UNITY OF VANCOUVER
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How the Idea of Power of Darkness
Came Into Judaism and Christianity
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
May 23, 2021
All Rights Reserved
I invite you to look at the light of a candle flame as I talk to you for a moment about light and darkness in preparation for our meditation. When you take a light into the darkness the light does not overcome a power of darkness. Where the light is there just isn’t any darkness. There are not two powers, a power of darkness and a power of light. Darkness has no power of its own. If darkness had power, it would be able to overcome and snuff out the candle flame. But the candle has the power of light and no matter how strong the darkness, where the presence of the candle’s flame darkness gone. Now I invite you to close your eyes and begin to seek the light by drawing your attention, inward to the point behind the brow and upward to the point at the top of your head, the seat of the Christ in you and know God is the only presence and power active in your life.
Out of the darkness, light begins to glow just as morning dawns in a slow and gentle way. You are awakening from a deep sleep and emerging from the cave of guilt imposed upon you and perfectionism that has imprisoned you. You are God’s being, being and therefore a being of excellence. Spiritual growth is simply your awakening to the truth of who and what you really are so that you are aware of the creative work that God is doing through you to bring more light, love and life into manifestation so that you can work with God to this Higher Will being is done in and through you by changing the way you view the world and everything and everyone in it and with this new worldview, commit to making wiser choices. Choices that come from a God-centered place within you rather than a fear-based place.
All things flow to and from just one Source. If there is disharmony, disease, lack of money, love, or anything in your life, it is not a result of an evil power, it is a result of ignorance and will disappear as you turn on the light of your God consciousness. God is all there is, and God is there to care for you and nurture you through all the changes of physical life. God is using you as a vehicle and extending a portion of itself from the invisible ocean of Spirit into the visible world of form.
As you know the truth, the light goes on and sets you free from all appearances of darkness. There is only God and God has declared all of its creation as good and only good. As these realizations of Truth take root in your consciousness, God as love touches every part of your life pushes out all the error ideas you have been taught in order to make you depended on someone or something outside of yourself. But God will not force more of itself into you. For more of God’s love to become a ‘living thing’, a demand must be placed on it from you, just as you’d turn on a light and that energy must be received and given out through you. Just as you’d turn on a flashlight and direct its beam to light your path. Affirm: “I am a willing channel of Divine energy. As I receive God’s love, I give God’s love sending it out to touch everything in life. I have a blessing consciousness.” Speak your affirmation and then rest in silence receiving and giving God’s love.
God is the great healer. Affirm: “God’s love touches every part of my life and I touch everything in life with the love of God.” For so it is. Amen.
How the Idea of Power of Darkness Came Into Judaism and Christianity
The ancient Hebrews are often given the credit for originating the concept of radical MONOTHEISM which is the belief that there’s only one Source of everything and that one power is good and created everything in its image and likeness, so it is also good. They called this one power Yahweh or All-Provider. This worldview is summarized in Unity’s foundation statement: “There is only one Presence and One Presence in the universe, God the good, omnipotent.” It's easy to say and difficult to live because of two things.
FIRST: While there is only one presence and one power, one of the characteristics of that presence is that is has an invisible side of pure energy (D. Chopra calls it the Field of pure potentiality) and a visible side of ‘form.’ According to physicists and metaphysicians, energy is dynamic and is in constant motion. It is either moving from the field of pure potentiality into form or from form back into the field of pure potentiality through the process of aging, death, and decay. To a superstitious or unaware mind this appears as duality. But it is not two separate things. It is two sides of the same thing.
SECOND: Because the eyes send ‘an image’ to the brain it tends to think in terms of duality. We seem to have a duel - thinking process: duel meaning two: good and bad; black and white; true and false; man and woman; right and left; right and wrong; positive and negative. But if you think about it, it is really the subjective judgment of the human personality that we’re talking about. Good is what I like and want to happen and move myself toward. Bad is what I don’t like and don’t want to happen and move away from. What I label as bad in my life is often what inconveniences me!
