Actually Understanding The Bible (Pt 1)
Time and Space. Heaven and Earth. Matter and Spirit.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
The Bible no longer makes sense to us because the philosophical underpinnings of even the most basic concepts within it have been lost. I am not here claiming some “secret knowledge” or “occult understanding” of scripture, to which only I am privy to. Nothing like that. I am simply pointing out the fact that, at least since The Enlightenment, the way we have been brought up to think about certain ideas is different from the way the ancients would have been. This has had the effect of making their wisdom almost indecipherable to us. For most people today the Bible, at best, seems like a somewhat random collection of supernatural stories. The larger themes and overarching cohesiveness of the book are lost.
In an effort to correct this I am going to write a series of posts called “Actually Understanding the Bible,” in which I hope to help people regain the perspective of ancient man so that we can once again understand what they were trying to say and thereby reconnect with our Faith and our ancestors. In my own journey of understanding, the book “The Language of Creation, Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis”, by Matthieu Pageau, has been instrumental. Much in this series will borrow heavily from his ideas. I encourage you all to buy a copy.
Man is the Center
The most basic fact of ancient wisdom, and therefore the first point of conflict with the modern mind, is that human experience is the most primary data.
What do I mean?
The modern mind draws a distinction between subjective and objective that is largely (or perhaps even totally) absent from ancient thinking. An ancient man might have heard a voice in his ear (say from his wife) or a voice in his head (say from God) and these two voices would have been taken as being of equal validity. Why? Because the same instrument (the man and his consciousness) had “heard” both. The fact that other people could have also heard the voice of his wife and that only he could hear the voice of God made absolutely no difference. After all, do you or I not sometimes (or even most of the time) speak in such a way that only those to whom we want to speak can hear us? Why should God or the angels be any different? Why should I discount the voice of a spirit simply because only I heard it anymore than I should discount the voice of my wife simply because she spoke to me in private and didn’t yell our business in the public square? To the ancient mind, if I heard the one I heard the other, and it was the same thing. Verification from others as a means of discerning “objective truth” wasn’t necessary.
If you think about it, this makes a kind of sense, and our modern insistence to the contrary may simply be a projection of our predilection for democracy as a form of government. Joe hears a voice, right? Okay. Well, did everybody else hear it too? If not then what is the conclusion? Well if nobody else heard it then Joe is crazy. Joe needs medication. Joe must be put in a hospital. But what if other people did hear it? Okay, then, now we have to investigate the source of this phenomena. It is therefore a default assumption for modern people that Truth is determined by Vote. That is, when you get down to it, all that the idea of “objective fact” really means. It means that a majority of people agree that it is so. “Objective truth” simply means that a given piece of information has won the vote of public opinion and thereby been promoted to public fact.
Truly this is all that “being objective” really is.
We like to dance around and pretend that it’s not just that by a myriad of means. Most common amongst them is the invention of various apparatuses to vote for us. We make various chemical tests, invent observation devices like microscopes and telescopes, we get out stop watches, we take out rulers. We go to great lengths to invent tools to compare evidence against so that we can maintain an air of impartiality about the whole thing. Look, Joe heard a voice. Okay. Was it recorded on tape? No? Then there is no proof of it. If a thing can leave a mark on an unconscious device, like a chemical test or a photo-diode or a strip of magnetic recording tape, this is somehow seen as “more definitely true” than something that leaves a mark on a conscious device, like a human mind.
Now, in point of fact none of that is really how we act, but we like to pretend it is. Things that we aren’t prepared to believe in leave marks on unconscious devices all the time. EVPs left by the disembodied voices of ghosts for example, or UFOs caught on camera. If something doesn’t comport with our worldview we will readily ignore the testimony even of our unconscious devices. “Measurement error” we will say. “Not statistically significant.” “A lens artifact.” “NOT REPRODUCIBLE”, that’s a big one. In fact that’s probably the most common way of dismissing troublesome data. But, if you watch carefully, you’ll see that what most people mean when they say that is that the data is not reproducible on demand. Ghosts are extremely reproducible. People have claimed to see them, everywhere, all over the world, in ever culture, since the dawn of time. I ask you, what phenomena is more reproducible than that? But, because we can’t figure out how to make the phenomena of ghostly apparitions happen when we want it to, or in a laboratory setting, we tell ourselves we can discount it. Even, for example, when they sometimes show up on camera.
And while we’re at it, just why is it that we aren’t supposed to believe what we see with our eyes… but we are supposed to believe what we see with our eyes through a screen. Or, through a lens. Why is my eye more believable when it receives input through a telescope or through a graph on the screen of my computer? It’s a trick you see. It’s an illusion of objectivity. In either case the same eye is looking and the same consciousness is choosing to believe or disbelieve what that eye sees. The only constant here is the conscious man or woman doing the observing.
At least, that’s how the ancients would’ve seen it.
To the ancient mind, the first and most primary data was human experience.
