In this series we will continue to perform a temporary “about face” in our quest to discover wisdom. By reassessing the historical and literal validity of selected parts of the bible, we shall try to answer four questions. (1) Is the Messiah of the Gospels merely of allegorical importance, as one sect of the first century Gnostics proposed? (2) Does history and archeology regarding the Jewish people validate the existence of a flesh and blood Messiah? (3) Did this Messiah atone for the sins of others? (4) Do historical and allegorical messages in the bible oppose or complement each other? I shall explain later why the “about face” is necessary and only temporary.
The attached woodcarving by artist Gustave Dore depicts the burial of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, in a cave procured by Abraham from the ancient Canaanites. It is located in what is now the modern city of Hebron on the West Bank, and has become a holy site for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The cave became the “Tomb of the Patriarchs” where the bones of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, plus Jacob and Leah are said to be maintained in secret chambers below a magnificent shrine built by King Herod in the first century BCE. Historical records indicate that this was the original resting place for these bones. Christian crusaders are said to have carried off some of them as trophies. Others were also believed to have been stolen by raiders who sold them off to Europe. Excavations of the bottom chambers in modern times have been strictly forbidden, but those performed earlier reported bone fragments mixed with artifacts that date back to ancient Israeli culture. This is the earliest archeological connection to bible history that has been relatively undisputed, unlike the claims of finding Noah’s Ark or the ruins of the Tower of Babel. There are few if any substantial links prior to the time of Abraham that establish as firm a historical and literal connection.
In parts I and II of this series we examined the prophecies given to Adam’s wife and Noah’s son to bear the lineage of the promised Messiah. When Abraham received his divine calling, nine generations are said to have passed since the day Noah blessed his son, Shem, saying the descendants of his brothers Japheth and Ham would be gathered under his tent. Shem is said to have lived 600 years, so he was still alive when Abraham was born.
He was born “Abram” meaning “Exalted Father”. His calling was three-fold: (1) to leave his native land back in the cradle of civilization, (2) to become the progenitor of a nation of great renown, and (3) to be the ancestor to “a seed” (a descendant, the Messiah) in whom “All the nations of the world would be blessed, because you (Abram) have obeyed my voice.”2 Abram’s name therefore became Abraham, meaning “Father of Many”, and his wife, Sarai, meaning “Princess” became “Sarah”, meaning “Mother of Nations”.
During a drought in the land of Canaan, Abraham and his clan took temporary shelter by visiting the nearest center of civilization, Egypt, on the River Nile. This is perhaps where the Egyptian hand maiden, Hagar, was added to his crew.
When his second son Isaac was born by a miracle birth to his 90 year-old barren wife, the promise of Messiah was transferred to Isaac as recorded, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called”.3 For the third time in the Book of Genesis, the selection of the spiritual heir to the Messianic lineage was an appointed selection instead of a natural one, just as it had been for Seth and Shem. Ishmael, who was Abraham’s first son through his Egyptian handmaiden Hagar, would have been the natural heir to Abraham’s inheritance; but Instead Ishmael is blessed by God to become the ancestor to 12 ruling princes and a great nation. However, the seed in whom all the nations of the world would be blessed would descend from Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham resembled Noah in that he hearkened to the voice of the divine presence regardless of circumstances. It led him to Canaan and there he learned to trust his spiritual discernment more and more, but only after first doubting it and reaping the consequences. When under the influence of his skeptical wife, he was persuaded by her to have a child, Ishmael, through his handmaiden, Hagar, instead of believing what the angel of the Lord had told him about having a son through his barren wife. This resulted in some unfortunate consequences involving family strife and jealousies which culminated in breaking his heart. He had to tell Hagar to take his beloved first child and leave the clan. Biblical scripture later tells us that there was a reunion later between Abraham and Ishmael, and that Ishmael attended his father’s funeral. Quranic scripture tells us that the veneration of Abraham was preserved through Ishmael’s decedents.
