Monday, 4 April 2016

A very remarkable prophecy

In this essay I discuss the most amazing prophecy of all time. It appears in the Book of Daniel, chapter 9. The exact fulfillment of this prophecy provides a convincing argument that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.

In Daniel 9 we read how an angel announces to Daniel that 70 periods of 7 years ("weeks" of years) have been decided over Israel [1, 2]. According to the prophecy this period would commence with the command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Then the first 69 periods (weeks of years) would continue until a Messiah (Anointed One), a Prince, arrives. After that the Messiah would be "cut off" (i.e. die) (Dan. 9:25-6). In this short note we focus on the calculation of this first 69 weeks of years (483 years). The relation between these 69 weeks and the final week is discussed elsewhere (see [1] where all the different views are discussed).

The only command that was ever given to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, was the one given in the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus (Neh. 2:5). This was in the year 445 BC (Artaxerxes's rule is calculated from the death of his father Xerxes in July 465 BC; Anderson 1984:253). The three previous commands that were given by Persian rulers, were all concerned with the building of the temple – not the city of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4; 5:13; 6:3-14; 7:12-26).

The period of 69 weeks of years would come to an end when Messiah, a Prince, appears. There can be no doubt that this prophecy may be taken as referring to Jesus Christ since the period clearly continues until his time. In the King James Bible the word "anointed one" is accordingly translated as "Messiah". The question that now confronts us is: To which event during the earthly ministry of Jesus does the prophecy refer? Or to put it differently: when did Jesus present himself as Messiah and King (Prince) to Israel?

This clearly happened when Jesus rode upon the donkey into Jerusalem in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). When that happened, the crowd cried out: "Hosanna, Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Joh. 12:13 – King James Bible).

From the details in the Gospel of St. Luke we know that John the Baptist started his ministry in the fifteenth year of Cesar Tiberius (Luk. 3:1-3). The fifteenth year of Tiberius commenced on 19 August 28 AD. Jesus was therefore baptized in the autumn of 28 AD. This means that he was crucified three-and-a-half years later in the year 32 AD (Anderson 1984:97). The year 32 AD is also the only year in which the calendar agrees with the events of that time. Jesus therefore entered Jerusalem on the donkey on the Sunday before the crucifixion in the year 32 AD (see Joh. 12:1, 12).

This period of 69 weeks of years, i.e. 483 years, that is from 445 BC to 32 AD, ends long after the latest possible date that the text could have been written (somewhere after 164 BC; i.e as is accepted in Biblical Criticism circles). This means that a considerable part of the prophecy refers to events that happened long after the text was written (by the latest estimates). Traditional Christians belief that the prophecy dates much earlier, namely to the time mentioned in the Book of Daniel (538 BC; right at the beginning of the Persian rule over Babylon). Irrespective of the position taken, the 483 years obviously ends long after the latest accepted date for the writing of the book [3]. One can also not think that Jesus could have calculated the date to superficially "fulfill" the prophecy because (as we will now show) the kind of mathematics necessary to do the calculations was not available at that time.

Background for the calculations

Before we can proceed to calculate the period from the command given by Artaxerxes Longimanus to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 BC until Jesus' entrance on Palm Sunday into Jerusalem in 32 AD, we need certain background information.

It was already known from early times that the moon period (from new moon to new moon) is 29 1/2 days and that the seasonal year is 365 1/4 days. Twelve moon months of 30 and 29 days respectively (with an average of 29.5) give 354 days (one moon year) which are 11 days short of a seasonal year. By including a moon month of 30 or 29 days from time to time (more or less every third year), the ancients were able to synchronize the moon and seasonal years.

In the year 432 BC the Greek astronomer Meton calculated that these moon and seasonal years would synchronize precisely over a period of 19 years if 4 or 5 days are added by some moon years over a period of 19 years. For each 19 year cycle for which 4 days are added, there must be three such cycles for which 5 days are added. The 19 year cycles are calculated as follows:

Cycle 1: 19 x 354 days + 6 x 30 days + 29 days + 5 days = 6940 days
Cycle 2: 19 x 354 days + 6 x 30 days + 29 days + 4 days = 6939 days

The average over four such 19 year cycles is therefore

1/4 (3 x 6940 + 6939) = 6939 3/4 days

which is precisely the amount of days in 19 seasonal years:

19 x 365 1/4 days = 6939 3/4 days.

Although it might seem strange that 4 or 5 days are added in this manner, the result is that the calculated moon cycle is much closer to the real moon cycle than would otherwise be the case (when those days are not added). This is shown below:

The assumed moon cycle that was know from early times: 29.5 days
Average calculated moon cycle in accordance with Meton's synchronizing procedure (235 moon months in 19 years): (6939 3/4)/235 = 29.53085 days
Real (average) moon cycle (current calculation): 29.530588 days

The difference between Meton's procedure and the real moon cycle is about 1 day in 307 years!

If Meton's procedure is followed, then the moon will show the same phases on the same dates after 19 years. Since the moon and seasonal years synchronize so precisely, the moon would in any case show the same phases on the same dates even when the procedure is not followed – the moon and earth rotations are obviously not dependent on the manner in which the moon months are kept on earth. If the moon months are just continuously kept in line with the moon phases (for example, from new moon to new moon), then the moon months would also after 19 years fall on the same days calculated by Meton's procedure. Meton's procedure merely facilitate the process of calculation.

Another important calculation that we can make, is to show that every 28 years the same days of the week fall on the same dates (the "solar cycle"). This follows from the combined effect of adding a leap year every 4 years and the 7 days in the week (4 x 7 = 28). Already in 457 AD Victorius of Aquitaine brought this sun cycle and Meton's calculations together in one procedure to calculate the dates for Easter Sunday.

In 1977 Roode (1977:4) rewrote these calculations mathematically, allowing us to calculate any Easter dates with ease. The reader should not be overwhelmed by the symbols used as part of this algorithm to calculate those dates for any year AD. One merely stick the information of the relevant year into the algorithm and then the details of that year become available. This is shown below:

G = (J) mod(19) + 1
(J is the year of interest, G is the golden number of that year, X mod(Y) = fraction(X/Y).Y)
E = (11 G – 4) mod(30) + 1 (1 for leap years)
(E gives the "age" of the moon on 31 December before year J)
N = 44 – E (43 – E for leap years)
(N gives the full moon date in March)
D = 5 J/4
M = N + 7 – ((D +N) mod(7))
(M is the date in March before the first Sunday after the relevant full moon).

The date of Jesus' entrance

We have already shown that Jesus entered Jerusalem in the year 32 AD on the donkey. To get all the necessary information for this year, we use the year 32 AD in the above algorithm. This is done below:

J = 32
G = 14
E = 1 (leap year)
N = 42 March (11 April)
D = 40
M = 44 March (13 April).

The calendar for March/April looks as follow

The Jews usually began their months on or just after the new moon, which is 13 days before full moon. This implies that the relevant month, namely Nisan, began with the new moon on Saturday 29 March 32 AD (on the Sabbath). This date is marked on the calendar given above. The full moon 13 days later on 14 Nisan was therefore on Friday 11 April 32 AD. This was also the day of the Passover (Pesach) and the day on which Jesus was crucified. Jesus therefore entered Jerusalem on Sunday 6 April 32 AD on the donkey.

The date on which the royal command was given

We must now consider the possibility of determining on which date Artaxerxes Longimanus gave the command to rebuild Jerusalem. We know already that it was in the year 445 BC. How can we find the details for this year? An easy way follows from the algorithm given above. We have shown that the phases of the moon fall every 19 years on the same date. Furthermore, the same weekdays fall very 28 years on the same date. The combined effect of these two principles is that after each 532 (19 x 28) years the phases of the moon would not only fall on the same dates, but also on the same day of the week. Every 532 years are therefore identical!

We can now consider which AD year – for which we have the algorithm – would be identical with the year 445 BC. This is the year 88 AD. The period between any date during the year 445 BC and the same date during the year 88 AD is 532 years (there is no year 0). This is shown below:

For the year 88 AD we have

G = 13
E = 20
N = 24 March
D = 110
M = 30 March.

