Monday, May 19, 2014

Does the Bible teach reincarnation?

Previous posts have presented evidence that the ancient scriptures and sacred teachings of the world are all founded upon celestial allegory -- see for example:

Previous posts have also provided evidence that one of the reasons that the ancient sacred traditions of the world chose to use the motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets to convey their esoteric message is that those motions provide an almost perfect analogy for the successive incarnation of the soul (when they set, plunging into the western horizon and hence into the mire and clay of the material realm), as well as the triumphant exultation of the soul as it rises again at the end of each successive incarnation into the freedom of the heavenly realm of air and fire.  For posts which lay out the evidence for this argument, see for example:
These posts provide plenty of exposition of the metaphors found in the ancient myths to support the thesis that they taught a vision of the human experience which involved the descent and incarnation of a pre-existing soul, the survival of that soul, and some number of repetitions of the incarnation process (i.e., reincarnation).

Those posts, and the new book The Undying Stars, also argue that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament reveal themselves to be close kin to the other sacred traditions of the world, in that they also consist of beautiful celestial allegories, and they also teach the descent and incarnation of a pre-existing soul, the survival of that soul, and some form of reincarnation.  

This thesis, of course, is completely at odds with the conventional teaching that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments differ markedly from the "pagan" mythologies, in that (among other things) they purport to describe historical, literal personages (rather than gods, goddesses, and other supernatural beings who personify forces of nature, which is the way "pagan" mythology is usually described in the conventional view), and in that the Old and New Testament supposedly teach that men and women live only once, and afterwards face judgement followed by an eternity in either heaven or hell (some traditions would argue that the Old Testament does not teach such a doctrine, but it is safe to say that the vast majority of the literalist Christian traditions do teach such a doctrine, and have for centuries argued that the Old Testament scriptures support them in their teaching of that doctrine).

The thesis that the Old and New Testaments are also allegorical, celestial, and meant to convey an esoteric message which includes reincarnation breaks down the wall which the literalists have erected between their literalist faith and the ancient traditions of nearly all of the world's other cultures.

But, is it really possible to claim that the Old and New Testaments can be interpreted as open to the doctrine of reincarnation -- or even that they positively intended to convey such a teaching?

In fact, it is quite possible to support such a claim.  

First, as some of the discussions in the previous posts linked above should demonstrate, the evidence that the Old and New Testaments are built upon celestial metaphor is extremely strong, and almost impossible to deny.  Thus, even if one cannot find any literal expression of reincarnation teaching in the texts themselves, it is possible to argue that the esoteric interpretation of these astronomical metaphors involves the teaching of successive incarnation of the soul in a body, as the second set of previous posts linked above all argue.

Beyond that, however, there are passages in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments which appear to indicate that reincarnation was once an aspect of the message they intended to convey, and that it was only later that the literalist doctrine -- with its full-scale denial of the doctrine of reincarnation, and declaration that such a doctrine constitutes heresy -- arrived on the scene.  

For instance, Chris Carter (author of Science and Psychic Phenomena, Science and the Near-Death Experience, and Science and the Afterlife Experience), points out in Science and the Afterlife Experience that "there are at least two references to reincarnation in the New Testament" (footnote on page 19).  He explains:
At one point the disciples ask Jesus if a blind man sinned in a previous life, and Jesus did not rebuke them (John 9:1-2); at another point Jesus describes John the Baptist as the prophet Elijah reborn (Matthew 11:11-15).  footnote, page 19.
Both of these examples are extremely notable, and worthy of careful consideration. Additionally, there is another passage in the New Testament in which Jesus has an opportunity to denounce the possibility of reincarnation, and again (as in John 9) does not do so, and that is the story concerning the "confession of Peter."  Here is the account as it is recorded in the gospel of Mark, chapter 8:
And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?
And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.  Mark 8:27-28.
At this point, if the concept of reincarnation were truly as erroneous and dangerous as the literalist church later portrayed it to be, we might expect the text to inform us that Jesus set the disciples straight by saying words to the effect that the people were way off base with those speculations, and that there is no such thing as reincarnation, and he is very disappointed that anyone would think that he could possibly be Elias (that is, Elijah) or "one of the prophets," come back again in a new incarnation.  

