19. Monotheistic Tradition and the Patriarchs of the Desert

Revelation is as ancient as conscious humanity. The fruit of inspiration, it arises out of the night of time. If one examines carefully the sacred books of Iran, India and Egypt, one will assure oneself that the basic ideas of esoteric teaching form its hidden but deep foundation. In esoteric teaching is found the invisible soul and the generating element of these great religions. All powerful initiators have perceived in one moment of their lives the radiance of central truth, but the light which they drew from it was refracted and colored according to their genius, their mission, their particular time and place.

We have experienced the Aryan initiation with Rama, the Brahmanic with Krishna and that of Isis and Osiris with the priests of Thebes. After all this, shall we deny that the non-material element of the Supreme God, which constitutes the basic tenet of monotheism and the unity of nature, was known to the Brahmans and priests of Ammon-Ra? Doubtless they did not picture the world as born in an instantaneous act, by a whim of Divinity, as do some theologians. But wisely and gradually, by way of emanation and evolution, they traced the visible from the invisible, the universe from the unfathomable depths of God. Male and female dualism came from primitive oneness, the living trinity of man and the universe from creative dualism, and so forth. The holy numbers made up the eternal work, the rhythm and tool of Divinity. Contemplated with more or less clarity and power, they evoked in the soul of the initiate the internal structure of the world through his being just as the exact note obtained by means of a bow from a glass covered with sand traces in miniature the harmonious forms of vibrations which fill the vast kingdom of the air with their sonorous waves.

But the esoteric monotheism of Egypt never passed outside the sanctuaries. Its sacred science remained limited to a small minority. The enemies from outside began to break in upon this ancient rampart of civilization. During the period we have come to, the 12th century B.C., Asia was sinking into the cult of matter. Already India was moving with rapid strides toward her decadence. A great empire had arisen on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. Babylon, that colossal and mighty city, astonished the nomadic peoples who roamed about it. The rulers of Assyria proclaimed themselves lords of the four kingdoms of the world and strove to establish the boundaries of their dominions at the very ends of the earth itself. They crushed peoples, deported them in hordes, conscripted them and pitted them against one another. Neither the rights of men, human respect, nor religious principle, but personal, unbridled desire was the law of the followers of Ninus and Semiramis.

The knowledge of the Chaldean priests was profound, but much less pure, less lofty and less efficacious than that of the Egyptian priests. In Egypt, authority was given to science. The priesthood always exercised a moderating influence upon royalty. The Pharaohs remained pupils of the priests and never became hateful despots, as did the rulers of Babylon. In Babylon, on the contrary, the priesthood from the beginning was merely a tool of tyranny. In a bas-relief of Nineveh, Nimrod, a stocky giant, is seen strangling with his muscular arm a young lion which he holds pressed against his chest. Here is a self-explanatory symbol. This is how the monarchs of Assyria strangled the Iranian lion, the heroic people of Zoroaster, assassinating their pontiffs, ruining the schools of the Magi, holding their kings for ransom. If the Rishis of India and the priests of Egypt caused Providence to reign on earth by their wisdom, at least to a certain degree, it can be said that the reign of Babylon was one of Fate, that is, of blind and brutal force. Babylon thus became the tyrannical center of universal anarchy, the inflexible eye of the social hurricane which enveloped Asia, the terrible eye of Fate, forever open, lying in wait for nations, in order to devour them.

What could Egypt do against this invading flood? Already the Hyksos had almost swallowed her up. She withstood them bravely, but could not resist forever. Six more centuries, and the Persian cyclone, following the Babylonian tornado, would sweep away Egypt's temples and Pharaohs. Moreover, Egypt, which possessed the genius of initiation and conservation in the highest degree, never sought expansion or exercised propaganda. Must the accumulated treasures of its science be lost? Indeed the greatest part was buried, and when the Alexandrians came they could find only fragments. Two peoples of different genius, nevertheless, lighted their torches in Egypt's sanctuaries, -- torches with different rays, with which one people illumined the heights of heaven, and the other enlightened and transfigured the earth: Israel and Greece.

