THEOSOPHY, Vol. 56, No. 7, May, 1968
(Pages 197-201; Size: 17K)
(Number 7 of a 36-part series)


PAGAN ROOTS: Destruction of Sources

"THE science of religion," wrote Max Müller in 1860, "is only just beginning.... During the last fifty years the authentic documents of the most important religions in the world have been recovered in a most unexpected and almost miraculous manner.(1) We have now before us the Canonical books of Buddhism; the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster is no longer a sealed book; and the hymns of the Rig-Veda have revealed a state of religions anterior to the first beginnings of that mythology which in Homer and Hesiod stands before us as a mouldering ruin."

In their insatiable desire to extend the dominion of blind faith, the early architects of Christian theology had been forced to conceal, as much as it was possible, the true sources of the same. To this end they are said to have burned or otherwise destroyed all the original manuscripts on the Kabala, magic, and occult sciences upon which they could lay their hands. They ignorantly supposed that the most dangerous writings of this class had perished with the last Gnostic; but some day they may discover their mistake. Other authentic and as important documents will perhaps reäppear in a "most unexpected and almost miraculous manner."

There are strange traditions current in various parts of the East -- on Mount Athos and in the Desert of Nitria, for instance -- among certain monks, and with learned Rabbis in Palestine, who pass their lives in commenting upon the Talmud. They say that not all the rolls and manuscripts, reported in history to have been burned by Cæsar, by the Christian mob, in 389, and by the Arab General Amru, perished as it is commonly believed; and the story they tell is the following: At the time of the contest for the throne, in 51 B.C., between Cleopatra and her brother Dionysius Ptolemy, the Bruckion, which contained over seven hundred thousand rolls, all bound in wood and fire-proof parchment, was undergoing repairs, and a great portion of the original manuscripts, considered among the most precious, and which were not duplicated, were stored away in the house of one of the librarians. As the fire which consumed the rest was but the result of accident, no precautions had been taken at the time. But they add, that several hours passed between the burning of the fleet, set on fire by Cæsar's order, and the moment when the first buildings situated near the harbor caught fire in their turn; and that all the librarians, aided by several hundred slaves attached to the museum, succeeded in saving the most precious of the rolls. So perfect and solid was the fabric of the parchment, that while in some rolls the inner pages and the wood-binding were reduced to ashes, of others the parchment binding remained unscorched. These particulars were all written out in Greek, Latin, and the Chaldeo-Syriac dialect, by a learned youth named Theodas, one of the scribes employed in the museum. One of these manuscripts is alleged to be preserved till now in a Greek convent; and the person who narrated the tradition to us had seen it himself. He said that many more will see it and learn where to look for important documents, when a certain prophecy will be fulfilled; adding, that most of these works could be found in Tartary and India.(2) The monk showed us a copy of the original, which, of course, we could read but poorly, as we claim but little erudition in the matter of dead languages. But we were so particularly struck by the vivid and picturesque translation of the holy father, that we perfectly remember some curious paragraphs, which run, as far as we can recall them, as follows: -- "When the Queen of the Sun (Cleopatra) was brought back to the half-ruined city, after the fire had devoured the Glory of the World; and when she saw the mountains of books -- or rolls -- covering the half-consumed steps of the estrada; and when she perceived that the inside was gone and the indestructible covers alone remained, she wept in rage and fury, and cursed the meanness of her fathers who had grudged the cost of the real Pergamos for the inside as well as the outside of the precious rolls." Further, our author, Theodas, indulges in a joke at the expense of the queen for believing that nearly all the library was burned; when, in fact, hundreds and thousands of the choicest books were safely stored in his own house and those of other scribes, librarians, students, and philosophers.

No more do sundry very learned Copts scattered all over the East in Asia Minor, Egypt, and Palestine believe in the total destruction of the subsequent libraries. For instance, they say that out of the library of Attalus III of Pergamus, presented by Antony to Cleopatra, not a volume was destroyed. At that time, according to their assertions, from the moment that the Christians began to gain power in Alexandria -- about the end of the fourth century -- and Anatolius, Bishop of Laodicea, began to insult the national gods, the Pagan philosophers and learned theurgists adopted effective measures to preserve the repositories of their sacred learning. Theophilus, a bishop, who left behind him the reputation of a most rascally and mercenary villain, was accused by one named Antoninus, a famous theurgist and eminent scholar of occult science of Alexandria, with bribing the slaves of the Serapion to steal books which he sold to foreigners at great prices. History tells us how Theophilus had the best of the philosophers, in A.D. 389; and how his successor and nephew, the no less infamous Cyril, butchered Hypatia. Suidas gives us some details about Antoninus, whom he calls Antonius, and his eloquent friend Olympus, the defender of the Serapion. But history is far from being complete in the miserable remnants of books, which, crossing so many ages, have reached our own learned century; it fails to give the facts relating to the first five centuries of Christianity which are preserved in the numerous traditions current in the East. Unauthenticated as these may appear, there is unquestionably in the heap of chaff much good grain. That these traditions are not oftener communicated to Europeans is not strange, when we consider how apt our travellers are to render themselves antagonistic to the natives by their skeptical bearing and, occasionally, dogmatic intolerance. When exceptional men like some archæologists, who knew how to win the confidence and even friendship of certain Arabs, are favored with precious documents, it is declared simply a "coincidence." And yet there are widespread traditions of the existence of certain subterranean and immense galleries, in the neighborhood of Ishmonia -- the "petrified City," in which are stored numberless manuscripts and rolls. For no amount of money would the Arabs go near it. At night, they say, from the crevices of the desolate ruins, sunk deep in the unwatered sands of the desert, stream the rays from lights carried to and fro in the galleries by no human hands. The Afrites study the literature of the antediluvian ages, according to their belief, and the Djin learns from the magic rolls the lesson of the following day.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, in its article on Alexandria, says: "When the temple of Serapis was demolished ... the valuable library was pillaged or destroyed; and twenty years afterwards(3) the empty shelves excited the regret ... etc." But it does not state the subsequent fate of the pillaged books.

