[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
RIDING INTO JERUSALEM
The 21st chapter of Matthew — the Greek pseudo-Matthew which we have, and not the real or original Matthew, which has always been a secret book — commences with a somewhat curious incident.
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them. And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
And Jesus went into the Temple of God and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.
Chapter II of Mark gives the same story, but omits to mention the mother-ass and only refers to the colt.
In the 19th chapter of Luke we have the same story. The detail is given that the colt is one "whereon yet never man sat," and when the disciples take and loose the colt they are to say, and do say, as their justification, "The Lord hath need of him," (as in Matthew).
The same story occurs in the 12th chapter of John, which Gospel was published as late as 180 a. d. and may have been written only a short time before that. The cry of the palm-bearers is, "Blessed is the king of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord."
At one time there was a perfect mania — not without a deep purpose — for making everything possible in the Gospel relate to some Old Testament, that is, purely Jewish, "prophecy," as being the fulfilment of that prophecy. So we find that all this happens as the fulfilment of a prophecy in Zachariah, (Chapter 9, verse 9.)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is just and having salvation: lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
All this about a carpenter who had the amazing effrontery to ride on a donkey in semi-royal state into Jerusalem, as if he were other than a mere lunatic, has led some writers to declare that he was a lunatic. The other alternative is to become a lunatic oneself and imagine that the Jews or Romans would have permitted such an extraordinary demonstration for a single moment, if it were really history. Others have, quite legitimately, though not with any reverence for the Gospel narratives, asked why it was necessary to perform such a curious circus trick as riding on two donkeys at once, to show that the rider was the son of David or King of Israel, or whatever it might be.
Let us look at the story a little more closely. John goes on to give what, if we follow a suggestion made by H. P. Blavatsky, looks very like a significant hint to search for the secret meaning of it all.
These things understood not his disciples at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.
The disciples' failure to understand these things at first is an open hint that we are likely to be in the same case, and that if we dig deeper we shall find something interesting, providing we know how to recognise it when we see it.
For obviously, there is some quite important meaning in the incident, which bears the look of a symbolical initiation ceremony in some secret lodge of mystics. Again and again do we find in writings of the day and of later times that this story is so prominent that one may suspect the possibility of its being the most important thing in the whole Gospel. It is "the narratives that are as a cloak," to use the graphic phrase of a learned Hebrew mystic — they are not the Gospel itself.
We can find several ways of tackling this curious problem in the ritual stories of an early secret society, without even having to go so far as to find out if that society, or any remnant of it, still exists with knowledge of its symbolism.
One thing is to remember that very important fact that our Gospel is not, and never was, the real Gospel, the original Gospel, but that the original was Hebrew. Official theologians twist and prove and argue and assert that the Gospel was Greek, that Jesus talked in Greek, that it ought to and must have been Greek. They always try to make the facts fit their desire that it should have been Greek. Then you have the curious fact that the Gospels are written in such bad Greek that there were five hundred words that the philologians could not account for as decent Greek. But now we are told that they are hugely delighted at finding a number of papyri and fragmentary documents inside crocodile mummies of the earlier centuries of the common era, documents which use about four hundred and fifty of these words. Oh yes, it is jargon, of course, but it was the language of the common people, and Jesus was talking to the common people. He was a workman, a laborer, and they were laborers, and everything is as it should be, if not more so. He simply talked what we should call Yiddish if we were Jews referring to Hebrew; or Cockney if we are to think in terms of modern London; or a sort of Chinook, or gipsy language, perhaps; certainly not pure Greek. In plain language, they will have it that the gospels are written in a very common low-class Greek about equivalent to the language of a not-too-well-educated ranter in Hyde Park.
Plainly, it will not do. Initiates do not write such careless stuff. So let us suppose that our Greek Gospel is really a hash-up, to use a vulgar but expressive word, of the Hebrew original. There will be some words we can identify with some degree of probability.
The Lord in Greek is simply Kyrios. This word, in some such way as we are now considering, is twisted to mean Cyrus in the Old Testament, a couple of hundred years before Cyrus lived, so we have a good precedent. But in Hebrew it is Adonai. In Greek it might be called Adonis, the beautiful Syrian God, or in Egyptian, perhaps Aton.