But, the text does not say anything of the sort.  Instead, the next verse tells us that Jesus then asks them "But whom say ye that I am?" and this is answered by Peter in his "confession of Christ," in which Peter says: "Thou art the Christ" (Mark 9:29).

In Lost Light, Alvin Boyd Kuhn points to a very significant verse in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah -- a book which literalists often argue contains  a series of specific prophecies relating to the incarnation of a literal, historical Christ.  One of the oft-quoted chapters of Isaiah in this regard is Isaiah 53, a chapter which contains the well-known passage: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" -- beautiful and comforting and timeless teachings, although perhaps misinterpreted by the literalists these many centuries in some of the applications to which that they put these scriptures and other scriptures.

Later in the same chapter, verse 9 tells us: "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."

Strangely enough, the translators of the 1611 Authorized Version (often called the "King James Version") place a textual note here at the word "death" in verse 9, where they are candid enough to inform the reader that the original Hebrew actually reads "deaths" at this point:

If the Hebrew text actually says "deaths," then why would the 1611 translators render it as "death" in their English translation, instead of "deaths" the way the original scriptures say? Isn't strict accuracy of translation of the original texts considered extremely important to many literalists?   

One extremely obvious possible reason that this word is translated as "death" instead of "deaths" (even though the original Hebrew text admittedly reads "deaths") is that such a translation clearly invites a re-incarnational interpretation!  Had the King James Translators used "deaths," the verse would read: "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his deaths."

Alvin Boyd Kuhn remarks:
Here is invincible evidence that the word carries the connotation of "incarnations," for in no other possible sense can "death" be rationally considered in the plural number.  In one incarnation the Christ soul is cast among the wicked; in another among the rich.  This is a common affirmation of the Oriental texts.  And his body is his grave.  Lost Light, 173.
These prominent examples, from both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures, strongly suggest that the scriptures as originally taught, and as originally understood, were intended to teach a message of reincarnation, or successive incarnation -- but that later doctrine (literalist doctrine) arose which sought to suppress their allegorical, esoteric nature and to instead substitute a rigid literal interpretation of all the teachings (a literal interpretation such as the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell, which almost certainly has an esoteric and non-literal meaning, if one knows how to read the scriptures according to the system of metaphor which they and all the world's other sacred traditions anciently employed, as discussed here).   

Even more powerful evidence in support of this theory (if more powerful evidence is possible than that described above) can be found in the ancient texts which were rejected by the literalists in the formation of their canon of the New Testament, for example in the various gnostic texts which were declared to be the "invention of heretics" by literalist leaders during their struggle to marginalize and anathematize gnosticism and the gnostic teachers.  

Some of these texts, most of them now completely unfamiliar due to the fact that they were condemned by the literalists in the fourth century and lost to humanity during all the intervening centuries, were unearthed at the base of a cliff near the current Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi in the middle of the twentieth century.  They were probably condemned and rejected from the canon by the literalists because their teachings are either openly gnostic or because some of the stories they incorporate are so bizarre that they cannot possibly be interpreted literally, and must be esoteric in nature.  Some of them rather strongly suggest that a doctrine of successive incarnation was part of early teaching among those that the literalists later suppressed.  

Whatever community cherished these texts in ancient times probably took them to that remote location, sealed them in a jar and buried them some time during the fourth century AD, the same time that the literalists were forbidding "heretical" texts and persecuting those who taught from them or even kept such texts.  Perhaps those who buried them hoped someday to come back and retrieve them, or perhaps they simply could not bear to destroy them.  For whatever reason, they apparently never did come back for the buried library of codices, and they were preserved in their secret location for sixteen hundred more years before coming to light.

