Thursday, October 14, 2004

An Esoteric Interpretation of the Bible

In our country the most common way of reading the Bible has been a literalistic interpretation: the Bible means exactly what it says in the most literal, historical, and material way. Some modern interpreters have deviated from that procedure. One of the more creative approaches is called the esoteric.

Maurice Nicoll, an English psychiatrist, published a small volume in 1950 named The New Man, republished in 1999 by Eureka Editions. In this work Nicoll commented on some of the parables and miracles of Jesus. He presented the esoteric (I call it the mythopoeic) interpretation of these passages in the New Testament.

This small book (200 pages) together with William Blake's poems and pictures, opened up a new world to me. It's a world in which biblical material becomes meaningful and alive in a way it lacked with the literalistic interpretation.

As a small example consider the story of the
Marriage at Cana in John 2, especially the miracle of the water and wine. Actually there were three items representing three different levels of truth.

The first level is seen in the "six waterpots of stone". Stone represents the lowest level of Truth (also represented by the stone of the 10 Commandments and the stony altar in which Elijah tilted with the prophets of Baal.

The second level is seen in water. Jesus told the servants to fill up the waterpots with water. This represents a higher level of truth. We find water throughout the Bible symbolizing the truth of God. Remember when Jesus talked with the woman at the well about water and gave her a drink of living water.

The third level is seen in the wine. "This is my blood of the New Testament". As a symbol fire is much the same, as the wine of the New Man and the fire of the Holy Spirit (See Acts 2).

This sort of symbolic import runs through the Bible from beginning to end. Becoming acquainted with some of the most significant symbols can add immeasureably to the pleasure and profit you get from the good book.


Marjorie said...

Viewing the Bible as purely esoteric was a barrier to me -- I was not interested in reading it if it was only figurative. That made it too much like a novel in my mind and a boring novel at that (of course, I didn't know any of it other than the dumbed-down Bible stories one gets in Sunday School).

When I first started Bible study, I was a literalist (still am, I think much of the stuff did happen), but not an inerrantist. Even if the Word of God is infallable, we as humans are infinitely fallable, so I don't see any point in insisting a certain passage means a certain thing and can only mean that ('spare the rod and spoil the child' is a good example in Christian parenting circles. I mentioned to a conservative Christian friend of mine that 'rod' could mean guidance and not necessarily spanking your kids --that had never occurred to her).

I agree that the Bible is so much more than a literal account of things that happened (and it may not even be that, I just look at it that way, I don't think I'm necessarily right). Like you've said, its poetry, it conveys many things and what is truly wonderful about it is that as you study it, the meanings and messages deepen. At this point, even if it is only literature, like a novel, its fascinating. Personally, though, I don't think its literature, I think its Life.

Larry said...

Thanks for the insightful comment. I agree it would be very foolish "viewing the Bible as purely esoteric". There's no question in my mind that some of the things reported in the Bible "really" happened. All of the things? Well I don't know, and I couldn't believe that all of the things reported in the Bible "really" happened in a purely material sense; to me that would be equivalent to checking my brains at the door. No doubt a literalist would accuse me of intellectual pride. But, paraphrasing our esteemed President, God has told me to view the Bible critically, as a series of books written by many people rather than as directed by Him/Her/It.

I think that to view it ONLY as materially and literally true is to forsake the spiritual dimension of meaning and, for that matter, your own spiritual dimension.

The Bible is a spiritual book pointing us to spiritual realities, which can only be done using material metaphors. We won't be in this world forever, and God has used the Bible to prepare us for another kind of life. So "we look not at things that are seen, but the things not seen, for the things that are seen are passing, but the things unseen are eternal." (2nd Corinthians 4:18.

More to come.

Larry said...

Well I flunked that hyperlink. I find that kind of stuff excruciating difficult (I'm just a mechnical idiot).

When it comes to ideas and values, that's a different thing.
Literature or life? No, it's not an either/or proposition, it's great literature, and it contains the words of life.

Marjorie said...

While I consider myself a literalist, maybe I'm a flexible literalist, because I would never accuse you of intellectual pride for not 'buying' some of the events in the Bible. One thing seems certain, the scientists I know have a bit of a problem with the bodily resurrection (matter doesn't just disappear said a physicist). I don't have a problem with it, neither do I have a problem with people who don't buy it. I have the biggest problem with people who don't read the Bible but judge it as useless, thats my intellectual pride and a bit of self-directed loathing, I suppose, since I was one of those people. I'm working on this issue...

I have the darnedest time putting a hyperlink into the comment section [and I followed the help guidelines precisely!] -- I botched the attempt several times in a different comment, finally I just said go to my blog and look at this post.

Larry said...

Kindred spirits, Sparky!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Simon Harrison said...

Nice blog, I have been studying the works of Neville Goddard over the past few years and he says the bible is not historical fact but a psychological drama. He also quotes William Blake. I personally don't know whether the events recorded actually took place or not but I have found what I was looking for.