation for mysticism was there in the Mesopotamian scholarly culture, but nothing much built on it – it was not fully developed. They did appear to have a good use of symbolic logic, where the symbols were not confined to concrete notions. Nowhere else do we have such a high degree of sophistication and self-consciousness matched to a very otherworldly focus. God led Abraham through circumstances that forced him to stop caring about worldly possessions as anything more than mere tools.

The next step in the development of revelation was pulling in a much sharper focus on what that otherworld meant against this world.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic articles on The Patriarchal Period; the Genesis text from 12-38 and the Balaam account in Numbers 22-25, noting that the last chapter reflects the advice of Balaam.

Chapter 4 – The Covenant Nation

While the Mesopotamians kept track of a wide range of religious and philosophical considerations, the Nile Valley folks focused more on developing their own to a much greater depth.

Our understanding of Egyptian chronology and dating is admittedly a house of cards, but the records on their beliefs are fairly substantial. There is debate about why they even built the pyramids and similar massive monuments, but we know a lot about their general outlook on things. It's nearly impossible to discern what the common folks might have thought about anything; nobody keeping records seemed to care much about that. However, we have an extensive record of powerful folks and their self-proclaimed worldview. Further, all the other evidence suggests they weren't simply posturing.

A critical element in the belief system was the perception of a sort of moral fabric, a life force within the universe that called for justice. All things were measured in terms of how well they accorded with that sense of justice. While it's possible in any given context to declare what might offer the best manifestation of that justice, there was a fundamental assumption you couldn't always expect that same act to be just in any other context. In other words, moral justice was a mystical power that often defied human understanding. A great many rituals were aimed at gaining access to the judgment of the various deities who would each be expert in their own areas of interest, but all shared the same sense of justice, despite any possible conflicts that humans were unlikely to understand.

Further, Egyptian mythology includes a highly developed cosmology. There is no suggestion here that other cultures lacked a sense of afterlife or other realms of existence. However, the Egyptians spent a lot more time and effort defining this concept. In their mythology, other realms of existence were utterly outside the human realm. While it's possible that some people, and certainly deities, did cross the boundary between here and there, the qualitative difference between worlds generally required a human die to leave this one. They had a distinct sense that humans were composed of multiple elements with some parts confined to this space, and that death separated the components of one's being. The gods came here because they were from a far higher realm, and their presence here was rather confining on them, as if they never really completely came inside this realm.

It would serve little purpose to enter into the debate about when Moses was born in terms of dates, and assigning the Bible narrative to any particular known dynasty is an exercise in frustration. Too many critical elements don't match no matter where you place him. We must acknowledge a major part of the problem for Western Christians is the highly fraudulent portrayals in movies and popular reinterpretations. For all we know, Moses may have been the general who led a successful, empire-saving war against the Nubians, or simply one more insignificant pseudo-noble in a less important district during those times when Egyptian government was highly fragmented. Since Egyptian records never recorded military defeats, and often portrayed them as faux victories, it's impossible to date the Exodus with what we now know. Indeed, sometimes for other reasons, the entire process of recording events among the Hebrews, as well, might see events we consider major and definitive simply left out of the narrative. We should never assume the sequence doesn't include at least the occasional gap.

What we cannot afford to lose here is certain obvious elements in the story. Moses got an education generally not available to the rest of his nation. It's hard to imagine they didn't lose some of Abraham's sophistication and intellectual depth over the generations, despite indications they kept at least part of it alive. For Moses, this was a pagan education with another heavy dose of Black Magic, but a lot more mathematics and surely some military training. Nobody forgot he was not a literal son of the queen, but any sort of public success would have created tension in the ruling house between him and the heir. Like Abraham, once his education was sufficiently advanced, God needed Moses to go and renew the acquaintance with a nomadic and contemplative existence. Further, there was no small matter of exposure to the religion and philosophy of his father-in-law, Jethro.

In the ANE, there was a complete absence of "one right answer" to larger questions of life. Juxtaposing ideas that seem to us mutually contradictory did not rattle them. It wasn't really fuzzy thinking, but the ability to follow multiple tracks at once. There may well be one best answer, but it was always highly contextual, including the variable of whom was answering the question. The concept of absolutes was considered childish. While not obvious, it was a critical element in the worldview of folks like Moses. The question was never what was right in any absolute sense, but what would please the one to whom you were accountable.

