Deeper Secrets of Human History in the Light of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Lecture 3 of 3.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, November 23, 1909:
As a contribution to studies connected with the Gospel of St. Matthew, something was said in the last lecture about the mission of the ancient Hebrew people and how Christ-Jesus sprang from this people. In studying the Gospels our aim is to understand little by little how the different streams of spiritual life converged, in order, eventually, in the great Christian stream, to provide in common for the further evolution of the Earth. All that could be done in a brief study was to indicate in merest outline the part played by the ancient Hebrew people in the general evolution of mankind But it is not possible to understand the Gospel of St. Matthew unless we at least give some consideration to certain other aspects of this people.
For the sake of clarity let us once more remind ourselves of the soul-nature of the Hebrews, upon which their whole mission was dependent. We have seen that their mission differed from that of the other pre-Christian peoples. To the latter, that which they had inherited of the ancient clairvoyance of mankind was still an essential factor. Evidence of this clairvoyant knowledge is to be found among all the peoples of antiquity. We may speak of it as a ‘primeval wisdom.’ It can be described more exactly in the following way. — In old Atlantis, vision of the spiritual world was still the common heritage of men. Although the higher experiences were accessible only to initiates, every human being had, at the very least, a definite conception of the spiritual world, because in certain intermediary states of consciousness the men of that epoch were still able to see into the spiritual realm. But this faculty had to be replaced by one that today is uppermost in man, that of intellectual reasoning, comprehension of the outer world by means of the physical senses; in other words, experience of the outer physical world. This faculty developed slowly, and by degrees, in the course of the pre-Christian era. A considerable residue of the old clairvoyance still survived in the people of ancient India. The teaching imparted by the holy rishis was a primeval wisdom, inherited from the far past. So too, in the second Post-Atlantean epoch of culture, what was known to the pupils and followers of Zarathustra in ancient Persia was a legacy of this old clairvoyance. Chaldean astronomy, and also the knowledge possessed by the ancient Egyptians, were both permeated with the ancient wisdom. A science derived from the faculties typical of later Post-Atlantean humanity would have been entirely unintelligible to the Egyptians and the Chaldeans. No science, expressing itself in the form of concepts and ideas of a physical nature, existed in those days. There was no reflective thinking such as we know it today.
It is by no means unimportant to be clear in our minds about the difference between a genuine seer of our own time and a seer, let us say, of ancient Chaldea or ancient Egypt. There is a very marked difference. One who in the life and conditions natural in our time unfolds genuine seership must bring to bear upon the revelations, inspirations, and experiences coming to him from the spiritual world the logical reason he is able to acquire here in the physical world, through the exercise of normal, earthly thinking The experiences of a seer in modern times can never be completely intelligible if they are not received by a soul thoroughly schooled in logical, reasoned thinking. In the modern age these inspirations and revelations from the spiritual world demand that logical thinking shall be brought to bear upon them. A person who has such inspirations today, but lacks the will to unfold logical thinking, to develop his earthly faculties healthily and selflessly, can never achieve more than what is called ‘visionary clairvoyance,’ which remains obscure and incomprehensible, and is for this reason bound to be misleading. Only a soul possessed of the resolute will to exercise reason can provide the right conditions for inspirations from the spiritual world in the modern age. That is why in a spiritual movement such as ours the greatest possible importance must be attached to the fact that seership shall not be developed, nor the revelations from the spiritual world proclaimed, in an amateurish, unbalanced way. The aim for which we must work is that the soul itself shall bring something to meet the inspirations and revelations. The development of seership demands the effort and exertion required in rational thinking. In our time the two cannot be separated.
For an Egyptian or Chaldean seer it was an entirely different matter. Together with the inspirations — which arrived by quite another path — came the principles of thinking; hence he needed no separate system of thinking. When he had undergone spiritual training the principles of thinking were given to him complete, along with the inspirations themselves. The organism of modern man is no longer suited for this, it has grown out of it; for humanity is always moving on.
