Two additional grand constellations of related symbols play significant roles throughout the apocalyptic drama. These various symbols derive from the ancient science of kabala. The two families of symbols are the temple and the tree of life.
Most exoteric scholars who give it any thought at all, consider kabala a mere mystical interpretation of the scriptures. Nearly all credit its origin to Jewish rabbis and certain medieval Christians, dating from the twelfth century onwards. Some equate it with occultism in general. Others with exclusively Jewish mysticism. On all points they are incorrect.
Conventional scholarship traces the direct roots of kabala to a first century Judaic mystical movement that was known as merkabah. About merkabah and its possible connections to the Apocalypse and Christianity generally I shall have more to say in a moment.
According to these scholars, the earliest written document that can be attributed to kabala is the Sepher Yetsira. This they date to the period of the third to sixth centuries. Three other major works, the Sephera Bahir, Temuna and Zohar they date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Sepher Bahir is credited with the first overt occurrence of the ten "divine emanations" (sephiroth), in the form of three upper and seven lower emanations, and also the first mention of the "tree of divine life." Yet Sepher Yetsira clearly presents a foretaste of the sephiroth with its classification of the Hebrew autiot (letter signs) into three "mothers," three "fathers" and seven "doubles," and the tree of life with its further designation of the remaining autiot as twelve "simples."
Sepher Temuna introduced a series of cosmic cycles, or eons. Each eon possesses its own interpretation of the Hebrew Torah. The human race is purportedly in the midst of the cycle of "justice." Hence, the emphasis on right and wrong behaviour. By the way there are ten eons, corresponding to and named after each sephira.
Sepher Zohar consists of several units, the largest of which deals with the supposedly inner, mystical meaning of biblical texts. Its main subject matters are drawn from the Torah and, unexpectedly, the books of Ruth and Song of Songs. It further elaborates the sephiroth to great length.
Although scholars claim that the kabala is an offshoot of Judaism, at best esoteric mysticism, and at worst rank heresy, this is a superficial reading. Sepher Yetsira, which by their own reckoning is the oldest kabalistic writing, never refers to Moses or to his laws. It never refers to the historical Jewish nation or to any of its heros or villains, with the sole exception of Abraham.
In its concluding lines, Yetsira speaks of Abraham, but not in terms likely to verify him as the father of the Jewish race. Stripped of mythic pretence, he is described as the first kabalist and the foundation of kabala not the Jewish nation. His special covenant of knowledge issues from consciousness/life, not from the monotheistic Judeo-Christian deity.
The unmistakeable appearance of strictly kabalistic symbolism within the Apocalypse argues forcefully for the dating of its origin by at least a millennium before the Middle Ages. Carlo Suares, the French scholar, maintains that Genesis and the Song of Songs are kabalistic literature, as well. If correct, the origins of kabala must recede even further into the pre-Christian era.
Suares gets direct support from an abundance of kabalistic commentaries on the Torah, which includes Genesis. Also, his argument answers the knotty question of why the Zohar devotes so much space to the Song of Songs.
Suares asserts convincingly that the Sepher Yetsira is the kabala's fundamental textbook.131 In this, he stands nearly alone. For most present and past kabalists contend the Zohar possesses that distinction.
Suares insists that most, if not all kabalists, are simply mistaken. They find Sepher Yetsira baffling, occult and totally incomprehensible simply because they really have no idea what kabala is all about. "In this they are not very different from the general public who has vaguely heard about the Qabala. For the more it is discussed, the more it becomes entangled with the extraordinary complications of medieval Jewish theology whose obsolescence is respected or despised, according to prejudice."132
In the introduction to his essay,The Qabala Trilogy, Suares enumerates eight other writers on kabala. He notes his agreement and disagreement with their respective viewpoints. In the midst of his brief survey, Suares notes the following pivotal point.
The kabalist must become "aware of his own individuality. At the same time he must stop reiterating religious or other teachings. The 'game' will reveal itself to him from the way he treats its elements: it is a movement, a vibration of the different living forms which 'come and go' (Yetsira I,8) and the cabalist can become the receiver and transmitter of this cosmic movement. Then the Qabala in all its complexity becomes comprehensible."133
We may muse along with Suares that there is little surprise the kabala became synonymous with obscurity. He observes rightly that its source has been adulterated with every element alien to it. He notes alien elements deriving from Jewish, Christian and scholastic sources.134 To these we may add gnostic as well. In the great melting pot that was the Hellenistic Era and its succeeding centuries we can rightly observe the synthesis of many elements. Kabala was influenced but had originated much earlier.