The calendar for that year is given below:

We can now make some small changes to the above calculations to accommodate those corrections that are necessary given our current knowledge. These corrections are only necessary for our data from 445 BC (the calculations for 32 AD involve a relative short period, namely from 1-32 AD, for which no changes to the moon cycle and leap years are necessary). Meton's procedure results in the moon being allocated one day too far on the calendar after 307 years. We therefore have to "move" the moon backwards by about 1 1/2 days (that is for 445 years) in the direction of the date that we used as point of departure for the algorithm (the year 1 BC). This means that the real new moon was on 13 March 445 (instead of 11 March) and the real full moon was on 26 March 445 BC.

Another important point concerns the leap year calculations. In the above algorithm it is assumed that the seasonal year is 365 1/4 days long. This is not really correct and must be reduced with 11 minutes and 14 seconds (there are 365.2422 days in the year). Since no corrections was made in this regard since the procedure was first developed (starting in 64 BC), this error has grown throughout the centuries until the sixteenth century to 10 days. To rectify this error, the calendar of the year 1582 has the strange feature that 4 October was changed to 14 October (with the switch from the Julian to the Georgian calendar)! The ten days that was held as leap years through the ages, but which never really was, was in this manner removed from the calendar. If those days were not added on 29 February, the calendar would have stood 10 days later.

We must now do a similar correction on the calendar for the year 445 BC. For every 400 years 3 leap years have to be removed. This implies that Wednesday 26 March 445 BC (full moon) should actually be Wednesday 23 March 445 BC. The new moon on March 445 BC was therefore on 10 March. This is shown below:

The eventual question that we must answer is: On what day did Artaxerxes Longimanus gave the command that Jerusalem should be rebuild? In the Book of Nehemiah we read that it was in the month of Nisan. This is the first month in the Jewish religious calendar. At that time the Jewish months commenced either on the new moon of maybe when the first crescent appeared (according to the Mishnah – Anderson 1984:101) which could have been a day or so later.

In the year 445 BC this new moon was on the Thursday (10 March). It is therefore possible that the religious new year could have commenced on any day from the Thursday to the Saturday. In those days the Jews also kept the New Years day as a Sabbath (Amos 8:5; Hos. 2:10; Is. 1:13; 66:23). Since this new year and the next Sabbath were so close to each other, it is likely that they would have coincided (these Sabbaths were not allowed to follow on subsequent days directly after each other). This means that the first working day of the week thereafter would have been the Sunday (13 March 445 BC). Nehemiah would have appeared before the king on this day.

The royal command must have been given early in the month of Nisan – maybe on this Sunday (2 Nisan). We can see this from other information in the Book of Nehemiah. We know that they started building the wall around the city on the third of the month Ab (the wall was finished 52 days later on 25 Elul). Nehemiah would therefore have arrived on the 1st Ab in Jerusalem (Neh. 2:11; 6:15). Thirteen years earlier Ezra also arrived on this date in Jerusalem after departing five months earlier from Babylon (Ezra 7:9). This implies that Nehemiah must also have started his journey early in Nisan.

The reason why Sunday 13 March seems to be the correct date, is that this would have been the first day of the new year and month when Nehemiah appeared before the king. It might be that he humbled himself the previous day during the great Sabbath before God since another year has passed with the wall and gates of Jerusalem laying in ruins. He was clearly still grieving over the conditions in Jerusalem when he appeared before the king (Neh. 2:1-2).

The period from 445 BC to 32 AD

We can now proceed to calculate the period from Sunday 13 March 445 BC when the royal command was given to Sunday 6 April 32 AD when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey. From 13 March 445 BC to 13 March 32 AD are 476 years which includes 365 x 476 days + 116 leap days = 173856 days. The period between 13 March and 6 April 32 AD is 24 days. The total is therefore 173880 days. This is precisely 69 prophetic years of 360 days each (see Rev. 11:1-2) – even to the exact day!

Day on which the royal command was given: Sunday 13 March 445 BC
Day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem: Sunday 6 April 32 AD
Period in between:
13 March 445 BC to 13 March 32 AD
(476 years = 476 x 365 days)             173740 days
13 March – 6 April 32 AD                 + 24 days
Leap years in the period                + 116 days
                                              Total 173880 days
For 69 x 7 prophetic years (360 days in the year)
(69 x 7 x 360)                                 173880 days

The fact that 173880 days are precisely dividable by 7 shows that the first and last dates must fall on the same day of the week (if those days are not calculated inclusively). We have indeed shown that both the royal command and the entrance in Jerusalem happened on Sundays – which is the day of the One about whom the prophecy is. Both events probably happened in the morning, with precisely 173880 days in between.

To confirm that the new moon did fall on 10 March 445 BC, we can apply a simple test. We know the average period between new moons and know that it did not change significantly since the time of Meton's procedure (432 BC). The period between any two new moons must now be dividable through this moon period (29.530588 days) – so also the period between the new moons of 10 March 445 BC and 29 March 32 AD.

We can now move the calculated period three days back such that it commences on the relevant new moon in 445 BC, which would mean that it ends just 5 days after the relevant new moon in 32 AD (3 days before Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem). The average period between these new moons would then be 173880 – 5 = 173875 days. This period is one day less than 173876 days which are exactly dividable by the average moon period of 29.530588 days (5888 times). The reason for the one day difference is that the first and last days of the total period (or of the period between these new moons) are not taken inclusively (which would add another day); the exact time of the new moons may therefore vary as much as one day. The new moon date in 445 BC has therefore been calculated correctly.

Other calculations

There have been various efforts to calculate this period of 69 weeks of years. The first and best known was done by Sir Robert Anderson. He used the same date for the time of Christ, but for the year 445 BC he took 13 March as the date for the new moon (as calculated in 1877 by the British Royal Observatory). Our date is 10 March. Since we do not have access to the details of his calculation, it is difficult to give precise commentary on it. If one uses the Julian calendar (365.25 days in a year), one finds that the new moon is indeed on that day (this is the uncorrected date in our calculation). This means that he included three leap years to many (119 in total). He would have had 3 days too many in his calculation. According to him the royal command was given on the Friday – the day after the new moon – 1 Nisan according to him). This is 2 days before the date that we used. The third surplus day originated from him taking the first and last days inclusive. Anderson, however, removed three days from his total when he assumed 116 leap days. His calculations therefore add up.

In 1984 another calculation of this period was published in Boodskap van die Basuin (April 1984) in which Prof. J.M. Schepers did the calculation. He used the same dates for the time of Christ. He, however, assumed that the new moon was on 23 March 445 BC – based on a calculation by Prof. Gawie Cellié of a solar eclipse which took place on 1 July 446 BC. This date agrees with our date for the full moon (!) although Prof. Schepers assumed 119 leap years. According to this calculation the period ends with the date of the crucifixion. In our view, this is not what the prophecy says. According to the prophecy the period of 69 weeks of years ends when the Messiah reveals himself as Prince (King), and it is only thereafter that the Messiah would die. The new moon date of 23 March 445 BC are also 13 days off when the new moons are calculated back from 29 March 32 AD.


In this note we performed the calculation of the first 69 weeks of years in Daniel's prophecy (Dan. 9). The period stretches from Sunday 13 March 445 BC when Artaxerxes gave the command that Jerusalem must be rebuild until the Sunday before the crucifixion (6 April 32 AD) when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey. The period is 173880 days long and is precisely 69 weeks of years – to the day.


Anderson, Robert. 1984. The Coming Prince. Michigan: Kregel.
Malan, J. S. 1984. Boodskap van die Basuin. April edition. Alberton: Basuin Uitgewers.
Roode, J. D. 1977. Metoniese siklusse, epakta's en paasfees, of hoe Christopher C nie Amerika nie, maar 'n algoritme vir Paassondag ontdek het. Epsilon 7(1).

[1] For a detailed discussion of the various interpretations of this prophecy, click on The final seven years: the different views
[2] This essay was originally published in Afrikaans as note 6 in Dr Willie Mc Loud's book Op pad na Armageddon (1995).
[3] Those of the Biblical Criticism school that regard the prophecy as "history", i.e. as written after the events, have serious problems in explaining the period of 483 (or 490) years (see [1] for a detailed discussion).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.
The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics; MA in philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Science and our restricted human understanding

Science is often presented as having the potential to unlock and understand all the mysteries of our world. There is, however, one severe problem that is not taken into account in this regard: due to our human constitution, we have restricted access to the world. As humans we would never be able to fully encompass the world for the simple reason that both our sensibility and understanding are severely limited in its reach! This is where science meets quantum objects and dark matter. This is also where science meets religion!

