Thursday, 18 February 2016

[Part 1] Revelations - Intro and Rev. 1 - The Seven Lamps.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
-Rev. 1:4

There is disagreement on the subject of who this John was.  Justin Martyr, in approximately 135 A.D., states that the author of the Apocalypse was the “beloved apostle” John. It is more likely that John of Patmos is a member of the group (at least originally) led by John, and the writings represent the teaching received from the Apostle John.

The apostle John is said to have been the son of Zebedee and Salome, and this might have made him a “step-cousin” to Jesus.  Little to nothing has been passed down to us about his early life.  When we meet him in the Gospels, he is a fisherman and follower of John the Baptist.  One day he is with John when he spots Jesus:

John 1:35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples [John and Andrew],
John 1:36 and as he looked at Jesus walking said: “See, the Lamb of God!”
John 1:37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
John 1:38 Then Jesus turned and, getting a view of them following, he said to them: “What are you looking for?”  They said to him: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
John 1:39 He said to them: “Come, and you will see.” Accordingly they went and saw where he was staying, and stayed with him that day; it was about the tenth hour.

What happened that day is not known, but after this John is often referred to as “the beloved apostle”, or “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.  As John had already “studied” under John the Baptist, it would probably be safe to conclude that Jesus felt John had a gift, and passed on to him some degree of “Oral Teaching”, like Melchizedek did with Abraham, and John the Baptist seems to have done with Jesus. This is describing the transmission from Master to student/disciple, "mouth to ear". One of the meanings of "to receive".

John never refers to himself by name in his Gospel.  He is always the apostle left unnamed, or referred to only as “the beloved’, in any given scene where he was present.  He is the only apostle at Calvary when Jesus was dying, for the others fled and hid.  What happens there provides insight on a special relationship between Jesus and John:

John 19:26 Therefore Jesus, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, said to his mother: “Woman, see! Your son!”John 19:27 Next he said to the disciple: “See! Your mother!” And from that hour on the disciple took her to his own home.

He is also among the first to see Jesus after he is “raised”. Acts hardly mentions him at all. They received the spirit (initiation) symbolized by the tongues of fire, and he seems to have gone off on his own more and more after the Ascension. Finally he leaves them entirely, and travels to Asia Minor to preach the gospel, where he was well received and had many converts. We know he was second only to Peter in regards to the organization of the early Christian church.  Christians in Asia Minor looked to him as Head of the Church, above Peter and Paul.  His considerable success earned him the attention of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who Eusebius tells us had him exiled to the island of Patmos:

CHAPTER 17Domitian, having shown great cruelty toward many, and having unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a successor of Nero in his. hatred and enmity toward God. He was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us. CHAPTER 18It is said that in this persecution the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word.-Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History…

It was here that he is said to have written his Gospel and the Book of Revelations.  Eusebius also tells us that he returned to Asia Minor after the death of Domitian, and in old age was the Bishop of Ephesus. Legend has it that he was as popular as ever at this late stage of his life and his congregations often asked him to preach, to which his only response was “Little children, love one another.” 

So what did he preach?  The Gospel of John is substantially different from the other gospels.  As has been explained, he had been a follower of John the Baptist before he met Jesus, with whom he had quickly formed a special relationship.  Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote biographies of the life of Jesus, John’s gospel is an exposition of the doctrine of the Logos.

The Logos (translated as “Word”) is defined as “the divine reason that acts as the ordering principle of the universe. Sixth-century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus asserted that the world is governed by the Logos, a divine force that produces order in the flux of nature.” (Concise Encyclopeida). Philo called it the Divine Wisdom that is inherently part of the world.

This doctrine is heavily influenced by neoplatonic and kabbalistic interpretation of Old Testament Scripture. Jesus himself said several times that he was not teaching anything of his own originality.  In fact, at the time of Jesus’ teaching, there were already groups living in the wilderness, practising what was being preached by Jesus and closer to civilization. The most important of these were the Therapeutes, Nazarenes and Essenes:

Philo's book De Vita Contemplativa (About the Contemplative Life) mentions the existence of a sectarian community of “worshipers of God" (Therapeutes), who had already formulated a definitely mystical understanding of the Torah as a living body, and this paved the way for a mystical exegesis of Scripture.

An important element common to both Alexandrian and Palestinian Judaism is the speculation on Divine Wisdom which has its scriptural roots in Proverbs 8 and Job 28. Here wisdom is seen as an intermediary force by means of which God creates the world. This appears in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (7:25) as "a breath of the power of God, and a clear effluence of the glory of the Almighty ... For she is an effulgence from everlasting light and an unspotted mirror of the working of God, And an image of His goodness" (Charles). In the Slavonic Book of Enoch God commands His Wisdom to create man. Wisdom is here the first attribute of God to be given concrete form as an emanation from the Divine Glory. In many circles this Wisdom soon became the Torah itself, the "word of God," the form of expression of the Divine Power. Such views of the mystery of Wisdom demonstrate how parallel development could take place, on the one hand through rabbinic exegesis of the words of Scripture, and on the other through the influence of Greek philosophical speculations on the Logos. – Gershom Scholem, “Kabbalah”

John echoes these ideas at the very beginning of his gospel:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God.John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.John 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

It is important to view it in context of the times, and in terms other contemporary literature.