What we ‘think of as duality is really polarity’ or an unending circle of possible experiences and one doesn’t cancel another out. Life gives us a range of experience to choose from. So, right away as human beings, we are faced with a problem to solve; how do we believe and more importantly how do we experience only one power, when our minds tend to think in terms of separation, good and bad; GOD and EVIL? The world religions attempt to help us solve this problem. There is a great story in the Old Testament recorded in Numbers 22. It is one of the world’s oldest world teaching stories (origin is not Hebrew but much older) and it gives us an insight that is spiritually very helpful. In fact, it is my favorite Bible story.
Here is the story: The Israelites have come out of Egypt and have set up camp in the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan and opposite Jericho, which they are claiming as "THEIR PROMISED LAND", the land Yahweh gave to them, and the place Yahweh told them to go live. There is only one problem. There are already people living there. People who,aren't happy about the Hebrews eyeing their country and claiming that it’s ‘theirs by Divine Right.’ In fact, they see it from a totally different perspective. They believe they are being invaded. King Balak of Moab sees the Israelites spreading out over the land, like a swarm of locust and knows what they have just done to the Amorites, so he sends for a man named Balaam who has some local fame and lives in a country near the Euphrates River. The ancients believed there was great power in the spoken word. The King’s messengers are told to say to him, “I know that when you proclaim a blessing, people are blessed and when you pronounce a curse, they are cursed.” King Balak knows he can’t defeat the Israelites with military power, so he wants to hire Balaam to come and curse the Israelites.
In the Old Testament days there were a lot of rainmakers, etc. People made a living this way, but this is more than just divination and rainmaking for common people. When a King gets involved in seeking your advice and predictions, it becomes very dangerous and can get you killed. So, looking for a way out, Balaam wisely says, “I have to pray about this and ask God what to do and then I’ll tell you, my answer.” And of course, when Balaam prays, "God tells him not to put a curse on the people of Israel because they have his blessing." So, he tells King Balak that God told him to say “No”. But King Balak won't accept “No” as an answer and offers him more money. So, Balaam says, even if King Balak gave me all the silverand gold in his palace, I can't disobey God in even the smallest matter. But they make him a third offer and God tells him, “It’s ok for you to go but you can only go to bless the Israelites.” So, Balaam saddles up his trusty old donkey and heads out over the mountain, secretly hoping to find a place where God won't see him so that he can ‘curse’ the Israelites and get King Balak off his back and make some money. But of course, God knows what he’s thinking and has a different agenda. As Balaam and his donkeyare going up the mountain, “God sends an angel to stand in the donkey's way.” The donkey sees the angel, but Balaam doesn’t. When the donkey stops because the angel is blocking its way forward, Balaam hits it with a whip saying, “Get on you stupid beast.”
The donkey manages to squeeze around the angel, and they continue up the mountain. Then the angel steps in the donkey's way again, where the path gets narrower and again, Balaam hits the poor donkey who manages to move on the narrow path and get around the angel. But continuing up the mountain, they get to a place where the path becomes so narrow that when the angel steps in their way again, the donkey has no choice but to stop and lie down. Balaam is furious and hits the donkey such force that the Lord gives the donkey the power of speech to say, "Why are you hitting me? What have I done to you that you have hit me these three times?” Balaam doesn’t seem impressed that his donkey is talking and says, “Because you’re making a fool of me.” If I had a sword, I'd kill you." The donkey says, "Am I not the same donkey that you have ridden on all your life? Have I ever treated you this way before? “No”, Balaam answered. “Well,” the donkey said, “Can't you see there is an angel in my way?" And suddenly God lets Balaam see the angel who now also demands to know why Balaam has beaten his donkey three times, when the angel has come to bar his way on a journey, he shouldn’t be making in the first place. “In fact,” the angel says, “Your donkey in its wisdom turned aside. If he hadn't, I would have killed you and spared the donkey.” Balaam begs for forgiveness, realizing he was wrong to think he could out smart God. And the angel tells him to go ahead on his journey but to remember when he got there “to offer only blessings to the Israelites.”