Only by bearing this difference clearly in mind can we fully understand what is implied by saying that vestiges of the old clairvoyance still survived in pre-Christian times, with the one exception of the ancient Hebrew people. They were chosen from the first, in order to develop a human organism possessing the faculty of comprehending the outer physical world according to number, measure, and weight, so that by this means they might gradually rise from knowledge of the physical world to knowledge of the spiritual reality comprised in the concept of Jahve or Jehovah. The all-essential point here is that in Abraham there had been chosen a man possessing a brain so constituted as to enable him to become the progenitor of a whole people, who would inherit these qualities from him and transmit them to their descendants. Spiritual promptings must be received not merely as arising from within man, but as a gift from without. All that was derived from Abraham came, primarily, not from within, but as a revelation from without. This is a factor of immense importance, radically distinguishing the character of this people from that of the other peoples of antiquity.
You can well imagine that the old inherited faculties could not disappear all at once, but that vestiges remained, even in this people. It was so in the case of Joseph, who in this respect still had much in common with the other peoples. For this reason he could be the link between the ancient Hebrews and the Egyptians, who were the latest to remain in the spiritual stream of the pre-Christian peoples. The development of the new faculties was bound to be only very gradual.
Why was a people prepared in this definite way? Why had a people to be chosen for separation from all the other forms of pre-Christian spiritual life, and why had they to be endowed with faculties of a special kind? All this had to take place to make it possible for mankind to be prepared for that great point of time — already drawing near — when Christ-Jesus was on Earth. It was the point of time when all the old clairvoyance, all the conditions determined and restricted by blood-relationship had lost their significance and when something new entered into the life of man, namely, the full activity of the ego. Through the widespread intermingling of blood, conditions which in earlier times had great meaning and purpose passed away, but in their place came the possibility of the full activity of the human ego. Thus the true kingdom of mankind — the Kingdom of Heaven — was added to the other kingdoms.
Now, speaking generally, when anything is born, men are not immediately prone to recognize it as what it really is. They certainly do not immediately recognize happenings of the spiritual life. They are very ready to speak of prophets who will come in the future — this was quite usual in the times both preceding and following the birth of Christianity. In the 12th and 13th centuries there was a veritable mania for prophecy. Here, there, and everywhere people came forward proclaiming the imminent return of Christ, pointing to the places where He would appear. In other times, too, isolated phenomena of the kind have occurred. There has been talk about one person or another being the new incarnation of Christ. — No words need be wasted on the subject of such prophecies because even when they are made they bear evidence in themselves of their own defect. One defect they all have: they speak of an event that is to come, but neglect so to prepare men's hearts and minds that they are capable of recognizing and understanding it. The position of these people reminds one of the incident of the teacher which Hebbel gives in his diary. — The teacher gives a severe thrashing to a particular pupil because he cannot understand Plato. Hebbel adds, jokingly, that the pupil was the reincarnated Plato himself! This is the sort of thing that happens to people who are constantly talking about a Christ who is to come again. They would be little prepared for the reality, even were it to appear; they would take the Christ for something altogether different from the Christ.
Preparation for the Christ had therefore to be made in advance. This must be realized before it is possible to understand the Gospel of St. Matthew. Preparation was necessary in order that there might at least be a few human beings capable of understanding the Christ Event, which — to characterize one aspect only — consisted in knowing that Christ was the One Who made it possible for men thenceforth to receive from without not physical impressions only, but also the Spirit. For this, individual men had to be prepared.
In point of fact, right through Hebrew history, some individuals were, by certain methods, prepared to be able to understand the Christ Event. In the earliest times there were only a few of these men, but they and their way of life must be closely studied if we are to realize what careful preparations were made for the coming of Christ, how the Hebrew people, with the qualities they had inherited from Abraham, were rendered capable of a prophetic understanding of how the human ego would be brought to man through the Saviour. Those men who were prepared so as to be able to recognize and understand, by clairvoyance, the significance of the Christ were called Nazarenes. [ Note 11] These men were able to perceive clairvoyantly all that had been prepared from the earliest days of the Hebrews, in order that, out of and through this people, the Christ might be born and understood. In a mode of life compatible with the development of clairvoyant insight, these Nazarenes were bound by strict and strenuous rules. These rules, since they belonged to quite another age, differ considerably from those essential for the attainment of spiritual knowledge today, although in some respects there is a certain similarity. Much that was of primary importance in the Nazarene training is subsidiary today, and much that was subsidiary then would now be essential. Nobody should imagine that methods which in earlier times led to clairvoyant knowledge of Christ would have the effect of leading a man of the modern age to the same momentous recognition.