"Early Church tradition dates the book to end of the emperor Domitian (reigned AD 81–96), and most modern scholars agree, although the author may have written a first version under Vespasian (AD 69–79) and updated it under Domitian.[11] -wikipedia

The most important point I have to make is that at this point, there is no such thing as Christianity, in any form that we think of it today. The "Jerusalem Church", comprised of James and Peter mostly, were still just a Jewish Sect, some members still seeming to enjoy certain priviledges in the Temple. (see "The Essene Odyssey", by Hugh Schonfield). I've mentioned Theurapeutes, but there are also Sadduccess, Pharisees, and Essenses. Not to mention, militant groups like the Zealots and Sicari.

"The divine chariot also engrossed the Qumran sect ; one fragment speaks of the angels praising "the pattern of the Throne of the chariot"3 . In Pharisaic and tannaitic circles Merkabah mysticism became a n esoteric tradition of which different fragments were scattered in the Talmud and the M idrash , interpreting ljagigah 2 : I . This was a study surrounded by a special holiness and a special danger."-Gershom Scholem, "Kabbalah"

The Essenes were the sect at Qumran, and the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among them are prime examples of Ma'aseh Merkaba (Works of the Chariot, or commonly, "Merkaba Mysticism"), "The Divine Throne Chariot" and the "Book of Enoch". This is the prototype for what became known in the 14th-15th centuries as Kabbalah.

The Qumran settlement was established during the Hellenistic period to live "apart" from the corrupting influences of the Greek world that more and more Jewish people were being seduced by. It was destroyed during the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 AD) (the Great Jewish Revolt).

"The Great Revolt began in the year 66 AD, originating in Roman and Jewish ethnic tensions. The crisis escalated due to anti-taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens.[3] The Romans responded by plundering the Jewish Temple and executing up to 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem, prompting a full-scale rebellion."- wikipedia

This culminated with the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the sacking of the city and destruction of the Second Temple. The Siege of Masada is now being dated to 73-74AD.

This history, in no small part, accounts for much of the imagery in the Book of Revelations. And it also spells the beginning of the Talmudic period:

"Originally, Jewish scholarship was oral. Rabbis expounded and debated the Torah (the written Torah expressed in the Hebrew Bible) and discussed the Tanakh without the benefit of written works (other than the Biblical books themselves), though some may have made private notes (megillot setarim), for example of court decisions. This situation changed drastically, mainly as the result of the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth and the Second Temple in the year 70 CE and the consequent upheaval of Jewish social and legal norms. As the Rabbis were required to face a new reality—mainly Judaism without a Temple (to serve as the center of teaching and study) and Judea without at least partial autonomy—there was a flurry of legal discourse and the old system of oral scholarship could not be maintained. It is during this period that rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing."- wikipedia

Another major work of Ma'aseh Merbaka (or the related Ma'aseh Bereshit - "Works of Creation") is the Sefer Yetzirah, or "Book of Creation/Formation". It's earliest known manuscript is from the 10th century. Scholem, however, dates the "language" of the text to the Talmudic period, and accepts it as an ancient Oral tradition, from, at the latest, 300A.D. This book will come up frequently in later posts.

I think John of Patmos, as a member of the group lead by John, is writing down the teachings of John in much the same spirit and fear that was the catalyst for the Talmudic period in general. Attributing the work to the Master is a long held Mystery School tradition.

The Seven Lamps before God is a reference to the Tree of Life.
The top three "sefirot" - Keter, Hohkmah and Binah are considered "supernal", outside the realm of human comprehesion, too subtle to be probed by the human mind.

Keter is also called Keter Elyon, “highest crown”, and together they are the "Three Crowns" (which is also related to the 3 "Yod"s of the hebrew letter Shin). Hokhmah means "Wisdom", and Binah means "Understanding".

In the "chain of creation", Binah gives birth to the lower 7 Sefirot, the part of the Tree of Life that can be comprehended, although still "above" the realm of Creation. Malkut represents the manifested physical World, what we call "the universe".  

In the "Christian" tradition, these 3 crowns are grouped together and known as "God", the "Godhead", and the "Throne" (where one "sits before god").

In later Lurianic Kabbalah, Hokhmah is Father (Abba), Binah is Mother (Aima), and in a different configuration the first 6 of the 7 sefirot become "Ze'ir Anpin", the Lesser Countenance (to the Greater Countenance/long face that replaces Keter), Arik Anpin:

Atik Yomin ("Ancient of Days") inner partzuf of Keter Delight. Arikh Anpin ("Long Visage") outer partzuf of Keter Will. Abba ("Father") partzuf of Chokhma Wisdom. Imma ("Mother") partzuf of Binah UnderstandingZeir Anpin ("Short Visage" - Son) partzuf of emotional sephirot. Nukva ("Female" - Daughter) partzuf of Malkhut Kingship" - wikipedia


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