Allegory in the Bible by David E. Teubner
My goal, in this short paper, is to discuss some biblical stories as allegory, not history, and see if they can speak to us today. What insights were the Ancients attempting to communicate and preserve? First, let us explore what the word Allegory means.
What is an Allegory?
The dictionary describes an allegory as the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition).
There are many secular examples of allegory, from John Bunyan's, Pilgrim's Progress to Herman Melville's, Moby Dick. More recently, the movie The Matrix, presented a powerful allegory about a young man in a dead-end job who gets an "inkling" and follows it through, discovering his inner strength in the process.
A more playful example of an allegory is Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack is the hero of the allegory. Jack takes a chance on a promise made by an old man Jack meets on the way to the market. You see, Jack was going to the market to sell his mother's last possession, the family cow. But the old man captured Jack's imagination concerning some magic beans. The boy decides to sell his cow to the old man for the magic beans. Later, upon returning home with his "bounty" Jack's mother is furious and sends Jack to bed without dinner. The mother throws the beans out the kitchen window in disgust. Yet, in the morning when Jack awakes, he finds an enormous beanstalk just outside his bedroom window. He immediately starts to climb it...
The Bible as Allegory...
So if the Bible is allegorical after all, and not necessarily historical, what are the ideas and principles that are being described in it? Let us take a whirlwind tour through the Old Testament and explore the text as allegory and not history.
The ancients believed in a dualistic (two-part) aspect of the divinity. The female was know as the Void, Mother, Matter (mater, in Latin) Water or Mary and was seen as the Cosmos. It was believed that the male part of the divinity could not interact directly with the female because the male was thought to be Eternal and Unchangeable. Thus, many ancient myths, describe the god as "sending his seed" or "sending his breath" to effect the Void (the Mother). Other myths talk about the male aspect of the divinity being cut up or fragmented, in effect, planted like a seed into the Material, feminine Void.
For reasons that will not be fully explained here, some ancient people believed that the male divine impulse was shattered into fragments (the Big Bang?). These fragments fell through the seven celestial spheres, each of the seven spheres polluting the soul in some way. As a result of decending through the spheres, the fragments became forgetful of their heavenly home. They became "polluted" as they passed through the spheres and entered human (animal) bodies.
As a result, humans became forgetful of their divine inheritance. This divine inheritance was the spark that made us divine, the mixture of breath (Father) and material (Mother). (The pattern, or papa that was laid on the material, mama.)
The Ancients symbolized our very own human body as EGYPT. Egypt was the metaphor for human life as incarnate in an material body. Our bodies contained something divine, planted in effect, in a material (clay) vessel.
Therefore, allegorically speaking, Egypt became the land of bitterness and slavery, the land of forgetfulness:
[The Egyptians] made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. Exodus 1:14
The divine sparks were embedded into the female yet lost their memory of their true source. (The result of the deity being "torn asunder" is what Buddhist call Forgetfulness, or Ignorance.) Who will awaken the forgetful, slumbering sparks of the divine male-force that has been hidden in the female? For the Israelites it was Moses.
Out of Egypt and the story of Moses...
Egypt became a "glyph" or metaphor for the divine sparks living in an animal body, that is, in the human breast. Humans needed to be reminded, so the allegory states, of their original home. That home was symbolized as the Promised Land or Jerusalem. In this land there is rest, a land flowing with milk and honey.
These descriptions are allegorical and did not necessarily happen in the historical sense. Nevertheless, they do talk of humanity's unique place in creation and our desire for unification with our Source, namely the Father (we have the mother constantly in the material world, yet the Father is the illusive one, the one we have an inkling for).
So Moses is "sent" by the Father to gather the 12 lost fragments together (the number twelve refers to the 12 houses of the zodiac, which the souls fell through on their way to earth). Moses is sent to remind the 12 tribes of Israel of their true identity. Moses does rescue the 12 legions of the Father and brings them to the Mount of God, that Primordial Hill. There the Israelites receive the instructions of the male aspect of deity and receive specific instructions on how to get back to the Promised Land. The Promised Land is not necessarily a literal place, but an allegorical one which we can touch anytime. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The 12 tribes of Israel represent the 12 initial fragments of the divine that were torn asunder and entered the world as fragments. These 12 tribes had become forgetful and now were being delivered from Egypt (remember, Egypt is a metaphor for the human condition).
Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes in The Lost Light: An Interpretation of Ancient Scripture:
For the god came to earth not in his entirety, not in his single deific unity, but torn into hosts of fragments, grouped in twelve principal divisions. How could he hope to enter every mortal life, to tabernacle in every breast, if he came as one unit? This is just the mistake that Christian doctrinism made, fatal to humanity at large. It is a matter of simple logic. To be the divine guest in every human life he had to suffer fragmentation into as many portions as there were to be mortal children for him to father, in order that each might possess a share of his nature.
(Another popular writer about allegory and mythology is Joseph Campbell. He was fond of saying: People are not looking for a reason to live, but an experience of being alive.)
The Biblical allegory describes our life as a journey (or a sojourning in a strange land). As stated above, this land was symbolized as Egypt. The Promised Land (remembrance and peace) was the goal of human existence. Atonement (which means at-one-ment) was deeply desired by Israel in the biblical allegory and by most people even to this day.
The allegory of the Bible says, in essence, that we are incarnate pieces of the divine, sown in flesh in hope of a promise, yet we live in the realm of the material world, i.e., Egypt.
Psalm 23 describes beautifully this sojourning through Egypt, from the point of view of a human being striving to have communion with his maker:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,(i.e., Egypt) I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23
The New Testament as allegory...
Jumping ahead into the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew states:
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again..." Matthew 5:13
Jesus, too, becomes a type of Moses. An awakener who is sent to remind those slumbering in the world of their true nature. Our nature is already divine, yet asleep, according to the allegory. There is nothing for us to do to reclaim our divine nature, except to remember (re-member). This, in a nutshell, is the basic allegory of the entire Bible. Jesus attacks the "hypocrites" who claim that God can only be approached through a special "priesthood". He therefore becomes a threat to the religious establishment of his day.
As mentioned above, Jesus, too, is a type of Moses. Jesus gathers 12 disciples to remind them of who they already are. Jesus goes up on the Mount to teach the 12 disciples; Moses taught the Law from the Mount.
The concept of the Logos (Word) of God...
According to the allegory, the Christ is the Word of God. Unfortunately the term "Word" has been mistranslated. The original Greek word used in the text is Logos. This mistranslation has been the cause of much befuddlement for the modern mind. In our English translation the term "Word" implies some sort of preaching, as in the phrase "give him the word". The Greek term is Logos, and means Divine Pattern. It refers to the "template" or "mind" laid upon the feminine Void. It gives the Void a pattern that we can recognize as the created Cosmos. The Logos is the seed sent into the receptive female, material world. So the Cosmos is made up of both mama (matter) and papa (pattern).
Now with a proper understanding of the term "Word" we read in the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Logos (formally rendered as "Word"), and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him (the Logos) all things were made; without him (the Logos) nothing was made that has been made. In him (the Logos) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1: 1-5 (parenthesis added).
This section is really the same as the Genesis story, yet rendered for a Greek audience and from a Greek perspective many thousands of years after the Genesis rendering. The term Logos means "Pattern" or "papa" and it was that "Seed that was sent" into the world, into the feminine, receptive earth "mama". The seed was the pattern of the Father, because, as stated earlier, the Father was thought to be Unchangeable and beyond time (Eternal) and couldn't effect the world directly. The Logos gives rise to the flowers, gives rise to the clouds, gives rise to the trees, gives rise to the birds, and gives rise to you and me. In Eastern thought the Logos might be considered the Tao.
Jesus therefore, becomes the "great awakener" sent from the realm of light. Like the Buddha (which means "he who woke up") Jesus came to awake those who have "fallen asleep". This is allegorical and is not necessarily based in history.
Even Jesus had to be delivered from the forgetfulness of Egypt, too. For the allegory says:
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." Matthew 2 13-15
The mother, Mary, is the informed feminine Void who we first met in Genesis, chapter one. She hides her incarnate gift until the right time of remembrance when the seed can become manifest in the material world.
Who was Paul of Tarsus (i.e., St. Paul)?
Paul of Tarsus is believed to be the true founder of Christianity, or at least its primary advocate. He is believed to have been a Gnostic Christian who may have never believed in a human Christ, but spoke allegorically, about the latent seed, lying slumbering in our breasts.