The importance of the people of Israel in the history of humanity is readily apparent from the very beginning, for two reasons. First, it represents monotheism; second, it gave birth to Christianity. But the providential aim of the mission of Israel appears only to one who uncovers the symbols of the Old and New Testaments and perceives that they conceal the entire esoteric tradition of the past, though under a form often altered -- especially as regards the Old Testament -- by the numerous editors and translators, the majority of whom did not know the original meaning of the texts. The role of Israel becomes clear when one discovers that these people form the indispensable link between the old and the new cycle, between the East and the West. A result of the monotheistic idea is the unification of humanity under the same God and under a single law. But as long as theologians make a childish idea of God, and as long as men of science simply ignore Him or deny Him, the moral, social and religious unity of our planet will be only a pious desire or a postulate of religion and science, which are powerless to effect it. On the other hand this organic unity appears possible when one recognizes esoterically and scientifically in the divine principle the key to the world and to life, to the evolution of man and society.

Finally, Christianity, that is to say, the religion of Christ, appears in its exalted and universal nature only as it unveils to us its esoteric essence. Only then does it reveal itself as the result of all that preceded it, in that it contains the principles, the goals and the means leading to the complete regeneration of mankind. Only in revealing to us its ultimate mysteries will Christianity become what it truly is: the religion of promise and fulfillment, that is, of universal initiation.

Moses, the Egyptian initiate and priest of Osiris, was indisputably the organizer of monotheism. Through him this principle, until then hidden beneath the threefold veil of the Mysteries, came out of the depths of the temple and entered the course of history. Moses had the courage to establish the highest principle of initiation as the sole dogma of a national religion, and the prudence to reveal its consequences to only a small number of initiates while imposing it upon the masses through fear. In so doing, the prophet of Sinai evidently had before him distant vistas which extended far beyond the destinies of his people. The establishment of the universal religion of mankind is the true mission of Israel, which few Jews other than its greatest prophets have understood. In order for this mission to be fulfilled, the swallowing up of the people who championed it was implied. The Jewish nation was dispersed and annihilated. The idea of Moses and the Prophets has lived and increased. Enlarged and transfigured by Christianity, taken up by Islam, although on a lower plane, it was to make inroads upon the barbaric West and was to influence Asia herself once again. Henceforth it would be useless for mankind to rebel and struggle against itself in convulsive efforts; mankind was to revolve around this major idea like the nebula around the sun which organizes it. This was the tremendous work of Moses.

For this undertaking, the most colossal since the prehistoric migration of the Aryans, Moses found an already prepared instrument in the tribes of the Hebrews, particularly in those settled in Egypt in the valley of Goshen, living there in servitude under the name of Beni-Jacob. In the founding of a monotheistic religion he had as forerunners those nomadic and peaceful rulers whom the Bible presents to us in the figures of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Let us look at these Hebrew patriarchs. We shall then try to separate the figure of their great prophet from the mirages of the desert and the dark nights of Sinai, where the thunder of the legendary Jehovah rumbles.

These Ibrim,29 these untiring nomads, these everlasting exiles were known for centuries, even for thousands of years. Brothers of the Arabs, the Hebrews like all Semites, were the result of an ancient mixture of the white with the black race. They had been seen traveling back and forth through northern Africa under the name of Bodons, those men without shelter and without bed, who pitched their tents in the vast deserts between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, between the Euphrates and Palestine. Ammonites, Elamites or Edomites, these nomads all looked alike. For transportation, the ass or the camel; for a house, the tent; their only property, wandering herds like themselves, forever feeding on foreign soil. Like their ancestors the Ghiborim, like the first Celts, these restless people hated carved monuments, the fortified city, forced labor and the temple of stone. Nevertheless, the mighty cities of Babylon and Nineveh with their gigantic palaces, their Mysteries and their debauchery, worked an invincible charm upon these semi-savage peoples. Lured into these prison-houses of stone, captured by the soldiers of the kings of Assyria, conscripted into their armies, they sometimes wallowed in the orgies of Babylon. At other times the Israelites allowed themselves to be seduced by the Moabite women, those bold enticers with dark skin and shining eyes. The latter drew them into the adoration of stone and wood idols and the frightful worship of Moloch. But suddenly the thirst for the desert again seized them, and they fled. Returning to the rugged valleys where only the roaring of wild beasts is heard, to the vast plains where one is guided only by the lights of the heavenly constellations, beneath the cold gaze of those stars their ancestors had worshipped, they were ashamed of themselves. If then a patriarch, an inspired man, spoke to them of the one God, of Elelion, of the Elohim, of Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, Who sees all and punishes the guilty, these over-grown, wild children bowed their heads and, kneeling in prayer, allowed themselves to be led like lambs.

Little by little this idea of the great Elohim, of the one all-powerful God filled their souls, as in the Padan-Harran twilight blends everything in the landscape into the infinite line of the horizon, drowning colors and distances in the splendid evenness of the firmament and transforming the universe into a single mass of shadows arched over by a scintillating dome of stars.

