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.
I thought I’d put together a little primer on esoteric Christian anthropology and cosmology.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have been thinking about the claims I see many Muslims making about the Holy Spirit or Advocate of God, identifying him with either Mohammed or the angel Gabriel.
I believe the Bible verse that Muslims most frequently quote in reference to Mohammed is John 14:15-17, where it says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Other verses that reference the Advocate / Spirit are John 15:26-27 and John 16:7-8, but the most pertinent verse I would think is in John 14:26 where it says, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
It seems fairly clear to me we’re talking of an incorporeal being, not a human, so I’m struggling to see how Mohammed comes into it. If there was any doubt we’re talking about an incorporeal being, I would have thought John 20:22 clears that up where it is written, “When he had said this, he [Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Note these verses are all from the same book, written by the same author.
As for the angel Gabriel, the only passage I’m aware of in the Bible that mentions the Holy Spirit and Gabriel together is Luke 1:26-27, 35 where it is written, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary … The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” It sounds pretty clear to me that Gabriel is talking of someone other than himself. So I’m struggling to see how they could ever be seen as the same person.
If there’s any other verses that are relevant I’d like to know, but everything I’m seen suggests to me that the identification of the Holy Spirit / Advocate with Mohammed or Gabriel is considerably forced. At least as far as the Bible is concerned. I recognise that many will be committed to such identifications regardless, but my concern here is on an honest reading of the Bible, not the Quran. I’m not seeing how Mohammed or Gabriel could be read out of these texts without prior suppositions.
Is YHWH equivalent to other gods? Just a Hebrew version of Zeus for instance? With a wife even? No, YHWH’s domain is not limited to the sky. Nor did YHWH come into being at some point like Zeus did. Granted there is some evidence to suggest early Hebrews had a more limited conception of YHWH, but subsequent revelation, not least through Jesus, has expanded our understanding of YHWH.
Ive been observing that a lot of the medieval and renaissance grimoires basically boil down to angel magic. Whether we’re talking Kabbalistic, Solomonic, Enochian, or other systems it’s much the same: it’s about summoning and seeking the aid of a plethora of angels by the power of the One who is above all. This gets me thinking about Christopaganism. Rather than locating female-male polarity at the level of divinity, which necessitates a shift to duotheism at the very least, I’m finding an alternative way to integrate Christianity and Paganism is to explore gender polarities at the angelic level whilst continuing to walk an essentially monotheistic path. In a number of systems Michael and Gabriel are correlated to sun and moon, fire and water respectively. I see no reason why they can’t also be correlated with the god and the goddess of the various Pagan traditions, whilst affirming the One who is above all, whom the Hebrews call YHWH, is essentially beyond gender and whilst being the source of ALL gender.
The following excerpt is from Monotheism, Principal Angels, and the Background of Christology by W. Hurtado, University of Edinburgh. This is a pre-publication version of an invited chapter to appear in The Oxford Handbook to the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins.
Jewish traditions place stress on God’s uniqueness and authority compared to other heavenly beings. He the Creator and the King.
“Bauckham’s astute observation about the topos of angelic refusal of worship in certain Jewish texts was followed up in Stuckenbruck’s published doctoral thesis (1995), an important study in which he conducted a thorough survey of all references to the veneration of angels, and the limitations of it, in ancient Jewish texts, inscriptions and magical material. Stuckenbruck noted that there was no evidence of a fixed ‘cultic devotion’ to angels, in the sense of angels being the recipients of corporate worship in the ways that God was in ancient Jewish settings. But he also contended that there were various uses of ‘venerative language’ with reference to angels: e.g., (1) occasional invocation of angels (but usually with God) for help, vengeance or protection, (2) angels presented as exemplary worshippers of God (e.g., 4QShirShabb), and (3) expressions of thanksgiving (to God) for actions attributed to angels (Stuckenbruck 1995: 200-3).”
“Yet he judged that none of these various kinds of ‘angel veneration’ was conceived as a substitute for, or infringement on, the worship of the one God, noting that ‘most often the venerative language [for angels] is followed by an explanation which emphasizes the supremacy of God’ (Stuckenbruck 1995: 201).”
“In summary, in second-temple Jewish tradition a firm commitment to the uniqueness of the one God, expressed both in religious rhetoric and in cultic practice clearly sat easily with beliefs about powerful and exalted adjutant figures, among which principal angels were prominent, sometimes portrayed as uniquely deputized to act in God’s name as God’s chief agent. In its earliest expressions, Jesus-devotion was a distinctive example of this, albeit novel in ways noted and, of course, particularly noteworthy in terms of its historical impact, the risen/exalted Jesus portrayed as God’s uniquely glorious agent of creation and redemption. The Qumran texts have added enormously to our store of evidence concerning second-temple Judaism, and help us thereby to reconstruct the religious context of earliest circles of the Christian movement.”
In case any of you are wondering how I reconcile Christian monotheism with Pagan polytheism, here’s a brief if somewhat incomplete explanation of how I understand deity.
In essence, I differentiate between an uncreated One, who is the source of all life, and many created ones, who influence life in all its many aspects. Whether these created ones, these intermediaries, are knowns as gods or angels or spirits or otherwise is of secondary concern to me. I tend to think in more functional terms, recognising that many of these functions tend to translate across cultures even if the names don’t.
So, do I worship these created ones? No, I reserve worship for the uncreated One alone. However, I do consider them worthy of respect, and although their influence is limited in both space and time and in relation to the uncreated One it is still considerable. So I pay my respects where appropriate.
So, how do I understand Jesus in relation to deity? I recognise Jesus as the embodiment of the uncreated One – not in his masculinity, for the uncreated One is the source of all gender, but in his unconditional love and faithfulness which he demonstrated when he was amongst us, for that is the true character of the uncreated One.
As for the uncreated One, I get why the Jews were reluctant to name this one casually. Naming tends to limit and we are talking here of the limitless. If I use the word God or Deity or Spirit it is with the recognition that this word can confuse as much as enlighten.
It seems to me that much of what the church has said about the fall of Satan over the years is based on figurative (specifically: anagogic) interpretation of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 24 rather than literal interpretation.
Indeed, if we were to restrict ourselves to literal interpretation there would not be much we could say about Satan’s fall at all. As, at face value, these verses are not about Satan, but rather, the Kings of Tyre and Babylon.
How ironic then, that it’s self identified “literalists” who are most committed to the figurative sense of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 24, and visa versa.
Talk of animal guides is common enough in Pagan traditions, especially Shamanism, but not so much within Christianity or Judaism. Nevertheless, the story of Balaam and his donkey, found within the Old Testament book of Numbers, provides a striking example of the will of the Creator being communicated to humanity through a creature. Perhaps there’s something we can learn from this? The author narrates the incident as follows:
Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials.But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of YHWH stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.
Then the angel of YHWH stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides.When the donkey saw the angel of YHWH, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.
Then the angel of YHWH moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of YHWH, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff.Then YHWH opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of YHWHstanding in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
The angel of YHWH asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”
Balaam said to the angel of YHWH, “I have sinned. I did not realise you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”
The angel of YHWH said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.
I know some may consider this heretical but I have to wonder if the burning ones (seraphim), mighty ones (cherubim) and the living creatures (hayyot) referred to in the visionary experiences of the prophets are synonymous, not different ranks of angels (malakim) at all. Take for example Ezekial 10:15 where the living creatures and cherubim are explicitly identified with one another.
Politicians tell us to look out for devils among strangers. Prophets tell us to look out for angels: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)