Balaam still tries to find a place where he can curse them in order, to please the King and collect the money. But the angel seems to have put a spell on him and every time he opens his mouth to say something negative about the Israelites, only blessings come out. Finally, on his third try he thinks if he stands in a place where he can only see a small part of the Israelite force, he might be able to curse a small part at a time. But when he opens his mouth to speak, a blessing is still all that comes out of his mouth. King Balak gets disgusted with him and sends him home. In other sacred scriptures we find that later Balaam was indeed killed for ‘divination and sorcery.’
There’s a lot of wonderful material in this story but my point in sharing it with you is that the word used in the story for the 'angel' that was sent down by God, is a word that means, 'adversary in the sense of a problem.' The Lord sent an adversarial situation into the life of Balaam, 'Why?' Because Balaam insisted on 'expressing duality' by 'cursing and blessing,’ when God said, “Confer only Blessings.”
In Psalm 109, the same word is translated as 'accuser,' and later in the Bible, that same word gets translated into the word "Satan or Lucifer" and this is the translation used in Chapter 2 of the Book of Job, in which Satan, the adversary is given permission by God to go down and torment poor Job.
These are all rich stories, worthy of our study, but I'm only using these examples to point out that in all these stories, ‘the adversary’, was sent by God & doing God's work. This core idea of ‘one presence and one power’ was so strong in some ancient cultures that they couldn’t even conceive of a dark power, like Satan, being separate from God. For example, the Greek Eleusinian Tradition didn’t have a concept of an evil force at all. There was simply the way of nature, the seasons and cycles and everything that happens comes from that; that’s the spiritual reality. But something happened to some of the Hebrews that didn't happen to all of them that changed everything. In 539 B.C., the Persians defeated the Babylonians. This was a major event for the Hebrews because the Babylonians were the archenemies of the Hebrews. They had conquered them, and many Hebrews had been carried off into exile for many years. Then the Persians come along and wipe them out and befriend the displaced Hebrew people. How would you feel if you were conquered and dragged off and then your enemy was conquered and wiped out by a more powerful force, whose King then befriended you? Wouldn’t that be a great day!
The Hebrews who had been in Babylonian captivity loved the Persians for freeing them and punishing their arch enemy and so there began many years of cultural exchange between them. But there was something that the Hebrews received from their interaction with the Persians that they would have been better off without and that was an idea from the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism had a belief in a dark power that was separate from God. A belief in such a thing as a devil, that was not only present,but was just about as strong as God. They believed God and the Devil were eternally locked in a life and death combat. This idea is central to Zoroaster's teaching. So, into the beliefs of the Hebrew exiles, crept this notion of duality. They acquired a belief in a reality of a dark power, an evil power, that wasn't there before and that wasn’t part of the belief system of the Hebrews who would become the families of Jesus and John the Baptist who had been left behind in places like Galilee that had not been a part of the Babylonian captivity. There is now an adversary, but this adversaryis no longer an angel doing God's will. It is now a power separate from God and opposed to God's will.
This idea later becomes a huge part of the Hebrew theology taught by the Jerusalem Temple Priests, along with the idea of animal sacrifice which they also adopted. These ideas are what Jesus, John the Baptist and many others who had remained in Palestine and hadn’t been carried off and influenced by the Persians, were objecting to as the inclusion of ‘false texts and ideas’ into what they were forming into the Hebrew Bible. But the protesters weren’t successful in keeping these false teaching out and when the followers of Paul and later Greek Christians adopted these Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament, the idea of two powers made its way into the Bible. Just how prevalent is the sense of the devil as opposed to God? Is that a new idea to you? No, it isn’t a novel idea even to Unity people. Most of us were brought up with it. Most of us still believe it. Ask anyone who the devil is, and they'll say a being opposed to God. I saw a recent survey that said that 70% of the people in the U.S. believe in the devil while only 45% said they believed in God. If you really think about that, it's kind of scary. Is there evil in the universe? Is a snake biting a child evil? No. It just happens. It’s not good or evil. Is a bird falling out of its nest and being torn apart by a cat evil? No. It’s just the way of life and a part of the nature of life. That is exactly what the Mystery Traditions of ancient Egypt and Greece emphasized; the way of life; the way things are in nature.
