The Jews Essenes And Early Christians

The early Jewish people had an Inner Teaching which embraced certain

ideas concerning Reincarnation, although the masses of the people knew

nothing of the doctrine which was reserved for the inner circles of the

few. There is much dispute concerning the early beliefs of the Jewish

people regarding the immortality of the soul. The best authorities seem

to agree that the early beliefs were very crude and indefinite,

consisting principally of a general belief that after death the souls

are gathered up together in a dark place, called Sheol, where they dwell

in an unconscious sleep. It will be noted that the earlier books in the

Old Testament have very little to say on this subject. Gradually,

however, there may be noticed a dawning belief in certain states of the

departed souls, and in this the Jews were undoubtedly influenced by the

conceptions of the people of other lands with whom they came in contact.

The sojourn in Egypt must have exerted an important influence on them,

particularly the educated thinkers of the race, of which, however, there

were but few, owing to the condition in which they were kept as bondsmen

of the Egyptians. Moses, however, owing to his education and training

among the Egyptian priests, must have been fully initiated in the

Mysteries of that land, and the Jewish legends would indicate that he

formed an Inner Circle of the priesthood of his people, after they

escaped from Egypt, and doubtless instructed them fully in the occult

doctrines, which, however, were too advanced and complicated for

preaching to the mass of ignorant people of which the Jewish race of

that time was composed. The lamp of learning among the Jews of that time

was kept alight but by very few priests among them. There has always

been much talk, and legend, concerning this Inner Teaching among the

Jews. The Jewish Rabbis have had so much to say regarding it, and some

of the Early Fathers of the Christian Church were of the opinion that

such Secret Doctrine existed.

Scholars have noted that in important passages in the Jewish Bible,

three distinct terms are used in referring to the immaterial part, or

"soul," of man. These terms are "Nichema," "Rouach," and "Nephesh,"

respectively, and have been translated as "soul," "spirit" or "breath,"

in several senses of these terms. Many good authorities have held that

these three terms did not apply to one conception, but that on the

contrary they referred to three distinct elements of the soul, akin to

the conceptions of the Egyptians and other early peoples, who held to

the trinity of the soul, as we have shown a little further back. Some

Hebrew scholars hold that "Nichema" is the Ego, or Intelligent Spirit;

"Rouach," the lower vehicle of the Ego; and "Nephesh," the Vital Force,

Vitality, or Life.

