XIX - The Bible as a
Book of Morals
As far as the Bible is concerned, our new appreciation of the origins of Yahwism within the fertility philosophy and not, as has been commonly supposed, in opposition to it, means that we must start again in assessing the part played by the prophets in the cult’s development. The old chronological framework on which so much of our understanding of religious “progress” has in the past been based is in ruins.
The road from Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees through the patriarchs and Moses to the prophets and Jesus of Nazareth has vanished. Development there certainly was: the crude fertility imagery which saw a mighty penis in the sky ejaculating spermatozoa every time it rained had become by the first century, and indeed long before, a more sophisticated mystery religion.
The remote phallic deity in the heavens could now be apprehended by the believer in possession of the secrets of the drug plants and fungi. For the first time we can begin to understand the precise reference of some of the prophetic utterances about contemporary Yahwism. We have noticed a few instances, particularly in the book of Isaiah, where fresh light has been thrown on the place of the cultic prostitute in the local religious practices, and the nature of the “gardens” that she tended. In such places the prophet seems utterly opposed to the mushroom cult.
On the other hand, where, for example, Ezekiel decries the cultic abominations of the Jerusalem temple, the phallic processionals and the women bewailing Tammuz, the very nature of the vision that transports him from Mesopotamia to Jerusalem and the apparitions of whirling, eye-studded wheels, are very reminiscent of the reported psychedelic effects of the drugs of the Amanita muscaria.
Furthermore, the worship of the sacred fungus, as we can now appreciate, was an essential part of the oldest Hebrew heritage. Many of the patriarchal legends and names are based on mushroom imagery and nomenclature. As we saw, mushroom worship, by its own extreme nature, its fanaticism and bouts of uncontrolled frenzy, bred its own opposition among normal people.
More balanced religionists condemned these aspects of the cult, and the Old Testament records successive attempts by kings and prophets to purge its “abominations” from the land. But they were too deeply rooted to be wholly successful. Even the most intensive and successful of the purges, carried through with ruthless intensity during the Nehemiah-Ezra reforms after the Exile, simply drove the mushroom cult underground, whence it re-emerged in later centuries far more dangerously in the politically orientated movements, Zealotism and Christianity.
We must abandon then any over-simplification of the religious picture presented by the Old Testament: it is not the story of one people’s revolt against the heinous fertility worship of the land to which their desert god had led them. Despite the dramatic episode of Elijah on Mount Carmel, the theme is not Yahweh versus Baal.
Yahweh was Baal, as he was Zeus and Jupiter. The names, as we have seen, sound a common note of sexual import. In any case, the old idea that the religion of Yahwism centred upon a glorification of the desert “purity” as against the orgiastic fertility practices of the sown land had never quite as much textual support as some of its propounders liked to think.1
If we need radically to reassess the Old Testament traditions in the light of the new discoveries, the New Testament situation is far more bleak as far as the Christian is concerned. We must be in no doubt of the effect that importing a new, mushroom element into the New Testament picture must have on our understanding of the origin and nature of Christianity. It needed only the decipherment of one of the strange, non-Greek phrases in such terms to upset the whole previous picture of the beginning and growth of the Church.
If, for instance, “Boanerges” is correctly to be explained as a name of the sacred fungus, and the impossible “translation” appended in the text, “Sons of Thunder”, is equally relevant to the mushroom, then the validity of the whole New Testament story is immediately undermined. For the pseudo-translation demonstrates an intention of deceit, and since mushrooms appear nowhere in the “surface” tale of Jesus, it follows that the secret reference to the cult must be the true relevance of the whole.
If the writers have gone to the trouble of concealing by ingenious literary devices, here, and as we have seen, in many cases elsewhere, secret names of the mushroom, not only must its worship have been central to the religion, but the exigencies of the time must have demanded they should be transmitted among the initiates and their successors in a way that would not bring their enemies down upon them.
It therefore follows that the “surface” details of the story, names, places, and possibly doctrinal teachings must be equally as false as the pseudo-renderings of the secret names. One immediate result of the cracking of the already very fragile skin of the New Testament story is that all those doubts about its details which have so exercised scholars over the years are brought sharply back into focus. There always have been extreme difficulties in understanding the story of Jesus.