The first demand made of a Nazarene was total abstention from all alcohol; indeed, the taking of any food prepared with vinegar was most strictly forbidden. Those who obeyed the prescribed rules to the letter were obliged to refrain from consuming anything whatsoever derived from the grape. This was because it was held that in the grape the plant-forming principle has overstepped a certain point, namely the point where the Sun-forces alone are working on the plant. In the grape there are at work not the Sun-forces alone, but something that develops inwardly and has already matured by the time the Sun-forces are weakening in the autumn. Hence anything deriving from the grape might be drunk only by those who did not aspire to the higher form of clairvoyance, but who worshipped the god Dionysos and were content that their faculties should rise up as it were out of the Earth. Further, as long as his preparation and training lasted, the Nazarene was committed never to touch or come into contact with anything that has an astral body and can die; briefly, the Nazarene must avoid anything of an animal nature. In the strictest sense of the word he must be a vegetarian. Therefore in certain regions the strictest Nazarenes fed only on the carob bean, the so-called ‘St. John’s bread'; this was a very common food among them. They also fed on the honey of wild bees — not cultivated bees — and other honey-seeking insects. John the Baptist, in later days, adopted this way of life, feeding on the carob bean and wild honey. In the Gospels it is said that his food was locusts and wild honey, but this must be regarded as a mistranslation. — I have elsewhere called your attention to other mistranslations of the same kind. [ Note 12]
Another of the main stipulations in the preparation for seership was that during the period of their training the Nazarenes must not allow their hair to be cut. The reason for this is intimately connected with the whole process of human evolution. This relationship of hair to human evolution is a fundamental fact. All in man that concerns his true being can be understood only if we try to see it against its spiritual background. Strange as it may sound, in our hair we have a relic of certain rays by which the Sun-forces were once instilled into man. What the Sun in earlier times thus instilled into man was something living. We find clear illustrations of this in times when man still had consciousness of deeper realities. For example, in many ancient sculptures of lions it is clearly evident that the sculptuor's aim was not simply to copy a lion as we know it today with its mane. A sculptor, still cognizant of the traditions born of ancient knowledge, portrayed a lion in such a way as to convey the impression that the hairs in the mane seem to be inserted into the body as if from outside, like instreaming rays of the Sun which have, as it were, hardened into hairs. One can therefore well imagine that in ancient time it might have been quite possible, by leaving the hair uncut, to receive certain forces into one's being, especially if the hair was young and healthy. — But even in the times of Hebrew antiquity this was, in point of fact, regarded among the Nazarenes as hardly more than a symbol.
The progress of mankind, however, did in fact depend to some measure upon his allowing the spiritual reality behind the Sun to stream into his being. The fact that as time went on man was born as a less and less hairy being was symptomatic of his advance from the old, upwelling gift of clairvoyance to reasoned thought concerning the outer world. We must picture the men of the Atlantean and earliest Post-Atlantean epochs with a copious growth of hair — a sign that spiritual light was still shining down upon them in great strength. As the Bible tells, the choice was made between the smooth-skinned Jacob and the hairy Esau. In Esau we must see a descendant of Abraham in whom the last residue of an ancient phase of human evolution still survived, manifesting in his growth of hair. The man possessed of faculties leading him outward into the surrounding world is represented in Jacob, who was gifted with the qualities of cleverness, with all its darker sides. Esau is ousted by Jacob.
Thus in Esau another offshoot of the main line of development is cast aside. From him sprang the Edomites, in whom old, inherited faculties continued to be propagated. All these things are accurately and beautifully expressed in the Bible.
