Refuting racist misreadings of the Curse of Ham

Robert Boyle—a seventeenth-century scientist who also was a theologian and a devout Christian—refuted the idea that blackness was caused by the curse of Ham, in his book Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours (1664). He wrote:

“And not only we do not find expressed in the Scripture, that the Curse meant by Noah to Cham, was the Blackness of his Posterity, but we do find plainly enough there that the Curse was quite another thing, namely that he should be a Servant of Servants, that is by an Ebraism, a very Abject Servant to his Brethren, which accordingly did in part come to pass, when the Israelites of the posterity of Sem, subdued the Canaanites, that descended from Cham, and kept them in great Subjection. Nor is it evident that Blackness is a Curse, for Navigators tell us of Black Nations, who think so much otherwise of their own condition, that they paint the Devil White. Nor is Blackness inconsistent with Beauty, which even to our European Eyes consists not so much in Colour, as an Advantageous Stature, a Comely Symmetry of the parts of the Body, and Good Features in the Face. So that I see not why Blackness should be thought such a Curse to the Negroes… “

Poseidon in the Bible

A curious verse grabbed my attention yesterday: Ezekiel 28:2. In it God commands the prophet Ezekiel to declare to the prince of Tyre, “‘In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.’ But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.”

It occured to me that “a god in the heart of the seas” sounds a lot like Poseidon, so I looked further afield, beyond the Bible. It turns out that Agenor, the Phoenician king of Tyre in Greek legend, was said to be a son of Poseidon. It was not uncommon for the writers of the Bible to avoid naming gods other than God directly and instead rely on allusion. I am now fairly confident it is Poseidon that the Bible is alluding to here.

Contemplating salvation in the depths of depression

As I grapple with my own depression I am reminded that there is an already / not yet tension in the way the apostles spoke of salvation. They had witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, but the resurrection of the dead was still to come. They had witnessed the defeat of death, and yet the threat of death still hung over them as they bore witness to the ends of the earth. Death has been dethroned in this world but it has not yet been exorcised from this world. We still await for all things to be made new, even though we’ve seen glimpses of the new. It’s like we’ve now seen light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel still hangs above us. Jesus gives me a new perspective, and that perspective can change how I relate to my circumstances, but it doesn’t mean my circumstances have changed. Not yet.

Exploring the Macrocosm and Microcosm

I thought I’d put together a little primer on esoteric Christian anthropology and cosmology.

Christian Anthropology

In Christian theology, there are two competing views regarding the nature of humanity. The “tripartite view” holds that humanity is a composite of three distinct components: body, soul, and spirit. In contrast the “bipartite view” holds that the soul and spirit are different terms for the same thing. What follows assumes the former, but for those who care to look it up the scriptural basis for the tripartite view is 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12. Psychologically, the soul is said to correspond to the self or ego and the spirit to the higher self. Alchemically the body, soul, and spirit correspond to the three principles of salt, mercury, and sulfur.

Christian Cosmology

In Christian theology, a threefold view of cosmology is also quite common. Between the material realm, which humans inhabit, and the eternal realm, which God inhabits, is the unseen realm which intermediary spirits, often referred to as angels, inhabit. A common feature of esoteric Christianity is recognition of a correspondence between these threefold views of cosmology and anthropology, in terms of a macrocosm and microcosm.

macrocosm and microcosm

Further Subdivisions

The middle level is often further subdivided. On an anthropological level, the soul may be subdivided into the intellect, emotions, and the will. On a cosmological level, the angelic realm may be subdivided into three hierarchies. It is worth noting that the resultant fivefold system corresponds well with both the alchemical elements of earth, air, water, fire, and spirit, and the kabbalistic worlds of Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriah, Atziluth, and Adam Kadmon.

Each of the above angelic hierarchies may be further subdivided into three orders each. Pseudo-Dionysius lists these nine orders as: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Authorities, Rulers, Archangels, and Angels. The scriptural inspiration for this is primarily Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16. This of course is a lot more speculative but it is worth noting that the resultant elevenfold system also corresponds with the ten sephirot of the Kabbalah with the Ein Sof.