Humans often have a very high regard for their own abilities. This is especially common among scientists and those who follow their lead - they often think that there is no end to the possibilities of human exploration. This perspective goes back to modernist times, when man thought of himself as a god in his own right; when man thought that there is nothing which he will not eventually subdue and understand. The problem with this view, however, is that humans just do not have the capabilities to explore and access all of that which exist. Some things in our world are forever beyond our empirical reach!

In this essay I discuss the extent of the limitations of our human access to the world around us. I show in what sense science is forever restricted in its empirical access and understanding of our world. I use the philosophy of the well-known philosopher Immanuel Kant to explore these issues. Kant engaged with them long ago and his approach is now more relevant than ever. Especially now that science have discovered that large parts of our world is "dark" to us.

The possibility of objective knowledge

Most people do not really think about their own or our scientific access to the world; they merely accept that we have full access to the world as it exists. The problem, however, is that we always access the world though our human senses or by extension, through our instruments (we use the causal connection between our senses and instruments to extend our empirical access of the world). Once we gain empirical access in this manner, the acquired data always belongs only to those aspects of our world that can be so accessed. All empirical data belongs to those aspects of our world that are measurable by our material instruments. All things that happen(ed) or exist beyond our temporal and spatial reach can never be so accessed. This includes things which are too complex (for example, an infinity of causally related connections) or which are by their very nature forever outside empirical reach (although there might in some cases be indirect ways to establish that they do in fact exist).

What about our conceptual understanding of the world? Surely we can think about the world as it really exits? Although we might think that we can in principle understand all things, our understanding is actually also very constrained. Somehow our understanding is restricted by our senses. As long as we can present things empirically in space and time, that is, when we can visualize them in some manner, we can also figure out how they work. Our understanding works hand in hand with our human senses (even when these are extended in experiment) - things that can be empirically given in the our senses or in experiment can be understood. Things that lay beyond that can be conceptualized, we can think them, we can reason about them, but before we do not have empirical access to them we cannot really understand them. This means that we are also very restricted in our understanding of the world.

Kant was very interested in these problems since they are closely related to the question of human knowledge. How is objective human knowledge possible? Since we always access the world subjectively as humans, how can we obtain objective knowledge that is universally true? The possibility of empirical data, which is always given through human sensibility, is severely restricted by our human senses - not in the sense of the crudeness of our senses which can be extended far beyond that in experiments, but in its limited access of the world. Since we do not access the world as it really is (but merely as it is presented in our senses or experiments), all data given in our senses or experiment is contingent - as mere sense data we have no guarantee that this is what the world truly is like.

Even if we think that we find some order among this data, how do we know that they constitute "laws" of the world as it really is? They might be "laws" that regulate our interaction with the world at the empirical level, but how do we know that they actually describe some real truths about the world. Since we do not have unconditional access to the world due to the fact that our understanding of the world is restricted by our senses, we can obviously not know anything about the world except to the extent that it is presented in our senses (or experiments). As such all "laws" that we ascribe to nature are just human conceptions applied to nature - they are forever and always "human" concepts. They are therefore always subjective (they do not objectively apply to the world as it really is).

Kant had a remarkable insight in this regard, namely that we can conceptualize things as they may be given in our senses in space and time before they are actually given as such (Kant calls this synthetic a priori, where "synthetic" refers to "pure" human sensibility, i.e. without any real data given in the senses, and a priori means that it is prior to actual experience). In this manner humans have the possibility of real experience even before actually engaging with things. When things are given empirically in our senses (which would be a posteriori) this is actually nothing but a particularization of those general things that may be given in "pure" sensibility (intuition).

The essence of Kant's idea is that our concepts of understanding work hand in hand with our sensibility (senses). Kant says that our concepts are "synthesized" with our forms of sensibility. Although our understanding is restricted by our senses, as long as it does not try to move beyond the senses (experiments), it can indeed understand things as they are given in the senses. For those things that may be given in our senses (instruments), we can formulate general rules which apply to all such things that may be given in experience or experiment. In this way science becomes possible: we can formulate general scientific laws that apply to the things that we encounter everyday around us or in controlled experiments. 

In the final instance we make judgments whether the things given empirically in the senses agree with our synthetic conceptualization of them (in pure sensibility). If they agree, then we may say that these things are indeed the things that we have formed concepts about, i.e. we can establish an "objective" truth judgment. The general rules of the understanding are applied to the particulars (empirical data) given in our senses or experiment. In this way we can obtain objective knowledge of things even though we do not have access to the world as it really is.

The order of the world that is given in experience and experiment is understood in terms of the order (laws) that we bring to that data (through our conceptualization thereof). In the progress of experience we can proceed to engage on an ever more substantial level with the material world of matter. The empirical data so obtained is then brought under ever more sophisticated conceptual structures (theories) - if the data (particulars) is in agreement with the conceptual structures, we can say that we have obtained objective knowledge (on an ever more substantial level). But all knowledge is always restricted to our empirical observation of nature.

The limits of our understanding

When we think about the world beyond the objects as they are given in human sensibility, we have no choice but to take our world as if it is systematically ordered - even though this can never be proven. In this context we can think what such an ordered world might look like. In Kant's thinking there are two ways in which the world might be beyond the reach of our senses and therefore also our understanding. In the context of our human senses, the one way relates to limits of degree, i.e. that our senses or instruments are such that they are limited in the manner in which data can be given in them (limitations in time, space and magnitude). The world as it really is might have (for us) an inaccessible extension with an infinity of relations and connections which can never be empirically brought within the range of our senses (or experiments). As such some objects and their totally of interactions are beyond our sensible (experimental) access.

The other way in which the world might be beyond our sense relates to limits in kind, i.e. that our particular kind of sensibility is such that it may not be able to access certain kinds of objects which may only be accessible to another kind of intuition than our sensible one. As such there may be objects in our world that can never be given in space and time in our senses (or instruments). In fact, we know today from our scientific research that such things exist.

To account for these two ways in which the world might be beyond our senses, Kant allowed that our phenomenal world (called "empirical nature"), that is the world of our experience and experiments, be complimented with two other concepts of the world, namely "conceptual nature" (the concept of nature taken as a total system; in short: "nature") and a supersensible realm outside nature. Nature refers to our world in its totality of deterministic connections (called "mechanism") as we can only conceptualize it, i.e. as it may really be but outside the possibility of our sensible reach.

All the objects of our experience are also objects of nature; they belong to nature and as such we can empirically access them in space and time (in the context of deterministic causality). Objects of nature, however, as they "really" are when their enormous magnitudes or infinite relations are concerned cannot be brought within the limitations of our experiments. Some scientific laws relate to nature, for example the theories of relativity and those describing stochastic behavior. We accept these laws but they present a systematic unity that go well beyond the phenomenal laws that we encounter in experiment. We can think these laws; we cannot bring all of nature to which they apply within the reach of our experiments.

Kant also allowed for a supersensible realm outside nature. The difference between nature and the supersensible realm outside nature is that the all objects in nature are deterministically (mechanistically) connected; objects in the supersensible realm are not so connected (I previously showed that absolute spontaneity (freedom) rules in this realm [1]). They are also outside the framework of the space-time conceptions that apply to nature. As such we can say that they belong to a different mode of existence than the one that we conceptualize as nature. Since such supersensible objects can never be brought into our experiments, they are not empirically accessible. They stand forever outside our empirical reach. We encounter such objects in the context of quantum physics. Quantum objects in the pre-measurement stage are different from those that we encounter in our experiments - quantum objects adhere to superpositions of states which "collapse" to certain reduced modes that are observable in experiment.

The only reason why we can argue that quantum objects exist even though we cannot empirically access them, is because they cause certain outcomes in our world. If they did not do this (and some don't), we would not even have known about their existence. So, the question is: how extensive is the quantum realm? How many kinds of objects are there that belong to that realm? What kind of existence is that which we do not have empirical access to?

