THE PROBABILITY PROBLEM…

There are standing at opposing corners of today’s intellectual arena, particularly in the United States, two heavyweight fighters – each taking blows at the other. These gladiators are Fundamental Christianity and Metaphysical Naturalism. And while these two views are diametrically opposed, the one to the other. They oddly enough share a few basic similarities. The Fundamentalist is sure that his view of the world, religion, Christianity … even the language that his Bible was written in … are the pinnacle of revelation.  At the opposite corner and equally sure of their view are the Metaphysical Naturalists – or Atheists as we might call them. The Atheist is confident that his interpretation of the information gathered by science is the truest perspective, and any dissenter is obviously irrational and delusional. In fact the Atheist insists that his view alone is endorsed by science, just as the Fundamentalist alone claims that his view is endorsed by the Bible. Watching these two views go at it is quite entertaining, especially for those who do not take such a ridged stance.

One issue that seems to be a bit of battle front in this war is that of Evolutionism vs. Creationism. The Fundamentalist claiming that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that God instantaneously created all living things. The Atheist claiming that the earth is millions of years old and that living things began as small single celled organisms and slowly adapted and changed until the Earth was filled with the diversity of life that we see present today. The Fundamentalist cannot accept this, because in his view, the Bible demands a literal seven day creation period, thus millions of years are unacceptable. He also believes that the first chapter of Genesis describes a literal historical description of creation and with that God instantaneously causing fully developed creatures to appear.

The Atheistic response to this is an appeal to science, in which we find evidence of an older planet, older universe and a progressive adaptation to living things that to the rational mind seem to explain the diversity we see in living things. For instance even Creationists will admit that God did not create a wolf, coyote and dog separately, but they probably share a common ancestor.  The Fundamentalist response is then to challenge the scope of evolution and the science which Atheists claim vindicates it. This is because to the Fundamentalist the entire concept of Theism is inextricably bound up in their view of Genesis and scripture. In fact Atheists seem to share their view; that being that the only possible scenarios that exist are that the Fundamental Christians are right, or that Atheists are right. (Neither side seems to have entertained that there could be other alternatives.)

One of the most compelling debates is the one over the probability of evolution by natural selection and random mutation producing the diversity of life on Earth. The Fundamentalist points out that the statistical probability of such an event occurring is beyond the pale or reasoning. In fact they will take one instance of evolution, such as that of certain complex proteins which are essential to life, and demonstrate that for even that minor thing to have evolved by natural selection is so improbable that to suggest it did is irrational. When we are dealing with probabilities we are speaking of things in the realm of winning the lottery, or shooting dice. One man observed that the probability of one enzyme to have formed might be like winning the lottery one million times in a row, or shooting snake eyes an equal number of times with no variation. We as rational people might observe that such a thing is not impossible, but … it aint gonna happen. This is essentially the argument of the Fundamental Creationist, that evolution is so improbable that it simply did not happen.

On the other hand the Meta-Naturalist claims that multitudes of improbable things happen every day. Have you ever met a friend in a grocery store by random chance? What are the odds of that happening? Yet it happened. If I were to deal out a deck of cards, the odds of it falling in that one particular order are astronomical, yet after it has been dealt we can clearly see that this order is the one that happened. Of course with the deck of cards scenario there had to be an order, so one order must have taken place. However with life, the deck could have never been dealt with to start with – so to speak.  Further the improbability of life occurring, surviving and evolving is light years away with regards to probability – more like dealing millions of decks and getting the right order. Their point however is valid in this – if life did evolve into present forms the improbability of that happening does not cause it not to happen.  No more so than the improbability of a deck of cards falling into a certain order keep it from having fell into that order once the deck is dealt.

But perhaps in their herculean efforts to prove one another wrong each of these views have missed the point. Let’s say for instance that you could pull a card at random from a deck of cards, any deck, and I could always guess the card. Let’s say I did this a thousand times in a row.  What would your response be? Would it be denial -essentially because the event is improbable that it could not have happened?  Or perhaps rather than denial, you would simply assume that it was random luck? I do not think that we would, as rational people either deny the event or relegate it to random luck. We would assume that there was something at work beyond what we could see. You would assume, and logically so, that some force was at work that effected the scenario which went beyond the ability of the human mind and luck of the draw. Perhaps I have a system? Maybe some sort of technology is involved?  At any rate you would not simply dismiss the event. When things that are seemingly impossible take place, we are compelled to ask why; to look for the explanation.

What is the definition of a miracle? Isn’t it to some degree when something that should be impossible in fact happens? When something that logic and reason say should not take place in fact takes place right before us? Atheist commonly demand for evidence of God – they want to see God in action. Creationists fight science because they feel that is ignores the supernatural. Perhaps neither side can see what is right in front of them. Perhaps science is providing the very evidence that they are asking for – the miracle that both sides feel is essential. Perhaps the fact that life exists in this universe, in spite of such a thing being all but impossible, perhaps this is one of the greatest miracles of all. Perhaps while they argue over how life was created, they are missing the fact that it was in spite of all. Unlikely – reality – wonderful miracle.

Ps 19:1 The heavens are telling of the majesty of God;
And the very created earth is declaring His craftsmanship.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4 Yet their message has gone out through all the earth,
And their teachings to the furthermost regions of the world.

THE ALLEGORICAL ADAM …

In the opening chapters of the book of Genesis we read of the First Man, in the English translations of the Old Testament he is called Adam. We read in Genesis one that God created man in His own image, and then in chapter two that God forms the First Man from the dust of the earth and breaths upon the First Man and he becomes a “living soul.”

In more recent times Christians have understood this Adam to be a literal individual who was the father of all living people. Because of this, as well as other reasons, many Christians believe that human beings have only been on planet Earth for around 6,000 years. Further that every living human being that exists on the planet came from the First Man.

When we look at the book of Genesis we see several things that would cause us to question this interpretation. For instance the sons of Adam in Genesis 4 have wives to marry, and when Cain is indicted by God for murdering his brother he affirms that “whoever finds me will kill me” and then afterward he travels to Nod and lives there finding a wife and having children. The indication is that at the opening of Genesis four there are already established human cities beyond the land they are calling Eden. Now it has been suggested by some that these other human communities were in reality the children of Adam and Eve, but it is hard to believe that in that short amount of time that Eve could have had enough children to populate several cities. Further what would be suggested is inbreeding and incest. Finally the context of the story clearly indicates that Cain and Abel were the two sons of Adam, not just two out of hundreds of children birthed by Eve.

The natural flow and context of Chapter four indicates that Adam, his wife and two sons are living in a time of human cities and where the population is certainly more than four. In fact Genesis four almost seems to describe a different scenario than what we read in Genesis 1-3 where we have one man and one woman who are the First People. This is because that Genesis four is in fact a different story. When we study Genesis 1-3 it becomes apparent that the literary form of those chapters differ from what we find beginning in Genesis 4. Gen 1-3 uses many mechanisms of Hebraic Poetry. Jeff A. Benner in an article entitled, The Poetry of Genesis Chapter One, says “…we read the Hebrew Bible from a Modern Western thinkers point of view and not from an Ancient Eastern thinkers such as the Hebrews who wrote it. The Hebrews style of writing is prolific with a style of poetry unfamiliar to most readers of the Bible. This poetry is nothing like the poetry we are used to reading today and therefore it is invisible to us.”

It is because this poetic prose is, as Benner says, invisible to Western readers, that many have interpreted Genesis chapter 1 as a historical narrative rather than a poetic liturgy describing God as creator and mankind His image. Genesis 1:1-2 describes God filling the dead and empty planet Earth. The six creation days form a parallel with the first set of three days correlating to the next set of three days. These are clearly poetic mechanisms and stand out clearly to those familiar with ancient Hebrew Poetry. When we begin to read this chapter in its proper context we see that we have God filling the earth and then based on the liturgical form of the sabbatical week God fills the earth with life.

There are also practical reasons not to read Genesis one as a literal historical narrative. Did it take God a literal 24 hours to make light? If so, how would those hours be calculated without the sun and moon? Did God create the earth and living things without the Sun? A basic understanding of the solar system, gravity etc. causes us to believe that this is not a narrative account. Psalm 104 is also a creation account that describes God at work in creation. This is believed to be one of the oldest writings in the Old Testament. In Psalm 104 the writer is describing God actively sustaining and filling the Earth:
104 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. 2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: 3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: 4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:

5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. 6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. 7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. 8 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. 9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.

10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. 11 They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst. 12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. 13 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. 14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;

15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. 16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; 17 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. 18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.

