The word Apocrypha means hidden, or secret, i. e., esoteric, and is applied to fourteen books originally published with the Old Testament, but now omitted, as they are not recognized as canonical by the English Church. The Roman Catholic Church admits most of them, the Greek Church admits them all. They are too little studied by theosophists, for they are full of wisdom and beauty, and rightly bear the name of the secret or esoteric teaching, and they need no endorsement of church or state to those who are familiar with them.
The most important, to us at least, are the two books of Esdras (identified with Ezra and a continuation of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament), the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. From the two latter Dante drank deep draughts of inspiration, and his descriptions of Beatrice are full of quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon. I shall not try to unravel the meanings of the seven wonderful visions of Esdras in this brief paper, but only endeavor to point out a few striking instances of the theosophical ideas in these books.
The Wisdom of Solomon was said by the Fathers to have been written by Philo, called Judaeus, but this point is much disputed. Philo was a Pythagorean and Platonist, and his teachings were those of Theosophy as to the doctrine of the Absolute; he wrote of the Logos as a synthesis of the creative forces of Nature, and taught the dual nature of man and reincarnation, and his writings are at least in accordance with the books above mentioned, even if he wrote none of them.
The first book of Esdras is chiefly historical, like Ezra and Nehemiah, but Esdras II. is apocalyptic and full of beautiful and significant passages. Not to mention the vision of Ch. II., the idea of primitive man as an unreasoning animal is distinctly set forth in v. 5 of Ch. III., which says:
“Thou gavest a body unto Adam without soul, which was the workmanship of thy hands, and didst breathe into him the breath of life, and he was made living before thee. And unto him thou gavest commandment to love thy way [nothing said here of anything more than an observance of natural law], which he transgressed, and immediately thou appointedst death in him and in his generations.”
In Ch. IV. we have the beautiful parable of the forests and the sea, and in v. 28-30, comes what might be a description of the Kali-Yuga.
“The evil is sown, but the destruction thereof is not yet come. If therefore that which is sown be not turned upside down, and if the place where the evil is sown pass not away, then cannot it come that is sown with good. For the grain of evil seed hath been sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning.”
We cannot have reconstruction without destruction, and the nature itself must suffer change before the better harvest can be planted. Here we have clearly suggested too, the dual nature of man, and the doctrine of Karma. Unless the grain be uprooted, the necessary harvest must follow the sowing, and in the first of men was implanted the capacity for sin, as well as the capacity for right-doing.
It would take too long to go through the whole book, but it is an interesting fact that Esdras refers to the gradual decrease of stature in the races.
“Ye are of less stature than those that were before you,” he says, “and so are they that come after you less than ye.”1 And he refers in Ch. VII. to that primitive state of innocence when “the entrances of the elder world were wide and sure, and brought immortal fruit,” but when mankind had fallen into sin, “then were the entrances of this world made narrow, full of sorrow and travail: they are but few and evil, full of perils and very painful.”
In the same chapter the prophet refers to the pralaya of seven “days”:
“And the world shall be turned into the old silence, seven days, like as in the former judgments [indicating former periods of repose]. And after seven days, the world that yet awaketh not, shall be raised up, and that shall die that is corrupt. And the earth shall restore those that are asleep in her, and so shall the dust those that dwell in silence, and the secret places shall deliver those souls that were committed unto them.” So is it said in the Sacred Slokas: “The thread of radiance which is imperishable and dissolves only in Nirvana, reemerges from it in its integrity on the day when the Great Law calls all things back into action.”2
Then Esdras, moved by the thought of all the sin and suffering that must be in the world, before the promised glory should return, asks the old question, “Why do we live at all?”
“It had been better not to have given the earth unto Adam, or else when it was given him, to have restrained him from sinning.”
And the Voice that was like “the sound of many waters,” that spoke to him in the visions of the night, answered him with the doctrine of the Cycle of Necessity.
“This is the condition of the battle, which man that is born upon the earth shall fight; that if he be overcome, he shall suffer as thou hast said; but if he get the victory, he shall receive the thing that I say.” “Therefore, O Arjuna, resolve to fight,” says Krishna.
When Esdras had prepared himself by prayer and fasting for spiritual illumination, a full cup was reached to him, “which was full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire. And 1 took it and drank; and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory.”
Of the two hundred and four books that the five swift scribes wrote at his dictation, he was told to publish the first openly, but to keep the seventy last, “that thou mayst deliver them only to such as be wise among the people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.”
“I shall light a candle of understanding in thy heart,” said the Voice, “which shall not be put out till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write.”
II. The Wisdom of Solomon
The first verses of the Wisdom of Solomon suggest the occult law which teaches the necessity of a proper state of mind in the would-be recipient of divine truth, and shows that of all adverse conditions, the worst is doubt. “Seek the Lord in simplicity (or singleness) of heart,” says the writer, “for he showeth himself unto such as do not distrust him.” And then, after several chapters that remind one, sometimes of Proverbs and sometimes of the Pauline Epistles, King Solomon, the supposed writer, describes how, although of human birth and rearing, he called upon God, and how the spirit of wisdom came to him, and raised him to a higher plane. Having preferred her to sceptres and thrones, he found that all good things follow in her train.
