Catacomb Resident Blog

Mysticism and Humility

05 February 2023

Some of you aren't going to get this, but I have to try.

There is a common misconception among western scholars that the mysticism inherent in the Ancient Near East is the same as western types of mysticism. They lump it all together as some evil thing, while they trumpet the rationalism of the West. The false notion is darned near universal among western church scholars. You'd be hard pressed to find a religious scholar who doesn't believe that nonsense.

They've never actually examined the record of what folks in places like ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia or around the southern Caspian Sea area (home of Magi) actually believed. This the cultural background that includes the Sumerians and Akkadians, from which culture Abraham arose. You can be sure Abraham was by no means a western rationalist, yet he clearly understood God on an instinctive level westerners do not.

The entire range of the Ancient Near East was possessed of the concept that there were two distinct realms of existence. Western minds do not hold the same degree of qualitative difference between this world and the spiritual world. I can't assert that all of the folks in the Ancient Near East believed in the doctrine of the Fall, but they seemed to conceive of reality in terms of the consequences of the Fall.

That means they considered humans inherently imperfect. But more to the point, they acted on the assumption that humans could not be perfected. They assumed it was utterly impossible in this life to achieve total enlightenment. They did not trust human intellect the way westerners do. They were always looking for a way to commune with spirit beings (deities, angels, demons, etc.) to gain limited specific insights, not whole truths. The latter would have been impossible to understand due to human incapacity.

This is the core of Ancient Near Eastern mysticism. They might debate all day long what's on the other side of that barrier between flesh and eternity, but they assumed the existence of that barrier. They never pretended they could know what's there, only that there was definitely something. This gave rise to a basic humility; only fools failed to embrace that humility, and always at great cost with such failure. Daniel's tale of Nebuchadnezzar's madness was a common theme in the Ancient Near East.

This is where parables and symbolism come from. All you can know about eternity comes from divine revelation, never from any human reaching into eternity from this side. The initiative is with those in eternity, always. And when the other side does reveal something, it is always essentially incomprehensible, so it can only be shared in symbolic terms. The vast majority of what literature exists is written in symbolism to show reverence for eternity. They were convinced the heart could know eternity, but the mind would never rise to that level.

Don't get lost here: The western mythology of the heart symbolizes mere sentiment, the repository of unconscious or semi-conscious conditioning. In the Ancient Near East, the heart symbolized a capacity to grasp eternity, a far higher understanding than what the intellect could do. Thus, a great deal of the literature assumes a struggle to get what's in the heart into the head as much as possible. They would say your heart already knows eternal truth, but it requires discipline to get the mind ready to make anything of it.

This is the essence of how the ancient Hebrews looked at things. This was a basic assumption; they could not take seriously any other approach to reality.

Now, the mysticism of the West is quite different. It seems no matter where you went among the ancient western cultures, there was a basic assumption that the human mind could be perfected, that ultimate enlightenment was possible for the intellect. Indeed, it is the preoccupation of western philosophy. It shows up in the ruminations of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle -- the "holy trinity" of the West. The Hebrews would sneer at the idea.

When you poll western scholars, it seems they uniformly assert that "mysticism" can only be the western brand, some esoteric pursuit of a shortcut to enlightenment. It's all mumbo-jumbo nonsense. To the Hebrews, who wrote our Bible, that's blasphemous. You cannot know God unless you know Him directly in your heart. The ancient Hebrew scholars would laugh outright at the notion of propositional truth. If the brain can grasp it, then it can't be ultimate truth. And the idea that truth is some self-existent static thing is preposterous in the Bible. For the Hebrews, truth is simply an aspect of God. Know Him personally and you'll know all the truth you can handle. Without Him, you cannot have any truth.

So it comes down to this: Jesus was a Hebrew man. He was most certainly not a western rationalist. You cannot cling to your western orientation and claim to follow Him. If you aren't a mystic, you aren't a Christian.

What happened to the leaders of Israel? When Alexander the Great came marching through Palestine, breaking the Persian power over the land, the folks who had returned from Exile there were quick to capitulate. No resistance at all. Since Alexander was such an enthusiastic evangelist of Hellenism -- the culture of his native Greece, including Aristotelian reason -- the leadership of the Hebrew folks at least gave the appearance of listening. For the most part, they rejected the immoral lifestyle of the Greeks, but were intrigued by the philosophical approach. During that early examination, they knew Aristotelian logic was quite different from Hebrew mysticism. But the Greek stuff appealed to their fleshly nature, because it made man a demigod. It was a man-centered belief system; man was the measure of all things.

That was around 300 BC, and in those few centuries before Jesus was born, the majority of scholars and rabbis had embraced the intellectual side of Hellenism. When you blend mystical Hebrew Scripture with Aristotelian logic, you get legalism. This is what Jesus fought in His ministry. Every debate He had with the Pharisees hinged on this underlying dispute between Hellenized reasoning versus Hebrew mysticism.

Today's Judaism is simply Pharisaism. It rests on applying Aristotelian logic to an inherently Hebrew mystical revelation. It rests on wiping away humility and inflating the self-image. It breeds incredible arrogance and a sense of privilege. Today, whether religious or not, Jews are raised thinking that God made them as the only real people in this world, and Gentiles will forever be fit only as slaves. And they get angry when any Gentile does not respond appropriately. That label "antisemite" means you dare to think yourself equal to a Jew. And should you possess the temerity to point out the arrogance and privileged self-image of any Jew, that's "antisemitism".

The essence of Hebrew mysticism is humility. The root command from God is that you take Him seriously, and don't take yourself too seriously. The rest becomes quite obvious after that.

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