19 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. 20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. 21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. 22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. 23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening. 24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.

25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. 26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. 27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. 28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. 29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.

30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. 31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works. 32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke. 33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. 34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.

35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.

When we read this account of God as creator we do not read it as a historic narrative in chronological order, but rather as poetry praising the creator who sustains all things.

It is important to set the tone in Genesis one, because this determines how we should then read Genesis two. You will notice that man is created in Genesis one and then created again in Genesis two. This is because Genesis one and two are distinct creation accounts. Genesis one deals with the creation of life on Earth, while Genesis two deals with the creation of man. The primary message of Genesis one is that God has created the cosmos, the Earth and then filled the Earth with life. Further the preeminent act of God in Genesis one is that He “creates man in His image.” That is in fact the great demonstration of God’s creative power – the finale so to speak. To create mankind, in keeping with the rhythm of Genesis one, a being after His own kind.

Genesis two focuses on this being. who is God’s “image”, and the implications of being a creature that can chose to do right or wrong, and that has come to an awareness of the implications of that. For those who would hope to find a literal Garden of Eden somewhere in Mesopotamia with a large Angel guarding it with a sword, I am afraid you will need to leave that to the realm of Indiana Jones. The Garden that is alluded to in Genesis two is none other than the planet Earth itself. Earth is God’s garden, and it is in this Garden that God brings forth a Being from the dust.

The fact that God creates humankind by physically using dust demonstrates that man is in part a physical creature, it shows that God has made a body for man. The fact that God breathes on man and man “becomes a living soul” demonstrates the spiritual nature of man. That man, above all creatures that God had created, possess the divine spark. Man is more than an animal, he is a living soul. The combination of dust and spirit is an illusion to the duality of man’s nature, a two fold nature, both physical and spiritual; both dust and divine. Paul draws on this in 1 Cor 15 when he says “the first Adam was made from the dust, the second Adam from heaven.” Paul then, speaking of the nature of the resurrection, says that if we have born the “image” of the first Adam, we will also take on the image of the second. This refers to the spiritual form that we will take on in the the resurrection.

The next thing we see is God placing man in His Garden and man is given a choice, He can obey God’s law and live or disobey and perish. This speaks to the conscious awareness of mankind of God’s moral law. This is an innate knowledge in humankind. The knowledge that some actions are inherently good and others inherently evil. This is symbolized in Genesis two as “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good And Evil.” This tree is none other than moral awareness. In Genesis three Adam fails to the three human weaknesses, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eye and pride, and then he is aware of his “nakedness before God”. The moral awareness of man has now condemned him in his conscious and he hides from God in fear. He is naked, or exposed, in his imperfect state. He cannot access the tree of life, which is divine fellowship with God.

What we see in Genesis 1-3 is the Allegorical Adam. He is not just a man, but he is every man. We are Adam. Adam is the man created in God’s image, condemned in his own mind by his imperfection and hiding from God. Adam is the lost son of God. It is to Adam that the voice of God calls in the Garden – “where are you?” Not that He does not know where we are, but that we do not know.

It has been asserted that Adam in Genesis 1-3 must be a literal person because that Paul references Adam as the one who brought sin into the world; Romans five. This however is not truly an issue, because Paul never indicates that Adam is a single historical individual. In fact Paul himself uses Adam as an allegorical figure. For instance he says “for in Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive.” Secondly this assumes that the Adam of Genesis four is in fact the Adam of Genesis 1-3.

I would submit that the Adam of Genesis four is not the First Man, he is rather an ancient ancestor of the Hebrews, a patriarch. This would refer back to the ancient pre-abrahamic priests such as Job and Melchizedek who are mentioned in the Old Testament. The important phrase of Genesis four is this “it was at this time that men began to call upon Yahweh.” In other words, Genesis four is looking back to the earliest instance of the worship of the One True God; the origins of monotheism. In fact the entire book of Genesis is not so much concerned with the origins of the Cosmos as it is with the origins of the Israel as a covenant people.

In summary we see that Genesis 1-3 is not a historical narrative, but an allegory describing men as they became aware of God and became condemned in their conscious. Of how the very moral awareness that set mankind apart from all of God’s other creatures also essentially divided man from God. Genesis four is the beginning of a narrative that traces the origins of those who “called on the name of the Lord.”

SAINT THOMAS CHRISTIANS – AND A NOTE ON PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY.

According to traditional accounts, some time in the first century the Apostle Thomas journeyed into India and there established churches and made disciples for Christ. The Apostle Thomas is believed to have been the first to bring Christianity to India, in 52 AD, arriving in Kodungallur, Kerala, where he established Seven Churches. Thomas was a Jew by birth and spoke Aramaic, so his first converts in India were likely the Cochin Jews in southern India. What is intriguing about this is that these Churches were then for the most part isolated from the rest of Christendom for several centuries, and even today they are a distinct group among Christians; although in more recent times they have come under the influence of Roman Catholicism and Oriental Orthodoxy. They have traditionally retained worship on the Sabbath rather than Sunday, kept Kashrut dietary laws (‘kosher’), segregated men and women in places of worship, used Syriac and Aramaic in liturgies, and so on. Many of these practices continue today.What this means is that we have a group that was established very early in Christian history, but who were not influenced by the cultural and political shifts of the Greek and Roman world. Historian Vincent A. Smith says “It must be admitted that a personal visit of the Apostle Thomas to South India was easily feasible in the traditional belief that he came by way of Socotra, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed. I am now satisfied that the Christian church of South India is extremely ancient…”

When we find such a sample group we can glean a good deal from comparing what is similar about them to the main group, and then looking at what is different about them. In each case the information we gather will give us a unique insight into the period when the groups were unified. What we mean here is that when Thomas traveled to India in the first century, he doubtless took the theology and practices of the first century Christians with him. So what we find common between these Saint Thomas Christians and Greco-Roman Christians should be a good indicator that the practices were quite primitive. On the other hand where we find differences or distinctions, we might question as to why. This gives us a unique insight into the development of Christianity.

Of course in any such study the bias of the researcher comes into play. Which simply means that the researcher will narrow his view to what he is looking for. Here there are two instances for which I am immediately struck by the Saint Thomas Christians. The first being their designation in the native land as the Nasrani. This is significant because of the hypothesis that the Nazarene sect, or the Essenes, were very influential to the emergence of Christianity. The point here is that at the time of Thomas’s journey to India they must have still referred to themselves as Nazarenes rather than the later designation of Christians (See Acts 11:26). Further, as we mentioned earlier, the practice of Sabbath rather than Sunday worship, dietary restrictions and other practices place them at a connection point with the very earliest of Christianity when Jewish customs were still weighing heavily on the practice of the Church; perhaps prior to the council of Acts 15.

It has been noted that the designation Jesus of Nazareth is perhaps a miss representation. The Greek form of the phrase is “Jesus the Nazarēnos” or “Jesus the Nazōraios.” A possible explanation of this is because the Nazarenes were a sect that inhabited the very area where Jesus and John based their ministry, an area where there were monastic compounds and the area was called Nazareth or “of the Nazarenes.”  Which designated the area in which the Nazarene sect inhabited. This would strengthen the connection of primitive Christians to the Essenes, which has a possible etymological connection the Nazarene; one being Greek and the other Hebrew sharing the definition of holy or consecrated. This also explains why there is little mentioned of primitive Christianity as a distinct movement among the Jews until much later; after Christianity is well under way in becoming a world religion. To the outward observer there was perhaps little difference. The fact that the Churches established by Thomas still carry this designation seems to substantiate that the primitive Christians were not a distinct movement from the Nazarene sect but a continuation of that movement.

The second distinction of note comes from a particular artifact that is common to the area. This is known as the Saint Thomas Cross. These are very ancient representations that have been found in the Churches of the Nasrani. The meaning of the symbolism of these crosses has been debated by scholars. What we have here is a flowering cross emerging from a lotus flower. To the top of the cross is what has been assumed by some to be a dove descending, but could perhaps be another lotus bloom rising toward heaven. It may also represent the chalice of the Eucharist. In this particular motif we find the earthly realm represented by the arches, which is how ancient peoples viewed the sky, and then above another realm with another flowering cross and a phoenix on each side. Below the open lotus flower is three steps leading upward. Of particular note is the absence of the figure of Christ on the cross here; which is typical of Latin crosses. Perhaps here the focus is on resurrection rather than the death of Christ.

