THEOSOPHY, Vol. 59, No. 5, March, 1971
(Pages 145-150; Size: 17K)
REINCARNATION IN THE BIBLE(1)
REINCARNATION is the most ancient of doctrines and is believed in now by more human minds than the number of those who do not hold it. The millions in the East almost all accept it; it was taught by the Greeks; a large number of the Chinese now believe it as their forefathers did before them. It was believed by the Jews, and not only believed by Jesus but he also taught it.
The perfectibility of man, for example, was taught by Jesus. Reincarnation is a necessity for the evolution of this perfection, and through it at last are produced those Saviours of the race of whom Jesus was one. He did not deny similar privileges to others, but said to his disciples that they could do even greater works than he did. So we find these great Sages and Saviours in all religions. There are Moses and Abraham and Solomon, all Sages. And we are bound to accept the Jewish idea that Moses and the rest were the reincarnations of former persons. Moses was in their opinion Abel the son of Adam; and their Messiah was to be a reincarnation of Adam himself who had already come the second time in the person of David. We take the Messiah and trace him up to David, but refuse, improperly, to accept the remainder of their theory.
Christians should remember that Jesus was a Jew who thought his mission was to Jews, for he says in St. Matthew, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He must have well known the doctrines held by them. They all believed in reincarnation. The theory was very old at the time, and the old testament books show this to be so.
Elias and many other famous men were to actually return, and all the people were from time to time expecting them. The land is an oriental one, and the orientals always held the doctrine of the rebirth of mortals. It was not always referred to in respect to the common man who died and was reborn, but came up prominently when the names of great prophets, seers, and legislators were mentioned.
Hence this in the Old Testament: "And they will serve Jhvh their God and David their king whom I shall reawaken for them." That is, David reincarnates again for the people. Similarly it was held that Bileam, Laban, and Nabal were reincarnations of the one soul or individuality. And of Job it was said that he was the same person once known as Thara, the father of Abraham; by which they explained the verse of Job (9:21), "Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my own soul," to mean that he would not recognize himself as Thara.
All this is to be had in mind in reading Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee." In Proverbs viii, 22, we have Solomon saying that when the earth was made he was present, and that, long before he could have been born as Solomon, his delights were in the habitable parts of earth with the sons of men.
The Zohar is a work of great weight and authority among the Jews. In II, 199 b, it says that "all souls are subject to revolutions." This is metempsychosis or a'leen b'qilgoola; but it declares that "men do not know the way they have been judged in all time." That is, in their "revolutions" they lose a complete memory of the acts that have led to judgment. This is precisely the doctrine. The Kether Malkuth says, "If she, the soul, be pure, then she shall obtain favor ... but if she hath been defiled, then she shall wander for a time in pain and despair ... until the days of her purification." If the soul be pure and if she comes at once from God at birth, how could she be defiled? And where is she to wander if not on this or some other world until the days of her purification? The Rabbis always explained it as meaning she wandered down from Paradise through many revolutions or births until purity was regained.
Under the name of "Din Gilgot Neshomes" the doctrine of reincarnation is constantly spoken of in the Talmud. The term means "the judgment of the revolutions of the souls." And Rabbi Manassa, son of Israel, one of the most revered, says in his book Nishmath Hayem: "The belief or the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is a firm and infallible dogma accepted by the whole assemblage of our church with one accord, so that there is none to be found who would dare to deny it. ... Indeed, there is a great number of sages in Israel who hold firm to this doctrine so that they made it a dogma, a fundamental point of our religion. We are therefore in duty bound to obey and to accept this dogma with acclamation ... as the truth of it has been incontestably demonstrated by the Zohar, and all books of the Kabalists."
So in looking into these things we must also look at what were the beliefs of the day. The Jews then most undoubtedly believed in reincarnation. It was a commonly accepted doctrine as it is now in Hindustan, and Jesus must have been acquainted with it. The sayings of Jesus, of Paul, and others have to be viewed with the well-known and never-disputed doctrines of the day borne well in mind so as to make passages clear and show what was tacitly accepted. Jesus himself said that he intended to uphold and buttress the law, and that law was not only the matter found in the book the Christian theologians saw fit to accept, but also in the other authorities of which all except the grossly unlearned were cognizant. So when we find Herod listening to assertions that John and Jesus was this, that, or the other prophet or great man of olden time, we know that he was with the people speculating on the doctrine of reincarnation or "coming back," and as to who a present famous person may have been in a former life. Given as it is in the Gospels as a mere incident, it is very plain that the matter was court gossip in which long philosophical arguments were not indulged in, but the doctrine was accepted and then personal facts gone into for amusement as well as for warning to the king. To an Eastern potentate such a warning would be of moment, as he, unlike a Western man, would think that a returning great personage would of necessity have not only knowledge but also power, and that if the people had their minds attracted to a new aspirant for the leadership they would be inflamed beyond control with the idea that an old prophet or former king had come back to dwell in another body with them. The Christians have no right, then, to excise the doctrine of reincarnation from their system if it was known to Jesus, if it was brought to his attention and was not condemned at all but tacitly accepted, and further, finally, if in any single case it was declared by Jesus as true in respect to any person. And that all this was the case can, I think, be clearly shown.