Paul wrote many letters to the early church and he often scolded them because they had forgotten his teachings about the "Christ consciousness" within. For Paul states:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Letter to the Church in Galatia, Chapter 4: 19-20
And as stated earlier, Paul proclaims concerning the allegory:
Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27
How easy it was for the early Christian movement to become lost in the political struggles of those times and forget about Paul's retelling of this timeless allegory. Again, Paul talks about the allegorical nature of Scripture when he writes:
Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. Galatians 4: 21-25
Paul was imploring the early Christian community who had first heard the allegory from Paul himself, but had somehow missed the point. Many Jews of that day did not want to abandon the Law of Moses because they thought that the Law was the way to freedom. But Paul argues that the Law was only a pedagogue, sort of training wheels, until a new understanding of the allegory could be achieved, namely Christ in you (that is, the seed in you). Paul writes:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified (broken into fragments, as I have stated above). I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing--if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard (i.e., the allegory)? Galatians 3: 1-5 (parentheses added)
Paul is obviously very angry at the new church in Galatia. The church had apparently gone back to the Law of Moses and therefore, in Paul's view, had totally missed the allegory of the divine spark, or fragment, broken for you, that lives within every breast. Paul called this fragment or template of the Father The Christ meaning "The Anointing". All were welcomed to enter this new faith. Slaves, woman and the Outcasts of society were equally welcome. Consequently, Christianity spread like wildfire (many of the early converts to Christianity were Roman slaves).
Again, the allegory appears in the parable of the Sowing of the Seed:
"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13 1-9
Again, that which is sown into the material world (Mother, or Mary) is the Word (Logos in Greek meaning divine pattern or template). Again, this fragment has fallen into the material world and has become "forgetful". These seeds are latent in everyone, and everything, and sometimes we need reminding in order to grow our seed. Nothing seems to choke our growth worse than worries, fear and ignorance. So Jesus proclaims not to worry:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Even Solomon in all his splendor was not dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry..." Matthew 6: 25-31
So again, we're admonished to not worry but to look around and see how the Natural world is cared for; we, too, are cared for. Perhaps there is nothing we need to do except to allow our seed to grow to maturity. Joseph Campbell was fond of saying "Just follow your bliss".
As allegory, the Bible tells the same story that all the ancients have been telling throughout the millennium: There is a attraction between the male and female aspects of the divine; The Unchangeable, Eternal Father therefore sends his seed, or breath, and is fragmented and becomes forgetful. Later someone is sent to help those fragments to re-membering their original home with the Father. Egypt (or Babylon or Rome, in other places in the Bible) symbolizes our body or the human condition. The body is prone to worry and forgetfulness, hence the Scriptures are written for our encouragement.
(We sometimes see an angry deity in the Old Testament but I believe that this was written into the text at a later time by others, with a more fundamentalist mindset. Even the feminine, divine aspect of the divinity has nearly been eradicated from the Old Testament, for reasons, I believe, to be mostly political, but that is another story...)
There are many resources available in most libraries. Also check the Internet and type in "Bible as Allegory" or some similar phrase in your favorite search engine (like www.yahoo.com or www.google.com).
You could also read some of Alvin Boyd Kuhn's writings (more online) or watch the classic Bill Moyer's PBS interviews with Joseph Campbell on the subject of mythology (on VHS at many town libraries) or read Joseph Campbell's famous The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
Another source of inspiration for me has been Thich Nhat Hanh's inspirational National Bestseller Living Buddha, Living Christ. Here he expresses many beautiful concepts and reveals many parallels between Buddhism and Christianity. All of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and audio cassettes can be a real inspiration to anyone on the path of personal growth.
Randel McCraw Helm's book Who Wrote the Gospels? is a great introduction to the four gospels with their different intended audiences, expectations and meanings.
And finally, Richard E. Friedmans book Who Wrote the Bible (see link), describes how the first 5 books of the Bible (the Old Testament or Torah) came to be compiled. This is a must-read.
My goal in writing this paper was to show that Allegory can be a beautiful way to approach the Scriptures. In allegory, YOU become the "fragment of the divine spark" fallen into forgetfulness; you become a main character in your own personal narrative.
All scriptures, from Buddhism to Judaism to Christianity, and many others, say AWAKE! and remember who you already are. There is nothing you need to do to become worthy of what has already been planted inside your heart. Yet worry and woe can cause life to become the "land of Egypt" where we eat daily the bread of affliction, suffering and slavery.
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