Idolatry had surely crept into the Nation of Israel, but if nothing else his time with Jethro cured any of those tendencies for Moses. It's very easy for Western minds to miss the full impact of the Burning Bush. In his world, every light not in the sky had to be from fire, so perhaps a better translation would be the Glowing Bush. A baldly literal reading in English misses most of what happens here. It signified an otherworldly presence and Moses was accountable for taking this signal seriously as a demand he report. He wasn't silly enough to think this was God, only a manifestation, an angelic messenger. It was sacred ground only because the angel was there, and only while it was there. Any site that served as a customary or reliable place of meeting with God would be treated as sacred more permanently, like Mount Sinai, also known from ancient times as the Mountain of God. It was here at the bush that Moses learned the name that his people were to call their God, which in English is traditionally written Jehovah.

Moses had trouble keeping his grip on all the things God promised here, and was human enough to need frequent reminders. Somewhere between this first meeting and the month or so stay on Mount Sinai, Moses was taught how to recognize the truth. Again, not absolute truth; that concept didn't exist in his world. Rather, it was the pertinent truth, what his Master wanted him to know in order to serve. This wasn't some encyclopedic memory, but the divine insight to recognize truth in any context. Camping around Sinai included a fresh review of all past learning and mythology to winnow out the material that didn't fit the purpose. While much of it was familiar, we know there were certain elements that were totally new, a fresh revelation directly from God.

There is no question that the mythology and legends of Mesopotamia influenced Abraham, and that Moses absorbed a lot Egyptian mythology, not to mention a hard to measure influence from Jethro's unique religion. The inherent claim of Scripture is that God was in charge and intimately involved in the process, that what was adopted as Scripture was in accordance with His requirements. You can ignore all that and blow it off as simply some thoughtful copying of ideas, and no one on this earth can prove you wrong. The whole assumption behind Hebrew Mysticism is that one can develop a faculty for perceiving things not visible to the normal range of human insight. Most people have the ability to develop mystical awareness, but the full range of perception cannot be universal, though nothing attempts to explain why that is. It simply is. The lore of Hebrew Scripture is not a string of facts and events, nor even the narrative that serves as the mythology of the Hebrew people. It beckons to a full-blown mysticism, of connecting with some part of the human being to a place outside the human space, and that it was not the intellect.

The older lore for worship of God was well known, so that Abraham encountered it in Melchizedek, and Moses in Jethro, plus odd figures like Balaam who knew of it. Through Moses, God commanded a certain level of close adherence to specifics that were far more demanding. This does not invalidate the older practices, but places a specific burden on this one nation as their identity. Folks outside the nation could continue as before, but to join the nation was a matter of of adherence to the highly developed national covenant, not of blood kinship. While the Israelis often forgot that fact in the face of ancient custom, it was clear from the start that their identity was not DNA but commitment. Throw aside the commitment and you were ostracized as an outsider; come in from anywhere and embrace the Covenant, and you are an Israeli. Worship God appropriately outside the Covenant and you were an ally. The natural human weakness was to forget that their God owned all Creation, and to imagine that they owned Him.

As time went on, that arrogance blinded them, but the Hebrew religion was born in full mysticism.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic entries on Egyptian mythology and religion. We assume a familiarity with the Books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy.

Chapter 5 – Hellenization

The name Israel applies not so much to a nation, but to a mission given to that nation.

The true servant of Jehovah seeks to rise above mere human capability, to place the mind in service to some higher faculty and develop a moral intelligence. With this faculty he will see the world from a perspective above this plane of existence. Instead of simply the solid matter and logical renderings of it, he sees that moral fabric, that living power of justice that cannot be seen by any mere human perception. This justice was a direct reflection of God's own personal character. His greatest field of endeavor is not in the world around him, but taming his own human weakness, those raging lusts that threaten to derail holiness. While the mind can be taught to obey this higher intelligence, there is no shortcut in the process. There is no place at which to arrive, nor discernible levels of achievement and mastery, because the fleshly weakness refuses to die. It keeps finding new ways to blindside the conscious mind. His prayer is not for power over nature, but his own nature.