The combination of flowering cross and lotus flower is of particular interest. The lotus flower in India has traditionally been associated with both Hinduism and Buddhism and connected to the concepts of rebirth. This is because at nightfall it closes and goes beneath the water and at dawn it climbs up above the water and reopens. It was the only plant to flower and fruit at the same time, as it would emerge as pure white from the depths of the muddy swamp and grow above the water. The connection to the concept and the victorious Christ rising above death is quite natural. Further there is a connection to Biblical numerology. Throughout ancient Egypt the lotus was used in their math, helping to count to high decrees. One lotus would act as 1,000 and two lotus as 2,000 and so on. The lotus is also representative of the sun in ancient Egypt. So the concepts of the resurrection of Christ and the symbolism of the lotus flower is easily seen. At the end of each member of the cross is a pomegranate which indicates influence and fruitfulness. We see then the message of Christ moving throughout the earth and influencing the four corners of the earth. The pomegranate is also a sacred fruit in both Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism.

It has been pointed out that Christianity did not meet the resistance in India that it did in the Roman empire initially. Perhaps this is because that the concepts of primitive Christianity were not in stark contrast to those of the indigenous Indian religions. This seems to be verified in the coming together of these great symbols of resurrection – the empty cross and the lotus flower. Further it demonstrates a trait in early Christians to incorporate other traditions rather than attempt to abolish them.

By looking at the practices and faith of the Nasrani Christians, I believe we are given a chance to glance at Christianity in different light. To see its growth within a culture different from the one we are used to seeing it placed in. To see it react differently to other religious views. We are used to the bloody clash between Christianity and Roman paganism. However in India we see a different interaction. We see Christianity sitting gracefully in the midst of the spiritual traditions of the east – and rising forth like the lotus flower.

Connecting the Dots: What do the Essenes, Sons of the Prophets, Nazarites and Melchizedek tell us about the emergence of Christianity?

The Christian Church has stated from the earliest times that Christ was fully God and fully man. That Jesus was both the human teacher that modeled perfectly the way of God and also at once the Christ – the Logos – that created all things. In article we want to investigate the emergence of Christianity as a historical institution, and to look at the various cultural and historical forces that reinforced the development of the Christian Church; the spiritual institution that Jesus Christ established.

Jesus emerges onto the historical scene in first century Judaism and in the shadow of the temple in Jerusalem, at that time one of the great wonders of the world, he begins to preach his message – a message that His disciples simply call The Way. He challenges spiritual stagnation and calls out injustices. Within a short time he has amassed a rather large group of followers who are sincerely devoted to his teachings. They call him Rabbi, which means master or teacher. They cling to the words of this itinerant teacher from the region of Galilee. He is their teacher and the leader of their community; they are his disciples – students. This concept of sacred community was not new to the Abrahamic religions. From ancient times the sons of Abraham have considered themselves a special people, a unique community beloved of Yahweh. The Mosaic traditions only serve to solidify this concept. By the time of Christ the Jews of his day see themselves as the Elect, God’s chosen people out of all of the Earth. Jesus however proclaims that his mission will reach beyond the socio-ethical boundaries of Judea and the semitic peoples. He will “draw all men” unto Himself. He seems specifically disturbed that those who called themselves the Elect of God had become exclusive and isolated rather than being a “light to the world.” Jesus felt that the divine calling of those permitted to enter covenant with God was to teach the world – to share God’s glory with them. Jesus says that they were “candles placed on a lamp stand” to be seen of men. They were a city situated on top of a hill, impossible to miss. They were supposed to be visible to all, not obscure, hidden away and reclusive. Jesus told them that they were the salt of the earth, but he says that in their case the “salt has lost its savor”. In other words, they had ceased to be teachers and influencers. Jesus had a different vision for the Elect. He saw a vibrant community – a body – that would fill the earth and serve as a model of God’s goodness to all mankind; a kingly priesthood that would share the holy sacrament of Divine communion with the world. He calls this influential power the Kingdom of Heaven. We see this in many of his parables. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who placed three measures if leaven into bread until the whole is leavened.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, it begins as the smallest seed but grows into a large tree and the birds find rest in its branches.” Jesus teaches that the sacred body should be just so. It would perhaps start small, but in time it would become visible, significant and compelling.

The historical origins of Christianity as a spiritual movement in Judea is intriguing. Many scholars and historians are convinced that there is a close relationship and connection between Christianity and an ancient Jewish spiritual movement known as the Essenes; a group which had existed at least three or more centuries before the coming of Christ. According to the great historians of the first century, such as Josephus, Philo and Pliny, there existed three major religious groups in Palestine during the days of Christ; they were the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. It is interesting however that when we read the New Testament we only see two of these three groups mentioned – the Pharisees and the Sadducees (and these not too favorably we might add). This prompts us to ask why is it that only two of the three major groups affirmed by these ancient historians are addressed in the pages of the New Testament? We cannot say that this is because the Essene were small in number, according to Josephus and others they were substantial in number and well respected for their piety. Philo says:

“The Essenes live in a number of towns in Judea, and also in many villages and in large groups. They do not enlist by race, but by volunteers who have a zeal for righteousness and an ardent love of their fellow man.” 

So why then is there a seeming absence of any mention of this prominent group in the New Testament? The solution is perhaps obvious when we think about it, if there are three people in a room and you are one of them you will only see two people. The New Testament only sees two groups because it is seeing from the perspective of the third. What this suggests is that the primitive Christianity may have emerged from the Essene tradition of the Mosaic families of religion. To see whether or not this proposition can be substantiated, let us look a little deeper into the Essenes and what they represented in pre-Christian Judea.

Historically it can be demonstrated that while the Essene communities existed three centuries or more prior to the ministry of Christ, by 70 AD they simply faded from existence. This being the case it seems tenable to suggest that Essene communities may have been rather quickly absorbed into the new Christian movement. One would struggle to find a better explanation as to the sudden disappearance of a tradition that was several centuries old. To further support this hypothesis, we would note the stark similarities of Essene and Christian practice and hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament. The beliefs and practices of the Essene communities bare such a resemblance to the earliest Christian practices that the relationship is undeniable considering the closeness of proximity. And where the connection of primitive Christianity to the Essenes is strong, the connection to the ministry of John the Baptist and that of his disciples is perhaps stronger. Historians feel very confident that John the Baptizer and his followers were of the Essene tradition; and there could be little contention as to the connection of John’s disciples and early Christian communities. When we take into account the ancient historical records, theological writings of the Essenes and archeological discoveries related to this sect of Judaism we note several connections that are compelling:

  • John was in the desert. The Essenes were in the desert. In fact the region where John preached was only a few miles south of the Qumran Essene community.
  • Both John and the Essenes used Isaiah 40:3 to describe themselves as the voice in the wilderness.
  • John and the Essenes were required a change of heart that was accompanied by an initiation including water baptism.
  • John practice and ascetic life-style and had a strict diet (Luke 7:33) as did the Essenes.
  • John preached a coming Messiah, “the One to Come.” The Essenes looked for the Teacher of Righteousness who would come from among them and usher in the true Way of Righteousness.
  • Both John and the Essenes claimed priestly heritage.

There are certainly many other points in which we find common with the Essene tradition and that reported of John and his disciples in the New Testament. Which leads one to the inevitable conclusion that John and his disciples were Jews from among the Essene tradition; practicing their particular expression of Judaism during the time of Christ. What this means is that in the New Testament when we read “disciples of John” we should think Essenes. The above is touching the surface of comparison between the Essenes and the Disciples of John. Hopefully enough is given to give some credence to the connection and inspire greater study in this area. It should be noted that the Essenes were not so much a religion, as a movement. They certainly considered themselves adherents to the Mosaic tradition and Jews. Yet their approach to the Mosaic system was markedly ascetic, monastic and mystical. This community saw themselves as “preparing the way” of the coming Messiah. It appears that they were successful in that mission.

From what we can read of Essene literature recovered from the Qumran community and the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes never described themselves as Essenes per se. From the writings that we have discovered, they called themselves the Children of Light and considered themselves to be true devotees to Yahweh and were anticipating the coming Teacher of Righteousness and the emergence of the Kingdom of God. The origin of the name Essene and its application to that movement is a matter of much speculation, and there is no consensus – this was true even among ancient historians. Seeing that the name Essene is a later designation, this would explain why that in the New Testament this group was identified by the its prophet who had become its leader and spokesperson; John the Baptizer. So they were called – the students or disciples of John. Considering this then, we can see within the account of the book of Acts that the “disciples of John” were being integrated into the new Christian movement; which itself was not called Christianity at first. The writer of Acts tells us that the disciples were first referred to as Christians at Antioch. The integration of the Essenes is witnessed in Acts as late as thirty years after the crucifixion, as Paul traveling through Ephesus finds a community of disciples who are only aware of the teaching and ministry of John, but not that John had endorsed Christ as the “One to Come.” A significant proclamation because it indicated that John was publicly announcing, as the leader of the Essene community, that Jesus was indeed the Teacher of Righteousness who had come to revive the Melchezidekian priesthood. According to the account in Acts when those disciples hear that John had proclaimed Jesus as the Teacher of Righteousness, that was enough to convince them to be baptized as his disciples.