Let us now come to the New Testament. When there was brought into the presence of Jesus a man who was born blind, the disciples naturally wondered why he had thus been punished by the Almighty, and asked Jesus whether the man was thus born blind for some sin he had committed, or one done by his parents. The question was put by them with the doctrine of reincarnation fully accepted, for it is obvious the man must have lived before, in their estimation, in order to have done sin for which he was then punished. Now if the doctrine was wrong and pernicious, as the church has declared it to be by anathematizing it, Jesus must have known it to be wrong, and then was the time for him to deny the whole theory and explode it, as well as definitely putting his seal of condemnation upon it for all time. Yet he did not do so; he waived it then and said the blindness was for other reasons in that case. It was not a denial of it.
St. Paul also gives the theory of reincarnation in Romans ix where he refers to the cases of Jacob and Esau, saying that the Lord loved the one and hated the other before they were born. It is obvious that the Lord cannot love or hate a non-existing thing, and that this means that Jacob and Esau had been in their former lives respectively good and bad and therefore the Lord -- or Karma -- loved the one and hated the other before their birth as the men known as Jacob and Esau. And Paul was here speaking of the same event that the older prophet Malachi spoke of in strict adherence to the prevalent idea. Following Paul and the disciples came the early fathers of the church, and many of them taught the same. Origen was the greatest of them. He gave the doctrine specifically and it was because of the influence of his ideas that the Council of Constantinople 500 years after Jesus saw fit to condemn the whole thing as pernicious.
St. Matthew relates in the eleventh chapter the talk of Jesus on the subject of John, who is declared by him to be the greatest of all, ending in the 14th verse, thus: "And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come." Here he took the doctrine for granted, and the "if" referred not to any possible doubts on that, but simply as to whether they would accept his designation of John the Baptist as Elias. In the 17th chapter (10-13) he once more takes up the subject:And his disciples asked him saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?The statement is repeated in Mark, chapter ix, v. 13, omitting the name of John. It was nowhere denied. It is not among any of the cases in which the different Gospels contradict each other; it is in no way doubtful. It is not only a reference to the doctrine of reincarnation, but is also a clear enunciation of it.
And Jesus answered and said unto them; Elias truly shall first come and restore all things.
But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done to him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them.
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Again, if Jesus thought the doctrine pernicious, as it must be if untrue, he would have condemned it at the first coming up, but not only did he fail to do so, he distinctly himself brought it up in the case of John, and again when asking what were the popular notions as to himself under the prevailing doctrines as above shown. Matthew 16:13-14 will do as an example, thus:When Jesus came into the coasts of Cesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?This was a deliberate bringing-up of the old doctrine, to which the disciples replied, as all Jews would, without any dispute of the matter of reincarnation; and the reply of Jesus was not a confutation of the notion, but a distinguishing of himself from the common lot of sages and prophets by showing himself to be an incarnation of God and not a reincarnation of any saint or sage. He did not bring it up to dispute and condemn as he would and did do in other matters; but to the very contrary he evidently referred to it so as to use it for showing himself as an incarnate God. St. John could have meant nothing but reincarnation in Revelation 3:12:
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.Evidently he had gone out before or the words "no more" could have no place or meaning. It was the old idea of the exile of the soul and the need for it to be purified by long wandering before it could be admitted as a "pillar in the temple of God." And until the ignorant ambitious monks after the death of Origen had gotten hold of Christianity, the doctrine must have ennobled the new movement. Later the council of Constantinople condemned all such notions directly in the face of the very words of Jesus, so that at last it ceased to vibrate as one of the chords.
This condemnation worked because the fathers were ignorant men, most of them Gentiles who did not care for old doctrines and, indeed, hated them. So it fell out of the public teaching and was at last lost to the Western world.
But if that condemnation goes against the words of Jesus it is of no effect. It does go against him, and thus the church is in the position of saying in effect that Jesus did not know enough to curse, as it did, a doctrine known and taught in his day and which was brought to his notice prominently and never condemned but in fact approved by him. Christianity is a Jewish religion, and this doctrine of reincarnation belongs to it historically by succession from the Jews, and also by reason of its having been taught by Jesus and the early fathers of the church. It is the anathema hurled by the church council about 500 A.D., and the absence of the doctrine from the teaching now that have damaged Christianity and made of all the Christian nations people who pretend to be followers of Jesus and the law of love, but who really as nations are followers of the Mosaic law of retaliation.
But it must revive, for it is one of the founder's own beliefs, and is really the most important of all the doctrines. Alone in reincarnation is the answer to all the problems of life, and in it and Karma is the force that will make men pursue in fact the ethics they have in theory. It is the aim of the old philosophy to restore this doctrine to whatsoever religion has lost it; and hence we call it the "lost chord of Christianity."
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
NOW IS THE TIME
Trouble. ... Why do we fear it? Why do we dread ordeal? Every good thing the human race has experienced was trouble for somebody. ... Then why do we not value trouble as the catalytic agent it is? Because we do not want to change. Change shoves us into the new; it makes us hew out a path through an unknown future; it drives us to learn, compels us to stretch our imagination; it whispers, "Let go that old defense; it is no more useful to you now than are bows and arrows to a modern army. Find a new defense -- one that fits the age you live in, one that will help you without destroying you."
Stretching hurts; learning hurts; hewing out a new path makes minds and bodies sore. There is never a convenient time to change, to seek the hidden potentialities we possess. And yet, change is necessary.
THE REINCARNATION OF NATIONS,
RACES, AND CIVILIZATIONS
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(1) NOTE.--Collated from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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