Saturday, March 18, 2017

Revelation chapter 22 and the Egyptian Book of the Dead

above: text and illustration from the Papyrus of Nebseny, showing Nebseny and his wife Senseneb. British Museum.

My most recent book, Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible), examines hundreds of stories, characters, events and themes in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to show that they are based on the same system of celestial metaphor which forms the foundation for virtually all of the other ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories from around the world.

The book totals 766 pages, with over two hundred seventy full color images, including well over one hundred star charts showing connections between specific constellations and aspects of various episodes in the scriptures. Even so, due to the limitations of space, many important events and episodes had to be left out.

The apocalyptic literature in the book of Revelation is touched upon in one section, which deals specifically with events described in Revelation chapters 9, 10 and 12. An entire book could of course be written about the celestial metaphor present in the book of Revelation alone -- in fact, it would probably take up more than one volume. Therefore, I did not deal with the imagery found in the final chapter of Revelation, chapter 22 -- although it is of course full of important material worthy of study.

Recently, Moe Bedard, host of the Gnostic Warrior podcast and website, invited me back for another interview (you can find the previous interview, which was published in October of 2014, here). Moe asked me about a specific passage in Revelation 22, into which I had not previously delved deeply (as I had selected other parts of Revelation, which have more obvious and unambiguous connections to specific constellations, to study more closely instead, when preparing Star Myths of the Bible).

However, because it is a very important chapter, and because listeners to the podcast might be wondering what my analysis of Revelation 22 would contain, I promised to look into it further and follow up with some thoughts on the contents of the passage in question.

The final chapter of Revelation 22 can be found online in many places; one good resource where you can view this text in various translations is the Blue Letter Bible project online.

The verse in chapter 22 which Moe focused on in his question is verse 16, which reads: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." The translators of the King James version, which is cited here, italicize words which they added based on their assessment of the best syntax to convey in English what they felt the text was conveying in the original language -- thus, in the final sentence, the actual text does not contain the word for "and" in between the two titles, but simply declares, "I am the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star." That's why the final "and" in the sentence is written in italics.

The imagery in Revelation 22, like the imagery in the rest of the book of Revelation, can be shown to incorporate celestial imagery which points to specific regions of the night sky. For examples which support the argument that the text of Revelation consists of celestial metaphor, see this previous post  from 2012 discussing some of the imagery in Revelation 9, or this previous post and accompanying video from January of this year, discussing Revelation 12.

For example, at the beginning of the chapter, the narrator is describing what is being shown to him by the angel described in the previous chapter's ninth verse. The text begins:

"And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22: 1 - 2).

This river of water of life is almost certainly the shining band of the Milky Way galaxy, which features prominently in many of the metaphors contained in the book of Revelation, and which is described as a river in many other stories in the Bible (including the river in which Jacob wrestles at the time that his name is changed to Israel, in Genesis 32, which is discussed at length in Star Myths of the Bible), as well as in many other Star Myths from other cultures around the world.

For evidence that the Milky Way plays the role of a river in certain ancient myths and stories, see for example the discussion of the story of King Midas in the myths of ancient Greece found in this previous post from October 2014, in which I present evidence that the River Pactolus described in the Midas myths can be identified with the Milky Way band.

The river is described in verse 1 as proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb -- both of which can be identified with specific constellations discussed in Star Myths of the Bible, beside which the Milky Way flows: the constellations Hercules and Aries.

The tree in the midst of the river of water of life, described as being both "in the midst of the street of it" and also "on either side of the river," may well describe the constellation Ophiucus, which can be seen to be "standing" with one foot in the river in the star-chart below. The serpent which is held by Ophiucus, and which stretches out to either side of the constellation, is very frequently associated with a tree in numerous Star Myths from around the world -- especially the upper part of the half of the serpent on the west side of the body of Ophiucus (the "head-end" of the serpent, on the right side as we face the image below, in which the view is taken as though facing towards the south from a point in the northern hemisphere):

Many such examples of the upper part of the western half ("head-end") of the serpent of Ophiucus being associated with descriptions of a tree in various myths can be found in the Star Myths of the World series -- especially in Volumes Two (Greek mythology) and Three (the Bible).

However, as we saw a moment ago, the text of Revelation 22: 2 states very specifically that the tree in the "midst" of the river is also "on either side of the river," and so part of it must be envisioned as being on the east side of the Milky Way (that is to say, the left side in the image above).

