[Following up the investigation into the nature of the
Mosaic record with the new light which I had received, I detected plain traces
of a gradual evolution of the idea of God, which seemed to point to the
conclusion that the Pentateuch was not the work of one author, but a compilation
of many legends and traditions. I inquired as to this.]
In the investigation to which you have been directed you have arrived at
correct conclusions. We have directed you to it in order that you may see how
little reliance is to be placed upon isolated texts taken from books which do
but embody the floating legends and traditions of an ancient people,
decipherable only by those who had the key. We wish to insist on this point. The
amount of credence to be placed in any statement drawn from the ancient books of
your religion depends on the nature of the book from which it is taken, and on
the specific nature of the utterance itself, as well as on your understanding of
its true meaning. It is possible for you to select from your oldest books words
which sublimely picture an elevated conception of Deity. It is possible, on the
other hand, to select from other and later writings conceptions of God the most
dishonouring, the most human, the most repellent. Such are they which represent
the Pure and Holy One as wrestling in human form with man; as discussing with a
mortal his plans for vengeance on an offending city; as a monster of cruelty and
carnage, revelling in gore, and glutted with the blood of his enemies: yea, even
as a man who sat at the tent door of his friend and consumed flesh of a kid and
cakes of bread. You may select conceptions the most dissimilar, and no separate
utterance can be of more than the individual weight judged by the rules of right
reason. And even thus it behoves you to see well that you understand aright the
hidden meaning which frequently underlies such passages, lest you wander from
truth and err through ignorance.
Inspiration, we again say, is not different in kind in different ages, but
only in degree. The words in all cases are the words of the inspiring spirit
conveyed through a human medium; and in proportion as the medium is pure and
elevated are the utterances trustworthy and the conceptions sublime. The plane
of knowledge of the medium is the plane of revelation through him. And we need
not say at length that in the world's earlier days--such as those spoken of in
ancient records of the Jews--that plane was low, and these conceptions, save in
rare instances, anything but sublime.
Man has progressed in knowledge since the days when he feigned for himself a
vacillating, puny God who repented and was grieved at the failure of his plans
in man's creation, and who was compelled to undo them as a failure. If you seek
for conceptions more sublime and true, you will go to a later age, when man had
unlearned somewhat of his folly, and had ceased to be content with a God framed
after the devices of a barbarous imagination and an undeveloped mind. The
barbarous age could grasp nothing nobler, and accordingly nothing nobler could
be revealed. That is in accord witht the universal practice, viz., that God's
revelation is proportional to man's mental plane. The error has been that you
have laboured to perpetuate these foolish and crude views. They have been held
by your theologians to be of Divine inspiration, binding for all time. This
fallacy we desire utterly to uproot.
Another error even more destructive of truth is the fable that Divine
inspiration, plenarily communicated, guided all the writers of all the books of
your Bible into absolute truth; and that, as God was in every case the Author,
so each individual utterance of each scribe is of paramount as well as permanent
authority. This error we have uprooted in your mind, for you now know that God
cannot be the Author of contradictions, nor can He have said at one time what He
contradicts at another. The light shone through a dark medium, and was distorted
in the passage.
In place of these false views we have taught you that inspiration is the
control of the inspiring spirit; of various degrees of elevation, perfection, or
reliability; to be judged in each case by reason, and to be estimated in
precisely such manner as you would criticise and judge works of professedly
human source. You will therefore accept no text as an argument. You will deal
with these ancient books as you deal with all that is put before you. And in
criticising them you will find it necessary to deny much that has been affirmed
and believed with respect to them and their contents.
You have asked information respecting the Pentateuch. It is, as we have
before hinted, the compilation by Ezra of legends and traditions which had been
orally handed down from generation to generation, and which were collected by
him to prevent their loss. Some parts of the Pentateuch, especially the early
portion of Genesis, are mere legendary speculations collected and arranged by
the scribe. Such are the Noachic and Abrahamic legends which exist in collateral
forms in the sacred books of other peoples. Such, in another way, are the
statements of the book Deuteronomy, which are the direct additions of Ezra's
day. For the rest, the compilation was made from previous imperfect collections
made in the days of Solomon and Josiah, themselves in turn records of previous
legends and traditions which again had still more remote origin. In no case were
they the very words of Moses; nor do they embody truth, save where, in dealing
with the law, they draw their information from authentic sources.
We shall dwell hereafter on the notion of God which pervades the early books
of your Bible. Sufficient that we now point out that the mythical and legendary
sources from which most of them were compiled forbid you to attribute any weight
to their historical statements or moral precepts, save when they are confirmed
by reasonable evidence from other sources.
[I found this communication to confirm my own
researches. I thought I could trace the two sources--Elohistic and
Jehovostic--from which the compiler drew his information: as in the account of
the creation, Gen. i., ii. 3, compared with Gen. ii. 4--iii. 24, and in the
seizure of Sarah at Gerar by Abimelech (Gen. Xx.), compared with xii. 10-19 and
XXVI. I-II. I inquired if I was right.]
[If this was the way in which the Canon of the Old
Testament was settled, I inquired how far the case was the same with the
What you have given is but an instance out of many. When you recognise the
fact, you will see evidences of it all around you. The documents in question
were the legendary sources of the compilation of Ezra's scribes, Elnathan and
Joiarib. They were many in number, some compiled in the days of Saul, some even
earlier, in the days of the Judges of Israel, and some in the days of Solomon,
Hezekiah, and Josiah--crystallisations of the floating legends which had been
orally handed down. We have already pointed out to you the true line of
inspiration from Melchizedek. All prior to that is untrustworthy: and not all,
indeed, that is recorded concerning the lives of the real recipients of
spirit-guidance is accurate. But on the whole, the channel of Divine teaching
was such as we have said.