There are in the New Testament picture many kinds of problems posed on historical, geographical, topographical, social, and religious grounds, which have never been resolved. But to the Christian scholar they have always seemed of less relevance than the apparently incontrovertible fact of the existence of one, semi-divine man who set the whole Christian movement in motion, and without whose existence the inauguration of the Church would seem inexplicable.
But if it now transpires that Christianity was only a latter-day manifestation of a religious movement that had been in existence for thousands of years, and in that particular mystery-cult form for centuries before the turn of the era, then the necessity for a founder-figure fades away, and the problems that have for so long beset the exegete become far more urgent.
The improbable nature of the tale, quite apart from the “miracle” stories, the extraordinarily liberal attitude of the central figure towards the Jewish “quislings” of the time, his friendly disposition towards the most hated enemies of his people, his equivocation about paying taxes to the Roman government, the howling of Jewish citizens for the blood of one of their own people at the hands of the occupying power, features of the Gospel story which have never rung true, now can be understood for what they have always been: parts of a deliberate attempt to mislead the authorities into whose hands it was known the New Testament documents would fall.
The New Testament was a “hoax”, but nevertheless a deadly serious and extremely dangerous attempt to transmit to the scattered faithful secrets which the Christians dare not permit to fall into unauthorized hands but to whose preservation they were irrevocably committed by sacred oaths. Let it be repeated: if even one only of the mushroom references of the cryptic phrases of the New Testament text were correct, then a new element has to be reckoned with in the nature and origin of the Christian religion.
This new element, furthermore, is the key that fits the phenomenon of Christianity firmly into the surrounding mystery cult pattern of the Near East; but it does so at the cost of the validity of the surface story which knows nothing ostensibly of mushroom cults and which offers for its sacred cultic titles and invocations deliberately false “translations”. This is not, then, the record of an evangelistic crusade, an open-armed invitation to all men to join a new society of the redeemed, whose sacred meal is no more than a service of remembrance.
It is not the manifesto of an organization whose revolutionary tendencies go no further than the exercise of a group communism of property, but whose teaching urges women to submit at all times to their husbands, and slaves to their masters, being “obedient with fear and trembling”. It was not for this pacifism that the Romans dragged forth the celebrants of the Christian mysteries and butchered them.
But if the stories of Jesus are no more historically real than those of Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, and even of Moses, what of the moral teachings of the Bible?
Whilst it is true that, freed of the pious inhibitions we so often brought to the Scriptures, we can now more readily appreciate the literary qualities and humor of the legends, we have also to acknowledge that Jews and Christians have not gone to their Bibles for entertainment, or to be enlivened by its merry tales.
Generations of believers have sought in these Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek works the very Word of God. They have believed that here were enshrined laws for all mankind through which alone moral stability could be achieved, and defiance of which would mean ruin and punishment, if not in this life, in the next. The very dubiety of much of the text is seemed to many added reason for believing in its divine inspiration.
The question has now to be asked, supposing for the moment that there ever was any foundation for the belief that the Bible was a guide-book to moral living, how far can our new appreciation of the origins and nature of Judaism and Christianity continue to give its teachings universal authority? This, perhaps, is the most crucial issue raised by the present discoveries.
It is not just that Jesus, and probably Moses, disappear from history; this loss might still be borne with equanimity, at least by those uncommitted to the religions they represent, if the teachings attributed to them could still be held as valid. There are many people who are not Jews, and whose “Christianity” stops short of participation in the ritual, but who fervently maintain the authority of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
They would argue, without necessarily having studied either passage very closely, that they embody a store of practical experience and moral idealism that will serve mankind for a long time yet, no matter what happens to the religions of Moses and Jesus.
This is not the place to answer these questions; but it would seem a useful exercise to end our study by setting out afresh for consideration some examples of this moral teaching of the Old and New Testaments, examining their immediate literary sources and keeping these larger issues in mind. We might begin with the Ten Commandments, or “Ten Words” as they are called. We earlier saw how the myth of their revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai was formulated.2
The idea of two “tablets” derived from the two halves of the mushroom volva, their round loaf- shape form being that of the very early clay tablets. From the Sumerian name TAB-BA-R/LI(-R/LI) came, indeed, our word “tablet” via the Greek and Latin tabula. The number of the commandments, or “words”, comes from a play upon the same Sumerian name, in the fuller form MASh-TAB-BA-RI, read as “five words”, that is, “five” on each tablet.