If Ophiucus is indeed playing the role of a branching tree which stretches to either side of the river, then what stars in the chart above could represent the branches of the tree on the east of the river? I would propose that some of the stars of the constellation Aquila the Eagle may be envisioned as being connected to the eastern half of the serpent that Ophiucus is holding.

Note that the upper part of the Ophiucus serpent comes very close to the outline of Aquila -- and note that of course there are no actual "connecting lines" between the stars in the sky, which means that we can imagine a line connecting Ophiucus and Aquila if we want to do so, or imagine no line between them. There are many Star Myths which I have analyzed in which an "optional line" appears to have been envisioned by the originators of the ancient myths, such as those in which a connection is envisioned between the "head-end" of the serpent of Ophiucus (on the west or right side of the image above) and the "downward-reaching arm" of the constellation Hercules.

Note also that the rest of the description in Revelation 22: 2 goes on to describe the fruits of the tree as being twelve in number or in type, and to be produced "every month." Any time we find a reference to the number twelve such as this reference in Revelation 22, a possible explanation to consider would of course be the idea that the passage may be referring to the stations of the zodiac -- and indeed, I believe that this is a good explanation for this reference to the twelve fruits of the tree.

The confirmatory detail which the text provides in order to increase our confidence in this conclusion is the statement that the tried "yielded her fruit every month." The earth's annual orbit around the sun causes the sun to move through the twelve signs of the zodiac as we go through the year, spending about one month in each. Thus, the tree's twelve types of fruit, which are yielded each month, are almost certainly a reference to the zodiac band, which stretches out to either side from the base of the tree -- almost like fruit that has fallen down periodically, once per month.

Note in the image above that the zodiac band does indeed stretch outwards on either side of the upright form of Ophiucus. The constellations of the zodiac visible in the chart above are outlined in yellow, beginning with Aquarius on the left side of the image (the east side) and proceeding to Capricorn, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra and Virgo. These zodiac constellations, I'm convinced, represent the "fruit" that the tree of life has "yielded" (or "given up") each month, described in Revelation 22: 2.

There are many other examples of celestial metaphor in this chapter of Revelation, many of them using the very same constellations but clothing them in different metaphor. For example, in verse 8, the text tells us: "And I John saw these things and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to  worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things" (Revelation 22: 8).

In this particular part of the chapter, I believe that the same constellation Ophiucus, which was just a moment before playing the role of the tree of life in the midst of the pure river of water of life, is now playing the role of the angel, before whose feet John says he fell down to worship. Note that just below the feet of the outline of Ophiucus we find the constellation Scorpio, a constellation with a "bowing down" posture, and one which will sometimes play just such a role (of a person bowing down) in the world's various myths.

Immediately after this, the angel tells John not to bow down in this way, and then goes on to make a series of declarations, including the declaration in verse 13: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last," as well as the later declaration in verse 16 cited above: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star."

This series of declarations seems a little confusing, since at its outset it is clearly the angel who is addressing the narrator, but the unbroken series of proclamations then continues to the statement "I am the Alpha and Omega" and the declaration "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify."

However, I believe any difficulty is resolved by the understanding that we are still dealing with the constellation Ophiucus, a constellation which actually does have a few of its stars crossing the ecliptic path of the sun, thus qualifying it as being part of the zodiac band, even though Ophiucus is not normally associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac. For this reason, Ophiucus is sometimes described as being the "thirteenth zodiac sign."

This placement of Ophiucus, above the majority of the constellations arrayed along the ecliptic path, but still crossing with some of its lower stars into the zodiac band, undoubtedly accounts for statements such as "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." All of these statements are appropriate for a point on an endless ring or circle, which describes the zodiac itself. Any point on a circle can be described as being both a "beginning and end," or as being both "first and last" in a procession of figures arranged in a great circle.

When the one speaking to John then identifies himself by the specific name of Jesus and gives his descriptions as "the root and offspring of David" as well as "the bright and morning star," I believe we should also look to the constellation Ophiucus.

The constellation Ophiucus can indeed be seen as both "the root and offspring of David," if we understand that the figure of King David in the Old Testament is almost always associated with the powerful outline of the constellation Hercules, located immediately above Ophiucus. The evidence to support this assertion is provided in the lengthy examination of the figure of David found in Star Myths of the Bible, particularly in pages 145 through 157 and pages 515 through 542.