The Covenant of Moses was actually quite generous in ritual provisions for human frailty. You would have to openly reject the provisions of the Covenant to suffer serious consequences. It was easy to mentally disconnect those consequences from any putative prophetic warnings. There were various ways of characterizing God's moral fabric, His living power of justice in this world. The primary focus for the bulk of human behavior was social stability. Things prohibited were generally recognized as a threat first to society, with the understanding that such actions would violate that living justice. Picking at that moral fabric would be like poking a hornet's nest; it's dangerous. The business of coercive law was the obligation of the society to stand guard over obvious threats to their own peace and safety. The various laws of conduct reflected God's underlying truth, His prescription for dealing with human weakness and keeping so much equilibrium and health as was possible in this imperfect realm of human existence.

While for the majority of the people, just knowing the provisions that could be explained in human language was generally sufficient. There always had to be someone in leadership who could actually sense trouble before human perception caught onto it, and with a depth not available to mere intellect. It would be utterly impossible to do so if the leadership departed from that highly evolved intellectual background carried by Moses and his associates. Discard that worldview and the fabric of God's justice quickly becomes invisible. Alter that underlying mythology and moral assumptions, and you've lost a defining element; you risk losing the divine faculty for seeing truth. Moses didn't decide what was true; he recognized what was true because he was a true mystic. Scripture reveals his struggle to rise above the flesh, but we clearly see a level of enlightenment that outstripped human ability. Those who took up the burden of his shepherd's calling needed at least some of that same mystical insight.

Obviously, they lost it. Various elements of it reappeared from time to time, especially among the prophets, but once we get past Samuel and his School of the Prophets, the legacy declines rather quickly among the political leadership. It starts strongly enough with men like David and Solomon, both very gifted mystics, but despite the periodic surges in the history of Israel, there is an obvious trend of losing it. Toward the end, as Jeremiah cries out the last warnings before Exile, we see where he complains that the people seem convinced they had God over a barrel. They honestly believed He could not let Jerusalem fall to the enemy or He would be homeless. Jeremiah and some of his friends were mystics, but they were a tiny minority as the bulk of the leadership sneered at the very idea.

From there, it was a one-two punch that set them up for complete failure. First, in returning to the latter Babylon, they were reintroduced to the arrogance from urban facilities and human accomplishment. The Mesopotamian mystical foundation in Babylon wasn't gone, just badly cluttered with cheap structures. Their mystical outlook was overwhelmed by arrogance. That the rulers appeared to be genuine geniuses helped, but it wasn't enough.

Babylon was overrun by a different kind of genius from farther east. Forgoing a detailed examination of the Persian Empire, we note first their lack of arrogance, at least initially. A central doctrine of their Zoroastrian religion was a sort of syncretism that took other national gods seriously, so that they come off quite the good guys in Hebrew history. They wanted the Jews to return home and rebuild so they could pray for the emperor, because his god wanted to be friends with all the others. But the core of Israeli leadership didn't return to the Land of Judah. They stuck around and absorbed the Persian sense of wealth as a reflection of divine favor, the second punch. It was not so radically far from the idea that God promised to bless a faithful nation with peace, security, stability and a measure of prosperity, but it shifted the emphasis from reasonable prosperity to pining for Solomon's level of wealth. They began to reverse the logic. Instead of wealth being one earthly sign of God's favor, it became the primary proof they had His favor and could do almost what they might imagine would fit into the wording of the Law.

They still tended to reason along the ANE forms of logic for a time. As the traffic between Judah and the high synagogues back in Babylon increased, there was a slight revival in the old Mesopotamian intellectual depth. Some of the scholars still understood the full mysticism of Moses, and there were genuine prophets for a time. However, the folks back in Jerusalem slipped back into the old habits, such that the last prophet of record speaks for God, asking why He should tolerate them dirtying the carpet in His temple, since there was no depth at all in their religion.

It was a short time after this last prophet, Malachi, published his warnings that Alexander the Great did his thing in backlash against the Persians. They had been harassing the Greeks for quite a while. We note in passing that the Western mythology makes the Spartans good guys. In the Bible, the Spartans were filthy spawn of Hell while Persians were morally superior, but just didn't know when to quit. So Alexander the Hellenizer plowed through the land and found the Judeans welcoming. He gave them the same gifts as every other kingdom he conquered. It started slowly as just a hobby, but within a century, the leaders of Judean scholarship were entirely captive to Greek philosophy.