For example, in the Apocryphon of John (a title which could also be rendered "The Secret Teaching of John" or "The Secret Revelation of John") -- which is found twice in the Nag Hammadi library, in two slightly different versions (not being literalists, those originally in possession of the Nag Hammadi library apparently had no problem having different versions of a similar story or account).  In this text, the author (taking the persona of John) describes a vision after the teacher has ascended in which the heavens appear to open and a being descends, whom the text says is "the Spirit" but to whom John puts questions, often addressing it or him as "Christ" (or, in some versions of the Apocryphon of John, as "Lord").  This divine teacher at one point expresses a teaching which appears to establish a doctrine of reincarnation.  

Here is the "short version" of the two found in the Nag Hammadi library, which matches a version of the Apocryphon of John which did in fact survive outside of the Nag Hammadi jar and had already been known to scholars (part of the Berlin Codex, BG 8502,2).  In section 23, for example, the text says:
I said, "Christ, when the souls leave the flesh, where will they go?"
He laughed and said to me, "To a place of the soul, which is the power that is greater than the counterfeit spirit.  This (soul) is powerful.  It flees from the works of wickedness and it is saved by the incorruptible oversight and brought up to the repose of the aeons."
I said, "Christ, what about those who do not know the All -- what are their souls or where will they go?"
He said to me, "In those, a counterfeit spirit proliferated by causing them to stumble.  And in that way he burdens their soul and draws it into works of wickedness, and he leads it into forgetfulness.  After it has become naked in this way, he hands it over to the authorities who came into being from the Ruler.  And again they cast them into fetters.  And they consort with them until they are saved from forgetfulness and it receives some knowledge.  And in this way, it becomes perfect and is saved."
I said, "Christ, how does the soul become smaller and enter again into the nature of the mother or the human?"
He rejoiced when I asked this, and he said, "Blessed are you for paying close attention!  
[. . .]"
Clearly, these teachings are conveying something that seems very alien to those familiar with the literalist interpretation of the ancient scriptures but unfamiliar with texts which the literalists long ago condemned.  Although there is much here that clearly pertains to more than just the topic at hand, the passage can certainly be interpreted as teaching the possibility of multiple incarnations.  Note the teaching that the souls of those who do not yet "know the All" after they leave the flesh are described as undergoing "forgetfulness" followed by being "again cast into fetters."  This phrase is almost certainly describing incarnation -- that is to say, "imprisonment" of the soul in this body of flesh and blood.  Following this passage, the divine speaker (Christ or the Spirit) explains the way the the soul which is cast again into incarnation can encounter "another who has the Spirit of Life in it," and can follow and obey and then "be saved," after which "of course it does not enter into another flesh."

There are other ancient gnostic texts which also demonstrate that the concept of successive cycles of incarnation was accepted and taught, prior to being suppressed by those who were promoting a new approach to the scriptures, one which rejected the fact that they are esoteric in nature, and who taught that they must be interpreted literally and not esoterically.  They worked hard to eradicate the teachings and the texts which would show that this literal approach was in actuality the novel approach, but some passages in the New Testament -- and especially the verse in the Old Testament scroll of Isaiah discussed above -- survive to tell the tale of how the original intent of the scriptures was not what we have been led to believe.

The fact that the Bible has clear signs of once containing a doctrine of successive incarnation -- and their employment of the very same system of celestial allegory (albeit with different actors playing the metaphorical roles, in different costumes and upon different "stage") -- shows that the ancient scriptures of the Old and New Testament are very much part of the same continuity of ancient wisdom which flows through the sacred myths of the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks, the Norse, the Maya, the Inca, and the Pacific Islands, and which informs the teachings of the ancient civilizations of India, China, Tibet, and many other cultures around the world.

It is the literalist interpretation which is relatively "new" and which seeks to cut the Biblical scriptures off from the rest of humanity -- and that interpretation may not be sustainable based upon the scriptures themselves.