The image below, showing a painting by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), shows David in a posture that is almost identical to the outline of the constellation Hercules in the sky (and reveals that the connection between the figure of David and the constellation Hercules must have been known in previous centuries):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The constellation Ophiucus, being directly beneath Hercules, can be said to be the "root" of that constellation in the same way that a root of a tree is directly beneath a tree, and supports it from under the ground. Alternately, the constellation Ophiucus can also be seen as the "offspring" of the constellation Hercules, in that it is directly below Hercules in the sky and thus "descended" from it, metaphorically speaking.

Thus, the heavenly speaker showing these visions to the narrator in the 22nd chapter of Revelation, who in verse 16 explicitly identifies himself as "I Jesus," is also one and the same with the tree of life, which stands in the midst of the pure river of the Milky Way, and whose "fruit" is yielded up each month and identified with the circular band of the zodiac, and who is both "the first and the last" of that same zodiac ring, and whose leaves are "for the healing of the nations."

But what about the declaration that accompanies the description in verse 16 of the "root and offspring of David," the proclamation that the speaker is also "the bright and morning star"? There certainly do not seem to be any bright morning stars in the constellation Ophiucus, which is a constellation without any extremely bright stars, and one that is not extremely easy to locate (although once you know how, it is not too difficult, but instead extremely satisfying, to locate Ophiucus -- this previous post gives some tips, although you will need to look for Ophiucus during a time when the other constellations in the star chart shown above are also visible in the sky).

For help with this question, I turned to the indispensable Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880 - 1963), who in Lost Light (1940) argues that this phrase "the morning star" was anciently identified by the Egyptians with the star Sothis -- the Greek version of their name for the star we call Sirius, brightest of all the stars in the heavens (other than the sun itself, of course).

There, on page 545, Kuhn declares:
The morning star (at one time) was Sothis: the watch-dog that barked to announce the coming of the Day-Star from on high, as the ape clicked at the rising sun.
We know from ancient texts that the ancient Egyptians eagerly awaited the first morning re-appearance of the star Sothis or Sirius (the heliacal rise of Sirius) and began their year with it. For some explanation of the "heliacal rise" of Sirius, see for example this previous post from 2011.

The fact that the rising of Sirius in the morning marked the beginning of a new year in ancient Egypt (as well as in some other ancient civilizations), is a strong argument for the possibility that Sirius is indeed the "bright and morning star" mentioned in the text. Not only was Sirius eagerly awaited in the morning, but Sirius is also the brightest of stars in our heavens, and what's more, the heliacal rise of Sirius marked a new year.

It should be quite obvious that the start of a new year can be accurately described as "a beginning and end."

It is also perhaps significant that the constellation Ophiucus and the star Sirius are almost 180 degrees apart from one another in the void of space, meaning that they will rise about twelve hours apart from one another. By saying that he is both "the root and offspring of David" (associated with Ophiucus) and also "the bright and morning star" (probably associated with Sirius), the speaker in this passage is identifying not only with one particular point on the great wheel of the year, but rather with the whole thing (both halves of the ring).

But there is still more significance to the assertion by Alvin Boyd Kuhn that the identity of the morning star is the bright star Sirius, the morning star of ancient Egypt whose appearance marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Because the presence of that reference, in a passage in the New Testament which also contains a reference to "the beginning and the end, the first and the last," betrays a clear connection to the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt -- and the possibility that the imagery in this "New" Testament text has roots that are much, much older than is commonly understood.

And, on the very same page that he makes the identification of the morning star with Sothis, Alvin Boyd Kuhn cites a passage from a translation of the Book of the Dead as found on the papyrus of Nebseny (also commonly rendered "Nebseni") which contains clear resonance with verses in Revelation 22.

Nebseny was a scribe and probably a priest of ancient Egypt, believed to have lived during Eighteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, which is thought to have stretched from about 1550 BC to 1298 BC and to include famous rulers such as Hatshepsut, Amenhotep I, Amenhotep II, Amenhotep III, Akehnaten, and Tutankhamun, among others. Some scholars believe that Nebseny was probably writing during the period around the time of the reign of Thutmose IV, whose reign is believed to have lasted from about 1398 BC to 1388 BC.

The texts which we know today as the Egyptian Book of the Dead were not actually fixed in number or in order or sequence in ancient times, but appear to have been selected from a larger corpus of possible sayings or spells. The Pyramid Texts found in the pyramid of Unas, for example (who is thought to have reigned from 2375 BC to 2345 BC), which form some of the earliest texts which have been preserved to modern times, are actually versions of this same corpus.

The version of the Book of the Dead which was buried with Nebseny contains illustrations of very high artistic quality. There is some evidence for scholars to conclude that Nebseny might have prepared these extensive texts himself, which makes them especially interesting and poignant. They contain illustrations of Nebseny as well as his wife Senseneb, and three of his children (see discussion on page 279 in Journey Through the Afterlife, edited by John H. Taylor).