Even if we do not try to answer these questions we have to admit the following: we are severely constrained in our understanding of the world! We have no hope that we will ever gain access to this mode of existence because of the restricted nature of our kind of sensibility. Although we can think beyond that, and formulate various mathematical conceptions that apply to that kind of existence to the extent that we may encounter outcomes produced by such objects, we would never be able to empirically access them and understand them. We can say: A part of our world is beyond empirical reach. This is also the part where "dark" matter and "dark" energy resides.

Once we are confronted with the limits of our understanding, we are forced to acknowledge that the world involves more than we had ever thought possible. This does not mean that all sorts of crazy ideas about the world should now be allowed in serious debate. It does mean, however, that our conceptualization and metaphysical constructs of the world should accommodate this aspect of our world in a sensible manner. All metaphysical conceptualizations which are still stuck in the old paradigm where only the mechanistic world is allowed, are not relevant to current debate. They do not realistically capture the world of our experience and experiments [1].


We can even say that in physics we have now moved from the pure empirical study of nature (which is obviously not "pure" since we always bring empirical data under concepts) to metaphysical interpretations which can never be shown to be true or not (in the Kantian sense). As such there are, for example, various possible ways to interpret the world through the lens of quantum physics. We just do not know - and can never know - what the quantum world really is like. We can form metaphysical constructs based on mathematical theories and the available data, but we can never gain knowledge of that world to the extent that it is beyond our experimental reach. At most we can present good reasons why we think that the world is such or such.

In some sense physics has therefore entered the domain of metaphysics which was in the modern age looked down upon as not truly "scientific". In this world of metaphysics we also find the various ways in which we can think that the world really is in accordance with our religious conceptions. The fact that we are so restricted in our empirical access of the world shows why one would never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God (As Kant has shown, all the proofs for God's existence moves from conceptual constructs to assume existence). We can merely present metaphysical constructs that capture our religious understanding of the world in a rational manner. That is, we can present good reasons why we think that the world is such or such - using a wider spectrum of data and arguments than in the metaphysics of any particular branch of science (i.e. from all aspects of our life experience). I plan to argue in another essay that Kant's metaphysics is not only a reworking of the Christian worldview, but is also one of the best ways to understand the world of science.

So, due to our restricted human senses and understanding, it has now so happened that both science and religion are engaged in the very same metaphysical game with the difference that serious science keeps away from the more substantial questions regarding our human existence (That would be to move too far beyond the basic data available in experiments). All of us are nonetheless interested in those questions. As such the idea that "religion" is concerned with things which cannot be proven and is therefore not to be taken serious is just not right; even science is concerned with things which lie beyond empirical access. Anybody who is open-minded should in this context, at the very least, seriously and carefully consider the metaphysics of religion.


In this essay I focus on the limits of our human understanding. Gone are the days when scientists could think that it is just a matter of time before everything is understood. Although some - even prominent scientists - might still keep that hope alive, the reality is that philosophers of science are long past that way of thinking. Our world is just too complex - there are parts of our world that are beyond the reach of our sensible intuition (our five senses) and would require a totally different kind of intuition than the one that we use in our experimental exploration of the world.

Although some aspects of our world are empirically inaccessible, this does not mean that we cannot think about that. We can, from the context of our broader human experience, which involve human consciousness and other aspects of our existence, construct a systematic metaphysics which accommodate all our life experience. Kant presented such a metaphysics - and I hope to explore it in more detail in future. Suddenly things that modern man thought impossible, like the existence of Kant's supersensible realm, has again become part of our thinking - even scientific thinking - about the world, where it is now taken as applying to the quantum realm [1].

The question is: What about the other things that Kant also argued for in that context, for example the existence of the human soul? Since he was right in allowing for a supersensible realm which was rejected by about all philosophers and scientists until quite recently, he might be right in other regards too. We should be humble and open to consider such possibilities. Our restricted sensibility and understanding force us to accept that we might have good reasons to believe things even though we know that we can never bring them within experimental reach to understand them. The existence of the soul might be something like this. Another might be believe in God [2].

[2] I plan to discuss these things later in this series about Kant and quantum physics.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The origins of Satan: the ancient worldview

The Bible originated in a world that was very different from our own. At the basis of their perspective on the world stood the ancient worldview of the peoples of the ancient Middle East. A lot of the things said in the Bible only make sense once we understand that view. In this essay I use the garden stories of Genesis 2-3 and Ezekiel 28 & 31 to explore that ancient worldview. In this context the story of the Satan enters our discussion. This is the sixth part in the series on the Book of Genesis.

The peoples of the ancient Middle East viewed the cosmos in very different terms than us. Since they lived long before the scientific age it is often assumed that they held primitive views about the world which are not valid in our day and age. This is not the case: their view about the cosmos is remarkably sophisticated. So often we misunderstand ancient literature like the Bible exactly because we do not understand the basic worldview that served as the general background in which all their stories are embedded. All the stories in the Bible, including those in the Book of Genesis, are presented in the context of this ancient worldview. Once we understand this worldview, it would provide the context for the rest of our discussion of the Book of Genesis, for example the manner in which the Hebrew God is presented in these and the other stories in the book. It also helps us to understand the various motifs in the garden of Eden stories told by the prophet Ezekiel - among which is that of the fallen cherub.

Whereas the story of creation in Genesis 1 tells how the cosmos came into being, the garden story in Genesis 2-3 (which tells about Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden), presents the first story about humans in the context of this cosmos. In a certain sense we can take this garden story also as introducing the reader to that ancient view about the world. From our current context readers often understand the things mentioned in the garden story, namely the trees, the rivers, the abode of God, the serpent etc., merely in the context of some ancient setting - either where these things happened (if the story is taken as referring to real events) or as some ideal location that the author have chosen for his story (if the story is taken merely in metaphorical or mythical terms). In fact, the setting of the story should (also) be viewed in the context of an earthly topology (see the geographical details - discussed in part 3) that reflects the "topology" of the greater cosmic realm. We find that the mountain of Sion is also presented in such terms - it represents the cosmic mountain of God.

This mindset in which the earthly topology (like some holy mountain) represents the cosmic "topology" goes back to the earliest Mesopotamian thinking [1]. I previously argued that the narratives in the "ancient history" in the Book of Genesis (Gen. 1-11) are colored by such an ancient Mesopotamian context since it originated in that world (which accounts for the Mesopotamian material in this book). As such the garden story reflects an interplay between the earthly setting and the cosmic archetype that serves as basis for that setting. The same is true regarding the garden stories of Ezekiel. We can learn a remarkable lot about the ancient worldview when we carefully study these garden stories with that in mind.

The tree in the middle of the garden

The most important feature of the garden story in Genesis 2-3 is the tree which is said to have grown in the "middle of the garden" (Gen. 2:9; 3:3). This may sound like a mere unimportant detail, whereas in fact it is loaded with meaning which would only become clear once we have explored the cosmic dimensions of the story. I have already shown that we should regard the story about this tree in ancient shamanistic context (see part 4 of the series). In this context some remarkable tree is often depicted with a snake at its roots and an eagle in its top. I argued that this is the origin of the snake-motif in the garden story - where the eagle is replaced by the cherubim of Biblical tradition (we, for example, read that God rides on a cherub as if it is an eagle; Ps. 18:10, 11; see below for a discussion of this topic). In shamanistic tradition this tree presents the cosmic axis - that is, the axis that holds the whole cosmos together.

In the Book of Ezekiel we find another story about the garden of Eden in which one tree is also singled out. In this case we read that the tree is a cedar that grows in the Lebanon - which reflects later Semitic traditions (than that in Genesis 2-3) about this garden (see part 3 of the series). The most important feature of this tree is that it was larger than "all the trees of the field" (Ezek. 31:5). In fact, we read that the whole world stood in the shadow of this enormous tree: "All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations" (Ezek. 31:6). Readers who are unfamiliar with the ancient worldview may think that one should not take this image too serious because it is merely used as metaphor to depict the greatness of the mighty king of Assur, but there is more to it since this image was well-known all over the ancient world. As such it symbolized the cosmic axis, exactly as is the case in the garden story in Genesis. The cosmic axis is presented as an enormous "world tree" which is used as metaphor of the mighty Assyrian king.