The elements of the kabalistic game are its letters and numbers. The numbers define the meanings of the letters. The numbers, too, have their meanings, since they are letters as well. Sentences become equations.
Once cleared of its mythological vestments and its later theological nonsense, nowhere in kabala does the concept of deity appear. Indeed, the concept of monotheism is as foreign to kabala as it is to the metaphysic of ecstasy. Both share the basis that life and the universe are a single endogenous phenomenon.135
Among the reasons for the loss of understanding of the Sepher Yetsira Suares notes the legend of the Golem. This mythical entity was supposedly created by heretical rabbis utilizing secret instructions hidden within the Yetsira. Aside from corrupting all serious study, the story has nothing to do with kabala or Sepher Yetsira.
Along with the Sepher Yetsira, Suares ranks Genesis and the Song of Songs as the three great kabalistic works. All three have been equally misunderstood. Indeed, kabalists themselves, for the most part, have overlooked the two latter.
The three books have suffered quite different fates. Genesis has been translated into virtually all the languages of the world. As the opening book of the bible, it still sells in the millions of copies annually. A significant portion of humanity remain mesmerized by its myths pretending history and its fictitious characters who have never existed. Its letter equations have been thoroughly misconstrued into fairy tales and bogus theology.
Song of Songs has been stubbornly and absurdly attributed to Solomon. Yet no one knows just why this rather embarrassingly explicit love story has been included in the bible. Not one of the millions who daily read that tedious tome imagines that the equations of Song of Songs depict the indwelling of consciousness or that the sensuous love affair is between consciousness and itself.
Sepher Yetsira remains virtually unknown. Only the few who have tried to make a study of kabala have ever heard of it. Only Carlo Suares has ever made of it anything more than elementary sense. Without fail, all others have attempted to comprehend it in terms of religious myth. Kabala has nothing to do with any religion or myth, Jewish or otherwise.
According to Suares, kabala is a science, every bit as exacting as any we call modern. The Sepher Yetsira is a precise and accurate treatise of that science on the basic structuring and transformation of cosmic energy.
Much like modern sciences, kabala is written in a code. If we did not know the meaning of the code letters E, M, and C, the equation E=mc2 would be a mystery to all but the initiated few. Kabala remains a mystery only because so few understand the meaning of its particular code. Primarily, those who presume to understand it do not. They merely read into it what they are predisposed to see already.
Suares contends that most of those who call themselves kabalists engage merely in an intellectual diversion, which has no relevance to the real world. They are like people who think themselves medieval scholars because they read Prince Valiant in Sunday's comics.
According to Suares, kabala offers a chance to unite the disparate parts of human experience. Yet it does so in a way that challenges us to think in a new way. We must comprehend each letter symbolically and also actually as permeating a field of conscious energy. We are not used to thinking in this manner. It is strange for us. We must shift mental gears.
Unlike our own alphabet, which is a mere convention of symbols used to represent sounds and meanings, the letters and numbers of kabala really are what they depict. We find this startling and difficult to comprehend because our own language is based on sensory images. We understand only by means of imagery.
In our language the word table is not really a table, only a symbolic representation that helps us form an image in our mind's eye. Likewise, the word house is not really a house. In kabala, however, aleph not only represents aleph but really is aleph.
The unknown authors of kabala did nothing to help us understand its intricacies. They did not compose their texts to inform the ignorant, but rather to refresh the memories of those who already know. We can not fault them for their efforts, if our edification was not their purpose.
To ascertain this knowledge we must learn to understand the precise meaning of each letter and number. We must learn to decipher certain key combinations of letters and numbers which have become encrusted with inaccurate religious meanings.
As Suares notes, we ought not to be surprised that the authors of the kabala hid themselves with anonymity and disguised their real meaning in a play on words. The knowledge they sought to expound varied markedly from traditional religion. They would have encountered strong opposition and probably death at the hands of those with an interest in preserving the mistruths of religion. Even the masses held in mental subjugation might have risen against them. They have often rewarded with martyrdom those who have sought to break their religious shackles.