The papyrus of Nebseny is now located in the British Museum in London (I wonder what he would have thought about that), and has been since the 1830s. It was one of the first versions of the Book of the Dead to be translated. The first translation by Samuel Birch (1813 - 1885), from the 1860s, can be found online here. A translation into the French language from 1885 can be found online here.

The passage from the papyrus of Nebseny cited in Lost Light on page 545 comes from chapter (or "spell") 149, which can be found in its entirety here. It reads (in the translation by Birch):
Made the day of the month of festival of the Sixth and the festival of the Fifth, of the festival of the Lintel, that of Thoth, that of the birthday of Osiris, of Skhem, and the night of the festival of Haker, the mysteries of the Gate, and of traversing the secret place in Hell, prevailing against the Evil, pawing the secret valleys, the mouth and path of which are unknown, corroborating the Spirit who stretches his legs, to go his journey correctly or making a hole in it to pass through it with the God. No man sees it except a king and a priest, no slave's face looks at it. Every Spirit for whom this book has been made having come and gone round, his Soul comes away on the day with the living, he has prevailed as the Gods do, he is not stopped in true linen for a million or times. The Gods, they approach him, they touch him, for he is like one of them; he lets [them] know what he has done in this secret book of truth. There is not known any such anywhere or ever; no men have spoken it, no eye has perceived it, no ear has heard it, not any other face has looked in it to learn it. Do not though multiply its chapters, or do not thou let any face except thy own [see it] and eat thy heart, doing it in the midst of the Hall of Clothes, it is put forth by the God with all his power. It is a true secret; when it is known, all the providers in all places supply the Spirits in Hades, food is given to his Soul on earth, he is made to live for ever, nothing prevails against him. 
The wording as quoted by Kuhn is slightly different, and comes from a version contained in publications by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907), who lived before Kuhn and whose work Kuhn held in high regard (though Kuhn differed with Massey on a few important points). I suspect the version cited by Massey and Kuhn might have been Massey's own translation of Nebseny. It reads:
By this book the soul of the deceased shall make its exodus with the living and prevail amongst, or as, the gods. By this book he shall know the secrets of that which happened in the beginning. No one else has ever known this mystical book or any part of it. It has not been spoken by men. No eye hath deciphered it. No ear hath heard of it. It must only be seen by thee and the man who unfolded its secrets to thee. Do not add to its chapters or make commentaries on it from the imagination or from memory. Carry it out in the judgement hall. This is a true Mystery unknown anywhere to those who are uninitiated.
Massey had already noted, on page 726 of his Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World, the startling similarity between the language of this ancient text from the Book of the Dead and the passage in the Apocalypse of John (the book of Revelation included in the New Testament canon), chapter 22 and verses 18 and 19. Alvin Boyd Kuhn adds the further connection to the language of the writer who calls himself Paul in Ephesians chapter 3, and who (Kuhn says): "speaks in quite similar terms of a mystery made known to him 'which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men; as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit'" (545).

Kuhn also should have added that in 1 Corinthians 2: 9, the same writer Paul (citing Isaiah 64: 4) says, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love them," both passages being clear derivatives from the Egyptian Book of the Dead as cited in the passage above from the papyrus of Nebseny.

It would seem from these connections that the wisdom encoded in the so-called "New" Testament is in fact extremely ancient indeed!

And that is by no means the end of the parallels between the celestial imagery in the book of Revelation and that found in the Book of the Dead. There are many others -- and parallels to other parts of the New Testament as well. For example, in the version found in the papyrus of Ani, an Egyptian priest and scribe thought to have lived around 1250 BC (over a hundred years after Nebseny), the 149th chapter describes the ship which rows in the Field of Reeds, and declares, "I know the gate in the middle of the Field of Reeds from which Re goes out into the east of the sky, of which the south is the Lake of Waterfowl and the north is the Waters of Geese," and also says, "I know those two trees of turquoise between which Re goes forth, and which have grown up at the Supports of Shu at that door of the Lord of the East from which Re goes forth" (translation by Dr. Raymond O. Faulkner, found on page 121 of this version of the complete reproduction and translation of Papyrus of Ani).