Though the older Hebrew outlook was never quite wiped out, it was eclipsed organizationally. The political events are mind-numbingly complex during the period between the Old and New Testaments, but the intellectual shift was painfully simple. Those who taught religion were also the government, and their ability to understand Moses was essentially dead. Going back over the Covenant without that mystical outlook meant they just barely maintained the external trappings of the cultural and social structure, but they had become openly hostile the higher meaning of the Law. So much so that they virtually rewrote the whole thing in a vast fat code of Western legalism we now call the Talmud. Today's Jewish scholars act as if the Talmud corrects the Books of Moses, sometimes claiming that the Talmud reflects the oral teaching of Moses that he didn't write down. It does not require much scholarship, even for a Westerner, to see the shocking difference in outlook between the two. Moses would have vomited over the Talmud.

Furthermore, it doesn't take a genius to trace back the debates they had with Jesus to realize He was calling them back to the older Hebrew mystical understanding. By and large, modern Judaism is merely the extension of the Hellenized disaster, not at all the Hebrew religion of ancient times. They had seized upon the notion of rational absolutes; the nit picking over precise wording and legalistic analysis is entirely a Western approach. They had God fully contained in hard concrete box, and any dispute was sin by definition. Meanwhile, Jesus talked about a spiritual awareness and how those scholars completely missed the real meaning of Moses' Law. In an age when Jewish men seldom spoke in public even to respectable Jewish women, He told a Gentile slut that what really mattered with Jehovah was a spiritual connection, not some imaginary faithfulness to the letter of Jewish law. She started down the path to that spiritual connection despite being culturally at war with the People of Jehovah.

Whatever else we see in the Gospels, Jesus was the final living clarification of everything God's Laws meant, and the ultimate human expression of the living moral fabric within all Creation.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic entries on various periods of Bible History including Exodus, the Fall of Jerusalem, Exile, Restoration. Articles on Hellenism will narrow the focus on just what Alexander offered Judah. Details of the intellectual shift from East to West among Jewish rabbis is best covered by Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, particularly Book 1, Chapters 1-4 (electronic versions are available, some free). The author's book The Mind of Christ expands on the human character of Jesus as a Hebrew mystical thinker.

Chapter 6 – Judaizers and the Early Church

The Hellenized rabbis were not done after the Crucifixion.

Taking seriously the claim that Christianity was the logical and historical extension of Moses, they sought to bring all Christians back under proper Talmudic control. Brutal persecution failed; their chief prosecutor switched sides in the middle of his biggest mission to Damascus. After a few more sputtering efforts using the powers of the Law, even with a little backing from Rome, they decided the best plan was to use on Christians what was used on them: Hellenism.

The call of Jesus back to the ancient Hebrew Mysticism was not a simple recall, but a considerable move forward. The Talmud was lies, but the Law of Moses remained an accurate reflection of how God intended men to live on earth. Moses had it inscribed in two languages at once. The obvious was the semi-mystical Hebrew tongue of the people; the less obvious was the fully mystical meaning behind that Law. You could read the Law and obey it, and things would be okay. If you really wanted to see God as Moses did, you had to see the parabolic language in it. But instead of struggling through the Law to discover its mystical meaning, Jesus' plan was to simply give people direct access to that Spirit Realm up front. Then they could turn back and see what the Law meant on a higher level. They need not obey the Law in the letter, but in Spirit. His death literally opened the way into the Presence of God, closing the Covenant of Moses as the sole proprietary means to approaching Him.

Once the Apostles received this experience of Spirit birth, all their human learning and experiences took on a totally new meaning. This new faculty whipped the mind into shape to obey and remember things it would have completely lost on its own. They understood that the value of keeping the Hebrew Scripture was to mine the applicable behavior pattern that the Law suggested, to discover what the Spirit had to say about the meaning of the Covenant in a different context. Sin was still sin; it still meant getting out of equilibrium with the moral fabric. But the political entity of Israel was meaningless now; Israel-the-mission was still very much alive. So these new followers of Jesus dug into Hebrew Scripture to find the less obvious mystical meaning and build a new mystical nation with a different Covenant of the Blood of Christ and the walking in the Spirit.