What is meant by the cosmic axis? This axis played a central role in the ancient worldview and can only be understood in the framework of the starry heavens. The ancients lived under the stars and their worldview reflects their observations of the starry cosmos. When one observes the stars at night, looking towards the northern sky in the northern hemisphere (or the southern sky in the southern hemisphere), you would observe during the course of the night that the northern (southern) stars move slowly in a circle which gets smaller towards the northern (southern) pole of heaven. These poles of heaven (in the northern and southern skies) are points which are not moving - it seems that all the stars move around them.

The further (south/north) one's view moves from these poles, the larger the circuit of the stars that move around these poles. When you look at the sky towards the direction of the equator you would see that all the stars move slowly in a western direction, all the way from the eastern horizon over your head to the western side of the sky. In its totality, it seems that the whole starry cosmos turns around some invisible axis defined by the northern and southern poles of heaven (which is the axis of the earth projected into the northern and southern skies). In ancient times this axis - which runs though the "middle" of the world - was symbolized in various ways, especially as a large cosmic tree (the world tree). We find references to it in many ancient cultures all over the world - see the artistic depiction below.

From Northern Antiquities, an English translation of the Prose Edda from 1847. 
Painted by Oluf Olufsen Bagge.
There is, however, another question, namely: Why are there two trees mentioned in the garden story in the Book of Genesis? We read about the tree of knowledge of good and evil as well as the tree of life (for a discussion of the name of the first tree, see part 5 of the series). Both are said to be in the "middle" of the garden. This may refer to the fact that the ancient peoples did not merely present the cosmic axis in general with the world tree - they regarded that axis in symbolic terms as a tree in accordance with a certain position that that axis occupied in the starry heavens in ancient times, namely when it was aligned with the polar star Thuban. That meant that that particular star did not move with the other stars - the whole cosmos seemed to move around this star. As such it was envisioned as a large tree or pillar stretching from the earth to that position in the northern sky (with the cosmic tree's branches hanging down along the starry dome). It seemed that the northern starry dome rested on that pillar.

The cosmic axis, however, is not static - it moves slowly though the polar regions in the starry heavens in accordance with the polar and equinoctial progressions. We may view the earth as a large spinning top which wobble slowly in such a manner that the top and bottom parts move slowly in a circle - which in our cosmos would be the circles that the northern and southern poles trace out in the sky over a period of about 26 000 years. When the cosmic axis moved away from the polar star Thuban in about 2800 BC, the ancient peoples did not only observe this; they also told many stories about this remarkable cosmic event. They envisioned it as an enormous tree that was cut down - as we find in both the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as the garden story told by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 31:11-18; and in may other similar stories from the ancient world).

The ancient peoples carefully worked out the route and time of this heavenly circle. This can be done quite easily when one knows that the very same process (i.e. the progression of the poles and the equinoxes) results in the sun progressing slowly in its yearly position within the framework of the twelve constellations in the zodiac (the starry belt that defines the path of the sun). It's position during mid-Spring, which was ceremonially marked among many ancient cultures as the beginning of the calendar year, for example, moves a small bit every year (it takes 72 years to move one degree) in the opposite direction in which the sun proceeds through the heavens. This means that the sun spend an average of about 2200 years in every constellation (2200 X 12 = 26 400 years for one full cycle; more correctly: 25920 years).

The ancient Mesopotamians might have observed, probably as early as the late third or early second millennium BC [2], that there are two stars on this 26 000 year long polar circle which the cosmic axis traces out in the northern starry heavens, namely Thuban (~2900 BC) and Polaris (~2000 AD). In this manner two cosmic trees are manifest in the framework of the starry heavens which may be the basis for the two trees that are said to have grown in the earthly garden of Eden. In the framework of the evolution of time in the context of the progression of the poles these might also be seen in terms of death and resurrection: after the first one was cut down when the cosmic axis moved away from it (which would be the tree of knowledge), the other eventually grew in its place (the tree of life). In ancient iconography we often find depictions of a tree that is cut down, shown with a new branch growing next to it. Although this image is often understood in reference to the sun (symbolizing its yearly cyclical movement), it might have originally referred to the heavenly movement of the cosmic axis [3].

The four rivers flowing from Eden

According to the garden story in the Book of Genesis, there were also four important rivers that run from their upper headwaters in the area of the garden. These were the Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates which I previously argued to be the Uizhum, Gaihun (called the Araxes after the Islamic invasion of the Caucasus), Tigris and Euphrates, all of which originate in the areas around the Urmia Lake in northern Iran (see part 3 of the series). The reference to the number four in the context of the garden may be significant - this number is often used in reference to the "four corners/winds/ends of the earth/heaven" (Isa. 11:12; Jer. 49:36; see Rev. 7:1). We do in fact find that these four rivers flow into the four directions from the mentioned geographical area - although only in the area of their upper headwaters (both the Tigris and Euphrates later flow towards southern Mesopotamia).

The "four corners of the earth" was also a very ancient concept and part of the ancient worldview. In the Book of Job these "corners" are also referred to as the "pillars of the earth" (Job 9:6; 26:11). As such they must have been viewed as very stable points. Where are these four corners - or pillars? In the ancient worldview the earth was defined in the framework of these four corners - which refer to the four directions in the framework of the starry heavens. These are the four constellations in which the sun reside during the equinoxes and solstices - during mid-Spring, mid-Summer, mid-Autumn and mid-Winter (defined by the two days of the year when day and night are of the same length, as well as the longest and shortest days of the year).

In the framework of the starry cosmos these four constellations on the circular belt in which the sun moves (the zodiac) defined the "earth"; they present the four corners or pillars thereof. The reason why these were very stable points ("pillars") is that they are fixed throughout the period of any person's life time (for about 2200 years). They may, however, "tremble" (or: falter) as we read in the Book of Job. This happens when the sun moves out of these constellations that define the four pillars into the next four constellations in accordance with the progression of the equinoxes (for example, when the sun moved during the Spring equinox from the constellation of Taurus to Aries in about 2200 BC and later to Pisces in the time of Jesus Christ).

In the framework of the starry cosmos, the sky to the north of (i.e. above) the "earth" was regarded as the realm of "heaven" whereas the sky to the south thereof (i.e. under) was regarded as the underworld [5]. Towering over the earth in the framework of the northern heavens, is the region of the northern polar stars that gives the distinct impression of a large starry dome or mountain, which was associated with the mountain of God (or: the gods). The location of this mountain in the framework of the starry cosmos is described as "in the sides (or: utmost areas) of the north" (Isa. 14:13), referring to the northern pole of heaven. According to Ezekiel's description of the garden of God (or: Eden), this garden was near or on top of the "holy mountain of God" (Ezek. 28:13, 14, 16; see part 3 of the series for a discussion of the relation between the garden and the mountain of God).

This is the mountain where the important gods gathered according to ancient Middle Eastern tradition, which is also why it is called "mount of the congregation" (Isa. 14:13). These gathered gods ("gods" is the ancient terminology; in later Hebrew tradition they are called "angels") were called the "council/assembly/congregation of the holy/mighty ones" (Ps. 82:1; Ps. 89:6, 7; see 1 Ki. 22:19-22) and the ancient peoples associated them with the stars of the polar region (see Isa. 14:13 where they are called the "stars of God"). Stars are often associated with gods or angels in the Bible (Judges 5:20; Job 38:6-7; Deut. 4:19, 20; Rev. 1:20; 12:4 etc.). The concept of the council of the gods is a very old one - it was part and parcel of ancient Mesopotamian thought - and it persisted in the context of later Hebrew thought where the council of God is not only mentioned as part of their worldview, but also as part of the prophetic experience since the they describe their own presence in that council (1 Ki. 22:19-22; Jer. 23:18; Zech. 3:1-2).

The cosmic picture seems to be the following. In the polar region of the northern starry heavens is the mountain of God where He has his throne. This is also where the "garden of God" (see Ezek. 28:13) is situated since the most beautiful cedar in this garden is to be associated with the cosmic axis which defines the northern pole of the heavens. We should regard this garden as the heavenly paradise (see 2 Cor. 12:4). From this northern mountain flows four streams towards the four corners of the earth, which refer to the equinoctial and solstice points in the starry heavens. In this regard it is interesting that in ancient Mesopotamia the Euphrates was, for example, associated with the Milky Way which can be viewed as "flowing" from that northern region of the sky. In this framework, the mountain of God towers over the "earth" which lies under it. This picture was regarded as the visible manifestation of the invisible spirit realms that the ancient peoples believed in [6]. It had an earthly equivalent in the garden of Eden described in the Book of Genesis.

