Understanding the Bible(To scan this article, read the sentences in bold.)
If we are to understand the Bible, we cannot ignore the context within which it was written. Just as science is the technology that shapes our worldview today, the authors of the Bible used symbology to shape their worldview. In order to understand scripture, we have to look through the eyes of these ancient writers and understand the technology they used to describe their world.
For the ancients, everything in the material world had a religious meaning. There was no distinction between religion and science. Though they lacked modern scientific instruments, they were nonetheless as curious and astute in their observations as scientists are today. Evidence of this abounds - the pyramids of Egypt, the Mayan calendar, the ruins at Stonehenge-all these and more point to a knowledge of the cosmos that we were able to achieve only after we had the proper equipment. Given this kind of evidence, we can reasonably assume that their knowledge of "reality" was more sophisticated than is normally presumed by present day scientists and scholars.
In the old days, knowledge got around. We know this, because similar teachings arose in different parts of the world at roughly the same time (see the works of Joseph Campbell). There are positive links between the evolutionary landmarks of Hindu and Buddhist philosophies and those of Judaism and Christianity. The ancient world was very cosmopolitan. Recently, a major Graeco-Roman cultural center was unearthed just four miles from Nazareth, Jesus' hometown. Scholars now say that the exposure the young Jesus had to the world at large was virtually unlimited. Given his trade, he most likely spoke not only Aramaic, but Greek and Latin as well. Also, Buddhism was already five hundred years old at that time, and was in its heyday, and there was much commerce between the lands of the Middle East and India. Therefore, it is no surprise that there are so many similarities between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Buddha. see The Lotus and the Rose
These are the facts: for the ancients, science and religion were one and the same, and they expressed their knowledge in symbolic language. Without the keys to this language, their knowledge is invisible to us, just as another civilization would not be able to understand our technology if they did not understand our forms of scientific notation. So, let's consider some of what we know about the symbolic language of the ancients.
The word symbol meant to the ancients what the word principle means to today's scientists. Whereas we only use numbers to quantify things, for the ancients, each number also had a symbolic meaning, which is to say that each number represented a principle or law of nature. They did not distinguish between religion and mathematics. The Greek philosopher Thales said, "God's first thoughts were in numbers." He and the other early philosophers saw a direct relationship between mathematical and spiritual truth.
In the Bible, the number 1000 means essentially "the Lord our God is ONE". The logic of this is as follows: symbolically, the number one indicates unity, the condition in which there is no "other". In modern scientific language, we would express this concept as an "integrated system", one where everything has a functional relationship to everything else. The term "integrated system" is limited, however, because you can have a number of integrated systems that are not integrated with each other.
The ancients used zeroes to modify the symbolic number one. In symbology, zeroes function similarly to the way exponents do in mathematics. They indicate powers or levels of universality. Three zeroes means absolutely universal, because the number three symbolizes universal law. In the case of the number 1000, the three zeroes indicate that the laws or governing principles of the entire universe are unified. The implication, of course, is that the universe is an integrated system - "the Lord our God is ONE". Jesus reiterated this principle when he said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Scientifically, we could say that mathematics is ONE. NASA uses the same math here on earth as it does to calculate the trajectories of spacecraft millions of miles out in space.
Forty is a common number in both the Old and New Testaments-forty days and forty nights of rain for Noah, forty years in the desert for the Israelites, forty days of fasting in the wilderness by Jesus. Unless the number forty is one of God's favorites, it must have had a symbolic meaning. The number four symbolizes manifestation or solidification, the first appearance of something out of the realm of idea into the realm of matter. Pythagoras was probably the first person to make this observation. He pointed out that the tetrahedron is the first solid - it's the first shape that can be drawn as a three-dimensional object, the three-sided pyramid, which has four faces.
When we add a zero to four, we modify its symbolic meaning by placing it in a different context, in this case the context of time. We know that the reference is to time, because in the Bible the number forty is always used in that context. Interestingly enough, the grand cycle of time in Hinduism is the Yuga, which "lasts" 400,000 years. This, of course, is not meant as a literal length of time, because it's used in the context of eternity or timelessness (the symbolic number four raised to the level of one hundred, then placed in its cosmological context by raising that to the level of one thousand). This points to the largest frame of reference, the "ultimate" or eternal interpretation of the symbology of the number four.
What is that ultimate or eternal frame of reference? We know it as the principle of "consolidation", which, like mathematics or any other principle, exists "outside" the realm of time. The principle of consolidation operates everywhere and at all "times". It can be observed in molecular biology, wave harmonics, and even in technical chart analysis at your local stockbrokerage. A principle is "eternal", a word that has nothing whatsoever to do with time. It refers to that which is outside the realm of time (and space).
Another word for consolidation is stabilization. I once drove a car with a shimmy in the right front wheel. The shimmy would start at exactly 42mph and reach its worst vibration at 50mph, and then disappear altogether at 56mph. Whatever was causing the wheel to vibrate came into harmonic balance at 56mph. Hypothetically, we could symbolize the balance itself by the number four, and we could designate the process of reaching that balance and the dynamics of harmonic resonance by the number forty. Four is the principle of harmonic balance, and forty is the process by which it is achieved.
Another word for solidification and stabilization is establishment, or the point at which a dynamic system reaches a threshold of harmonic balance (56mph or "40" in the example of the car above). The ancients did not distinguish between religion and science. Neither did they exclude politics from this amalgam. They used the imagery of a royal throne to symbolize this principle. In Egypt, the pharaoh wore the "throne" of Isis on his head. In Christianity, this imagery is carried down in the symbols of "the kingdom of heaven" and the "throne of God". Solar imagery predominates, as in the golden rays of a crown, because the sun itself is considered the "throne" of God, the seat of celestial order and harmony, being the organizing principle of the solar system.
If we try to understand this with our current worldview, it doesn't make any sense, because we make distinctions among the domains of religion, science, and politics, which works well for us. If we want to understand what the ancient writers meant when they wrote the scriptures, however, we have to adopt their worldview before we can make an accurate interpretation.
Looked at in this way, the forty days that Jesus spent "fasting in the desert" could have been forty years or forty seconds. The exact amount of time spent is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the elements in Jesus' life and personality had reached their full power through harmonic resonance and had become stabilized in him, which meant that he was ready to begin his mission.
The forty days Jesus spent in the desert and the trials he faced there symbolize the spiritual events that all of us undergo as we approach illumination. Five hundred years earlier, the exact same story was told about Buddha as he approached enlightenment while sitting under the Bo Tree. The details of the two accounts differ markedly, but in principle they are identical. The forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness also refers to a time of preparation, which, like Jesus, consisted of spiritual fasting and uprootedness, preparing them to enter their "enlightenment" - the Promised Land.
The point here is that symbology is not necessarily, when properly used, antithetical to science. The ancients used symbolic language to describe timeless and universal principles. By understanding their language, we begin to glimpse the extraordinary depth of their knowledge, giving us valuable insights into our own present day spiritual expression and the interwoven nature of spirit and matter.