The mark of Essene Judaism on primitive Christians is unmistakable. Ascetic practices such as selling all worldly goods and living in monastic communities, such as those described in Acts, find their origins in the practices of the Essenes. Philo says of them

“Their lifestyle is communal. They have a common purse. Their salaries they deposit before them all, in the midst of them, to be put to the common employment of those who wish to make use of it.” He says at another time “They possess nothing of their own, not house, field, slave nor flocks, nor anything which feeds and procures wealth. They live together in brotherhoods, and eat in common together. Everything they do is for the common good of the group. They share the same way of life, the same table… What belongs to one belongs to all.”

 

One cannot help but be reminded of the description of the primitive Christians in Acts.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

 

The ritualistic practices of the Essenes also bare striking similarities to the primitive and later Christians. The Essene communities all partook of a sacred meal of bread and wine. We find in the writings of the Essenes that initiates to their order had to take a vow – a declaration of faith – and were baptized in water. After a three year trial period, they were admitted full membership into the community. They then held all things common and worked with their hands to support the community. Once accepted into the community the new devote was given a white robe and a new name, it was then that he was considered a full member of the community. It is also well known that in the earliest times a Christian was caused to wait three years as a catechumen(student) before being baptized and allowed to partake in the mysteries of the Church. In fact, for those familiar with Christian monastic practices, one can see these very same ascetic practices carried out present day in those communities. In fact it is likely that the early Christian communities and schools, such as those of the famed Desert Fathers who contributed greatly to the formation of Christian thought and spirituality, were originally converted Essene communities. It has been noted that when Christ sent forth his disciples to evangelize, that He indicates that there were an already present network of communities that should receive them and care for them. When we compare the literature, teaching and practice of the Essene and primitive Christianity, there can be no doubt that the primitive Christians were heavily influenced by the Essene spiritual tradition. It would seem that this ancient community who had waited for the appearance of the Teacher of Righteousness had found that teacher in Christ. This is why the pronouncement of John, the community’s leader, that Jesus was the “Lamb of God” carried so much weight. John was declaring Christ to be the Teacher of Righteousness and this set in motion events that shook history.

Considering the impact that Essene Judaism had on Christianity we are prompted to ask the question – where did they come from? According to the historian Pliny, they had existed for “for thousands of centuries” and he calls them an “eternal people”. When we look into history for the origins of the Essene movement, we need to cast our gaze even further into the ancient past, perhaps stretching all the way back to the time before Abraham. The writer of Hebrews claims that the Christian priesthood is far older than that of the Levitical priesthood and has been passed down from the days of Melchizedek. He claims that Christ is a “priest forever” after the order of Melchizedek. This is an interesting claim, and one that we find in the writings of the Essenes. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes had a prophecy concerning Melchizedek which envisioned him as a sort of messiah figure. The relevant scroll is known by scholars as “the Heavenly Prince Melchizedek’. In this fragment, Melchizedek is referred to as the leader of ‘the Sons of Heaven’ and ‘the rulers of Justice’. He is prophesied as returning at some point to redeem the Righteous as predicted by Isaiah, thus carrying out the desire of God. Here are some extracts from the fragmented scroll:

“He [God] will assign them to cast their lot amid the portions of Melchizedek, who will return them there and will proclaim to them liberty, forgiving them the wrong-doings of all their iniquities…

…and he will, by his strength, judge the holy ones of God, executing judgment as it is written concerning him in the Songs of David…

…And Melchizedek will avenge the vengeance of the judgments of God… and all the rulers of Justice will come to his aid to attend the destruction of Belial. And the height is… all the Sons of God… This is the day of Peace/Salvation, concerning which God spoke through Isaiah the prophet…

…And the messenger is the Christ of the Spirit…

…And your God is Melchizedek, who will save them from the hand of Belial.”

It should be noted that in Essene teachings the coming teacher of righteousness is a sort of second coming of Melchizedek. What is being asserted here is the return of an ancient order, an order that is more ancient than that of Abraham; a more ancient priesthood than that of Aaron and Moses.

As we begin to contemplate the history of the Essene movement and its development, we are drawn to the group in the Old Testament known as the “sons of the Prophets”. Prof Ira M. Price, of Chicago Baptist Union Theological Seminary, writes in a paper entitled The Schools of the Sons of the Prophets that in the Old testament…

“…we find the existence of collections or schools of sons of the prophets…They form the beginnings of the prophetic order, whose continuous existence can be traced down through Old Testament times, and whose influence is felt in all subsequent Old Testament history and literature.”

The Sons of the Prophets were members of a band or guild of prophets and may provide the origins of what became the Essene communities, which were themselves prophetic schools. The term “sons of” is a Hebrew idiom and refers to membership in a group or class and does not imply a family relationship. The most extensive use of this expression occurs in the Elisha stories where the prophet is portrayed as the leader of the prophetic guild or community. In that capacity, Elisha cared for the needs of a prophet’s widow (2 Kings 4:1-7 ), agreed to the building of a common dwelling (2 Kings 6:1-7 ), and presided at a common meal (2 Kings 4:38-44 ). The company of the prophets functioned either as witnesses (2Kings 2:3,2Kings 2:5,2Kings 2:7,2 Kings 2:15 ) or as agents of Elisha’s ministry (2 Kings 9:1-3 ). Dr. Price summarizes that:

“we have found … that the sons of the prophets 1) were collected together in bands or schools; 2) in six different localities, viz., (a) Ramah, (b) Bethel, (c) Gilgal, (d) Jericho, (e) Carmel, (f) Samaria; 3) under the tuition of (a) Samuel, (b) Elijah and (c) Elisha; 4) with instruction in (a) prophesying-worship, (b) sacred music, (c) practical matters of their day; 6) with their time wholly occupied in (a) study and worship, (b) doing errands for their masters and God, (c) performing the regular duties of a prophet; 6) largely dependent for their support upon the charity of the people. All of these facts and inferences throw a new halo about the prophet of the Old Testament.”

We see then that this was an ascetic, monastic group devoted to prayer and the pursuit of direct revelation from God in the form of prophetic visions. They are headed up by a chief who is called Master, Prophet of God or Man of God. Among this lineage we find the prophets of the Old Testament such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and many other seers who were the vocal messengers of God. Messengers whose mystical prophecies fill the pages of our Old Testament. We see the very same structure with John and his disciples. An ascetic, prophetic community headed by a Prophet who acted as its overseer and spokesperson. There is a great deal of similarity between the mystical writings as are found in the prophecies of the Old Testament among the ascetics who dwelt in the monastic communities of the Judean desserts.

The name Nazarene itself is a clue that helps us to trace the history of the Essene movement. It should be noted here that there is no evidence for a city called Nazareth during the days of Christ, the city bearing that name came much later in history, around the 3rd century, and was named because of the assumption that Jesus was from a city named Nazareth. In actuality the term Jesus of Nazareth should be translated “Jesus the Nazarene”. It is interesting that the Christian communities of present day Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and those very ancient Christians in the southern tip of India, the so-called Saint Thomas Christians, are called the Nazrim or Nazrani. It has been assumed that this was, again, because Jesus was from the city of Nazareth, and therefore called a Nazarene. But as we have already stated, there was no city of Nazareth for Jesus to come from. Jesus was rather being identified as from the sect of the Nazarenes. This is verified in Acts 24: 5 where Paul is accused of being a troublemaker “and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” In the Gospel of Matthew we read that it was declared by the Prophets that “he will be called a Nazarene” which is interesting in that we do not find that prophecy in the Old Testament, and it has been suggested that this may have in fact been an Essene prophecy. The term Nazarene itself means to set apart; to be holy. It has been noted that the term Nazarene and the Greek ἁγίοις/hagios from which we get the term saints have the common definition of “separated” or “holy”. The historian Philo in fact suggests that the term Essene is a derivative of the Greek term for Saint. He says

“Palestine and Syria are not without their harvest of virtuous excellence, the region that is inhabited by the very populous nation of the Jews. There are counted amongst them certain ones, by name Essenes, in number about four thousand, who derive their name in my opinion by an inaccurate trace from the term in the Greek language for holiness (Essen or Essaios—Hosios, holy), inasmuch as they have a great reputation because of their devotion to the service of God; not in the sacrifice of living animals, but rather in the determination to make their own minds fit for a holy offering.”