Buddhism, which evolved from Hinduism is strong in this regard but while Hindus believe in good and evil, Hinduism isn’t a proselytizing force. They don’t go out and say, “Line up as believe and live like us or die and go to hell.” The goal of Buddhism is getting to the place where you can see things as they really are and not through the illusion, the Maya, the mental ties to material reality that cause us to form judgments such as that’s good and that’s bad. The bottom line is this: Millions of people have suffered and died because a proselytizing religion with a huge army adopted the concept of a good and evil and forced it on humanity. So, our question becomes: How do we begin to turn this proselytizing way of being around in ourselves and in our culture?
Our culture seems to have a great fascination with darkness. We like the idea of good being in the heart of evil. It's like we are instinctively trying get back to the original idea of Monotheism that the ancient Hebrew people had.
Luke Skywalker believes that in the heart of his father, Darth Vader, there is still good. We are all sitting there watching the movie and rooting for it to happen. We like the bad guys who are really, good at heart. We like our heroes to be like Indiana Jones, a rascal who is scruffy looking on the outside but basically a really, good guy.
I had the pleasure to visit the beautiful country of New Zealand and to speak in the Unity church in Auckland on Palm Sunday 1991. There are no dangerous wild animals, or reptiles there. Scientists believe there have never been. A child could walk from one coast to another and never be in any danger, except from other human beings and the elements. In New Zealand, all the major birds never developed wings. They have little wings, but they don't really function anymore. Why? Because food was so abundant, they had no natural enemies. This made their lives very easy. But scientists say the price they paid for this easy life was that they lost their ability to fly!
We were created to evolve and to keep moving forward to a greater good but human nature likes to settle in and become static, so we need ‘an adversity’ or ‘a cattle prod’ to keep us moving. Without something pushing us to move forward we might just become a culture of morbidly obese, unhealthy people with atrophied muscles parked in front of a TV. or computer. Without challenges to overcome, we will never realize that we are unlimited spiritual beings and that “He who is within me is greater than he that is in the world.” In the path of evolution, the species that survives is the species that can meet a challenge. The humans we’ve evolved from survived the big freeze because they moved!
Here are some interesting statistics. Traveler's Insurance Company reports that 80% of the year's 52,000 highways deaths occurred in what kind of weather? Wet? Snow? Sleet? Ice? That's what I would imagine. But that wasn't the case at all: 80% of the 52,000 highway deaths occurred with clear skies and dry roads.
This may have a great deal to do with the fact that when the weather is bad and the streets are slick, people drive with more awareness. They put themselves "MORE PRESENTLY" into their driving. When the road is dry and the sky is clear, there is more of a sense of laziness. Do you see how even the bad weather serves our awareness? Statistically, bad weather makes us better drivers.
The ancient Goddess and nature cultures understood God as the creator and maintainer of the universe, but also knew that there is an aspect of God that is ‘adversary, challenger and destroyer.’ It seems contradictory, doesn't it? But it's not. When you understand that ‘God is All,’ life makes more sense. It’s a lot easier to live without the ‘fear factor.’ For example: Gardens take a lot of work. You may use a shovel to dig up earth and as you dig, you upset many worlds. True, they are insect worlds and insect lives but you can see the relationship. You might even cut an earthworm or in half. You don't intend to, but it happens. Now, to those insects and that earthworm, “Was it good coming down, or was it evil?” Whenever we develop land to bring in business, industry, homes, we upturn ecologies. We change the land. We destroy a lot of life to do what we call good. So ultimately, is it good, or is it bad? I don't know, it depends on your point of view. Like the song says, “Sometimes you’re the windshield sometimes you’re the bug.” The act of creativity itself is first an act of destruction: a blank white canvas is destroyed by the first touch of paint. When a blank piece of paper is put in your typewriter its purity is crushed by the very first letter you type. The very act of creativity takes something and destroys it to what it was and changes it to what it will be. There's a sense of life needing to turnover, like we turn over the earth in our garden. The seasons change. Spring destroys winter and we're glad! You see the act of destruction is inherently a function of the universe. Is it evil? There are probably some who might think so. The coming of winter might appear evil to some, but it's really an act of a cycle of nature, a cycle of the universe. Is it evil or just God at work?