The rabbis were not fools. They understood this and were utterly certain they had done the right thing in leaving that mysticism behind. They had discovered God more clearly in Aristotelian reasoning, never mind that it was an entirely different "God." They rejected the contentions of Jesus the Rabbi, but were quite willing to intellectually kidnap all His followers for their own greater glory in the Kingdom of Judah. They realized that this required a nice friendly evangelism, like Alexander the Great used. It also required taking the time to win their confidence and distract them off into probable sounding doctrinal "depth" until they were ripe for leading back into Judaism. It worked better in some places than others, but in general, it did the job.

The first hurdle was convincing the Christians that Jesus was not the Son of God. So long as He was regarded as divine, they couldn't get far. They set up a logical puzzle about humanity versus divinity and created a very large body of discussion about how this simply didn't make sense. We don't know how it was connected in historical terms, but this left the door open for Gnosticism. The Gnostics were mystical-sounding thinkers who carried the same contention as the Judaizers: either Jesus was divine or human, but could not possibly be both.

Never mind how many people were siphoned off this way; the biggest problem was how this required Christian scholars to wrestle with the issue. That was the real trap – suckering them into yielding the battlefield. Once the Judaizers, Gnostics and other wackos got Christian leaders to answer the demand to be reasonable on Aristotelian terms, genuine faith was frozen. We realize through Paul's blunt statements that God is not hindered by anything in this realm of existence when He decides someone will have spiritual birth. What is hindered is their ability to proceed forward in the power of that spirit and claim the full heritage of mysticism. The entire message of the Bible, including the New Testament, is out of reach because the readers' minds are still trapped within the walls of human intellect. People cannot claim the full heritage of God's blessings available in this realm because it owns them, so His power over it is not available. The living moral fabric of God's justice remains invisible.

So we have a bunch of happy talk about "born-again" with a totally different meaning and implication, as if this divine miracle was something any human can decide, despite blunt warnings they can't even want it until God gives it to them first. Instead, we have generations of folks quite certain they have eternal life because they feel like it, can act like it (so they believe) and because someone told them they have it. Meanwhile, most of them hold conflicting notions of what a "Real Christian" is without the slightest inkling of what the Bible really means.

Now you know the rest of the story.

Recommended readings: Encyclopedic articles on Judaizers, Gnosticism and Early Church controversies up to 300 AD.

Part 3

Chapter 1 – Implications

The Western assumptions about reality are entirely different than that of Biblical Mysticism.

There is no single Old Testament view of the afterlife. We recognize that many Old Testament figures lacked the full depth of cosmology that became common among Christians later. This study recounts the rather underdeveloped view of Patriarchs taken from Mesopotamian mythology. We also examined the Hebrews' exposure to the more developed view of the Egyptians. While the majority of the people continued wallowing in various degrees of idolatry and ignorance, it becomes plain some portion of Hebrew spiritual leadership held a much better understanding.

The political rulers of Israel varied greatly in their views. We are treated in Scripture to the glaring difference between Saul's primitive religion against David's Psalms, with soaring lyrical expressions of a much more advanced mystical view. Some Old Testament Scripture is mixed, so that Job himself seems limited to something closer to Mesopotamian views, while the narrator is from a much later time with a clear grasp of the Spirit Realm. In other words, we recognize the Old Testament prophets were granted a much more accurate understanding against the common chatter of figures who never quite got it. It appears that Samuel's School of the Prophets was a primary source of editing Hebrew Scripture. This group was self-consciously mystical for as long as it lasted, which was at least through the reign of Solomon, a self-consciously mystical king.

Meanwhile, the quintessential image of manhood stands close to King David. While obviously fallen, he remained God's chosen instrument, granted a full mystical understanding. He was easily the most humble of men, waiting God's time with patience and endurance for a calling that ended up being far more work than anyone could have expected. Charming and intelligent, he often preferred solitude. He was the sacrificially caring and competent shepherd, a signal man of God -- an image utterly missing in Western mythology (emulating His Lord in the 23rd Psalm).

There was nothing of the Germanic view of the perpetual man-child against the saintly image of women. There was no mythology of human equality; people were what they were and context was everything. Women were utterly essential in society, but Scripture pointedly notes there is some indefinable thing women don't have that requires male leadership in moral and spiritual issues. It's not a question of blaming Eve and not Adam, but blaming each within their respective capabilities. It's a Western fallacy to think Paul was saying women were spiritually or morally inferior; they have a different role assigned by God. The Biblical Mystic realizes that the divine necessities of womanhood leave her more likely to misinterpret the moral imperatives, while obviously better at some things than men.