As Suares says, every religion is simply the mythological projection of truths misunderstood. Religion does not express truth, but mistruth. The first step towards liberation from religion must be this recognition.
To understand kabala we must first free ourselves from our own ingrained religious myths. We must throw off the misunderstandings of the nature of reality that they embody. If we can not, then we can never penetrate the mysteries of kabala.
I have no intention of discussing kabala in detail here. For that a complete volume in itself would be needed. Nor is it required for the purpose of examining the apocalyptic symbols that are pertinent to a valid comparison with kabala.
I refer those readers who desire further knowledge of the science of kabala to The Qabala Trilogy by Carlo Suares. No more informative a volume exists that I am aware of. His work on the subject is thorough.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the temple and the tree of life, I must comment on the merkabah. This refers to a mystical Jewish sect and movement that had its beginnings in first century Palestine. Later, from the seventh to eleventh centuries, its principle center of popularity shifted to Babylonia. Merkabah is of particular interest because of its possible connection with the founding of Christianity.
Merkabah literally means a chariot but in the mystical sense intended, it referred to the chariot of
God, or the heavenly throne, as described in Ezechiel. This throne has some very interesting
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding
itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of
the midst of the fire.
Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their
appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot; and
they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
.And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one
As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the
right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an
Thus were their faces; and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were
joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
And they went every one straight forward; whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they
turned not when they went.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and
like the appearance of lamps; it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was
bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures,
with his four faces.
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl; and they four
had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a
When they went, they went upon their four sides; and they turned not when they went.
As for their rings [rims], they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of
eyes round about them four.
And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were
lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were
lifted up over against them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels...
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creatures was as the colour of a
terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above...
And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the
appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the
appearance of a man above upon it.
And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the
appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I
saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the [rain] bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the
appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory
of the Lord...
And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me...136
Adherents of merkabah sought to induce mystical visions like this one described by the author of Ezechiel. Their writings described the mystical visionary's ascent as a dangerous journey through seven spheres guarded by hostile angels, or powers.
Success in the mystic vision quest depended on proper preparation, which included fasting and the development of certain moral qualities, and the use of magical formulas. These latter were called "seals." They served to appease the seven angelic guardians of the heavenly gateways. Their use was critical. Using the wrong seal could result in dire disaster or even death.
The successful initiate attained contemplation of the divine throne mounted on its fiery chariot. He also lived to tell about the experience.
The gnostic influences on merkabah are many and obvious. In fact, they are significant enough that we might be justified in calling merkabah a Judaic gnosticism. Despite important gnostic influences, however, merkabah remained thoroughly orthodox, in the Haggadah tradition. This orthodoxy included strict adherence to Mosaic law and monotheism.
Within Judaism rabbis have always distinguished two very different yet complementary traditions. The first of these, the Halakah, consists of commentaries on the bible of strictly legalistic application. That is, how the laws of Moses must be applied to daily life. The second tradition is that of the Haggadah. This second views the actions of God as recorded in the scriptures as allegories of the development of the life of each individual man and woman.
The Jews anticipated the imminent arrival of a messianic kingdom to restore their political and religious prestige and to effect their personal salvation. Out of the tradition of the Haggadah arose a literature that reflected these aspirations. Its authors claimed a secret knowledge of the workings of God's plan for the human race and the Jews. The esoteric knowledge, or gnosis, supposedly came from mystical experiences, which included divine revelations.
The tradition became influenced by Platonic ideas and gnostic cosmology and its methods of interpretation. It gave birth to such mystical movements as the merkabah. Its writings became known as apocalyptic. Amidst this literary setting the Apocalypse had its origin. But, as I noted earlier, it would be erroneous to conclude that the Apocalypse, because it fits into a particular genre of Jewish, religious, mystical writing, can be circumscribed by that genre. That it may have arisen from it, is another matter, and likely. But it can not be defined fully by it.
That Christianity itself may have arisen from the Haggadah tradition via some such vehicle as merkabah is extremely probable. I think that it is quite reasonable to suppose that the origin of Christianity represents the oversimplification of some such apocalyptic eschatology as merkabah, for example, for mass consumption.