But now there had to arise in man a new consciousness of the spiritual life, and it had to arise, in a new way, in the Nazarene, through keeping his hair uncut during the time of his preparation. The relation of hair to the light of the spirit in the ancient world is confirmed by the fact that with the exception of an insignificant cipher, “light” and “hair” are expressed in the ancient Hebrew language by the same word. The ancient Hebrew tongue is full of indications of the deepest secrets of human evolution and must be regarded as a momentous revelation of wisdom through language. Such, then, was the purpose underlying the Nazarene custom of allowing the hair to grow long. Today, of course, this is no longer essential.
During the time of his preparation the Nazarene had to be led to a very definite clairvoyant experience which would reveal to him that the approach of Christ to mankind was drawing near. The last great Nazarene lived at the time of Christ. His name was John the Baptist. Not only had he himself experienced the complete experience of the Nazarene training but he enabled all those whom he inspired to bring to their true manhood, to experience it likewise. [ Note 13] This complete experience is nothing else than the baptism of John. It is important to understand exactly what its effect was upon their inner development. What was this baptism, and to what did it lead? In the first place a man was plunged under water, the effect being that his etheric body in the region of his head was loosened somewhat from the physical body, whereas normally the etheric body is firmly knit with the physical body. It is well known that if a man is on the point of drowning, the whole tableau of his life flashes before him as a result of the loosening of his etheric body. This was what happened in the baptism given by John. A man beheld his life-tableau, events of his life otherwise completely forgotton. Moreover the nature and constitution of the human in that particular epoch was also revealed to him. The physical body evolves out of the shaping and moulding which it receives from the etheric body, but this member of man's being which gives form to the physical body can be perceived only if it is loosened from the physical body, as happened in the baptism of John.
If a man had undergone such a baptism three thousand years before our era, he would have become conscious that the highest spiritual condition that can be bestowed upon the human being can only come to him as a heritage from the ancient past — for whatever was given to man out of the spiritual worlds in very ancient times was essentially a heritage. This heritage of the past was portrayed in the etheric body and acted as a formative force upon the physical body. Even to those who had developed beyond the normal stage, such a baptism would have revealed that all their knowledge was founded upon ancient spirit-inspiration. This experience was described as the vision of the soul-nature of the etheric body in the form of the Serpent. Those who had had this experience were called Children of the Serpent, because they had seen how the Luciferic beings had descended into the being of man, how the etheric body which had given the physical body its form and shape was itself a creation of the Serpent.
Now, however, in a baptism not three thousand years before John the Baptist but in his own day, something quite different came to light. Among those who were baptized there were some whose very nature gave evidence of the progress in human evolution: namely, of the vastly increased power of the ego, derived from its experience of the outer visible world. Moreover the picture arising for them was entirely different from that revealed at the earlier baptisms. Men now beheld the creative forces of the etheric body no longer in the image of the Serpent, but in the image of the Lamb. (See Appendix III, p. 76) This etheric body was no longer permeated from within by what issued from the Luciferic forces, but was wholly surrendered to the spiritual world which shines into the souls of men through the phenomena of the outer world. In the Baptism of John this vision of the Lamb came to those who were able to understand what at that time baptism signified. Moreover they knew from what they themselves experienced that man had become an altogether different being, a quite new being. The few who experienced this at the baptism of John were able to say: A great and momentous event has come to pass; man has become a different being; the ego has now the rulership on Earth! — Among those whom John baptized there were some who had been made ready to understand the signs of the times, to recognize that so supreme an event had come to pass. [ Note 14]
This had always been the goal of the Nazarenes. Through the experience brought by this baptism they recognized that the coming of Christ was near at hand. This they knew from the form in which the etheric body appeared before them, when loosened in the baptism. It was the mission of John the Baptist to reveal that now the time had come when the ego could express itself fully in man's nature; thereby he brought the ages of antiquity to their fulfillment. He gathered around him a community to whom he was able to reveal that now, through the emergence of the ego in the real sense, the Christ Principle could draw into mankind. John the Baptist brought the Nazarene movement to such a height that, out of his prophecy alone, it found its fulfillment. He gathered around him a community able to understand the approaching Christ Event. — Only in this light are the words spoken by John the Baptist intelligible. Such words must be taken in their deepest meaning. It is quite wrong that students of these matters today should regard John the Baptist merely as a raging fanatic, a man who storms at the Pharisees, calling them “a generation of vipers,” and cries out to them: “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” John the Baptist would have been no more than a brawler had he not rejoiced when Pharisees and Sadducees came to him to be baptized. Nevertheless when they come, he inveighs against them. Why is this?