According to the story of Balaam’s Donkey, God says to call everything “a blessing” but human consciousness wants to curse what inhibits our ‘income, health or joy.’ What we call (label) it is up to us and our level of spiritual evolution. Are we going to fall victim to our own ignorance and call a room in which the light isn’t turned on evil? Or are we going to flick the switch on and say, “This is just God bringing me a little further on a journey, a Hero’s Quest, revealing some new aspect of my life and myself I need to become aware of.”
You either overcome this world with wisdom, love and faith or conform to it from ignorance and fear. Which is it for you? With free will, It's your choice. Your life is the result of your choices. According to the Law of Mind Action, “Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind’. So, bless your body and get health, bless life, and get more life. Know that you are always moving forward to a greater good for there is only God.
I like to close this discussion a story from ancient India. Once there was a Prime Minister who was also a great teacher who believed that whatever happens is for the good; that God chose it for good. In fact, he always said, "Whatever God does is for the best." The Prime Minister’s job was to travel around the land, talk to people and to report conditions back to the King. For example: A man came up to him and said, “Oh, Prime Minister, my life was so great. I had a son, and he had a wonderful income and supported me but then he died. What am I going to do for money now?" And when the Prime Minister said, "Remember, whatever God does is for the best." The man walked away, just shaking his head. A woman came to him and said, "I was barren, then I had a son, then he died. What am I going to do? And he said, “It's all, right, whatever God does is for the best.” She too walked away shaking her head. “What is with this guy?" Over time people really started to get irritated with his attitude and began to complain and gossip amongst themselves saying, “What’s with this guy? Why is he saying this? Is he nuts?
One day the King was at his royal barber getting a haircut and manicure. He was in the chair and fell asleep. While sleeping, the barber, while cutting his nails, accidentally cut his finger. It started tobleed profusely, everyone started yelling and of course the Prime Minster was called. When they told him that the King is bleeding, the Prime Minister said, “It's alight; Whatever God does is for the best.” Naturally, when the people heard that, they ran to tattle to the King. "Do you know what the Prime Minster said when he heard you were bleeding? He said, “Your bleeding finger was God's Will and that it is for the best.” The King said, "He, said that did he? Bring him to me!” So, they did, and the King asked him, "Is that true that when you heard I was bleeding you said, ‘Whatever God does is always for the best?” and the Prime Minister said, “Yes!”
So, the King said, "Throw him in jail.” And they did. Lying on the cold floor in his jail cell, the Prime minister said to himself. “Hmmm, well, whatever God does is for the best.” And so, he took advantage of the time and meditated.
In the meantime, the King decided to go out hunting. But since the Prime Minister was in jail, he went by himself into the forest where he was captured by an enemy tribe who believed in human sacrifice. They had been about to sacrifice a young boy, when they noticed that he was imperfect, and they couldn’t sacrifice an imperfect body. So, they let him go and went out to find another victim and found the King. They were about to cut off his head when they noticed that his finger was cut. They couldn't use him either since he was also imperfect and so they let him go.