Students of the Kaballah, or Secret Writings of the Jews, find therein

many references to the complex nature of the soul, and its future

states, as well as undoubted teachings regarding Reincarnation, or

Future Existence in the Body. The Kaballah was the book of the Jewish

Mysteries, and was largely symbolical, so that to those unacquainted

with the symbols employed, it read as if lacking sense or meaning. But

those having the key, were able to read therefrom many bits of hidden

doctrine. The Kaballah is said to be veiled in seven coverings--that is,

its symbology is sevenfold, so that none but those having the inner keys

may know the full truth contained therein, although even the first key

will unlock many doors. The Zohar, another Secret Book of the Jews,

although of much later origin than the Kaballah, also contains much of

the Inner Teachings concerning the destiny of the soul. This book

plainly recognizes and states the three-fold nature of the soul, above

mentioned, and treats the Nichema, Rouach and Nephesh as distinct

elements thereof. It also teaches that when the soul leaves the body it

goes through a long and tedious purifying process, whereby the effect

of its vices is worn off by means of a series of transmigrations and

reincarnations, wherein it develops several perfections, etc. This idea

of attaining perfection through repeated rebirths, instead of the

rebirths being in the nature of punishment as taught by Plato, is also

taught in the Kaballah, showing the agreement of the Jewish mind on this

detail of the doctrine. The essence of the Kaballic teaching on this

subject is that the souls undergo repeated rebirth, after long intervals

of rest and purification, in entire forgetfulness of their previous

existences, and for the purpose of advancement, unfoldment,

purification, development, and attainment. The Zohar follows up this

teaching strictly, although with amplifications. The following quotation

from the Zohar is interesting, inasmuch as it shows the teaching on the

subject in a few words. It reads as follows: "All souls are subject to

the trials of transmigration; and men do not know which are the ways of

the Most High in their regard. They do not know how many

transformations and mysterious trials they must undergo; how many souls

and spirits come to this world without returning to the palace of the

divine king. The souls must re-enter the absolute substance whence they

have emerged. But to accomplish this end they must develop all the

perfections; the germ of which is planted in them; and if they have not

fulfilled this condition during one life, they must commence another, a

third, and so on, until they have acquired the condition which fits them

for reunion with God."

The mystic sect which sprung up among the Jewish people during the

century preceding the birth of Christ, and which was in the height of

its influence at the time of the Birth--the sect, cult, or order of The

Essenes--was an important influence in the direction of spreading the

truths of Reincarnation among the Jewish people. This order combined the

earlier Egyptian Mysteries with the Mystic Doctrine of Pythagoras and

the philosophy of Plato. It was closely connected with the Jewish

Therapeutae of Egypt, and was the leading mystic order of the time.

Josephus, the eminent Jewish historian, writing of the Essenes, says:

"The opinion obtains among them that bodies indeed are corrupted, and

the matter of them not permanent, but that souls continue exempt from

death forever; and that emanating from the most subtle ether they are

unfolded in bodies as prisons to which they are drawn by some natural

spell. But when loosed from the bonds of flesh, as if released from a

long captivity, they rejoice and are borne upward." In the New

International Encyclopedia (vol. vii, page 217) will be found an

instructive article on "Essenes," in which it is stated that among the

Essenes there was a certain "view entertained regarding the origin,

present state, and future destiny of the soul, which was held to be

pre-existent, being entrapped in the body as a prison," etc. And in the

same article the following statement occurs: "It is an interesting

question as to how much Christianity owes to Essenism. It would seem

that there was room for definite contact between John the Baptist and

this Brotherhood. His time of preparation was spent in the wilderness

near the Dead Sea; his preaching of righteousness toward God, and

justice toward one's fellow men, was in agreement with Essenism; while

his insistence upon Baptism was in accordance with the Essenic emphasis

on lustrations." In this very conservative statement is shown the

intimate connection between the Essenes and Early Christianity, through

John the Baptist. Some hold that Jesus had a still closer relationship

to the Essenes and allied mystic orders, but we shall not insist upon

this point, as it lies outside of the ordinary channels of historical

information. There is no doubt, however, that the Essenes, who had such

a strong influence on the early Christian Church, were closely allied to

other mystic organizations with whom they agreed in fundamental

doctrines, notably that of Reincarnation. And so we have brought the

story down to the early Christian Church, at which point we will

continue it. We have left the phase of the subject which pertains to

India for separate consideration, for in India the doctrine has had its

principal home in all ages, and the subject in that phase requires

special treatment.

That there was an Inner Doctrine in the early Christian Church seems to

be well established, and that a part of that doctrine consisted in a

teaching of Pre-existence of the Soul and some form of Rebirth or

Reincarnation seems quite reasonable to those who have made a study of

the subject. There is a constant reference to the "Mysteries" and "Inner

Teachings" throughout the Epistles, particularly those of Paul, and the

writings of the Early Christian Fathers are filled with references to

the Secret Doctrines. In the earlier centuries of the Christian Era

frequent references are found to have been made to "The Mysteries of

Jesus," and that there was an Inner Circle of advanced Christians

devoted to mysticism and little known doctrines there can be no doubt.

