Some tips and background information for those interested in taking up the amateur “decoding” of esoteric Biblical texts (Part 2 of 2)

There are several points I’d like to discuss with regard to the kind of comparison and analysis of Bible passages that I did in the last post, based on my own experiences with trying to get a handle on material of that sort.  Hopefully this information will be useful to those persons who would like to engage in the interpreting or “decoding” or “deciphering” of the Bible for anti-esotericist purposes, but have never yet made the attempt to do so.

The first point is that you’ll notice from the comparison that the authors of the Bible do not necessarily use their symbols in a consistent manner.  This is one of the things that I find most exasperating about the Bible, and about esoteric religion in general.  In Hebrews 4:12, the “Word of God” is described as being a “sword.”  However, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul implies—I believe—that Jesus (i.e., the “Word of God”) would use the “sword of Spirit” to “kill” the “Lawless One.”  Similarly, in Revelation 19:11-16, the “sword” is described as coming out of the “Word of God” (i.e., Jesus).  So the metaphor has been changed somewhat.  And I get the sense that esotericists are generally pretty okay with that sort of thing.  (I, on the other hand, being a non-esotericist and indeed an anti-esotericist, am not at all okay with it, because it causes confusion, and makes it more difficult to figure out what an author’s point is.)  This fact needs to be recognized from the outset, since defenders of esoteric religion will likely criticize you for inconsistencies in and among your various theories and hypotheses, even though that very inconsistency may well be due entirely to the inconsistencies in thinking indulged in by the authors of the Bible whose meaning you’re trying to determine.  So always remember:  It’s not your fault.  As long as you make sure that you’re no more inconsistent than the authors were themselves being in their own minds, that will be sufficient.

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The two “swords”: An example of how I go about looking for “hidden meanings” in Biblical texts (Part 1 of 2)

In this post and the next, I will, by means of an example, explain some of the methods and techniques that I use when trying to analyze a Biblical text to discern any “hidden meanings” or “inner meanings” that it might contain.  In this post, I will focus more on the actual content of a few Bible passages, and in the next post, I will discuss some of the methods that I used in analyzing these passages and that I use generally, and call your attention to some of the aspects of the process of “decoding” that I consider to be especially important.

As an initial point, it is important to note that I do not necessarily make the assumption that it is possible to find these “inner meanings” because of any deliberate design on the part of an author.  I think that in many cases the author’s unconscious thinking was being revealed “in spite of himself,” so to speak.  At the same time, however, one should not rule out the possibility of deliberate design in any particular instance.

Let’s start by looking at Hebrews 4:12, in which the author describes the “Word of God” as a kind of “sword”:[1]

For the Word [or utterance, or message, or meaning: logos] of God is living [zaō] and active [en-ergés], and sharper [tomōteros, a comparative form of tomos] than any two-edged [or “two-mouthed”: di-stomos, derived from stoma, which can mean either “mouth” or “edge” (or “blade”)] sword [machaira], even penetrating [or piercing, or going through: di-ikneomai] so far as the dividing [or partitioning: merismos, related to meros, meaning “part”] of soul [psyché] and spirit [pneuma], of joints [harmos] and marrow [or “the inmost (part)”: myelos, derived from myō, which means “to close, to shut,” and from which is also derived the word mystérion, meaning “secret teaching, mystery”], and (it is) able to discern [or “able to judge of,” or “able to separate,” or “able to interpret”: kritikos, derived from krinō, meaning “to judge, to sift, to separate, to discern, to interpret”] the deliberations [or conceptions: enthymésis] and intentions [or ideas, or notions: ennoia] of (the) heart [kardia].[2]

Two “swords” are being compared in this passage.  One is a “two-edged”—or “two-mouthed” (di-stomos)—sword.[3]  The other is the “Word of God”; and it can be reasonably inferred from the context that this was meant to be thought of as a “one-edged” or “one-mouthed” sword: that is, a kind of “sword” that would “speak” (or “cut,” or “discern,” or “interpret”) with only a single “voice” or “speech,” as opposed to the kind that would allow a person to “speak out of both sides of his mouth.”[4]

