The figures of “the King of Babylon/Babel,” “Satan,” and “Lucifer”

Luke 10:1 says,

And with these things, the Lord (Jesus) appointed seventy-two [or seventy, according to some manuscripts] others,[1] and sent them out [or sent them away: apo-stellō, from which is derived the Greek word apostolos, meaning “apostle”] in twos [ana dyo] before [or prior to: pro] his face [or his appearance: prosōpon], into every city and place where he himself was going to come [erchomai; this may have been meant to allude to what is now popularly known as “the Second Coming”].

When the seventy-two “return” (or “turn back”; more literally, “turn under” or “turn beneath”: hypo-strephō),[2] the very first thing Jesus that says to them, in Luke 10:18, is,

I was beholding Satan falling [pesonta, a form of piptō] like lightning [astrapé] out of the heaven.

But it is important to recognize that this verse can also be translated,

I was beholding Satan falling [pesonta, a form of piptō] like (the flash of) a falling star [or shooting star, or meteor, or fallen star (or any other kind of bright flash of light in the sky): astrapé, related to the Greek word astér, meaning “star”] out of the heaven.[3]

Presumably the author meant this to be understood in reference to the work that Jesus’s “apostles” had been doing while they were “away” (apo)—or, perhaps, in reference to the very “returning” of the apostles from their period of being “away” (or “distant,” or “off [above]”)—or, perhaps, both.

Now compare that verse to the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 14:12-15, which is speaking of the “King of Babylon,” i.e., “King of Babel”—i.e., “Lucifer”:

How he fell out [ek-piptō, which is derived from piptō] of the heaven, the morning star [more literally, “limit-bringer” or “until-bringer”: heōs-phoros, derived from pherō, meaning “to bring, to bear, to carry”; Latin Vulgate: luci-fer, meaning “light-bearer” or “light-bringer”],[4] the one who rises [or rises up: ana-tellō] [perhaps in the sense of “rises up again”?—the Greek prefix ana– can potentially convey the sense of “again”] at dawn [or “with the morning”: prōi]![5]  He was ground [or ground up, or shattered, or crushed, or pulverized: syn-tribō] into [or onto, or unto: eis] the earth [or ground: ], the one sending out [or sending off, or sending away, or driving away, or banishing: apo-stellō, from which is derived the Greek word apostolos, meaning “apostle] to all the nations [ethnos]!  But you said in your heart [kardia (according to one version); or, according to another version, “mind”: dia-noia], “Into the heaven [ouranos] I will ascend [ana-bainō]; I will place [or set, or lay down: tithémi] my throne on top of the stars [astér] of the heaven [ouranos].  I shall sit upon a high [hypsélos] mountain [oros], upon the high [hypsélos] mountains [oros] to (the) north.  I will ascend [ana-bainō] on top of the clouds; I will be like the Highest [or Most High: hypsistos].”  But now you will descend [kata-bainō] into Hades and into the foundations [themelios, derived from tithémi, meaning “to place, to set, to lay down, to establish”] of the earth [].

And compare that passage to Revelation 21:10,14, which says,

And (the angel) carried me away [or bore me away, or brought me away: apo-pherō] in spirit [pneuma] up to a great [megas] and high [hypsélos] mountain [oros], and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, descending [kata-bainō] out of heaven [ouranos] from God [the phrase “from God” may have been understood to be an important qualification, perhaps meant to distinguish this from other possible forms of “descent”]. … And the wall of the (new Jerusalem) had twelve foundations [themelios, derived from tithémi, meaning “to place, to set, to lay down, to establish”], and on them twelve names [onoma] of the twelve apostles [apostolos] of the Lamb.

I think all of this might help to explain why “Jesus Christ” and “Lucifer” would sometimes have been viewed as being equivalent or at least overlapping figures.  Observe what seem to be certain parallels between the figure of “Jesus Christ” and the figure of the “King of Babylon/Babel”—who at first appears to be equivalent both to “Satan” and to “Lucifer,” that is, the “morning star.”  For one thing, both of them send out “apostles” to “all the nations.”  (See, e.g., Luke 24:44-53, especially verse 47.)  For another, in 2 Peter 1:19, we find that the symbol of the “morning star” (more literally, “light-bearer,” or “dawn-bringer”: phōs-pheros) carries positive connotations.  And we find the same in Revelation 22:16, which speaks of “David” (or “Jesus,” depending on how one reads that verse) as “the bright (early) morning star” (or “the clear dawn star,” or “the brilliant (early) morning star”: ho astér ho lampros ho prōinos).  And we find the same in Revelation 2:26-28, in which “the (early) morning star” (or “the dawn star”: ton astera ton prōinon) is spoken of as something to be sought after, not avoided or resisted or rejected; and in which it is said that this “morning star” would be given by Jesus—perhaps with the understanding that it would be the substance of “Jesus” himself that Jesus would be giving.