Here they are:
As a code of laws these Ten Words leave much to be desired.
The first four, perhaps five, seem to be purely religious and cultic; from the point of view of social relationships only the last five seem relevant, and the last is a matter of attitude rather than directly anti—social action. More serious, the stark commands of the code receive no qualification. In the desert community in which they are generally supposed to have had their primary relevance, “do not murder” and “do not steal” would be incomprehensible, since the Bedouin raid was a way of life and a necessary means of livelihood.
Even taken out of this dubiously historical setting, whilst as a general rule of conduct these five commands are obviously good sense, they offer no guide about infringements of the laws, treatment of culprits and the all-important matter of making good damage done to other people.
Of course, in such aphorisms we should
not expect to find the legal niceties stated in all detail: it is a
statement of principles rather than legislation. But five or six
principles are little enough on which to base
a practical guide for the complexities of day-to-day living, of
It is not the intention, in quoting from these examples of biblical and Mesopotamian laws, to make a comparison in their respective standards of morality. Canons of justice vary with the social stratification of communities.
One law for the rich and another for the poor is an immense step forward from the stage where the have-nots could expect no justice at all. In the Hammurabi Code we have a systematic attempt to put the kind of over-all principles crisply stated in the half- dozen or so relevant “Words” of Moses into some practical legislation.
It is all very well saying “do not kill”, but what happens when someone does shed another’s blood and incurs blood-guilt? How does a community avoid family feuds which might trail on for generations? “Do not steal” is a fine sentiment; but there are more ways of stealing than entering somebody else’s stockyard and roping one of his steers.
A more subtle method is to wait until he entrusts you with his livestock before going on a journey and then swear he left only nine animals with you and not ten. The “Ten Commandments”, then, always have had to be enlarged upon, limited or extended, to make them relevant for any age, and it is in this adaptation of the principles they enshrine that subjectivity can most operate. If, in certain circumstances, the divine Author of the “Words” will allow you to flout the sixth, who is to decide whether the recipient of your bullet or napalm is a German, Russian, or Viet Cong; an American, Arab, or Jew?
Or under what circumstances may you murder for judicial purposes?
Yet it is
not so much the insufficiency of the Mosaic Code that must now
engage our attention as the authority biblical injunctions can any
longer command. A close examination of the Ten Words of the Bible
show that they are probably derived from word-play on the two prime
Sumerian fungus names: MASh-TAB-BA-R/LI(-R/LI) and *LI.MASh...BA(LA)G
-ANTA-TAB-BA-R/LI(-R/LI), preceded by the invocatory *E...LA. UIA
The preamble “I am Yahweh your God who brought you forth from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage”, is fundamentally based upon the name of the fungus as “the ‘Egyptian’ mushroom”, properly, as we have seen, “the stretched or erect one”.
The self— identification, “I am Yahweh your God” merely states in normal Hebrew the Sumerian original of those divine names, *E_LA_TJT, “juice of fecundity; sperm”; Hebrew ‘Elöhim, and Yahweh (Yähö).4 The play ii *MASh_BALAG_ANTA and the Semitic phrase for “forced levy” (mas-palakh, .pulkhän) we noted in connection with Issachar.5
The last part of the name, TAB-BA.-RI gave the play on the root d-b-r, “lead out”.6 “You shall have no other gods before me” comes from a play on the repeated invocatory *E_LA_UIA, E-LA-UIA, as if it read “there is no god save Elohim”.7 What makes this phrase especially interesting is that it is almost exactly the rallying cry of the Muslim, the witness that he makes on his “self—surrender” and takes the Faith: “There is no god save Allah.”