Those with esoteric interests might find these correspondences offer much food for thought.

Good News regarding racism

The good news regarding racism is that God will have the last word, not the racists. The vision of Revelation is that all races will be gathered in by God in the end, with no exclusion on the basis of ethnicity or culture. Our task is to bear witness to this future by how we relate to other races in the here and now, knowing that however many setbacks we experience, success in the end is assured.

The Bible according to Origen

Origen of Alexandria was an early Christian ascetic, bible scholar, and theologian who lived from 184 to 253 AD, spending much of his life in Egypt. He was a prolific writer and one of the most influential figures in early Christianity. Origen is also an early witness to what books were included in the Bible, especially the New Testament. Around 250 AD Origen wrote:

“But when our Lord Jesus Christ comes, whose arrival that prior son of Nun designated, he sends priests, his apostles, bearing “trumpets hammered thin,” the magnificent and heavenly instruction of proclamation. Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel; Mark also; Luke and John each played their own priestly trumpets. Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles; also James and Jude. In addition, John also sounds the trumpet through his epistles [incl Revelation], and Luke, as he describes the Acts of the Apostles. And now that last one comes, the one who said, “I think God displays us apostles last,” and in fourteen of his epistles, thundering with trumpets, he casts down the walls of Jericho and all the devices of idolatry and dogmas of philosophers, all the way to the foundations.” (Hom. Jos. 7.1)

Curious about Lilith?

I get people asking me about Lilith from time but there’s not actually much I can say. Lilith doesn’t play any significant part in Christianity. While there is a lilith mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures (Isaiah 34:14 for those who want to look it up) it is simply a passing reference to a night creature with no further details. Indeed the context often leads textual experts to translate the Hebrew word as “night owl” and consequently Christians have generally made nothing more of it, not least because there’s no mention at all in the New Testament.

To get to the legend of Lilith, first wife of Adam and Queen of Demons, we actually have to leave the scriptures far behind and delve into medieval Jewish folklore. Sometime after the split between Judaism and Christianity this vague scriptural reference to a night creature (possibly Babylonian in origin) became the subject of considerable speculation within Judaism. In the Alphabet of Ben Sirach, a satyrical text composed somewhere between 700 and 1000AD, Lilith emerges as the first wife of Adam who was created to cause sickness to infants. Given the satirical nature of the work, personally I am reluctant to take that depiction at face value. I’d suggest there’s a deeper subtext.

In more recent times she’s entered popular culture and morphed further still. In some circles she has been appropriated as a figure of feminine power. If people find value in the myth that’s their prerogative of course. But by this stage we are considerable distance from my own path so that’s where I’ll leave it.

Genesis from a Jungian perspective

I find it interesting to explore the Genesis story of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden from a Jungian perspective. I know Gnostics will have a different take on this, and indeed prefer alternative versions of the story, but here I present an orthodox Christian interpretation.

The two trees in the garden of Eden face two choices that facing humanity. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the lower self, the ego. It offers a kind of knowledge, that is very attractive, but it does not offer wholeness. Indeed it offers a kind of death, as the opportunity cost is access to the tree of life. The tree of life on the other hand represents the higher self, that which does offer wholeness, but it can only be approached by denying the sovereignty of the ego, by surrendering to the higher self. The snake represents an ego trap. It feeds the ego, distracting us from considering the tree of life. Indeed in the story the protagonists seem barely aware of the tree of life. It hardly enters their consciousness. They spend all their time pondering the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The choice being made for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there are consequences. By choosing the self centred life over the other centred life, difficulties are experienced in life. But there is a way back to the tree of life. This is through self sacrifice, as represented in the broader story by Jesus, known as the the second Adam. In the final chapters of the scriptures, the tree of life reappears, the way having been opened by the act of ego sacrifice. We are left with an image of the garden, now integrated with the city, and a new higher balance restored.