The lucky King ran all the way back to his palace. In gratitude he ran right to the jail to thank the Prime Minister. He freed him saying, “Forgive me. I didn't see the wisdom in what you were saying. Truly, truly, what God does is for the best. If my finger had not been cut this morning, my head would have been cut off this afternoon. And the rime Minister said, “What God does is surely for the best, because if you had not cast me into jail, I would have gone with you on the hunt. And since my body has no flaws, my head would have been cut off. So surely, truly, what God does is for the best.” When the people heard the story, they were in awe of the Prime Minister’s wisdom, they stopped gossiping and complaining, and everyone lived happily ever after.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS
1. How prevalent is the sense of the devil as opposed to God? Is that a new idea to you?
2. Is there evil in the universe? Is a snake biting a child evil? Is a bird falling out of its nest and being torn apart by a cat evil?
3. Millions of people have suffered and died because a proselytizing religion with a huge army adopted the concept of a good and evil and forced it on humanity. So, our question becomes: How do we begin to turn this proselytizing way of being around in ourselves and in our culture?
4. What we call or label a condition or situation is up to us and our level of spiritual evolution. Are we going to fall victim to our own ignorance and call a room in which the light isn’t turned on evil? Or are we going to flick the switch on and say, “This is just God bringing me a little further on a journey, a Hero’s Quest, revealing some new aspect of my life and myself I need to become aware of.”
5. You either overcome this world with wisdom, love and faith or conform to it from ignorance and fear. With free will, It's your choice. Your life is the result of your choices. According to the Law of Mind Action, “Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind’. Which is it for you?
BONUS SECTION FOR MY BELOVED READERS.
Just some extra updated history I want to share with you from some of my favorite fearless historians that should be causing us to ‘rewrite our history books!!!”
Karen Armstrong was a Catholic nun, but she stopped doing that to write accurate history books for people like herself who had been taught untruths or half-truths. She writes in detail so her books are not for casual readers, but they will change your perception of all the world’s religions if you read her findings. From Karen Armstrong’s “A History of Jerusalem.” "The first millennium of Jewish history as presented in the Bible has no empirical foundation whatsoever. The kingdom of Israel is not mentioned in any contemporary text but only in the Bible.”
"We have not a stone of Solomon's temple. We have no evidence at all for Solomon and his kingdom. We have no contemporary textural sources which mention Solomon, and, as far as I am aware, he is not referred to in any other outside contemporary texts." – Jonathan Tubb (Curator of Syria and Palestine, British Museum)
"Archaeology has excavated nothing in Jerusalem from the supposed time of Solomon to reveal anything but a relatively low level of culture. As for the surrounding empires, if their records are any indication, they do not seem to have even noticed that Jerusalem was there." – Graham Phillips (The Moses Legacy, p5/6)
"In the Old Testament, history ended with the return to Jerusalem under Persian patronage after the Babylonian Exile." Also From Karen Armstrong’s book, “In the 8th century BC, the Assyrians were expanding into northern Palestine, putting an end to any ‘kingdom of Israel.’ The first Jewish monarchs that secular, history actually records anything at all about are King Omri and his son Ahab, who held the Assyrians at bay for a few years. Assyrian conquest was followed, in the 7th century, by the rise of a new imperial power – Babylon. Under its King, Nebuchadnezzar, the conquest of Palestine extended further south to include the ‘kingdom of Judah’, effectively ending the existence of any separate Jewish state. The tribal leadership of Judah was resettled in Babylon, under the eye of their Babylonian conquerors. Such forced migrations were not untypical of the period – removing the elite was a way to head off organized resistance in a new colony. But unlike earlier displacements, the Hebrews were resettled as a single group and remained free to meet, trade and own land.” Again, in her book, A History of Jerusalem, on page 80 Karen Armstrong writes "writes, "The exiles were settled in some of the most attractive and important districts in and around Babylon." The Jews had much to learn from the rich, cosmopolitan culture of Mesopotamia. Here they witnessed trade, commerce, and religion on an imperial scale. In Babylon the Great, walled ‘City of Wisdom’, there were numerous gods and no fewer than 55 temples. There was also a vast literature of religious texts, in particular the great epic of creation, the Story of Gilgamesh. There were also legends of the origin of kingship and moralistic fables. In Babylon, the Hebrew exiles began to call themselves Jews and they learned of rote prayer, dream interpretation, astrology, almanacs, and omens. For the first time, they encountered the notion of a personal ‘immortality’ and the idea of ‘resurrecting’ the dead. Impressed by the high culture of their hosts, the Jews adopted the lunar calendar of the Babylonians, and, like them, began their year in the Spring. In the Babylonian setting the Jews met in ‘gatherings’ (‘synagogues’ in Greek) for the first time. Leadership of these assemblies assumed a ‘Priestly’ character. One such leader, Ezekiel, kept the clan together by stressing the role in the community of this Yahweh Priesthood and how the ‘glory’ of their God, even without an Ark or Temple, was there with them in Babylon. Thus, Yahweh floated free of confinement to ‘sacred space’.