Abraham’s trust was perfected after that painful event when the spirit told him to prepare to sacrifice Sarah’s only son, the miracle child, to be performed in a manner following the barbaric tradition of the surrounding Canaanites. He journeyed three days and walked up Mount Mariah with his child, Isaac beside him, with Isaac carrying a bundle of wooden logs, for the burning of the sacrifice, stretched out across his little shoulders. When Isaac asked where the sacrifice was, his father assured him that God would provide a sacrifice. Isaac did not resist when he was asked to lay down on the sacrificial stone altar to be bound by ropes to it; for this reason this event is often referred to as “The Binding of Isaac”.
Meanwhile, just across the valley, clearly visible from Mount Mariah, the next mountain in the shape of a top of a skull, Golgotha, stood preeminent, foreshadowing the location where the Gospel Messiah would be sacrificed as a substitute for man’s sin.7
The Greek word in the Gospels used to describe the appearance of the mount referred to by its Hebrew name as “Golgotha” is the word “kranion” which translates to the English “cranium”.6 The cranium is the “skull pan” of the head, not the whole skull; it is the bony structure that encompasses and protects the higher cognitive and intuitive functions of the brain and includes the pineal and pituitary glands a little deeper under it. The rest of the skull protects the eyes (sight), mouth (taste), ears (sound), nose (smell) and brain stem (touch), all of which are associated with the more primitive functions of the natural senses.
Identifying the site of the crucifixion accurately has an important bearing on the allegorical and hidden meanings. The skull signifies decay from bodily death; but Jesus was not subject to decay. The hidden meaning of the crucifixion is about subjecting the egotistical will to a higher consciousness, which involves the brain functions just beneath the cranium.
Instead of the mount in the shape of a skullcap, the Mount of Olives was originally proposed as a site for the crucifixion because (1) it was on the East side of the Temple where the sin offering was made according to Jewish custom, and because (2) it has a geological structure on it that resembles a skull. The skull is quite impressive as a tourist attraction; but this is likely not the correct site. It does not match the description as a site from which the tearing of the curtain to the Holy of Holies could be observed, whereas the mount in the shape of a skull cap is also on the East side and the curtain was observable from it. The skull on the Mount of Olives is currently adjacent to a bus station for Arabs.
The Roman King Constantine’s mother picked an entirely different site on the West side of the Temple on which to build the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, now also a tourist attraction. Neither of these were the correct site that matches the exoteric or esoteric understanding of the crucifixion. This is definitely a case where accurate historical and geological accounting provides a solid material framework from which the esoteric spiritual mystery can be launched with confidence.
Getting back to the binding of Isaac, at the last minute an angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and directed him to sacrifice, in his stead, a ram hiding in a nearby thicket. The parallel between this event and the passion of Christ is compelling. Isaac as the miracle son, the appointed one, voluntarily given up by his father, ascends a mountain carrying the burden of wooden logs that are intended to be instruments of his sacrifice. He does not resist his fate. But Isaac is not the Messiah, so God provides a substitute offering of an animal sacrifice. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Temple, where animal sacrifice was conducted according to Jewish scriptural law was built on Mount Moriah.
Scholars tell us that there were stories vaguely resembling the binding of Isaac that were told in earlier Semitic folklore; but only the account in Genesis foreshadows an event that would happen centuries later and have a profound effect on the world; such prophetic power and purpose was unknown to the Jewish scribes who first recorded the Genesis account no later than about 1500 BCE. They had no idea of the future significance of what they were faithfully recording.
Was the earlier folklore a quantum echo that manifested in the past? Such events have been shown by modern physicists to be possible; and parapsychologists have scientifically demonstrated that individuals, as well as masses of people, can sense things before they happen. Perhaps this echo provides evidence of the realm of timelessness in which many of us believe that we ultimately exist. Or perhaps some of these scholarly papers were biased by secret agendas or pre-conceived world views.
In contrast, perhaps the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is said to contain the bones of Abraham and Isaac, attests to the historicity of this part of the Genesis.