The preceding material introduces a possibility in my mind that the authors of the New Testament may have meant for “Jesus Christ” to be understood as having caused Satan to “fall,” perhaps in the course of, and as a result of, his own “falling” or symbolic “Crucifixion”:  a literary episode itself perhaps meant to prefigure the symbolic “crucifixion” of Christ’s “apostles” (cf. Matthew 16:24 and Matthew 24:9)—in other words, their symbolic “falling from heaven.”

In support of such a notion, it might be helpful to imagine two “top stones” or “head stones” (or two kinds of “top stone” or “head stone”)—with “the risen Christ” serving as the second of the two “stones” (see, e.g., Mark 12:10 and 1 Peter 2:4-8), and “Satan” serving as the first; and in Satan’s case, perhaps, the “stone” would have been thought to take the form of a “meteor” or “falling star” once it began its “descent to earth.”[6]  I think it is fair to assume that when passages such as 1 Peter 2:7—referring to Christ—say, “The stone [lithos] that the builders [oiko-domeō] rejected, this became the top [or head: kephalé] of the pinnacle (stone) [or corner (stone): gōnia],” the likely understanding of the authors was that the “Christ stone” had initially been rejected in favor of some other “stone”—and again, I think the authors of the New Testament may have associated that “other stone” with the figure of “Satan.”

Furthermore, the understanding of the authors of the New Testament may have been that as this other stone “fell to earth” and took the form of a “meteor” or “falling star,” it would “give off light” or “become illuminated”; and, as that happened, “Satan” would become “Lucifer”—for a relatively brief moment—before that more “Satanic” (or “external”) source of “light” was permanently extinguished.  [Cf. Matthew 24:29; and note that according to Revelation 21:23-25, the (relatively) external “lights in the heaven” that Matthew 24:29 says would eventually be made to vanish would never be replaced in the “new Jerusalem.”]  The figure of “Jesus Christ”—that is, “the risen Christ,” or “the rising Christ,” perhaps associated with a person’s more internal “lights” or “enlightenment”—might thus have been identified with the moment of Satan’s “falling” (leaving aside for now the question of what precisely “Satan” was understood to signify).  And that same moment would also have been associated with the figure of “Lucifer,” i.e., the “light-bringer”—because it would be with Satan’s “falling” that the Christians’ much-anticipated “enlightenment” would be expected to begin.  Indeed, perhaps the “falling” of Satan was thought to be the concomitant of the “rising” of Christ, so that as one of the two “top stones” or “head stones” fell, the other would naturally and inevitably rise to its rightful place “in the heaven.”[7]

In other words, it is conceivable that the falling of Satan—and thus also of “Lucifer” (which, again, in this particular context would signify a brief external source of “enlightenment”)—was thought to make possible, and give rise to, a more permanent and ongoing internal source of “enlightenment,” perhaps symbolized by a metaphorical “inner sun” located in a person’s metaphorical “heart.”  (See 2 Peter 1:19.)  And if so, then the same “entity”—whether it happened to be involved in a “falling” (piptō; perhaps corresponding to the idea of “the outer body” or “the outer self,” or of the realm of “the external” being put aside or displaced), or involved in a “rising” (ana-tellō, a word which originally meant something like “to finish, to complete, to (again?) arrive at the goal”; perhaps corresponding to the idea of “the inner body” or “the inner self,” or of the realm of “the internal” coming into its own)—would in either case be functioning as a “light-bringer” (Greek phōs-pheros or Latin luci-fer).  And so, in either case—whether viewed from the perspective of “Satan” as he “fell,” or of “Jesus Christ” as he “rose”—that same figure or “entity” of “Lucifer” could be found.