In rivalry of the fierce Mary-worshippers of the fourth century, the modern clerical persecutors of liberalism and "heresy" would willingly shut up all the heretics and their books in some modern Serapion and burn them alive.(4) The cause of this hatred is natural. Modern research has more than ever unveiled the secret. "Is not the worship of saints and angels now," said Bishop Newton, years ago, "in all respects the same that the worship of demons was in former times? The name only is different, the thing is identically the same ... the very same temples, the very same images, which were once consecrated to Jupiter and the other demons are now consecrated to the Virgin Mary and other saints ... the whole of Paganism is converted and applied to Popery."

Why not be impartial and add that "a good portion of it was adopted by Protestant religions also?"

Dreary and sad were the ways, and blood-covered the tortuous paths by which the world of the Christians was driven to embrace the Irenæan and Eusebian Christianity. And yet, unless we accept the views of the ancient Pagans, what claim has our generation to having solved any of the mysteries of the "kingdom of heaven?" What more does the most pious and learned of Christians know of the future destiny and progress of our immortal spirits than the heathen philosopher of old, or the modern "Pagan" beyond the Himalaya? Can he even boast that he knows as much, although he works in the full blaze of "divine" revelation? We have seen a Buddhist holding to the religion of his fathers, both in theory and practice; and, however blind may be his faith, however absurd his notions on some particular doctrinal points, later engraftings of an ambitious clergy, yet in practical works his Buddhism is far more Christ-like in deed and spirit than the average life of our Christian priests and ministers. The fact alone that his religion commands him to "honor his own faith, but never slander that of other people," is sufficient. It places the Buddhist lama immeasurably higher than any priest or clergyman who deems it his sacred duty to curse the "heathen" to his face, and sentence him and his religion to "eternal damnation." Christianity becomes every day more a religion of pure emotionalism. The doctrine of Buddha is entirely based on practical works. A general love of all beings, human and animal, is its nucleus. A man who knows that unless he toils for himself he has to starve, and understands that he has no scapegoat to carry the burden of his iniquities for him, is ten times as likely to become a better man than one who is taught that murder, theft, and profligacy can be washed in one instant as white as snow, if he but believes in a God who, to borrow an expression of Volney, "once took food upon earth, and is now himself the food of his people."

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(5) NOTE.--"The Christian Scheme," begun in November, 1967, is collated from the works of H. P. Blavatsky. It recounts the historical background and early development of Christianity.
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(1) One of the most surprising facts that have come under our observation, is that students of profound research should not couple the frequent recurrence of these "unexpected and almost miraculous" discoveries of important documents, at the most opportune moments, with a premeditated design. Is it so strange that the custodians of "Pagan" lore, seeing that the proper moment had arrived, should cause the needed document, book, or relic to fall as if by accident in the right man's way? Geological surveyors and explorers even as competent as Humboldt and Tschuddi, have not discovered the hidden mines from which the Peruvian Incas dug their treasure, although the latter confesses that the present degenerate Indians have the secret. In 1839, Perring, the archæologist, proposed to the sheik of an Arab village two purses of gold, if he helped him to discover the entrance to the hidden passage leading to the sepulchral chambers in the North Pyramid of Doshoor. But though his men were out of employment and half-starved, the sheik proudly refused to "sell the secret of the dead," promising to show it gratis, when the time would come for it. Is it, then, impossible that in some other regions of the earth are guarded the remains of that glorious literature of the past, which was the fruit of its majestic civilization? What is there so surprising in the idea? Who knows but that as the Christian Church has unconsciously begotten free thought by reaction against her own cruelty, rapacity, and dogmatism, the public mind may be glad to follow the lead of the Orientalists, away from Jerusalem and towards Ellora; and that then much more will be discovered that is now hidden?
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(2) An after-thought has made us fancy that we can understand what is meant by the following sentences of Moses of Chorenè: "The ancient Asiatics," says he, "five centuries before our era -- and especially the Hindus, the Persians, and the Chaldeans, had in their possession a quantity of historical and scientific books. These works were partially borrowed, partially translated in the Greek language, mostly since the Ptolemies had established the Alexandrian library and encouraged the writers by their liberalities, so that the Greek language became the deposit of all the sciences" ("History of Armenia"). Therefore, the greater part of the literature included in the 700,000 volumes of the Alexandrian Library was due to India, and her next neighbors.
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(3) Bonamy says in "Le Bibliotheque d'Alexandrie," quoting, we suppose, the Presbyter Orosius, who was an eye-witness, "thirty years later."
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(4) Since the above was written, the spirit here described has been beautifully exemplified at Barcelona, Spain, where the Bishop Fray Joachim invited the local spiritualists to witness a formal burning of spiritual books. We find the account in a paper called "The Revelation," published at Alicante, which sensibly adds that the performance was "a caricature of the memorable epoch of the Inquisition."
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