The four corners of the earth were also the points where one enters the "otherworld" - both the heavenly and the underworldly regions. It was especially the two equinoctial points that were associated with the "gates" of heaven. These are the gates through which the sun, moon and planets proceed. In the context of our current discussion, this would also be the entrances to the cosmic "garden of God" (the heavenly paradise - see 2 Cor. 12:4). As such, these would be the places where the cherubim guard its entrance - as we read in the garden story in the Book of Genesis (although that refers to the earthly garden; Gen. 3:24). In ancient Mesopotamia we often find that mythical creatures - mostly lions and bulls - do indeed guard these entrances (since the temples were thought to be images of the cosmos, we typically find these creatures at their entrances).

One may suggest that the bulls and lions placed at these entrances had their origin in the constellations of the Bull and the Lion. In this regard it is interesting that the zodiac was called "Mazzaroth" (Job 38:32) in Jewish tradition, which is also translated as "animal circuit" (diereriem in Afrikaans). In this tradition these constellations were viewed as animals that a man leads on a string. Among these are the Bull (Taurus), the Ram (Aries) and the Lion (Leo). During the two millennia before 2200 BC the Bull and Lion were situated at the equinoctial/solstice points (i.e. at the entrances to the otherworld). As such these had a great impact on the later worldview of the ancients.

It is possible that the early Israelites associated the other equinoctial/solstice constellations also with animal figures (in accordance with the name that they gave to the zodiac). As such the animal signs at the other two "corners" of the earth (or: entrances to the otherworld) might have been an eagle and the man leading the animals (which we know today as the constellations of the Scorpion and Water-drawer). Once we understand the ancient view of the cosmos, it seems logical that the four beasts around the throne of God are a lion, bull, eagle and man - which represent the three animals and the man who leads them at the four corners of the earth (Ezek. 1:10; Rev. 4:7). As such they signify God's rule over the four corners of the cosmos. In Ezekiel these are composite figures. They are called, as one expects, "cherubim" (Ezek. 10:1).

The fallen cherub

I previously discussed the serpent of the garden story in the Book of Genesis (see part 4 of the series). This serpent is presented as operating in conflict with God's command. I argued that this very same conflict is depicted in the ancient Mesopotamian story of Etana, in which the eagle in top of the cosmic tree stands in opposition with the snake at the bottom. It seems that these were ancient symbols for two opposing cosmic realms, namely heaven and the underworld [7], associated with two opposing groups of gods who are mentioned in the oldest Sumerian literature that we have (dating from about ~2600 BC [8]). On the one hand we have An, the lord of heaven, which I take as the Sumerian form of the Semitic God El [9] and the gods associated with him; on the other hand we have Enki, the "Lord of the Earth/Land" and the gods associated with him. At that stage the symbol of the snake was associated with the Sumerian god Enki and his domain.

In the garden story in the Book of Genesis the only cherubim referred to are those who are said to have guarded the entrance to the garden; in Ezekiel's story about the garden of God (Eden) another cherub is mentioned. According to Ezekiel's story there was once a very important cherub in the garden of God on the mountain of God who was eventually chased from there. This cherub is described as "the anointed cherub that covereth" (Ezek. 28:14). The tradition about such a creature which once covered the feet of the king of the gods, but who was later chased from there, was a very old one (going back to the Ur III period at the end of the third millennium BC). In the Mesopotamian story this was an eagle (called an "Anzu") who stole the "tables of destiny". These tables belonged to the king of the gods (who ruled over the council of the gods) - stealing these tablets may imply that this eagle wanted to take control of that high position. The Anzu is often depicted in the top of the world tree which symbolizes the cosmic axis.

According to the Biblical story the reason why this cherub was chased from the mountain of God is that it became proud because of its beauty (Ezek. 28:17). This is also what is said about the enormous cedar in the garden of Eden, namely that it became proud because of its great height (Ezek. 31:10). In general it seems that Ezekiel refers to an ancient motif, namely that of the polar star which "fell" from its high position when the cosmic axis moved from there in accordance with the progression of the poles. There was a Mesopotamian myth that this star fell from that high position to the horizon, where it was visible as the morning star (Jupiter) [10]. The mentioned cherub magnified himself in exactly the same manner, and will, accordingly, also fall in the same manner.

The heavenly Anzu (cherub) who exalted himself, might in the context of the starry heavens be associated with the northern constellation of Draco - the dragon (serpent) that lies stretched out over the northern polar region [11]. As such it is maybe not without reason that the polar star Thuban is indeed in the tail of this heavenly dragon. But how did the heavenly eagle developed into a heavenly serpent? We find that the Anzu is first associated with a snake in one of the heroic stories told about the great Akkadian king, Naram-Sin, grandson of Sargon the Great, who ruled over the "four corners" of the known world in the ancient land of Mesopotamia (in ~2250 BC). He was the first king ever in Mesopotamia who was worshiped as a god while he was still alive (at a young age, after subduing his enemies who came against him from the four corners of the world). According to tradition his personal symbol combined the eagle with a snake [12]. As such it became a fiery flying snake which is also referred to in the Book of Isaiah as the symbol of one of the later Mesopotamian kings who modeled their reign on that of the ancient Akkadians, namely the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon (Isa. 14:29) (I have argued in part 4 of the series that the serpent of Genesis 3 was also later regarded as such a being).

One may assume that this snake eventually lost its wings to become the current constellation of Draco. In Biblical tradition we also read about this northern constellation of the snake. It is mentioned in the Book of Job where we read: "By his spirit he (i.e. God) has garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent" (Job 26:13). It is quite possible that the "great red dragon" which appears as a sign in heaven in the vision described in the Book of Revelation, is based on this northern constellation of the dragon (snake). Here he is called the "old serpent" as well as the Devil and Satan (Rev. 12:9; to be overthrown by the archangel Michael). We may interpret this as meaning that the constellation of Draco is taken as a symbol of Satan and his aspirations to rule the cosmos.
The archangel Michael overthrowing Lucifer, by Francesco Maffei (ca 1656)

We find a similar story than the one told by the prophet Ezekiel in the Book of Isaiah (Isa. 14). In this case the one who exalted himself is called the "king" of Babylon. He is said to have exalted himself in his heart and wanted to place his throne above the stars of God on the mount of the congregation. We read that this king wanted to take his seat at the head of the council of the gods on the mountain of God, as their king. But in the same manner that the polar star associated with this high position eventually lost that position, and is imagined to have fallen to the horizon, so the king of Babylon would also fall according to the prophet. The reference here is clearly not merely to the physical king of Babylon, but to Marduk, the god of Babylon. According to the mythology of Marduk, the son of Enki, he was an adversary who led a rebellion in the council of the gods and as such his rise to kingship over the gods was recognized in Babylon. This is clearly what the prophet Isaiah refers to. Even though Marduk exalted himself in this manner, he will eventually fall and be judged (see also Ps. 82:6-7).

The rebel god Marduk, who became an adversary in the council of the gods, is the figure that was eventually associated with the Biblical figure of the Satan ("the adversary"; who played exactly the same role in the Biblical council of God). The Canaanite equivalent of the Babylonian god Marduk was the god Baal, who shared the same characteristics as well as the same mythology, namely as the adversary in the council of the gods [13]. In the Ugarit texts Baal is, for example, depicted as spitting in disrespect in the council when he disagreed with a decision taken by El, the father of the gods. Eventually he led a rebellion after which he became king on his own mountain, i.e. Mt. Sapan (also called Mt. Hazzi; today Jebel Aqra) near Ugarit, where he was worshiped as such by the Canaanites. The devil is also presented in Jewish tradition under a related name, namely Beelzebub, the Greek form of Baal-Zebub, a name which also appears in the Canaanite Ugarit literature, where "zebub" (zbl) means "prince" [14]. In the Ugarit texts this god is called "Prince, Lord of the Earth".

The Biblical figure of the Satan cannot be understood apart from the ancient concept of the council of the gods (or: God) in which he was the leader of a rebellion. This is how Satan is also depicted in other Biblical passages (see Job 1:6-12; Zech. 3:1-2), namely as the adversary in the council of God [15]. According to the Book of Revelation, he will have access to that council until the time comes when this "accuser of the brethren" will finally be cast from heaven (Rev. 12:10; see Zech. 3:1-5).