The chief God of Babylon was called Marduk not Yahweh, but for Jews from the bleak land of Judea the experience of his worship was a revelation. They would have been particularly impressed by the lifestyle enjoyed by the professional temple priesthood. In Babylon, full-time priests monopolized interaction with the supernatural and in consequence, enjoyed immense wealth, prestige, and power. And thus ‘Theocracy in Judaism’ was established in Babylonian captivity and carried back to Jerusalem to be written down as history and law by the Temple Scribes: "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." – Exodus 19.6. This new history and new slant on religion met with great resistance from those who hadn’t experienced the exile. Even when though those left behind much later experienced being conquered by Rome, in contrast, in pagan Rome, priests were part -time, co-opted to the honorary role and had other civic or military duties. They accepted and tolerated many beliefs in different Gods and didn’t attempt to force people to convert to any one system at that time. Though the so-called ‘Exile’ lasted barely half a century – from the capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC to the rise of a new dynasty in 539 BC– during this period the Jews borrowed extensively from their host culture. Notably, certain Priests (so-called ‘Prophets’) wrote texts, which explained the tribal misfortune of the Jews in terms of neglect of a particular deity to protect them and of the desirability of Priestly rule from Jerusalem. The Book of Eli’jah (literally, ‘God is Jehovah’) is a story set three centuries earlier. In this tale, the Prophet denounces King Ahab and his wife Jezebel for that most dastardly of crimes, having a barbecue for the wrong god. Just in case indignant words are not enough, the hero personally slays several hundred rival priests of Baal. The question is then asked, “But if fidelity to the correct god is the only way of keeping your skin, why does the ‘righteous’ man suffer?”
The Babylonians had an epic poem, which addressed this very issue from at least 2000 BC. A righteous man, Tabu-utel-bel, suffered unjustly at the hands of the gods and was stricken by a terrible disease. The reflective story is rehashed by the exiled Jews and rewritten as the Book of Job.
“Of particular significance, in view of the subsequent appearance of the newly written Book of Genesis, were the inclusion of Babylonian stories of a Great Flood (complete with a hero, an ark and animals); an Assyrian tale of a ‘Tower of Babel’; the early life of King Sargon of Samaria (who as an infant was floated down the Tigris in a reed boat and was subsequently brought up by a princess); and a tale of the giving of the law to King Hammurabi of Babylon by the sun god Shamash – 3,654 lines of text inscribed on an eight-foot high block of black diorite. Wonder of wonders, on this ancient tablet of stone, carved six hundred years before ‘Moses’, are ‘some fifty articles of the so-called Mosaic laws, the identity of which is practically verbatim.” (Bratton, p37)
King Cyrus of Persia endorsed a Yahweh cult in the satrap of Judea, which remained a Persian colony until the arrival of the Greeks and Alexander the Great. With the rise of Cyrus and the Persian conquest of Babylonia, an undreamt of opportunity was presented to the pious ‘elders’ of the Jews. Cyrus was a self-styled ‘Great King’, anxious to have all gods on his side for the conquests of his empire. This included a Yahweh cult in the satrap of Judea. Accordingly, many of the Jews (mostly descendants of the original exiles) were returned to the old homeland. A figure of 42,360 ‘together with their servants and two hundred singers’ is quoted in an official Persian document, several times the reported number taken into exile. These descendants were sent back under Prince Sheshbazzar to set up a temple to help the Persian war effort. Its design – a succession of courtyards set high on a hill, at its heart enclosing a ‘holy of holies’ – was inspired by the multi-level temple ziggurats (which ‘reached up to heaven’) that the Jews had seen in Mesopotamia.