Also using the invocatory *E_LA...IJA, repeated, the compilers of the Commandments produced the verbal basis of the third “Word”: “You shall not swear by Yahweh your God insincerely.” Here they have apparently taken E-LAUIA for a play on the Semitic root ‘-i-h, “swear”, used by Hosea when he says of Israel’s backsliders: “they utter words — oaths of insincerity” (Hos Io:4).8
For the remainder: “for Yahweh will not clear him who swears by his name insincerely”, play is made on the name *MASh_BALA.,..ANTA as if it read “remission of sin Similar word-play underlies the extension to the Law on swearing put into the mouth of Jesus: Again, you have heard that it was said to the men of old,
The original reading here was probably, “yes — no; yes — no”; for this in, Aramaic would sound remarkably similar to the invocatory mushroom name, *E...LA_uIA, *E..LA...U.9 The added statement, “anything more than this comes from evil”, confirms this, for that phrase is a play on the last part of the name, *MASh_BA(LA)3ANTA, read as “what is surplus (to this is) evil”.10
The whole of the Sabbath legislation of the fourth commandment is verbally based on the same title of the sacred fungus. From it the “lawmakers” derived a Semitic root meaning “be still” and “to praise, hold in respect”, and words for “working” and “creation”. Similarly, “honour your father and your mother” is a rendering of the injunction spun from the fungus name: “give praise to those who created you”.12
The somewhat amoral reason for doing so, “that you may live longer on the land Yahweh your God gives you”, is verbally inspired in part by the same Semitic word “honor”, which can also mean, “increase, make a profit”.13 The New Testament writers develop the theme in their “fulfillment” of the Law in the mouth of Jesus:
“Corban” is the technical term for gifts dedicated to God. In the story of Judas Iscariot’s blood money, the priests refuse to put the thirty pieces of silver into the “Corban”, the temple treasury, because it is tainted with guilt (Matt 27:6).
The “interpretation” offered in Mark, “Gift”, is hardly a satisfactory rendering of “Corban” and even writing the word with a capital letter does not convey its real import. As elsewhere, we have here a pseudo—translation, offering a clue to the underlying word-play. As far as the “gift” is concerned, the mushroom name *MASh.43A(LA)G. . . has given the myth-makers the root s-p-q, “give what is needful”.14 The technical term is a play on *L14(UR_ BA(LA)G.-ANTA, read as “for Corban” (compare the mushroom name in its Semitic form khurbekhãnã’).15
“Honouring” one’s parents, and “profiting” from the son, derive from a play on the same Semitic root sh-b--kh, “praise, honour; give increase, profit” “You shall not commit adultery.” It is the New Testament elaboration on this theme which helps to identify the source of the wordplay and the means of arriving at this terse command, expressed in a single Hebrew verb. At base is the mushroom name *LIKBJ.,AANTA, taken as “using a woman for adultery”.16
On this theme the New Testament expounds in words which perhaps have provoked more mental anguish and self-destruction than any other in the Christian writings: You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart . . . (Matt 5:27).
To this passage should be added: And the Pharisees came up and in order to test him, asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”17 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh.
What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.18
And in the house the disciples asked him about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2—12). The extension of “adultery” to the mind reflects the age-old appreciation that in any moral situation the intention might be more important than the deed. Its statement and application here, however, come from adding TAB-BA-RI to the mushroom name quoted above, and thus reading, “an adulterous association with a woman (is) that which is in the mind”.19
The second passage quotes the statements in Genesis from the Creation story about the joining of the sexes in marriage because “Woman had been taken out of Man” (Gen 2 :23f.). This in itself is a word-play on the mushroom name *LI MASh BA(LA)G ANTA TAB BA RI TI, from which the authors extracted “leaves those who begot him”, and ‘joined to his wife”.
Using the same mushroom name, the New Testament writers go further, producing an Aramaic phrase meaning, “from the source of creation”.20 The whole “divorce” theme comes by word-play on the name, since the technical word for “sending away a wife” is in Semitic sh-b.-q which they saw in *MASh...BA(LA)G. The same root means “leave” (as here, “parents”, or “home”).
A very similar root, s-p-q means “join together”, and so we have the “joining” of the husband and wife. From the central element in the name, -BALAG-, the authors extracted the Semitic root p-l—g, “divide”, and the phrase about not putting the married couple “asunder”.
The really crucial injunction for generations of Christians and others in the Western world is the addition attributed in the story to Jesus as a result of further enquiry from his followers:
This comes from the two related names of the mushroom, *MAsh_ BA(LA)G-ANTA and *LIK BALAG-ANTA, spelt out into Aramaic phrases as “he who divorces (his) wife” and “for adultery takes the woman (wife)”.21
It might be questioned if, in the social circumstances of the Near East in the first century, or indeed even now, this rule against divorce was either practicable or desirable. The basis of social life and morality in these lands has always been the continuance of the family. A man’s sons are his Prudential life policy. If, when he is too old to work, or illness or other disaster overtakes him, he has no family to care for him, the man dies. If a woman can bear him no children, however good she may be at the cooking-pot or cows, she is failing in her prime mission in life.
