Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Atlantis, Genesis and Christ

I am taking a break from my 'history of the future' and returning to the Atlantean series. Some of my regular readers are no doubt puzzled about my bizarre Atlantean entries earlier. Perhaps one question they may be asking is whether I am writing fiction or am intending something more.

Both, I will say. Much of it is speculation, but some of it (like the part about the ice age) are rather well established. Some of it is also based on the book of Genesis and this is what I will be writing on now, so be forewarned =).

The book of Genesis is one of the most remarkable surviving scripture in the world. I know of only 2 other works of comparable antiquity and depth, the I-Ching and the Rig Veda. All 3 works I suspect come out of a mystical mindset very foreign to the modern temperament. This is perhaps why these 3 books provoked some much controversy today. Witness for instance how (Genesis 1:1-31) has inspired the huge war of ideas on evolutionary theory, or there are so many differing interpretations of the I-Ching and the Vedas.

My own understanding of Genesis is not a literal one. This, I declare beforehand and I know some of my Christian friends will probably be appalled. My belief is that the literal intepretation of the Bible is something imposed on religion by the success of the scientific revolution and misapplies a very modern mindset to an alien context.

Imagine if we read the I-Ching literally. Then what do we get? A book of divination no more, and a very bizarre divination book at that. Or the Vedas. If we stop at its surface meaning, then all we have are some incoherent barbarians worshipping fire, wind, earth, water etc. for the sake of cows, slaves and land. But if we care to look deeper, we might see much more. Indeed, the traditional Hindu understanding of the Vedas is that they are meant to preserve an ancient wisdom for the decadent and materialistic kali-yuga (our age of 'darkness'). The traditional Chinese sages, including Confucius, also had a deep reverence for I-Ching and its purported wisdom.

Similarly for Genesis and the other 4 books of the Torah. The Jews (especially the mystical Kabbalists) even today believe in some sense that divine knowledge is hidden in these 5 books. Christians in fact also attribute a 'hidden' layer to the Torah and the whole Old Testament. This is a point that must be emphasized (for Christians themselves often forget this). In a word, the whole Old Testament hints openly or symbolically at the coming of Christ.

For instance, at the fall of man, God said to the serpent:

'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.' (Genesis 3:15) (NRSV)

On the literal level, it may mean that humans, the descendants of Eve, tend not to like snakes and will usually kill them by smashing their heads. On the other hand, snakes tend to bite the feet of men. Period. That is the end of the totally literal interpretation.

But let us look deeper (and here I am merely following traditional Christian commentators). The serpent is clearly no ordinary serpent. This serpent can talk and indeed advised rebellion against God. It is quite a remarkable serpent. Of course the Church fathers see it as an embodiment of the anti-God principle (evil, the devil etc.) or quite simply as the devil himself.

So does it mean that mankind will strike Satan? Yes, obviously. But WHO specifically and most definitively? We know that the rest of the Old Testament portray the sorry state of mankind after the Fall. Even the greatest kings and prophets have their failings ( David killed the husband of Bathsheba and married her, Solomon betrayed God and became an idolater, Jonah has to be eaten by a whale before preaching to the Assyrians etc.). Obviously these heroes did their part for God and helped fight against evil. But usually it is the serpent striking man, and not the other way round. Take a good look around the world and I think it is sadly still the case.

Thus in the Christian view, the One who struck the serpent definitively can only be Jesus, the second Adam, and the Offspring of Eve. Thus in the beginning of Genesis is already what some commentators called the 'proto evangelion' (first or primordial good news) that promised the coming of a Man who will definitively destroy evil and reverse the effects of the Fall.

I need not go on. So on to how I based some parts of my Atlantean lore on Genesis.

Basically the two key theses underlying my lore are that firstly, there was a civilization (we can call it Atlantis) or linked series of civilizations that existed around the time of the ice age (10000 to 20000 years ago) and it was destroyed by a horrific disaster of its own making. Secondly (and this is perhaps the more startling hypothesis) this civilization is one that worshipped the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the One God of Israel. Both hypotheses are inspired to some extent by the book of Genesis.

We deal with the first hypothesis. Genesis of course relates the famous Great Flood that wiped out every living thing except the folks on Noah's ark. I do not take this story completely literally, but I do think that it, like the many flood legends around the world, in fact records an actual worldwide catastrophe. After all, there are indeed much flooding at the end of the ice age due to the melting of the frozen seas

But more important is that Genesis directly attributes the Flood to the evil of men. It is not merely a natural event. 'Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and the earth was filled with violence' (Genesis 6:11). That is the reason God sent the flood. Man brought it on himself. That of course inspired my first hypothesis. And while Genesis did not exactly specify how men lived before the Flood, from the few hints, it was probably reasonably advanced, with agriculture, iron tools, organized warfare, cities (Genesis 4) and of course, shipbuilding technology. It was in a word, certainly a civilization.

This pre-Flood world had another very interesting feature--there was clearly a religion centered around the One God--the One who became the God of Abraham. How do we know this? Adam had many children, but only 3 were named: Abel, Cain and Seth. Cain killed the righteous Abel and had his own descendants, many of whom were incidentally renowned for technological advances (Genesis 4:17-22) and were probably largely responsible for the violence filling the antediluvian (pre-flood) earth.