What were the patriarchs like? Abram, Abraham, or Father Orham, was a king of Ur, a Chaldean city near Babylon. The Assyrians, according to tradition, pictured him sitting in an armchair, with a kindly manner. This very old individual who has figured in the mythological history of all peoples, since Ovid mentions him, is the same as the man the Bible represents as migrating from the land of Ur into the land of Canaan, at the command of the Eternal: "The Everlasting appeared to him and said unto him: I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be thou perfect . . . I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee" (Genesis 17: 1, 7). This passage, translated into modern language, means that a very old Semitic leader named Abraham who probably had received the Chaldean initiation, felt compelled by an inner voice to lead his tribe toward the West, and imposed upon it the cult of the Elohim.

The name Isaac, according to the prefix Is, seems to indicate an Egyptian initiation, while that of Jacob and Joseph reveals a Phoenician background. Be that as it may, it is probable that the three patriarchs were the three leaders of different peoples who lived in different eras. Long after the time of Moses Israelite tradition grouped them into a single family. Isaac became the son of Abraham, and Jacob, the son of Isaac. This manner of representing intellectual paternity by physical paternity was frequently used in ancient priesthoods. From this traditional genealogy a major fact stands out: The presence of the monotheistic cult among the patriarch-initiates of the desert. The fact that these men had inner experience of spiritual revelations in the form of dreams or visions even in the waking state, is in no way contrary to esoteric science, nor to that universal psychic law which rules souls and worlds. In the Bible narrative these facts have assumed the naive form of visits from angels to the patriarchs in their tents.

Did these patriarchs have a clear understanding of the spirituality of God and the religious goals of mankind? Without doubt they did. Inferior in positive science to the Magi of Chaldea as well as to the Egyptian priests, they probably surpassed them in moral stature and that breadth of soul which is brought about by a free, nomadic life. For them the sublime order that the Elohim cause to hold sway in the universe is translated into the social order of family worship, respect for their wives, passionate love for their sons, protection for the entire tribe, hospitality toward strangers. In short, these great fathers are natural arbiters between families and tribes. Their patriarchal staff is a scepter of equity. They exercise a civilizing authority and breathe gentleness and peace. Here and there, esoteric thought can be seen penetrating into the patriarchal tradition. Thus, when at Bethel Jacob sees in a dream a ladder with the Elohim at the top and angels ascending and descending upon it, one recognizes a popular form, a Judaic adaptation of the vision of Hermes and the doctrine of the descending and ascending evolution of souls.

An historical fact of greatest importance concerning the age of the patriarchs appears to us in two revealing verses. It concerns a meeting of Abraham with a brother initiate. Having made war on the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham goes to pay homage to Melchizedek. This king lives in the fortress which later will be Jerusalem. "Melchizedek, King of Salem, had wine and bread brought forth. For he was the priest of Elohim, the Most High God. And he blessed Abram, saying: 'Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth.' " (Genesis 14:18, 19.) Here then is a king of Salem who is a high-priest of the same God as Abraham. The latter treats him as a superior, as a master, and communes with him in the elements of bread and wine, in the name of Elohim, which in ancient Egypt was a sign of communion between initiates. There was therefore a fraternal link, a sign of recognition and a common goal between the worshippers of Elohim from the border of Chaldea as far west as Palestine and perhaps even extending to a few sanctuaries of Egypt.

This monotheistic pattern needed only an organizer.

Thus, between the winged bull of Assyria and the sphinx of Egypt, which from a distance observe the desert between the crushing tyranny and impenetrable mystery of initiation, advance the chosen tribes of the Abramites, Jacobites and the Ben-Israel. They flee the shameless festivals of Babylon; they avert their heads as they pass by the orgies of Moab, the horrors of Sodom and Gomorrah and the monstrous cult of Baal. Under the protection of the patriarch, the caravan follows its rugged route, sprinkled with oases, marked with rare springs and slender palm trees. Like a long ribbon it fades away in the immensity of the desert beneath the scorching heat of the day, beneath the deep red of the setting sun and the cloak of darkness, ruled over by the Elohim. Neither herds, women nor old men know the goal of this eternal journey. But they move forward, accompanying the painful, resigned tread of the camels. Where are they going? The patriarchs know; Moses will tell the people.


Notes for this chapter:

29. Ibrim means "those of the other side, those beyond, those who have passed the river." -- Renan, Hist. du peuple d'Israel.


20. Initiation of Moses

The Great Initiates