Christian apologists, of course, in general remain oblivious to the possible influence of other doctrines on the early development of Christian orthodoxy. Most would have us believe that God revealed their religion as a fait accompli. They pretend ever that theirs is a revelation of undisputed truth and all others but feeble human attempts to approach that truth, with varied degrees of success. They scoff at the notion that ideas prevalent in other men's minds, who made no claim to be Christian, entered the early formulation of their specific version of divine truth. They ridicule the evidence of similar if not identical doctrines in other philosophies and religions, as if they copied their beliefs from Christianity, even if they existed centuries prior to the alleged birth of Jesus.
Yet the evidence is as plain as day to anyone unbiased enough to look for it. Ideas derived from Plato, Greek and Roman mythology, various gnostic sects, many Near East mystery religions, Hinduism and also Buddhism literally spill from Christianity. In their eclecticism its founders drew from any and all available sources. In their efforts to attract as many candidates as possible to their new religio/political movement they sewed together a patchwork of Hellenistic ideas painted in Judaic colours.
Mystical as well as Mosaic Judaism influenced Christianity, as did the knowledge of kabala. Christianity in fact grew from Judaic roots and those roots included much that originated beyond Judaism. Every iota of what came to be called Christian had its origins in the minds of men, not God.
Beneath it all runs the water of the currents of the older metaphysic of ecstasy. That ultimate source of all inner truth was by then encrusted over by later metaphysical constructs inimical to it. But it was still present and clearly traceable in the composition of the Apocalypse, if not so plain in other Christian writings.
The Apocalypse admittedly bears a striking similarity to other typical Haggadah apocalypses. As I cautioned before,137 however, it is very easy to be misled by comparisons of the Apocalypse with other strictly Hebrew writings, and in particular that of Ezechiel. The Apocalypse synthesizes material from a wide range of sources beyond the Judaic.
The Apocalypse has direct roots within kabala, as I shall shortly indicate. So its relation to merkabah and the Haggadah must remain one of superficial and literary similarity only. It remains within the genre of writing, but not of meaning. It talks about the same symbols in the same way, but means something different. Just as in Dance of Ecstasy I talk about all the same old Christian myth and symbols, but what I am saying about them is decidedly nonChristian.
In trying to establish the origins of kabala within the merkabah, most scholars are really trying to prove that kabala simply represents Jewish mysticism. If they can circumscribe kabala in that way, they can then dismiss it along with the rest of Jewish theological nonsense.
Yet the only similarities between kabala and the merkabah occur in the later kabalistic sephera that discuss mystical interpretations of biblical passages. These later texts may very well represent kabala already in its decadence, corrupted by mystical and mythological interpretations.
Certainly, Sepher Yetsira does not derive from merkabah. Genesis and the Song of Songs predate it entirely. Furthermore, kabala derives nothing from gnostic speculation, but rather represents an alternative cosmology, which is totally nonmythological.
It is more likely that merkabah, if it bears any relation to kabala at all, represents a misinterpretation of it. This misunderstanding must be mythological in the manner of later Jewish kabalists who, according to Suares, possess no relevant knowledge of the real meaning of kabala. As he points out mythical and visionary experiences have no place in kabala. Such concepts as god, the soul and personal salvation are mythology. They are psychic images of what can not be imagined. They are foreign to kabala and a true understanding of the Apocalypse.
To get a better idea of just what I mean, we might examine here the apocalyptic description of the
throne and its components. The similarity with the account reported in Ezechiel is readily
And immediately I was in the spirit; and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the
And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone; and there was a rainbow
round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
And round about the throne were four and twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four and twenty
elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices; and there were seven
lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God.
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne
and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a
face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within; and
they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is and
is to come.138
I do not compare the passages from Ezechiel and the Apocalypse with the intention of demonstrating that the latter was derived from the former. It has certainly drawn some elements from it. The author of the Apocalypse has utilized many other symbols and images from the book of Ezechiel, as well. These occur most notably in the apocalyptic writer's description of his initial vision139 and the temple.