To this end, the ancients felt that whatever they perceived to be real, was. More or less. This doesn’t mean they didn’t have a concept of being deceived or tricked. Absolutely they did, but in a different way. If an ancient man heard a disembodied voice he didn’t disbelieve that he heard a voice. No, he heard what he heard. The only question would’ve been was the voice speaking truthfully or was it a deceiving spirit? To that end they would often test the spirits that they heard. Ask for signs. Omens and so on. But the disbelief was not placed on what they experienced. A voice was heard. That much was certain. They weren’t crazy, they absolutely heard a voice. Their only question would’ve been was it a good voice or a bad voice. One trying to tell them the truth or one trying to lead them into something not good. Experience itself was not doubted.
And so, that’s why the earth is flat.
Because, for 99.99999% of us, 99.99999% of the time, it is.
Sure, if you are one of the one or two out of eight billion people that get the opportunity to go up in a space capsule, you might experience the earth as something other than a flat, unmovable plane. But, the ancient would have said, why on earth (literally, why, on earth) should an experience held by one or two out of eight billion trump the lived experience of everybody else? Even that astronaut only has an experience of the earth as not flat and not stationary for a few weeks of his life. The rest of the time he’s down here with the rest of us and, it appears, that we live on a flat plane that isn’t moving around very much.
Importantly, this is not a kind of relativism. Not at all. While the astronaut is up in space, the ancient would have said, yes, sure, the earth is a ball, look at it go. Just as the ancient may well have believed that the earth appeared as a very different thing to the gods or the angels than it did to him. But then, when the astronaut is back down on the ground, it isn’t anymore. Do you see? Your lived experience of the world is what is to the ancient person. And, in point of fact there is no time ever in almost all of our lives where the spin or shape of the earth is ever detectable nor matters in any way.
So with this in mind we can see how the ancients drew a connection between Space and Time and Heaven and Earth. These are, ultimately, exactly the same concepts to them.
As discussed, space, and I don’t mean outer space, I mean, like space, the three dimensional world of distance, depth, width, and so on, is fixed. At least to our human experience. The mountain stays in the same place, every day, forever. It doesn’t move. The plains and valleys stay in the same place. The river is where the river is. Earth is static. More or less. And, so, to their minds, Earth IS space.
By the same token, The Heavens, the stars, the planets, the sun and moon, IS time. Because, they do move. They are transitory and transitional objects. The Heaven rotates round and round, above our heads. It is, again literally, a clock. The sky clock. In fact the swastika is an ancient symbol of that sky clock (see photo). It’s the “wheel of time”, as it were.
Note. Again, here we hit upon another point of departure between the modern and ancient views. Time cycles are today only considered to be a thing in eastern religions. Not so. All ancient religions, including Judaism and Christianity, believed in a cyclical nature of time, although we in the west have largely forgotten this. That’s why I opened this article with the “Glory be” prayer, because hints of that view are still visible in small prayers like that one here and there. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end.”
We have instead come in our day to think of time as strictly linear. This conception is in reality the entire philosophical underpinnings of the political ideology of progressivism. Time is progressing, we think, from point A to point B, from some dark age of the past towards some enlightened future. There was a Big Bang and since then time has been marching forward, producing ever more complicated and complex life as it approaches some ill-defined eschaton. The ancients would’ve have thought this completely against common sense and, again, human experience. The human experience is that time progresses, sure, but round and round, in cycles. The sky clock turns, over and over again, but it always returns to the same place. The seasons change, but in an unchanging way. What has been will be again, what will be now is. That sort of thing. They would have found the entire idea of “progress” somewhat incomprehensible. They would have said that there were ages when things were good and people were righteous, followed by degenerate ages and middle stages in between. Just as, for example, there is summer and winter, with middle stages in between. And that there was no end point, they just went round and round like that. A gilded age followed by a dark age followed by a gilded age again, and so on. World without end.
THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY THOUGHT IT WAS ALL POINTLESS. Or that the universe wasn’t getting anywhere. Not at all. They had essentially a fractal view of the cosmos before “fractal” was really a word. There would be a final fulfillment of the cosmos. An eschaton. Just as there had been a beginning. But, in some way that is mysterious, at least to me as I cannot quite make out what the ancients were trying to say on this point, that beginning and that end were, in some way, eternal. Or, perhaps better to say, that the End contained the Beginning and the Beginning contained the end. The fulfillment of all things was, in a sense, self contained. This is a confusing concept, but they were trying to say something like that, even if I am unable to do it justice. So keep in mind then that eternal and eternity, in the Bible, doesn’t mean, linear time going on forever and ever and ever. In means a kind of transcendence of time itself. For, to be in time was, by definition, to be in change, and therefore to be in death. Remember, space/earth is the realm of the unchanging. Heaven/time, is where change happens.
