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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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