This being the case, we now discover the significance of the very frequent reference to the primitive Christian communities as the saints/essen of God.

Another point of interest as we are connecting these dots is the Nazarite or Nazarene vow of the Old Testament, which is the presumed origin of the term Nazarene. The term “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”. In fact the term in Hebrew for Christian is notzrim נוצרים, further while it is not called so by name in Acts 18, we see that Paul is participating in the Nazarite purification rituals. Now the fact that Paul is participating in these rituals should indicate some things to us about these rituals, as well as perhaps point us to some presumptions about the vow that may be incorrect. The first mention of the Nazarite purification that we see mentioned in the Old Testament is in numbers, and the reference is presented as though they were already familiar with the Nazarenes and that this writing is setting down parameters for their consecration vows under the Mosaic system. “If a man or woman wants to dedicate themselves to the Lord as a Nazarene they must make a special vow.” The text then goes on to explain how that this initiation should take place. However, again, it introduces the term “Nazarite” without explaining its importance or meaning. This must indicate that this practice was in existence before the institution of Mosaic Law. It was something that they were familiar with. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says:

“The question has been raised as to whether the Nazirite vow was of native or foreign origin in Israel. The idea of special separation, however, seems in all ages to have appealed to men of a particular temperament, and we find something of the kind in many countries and always linked with special abstinence of some kind; and from all that is said in the Pentateuch we should infer that the custom was already ancient in Israel and that Mosaism regulated it, bringing it into line with the general system of religious observance and under the cognizance of the Aaronic priests.”

It is often assumed that the conditions of the consecration ritual associated with this special vow of dedication to God were lifelong; that a Nazarite could not ever drink wine or cut their hair. However it is clear from reading the instructions in Numbers that this prohibition was only during the days of their consecration. According to Numbers once the consecration rite had been completed the “Nazarite may drink wine.” This is certainly the case with Paul, who taught the assemblies everywhere to take the Eucharistic wine of communion and the holy bread that is the body and blood of Christ; this presumably after completing a Nazarene consecration vow. One particular part of the rite described in numbers is the consecration of bread and wine unto God, and the specific emphasis placed on it. Another aspect being the offering of their own hair to the Lord, essentially offering themselves as a sacrifice. In the Mosaic system when something was restricted from use it indicated that it had been set apart as holy unto the Lord. So this temporary restriction on wine and the being allowed to partake again demonstrates that the wine is being consecrated as a holy thing. Essentially we have an open calling to any who felt led to consecrate themselves to the Lord for this special office. They are to spend a period of time in consecration for their vow to the Lord. Afterword they are free to once again partake of wine and they are now consecrated to the Lord. What we are seeing here is a consecration into an order, a priesthood that predates the Levitical priesthood which Moses instituted. This is a “grandfathering” in of a more ancient sacred priesthood, consecrating these Nazarite priests to offer their oblations of bread and wine to God under the sanction of the Mosaic system. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says further:

“The consecration of the Nazirite in some ways resembled that of the priests, and similar words are used of both in Leviticus 21:12 and Numbers 6:17, the priest’s vow being even designated nezer. It opened up the way for any Israelite to do special service on something like semi-sacerdotal lines. The priest, like the Nazirite, dared not come into contact with the dead (Leviticus 21:1), dared not touch wine during the period of service (Leviticus 10:9), and, further, long hair was an ancient priestly custom (Ezekiel 44:20).”

We find that Samuel, who Dr. Price considers the organizer of the ‘Sons of the Prophets’, is one of three lifelong Nazarite in the Old Testament. Thus we have a connection between the Sons of the Prophets and this ancient order that predates the priesthood of Levi.

Now let us revisit Melchizedek, the High Priest of whose order the writer of Hebrews proclaims Christ is of. “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth. And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand.” Gen 14:18-20

Melchizedek appears fleetingly in the writings of the Old Testament. In the brief passage mentioned above he is described as the Priest of the most high God and comes out to meet Abraham after a major event in the life of the patriarch to offer him ‘bread and wine’. It is important to note that Abraham is still called Abram at this point. He does not take on the later name until the Covenant is fully established and God is pleased with him. This being the case, then Melchizedek, as the Priest of the most high God, is involved in Divine service and priesthood well before the days of Abraham. Given that Abraham is regarded as the Patriarch of all the so-called ‘Abrahamic Religions’ (ie Judaism, Christianity and Islam) the fact that a priesthood existed which served God before the time of Abraham’s Covenant is established is quite remarkable. Melchizedek is clearly intended to be seen as the representative of a spiritual tradition which predates even Abraham. Melchizedek is a High Priest from a much older lineage.

Melchizedek offers Abraham ‘bread and wine’, blesses him and offers up a prayer to God. This is clearly a spiritual ceremony. A ritual is taking place in which Abraham is being sanctified in the name of the Most High. That this service offered by Melchizedek to Abraham involves bread and wine is extremely significant as it parallels in a very profound way the ritual of the Last Supper:

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matt 26: 26-28

Considering the fact that Christ is proclaimed a priest after the order of Melchizedek, the priestly action of Christ – sharing bread and wine with those being inaugurated into the new Covenant is clear. Christ is both building on the most ancient of priestly traditions and at the same time He is adding new significance to it. The act of Eucharist inaugurated in the Last Supper is designed to evoke the taking on of Christ’s nature through the ritual of eating the bread and drinking the wine which Christ pronounces the miraculous blessing – it is His body and blood. But it does not stop here. Bread and wine also represent the universal iconography of the white and red of initiation. We see this in many mystical traditions. From the white and red roses of Alchemy to the red and white triangles of the Sri Yantra, from the red and white outer pillars of the Kabalistic Tree of Life to the red and white elements of the Pharaonic Crown, all symbolize the union of the Female and Male principles, symbolizing wholeness and the Divine Marriage.  This is in fact the symbolic “marriage supper of the Lamb.” This image of the Divine Union is contained within the iconography of the Last Supper and the Eucharist both of which are clearly meant to echo the rite of initiation that Melchizedek carries out with Abraham, and which is now confirmed on those entering into this new Covenant. It is important to note again that the writer of Hebrews claims that the priesthood of Christ is from an order that predates the Levitical priesthood. It is also significant that the Essene were waiting on the return of Melchizedek – thus looking forward to the renewal of that most ancient priesthood. The return of the prophet-priest like Samuel who would restore the Word of the Lord to the people and bring about renewal in Israel and the world.

There is now one other piece of information that we need to examine here as we contemplate this subject which will help us to establish the point of this chapter. This is the tremendous significance of the “bloodless sacrifice” of the Eucharistic service. We need to at this point retrace our steps to the spiritual movement that provided the context for the emergence of the new Christian faith and the New Israel. Earlier we introduced the Essene movement within Judaism, at this point we need to address a key point of their view and then address how this relates much further into history – in fact to the very days of Melchizedek and the pre-Abrahamic priesthood.

It is widely speculated among historians, that the origins of the Essene movement is somehow related to priesthood. In fact the Essenes themselves considered themselves a continuation of the Zadok priesthood. The concept of the Zadok priesthood weighed heavily in Essene theology and eschatology this because of the nature of its origins. The concept of the Zadok priesthood derives its name from its patriarch by the same name, who along with several other Levites, when King David fled Jerusalem, stood by David and wanted to take the Ark of God and follow David wherever he might journey. (One cannot help but draw to mind the imagery in the revelation concerning the 144,000 “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” And this passage in Revelation is in fact an allusion to the Zadok priesthood.) David instructed them to stay in Jerusalem where they could better serve him. Another important factor was that both Zadok and Abiathar were functioning as High priests at the time of David’s flight. It is after David inquires a prophetic message from Abiathar, and he has none, that Abiathar is dismissed from the High Priesthood. The messianic symbolism is rich for the Essenes. Here we see a priesthood in league with David, a type of Christ, yet at odds with Jerusalem. A true priesthood that desires to see the return of David to the throne, but is instructed to remain in the city and serve him there. Further we see in the story two rival high priests: Zadok, representing the true messianic prophetic priesthood and Abiathar, representing the rival priesthood devoid of the prophetic word. This is very significant to the Essene community because they were themselves the descendants of a disposed priesthood. It is believed that during the time of the Maccabean revolt that the priesthood in Jerusalem was usurped and the forefathers of the Essene were displaced. It was perhaps because of this that the Essenes believed that the priesthood in Jerusalem was illegitimate and profane, and therefore they refused to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Philo says

“They do not offer animal sacrifice, judging it more fitting to render their minds truly holy.”

