Theosophical Encyclopedia

Biblical Criticism

The study of issues surrounding the texts, composition and history of the Bible.

TE 2 Biblical Criticism Gutenberg Bible
Gutenberg Bible

A meaningful interpretation and study of the Bible must assume that the texts are correctly identified, dated, copied, transcribed, and translated. How do we know, for example, that the Gospel of Luke is actually written by Luke and not by someone else? How do we establish the dates when the various books were actually written? Which one is more accurate – the modern Hebrew Tanakh or the Greek Septuagint Old Testament (which added books not found in the present Hebrew Bible)? Are some Bible verses interpolated by scribes and which were not in the originals? Are the meanings of certain words understood differently twenty centuries ago as compared to their meanings many centuries later? Are the historical accounts in the Bible accurate?

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Evolution and Involution

EVOLUTION. The changes in the properties of organisms or systems in time. The word is commonly associated with biological evolution, based on the theory proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859 regarding the observed mutation of living organisms due to “natural selection.” The theory was simultaneously propounded by Alfred Russel WALLACE after years of investigation on the flora and fauna of Indonesia.

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Theosophical literature uses the word to refer to a process that refers not only to biological development but also to cosmic systems such as galaxies or solar systems, as well as to the progressive unfoldment of consciousness in organisms.

Biological Evolution. Darwin formulated the theory of evolution as a result of his observations of the apparent mutation of animals and plants in adapting to different environments mainly through a process that he termed natural selection. In each succeeding generation of any species, there are genetic variations that result in different characteristics from the previous generation. Some of these variations survive, others do not, depending upon their ability to cope with the environment as a result of these changes. For example, some moths whose coloration changed that enabled them to look similar to their environment are able to elude their predators better. Thus, according to Darwin, evolution follows the principle of “survival of the fittest.”

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The group of mystics and philosophers founded by Ammonius Saccas in 193 CE. The term means “lovers of truth,” and the school became known as the Neo-Platonic school. The group included Plotinus, its most famous exponent. It was also called the Eclectic Theosophical School, which Helena P. Blavatsky considered to be the precursor of the modern Theosophical Society (TS).

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Ammonius Saccas

The Philalethians had their division into neophytes (chelas) and Initiates or Masters; and the eclectic system was characterised by three distinct features, which are purely Vedantic; a Supreme Essence, One and Universal; the eternity and indivisibility of the human spirit; and Theurgy, which is Mantricism. So also, as we have seen, they had their secret or Esoteric teachings like any other mystic school. Nor were they allowed to reveal anything of their secret tenents, any more than were the Initiates of the Mysteries (CW 14:309).

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From the Greek mythos meaning tale, talk, fable. All ethnic groups have mythology or folklore enshrined, some in writings, some in oral tradition and some in both. From the Australian Aborigines to the Zulus of Africa tales of heroes and villains are told around campfires that have been handed down for hundreds, in some cases, thousands of years. The universality of myths suggests that they perform an essential function in all nations. Plato states in the Phaedon and the Gorgias that myths are the vehicles of great truths well worth the seeking. Rudolf Steiner, a nineteenth century German mystic and Theosophist, stated that “myth is the collective dream of the people.”

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Scholars have interpreted myths in many contrasting ways, as allegories, as the romanticized stories of long dead kings, as the “seeds” of the religions and as the personifications of human traits. Max Müller described myths as a “disease of language”; a somewhat untenable view that contributed little to the debate (quoted in the E.B. ed. 1970, p. 1133). Mircea Eliade suggests that, “The myth defines itself by its own mode of being. It can only be grasped, as a myth, in so far as it reveals something as having been fully manifested, and this manifestation is at the same time creative and exemplary since it is at the foundation of a structure of reality as well as of a kind of human behavior. A myth always narrates something as having really happened as an event that took place, in the plain sense of the term — whether it deals with the creation of the World or of the most insignificant animal or vegetable species” (Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1960, p. 14/15).

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Spiritualism and Theosophy

[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Richard W. Brooks]

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Spiritualist movement, which began in the United States, had spread throughout the world. [For further information about the history of Spiritualism, see the article on “Psychical Research”.] There were many noted — and many fraudulent — mediums practicing in the U.S. Two who get no mention at all in the literature of psychical research or parapsychology were the brothers William and Horatio Eddy, who owned a farm in Chittenden, Vermont, where they held nightly séances. These séances came to the attention of Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907) while he was working for a New York newspaper, the Daily Graphic, now defunct. Olcott, who expressed an interest in Spiritualist phenomena, requested the editor of his newspaper to send him to Chittenden to investigate. The results of that investigation were published in his book, People from the Other World (1875) and clearly establish Olcott as a careful, objective, and ingenious investigator. More important, it was there, late in the morning of October 14, 1874, that Olcott first met Madame Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), who had been sent to Chittenden on the directions of her Master.

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Theravada Buddhism

[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Richard W. Brooks and Jay G. Williams]

Theravāda Buddhism is sometimes referred to as “Southern Buddhism” because it is the form of Buddhism found mainly in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Southeast Asia. Actually, the term theravada (Sankrit sthaviravada, literally “the doctrine of the elders”) was used by only one of the sects of early Buddhism, However, modern usage now lumps those different sects together and considers the others to be offshoots of Theravada. The Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) Buddhists, often referred to as “Northern Buddhists” because they are found mainly in Tibet, China, inner Asia, and Japan (as well as north Vietnam), considered the Theravadins to be an inferior form of Buddhism and referred to them as “Hinayana” (i.e., “the lesser vehicle”). Some Theravādins actually accepted that pejorative name, considering it an indication of humility, an important Buddhist virtue.

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[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Vic Hao Chin]

Systems of mystical initiation in the Graeco-Roman world flourished for about two thousand years up to the fourth century. Many great persons of antiquity were known to be initiates of such schools, such as Plato, Pythagoras, Plutarch, Cicero, Iamblichus, and Porphyry, as well as Christian Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ammonius Saccas. The Mysteries were sanctioned and publicly protected by the Greek states, and later by the Roman Empire, but declined and became prohibited when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century CE under the Emperors Constantine and Theodosius.

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