Seth had a very different pedigree. Firstly, Seth was stated to be a son in the 'likeness' and 'image' of Adam (Genesis 5:3), who was himself made in the image of God. His lifespan, like that of some of his descendants (the line leading to Noah), was incredibly long (912 years). Cain and his descendants incidentally did not have their lifespans recorded, so it is possible that the enormous lifespans were in fact the sole perogative of the descendants of Seth. But this is unclear.

In any case, it was in the time of Enosh, the son of Seth that 'people began to invoke the name of the Lord' (Genesis 4:26). The Name is terribly significant in ancient cultures. The Name contains and reveals both the essence and the power of its subject, and the Divine Name thus contains all power and the knowledge of God himself. Not for nothing do Christians pray: 'Our father in heaven, holy be your name', or that it is through the Name of Jesus that the Kingdom of God grows.

Thus when Genesis states that the name of the Lord began to be invoked at the time of Enosh, it must mean that some men from the time of Enosh onwards did manage to establish some close contact with God and his Spirit. They thus call on Him and pray to Him. It is not clear how this communion differ from that possessed by the fallen Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel (who still communicate with God quite clearly) but in any case, the idea of an antediluvian religion centered around God is obviously hinted at in Genesis.

Enosh may or may not be the founder of this religion (though the hint is there). But Seth's line certainly gave rise to a number of great 'prophets'. Noah himself was of course one of them. The other was the mysterious Enoch, Noah's ancestor, who lived for 365 years and then was taken away by God (Genesis 5:24). Presumably he never died but ascended to heaven directly like the prophet Elijah. Enoch's example also indicate that this antediluvian religion is spiritually powerful and effective.

Here I go into some wild speculation. What if this line of Seth hint at an antediluvian people, a proto-Israel, who was chosen by God to be his messengers to the world? The three generations of Adam, Seth and Enosh do parallel that of Abraham, Issac and Jacob (Israel), and there is also a parallel between Cain, the violent brother of Seth, and Ishmael, the brother of Issac--though we may not be able to read too much into these. Perhaps in the pre-flood days, God too chose a people, revealed His Name to them (like how he revealed his Name to Moses), and well, brought them to a promised land. That in essence was the plot of my Atlantean lore, where the Atlanteans were guided to their continent of Atlantis by their prophets.

Perhaps Atlantis was destroyed because like the people of Israel, they eventually failed in their mission and broke their covenant (in that case, the First Covenant) with God. Instead of being the light of the world, they eventually became corrupted by their gifts, and became the evil lords of the world who filled it with bloodshed--or at least most of them did. The people of Seth went the way of Cain, like how Israel went the way of 'the nations'. And their mistake brought on a horrific catastrophe that destroyed civilization and plunged humanity into thousands of years of barbarism.

That brings me to the final chapter, and to me the most sublime one. We know for certain that the faith of Noah (which is presumably the faith of the line of Seth) is preserved because obviously Noah is preserved. Thousands of years after Noah, Genesis pinpointed one man who 'invoked the name of the Lord' (Genesis 12:8)--Abram (soon to be called Abraham). It needs no great imagination or intelligence to see that Genesis is drawing a link between the religion of Enosh and the faith of Abraham.

To complete that link is the mysterious episode just before God made a covenant with Abram:

'And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High (El Elyon in Hebrew). He blessed him (Abram) and said,

'Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hands!'

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything'

As the writer of the New Testament 'Letter to the Hebrews' commented, the name of Melchizedek 'means 'king of righteousness'; next he is also king of Salem, that is, 'king of peace.' Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever' (Hebrews 7:2-3). Indeed, Melchizedek did not appear in Genesis before this episode, and never appeared again. There is no proper description of who he is (does Salem refer to the historical Jerusalem?), or who he is descended from, as Hebrews pointed out.

I am not exactly sure why the writer of Hebrews say he is an eternal priest, or indeed is without beginning and end. I suspect most Christians are not sure too. He cannot be God Himself, but certainly Melchizedek claim another high honor, Christ is called the high priest of the 'order of Melchizedek'. And his actions at the last supper is precisely those of Melchizedek: the offering of bread and wine.

Whoever he is, Melchizedek is certainly no ordinary human being, but a divine figure (like those mysterious elders in the Book of Revelations). Very obviously the New Testament writer did NOT take a merely literal view of the episode. But what is more important for my purpose is that a great PRIEST of God met Abram and blessed him before God forged the Abrahamic covenant. On one hand, this clearly links forward to Christ--as the writer of Hebrews point out. But does it not also link backwards to the antediluvian religion and its priestly sacrifices? After all Noah definitely made an offering to God in Genesis 8:20 and God then made a covenant with Noah.

The Melchizedek episode is immensely rich and carry many meanings. My intuitive sense (and this is not supported by any direct evidence from Genesis) is that in some mysterious way, Melchizedek is the greatest and most worthy representative of the antediluvian religion, just as he is at the same time the most perfect Old Testament pre-figuration of Christ. In that blessing, Melchizedek transmits the faith and essence of the most ancient days to Abram. That is why in my Atlantean lore, Abraham is seen as the heir to the faith of Atlantis.

In that sense, to call Christ the 'priest of the order of Melchizedek' is to understand him not only as the One who fulfills the hope of Israel, but also the one who completes the ancient mission of the fallen antediluvian civilization. The implications of this speculation? I leave it the reader to ponder.