Under the patronage of King Cyrus, and despite the local opposition of Jews who had never left, the ‘children of Judah’, established a theocratic colony on the Persian model under an appointed Persian governor. Persian rule of Judah would last for two centuries. Before the exile, Jewish religion – such as it was – had Man facing an anthropomorphic, capricious tribal God, who looked for obedience rather than worship to assuage his anger. It was, apparently, Abraham's unswerving obedience when asked by Yahweh to sacrifice his son that validated his choice as ‘Patriarch.’ But at least obedience was within the wit of man himself. Pre-Babylon, only the ‘tribe’ of Levi could be Priests and they performed the role of itinerant shamans. Post-Babylon, the hereditary Levite Priests were downgraded to menial temple workers and the Sadducee Clan took over the high priesthood. By abrogating to themselves the when and how placating and honoring the gods the earthly power of their priesthood was assured. The Hebrew theology was changed to reflect the new organization. Yahweh was elevated to sole god and was deemed to require endless animal sacrifice to placate his wrath. Thus, all Jews acquired a duty to bring offerings to the Temple Priests of Jerusalem (who were thereby freed of more mundane tasks). Not only did this give the priesthood their daily provisions and a major slice of the butchery business but also control over the lucrative leather trades. In time, tribute to the priesthood was extended to include tithes, dispensation fees and commission on money changing (only the ‘clean’ shekel could be offered at the temple; no other coinage was acceptable).
Taking their cue from Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion of Persia, the returnees brought with them not only this priestly monopoly and control over worship (and in a theocracy that implied control over law and social behavior as well) but also the notion of an evil god (Satan) as a counterpoise to good God (Yahweh). Similarly, for the first time Judaism acquired angels and demons. At this point also appears the curious tale of an idyllic garden (shades of Babylon), a satanic snake and a disobedient female – which nicely explained why life was full of wickedness, why women (who had previously enjoyed much freedom and social standing) should now be subjugated and even why there was death itself.
The Persians made no images of their dual gods, but for them fire represented purity and was an incarnation of the light god Mazda. On the other hand, ‘matter’ (including the human body) was created by the dark god Angra Aminu. In stark contrast, therefore, to the earlier influence of fertility rites of the Canaanite and Phoenician cities - the celebration of life - the Yahweh cult now became at heart, hostile to the physical body and especially the female body. Human sexuality was to cause the priests more distress than any amount of bloodshed. And bloodshed there was, as the colonizers (called the ‘Golan’ by the locals) drove out (and de-Judaized) the original inhabitants (called the Am Ha-Aretz or ‘people of the land’), whom they were forbidden to marry. The arrival of an organized priesthood acted as a brake on secular development which might otherwise have produced a local monarch, albeit one under Persian dominance. Both Nehemiah, who had been the ‘cup-bearer’ to the Persian King and Ezra, a lawyer who had been his ‘minister of Jewish affairs’, introduced interpretations and refinements of ‘the Law’ which kept Jewish piety compatible with the interests and security of the Persian Empire.
With a brutal ruthlessness, for example, Ezra commanded the returning ‘Jews’ to now ‘send away’ their foreign wives and children. ‘Membership of Israel was now confined to the descendants of those who had been exiled in Babylon and had remained of pure blood.’ (Armstrong, p102). It is historically documented that thousands of women and children were then expelled from Jerusalem and locked outside the city gates with no food or water to die in the desert, which they did.
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