Moreover, it seems that the “one-mouthed sword” was meant to be seen as being more powerful than the “two-mouthed sword,” and as being able to defeat a “two-mouthed sword” in battle or combat, because of the fact that it is “sharper” (perhaps understood to mean that it is “clearer” and “more distinct”).[5]

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The fall of “Babylon” or “Babel” seen as signifying the fall of religious esotericism

The Hebrew word for “Babylon” is actually babel—as in, the “Tower of Babel.”  Most English translations of the Old Testament almost always translate babel as “Babylon,” but the English word “Babylon” is of Greek derivation (the Greek word is babylōn or babulōn, depending on how you choose to transliterate it).  That means that whenever an Old Testament prophet railed against “Babylon,” what he actually had in mind was “Babel”:  the very same “Babel” that we all associate with the “Tower of Babel” and the “confusing of language” or “confusion of tongues” that purportedly took place there.

Furthermore, since much of the language and symbolism in the Book of Revelation is taken from the Old Testament prophetical writings, that suggests that when the author of the Book of Revelation wrote about “Mystery Babylon” or “Secret Babylon” (see Revelation 17:5), what he actually had in mind may have also been the “Babel” that we associate with the “Tower of Babel”—and thus, in turn, with a “confusing of language” or “confusion of tongues.”

That this is indeed what the author of Revelation had in mind is suggested by Revelation 17:1, in which the famous “great harlot” of Babylon is described as “sitting upon many waters.”  (Why “many” waters?)  Then, in Revelation 17:15, the angel says to the author, “The waters that you saw where the harlot sits are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”  Compare this to Genesis 11:6-9, in which it is strongly suggested that it was the “confusing of tongues” that caused the people of “Babel” to no longer be “one people” (or “a single people,” or “a united people”), and to be “dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (perhaps reminiscent of a great flood of water—”many waters”—covering the entire earth?).  Furthermore, in Revelation 17:18 we are told that this “woman,” the “great harlot,” is herself “the great city” (i.e., “Babel” or “Babylon”), which is said to continue to “hold kingship over the kings of the earth“—even after the original “scattering” or “dispersal” of peoples at Babel; and this even in spite of—or perhaps because of—the loss of “unity of meaning” in people’s attempted communications with each other.  After all, the “confusing” of meaning in language can create a great many opportunities to seize power for those who wish to, and are capable of, exploiting that confusion.

The Bible is a deeply esoteric book.  But it is my position that the Bible is not only an esoteric book—it is also, from beginning to end, and more than anything, a book about esotericism.  Moreover, I believe that the enormous importance of the symbol of “Babylon” in the Bible is due to its association with the notion of a “confusion of tongues”—which I think is really another way of saying:  Esotericism.  In other words:  Riddles.  Enigmas.  “Dark sayings.”  Cryptic parables.  Encoded meanings.  Allegorical symbols.  Obscure allusions.  Gibberish.

The Bible is one of the most paradoxical books ever written, because, even while being so thoroughly esoteric, it is my belief that the Bible’s most central and important “inner meaning” is that it is completely opposed to all esotericism, and looks forward to the day when it will cease to exist.  When a person makes an effort to look for evidence of this particular “inner meaning,” while expecting to find it, it is actually not all that difficult to find.  While it’s true that the authors’ understanding of that meaning must have been partly unconscious, I nonetheless believe that this was the most central “inner meaning” that they wanted to convey to the reader.  It was a meaning that some “part” of each of their unconscious minds was, through the use of obscure symbolism, trying to “smuggle past” the “guards” set up by some other “part” of each of their own unconscious minds—the same kind of resistant psychological “part” that would also exist in the minds of many of their readers.