The books you name were all added and arranged from existing sources by
Ezra's authority, save and except those which were afterwards added--those
called by the names of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Haggai was concerned in
the compilation of the book of Ezra, and he and Malachi finally completed the
Old Testament by the addition of the later books. They, with Zechariah, were
much in communion, having been the privileged attendants of Daniel when he saw
his great vision and received his commission from Gabriel, the Archangel of God,
the Chief of the Ministering Angels, and from Michael the Archangel, the Chief
of the Hosts of the Lord against the adversaries. Of a surety Daniel the seer
was a highly-favoured recipient of Divine inspiration. The great God be thanked
for His mercy, and for the manifestation of His power.
Is that the vision recorded in Daniel x. ?
That by the banks of the Hiddekel.
The same. Then selections only were chosen from the
utterances of the prophets?
Only selections, and they chiefly for some hidden meaning, which does not lie
on the surface. As the open vision was about to cease, selections were made from
the records of the past, and the canon was closed until the days when the voice
of spirit-teaching should sound again amongst men.
You speak of Daniel as a great seer or medium. Do
you know if the gift was common?
He was a very favoured recipient of spirit power. Such became more rare as
the spiritual age was about to close. But men cultivated the power more then.
They valued more and knew more of spirit power and teaching.
Vast masses of trance addresses, visions, and the
like, such as those preserved in the Old Testament, must have been lost?
Assuredly. There was no need to preserve them. And many that were preserved
are now excluded from your Bible.
[A few days later (November 16th, 1873) I asked that
the promised communication about the idea of God might be given.]
We have already spoken in passing of the conception of Deity in your Bible.
We desire now to draw out more clearly this fact, that the growth of the idea of
God was a gradual one: that the God of Abraham was an inferior conception to the
God of Job: that the cardinal truth which we have ever insisted on is manifest
in your Bible even as elsewhere, viz., that God's Revelation is correlative with
man's spiritual development, and that He is revealed in proportion to man's
You have but to read, with this idea prominent to your mind, the records of
the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, to
see that this is so. In early patriarchal times, God, the Supreme, was adored
under many anthropomorphic representations. The God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob
was superior, in the opinion of those who worshipped him under that title, but
only superior, to the gods of their neighbours. The father of Abraham, as
you know, worshipped strange gods, i.e. gods other than his son's God.
Nay, this was invariably the case, each family having its own representative
deity by which its members vowed and swore. The name given to the Supreme,
Jehovah Elohim, shows you so much as that.
Laban, too, remember, pursued and threatened Jacob for having stolen his
gods. And the same patriarch collected on one occasion the images of his
household gods, and hid them under an oak tree. Here you see Jehovah was, as he
was constantly called, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: not the One Only
God, but a family deity.
It was only when the children of Israel grew into a nation that the idea
gradually enlarged itself to that of the national God of Moses and Joshua. Even
the great lawgiver, in his elevated conception of the Supreme, was not entirely
emancipated from the notion of a superior God; for he says expressly that
there is none like to Jehovah among the gods. And many like sentiments are to be
found in the recorded sayings. Indeed, in the commandments given as the very
words of the Supreme Himself, it is said that the Israelites should have no
other God before Him. Read Joshua's dying address, and you will see in it too,
the notion of a Superior Deity.
It was not until the development of the nation had so far progressed as to
make these anthropomorphic notions repulsive, that you find truer ideas of God
becoming rife. In the prophetical and poetical books of your Bible you get far
nobler conceptions of the Deity that in the earlier portions.
This is assured. God is revealed in your Bible in many forms. Some are noble
and elevated, as the books of Job and Daniel. Some are grovelling and mean, as
the books which are called historical. In all you see an exemplification of the
truth that God is revealed in proportion to man's capacity.
And it was not always a progressive revelation. As master minds stood forth
so was the God-idea chastened and refined. It has ever been so. It was markedly
so when Jesus revealed to man His conception of the Supreme. It is so still, as,
one by one, exalted spirits have found an aspiring soul to whom they could
convey ideas of the Great Father, and through them shed forth a brighter beam of
truth. Such have stood forth in well-nigh all your generations, and through them
from time to time revealings of Deity have been vouchsafed brighter than ever
were shed forth before. And an unprepared world has blinked and shielded its
eyes from the unwonted glare, and has chosen the gloom, for that it was not
prepared for full radiance of the Divine truth.
Handers-on of the courier fire. Yes: it is easy to
see in history men who were, as we say, in advance of their age. I suppose the
history of the world is a mere record of development, and that man cannot grasp
more of truth than his faculties fit him to understand. Otherwise, where would
be the eternal growth? At any rate, little enough is known yet.
It is well that you recognise your own ignorance. It is the first step to
progress. You are but now standing in the outmost court, far away from the
temple of truth. You must walk round and round, until you know the outer
precincts, before you can penetrate the inner courts; and long and laborious
efforts must precede and fit you for eventual entrance within the temple. Be
content. Wait and pray, and keep yourself in silence and patient watching.