Although the Fall is an ancient event (in the context of the starry cosmos, the northern and southern poles of heaven were taken as symbolizing the opposing forces in the cosmos; see part 5 of the series), the rise of the god who became the adversary in the council of the gods, and who eventually became known as Satan (the adversary) in the Bible, was only recognized as such in the early second millennium BC [16]. It was only in the beginning of the Old Babylonian period (~1800 BC) that this rebel god (Marduk) was exalted to become king in the council of the gods in Babylonia (during the reign of Hammurabi) and the mythology surrounding his rise to the throne was only penned down much later in the Babylonian Enuma Elis (although it might have been part of an older oral tradition going back to Old Babylonian times).

In time this rebellion in the council of the gods became part of the Biblical understanding of the council of God. The appearance of this perspective in so many Biblical passages suggests that it was deeply embedded in Biblical tradition - going back long before the time of the exile [18]. Although this rebel-god was worshiped as king of the gods in Babylonia and in Canaan, in Israel he was always remembered as the adversary in the council of God (i.e. his kingship was rejected). Eventually the story of this rebellion became one of the most enduring motifs associated with that council in both the extra-Biblical as well as Biblical traditions.


In this essay I focus on the cosmic dimensions of the garden of Eden. The earthly garden was viewed in the context of the ancient worldview, in which the "garden of God" (heavenly paradise) was associated with the mountain of God in a cosmic sense. I showed that the garden of Eden should be viewed as an earthly representation of the heavenly realm. The basic features that is mentioned regarding the garden of Eden, for example the remarkable tree(s) in the middle of the garden, the four rivers, the mountain of God, the fallen cherub - should not merely be understood in an earthly context, but in a cosmic context. In the ancient worldview, the starry cosmos served as model or archetype for earthly holy places - and it seems that the garden of Eden had been regarded as such a place.

The ancient worldview was very different from our own. When we, however, have some basic understanding of that worldview, we are in a position to make sense of various Biblical passages that we would not otherwise understand [19] - or would interpret purely from a contemporary context (in Biblical Criticism this worldview is often described in very simplistic terms; this, however, reflects more about the mindset of these scholars than about those ancient peoples). In this regard the story of the fallen cherub is of special importance. He was in Eden - according to Ezekiel's account - although this refers to the heavenly realm where he once served God. There are many Biblical passages which in various ways tell the story of this cherub/god, who exalted himself in the council of God, and who eventually became known as Satan in the Biblical tradition. From a Biblical perspective his role is not merely of historical interest; he is active today (1 Pet. 5:8) and will still play a very important role in events to come.