When the inner meaning of these things is understood it is at once obvious that the words are not just outpourings of fanatical abuse, but have profound significance. This, however, can only be understood by reflecting upon a certain feature in the history of the ancient Hebrew people.
From what has been said it will be clear to you that in Abraham there had been chosen a man whose constitution was such that at the right time the Christ could be born of his descendants. But this required the development and elaboration of faculties which had been present in Abraham as rudiments only. We must realize that if these rudiments were to be unfolded it was constantly necessary for certain elements to be eliminated. We have already seen how this happened in the case of Joseph, but there were even earlier examples, such as Esau, from whom the Edomites descended, because in him too an ancient heritage had remained. Only such qualities as were compatible with the goal described were to be preserved. This is indicated in a wonderful way. — Abraham had two sons: Isaac, the son of Sarah, and Ishmael. The Hebrew nation were the descendants of Isaac. In Abraham, however, there were other qualities as well. If these other qualities had been transmitted through the Hebrew generations, the right conditions would not have been achieved. Hence this different element must be radically thrust away into another line of descendants, into the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian bond-woman. Therefore two lines of descent go out from Abraham, the one through Isaac, and the other through the outcast Ishmael, who, having the blood of an Egyptian in his veins, must have in his constitution elements unfitting for the mission of the Hebrew people.
But now something momentous comes to pass! The task of the Hebrew people was to propagate in the direct line of heredity the qualities that were intrinsically their own, and everything that was an ancient heritage, ancient wisdom, had to be imparted to them from without. Hence they had to go to Egypt in order to receive what could be given to them there. Moses was able to impart this to his people because he was an Egyptian initiate. But he certainly could not have done so had he possessed wisdom merely in its Egyptian form. It would be erroneous to imagine that the ancient Egyptian wisdom could be simply grafted on to what flowed down from Abraham. This would not have been compatible with the intrinsic character of the Hebrew people and would have produced an abortive form of culture. Moses brought with him to the wisdom he acquired from his Egyptian initiation something of a quite different nature. Hence he could not simply impart to the Israelites what came from the Egyptian initiation. His first real gift to them was made after the revelation on Sinai, and made outside Egypt.
What, then, is the revelation on Sinai? What was vouchsafed to Moses there, and what was it that he imparted to the Israelites? He imparted something that could well be grafted into the stem of this people because it was related to them in a very definite way. In times past the descendants of Ishmael had wandered away from their country and had settled in the regions now traversed by Moses and his people. Moses found in the Ishmaelites, among whom there was initiation of a certain kind, those attributes and qualities which had been transmitted to them through Hagar, qualities which were derived from Abraham but in which were preserved many elements inherited from the ancient past. Out of the revelations that he received from this branch of the Hebrew people it became possible for Moses to make the revelation of Sinai intelligible to the Israelites. In regard to this there is an ancient Hebrew legend that in Ishmael a shoot of Abraham was cast out into Arabia, that is, into the desert. What sprang from this stock is contained in the teaching of Moses. On Sinai the ancient Hebrew people received back again, in the Mosaic Law, what had been cast out from their blood: they received it back from without.
Here we also see how in the wonderful mission of the Hebrew people everything had to be given to them; had to be received back at a later stage as a gift. As a gift from without Abraham had, in Isaac, received the whole Hebrew nation. Again, Moses and his people received back from the descendants of Ishmael what had once been thrust out from their midst. During the period of their isolation in the wilderness they had to build up their own constitution, and also receive back as a gift from their God what they had cast out. So, too, Jacob was in the end reconciled with Esau, thus receiving again what, in Esau, had been cast away. — The Bible must be read with scrupulous attention if the import of the words it contains is to be rightly understood.