I propose that the expectation of the authors of the New Testament may have been that the figure of “Jesus Christ”—through his “apostles,” that is—would return to “earth” from “heaven” (cf. Luke 10:20); and by the time that that process of “returning” had been completed, the “King of Babylon” and “Satan”—and then finally “Lucifer” as well (at least considered from the aspect of him associated with the figure of “Satan” while he was “falling”)—would all have “disclosed their secrets” and then disappeared.  With the “apostles” now having been properly “humbled” and “brought back down to earth,” and serving in their appointed role as the “foundation” of the “living building” that the Christians were trying to build up, the “risen Christ” or “rising Christ” would be able to serve as the new “top stone” (or “head of the corner,” or “top of the pinnacle,” or “tip of the pinnacle”: kephalé, meaning “top” or “head,” and gōnia, meaning “corner” or “peak” or “pinnacle”; or akro-gōniaias, meaning “leading tip of the gōnia” or “extreme point of the gōnia”), whose position would have been left vacant by the “falling” of the “other stone.”  (See Ephesians 2:19-20.)  At the same time, with the completion of the “descent” of the “new Jerusalem” out of “heaven”—along with the appearance of the “twelve names” of the “twelve apostles” inscribed on the “twelve foundations” of the “new Jerusalem”—the same “names” that had already been “inscribed in heaven” (again, see Luke 10:20) would now have been “inscribed in the earth” as well.[8]

In connection with this, a very important point to consider is that in the Gospels the prototypical “disciple” or “apostle” is represented by “Peter” (petros):  a name that literally means “stone” or “rock.”  So who or what exactly might the “falling stone” which I have been discussing have been understood to refer to?

The very asking of the question may lend greater significance to Mark 8:33-36, in which Jesus says to Peter (apparently representing all of the disciples at once, based on verse 33), “Get behind [or ‘go behind’: hyp-agō opisō] me, Satan!” (verse 33).[9]  This might be read to suggest that Jesus is ordering “Satan,” along with his “disciples”—or, more likely, in the form of his “disciples”—to “go behind” or “follow behind” or “come behind” him (erchomai opisō: verse 34)—so that “Satan,” like “Peter”—or, more likely, as “Peter,” or in “Peter”—might “turn back” (or “return [to himself]”: epi-strephō; cf. Luke 22:31-34).[10]  (And also compare Mark 8:33-36 to Matthew 4:5-10 with respect to the idea of “gaining the whole world.”)[11]

 

Notes

[1] By the use of the word “others,” I assume the author meant “other than” “the twelve” spoken of in Luke 9:1-6.

[2] It is conceivable that these seventy-two other “apostles” were understood to be returning to symbolic “earth,” after having gone out into the symbolic “heaven” (or “kingdom of heaven,” or “kingdom of God”).

[3] Consider the possibility that the Greek word astra-pé may have originally been formed by combining the Greek word astér, meaning “star,” and some form or variant of the verb piptō, meaning “to fall” (for example, one grammatical form of piptō is pesé), or the nouns ptōsis or ptōma, both of which can mean “a fall, a falling, a collapse, a downfall” (and ptōma can additionally carry more of the connotations of “a defeat, a failure” as well as “a fallen (corpse)”).  Or, at least, consider the possibility that the authors of the New Testament may have thought that that was the original etymology of the word astrapé.  Or, at the very least, consider the possibility that the authors may have expected that some of their Greek-speaking readers would make the assumption that this was the word’s original etymology; in other words, the authors would have been hoping or expecting that those readers would generate the same “folk etymology” in their minds that the authors themselves had.

Also, Acts 19:35 speaks of a dio-petés (which literally means “fallen from Zeus” or “Zeus-fallen,” presumably referring to a meteorite), a word which is derived from petō, the alternate of piptō, which again means “to fall.”

The notion that the image of a “falling star” or “meteor” would have been on the minds of the authors of the New Testament is also indicated by Revelation 8:10, in which it is said that a “great star [astér] fell [piptō] out of [ek] the heaven [ouranos] burning like a torch [or lamp: lampas].”  (Cf. 2 Peter 1:19, and its use of the Greek word lychnos, also meaning “lamp.”)

In addition, Revelation 9:1-3 says,

And the fifth angel sounded (his) trumpet, and I saw a star [astér] having fallen [piptō] out of [ek] the heaven [ouranos] to the earth, and the key of the pit of the (bottomless) abyss was given to him.  And he opened the pit of the (bottomless) abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit, like smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.  And out of the smoke came forth locusts unto the earth.