Josephus says

“The Essenes declare that souls are immortal and consider it necessary to struggle to obtain the reward of righteousness. They send alms to the Temple, but offer no sacrifices since the purifications to which they are accustomed are different. For this reason, they refrain from entering into the common enclosure, but offer sacrifice among themselves. They are holy men and completely given up to agricultural labor.”

These ‘holy ones’ awaited the institution and rebirth of a legitimate priesthood – the true Zadok priesthood. It was in this very mindset that they connected to the distant past and, rather than the bloody altar in Jerusalem, they offered rather the more ancient bloodless oblation of Melchizedek – the sacrament of bread and wine.

“When the table has been set for eating or the new wine readied for drinking, it is the priest who shall stretch out his hand first, blessing the first portion of the bread or the new wine.”

Notice here, in a scroll known as the Community Rule, that the leader is referred to as the priest, and is authorized to bless the sacred meal for those present.

So we see Jesus is more than an itinerant prophet preaching in the streets of Jerusalem, He is in fact a rival high priest to the high priest of the bloody altar in Jerusalem. A high priest among a movement that has openly, and for centuries, declared that they were the true priesthood and that the Jerusalem priesthood was illegitimate and corrupt. No wonder Jesus was perceived as a threat by the High Priest and his counselors. No wonder they feared losing their place. They feared that the common people would receive this rival priesthood and the message of this charismatic prophet that spoke with power and authority, performed miracles and moved great crowds in Jerusalem and spoke of instituting the “Rule of Heaven.” With this in mind the imagery of Jesus, the High Priest of the ancient order of Melchizedek, standing before the High Priest of the rival bloody system in Jerusalem is powerful. Imagine the High Priest of the bloody Mosaic system spilling the blood of the High Priest of the Melchizedekian priesthood on the Passover! Here is a show down of the ages, and rather than fight evil with evil, Jesus overcomes evil with good! This is why Jesus on the night before this cosmic confrontation takes the ancient Cup and says “this cup is the blood of the New Covenant – it is my blood and will be spilled for many.” – He is pronouncing the institution of the new priesthood a priesthood not of the blood of bulls and goats, but of the Holy Spirit received by faith. The new order is in reality an old order and it will be reborn by his own blood being shed because of pride and jealousy by the rival priesthood of the bloody Mosaic altar.

What we see then is that from before the time of the Old Testament itself, until the time of the ministry of Christ and into our present day, there has existed a sacred community devoted to following after the Most High God and sharing the sacrament of His presence and power; waiting on the fullness of time and the revelation of Christ. A priesthood that has been initiated into the mysteries of God and authorized to share the body and blood of Christ with the world – both spiritually and in the sacred rites passed on from generation to generation. This is why the Revelation declares:

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’”

Peter proclaims:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

The nature of the body is that of a prophetic priesthood. Rather than an exclusive body that isolates, the Body of Christ is an entity devoted to sharing the sacred mystery of Christ with the world. We are called to live out the way of Christ before all men. To overcome evil with good, hate with love and war with peace. We are called not to condemn the world, but to love the world. We are called to declare the good news that God is with us – God is for us. Paul says

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s authorized stewards, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:11.

The term ministry here refers to sacred service – priesthood. We have been given the reconciliatory priesthood. A priesthood that does not demand blood, but rather provides the blood and body of God in perfect grace. A priesthood, which in the Spirit of the One who ordained it, does not hold men’s sins against them but rather implores men to be reconciled to God. A priesthood that calls humankind from darkness into Light – the Light of the living Christ.

A RESPONSE TO: WHY GENESIS CHAPTER ONE IS NOT POETIC.

I would like respond to an article entitled: Why Genesis Chapter One is Not Poetic which can be reviewed at the following link:

http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/why-genesis-chapter-one-is-not

In this article the author takes upon himself the task of proving to us that Genesis chapter one simply cannot be poetic. The author begins by stating correctly that poetry is common throughout the Old Testament, although I find it interesting that he attempts to imply that it is isolated to a few particular books, rather than admitting the reality that it can nearly be found in every book ot the Old Testament. What he is attempting to do here is imply that there are some books of scripture that are historical narrative and other poetry. This is simply a misrepresentation of the reality. In reality the writings of the Old Testament do not fall neatly into the literary forms common to the Grecian systems that influence the New Testament writers. The writers of the OT frequently blend prose, poetry and history without indication of the change. There would be few but the utterly obstinate who would deny that the Song of Lamech for instance was not in poetic form, however it is seemingly woven right into the narrative.

After implying that the poetry of the Bible is neatly contained in books of poetry, the author then goes on to put forth a list a criteria that he claims will “easily” identify Hebrew poetry. I find that assessment rather interesting seeing that experts in Hebrew studies will admit that such an endeavor can be difficult. At any length we will look at the criteria given and then compare it to what can be derived from Genesis chapter one. Seeing as the criteria is enumerated we will use that format to make easy reference to the response.

1. First, it has its particular rhythm or meter. Each line typically has two halves with three elements each, though this pattern is varied often. 

Before I respond I would like to quote Dr. T. Witton-Davies, who was Professor of Hebrew at the University College of North Wales:

“…the poetry of the Hebrew is not in the strict sense metrical, though the writers under the influence of strong emotion express themselves rhythmically, producing often the phenomena which came later to be codified under metrical rules…Poets wrote under strong impulse, usually religious, and without recognizing any objective standard, though all the time they were supplying data for the rules of prosody. Those who think that Old Testament poets had in their minds objective rules of meter have to make innumerable changes in the text. Instead of basing their theory on the original material, they bring their a priori theory and alter the text to suit it…If, however, there were among the ancient Hebrews, as there was among the ancient Greeks, a code of prosody, it is strange that the Mishna and Gemara should be wholly silent about it. And if some one system underlies our Hebrew Bible, it is strange that so many systems have been proposed. It should be remembered too that the oldest poetry of every people is nonmetrical.”

He goes on to say:

“Another factor which led to the neglect of the poetical element in the Old Testament is the undoubted fact that Biblical Hebrew poets were less conscious as poets than western poets, and thought much less of the external form in which they expressed themselves. Biblical poetry lacks therefore such close adherence to formal rules as that which characterizes Greek, Arabic or English poetry. The authors wrote as they felt and because they felt, and their strong emotions dictated the forms their words took, and not any objective standards set up by the schools. Hebrew poetry is destitute of meter in the strict sense, and also of rhyme, though this last occurs in some isolated cases … ”

In other words this assertion is false in regards to Hebrew poetry. There can be a rough sort of meter to Hebrew poetry, but to suggest that the pattern he puts forth is the defining feature of Hebrew poetry is completely contrived. I might say that the use of a guitar is an indicator of music, but I would not say that only that which uses a guitar can be considered music; which is precisely what the author argues. Further his suggested meter is one of many and as Dr. Davies states is an a priori assumption and is not based on the source material.

2. It does not rhyme, but has “rhyming meaning,” this is what is known as parallelism. Often the three elements in the first half are matched with three elements in the second half, known as synonymous parallelism. This is only one type, however, but there are several types of balancing corresponding meaning, as the example below will show.

He here correctly states that there are differing sorts of parallelism.  This is significant because according to the experts in the field, parallelism is the hallmark and defining trait of Hebrew Poetry.  And while we could perhaps outline each of them, suffice to say here that there is ample example of both parallelism and rhythm throughout Genesis one. We certainly find repeated phrases such as “and there was evening, and there was morning – one day.” Further we find parallelism as in the “in the beginning God filled the heavens and the earth” and “the earth was formless and empty and God moved upon the expanse.” Also we see the parallel between Day 1 and 4, 2 and 5 and 3 and 6. In days 1-3. For instance on Day 1 God creates light and on day 4 God creates the sun, moon and stars. On day 2 God creates the water and on day 5 he fills the water with living things. On day 3 God creates land and on day 6 God creates man. Each day is again concluded by the repeated evening and morning phrase. The parallelism is unmistakable which again makes its poetic structure unmistakable.

3. Also there are characteristic grammatical features. For example, the article and the direct object marker ‘eth are used much less frequently, as is the conjunction “and.”