Men are just as sinful, but it's their appointed duty to lead; the primary weakness of men is letting women lead. Women are not to dominate men, yet cannot resist trying. She'll despise him if she wins and admire him if she fails – more so if he is skillful at parrying her folly. There can be no greater joy in her life than willfully and persistently teaming up with her man. The woman's mission and calling is not so much literal child rearing as the faithful motherhood of everyone while working alongside her shepherd man. So Paul says women do not teach men, implying more than mere instruction. Men lead in spiritual matters and bear some greater moral clarity consistent with their role at the head of society.

No one claims that the Hebrew tribal society was perfect, but even the churches in Greece were taught to regard themselves as spiritual family and organized primarily as ancient Hebrew clans. The tribal government and social structure was optimal and the primitive, simple life was presumed essential to serving God regardless of your national heritage. You did whatever was necessary to get along with your non-Christian social and legal setting, but within the church, you were first and foremost a tribe of the New Israel. You had church leaders who were priestly (pastors) and kingly (elders), the two primary witnesses to God's Laws, cooperating in their respective duties with the help of attendants (deacons). While women could not be pastors, they were essential motherly advisers to elders and they could serve fully as deaconesses.

Sexual behavior standards were even stricter than under Moses, yet there is no place in the church for the silly schizophrenia of the modern West. The Hebrew people were much more matter-of-fact about human sexual desires while still quite prudish. Many of the social customs of the Hebrews were the best way to handle very real human tendencies.

We expect sorrow in this fallen realm and maintain the otherworldly focus. Our entire human existence is just a temporary tool unworthy of much concern. The only purpose for living is to reveal God's truth. We consciously understand that every word or action is a revelation of something. We seek to conform to the moral fabric of Creation with a mystical view clearly alien to our world. Because of our moral clarity, we could sagely advise on human politics, but take no real interest. We have no interest or duty to make the world behave except that small portion God has placed in our hands directly. We observe through mystical eyes and offer to inform; we never nag. Instead, we fully expect to suffer the persecution that arises from human political disadvantage in the face of our unconditionally loyalty to a government outside this world.

Indeed, in our Western world, we few Biblical Mystics are often rather isolated. If we are going to have anything to do with our fellow Christians, blind or otherwise, we can't demand every last detail of the foregoing image of church. There was precious little in this course about theology and very little about churches and denominations. For the record, there is no serious problem with the current Roman Catholic religion as religions go. So long as you take the mystical approach and find yourself at home in any particular church, stay with it. Be warned that if you say very much, they are likely to object. Steer your own course in your own search for the face of God.

You can give intellectual assent to a lot of things as symbols of something far above the intellect. You can engage a wide variety of ritual practices for your own peace. But you cannot pretend to know neither God nor His requirements for you without that mystical understanding. Whether you perceive a spiritual birth first, and then go back and rediscover mysticism, or whether you struggle through some effort to discover you belong in mysticism and realize that spiritual connection later, one thing is certain: If you aren't a mystic, you aren't following Christ.

Chapter 2 – Mystical Reading of ANE Literature

A critical part of mysticism is teaching the mind to serve, not lead. While we don't have too many ANE words that can be translated as "intuition," it's clearly one of the tools they used. In this context, intuition can be described as the lowest level of mystical wisdom. Western psychology regards it as some native ability to see patterns without a full consciousness of the processing. When it works, you are able to jump across a lot of logical steps and still get the right answer. It's not just intellect, but above it; it's the upper end of what we might call "instinct." To a mystic, this is probably the bottom end of divine wisdom, in that it teaches the mind to trust something it cannot control. That's the real meaning behind "faith" -- a commitment and reliance on things beyond yourself. Faith will often make demands that are eminently unreasonable from a human level of thinking.

A particular problem with reading Scripture from a Western point of view is the complete absence of something ANE writers took for granted in written communications. A significant portion of ANE literature is invocational. There is a very solid purpose for inviting some divine presence to participate in reading and processing the written material. The Western reflex is to see this as simply giving credit to the deity; to the ANE mind it is a request for a very literal divine assistance for the reader. They took that request seriously.