Isaac had twin sons Jacob and Esau. Esau came out of the womb first and was pronounced the eldest, therefor eligible by natural birth rite to be Jacob’s heir. However, Jacob was told by God while the twins were still in the womb that “The elder shall serve the younger4. Esau was a hunter. Jacob stole Esau’s birth rite by tricking him into trading it for a meal after he came home hungry one day from an unsuccessful hunt. Jacob’s name means “supplanter” and he was quite a wheeler dealer, trying to steal a birth rite. This trait would get him in trouble someday when he would meet his wheeler dealer match – Uncle Laban – who tricks him into running his farm for 14 years to get the girl of his dreams. However, it was not his wheeling and dealing that qualified him to be heir of the promise, but divine appointment, which strikes for the fourth time in Genesis, revealing to him “And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed”.5
We know that Jacob met his match once again after his 14-year bout with Laban, but this time contending with an angel of the Lord in a wrestling match of self-purification. He emerged as the winner with a changed disposition. His name then changed to Israel, meaning “he who prevails with God”. Jacob also had 12 sons who become the twelve tribes of Israel. One of his sons, Judah, would become the heir of the Abrahamic promise by appointment, instead of the oldest son Reuben who was the natural heir, making it 5 times in Genesis that the natural choice has been superseded by a spiritual one. We will continue with Judah as the next in succession to the Messianic lineage in Part IV of this series.
Meanwhile, we also note that Isaac’s 11th son, Joseph, would live a life that foreshadows the life of Messiah as Suffering Servant and Triumphant King, being rejected by his own family, and then redeeming them in an act of loving grace.
The line of succession continued by a selection based on divine appointment instead of the natural birth rite of the first born. From Seth, to Shem, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and finally to Judah; the promise in Messiah would spring forth one day from the Jewish people to bless all the nations of the earth. We see the beginnings of historical links to these events starting with Abraham and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. There are various geological links such as the identification of Mount Moriah and its juxtaposition to Golgotha. Also there are archeological links such as Jacobs Well and Jacob’s Pillar which we have not mentioned. Many of these links cannot as yet be considered 100% foolproof; there is always the remote possibility that some of these stories were contrived to be related to pre-existing geographical formations in order to give the impression that the stories were literal. However, as we shall discover in later parts of this series, there are prophecies written long before events that occurred in later historical periods that will foretell these carefully documented events with 100% certainty.
We have many posts about the allegorical and hidden meanings in various passages in the bible. I often wonder if they can all be tied together into a progressive revelation, rather than bits and pieces. That would be an interesting challenge. The succession of Messianic Prophecies are the historical framework from which the allegorical and hidden meanings of the bible would then progressively arise. They would tell the story of man’s decent in consciousness into the material world and gradual ascent in consciousness, culminating in Jesus preparing his followers who are born in the material world to be born anew in the spiritual world.
We know that the spiritual world is not just wishful thinking, because there is a historical legacy preserved in ink and archeology testifying to its existence. If we do not do this “about face” to look back at the historical legacy, then we will risk missing this important testimony. Without this testimony, how would we then know if our journeys along the esoteric paths are not a deception?
Even though it is necessary now to examine the historical legacy, we do not want to get permanently bogged down in scrutinizing it until it chokes us to death. It is an important pointer; but sooner or later we must push on toward what is being pointed to. Before we push on, though, there are a few more parts of this series to examine.
In closing, Abraham set out to the Promised Land from ancient Mesopotamia, often referred to as the “Cradle of Civilization”. From him and his decedents a civilization governed by a spiritual code was born that has survived to this very day. It has had a profound spiritual and ethical influence on most of the nations on this planet. Who does not know about the Ten Commandments, about taking a day off from the grind, or about the passion of the Messiah? The historical aspect does not only point towards individual transcendence, but to the transcendence of all of civilization, starting from its cradle, to its destined evolution prophetically foretold in the new world to come.
- “What the Rabbis Know about the Messiah, A study of Genealogy and Prophecy” by Rachmiel Frydland. http://www.amazon.com/What-Rabbis-Know-About-Messiah/dp/0917842030
- Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 22:18
- Genesis 21:12
- Genesis 25:23
- Genesis 28:14
- Golgotha Rediscovered http://www.golgotha.eu/
- Another theory suggests that this next mountain, what later became known as Golgotha, was the actual mountain that Abraham and Isaac ascended. The bible says that they journeyed to an area called Moriah and then ascended a mountain