Based on what I have already written, it would seem that this “fallen star” should be identified as “Lucifer.”  Moreover, it would appear that even though Lucifer begins by bringing “illumination” during his descent to earth, he then apparently proceeds to create obscurity (symbolized by “smoke” and “darkness”).  If we suppose that these “locusts” were meant to signify “demons,” the consider what Revelation 9:10 says about this “Lucifer”:

[The demons] have over them a king, the angel [or messenger: aggelos] of the abyss.  His name in Hebrew:  Abaddon [meaning “Destruction”].  And in the Greek, he has the name Apollyon [meaning “Destroyer”].

So “Lucifer”—the “light-bearer”—is responsible for bringing destruction, by means of unleashing obscurity.  This state of affairs is reversed in Revelation 20:1-3:

And I saw an angel coming down [kata-bainō] out of the heaven, holding the key to the (bottomless) abyss and a great chain in his hand.  And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the (bottomless) abyss, and shut (it) and sealed (it) [sphragizō] over him, so that he might not deceive [planaō] the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things it is necessary for him to be released for a short time.

(Incidentally, notice the parallels between this passage and Matthew 27:62-66, and its use of the Greek words planos, meaning “deceiver,” plané, meaning “deception” or “fraud,” and sphragizō, meaning “to seal.”  Recall that according to tradition, during the period of his “death and burial” and before his “resurrection,” Jesus descended to Hades.  Yes, this was supposedly so that he could minister to the souls there—but, nevertheless, Hades is purported where he went during the period of time when he was “shut up” and “sealed” within his tomb.  And these parallels might in some way relate to the reasons why Jesus Christ and Lucifer have sometimes been identified.)

So an angel does the “shutting” of the abyss that had first been “opened” by Lucifer.  But remember—it was another angel (“the fifth angel”) that apparently caused “the key of the pit of the (bottomless) abyss” to be given to “Lucifer” or “Satan” so that he could open it.  So the “angels of God” seem to be indirectly responsible for the temporary “destruction” wreaked by the “Destroyer,” Lucifer.

[4] Compare the use of the Greek word heōs, meaning “until,” in 2 Peter 1:19.

[5] It is conceivable that the understanding of the authors of the New Testament (and the Septuagint’s translators) was that the “morning star” would first “fall,” and then “rise up again”—in a new form:  that of the “sun.”

[6] Keep in mind that ancient peoples were perfectly well aware that “meteors” or “falling stars” or “shooting stars” were made out of stone or mineral material, since, of course, it was often possible to retrieve their fragments on the ground (see Acts 19:35; rather, it was the nature of the fixed stars and the planets that was sometimes a matter for dispute among the theoreticians of the day.  (But that is not to say that, for more “poetic” purposes—then as now—the fixed stars might not have sometimes been depicted by an author as “falling out of the sky,” when it was actually a meteor that he had in mind—even if that author did not necessarily believe as a strictly scientific matter that the two objects shared the same nature.)

[7] By the way, I offer a suggestion that the image potentially found here, of an object that in a moment of climax or crisis would become “illuminated” or “brightly flaming” or “incandescent” as it fell down to earth—and, more especially, the image of a “meteor”—may be a deeply embedded and primal archetype in the human mind.  Consider, for example, scenes in the movies The Right Stuff (as John Glenn’s capsule falls to earth), Apollo 13 (as the astronauts’ capsule falls to earth), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (as Gandalf and the Balrog fall to the center of the earth), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (as Denethor falls to the earth from a precipice).

[8] For whatever it may be worth, note that the number “seventy-two” is a multiple of the number “twelve.”  And, if the first “twelve” apostles mentioned in Luke 9:1-6 are added to the other “seventy-two,” one gets “eighty-four,” or “12 times 7”—that is, “12 times (1 + 6)”; and the “sending out” and subsequent “returning” of all “eighty-four” of these “apostles” may have been understood to signify the bringing to an end of one symbolic “week,” so that a new one might begin.

Also note that twice “seventy-two” is “one-hundred forty-four,” the number found in Revelation 21:17—which may be significant given the fact that Luke 10:1 says that the apostles were “sent forth” (apo-stellō) “in twos” (ana dyo)—a potentially ambiguous phrase.  The author may have meant that each of the seventy-two “apostles” was “sent forth” while being composed of “two parts.”  In support of this suggestion, consider that in Matthew 10:16 (which can be compared to Luke 10:3), Jesus says, “Behold, I send you forth [apo-stellō] as sheep in the midst of wolves; so become wise [or shrewd, or prudent: phronimos] as serpents, and innocent [or pure, or guileless, or sincere; more literally, simple, or unmixed: a-keraios] as doves”—which may suggest that when the apostles were in their “serpent mode,” they “spoke with a forked-tongue,” so to speak; and the fact that they would still have even been capable of doing that means that they would still have been “double” (or “duplicitous”) in their natures, and not yet made “simple” or “single.”