Literalists see the initial vision of the Apocalypse as a description of the risen Christ. Esotericists, like James Pryse, see a description of the perfected man. In the metaphysic of ecstasy, this is a description of self consciousness as the second logos, or individuality. This vision is contrasted with the description of self consciousness as the first logos seated upon the apocalyptic throne.
The Apocalypse utilizes a similar family of mythic symbols, to which it has every right, but imbues them with variant meaning. Indeed, the author of the Apocalypse drew many of his symbols directly from the images of earlier apocalyptic writings such as Ezechiel, Daniel and Zachariah.
From the two passages quoted above we might note several of these shared symbols. They are the four living creatures, resembling a man, a lion, an ox (or calf) and an eagle, their wings and many eyes. To these we can add the rainbow, lightning (and its accompanying thunder), a crystalline firmament, lamps of fire and a throne of precious stones.
In the Hebrew writings, these many symbols represent mystical visions of deity. In other words, they are just psychic images conjured up to fit a preconceived theological notion. As I detailed in previous chapters, the same symbols are used by the author of the Apocalypse to represent a metaphysical description of conscious reality, stripped of psychic imagery.
If the Apocalypse arose within the Haggadah tradition, in its synthesis of diverse elements it goes beyond the limitations of that tradition. It goes far beyond anything specifically Jewish. The Apocalypse, like kabala itself, stands outside all religion and all sectarianism. The Apocalypse and kabala go beyond mere mysticism.
The differences with mysticism can be summed up thus. In most mystical endeavours, the ultimate goal of the visionary is the contemplation of a deity or divine source, which in some ontological sense remains separate from the mystic. In the case of mystics like Eckhart and Patanjali, where the goal of contemplation is the realization of a union with God, the human dimension becomes absorbed in the divine. In other words the mystic becomes God (Patanjali), or one with God (Eckhart). You may rightly think the distinction is subtle, as did the churchmen who condemned Eckhart as a heretic.
Mystics frequently bear the label of pantheists, since they experience their god in and as everything. As a result, within orthodox Christianity mystics have always lived on the edge of acceptance. If they generally keep their experiences to themselves then they are tolerated. But if they make too much of their experiences, they become embarrassments and risk being censured or worse.
Metaphysical realization, which is the aim of kabala and the Apocalypse, demolishes all notion of deity. There is no deity to contemplate or to join in mystical union. There is only the one consciousness/life coming to the realization of itself. Mythological symbolism must be seen through, not lived out in personal experience.
The Hebrew writings of Ezechiel and others describe in mythic symbols the mystical experience. They bear no relevance to metaphysical realization other than the symbolic form in which they are clothed. Within them, as within the Gospels, we may find the vestiges of the metaphysic of ecstasy or kabala. But such traces remain disjointed and incomplete, because the purpose of those writings was mystical and not metaphysical.
The meanings of the symbols of the Apocalypse differ from those of the Hebrew writers. Further, its rigorous completeness makes of the Apocalypse an exceptional and unique work. It stands beyond the Hebrew tradition, indeed beyond religious tradition of any stripe.
On the other hand, with its vision of a messianic saviour in the person of Jesus, orthodox Christianity falls distinctly within the limitations of the Judaic, apocalyptic tradition. As its proponents are anxious to note, Jesus came to perfect the law of Moses.140 One of the early debates in the new Christian sect, in fact, was whether or not to admit nonJews to the ranks. And if they were to be admitted, whether or not they should be subjected to the law of Moses.
After their persecutor Saul became Paul the disciple, the argument was settled and the future of the little sect insured. By freeing Christianity of its Mosaic shackles, Paul managed to set it loose into the mainstream of world history. Otherwise it may have shared the same fate as the Essenes or merkabah.
Christianity did not eschew its Judaic roots entirely. The sect had good reasons to retain as much of its Jewishness as it could. In the world of cosmopolitan Rome Judaism, as a religion if not as a pathologically introverted and selfcentered culture, had earned a great deal of respect among the upper classes and the educated. Augustus himself had given homage to Jewish religious beliefs when in Palestine.
In the mists of time, we forget that it was due primarily to the 100 years war of the Zealots against the Roman Empire that managed to bring the Jewish nation to its ruin. But the great Jewish disaster guaranteed the Christian success.
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