With this understanding we can now see why The Tree is the cosmic symbol. Consider the following images:
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”
Bible, Deuteronomy 21:22–23
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
Bible, Galatians 3:13
The Tree stretches down into Earth, into matter, into space, and rises up towards Heaven, into time, spirit, the sky. The tree is a bridge between Heaven and Earth, between the dark, inert and dead matter and the world of the sky, which is one of spirit and life.
The Earth was Formless, and Void
You are made of dirt. As am I. As is, all life on earth. That is ultimately where the all the matter in our bodies comes from. The ancients understood this. They also understood that the singular difference between being alive and being dead was breathing. All living things draw air. This is why the medical definition of inspiration is to breath in and the medical definition of expiration is to breath out. This is also why when you die, we say that you “expire.” Inspiration = In-spirit-ation. Or, to be inspirited, to have spirit. This is the etymology of these words.
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Bible, Genesis 2:7
The Holy Spirit, is, literally, the air. The air is what enables dead, inert matter, to take on life. “The Spirit gives life…” John 6:63. The air, the actual, literal, oxygen and nitrogen and such around you right this second, is, in some sense, the Holy Spirit. Which is why, at Pentecost, when the Apostles are imbued with a greater portion of the Holy Spirit, it enters the room with a sound like that of a mighty rushing wind.
As I’ve said before, nothing in scripture is arbitrary. It all follows its own internal logic perfectly if you know what you are looking for. Consider, why does the earth have life but Mars does not. Nor the Moon. Nor any other mass in the solar system thus discovered?
Well, the ancients would’ve said because of air. We on earth have “the breath of life” which enables otherwise inert matter to become animate in the bodies of animals, men, women, plants, fish, and birds. Everything breaths. When a baby comes out of its mother’s womb we know it is not stillborn if it is screaming, if it has air in its lungs. When you die, you “breath your last”, and, the moment you do so, you begin to decompose back into the dust from which you came.
“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Bible, Genesis 3:19
The knowledge of the holiness of air, and the identification of air with spirit, is not unique to Christianity. This same knowledge animates the yogic practices which focus heavily on the breath in Hinduism, and the focus on the breath in Buddhist meditation. By focusing your attention on the breath you are, in a very literal sense, focusing your mind on your spirit. That which animates the clay from which you are made.
If the spirit is identified with air, then, naturally, things of the spirit are things of the air and sky. Hence we do not say, “Our Father on earth”, even though, of course, God is present everywhere. We say, “Our Father in Heaven” because Heaven, the sky, is the realm of the spirit and the realm of the spiritual things.
The God-Man Jesus
With all this background, we can now truly appreciate more fully the claim being made as to the identity and importance of Jesus. Jesus is, in essence, the one who unites all these opposite polarities. Heaven and Earth. Time and Space. Matter and Spirit. In that sense he is the entirety of the Tao. The fullness of both Yin and Yang. He is killed by crucifixion because his death must occur on a tree, on a bridge between Heaven and Earth, Matter and Spirit, Time and Space. This must happen in order to reunite these opposing polarities from the primordial separation which happened during The Fall from Paradise. Christ is taking Death and transmuting it into Life by taking the instrument of his execution and connecting that instrument with the Tree of Life itself. He thereby becomes the beginning and the end at the same time, The Alpha and the Omega. As stated earlier, time was conceived as cyclical. The end contained the beginning and the beginning contained the end. This is, in some sense, the meaning of “eternity". Of “world without end.” The tree of life dies in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, after the fall, and Man no longer has his immortality. The tree of life appears once more, growing in full foliage, in the last book of the Bible, in Revelation. Jesus then becomes that point at which the two meet. Where the beginning state of the cosmos and the ending state of the cosmos come together. Where “death is swallowed up by life”. The circle is thus in some sense completed. The snake eating it’s own tail encircling the world. The same snake that offers Eve the apple. Except that, whereas traditionally the Ouroboros is depicted negatively, as though the Head of the serpent is Death swallowing up everything trails behind it. It is reversed, and instead Life swallows up Death in the completion of the circle. Hence when God cursed the serpent he told the serpent that the child of the woman (Eve’s great great great great great…… grandson, Jesus) would crush his head. In Christ the union of all opposites is achieved and there is no longer any separation. All has been made whole. As St. Paul said, “Christ is all, and is in all.”
The groundwork for truly beginning to understand the story the Bible is trying to tell has thus been laid. The fundamental concepts presented in the first chapters of Genesis, those being Time and Space, Heaven and Earth, and Matter and Spirit, had to first be explained and understood before we could move on. In part two we will explore how Man is the center of the mandala and how this is presented in the creation story and why therefore it was believed that Man’s fall necessarily lead to the fall and corruption of the whole cosmos. As a corollary, Man’s eventual redemption, and your redemption personally dear reader, is therefore an avenue for the salvation of the Universe.
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Excellent! I look forward to your further reflections on this subject. I think at one point I wanted to ask you if you were familiar with Jonathan Pageau. Glad to know you and the Pageau brothers are on the same wavelength.
Ever consider covering Terry Allen's "Dogwood" on the podcast?