The author is again a bit selective here. While we do find such indicators, they are not the sole defining mark. Further even if they were we find such grammatical features in Genesis one. Such as the use of the Hebrew term for one (echad) rather than first on the initial day. Also there are three uses of the term (yom) in the passage.  These along with many other grammatical devices certainly qualify this passage as poetic, even in light of the authors attempt at narrowing the definition.

4. Generally, there is an archaic feeling to it, with older, otherwise obsolete words being prominent. Some words are considered “poetic” and occur in preference to certain prosaic words. One example below is bal, a negative which is used in poetry in preference to the ususal lo’, the negative of prose.

This is rather ambiguous and speculative. What the author is trying to do is create a strict criteria for Hebrew poetry that simply does not exist. An archaic feel? This is not a criteria that I have seen by any scholar of Hebrew. To quote Dr. Davies again: “Biblical poetry lacks therefore such close adherence to formal rules as that which characterizes Greek, Arabic or English poetry.” It seems rather clear that the author is approaching this chapter with the presumption that it must be a historical narrative and then is conjuring criteria in order to make that the case.

5. In addition to all this there is prominent use of figurative speech, particularly visual metaphors, personification, anthropomorphism and such. This is one reason why I insist on pointing out that Genesis chapter one is NOT poetry. Understand, prose does not mean it is to be taken as literal, as prose may well be used figuratively. However, to mistake the chapter for poetry prejudices the question in terms of how to interpret the passage.

This is perhaps my favorite assertion and the one that most clearly demonstrates the circular reasoning and presumption of those who want to protect their Sunday school story. Of course there is no figurative language if we insist that the passage is a historical narrative. This being the case we could assert that God took all day long to say “let there be Light.” Perhaps the slowest command ever uttered. We could also assert that God worked on the universe a whole week (a week incidentally that is based on Earths orbit around the sun which was not created until day 4). We could assert that He got really tired on Saturday and took some time off. Who knows what He did the next day after that? We could assert that God creates visible light on day 1 but there are no sun, moon and stars to give off light until day four. That the earth floated aimlessly in space with no heat or light until 4 days into a week where there is no sun rise or sunset to designate the 24 hours that define both morning and evening. Of course there is no figurative language. Notice also that the author says that “This is one reason why I insist on pointing out that Genesis chapter one is NOT poetry.” Thus one of his major reasons for stating that Genesis one is not poetry is essentially that he has come to the a priori assumption that it is not poetry.

After laying out his criteria for poetry which is largely based on presumption and opinion, and quite frankly in contradiction to scholars, he proceeds to make what are supposed to be points. The entire section on a supposed pattern for poetry is purely speculative. Again I quote Dr. Davies “Those who think that Old Testament poets had in their minds objective rules of meter have to make innumerable changes in the text. Instead of basing their theory on the original material, they bring their a priori theory and alter the text to suit it…” So his entire layout is completely contrived. In fact I would encourage the reading of the article by Dr. Davies which explains that an concept of meter or pattern has been reverse engineered by those looking to find it.

In order to try to suggest that Genesis one is a “procedural discourse”, which is another term that he has imposed upon Hebrew literary styles, he suggests that Genesis 1 should be read in comparison to the building of the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 37.

7 And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, 8 one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on
the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim
on its two ends. 9 The cherubim spread out their wings above,
overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one
to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim.

The first point to be made here is that it is very probable that the writings of the Old Testament were repeated orally from parents to children long before they were written. This being the case it is not surprising to find segments of the narrative that take on poetic flow. There are many such instances throughout the Old Testament, which strengthens the overall concept that poetic passages are to be expected. If we find parallelism in this passage, which I am not convinced we do, then what we have discovered is another instance of poetry woven into the OT narrative, not rather proof that parallelism is not a hallmark of Hebrew poetry. This passage, while certainly having a rhythmic flow, does not however demonstrate parallelism. Parallelism is when the same concept or action is repeated in a different manner. Where is that taking place here in this passage? We see that the term cherubim is repeated as the details of its construction are listed, but we are not seeing concepts or actions repeated. Now it is difficult here to tell whether the author is denying the parallelism in Genesis one or whether he is denying that parallelism is a hallmark of Hebrew Poetry. Either would be abjectly false.

In conclusion, the author here sounds as if he has a clue what he is talking about if you are unaware of the nature of Hebrew poetry and are looking to substantiate a preconceived notion about the creation of the universe. However if a person takes an objective view of the first chapter of Genesis, it is clearly written in poetic form. This does not mean it is totally ambiguous and conveys no message as those who oppose such a view will imply. It simply means that in order to derive the truth of it, we need to stop forcing it into a wooden literal narrative. We need to read it as it was intended to be read. The “historical narrative” view of Genesis one causes us to have to defend a view of the universe that the writer certainly had no notion to convey.

[1] T. Witton-Davies, Professor of Hebrew at the University College of North Wales, Hebrew Poetry, http://www.bible-researcher.com/hebrew-poetry.html

Neuroscience’s New Consciousness Theory Is Spiritual

By Bobby Azarian Neuroscientist (PhD) and creator of the blog Science Is Sexy (scienceissexy.com): Retrieved from The Huffington Post

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality” -Carl Sagan

It appears that we are approaching a unique time in the history of man and science where empirical measures and deductive reasoning can actually inform us spiritually. Integrated Information Theory (IIT)—put forth by neuroscientists Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch—is a new framework that describes a way to experimentally measure the extent to which a system is conscious.

 

As such, it has the potential to answer questions that once seemed impossible, like “which is more conscious, a bat or a beetle?” Furthermore, the theory posits that any system that processes and integrates information, be it organic or inorganic, experiences the world subjectively to some degree. Plants, smartphones, the Internet—even protons—are all examples of such systems. The result is a cosmos composed of a sentient fabric. But before getting into the bizarreness of all that, let’s talk a little about how we got to this point.

 

The decline and demise of the mystical

As more of the natural world is described objectively and empirically, belief in the existence of anything that defies current scientific explanation is fading at a faster rate than ever before. The majority of college-educated individuals no longer accept the supernatural and magical accounts of physical processes given by religious holy books. Nor do they believe in the actuality of mystical realms beyond life that offer eternal bliss or infinite punishment for the “souls” of righteous or evil men.

This is because modern science has achieved impeccable performance when it comes to explaining phenomena previously thought to be unexplainable. In this day and age, we have complete scientific descriptions of virtually everything. We understand what gives rise to vacuous black holes and their spacetime geometries. We know how new species of life can evolve and the statistical rules that govern such processes. We even have a pretty good understanding of the exact moment in which the universe, and thus of all reality, came into existence! But no serious and informed scientist will tell you that at present we fully understand the thing each of us knows best. That is, our own consciousness.

 

One of science’s last greatest mysteries

Although we’ve come along way since the time of Descartes, who postulated that consciousness was actually some immaterial spirit not subject to physical law, we still don’t have a complete and satisfactory account of the science underlying experience. We simply don’t know how to quantify it. And if we can’t do that, how do we know whether those non-human life forms that are unable to communicate with us are also conscious? Does it feel like anything to be a cat? Most will probably agree that it does, but how about a ladybug? If so, how can we know which life forms are more conscious than others? Do animals that show impressively intelligent behavior and elaborate memory, like dolphins or crows, experience the world in a unified conscious fashion as we do? These questions are almost impossible to answer without a way to measure consciousness. Fortunately, a neuroscientific theory that has been gaining popular acceptance aims to do just that.

 

Integrated Information Theory to the Rescue

Integrated Information Theory (IIT), which has become quite a hot topic in contemporary neuroscience, claims to provide a precise way to measure consciousness and express the phenomenon in purely mathematical terms. The theory was put forth by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, and has attracted some highly regarded names in the science community. One such name is Christof Koch, Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, who now champions the idea along with Tononi. Koch may be best-known for bringing consciousness research into the mainstream of neuroscience through his long-term collaboration with the late DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick. Now Tononi and Koch are actively researching the theory along with an increasing number of scientists, some from outside the field of neuroscience like esteemed physicist and popular author Max Tegmark, who is joining the ranks of those who believe they’ve figured out how to reduce one of science’s greatest secrets to numbers. Bits of information to be exact.

Okay, so we now know that the theory is kind of a big deal to notable scientists. But how exactly does IIT attempt to quantify something as ill-defined and seemingly elusive as consciousness?

 

IIT in a nutshell

Just like a computer, the brain stores and processes information. But it is how that information is shared throughout the brain network that gives rise to our rich and vivid conscious experience. Let’s consider the act of observing a sunset. Thanks to advances in brain imaging, modern neuroscience tells us that there are a number of different and distinct regions active during this event, each of which process information about different features of that event separately. There’s a region in the visual cortex (known as “V2”) that processes the form and color of the yellow and orange sunrays against the clouds. There are auditory areas in the temporal lobe being fed information about the sound of the wind rushing past you as you stare off into the horizon. That rushing wind against your skin also generates patterns of electrical signals in the somatosensory cortex that create a sense of touch. There are many different things going on in distant places.

