Theosophy – November 1896

THEOSOPHY IN THE APOCRYPHA: I — Katharine Hillard

I. ESDRAS.

The word Apocrypha means hidden, or secret, i. e., esoteric, and is applied to fourteen books originally published with the Old Testament, but now omitted, as they are not recognized as canonical by the English Church. The Roman Catholic Church admits most of them, the Greek Church admits them all. They are too little studied by theosophists, for they are full of wisdom and beauty, and rightly bear the name of the secret or esoteric teaching, and they need no endorsement of church or state to those who are familiar with them.

The most important, to us at least, are the two books of Esdras (identified with Ezra and a continuation of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament), the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. From the two latter Dante drank deep draughts of inspiration, and his descriptions of Beatrice are full of quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon. I shall not try to unravel the meanings of the seven wonderful visions of Esdras in this brief paper, but only endeavor to point out a few striking instances of the theosophical ideas in these books.

The Wisdom of Solomon was said by the Fathers to have been written by Philo, called Judaeus, but this point is much disputed. Philo was a Pythagorean and Platonist, and his teachings were those of Theosophy as to the doctrine of the Absolute; he wrote of the Logos as a synthesis of the creative forces of Nature, and taught the dual nature of man and reincarnation, and his writings are at least in accordance with the books above mentioned, even if he wrote none of them.

The first book of Esdras is chiefly historical, like Ezra and Nehemiah, but Esdras II. is apocalyptic and full of beautiful and significant passages. Not to mention the vision of Ch. II., the idea of primitive man as an unreasoning animal is distinctly set forth in v. 5 of Ch. III., which says:

"Thou gavest a body unto Adam without soul, which was the workmanship of thy hands, and didst breathe into him the breath of life, and he was made living before thee. And unto him thou gavest commandment to love thy way [nothing said here of anything more than an observance of natural law], which he transgressed, and immediately thou appointedst death in him and in his generations."

In Ch. IV. we have the beautiful parable of the forests and the sea, and in v. 28-30, comes what might be a description of the Kali-Yuga.

"The evil is sown, but the destruction thereof is not yet come. If therefore that which is sown be not turned upside down, and if the place where the evil is sown pass not away, then cannot it come that is sown with good. For the grain of evil seed hath been sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning."

We cannot have reconstruction without destruction, and the nature itself must suffer change before the better harvest can be planted. Here we have clearly suggested too, the dual nature of man, and the doctrine of Karma. Unless the grain be uprooted, the necessary harvest must follow the sowing, and in the first of men was implanted the capacity for sin, as well as the capacity for right-doing.

It would take too long to go through the whole book, but it is an interesting fact that Esdras refers to the gradual decrease of stature in the races.

"Ye are of less stature than those that were before you," he says, "and so are they that come after you less than ye." (1) And he refers in Ch. VII. to that primitive state of innocence when "the entrances of the elder world were wide and sure, and brought immortal fruit," but when mankind had fallen into sin, "then were the entrances of this world made narrow, full of sorrow and travail: they are but few and evil, full of perils and very painful."

In the same chapter the prophet refers to the pralaya of seven "days":

"And the world shall be turned into the old silence, seven days, like as in the former judgments [indicating former periods of repose]. And after seven days, the world that yet awaketh not, shall be raised up, and that shall die that is corrupt. And the earth shall restore those that are asleep in her, and so shall the dust those that dwell in silence, and the secret places shall deliver those souls that were committed unto them." So is it said in the Sacred Slokas: "The thread of radiance which is imperishable and dissolves only in Nirvana, reemerges from it in its integrity on the day when the Great Law calls all things back into action." (2)

Then Esdras, moved by the thought of all the sin and suffering that must be in the world, before the promised glory should return, asks the old question, "Why do we live at all?"

"It had been better not to have given the earth unto Adam, or else when it was given him, to have restrained him from sinning."

And the Voice that was like "the sound of many waters," that spoke to him in the visions of the night, answered him with the doctrine of the Cycle of Necessity.

"This is the condition of the battle, which man that is born upon the earth shall fight; that if he be overcome, he shall suffer as thou hast said; but if he get the victory, he shall receive the thing that I say." "Therefore, O Arjuna, resolve to fight," says Krishna.

When Esdras had prepared himself by prayer and fasting for spiritual illumination, a full cup was reached to him, "which was full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire. And 1 took it and drank; and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory."

Of the two hundred and four books that the five swift scribes wrote at his dictation, he was told to publish the first openly, but to keep the seventy last, "that thou mayst deliver them only to such as be wise among the people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge."

"I shall light a candle of understanding in thy heart," said the Voice, "which shall not be put out till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write."

FOOTNOTE:

1. Esdras II., Ch. V., 54-55. The Wisdom of Solomon, Ch. XIV., v. 6, speaks of "the old time, when the proud giants perished." (return to text)

2. Secret Doctrine II., 80. (return to text)


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