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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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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Writings from the “Against the Lie” essay available

I am including links to two versions of Part I of my essay Against the Lie, as well as two versions of a section taken from Part II of that same essay entitled “The Relationship Between the New Testament Figures of Mary, the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, and Mary Magdalene.”   The first version of each document has most of the footnotes removed, and the second has all of the original footnotes still in it.  I recommend starting with the first version, since the main text can be difficult to read in the version with all of the footnotes retained.  Then, if, after reading the first version, you’re still interested in reading more about my ideas on this and related subject matter, you can go on to read through all of the footnotes in the second version.

Against the Lie
(Part I)

Shortened version  (98 pages):   Word    PDF
Full version  (175 pages):   Word    PDF

Mary, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and Mary Magdalene

Shortened version  (9 pages):   Word    PDF
Full version  (20 pages):   Word    PDF

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