A great deal of Scripture is invocational, though sometimes not obviously so; it is typically implied. The invocation is followed by written material that is quite obscure to the Western approach. The words translate into one kind of statement, when the author would have been implying something far larger. It's not simply passing references with abbreviated terminology or figures of speech, but an expectation God Himself will cause the reader to discover something far larger than what is contained in the words themselves. Context is everything; there are constraints. It's not as if we are describing a boundless free association that makes no sense at all. The wider body of Hebrew Scripture presumes you already know certain things cannot come out of this mystical approach to reading. You are supposed to apply the moral imperatives to your thinking first as the frame of reference. Sin is still sin and some things can be bluntly stated as always wrong in all contexts. However, a great deal of Hebrew divine wisdom is cultivated by choosing to say one thing when the context indicates it's really something much bigger. Often it's an attempt to teach the reader to think differently, posing a common question and showing that it's the wrong question and the wrong approach.

A concrete example is in Ecclesiastes. The purpose of the book is a training manual for palace staff and the wider royal bureaucracy. It was included in the canon because the lessons apply by extension to life in general. When you understand what Solomon says about serving in his courts, you understand what Solomon thinks it means to serve God. A common theme never directly stated, but consistently present in the meaning of the text is the warning to discard all ambition, a persistent sin of human nature. It's not enough to recognize when he uses sarcasm to mock those entirely too reliant on human reasoning, as if they idolize his famous gift. He also demands a contemplative mindset when reading.

More than once Solomon mentions the work God has given men to do on the earth, describing it in terms of futility. To the reader who is studying for a job in Solomon's administration, this usually signals the question, "Why do you think I hired you? Is this task pointless in your eyes?" Then Solomon proceeds to answer the question quite obliquely. He's raising an issue with far more implication than the simple question itself. He talks about how one could get fired, for example. The reader is presumed wise enough to recognize these oblique references. It's not a string of disconnected thoughts, placed in some random order. Context is everything. If the reader doesn't make the connection, he'll obviously make serious mistakes and get fired because he's not smart enough. If the new hire lacks even intuition as a tool of reasoning, he'll fail, because real success in the king's service has nothing to do with ambition. It has to do with placing human wisdom at the service of something outside the intellect and clinging to the underlying ethic of serving the king as if serving God Himself.

Readers can discover the same sort of indirect replies common to Hebrew people in Job, parts of Proverbs and some Psalms. To Western minds, there is a jarring disconnect, but to Hebrew thinkers, you aren't taking enough time to consider what it all means.

Chapter 3 – Human Motivations

Iron discipline is for losers.

When the European tribes were confronted with the political opportunities associated with adopting the Christian religion, they still carried their gloomy outlook and lack of sophistication. The ostensible claims of loyalty to one God via one Church presented a problem: It was well nigh impossible to make it heroic and fun. The closest remedy was pulling in their ancient answer to anything else -- iron discipline. Very quickly their brand of faith became a matter of hard duty. This wasn't foreign to Greco-Roman psychology, but the German version was much darker and deeper, much harsher.

In ANE civilizations, the psychology of life was far more complex. If you were unable to climb the heights of mystical thinking, then perhaps iron discipline would get you through. However, among the civilized upper classes, this was a loser's game. It would eventually fail you because it only enforces moral blindness. It is dry and lifeless, and humans are not machines. Sheer logic only answers the immediate question of things on the surface; the divine life force required a higher understanding. There was never any doubt in the mystical mind that moral imperatives made a difference, even if your mind couldn't identify an immediate connection.

The ultimate power to drive a flagging human spirit interest through difficult times was the sense of personal loyalty. Western reasoning is utterly impersonal and dehumanizing. ANE reasoning keeps the personal central. Ultimate truth would always be a personal life force, regardless what deity or deities you served. Duty could not be made an abstract; there could be no objective standard. You weren't loyal to some thing because it was perfect or absolute; you were loyal to some one because you cared deeply about their wishes. You were personally accountable.

The silly Medieval notions of romantic love as some irresistible force that drove your emotions would never fly in the ANE. That's just animal lust. Genuine human affection was entirely different; they even had different words for it. Your affections do arise independently, but they are utterly predictable. That is, where you invest yourself most deeply is where your love will stand. In the ANE, if your sense of duty to your god(s) held you in service to this or that earthly authority -- always a person -- you could be sure your emotional warmth would follow. Whom you willingly serve you will always grow to love. You would choose wisely where you invest yourself, because the affection of your master made life worth living. All the likely material rewards, even fame and the high regard of your peers, were of little importance without that.