[1] Although the cosmic "topology" served as archetype for all earthly holy places in accordance with the principle "as above, so below", the original assignment of that topology to the heavenly realms happened in the context of the ancient people projecting earthly topological features (a mountain, the see, the cosmic tree etc.) into the order they observed in the sky.
[2] Geoffrey Cornelius and Paul Devereux write: “The first scientific description of this cycle (i.e. of 25 800 years) is credited to Hipparchus (2nd century BC) but earlier cultures incorporated aspects of the phenomenon into myth, especially the procession of the equinoctial and solsticial points, which appear to move backward against the fixed stars by about 1º every 72 years." Cornelius, Geoffrey & Devereux, Paul 1996. The Secret Language of the Stars and Planets. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p36.
In about 2200 BC the sun moved from the constellation of the Bull into the constellation of the Ram. This cosmic event formed the basis for the story about the killing of the "heavenly bull" by the heros of the Epic of Gilgamesh - which goes back to at least the early second millennium BC. They also cut down the enormous cedar that grew in the garden near the mountain of the gods. This "cutting down" of the cedar depicts the cosmic axis moving away from the polar star Thuban (the same image is later used by Ezekiel; this image of the tree being cut down originated with the ritual felling of such trees by the great Akkadian kings in about 2350-2200 BC).
Those people did not only understand the heavenly movements of the stars; it would have been quite easy for them to trace out this polar circuit in the northern starry heavens in the centuries after the pole moved away from Thuban (which was a very observable event just like the end of the era of Taurus in about 2200 BC). Since the second polar star, namely Polaris, does not lay too far from the first on this heavenly circle - they are about one fifth of the total circumference of the circle removed from each other - the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia might have been able to correctly project at least this part of the heavenly course in the period of a thousand years after the cosmic axis moved away from Thuban (Thuban would have served as the basis from which the further movement of the pole was traced). They would also have been able to make rough calculations of the time that it would take for the poles as well as the sun to complete this progression. In later periods the cyclical movement of the northern pole was depicted with the symbol of a snake that bites its tail ("ouroboros" in Greek) in the framework of the constellation of Draco. 
[3] The reason why the second tree is called the "tree of life" becomes clear within the context of the shamanistic connotations of the story that I discussed in part 4 of the series. The shamanistic experience was eventually replaced in many societies with a more sophisticated kind of mystical experience for which we have a lot of literature available that enable us to understand it better. In this case these two trees are clearly delineated as part of that experience. The first tree is a symbol of the egoistic self (ego), which has to die before the true self can manifest itself. In the various mystical traditions around the world, the new self, which grows like a new tree in the place of the old ego, is often said to involve the acquiring of immortality and even godhood. In this context the name "tree of life" seems to be especially applicable. The path towards accomplishing that, is made difficult by inner entities which guard this tree with a "flaming sword", so to speak. When we understand the trees in the garden of Eden in this manner, it is not so much the fruit of two different trees that is referred to, but the outcome of the use of the fruit of the tree: at first in obtaining a certain kind of knowledge (see part 5 of the series) but then also in acquiring "eternal" life.
In Christian tradition the cross of Jesus Christ adheres to that cosmic "design" (archetype). As such it is also taken as a tree in a sense very similar to that in the garden story: death and resurrection is associated with this "tree" (Acts 5:30 etc.). In this case it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who died on the cross. The possibility of "death and resurrection" in the psychological landscape of the human soul is now accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in the life of the believer. Now the "sacrifice" of Jesus - which serves as archetype for such a spiritual experience (of death to sin and resurrection to a new life) in the life of individuals - provides the basis on which the inner work in the soul is accomplished (see Romans 6:1-11). Although the process seems similar (to that in the shamanistic/mystical experience) due to the common potentialities of the human soul, the manner in which these are accomplished and the eventual outcome are fundamentally different (through human effort; through faith). In the mystical experience one might typically encounter a snake spirit (for example, when using Ayahuasca [4]) to whom control of one's life is given; in the Christian experience the Holy Spirit empowers the human spirit when control is given to Him. God forbids the first, He requires the second.
[4] See Hancock, Graham. 2015. The Divine Spark. London: Hay House. 
[5] This is a simplified version of the ancient worldview. They actually distinguished three cosmic regions: heaven (the mountain of God (or: the gods)), the underworld and the apsu. The apsu seems to have its Biblical equivalent in the abyss or "bottomless pit".
[6] The Sumeriologist Jean Bottero writes: "The Sumerians more than others obviously must have had the idea of doubling the visible world by an entirely invisible, explicative and directive world". In Bottero, J. 2001. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago University: Chicago. p 45.
[7] This should actually read "the apsu", but a full discussion of the relation between the apsu and underworld, both of which were situated "under" the earth, is beyond the scope of this essay. As master of the southern Sumerian lands around Eridu (where the apsu was located), the god Enki was probably in the early period regarded as overlord over both these regions even though the goddess Ereshkigal ruled the underworld (long before the god Nergal took over as ruler of that region).
[8] Van Dijk, J. 1976. Le Motif Cosmique dans la pensée Sumérienne. Acta Orientalia 28:1-59. 
[9] In my view we should regard the names An and El as the Sumerian and Semitic equivalents of the very same God, in the same manner that we call the Judaeo-Christian God both God (in English) and Dieu (in French). Their character and role in the council of the gods are exactly the same (he is regarded as the "father of the gods"). This would be in agreement with the Biblical view that God was worshiped in the ancient world (also in Sumeria) long before His appearance to Abram (Gen. 2-11). At that early period, the manner and form in which the ancient people worshiped God was obviously very different from the time after his revelation to Abram (and Moses).
[10] See De Santillana, Giorgio & Von Dechend, Hertha. 1968. Hamlet’s Mill. p444.
[11] The Anzu was depicted as a lion-headed eagle - with the eagle presenting the thunderclouds and the lion-head the roaring thunder. It symbolized the rain cycle in Mesopotamia according to which water evaporated from the southern marshes and sea before forming as dark clouds over the northern mountains. As such it may be understood as a symbol for time. The constellation of Draco - which may be regarded as a snake that bites its tail - is also a symbol of cyclical time.  
There is also a snake constellation, called Hydra, at the bottom of the cosmic axis (laying in the waters of the Deep). The ground for placing these constellations at the top and bottom of the cosmic axis was most definitely the shamanistic depiction of the world tree with an eagle in the top and a serpent at the bottom. In the context of the cosmos, all sorts of stories were told about these constellations - in the Biblical tradition they are also mentioned in the context of God's great power (Is. 27:1; 51:9 etc.). 
[12] In the epic Naram-Sin and the Lord of Apisal, in Joan Goodnick Westenholz (ed.). 1997. Legends of the Kings of Akkade. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
[13] The Mesopotamian and Canaanite worlds came in close contact since the time of the Akkadian kings in the second half of the third millennium BC, who's campaigns led them to the Mediterranean coast. Later, even before the Kassite invasion of Babylonia (they controlled Babylonia since 1595 BC), there was a great migration from Mesopotamia to the west. In the Gilgamesh epic the mountain of the gods, which was traditionally placed to the north of Mesopotamia, is now found in the "Cedar Mountains" in the west, which originally referred to the Amanus and later to the Lebanon mountains. As such, the great mountain of the gods became associated (in both Sumeria and Canaan) with a mountain peak in the Lebanon (see part 3 of the series for a more detailed discussion). 
This implies a shared mythology associated with this mountain. In Sumeria/Babylonia this mountain, where the council of the gods gathered, was called "Hursag", in the Canaanite Ugarit texts it became "Hursanu" (a different, higher mountain peak than Mt. Sapan of Baal). The "father" of the gathered gods was called An in Sumeria and El in Canaan. The Babylonian rebel god who led an insurrection against the king of the gods was Marduk, who was also called Bel (Lord); in Canaan it was Baal (Lord). The character and role of Marduk/Baal in the council of the gods are the same: a weather god (sharing various symbolic depictions) who dies and become resurrected in the context of the seasonal cycle (see the Marduk Ordeal text performed during the New Year celebrations). In the context of the council of the gods he is the leader of a great rebellion which resulted in him replacing the previous king of the gods (in Sumerian tradition: Enlil, son of An - whom we can also regard as a form of El; I will discuss this in the next part of this series) in Babylonian and Canaan mythology (but not in Israelite tradition).  
In Babylonian tradition the great enemy who came against the land and was slain by Marduk before he became king, was Tiamat (the Sea) (said to be sent by Enki in an early version and by Enlil in later versions of the story - see note 16 below). In Canaanite tradition Baal's opponent was Yam, the sea prince (who was under El's patronage), whom he slain to become king of the gods. It is clear that Yam has his equivalent in Tiamat (with El's patronage of Yam based on Enlil's patronage of Tiamat - which reflect later versions of the Balylonian tradition; probably from about the middle the second millennium BC). 
For a more detailed discussion, see my book Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012), chapter 6. See also Mullen, E. Theodore. 1980. The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature. Chico (California): Scholars Press.
[14]  Kapelrud, Arvid S. 1952. Baal in the Ras Shamra Texts. Copenhagen: G. E. C. Gad.
[15] Gerda de Villiers of Pretoria University's theological department wrote an article on Satan in the journal TEO (July 2012) in which she tries to argue that the Old Testament (OT) Satan is very different from the one found in the New Testament (NT). In her view S/satan is not necessarily a particular being in the OT since the word "satan" (adversary) is used in various ways (one would expect that context plays a role in such interpretation!!). According to her the view that Satan is the archenemy of the Lord, is not found in the OT ("we should not read the later devil of the New Testament and Christian church into the [OT] texts"). Rather, in the OT satan is at most a figure under God's control who appears with other similar supernatural beings in His throne room.  
Her view is typical of Biblical Criticism where the Biblical tradition is not considered as substantially continuous (atomizing the Biblical material). She shows total disregard for the ancient context in which the Biblical text originated; she does not consider the fact that the "adversary" in the council of the gods was a very old motif in ancient Middle Eastern and Biblical tradition (see the discussion above). As such he was always the direct opponent (adversary) of God. To really understand this, we should distinguish between God's role as "father of the gods" (El-Elyon; see Ps. 82:6) and as King in the council (Yahweh, as replacing the earlier El-Sjaddai; for these roles in the council, see the next essay in this series). Satan's name comes from his role as adversary - as the one who desired to be king in the council!  
Although there are minor differences in the manner that Satan is depicted in the OT and NT (since the coming of Jesus Christ defined a new phase in the heavenly conflict), the first continues into the second. Although Satan's role in the council of God is not accentuated in the NT (except in Rev. 12), he is nonetheless named Beelzebub in accordance with his origins and is depicted as the "king" of an opposing kingdom (Matt. 12:26) - in accordance with the fact that this god became king on his own mountain after his rebellion in the council of the gods (worshiped as Baal on Mt. Sapan etc.). In the NT Satan's role as the one who opposes God's work on earth is accentuated.
[16] It may be of interest to readers that the Marduk/Baal mythology, according to which this god led a rebellion in the council of the gods, was taken from the mythology that developed around Naram-Sin [17], the great king who was the very first king who exalted himself as god among the other gods. In this tradition he was depicted as the opponent of the king of the gods in their council, as the one who led a rebellion against him.We have already seen that the symbol of the Anzu, combined with a snake, is said to have been introduced by him. His use of that symbol might have been the basis for the story of the Anzu who stole the "tablets of destiny", who tried to exalt himself but in the process became a fallen creature - the story which seems to lie at the basis of the Biblical story of the fallen cherub told by Ezekiel.
Who was this Naram-Sin, who may be regarded as the greatest king of ancient times (until the time of Caesar Augustus), and who seems to be the historical figure behind various images later used for Satan in Biblical tradition? Should we regard him in some manner as the opposite of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? He lived at the end of the era of the Bull; Jesus Christ lived at the end of the era of the Ram. One can speculate that we might regard him as a kind of anti-Christ in whom the god who later became known as Satan in Biblical tradition, became manifested. There might have been other such figures even earlier in history. A detailed discussion falls outside the scope of this essay.
[17] (Reference in note 16) See the epic Naram-Sin and Erra, in Joan Goodnick Westenholz (ed.). 1997. Legends of the Kings of Akkade. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
[18] The elevation of Marduk to become the king of the gods in Babylonia happened some time after Abraham left that country. This would be the reason why we find no trace of the Marduk mythology in the Mesopotamian material in the Book of Genesis - in my view this material was brought by Abraham's family from that country and was later incorporated in the Book of Genesis.  
According to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament dating from the third to second century BC) Abraham started his journey from Harran to Canaan in ~1837 BC. This date is in agreement with the Mesopotamian high chronology according to which the invasion of the Elamites in northern Syria (an event described in Genesis 14) took place in 1822 BC, in the time of the Elamite ruler Siwe-palar-huppak. This was before Hammurabi became overlord over all of southern Mesopotamia after his victory over Rim-Sin. The Sumeriologist Thorkid Jacobsen took Hammurabi's rise to become king over all of Babylon (after this victory) as the occasion when Marduk became acknowledged as the king of the gods in Babylonia. Marduk's new position is reflected in the preamble to the law code of Hammurabi (Jacobsen 1976:189). 
Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1976. The Treasures of Darkness. New Haven: Yale University.
[19] Readers who would like to do more reading on the topic of the ancient worldview may consult the following works, which I regard as the best in their genre:
De Santillana, Giorgio & Von Dechend, Hertha. 1968. Hamlet’s Mill. An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and its Transmission through Myth. Boston: David R. Godine. 
Horowitz, Wayne. 1998. Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud. (Ref.
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics; MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also the other parts of the series on the Book of Genesis:
Intro: The Book of Genesis - the Sumerian hypothesis
If readers find the article interesting, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others, including their pastors or other scholars.