Celsus attacked the early church, alleging that it was a secret

organization which taught the Truth to the select few, while it passed

on to the multitude only the crumbs of half-truth, and popular teachings

veiling the Truth. Origen, a pupil of St. Clement, answered Celsus,

stating that while it was true that there were Inner Teachings in the

Christian Church, that were not revealed to the populace, still the

Church in following that practice was but adhering to the established

custom of all philosophies and religions, which gave the esoteric truths

only to those who were ready to receive them, at the same time giving to

the general mass of followers the exoteric or outer teachings, which

were all they could understand or assimilate. Among other things, in

this reply, Origen says: "That there should be certain doctrines, not

made known to the multitude, which are divulged after the exoteric ones

have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also

of philosophic systems in which certain truths are exoteric and others

esoteric. Some of the followers of Pythagoras were content with his

'ipse dixit,' while others were taught in secret those doctrines which

were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently

prepared ears. Moreover, all the mysteries that are celebrated

everywhere through Greece and barbarous countries, although held in

secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain he

endeavors to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing

that he does not correctly understand its nature." In this quotation it

will be noticed that not only does Origen positively admit the existence

of the Inner Teachings, but that he also mentions Pythagoras and his

school, and also the other Mysteries of Greece, showing his acquaintance

with them, and his comparison of them with the Christian Mysteries,

which latter he would not have been likely to have done were their

teachings repugnant to, and at utter variance with, those of his own

church. In the same writing Origen says: "But on these subjects much,

and that of a mystical kind, might be said, in keeping with which is the

following: 'It is good to keep close to the secret of a king,' in order

that the entrance of souls into bodies may not be thrown before the

common understanding." Scores of like quotations might be cited.

The writings of the Early Fathers of the Christian Church are filled

with many allusions to the current inner doctrine of the pre-existence

and rebirth of souls. Origen in particular has written at great length

regarding these things. John the Baptist was generally accepted as the

reincarnation of Elias, even by the populace, who regarded it as a

miraculous occurrence, while the elect regarded it as merely another

instance of rebirth under the law. The Gnostics, a mystic order and

school in the early church, taught Reincarnation plainly and openly,

bringing upon themselves much persecution at the hands of the more

conservative. Others held to some form of the teaching, the disputes

among them being principally regarding points of doctrine and detail,

the main teachings being admitted. Origen taught that souls had fallen

from a high estate and were working their way back toward their lost

estate and glory, by means of repeated incarnations. Justin Martyr

speaks of the soul inhabiting successive bodies, with loss of memory of

past lives. For several centuries the early Church held within its bosom

many earnest advocates of Reincarnation, and the teaching was recognized

as vital even by those who combatted it.

Lactinus, at the end of the third century, held that the idea of the

soul's immortality implied its pre-existence. St. Augustine, in his

"Confessions," makes use of these remarkable words: "Did I not live in

another body before entering my mother's womb?" Which expression is all

the more remarkable because Augustine opposed Origen in many points of

doctrine, and because it was written as late as A. D. 415. The various

Church Councils, however, frowned upon these outcroppings of the

doctrine of Reincarnation, and the influence of those who rose to power

in the church was directed against the "heresy." At several councils

were the teachings rebuked, and condemned, until finally in A. D. 538,

Justinian had a law passed which declared that: "Whoever shall support

the mythical presentation of the pre-existence of the soul and the

consequently wonderful opinion of its return, let him be Anathema."

Speaking of the Jewish Kaballists, an authority states: "Like Origen and

other church Fathers, the Kaballists used as their main argument in

favor of the doctrine of metempsychosis, the justice of God."

But the doctrine of Reincarnation among Christian races did not die at

the orders and commands of the Christian Church Councils. Smouldering

under the blanket of opposition and persecution, it kept alive until

once more it could lift its flame toward Heaven. And even during its

suppression the careful student may see little flickers of the

flame--little wreathings of smoke--escaping here and there. Veiled in

mystic phrasing, and trimmed with poetic figure, many allusions may be

seen among the writings of the centuries. And during the past two

hundred years the revival in the subject has been constant, until at the

close of the Nineteenth Century, and the beginning of the Twentieth

Century, we once more find the doctrine openly preached and taught to

thousands of eager listeners and secretly held even by many orthodox


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