By the same token, the gods were known to love in the same fashion. Few of them were considered arbitrary or capricious, despite generally being inscrutable. That vision of reaching with your soul into the Heavenly Realm was not simply some impersonal joy. The mind might delight itself with discovering some reasoning and learning logic, but the soul itself was not like that. It could sense the warm regard of a personal power in the presence of deity. This is far beyond mere emotion. The will to embrace a higher power is far above emotion because it has no root in the animal functions of the body. The confirmation is the growing desire and delight that can only come to your awareness from a higher power.

The proper motivation for serving God is the sheer joy of His personal affection.

Chapter 4 – Recap

God's personal presence pervades all of His Creation. Here inside our tiny bubble, the time-space continuum of human existence, this presence is not obvious. There is no compelling proof that logic cannot deny; it requires more than mere human perception. It requires something of the divine essence linking to our awareness before we have any faculty for it. Reliance on human reason alone is the essence of our fallen nature. Thus, we stand in need of redemption, some help to escape the trap within which our reason holds us.

We come to life in this realm spiritually dead. On the one hand, Scripture openly affirms that while every human born at some later point becomes accountable to God, by the same token they are also offered some path of escape, something sufficient for their individual context. The ubiquitous presence of that spiritual apprehension across humanity is the plainest manifestation of this. Again, by the same token no human has standing to dispute this assertion. To whatever degree we are accountable to God, we always have offered to us a means to answer. At the very moment of the offer, whatever follows is occluded to our human understanding, in part because it is so completely individual in nature. The very act of wondering the who, how and why of what follows is the wrong question. All we know is, some take that path and a great many do not.

In the Bible, we are told that the Nation of Israel was granted a singular degree of insight regarding that path. While a basic human obedience to the Law on a worldly level was sufficient to remain under the ostensible blessings of God, the Covenant was offered in a context that openly acknowledged a higher meaning. Anyone with access to the Law who felt moved could always have that mystical enlightenment. Moses bluntly said that actually knowing God was within reach of anyone who wanted it. It was a taste of divine power and enlightenment, an unspeakable glory that overwhelmed everyone who got close. For a time, many embraced that opportunity. But as time went on the fire faded in the nation as a whole. At some point, the leadership exchanged this divine experience for the cheap thrill of rational discovery.

Yes, the mind is delighted by Aristotle's order. It seems to bring the universe within the intellect's control. It's a lie; that rational inquiry offers no power to change anything in the soul, because it is missing a vast ocean of truth that is hidden from the intellect. Jesus taught in parables because the mind could not and should not pretend to have ultimate truth. Truth is not some objective entity apart from God; truth is the shining glory of His Person. Only a living spirit above the intellect could understand eternity, and only a mystical mindset permitted a perception of the pervasive presence of God's justice in the world. Jesus told Nicodemas the Law meant nothing without a living spirit. Yet every miracle Jesus performed, everything He said, and everything His Apostles taught later, was already in the Hebrew Scriptures Nicodemas thought he understood.

Nothing Israel did, or failed to do, changed the moral fabric of the universe. It remains still; they simply moved out from under the blessings and into wrath within the same justice. They did so knowingly. Over the past two millennia Western Christians have done the same thing. Just as Israel's failure could not restrain God's hand from His plan of redemption, so the blindness of Christians has no effect on whether people are spiritually born. Indeed, God still works with His people, though more often in spite of them than actually through them. Whatever God does in bringing about spiritual birth, we know of a certainty Decision Theology is a category error against the logic of the Bible. It blindly mixes the temporal with the eternal.

Hostility to Biblical Mysticism does not result in hindering God's eternal redemption of souls. The tragedy is in how we have all tossed aside that unspeakable joy of tasting the divine, in favor of shallow and impotent reason. We have lost out on all the blessings of God's justice on this earth and have little hope of understanding what comes after this life.

We rob ourselves by avoiding Biblical Mysticism.

Recommended readings: Go back and reread the Bible with a proper mystical understanding of the text. Review your favorite commentaries in light of a Hebrew Mystical worldview. Pay particular attention that Paul's Letter to the Romans was a direct repudiation of Christian Hellenism, while the Letter to the Hebrews was a direct repudiation of Jewish Hellenism.


Ed Hurst
02 August 2015, revised 29 January 2016

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