This imagery is celestial, and has clear parallels to the celestial explication of Revelation 22 we have just been exploring. The "gate" in the "middle of the Field of Reeds" is the same constellation Ophiucus we see described as standing in the "midst" of the crystal river in Revelation. If you look at the star-chart above, you can see why Ophiucus often plays the role of a gate in ancient myth (many examples can be found in Star Myths of the World, especially Volumes Two and Three). The description of the "Waters of Geese" which are located to the north undoubtedly describe the portion of the Milky Way in which the constellation Cygnus the Swan can be seen to be flying, just a little ways above (that is, just north) of the constellation Aquila in the star-chart. And, "those two trees of turquoise between which Re goes forth" are undoubtedly related to the tree of life described in the vision of John the Revelator, as well as to trees described in the visions in the Old Testament scriptures, such as those of Daniel and of Ezekiel.

What, then, could be the message of Revelation 22? What are all these celestial metaphors trying to convey?

I personally believe that the best approach to the ancient wisdom contained in the scriptures, myths, and sacred stories of the world would be to seek those answers in the myths themselves, rather than to rely upon the interpretation of any individual. I believe that the myths (or our Higher Self) will tell us the answer, if we approach them in the right way (and I also believe it helps if we understand the celestial and metaphorical language that they are speaking).

I also believe that the message has many layers, and may be literally bottomless in its profundity, for any very ancient scripture or myth.

Nevertheless, in order to try to helpfully point readers what I believe to be the right direction regarding the verses found in Revelation 22, I would begin with some of the assertions Alvin Boyd Kuhn makes in the pages surrounding the observations cited in the above discussion.

He says, for example, that:
The Messianic Son came ever as the manifested and witness for the father, who had sunk his life in matter to reproduce himself in his next generation. According to Herodotus (2: 43) the Egyptian Jesus with the title of Iu-em-hetep was one of the eight great gods who were in the papyri twenty thousand years ago! He bore a different name according to the cult [in other words, each different "cult" or culture gave him a different name]. To the sages of old time the coming was a constantly recurring and only typical event. The ancient Messiah was a representative figure coming from age to age, cycle to cycle. He came "each day" in the Ritual; he came periodically; he came "regularly and continuously." He came once through the cycle; but his solar and lunar and natural types came cyclically and in eternal renewal. The Egyptian Messiah was one whose historical coming was not expected at any date, at any epoch. The type of his coming was manifest in some phenomenon repeated as often as the day, the year, or the lunation came around. The constant repetition of type was the assurance of its unfailing fulfillment. [. . .]
The coming was taking place in the life of every man at all times. Each man had his evolutionary solstice, his Christmas; and he would have his Easter. The symbols were annuals; the actual events they typed in mankind's history were perennials. In nature every process is but typical and repetitive. But it is typical of all other process of life in its entirety.
Horus, a form of Iu-em-hetep, was not an individual historical person. For he says: "I am Horus, the Prince of Eternity." Jesus was with the Father before the foundation of the worlds. Horus calls himself "the persistent traveler on the highways of heaven," and "the everlasting one." "I am Horus who steppeth onward through eternity." Here is wisdom to nourish the mind and lead it out of its infantile stage into maturity of view. Horus declares himself forever above the character of a time-bound personage, an indestructible spirit that advances onward through one embodiment after another to endless days. 546 - 547.
All of these themes can clearly be seen to be present in the passages of Revelation 22 we've been exploring, with their declarations of "the beginning and the end" and of the "bright and morning star" which marks the renewal of the year.

It should be quite clear that the book of the Apocalypse is not about a literal "end of the world" but rather about renewal, which is figured or "typed" in all the heavenly cycles,  and that it is not just about the heavenly cycles themselves but about the way in which these majestic and awe-inspiring heavenly motions convey to us truths about our own cycle of descent of the spirit or divine nature into matter (in our incarnation) and its elevation and restoration, which involves transfiguration and transformation (related to the central theme of alchemy).

As Alvin Boyd Kuhn reminds us in a related passage in Who is this King of Glory? (1944):
It is ever to be remembered that the "deceased" in the Egyptian Ritual is the living mortal, not the earthly defunct; and therefore its making its exodus among the living is a reference to its coming to full development in the life on earth. The great Mystery is of course the whole import and reality of life in the cycles, the secret wisdom that the soul picks up throughout its whole peregrination through the kingdoms of organic existence. It unfolds in course as the cycling spiral of experience extends. 408.
Our examination of Revelation 22 has thus furnished yet further powerful evidence that the ancient myths of the world are all closely related, and based upon a now largely-forgotten system of celestial metaphor.

They are designed to impart profound spiritual wisdom for our benefit in this life -- for our soul's uplifting, its renewal, its blessing, and its transformation.