In short, there is reason to think that the symbolic “fall of Babylon” should be regarded as signifying the end of esotericism.  My own position is that religious esotericism is actually just a form of lying—in fact, an exceedingly dangerous form of lying, one which has had a catastrophic impact on humanity.  And there is reason to think that the author of the Book of Revelation—whether consciously or unconsciously—agreed with me, since it seems he believed that when the symbolic “Babel” or “Babylon” fell and the symbolic “new Jerusalem” came into being, the Lie itself would come to an end as an active force in the world.  (As proof, notice the special and repeated emphasis that the author gives to lying and liars in Revelation 21:8, 21:27, and 22:15.)

Meaning: The idea, and the word

The idea of meaning plays a very big role in the sort of material that I discuss on this website, especially since the distinction between an “outer” or exoteric meaning, and one or more “inner” or esoteric meanings, is a crucial one to make when trying to make sense of traditional religions.  And, more generally, I believe that the idea of meaning lies at the heart of all human experience.  But it is interesting that the very word “meaning” seems to be etymologically related to a number of words found in languages from around the world, all of which words appear to me to be derived from some sort of common “M-N” root; and the meanings of these words are all related either to the ideas of “meaning” or “mind,” or to the ideas of “man” or “mankind.”  And I believe the apparent pervasiveness of this possible linguistic root serves as evidence of the crucial importance in human thought of the idea of meaning.  Moreover, it is precisely because the idea of meaning is so fundamental to human thought that it cannot be considered likely that the occurrence of words of this kind in such a wide variety of languages is due to borrowing that is at all recent; and it is also unlikely to be due to coincidence.

An important example of such a word is mana, found in Polynesian languages.  I believe this word can be properly thought of as referring to an idea similar or related to the idea corresponding to the English word “meaning.”  According to anthropologist Paul Radin, in his book Primitive Man as Philosopher,

Every discussion of mana must necessarily go back to the famous definition of [the missionary and anthropologist Bishop R. H.] Codrington:  “Mana is a force altogether distinct from physical power which acts in all kinds of ways for good and evil and which it is of the greatest advantage to possess and control … (and which) shows itself in physical force or in any kind of power or excellence which a man possesses.”  This has been the generally accepted view since Codrington’s time.[1]

This description is consistent with my hypothesis that the Polynesian word mana roughly corresponds to the idea of “meaning.”  Radin also writes, “A Fiji Islander told an investigator that ‘a thing has mana when it works; it has not mana when it doesn’t work.’”[2]  This idea of “inefficacy” or “ineffectiveness” is likewise consistent with the notions of “meaninglessness,” and “purposelessness,” and “pointlessness,” and “futility,” and “uselessness,” and “worthlessness.”

The word mana is also sometimes described as having the meaning of “prestige.”  This can be compared to the way in which English-speakers might refer to someone who enjoys prestige, as a person “of significance”; and say of someone who lacks prestige, that he is a person “of no significance,” or “of little significance”; and there is a great deal of overlap between the meanings of the English words “significance” and “meaning.”

Also, Codrington’s description of mana as a kind of “force” should be considered in connection with one of the New Testament passages that I discuss in my essay Against the Lie, 1 Corinthians 14:10-11, in which Paul writes,

It so happens that there are a great many kinds [genos] of language [or speech, or “sound”: phōné] in the world, and none is soundless [or, “lacking in (mere) sound”: a-phōnos]; therefore, if I do not know the meaning [more literally, “power,” or “force”: dynamis] of the sound [or language: phōné], I will be a foreigner [more literally, “barbarian”: barbaros] to the one speaking [laleō], and the one speaking [laleō] a foreigner [barbaros] to me.

The Greek word dynamis can, in addition to “meaning,” also mean “force, power, strength (including physical strength), might, worth, value, function, faculty, ability, capacity, efficacy, influence, authority.”  This range of meanings is very similar to that which the Polynesian word mana is said to be able to express.

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