The whole history of the Hebrew people is full of significant happenings such as these. The giving of the Law by Moses is connected with something that springs from the descendants of Hagar, whereas the Hebrew blood, which represents the specific Israelitish faculties, springs from Sarah. Hagar or Agar in Hebrew is the same as Sinai, which means the ‘stone mountain’, the great stone. One might say that Moses received the revelation of the Law from the ‘great stone’ — a material representation of Hagar. The Law given to this Judaic people did not spring from the highest faculties in Abraham, but from Hagar, from Sinai. Those, therefore, who are followers merely of the Law as given on Sinai — that is, the Pharisees and the Sadducees — are exposed to the danger of their development coming to a standstill. They are those who at the baptism of John will see not the Lamb, but the Serpent.
Viewed in this light, what would otherwise seem to be mere abuse on the part of the Baptist becomes a righteous warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees when he cries out to them: ‘Ye who are followers of the Serpent, take heed that in the baptism ye have the true vision’; — that is to say, the vision of the Lamb, not of the Serpent! He also tells them that they must not rely upon the fact that they have Abraham as their father. For this came to their lips as a mere phrase; they were swearing by what had proceeded from the Sinai stone, but had now ceased to have significance. ‘Now’ — said the Baptist — ‘out of the universe there is drawing near the newborn ego, and this ego I make known to you. I declare to you how out of Judaism there will spring the true inheritance which has been carried down the generations, and to which men will swear allegiance, not now by the stone of Sinai, but by that which is everywhere 'round about us. The children of God will be made manifest, when, behind the material, the spiritual will be visible. Out of these stones God's word is able to raise up children unto Abraham. You speak without understanding when you say: “We have Abraham as our father.”
Only in the light of what has here been said is meaning imparted to these words of the Baptist. Nor are such things disclosed by the Akasha Chronicle alone; they stand in the Bible itself. Compare the words of the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians [4:24-25]. What I have told you here is confirmed by St. Paul. He too says that the word Hagar or Agar is identical with Sinai and indicates that what was given on Sinai is a covenant which must be outgrown by those who, through the development of the essential qualities of Abraham in the successive generations, are now to realize what has come into the world through Christ.
This again points to a saying which must in future be understood. It is pitiful indeed that in an age when intelligence has reached such heights, men have yet given so little reflection to such words as “Repent ye!” According to the real meaning, the translation should be somewhat as follows: ‘Change the tenor of your minds!’ In many passages it is said that John baptized unto repentance, that is to say, he baptized with water in order that a change might take place in the tenor and attitude of the soul. When those who had been baptized came out of the water, it behooved them so to change the tenor of their souls that they no longer looked back to the old traditions, but forward to what the freed ego, which Christ would give, should contain. The hearts and minds of men were to be turned from the direction leading to the ancient gods into the direction leading to the new divine-spiritual beings. It was in this sense that the baptism of John was to bring about a change of heart and soul. John baptized with water in order that there might be called forth in some human beings the power to recognize the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, and with that recognition to understand who Christ-Jesus is.
Herewith something more has been added to what we have already come to know of the mission of the ancient Hebrew people. All these things will lead step by step to a better understanding of Christ. We have seen how the mission of the Hebrews takes shape with most wonderful inner coherence. We have seen how there were present in Abraham faculties which developed in the Hebrew people through successive generations. This required that many elements should be discarded and that the suitable elements should develop further in the blood, through propagation. That for which this people from Abraham onwards were specially gifted and chosen was concentrated in one single being, in Jesus. The Jews had to be maintained in their mission by a teaching; but that teaching had to come from without, and, in point of fact, from what they themselves had once cast out. The elements derived from Ishmael might not remain in the blood, but must be present purely in the domain of knowledge. This the Hebrew people received back again in the giving of the Law by Moses on Sinai. This Law had fulfilled its purpose at the point of time when what had come from the “stone” was no longer needed, but when men possessed what was to be bestowed upon mankind from the universe. Thus slowly and gradually preparation was made for the time when out of the stones, the sons of God — that is, the race of Man — could arise, when, behind all ‘stones’, behind all the earth, the spiritual world should be made manifest.
These are but fragmentary contributions toward an understanding of the mission of the Hebrew people. Only when we fully understand this mission can we begin to comprehend the majestic figure of Christ-Jesus as presented to us in the Gospel of St. Matthew.
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