She has to go; or, at least, a more fertile substitute has to be found. If the man is rich enough he may be able to keep both women; but if not, the infertile woman must go back to her family. To forbid divorce in such circumstances makes nonsense of the whole basis for the moral and social stability of the ancient world. Perhaps most clearly, indeed poignantly, this injunction about divorce and its Old Testament counterpart, focuses our attention on the larger issues raised by these new discoveries.
Were such “moral”
teachings ever meant to be taken seriously? Certainly, there is
nothing in the literary devices of word—play and biblical allusions
which necessarily argues against it. A writer can express great
thoughts and emotions by means of puns on important words or as
supposed “fulfilments” of ancient laws, even if this method must
tend to restrict his style and choice of words. The ideas of the New
Testament teaching might still be valid despite the strangeness of
the mushroom cult which gave them birth.
The emphasis placed in the New Testament teachings about “love” and non-retaliation, could, within a small closed society, be practicable. The accounts given by the historians of such in-groups as the Essenes and Therapeutae give that impression of brotherly love and self-control. Even the extraordinary attitude to women and sex and the practice of celibacy which Josephus reports of the Essenes and which became the ideal of the Church, might just be feasible in a desert community of ascetics. Less credible, perhaps, are those mixed settlements of the Therapeutae who kept the sexes strictly apart for most of the time but came together in holy concourse, with singing and dancing, every seven weeks.22
Nevertheless, what we learn of the Christians from the Romans who had to live with them, or at least had to try and keep the peace in a racially, and religiously fragmented Empire, does little to convince us that the New Testament homiletic teachings were taken seriously by those most immediately concerned.
The Roman historian Tacitus, to whom the Christian authorities have looked for the clearest “evidence” of the historicity of Jesus, can hardly find words base enough to use of the sect. “Nero”, he says, speaking of the great fire of Rome of July, 64, “fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations,23 called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus,24 and a deadly superstition,25 thus checked for the moment, broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City (Rome), where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.
Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who confessed; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of arson, as of hatred of the whole human race.” Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames.
These served to illuminate the night
when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his gardens for the
spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled
with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in a
chariot. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and
exemplary punishment, there arose
a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the
public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being
It might well be that their fanatics had translated their visions of a fiery end to the world order into practical reality:
The political allusions in the book of Revelation have long been recognized, and “Babylon” identified with Rome:
Powerful sentiments, indeed, but hardly likely to endear the
Christians to their fellow-men, nor are they exactly expressions of
love and universal brotherhood. Well might they be accused of
“hatred of the human race” (odium humani generis).28 In any case,
Tacitus, who must have known the Christians at first hand and
regarded them as entirely despicable, seems to have considered their
arraignment on an antisocial charge as fully justified.
Suetonius, to whom reference has also been commonly made to support the historicity of the Gospels, says that, around the year 49, “the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus” and were expelled from Rome.29
Whether, even at that early stage, the authorities were being led to believe that the Chrestus, or Christus, was a man and not the source of the “disturbing” drug,30 we cannot tell from this passage. It is not impossible, although the Gospels can hardly have been in circulation around the communities before 70. The passing reference does at least witness to the fractious nature of the sect, and to the hostile attitude of Jews in the city on whom this kind of religious fanaticism, claiming for itself a Jewish origin, would inevitably react to their detriment.
The Jewish leaders faced the same desperate situation in Palestine itself twenty years later when the Zealot madmen brought the might of Rome down on their nation because of similarly inspired excesses’
Elsewhere Suetonius speaks of Christians as “a class of men given to a new and wicked superstition”,31 and there seem to have been reports circulating that they practiced infanticide, cannibalism, and incest.32
One is reminded of the same things said about the Bacchantes, very probably for the same reason. Outside the societies of initiates, garbled reports about the sacred “Christ”—food, “crucified” and eaten in a common meal, would almost inevitably lead to the idea that the “Christians” were eating human flesh.
Indeed, the Catholic worshipper is so assured even today that through the miracle of transubstantiation, he is actually eating Christ’s flesh, and drinking his blood.
If then, there seems little in the picture drawn for us of first-century Christians by contemporary pagan historians that is in any way attractive,