Thus God gave him certain knowledge of the things that are, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements; the beginning, ending, and midst of the times (the law of cycles); the alterations of the turning of the sun, and the change of seasons; the circuits of years, and the positions of stars; the natures of living creatures, and the furies of wild beasts; the violence of winds and the reasonings of men; the diversities of plants, and the virtues of roots; and all such things as are either secret or manifest.
“If a man desire much experience,” says Solomon, “wisdom knoweth things of old, and conjectureth what is to come; she knoweth the subtilties of speech, and can expound dark sentences; she foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons and times. Moreover by means of her I shall obtain immortality, and leave behind me an everlasting memorial to them that come after me.”
And lest we should mistake the true nature of this wisdom, and confound her with mere occult knowledge of material things, he gives us that magnificent description of her, as “the worker of all things, present with God when he made the world, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtle spirits. For wisdom is more moving than any motion; she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.”
“And being but one, she can do all things, and remaining in herself she maketh all things new; and in all ages, entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars; being compared with the light, she is found before it.”
This Wisdom is that spiritual faculty which some have called Intuition, and some Buddhi, and her light is that spoken of by St. John, that glory which lit up the celestial city, so that there was no need there of the sun, neither of the moon.
It is at the end of the next chapter, the 8th, that Solomon makes such a clear statement, not only of the fact of reincarnation, but of the law which guides it, when he says: “Being good, I came into a body undefiled.” He seems to take the idea so much for granted, that he neither explains it nor dwells upon it, but simply mentions it as one would mention any recognized law of nature.
And in chapter 11th he asserts another fact of which no occultist could entertain a doubt: “Thou hast ordered all things in measure and number and weight.” Certainly the Divine Spirit as conceived by this writer was very different from the “jealous God” of the Hebrews, for he goes on to say:
“Thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made; for never wouldst thou have made anything if thou hadst hated it. And how could anything have endured if it had not been thy will, or been preserved, if not called by thee? But thou sparest all: for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of souls.” Surely here we have a foundation-stone for the rule of universal brotherhood.
In the 17th chapter there is a description of the sufferings of the Egyptians from the plague of darkness, which is as superb in its lofty and far-reaching imaginativeness, as the description of Wisdom herself, but it has nothing to do with the present subject, except as it represents the punishment of the guilty as entirely within themselves, and made heavy by their own remorse. “For the whole world shined with clear light, and none were hindered in their labor: Over them only was spread an heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterwards receive them: but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness.”
Ecclesiasticus is also called “the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach,” and purports to be a collection of wise sayings made by Jesus the father of Sirach and containing also many of his own, which was handed down to the grandson and by him “compiled all orderly into one volume.”
Those who wish to study the origin and character of all these books from an historical and critical point of view, will find much to interest them in the articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica on the “Apocrypha,” “Esdras,””Ecclesiasticus,” etc. These questions I have preferred not to go into here, but simply to quote a few passages from the text, which are of value as they stand, and appeal to that authority which is not of the scribes.
The book called Ecclesiasticus is by no means of as lofty a character as the Wisdom of Solomon, it is more like Proverbs, and is concerned largely with ordinary ethics, and even drops occasionally into questions of deportment and manners at table. Jesus the son of Sirach says that it also contains “dark sentences and parables,” and it certainly contains a caution as to humility in study, that may be useful to us all.
“Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee,” says the writer, “neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee, think thereupon,” (I omit inserted words) “for they are not needful for thee — the things that are in secret. Be not curious in unnecessary matters; for more things are showed unto thee than men understand.”
In these three verses what a sermon is preached to those theosophists who are ever seeking for the mysterious, who are constantly looking for signs and wonders, and yet neglect the study of the simple ethics of life, and the true nature of their own minds! More things are indeed shown unto them than most men understand, and still they put these aside, and strive after marvels.
Humility is one of the essentials in the acquirement of wisdom that are laid down in the Bhagavad-Gita, and Jesus the son of Sirach says: “Mysteries are revealed unto the meek.” And again he warns us of the endless nature of the search after wisdom: “The first man knew her not perfectly, no more shall the last find her out. For her thoughts are more than the sea, and her counsels profounder than the great deep.”
Neither should we pay any attention to light and idle dreams, says this wise man: “Whoso regardeth dreams is like him that catcheth at a shadow, and followeth after the wind.” He evidently understood the nature of ordinary dreams, for he compares them to reflections in a mirror, but he was able to distinguish between them and the voice of the Higher Self, for he continues: “If they be not sent from the Most High in thy visitation, set not thy heart upon them, for dreams have deceived many.”
One might make many more of these quotations, but the object of this paper was simply to direct attention to the many treasures hidden in these scriptures that are too seldom read, for in very truth, “more things are shown unto men than they understand.”
1. Esdras II., Ch. V., 54-55. The Wisdom of Solomon, Ch. XIV., v. 6, speaks of “the old time, when the proud giants perished.”
2. Secret Doctrine II., 80.