It needs to be kept in mind that as a general rule, esotericists do not see verbal ambiguity in their writing as a defect or as anything to be avoided or guarded against; they see it as an opportunity to be welcomed; in fact, they positively revel in ambiguous and equivocal language.  So it should not be assumed that in this case the author would necessarily have meant for the number of relevant conceptual entities (beginning at “seventy-two”) to be understood as being “halved” (rather than “doubled”) when he tell us that the apostles were sent forth “in twos,” merely because that is how most people would automatically assume that that is how the author must have meant for the verse to be understood.  Esotericist authors don’t especially care what “most people” (i.e., “the multitude”) would assume they meant; this is a point that I stress on numerous occasions in my Against the Lie essay.

[9] Incidentally, consider that the author of Mark 8:33 may have meant to suggest that when Jesus looked at “Peter,” he was looking at all of his “disciples” at once, so to speak.  (Also note the use in that same verse of the word epi-strephō, which can mean “to turn, to turn back”—or, “to return [to oneself].”)

[10] Perhaps “Jesus” was, so to speak, trying to call “Peter” “back to earth” from being a “disembodied spirit off in the heavens.”  In other words, what Jesus says in Mark 8:35-37 may represent an exhortation made to an “apostle”—once he has found “the Spirit” (or his own “spirit,” pneuma) out in “the heavens” or “the kingdom of heaven”—to again find or return to his own “soul” (or “life-force”: psyché, which is a concept that in the Bible tends to be associated with the symbolic “earth”).  I think the passages that I have been discussing in this post might thus relate to the notion of overcoming inner division or self-alienation in the individual person or self—an idea with which I deal in more detail in Part I of the Against the Lie essay.

[11] In addition, consider the possibility that John 13:36-38 may contain a pun involving the Greek word hyper—which can mean either “for the sake of (another person),” or “over, above, on top of, beyond”)—a pun possibly meant to indicate that “Peter” still considered his “life” (or “soul”: psyché) to be more valuable than the “life” of “Jesus.”  If so, that would be the reason why he wanted to “lay it down” (or “place it,” or “set it”: tithémi) “over” or “above” (hyper) the “life” of Jesus; and Peter’s pride would thus explain why he was still not ready to “follow” (akoloutheō) Jesus into metaphorical “death” or “prison” or “Hades.”  (Cf. Luke 22:31-34 and Matthew 16:18-19; and also note the use of the future tense in the verbs found in the latter passage, especially when Jesus says to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens,” not “I give you” or “I am giving you.”)

This may be related to the notion found in Ephesians 2:19-20 that the “apostles” were considered to be the “foundations” (themelios, derived from tithémi) of the “new Jerusalem”—which would suggest that at this point in the narrative, Peter had not yet fully accepted what it meant to be an “apostle” (and thus also a “foundation” in the metaphorical “structure,” as opposed to a “top stone” in it).  As the “top of the pinnacle,” Jesus Christ would eventually come to stand “over” (or “above”: hyper) the “foundations” (themelios) of his church; but before that could happen, anyone desiring to be “placed” (or “laid down,” or “set”: tithémi) “above” (or “over”: hyper) that one particular “living stone” would first have to be made to “fall” (piptō).  (One might even ask if the figure of “Peter”—just like the figure of “King of Babel/Babylon”—was thought to have said to himself, “Into the heaven I will ascend; I will place [or set, or lay down: tithémi] my throne on top of the stars of the heaven.  I shall sit on a high [hypsélos, related to hyper] mountain, upon the high [hypsélos, related to hyper] mountains to (the) north.  I will ascend on top of the clouds; I will be like the highest [or Most High: hypsistos, related to hyper].”)

I think the repeating of Peter’s words by Jesus in John 13:38 may have been intended to help call the Greek-speaking reader’s attention to the existence of any such pun, giving him a sort of “wink and nudge” (however, for an English-speaking reader who didn’t speak Greek, the pun would still be lost on him no matter how many times the words were repeated)—but for the pun to succeed would require that the reader was already familiar with the “building” or “structure” or “temple” metaphor used by the authors of the New Testament (and the Bible as a whole).  In short, I think it may have been functioning more than anything as a sort of unhelpful and mischievous “inside joke”; but my general sense is that such a thing would not be the least bit out of place in the Gospels.