Now the word for ass in Hebrew tells us little. But if you insist that it is a female ass you get, curiously enough, a distinct reference to the word Adon. We may say that in symbolism it is quite a good disguise to describe the God of the Jews as an Ass. Lest any should think this too much of a shock to ingrained ideas, let us say at once that the secret Hebrew God was an ass — a red one. He is the rejected Typhon of Egypt, the ass God. Whether the Jews ever came out of the geographical Egypt or not, they certainly were adherents of the old rejected god of Egypt that became with others a devil, and Satan, and the opponent of the good god Osiris. And this fact, and the word itself, link up the secret Jewish God with many a despised heathen God who is identical with him. You will even see the ass on the front page of the English comic weekly Punch. It is precisely the same thing, and has the caricature of the God on its back. There is obviously nothing more absurd in the Jewish God being a donkey than there is in the Christian God being a lamb or sheep. It is all a matter of the way the symbolism is understood.
In the Talmud Jesus is frequently referred to, and also Paul, but never by those names. The Talmud is the Hebrew Bible in its originally unwritten portion. It is now written, but is a huge mass of legend and teaching utterly incomprehensible to the outsider. Here Jesus is referred to as "That man," and Paul as "The other man." But another name for Jesus is Balaam. The origin of the name is obvious — he is the man who rode on an ass.
It is H. P. Blavatsky who tells us that Jesus in its secret meaning is simply man, in one of his principles. It is easy enough to see it when once we are told, because the Hebrew lettering, when read Kabbalistically, does mean "man," just as it does, with hardly a change in the word, in ordinary, everyday Hebrew. She goes farther and gives us another clue. She says that Jerusalem is the symbol for the body.
To cut the story short, this absurd tale, as it seems to be in a historical sense, turns out to be a most wonderful symbolism of man, each one of us, you and me and everyone else, conquering the red ass that is our lower, obstinate, dull, self-willed, positive, personal, undivine self — the self that always wants its own way, always wants to dictate, to talk, to be "intellectual," to enjoy itself, to think of what "I" have done and am doing and am going to do. Who does not know the million and one tricks of that desire-self?
But the Christ in each of us, the struggling Manas with the potency of Divinity, at last wins the battle. It does not kill the ass of its lower nature, but conquers it and rides on it into the kingdom of true life as a divine being. It is a glorious story.
Of course there was another meaning; there are always many meanings to every true symbol. (1) And one such meaning is that the Jews, the secret Jews, knew well enough that the mission of the reformed Judaism which later came to be called Christianity was to "ride upon the ass" of Judaism and transform it into a living religion, no longer the crystallized, material, dead-letter preserve of the Jewish priesthood.
The "Jesus riding into Jerusalem on an ass" meant, politically, that their occupation would have gone. No wonder they were up in arms against "Jesus" whether as man or symbol. They moved heaven and earth to recapture the Reformed Judaism for the Old Judaism. And whether they succeeded or not, we can soon discover if we ask ourselves the question, "Did they succeed in reimposing the Old Testament on Christianity or did they not? Do we or do we not today look upon the Old Testament as part of the Christian scriptures?"
However it may be with that political aspect, to the Theosophist the esoteric meaning of the "Jesus riding on the ass" is plain. We are the Jesus, each one of us, and we have to ride our red donkey and not let it ride us. One might go so far as to ask pertinently, "Is not the whole aim and end of Theosophy in practice, the conquest of the selfish Self and the enthronement of the Divine, Impersonal, Silent, Unselfish self?"
Supposing Christianity had limited itself to this one teaching as a thing to be carried out in daily life — not talked of, not mixed up with theology, not lost in a maze of dogma and sectarianism — the world would be a paradise today. You could call it Christianity — why not? But it would be Theosophy, all the same. For it cannot be repeated too often — original Christianity, if not the whole of Theosophy, was pure Theosophy and nothing else.
1. Cf. what Dr. G. de Purucker says on this particular subject in The Esoteric Tradition, Vol II, pp 1083-4 et seq: "It is to be noted carefully that in the Oriental Mystical Cycle of the Hither East, or what is now called Asia Minor, the Planet Saturn was frequently mystically called and figurated under the form of an "ass" — or rather the ass represented that planet in mystical symbolology. In equivalently mystical symbolology the "foal of an ass" was this Earth, because the ancient seers taught that this physical globe Earth was under the direct formative influence of the planet Saturn.
". . . The Spiritual Soul, the inner Christos, rides into "Jerusalem" — material existence on Earth — on an ass, meaning Saturn, and the foal of an ass, meaning this Earth, and the Monad, the Christ-Spirit, descending into matter thus, is crucified on the cross of matter . . . . "
See also in this same work the interesting footnote, No 458, which follows the above quotation. — Eds. (return to text)