Yet somehow we perceive it all as one unified conscious experience.

According to IIT, this unified experience relies on the brain’s ability to fuse together (or integrate) all that incoming sensory information as a whole. To measure the degree of integration, Tononi has taken mathematical principles formulated by American engineer Claude Shannon, who developed a scientific theory of information midway through the 20th century to describe data transmission, and applied them to the brain. IIT claims that these information measures allow one to calculate an exact number that represents the degree of integrated information that exists in a brain at any given moment. Tononi chooses to call this metric “Phi” (or Φ), which serves as an index for consciousness. The greater the Phi, the more conscious the system. It need not matter whether it’s the nervous system of a child, or a cat, or even a ladybug.

 

Problem solved?

Sounds simple and straight forward enough, doesn’t it? Isn’t this what science has strived to do all along? To describe things objectively and strip away all mystery from foggily understood natural phenomena? Could this be the solution to demystifying consciousness, the thing philosophers have been battling over for centuries? It may certainly answer some very important questions, but when you follow the theory to its logical conclusions things get pretty weird, and also, well, kind of neat. But before we get to the weird conclusions let’s start with the weird questions, which have essentially been ignored by modern physical science, and at first ponder may even seem unremarkable.

 

Some hard questions

How can physical processing create inner, subjective experience?

How can matter possess first person perspective?

How can mere electrical signals produce qualitative sensation and awareness?

Why should information “feel” like anything in the first place?

These questions are functionally synonymous and define what philosophers have dubbed the “hard problem of consciousness,” a concept that many neuroscientists have embraced. Conversely, the “easy problem” (although it is also extremely difficult) is figuring out all the computational and cognitive mechanisms underlying consciousness, which is categorically different than describing experience. Previously, science has only concentrated on solving those questions related to the “easy problem of consciousness.” Some still believe that questions about subjective experience can’t be answered quantitatively, and are therefore only appropriate topics for philosophy. Others handle the situation by refusing to acknowledge the existence of consciousness altogether! However, the truth of consciousness is self-evident, and denying it is equivalent to denying one’s own existence. IIT is unique in that it recognizes consciousness as a real phenomenon that can be described objectively and mathematically.

But does IIT really address the “hard problem of consciousness,” i.e., how subjective experience arises from the physical?

The answer is not quite.

The brain stores and processes information, but how and why that information takes on the characteristic of “feeling like something” is left unexplained. IIT tells us how to measure the degree of consciousness (Phi or Φ), but does not tell us how different types of information acquire different subjective sensations, like the feel of a burning flame or an orgasm. As stated by philosopher Ned Block, it may be that Phi is correlated with consciousness, but does not play a role in its cause.

 

So how do proponents of Integrated Information Theory attempt to explain subjective experience?

Christof Koch’s answer: Consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe. Wherever there is integrated information, there is experience. The theory takes its existence as a given and therefore doesn’t have to explain the mechanism behind it. It’s just a fact of nature that information has an inner side in addition to its bit-composed outer side.

Let’s follow the logic of this idea and see how it holds up. We know that certain brain states feel like something. Brain states are just information states. Therefore, information feels like something. Sounds pretty solid. Under IIT, lower mammals like cats have conscious experience, as do insects, even if only to some miniscule degree. Such an idea would seem intuitive. Why should there be some magical point at which a nervous system spontaneously turns conscious, like a switch had been suddenly flipped? It is more likely that a continuum of experience exists along a gradient, going from the very simple, raw sensations of single celled organisms to the more complex qualitative awareness of the human-sort. But what about non-biological systems that integrate information?

 

Things start to get weird

What’s interesting about IIT is that it doesn’t require that a conscious entity be a living organism. Any system that can integrate information, whether it be carbon-based or composed of silicon chips and metal wires, should produce conscious states. As information processors, modern computers possess some amount of experience, but presumably so little that it may be undetectable by human observers. In fact, according to IIT, it actually feels like something to be your iPhone. This should please artificial intelligence researchers who often long for their creations to someday be “alive”. In our technology driven world, IIT says that consciousness is both in our homes and in our hands.

 

Although all of this may seem pretty strange, the idea that machines can be conscious might not be entirely unfathomable, especially given the amount of science fiction that has instilled visions of self-aware robots into our psyche. Is this as far as the theory goes?

Nope.

 

If you are very clever (or perhaps very high) then upon reading the above you may have briefly considered the following question in some form or another. Aren’t humans always exchanging information through a global network of interconnected computers that collectively store and integrate information in some complex fashion? Let’s follow IIT down the rabbit hole.

 

The Internet wakes up

If we are to take IIT seriously, we must accept that a system such as the Internet can possess conscious states like that of a biological nervous system, as so long as information is being integrated in a similar fashion. This possibility has been explored by Christof Koch himself:

 

“Consider humankind’s largest and most complex artifact, the Internet. It consists of billions of computers linked together using optical fibers and copper cables that rapidly instantiate specific connections using ultrafast communication protocols. Each of these processors in turn is made out of a few billion transistors. Taken as a whole, the Internet has perhaps 10^19 transistors, about the number of synapses in the brains of 10,000 people. Thus, its sheer number of components exceeds that of any one human brain. Whether or not the Internet today feels like something to itself is completely speculative. Still, it is certainly conceivable.”

 

However, at the current time it seems highly unlikely that the Internet possesses the level of first-person experience as do you or I. Our brains have been shaped by evolution over millions of years in ways that have developed and refined its information processing capabilities. But still, the potential for a self-aware World Wide Web is surely there.

2015-09-18-1442614426-88429-Frankenstein_TheWebIsAlive.png

An information-based collective consciousness

That’s right. The theory allows for the emergence of an abstract “superorganism” that is composed of many individual organisms. Many puzzling questions are to follow. If the web were to “wake up” so to speak, would it exhibit apparent forms of observable unified and coordinated behavior? Or would we simply be an unknowing unit in a larger system in the same way a neuron is unaware of its contribution to a mental state? It’s not only fun to entertain the idea of a living entity that would possess essentially all the knowledge accumulated by humanity, but also scientifically productive.

In theory, there’s almost no limit to how large a fully conscious system can grow and evolve in space. It is bound only by the rate of information and complexity growth, which we have seen tends to increase exponentially.

So far we’ve discussed consciousness that can span large distances with no palpable physical structure. But what about arrangements of information that are too small for the eye to see?

 

Protons that feel

IIT says that anything with a non-zero Phi has subjective experience. This includes subatomic particles. Koch writes:

“Even simple matter has a modicum of Φ [integrated information]. Protons and neutrons consist of a triad of quarks that are never observed in isolation. They constitute an infinitesimal integrated system.”

This has profound consequences. It would mean that consciousness is spread throughout space like a cosmic web of experience. Of course awareness is greatest where there is significant information integration, but in essence, “mind” (or “psyche”) is everywhere. IIT turns out to be a modern twist on an ancient philosophical view known as “panpsychism”. But before you go dismissing the concept because of its name, you should know that intellectual heavy hitters such as Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and William James are all considered panpsychists. Its central tenant is that all matter has a mental aspect, which makes consciousness universal. Koch goes on:

“The entire cosmos is suffused with sentience. We are surrounded and immersed in consciousness; it is in the air we breathe, the soil we tread on, the bacteria that colonize our intestines, and the brain that enables us to think.”

2015-09-18-1442614426-88429-Frankenstein_TheWebIsAlive.png

 

A new spirituality constrained by science

So far Integrated Information Theory is the best candidate for a scientific doctrine that provides an objective description of consciousness. As such, it deserves that we consider the possibility of such seemingly radical ideas. Pondering questions previously deemed appropriate only for pot smoking college dorm-dwellers is now a task for the best and brightest scientific minds. Most rational thinkers will agree that the idea of a personal god who gets angry when we masturbate and routinely disrupts the laws of physics upon prayer is utterly ridiculous. This theory doesn’t give credence to anything of the sort. It simply reveals an underlying harmony in nature, and a sweeping mental presence that isn’t confined to biological systems. IIT’s inevitable logical conclusions and philosophical implications are both elegant and precise. What it yields is a new kind of scientific spirituality that paints a picture of a soulful existence that even the most diehard materialist or devout atheist can unashamedly get behind.