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The Star Of Bethlehem
Jacob's Vision Of The Ladder
In the 28th chapter of Genesis, we are told that Isaac, after blessing
his son Jacob, sent him to Padan-aram, to take a daughter of Laban's
(his mother's brother) to wife. Jacob, obeying his father, "went out
from Beer-sheba (where he dwelt), and went towards Haran. And he lighted
upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was
set. And he took of the stones of the place, and put them for his
pillow, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold,
a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And
he beheld the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And,
behold, the Lord stood above it, and said: 'I am the Lord God of Abraham
thy father, and the God of Isaac, the land whereon thou liest, to thee
will I give it, and to thy seed.' . . . And Jacob awoke out of his
sleep, and he said: 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I know it
not.' And he was afraid, and said: 'How dreadful is this place, this
is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven.'
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had
put for his pillow, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the
top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el."
The doctrine of Metempsychosis has evidently something to do with this
legend. It means, in the theological acceptation of the term, the
supposed transition of the soul after death, into another substance or
body than that which it occupied before. The belief in such a transition
was common to the most civilized, and the most uncivilized, nations of
It was believed in, and taught by, the Brahminical Hindoos,[42:2] the
Buddhists,[42:3] the natives of Egypt,[42:4] several philosophers of
ancient Greece,[43:1] the ancient Druids,[43:2] the natives of
Madagascar,[43:3] several tribes of Africa,[43:4] and North
America,[43:5] the ancient Mexicans,[43:4] and by some Jewish and
"It deserves notice, that in both of these religions (i. e.,
Jewish and Christian), it found adherents as well in
ancient as in modern times. Among the Jews, the doctrine of
transmigration--the Gilgul Neshamoth--was taught in the
mystical system of the Kabbala."[43:6]
"All the souls," the spiritual code of this system says, "are
subject to the trials of transmigration; and men do not know
which are the ways of the Most High in their regard." "The
principle, in short, of the Kabbala, is the same as that of
"On the ground of this doctrine, which was shared in by Rabbis
of the highest renown, it was held, for instance, that the
soul of Adam migrated into David, and will come in the
Messiah; that the soul of Japhet is the same as that of
Simeon, and the soul of Terah, migrated into Job."
"Of all these transmigrations, biblical instances are adduced
according to their mode of interpretation--in the writings of
Rabbi Manasse ben Israel, Rabbi Naphtali, Rabbi Meyer ben
Gabbai, Rabbi Ruben, in the Jalkut Khadash, and other works of
a similar character."[43:4]
The doctrine is thus described by Ovid, in the language of Dryden:
"What feels the body when the soul expires,
By time corrupted, or consumed by fires?
Nor dies the spirit, but new life repeats
Into other forms, and only changes seats.
Ev'n I, who these mysterious truths declare,
Was once Euphorbus in the Trojan war;
My name and lineage I remember well,
And how in fight by Spartan's King I fell.
In Argive Juno's fame I late beheld
My buckler hung on high, and own'd my former shield
Then death, so called, is but old matter dressed
In some new figure, and a varied vest.
Thus all things are but alter'd, nothing dies,
And here and there the unbodied spirit flies."
The Jews undoubtedly learned this doctrine after they had been subdued
by, and become acquainted with other nations; and the writer of this
story, whoever he may have been, was evidently endeavoring to strengthen
the belief in this doctrine--he being an advocate of it--by inventing
this story, and making Jacob a witness to the truth of it. Jacob would
have been looked upon at the time the story was written (i. e., after
the Babylonian captivity), as of great authority. We know that several
writers of portions of the Old Testament have written for similar
purposes. As an illustration, we may mention the book of Esther. This
book was written for the purpose of explaining the origin of the
festival of Purim, and to encourage the Israelites to adopt it. The
writer, who was an advocate of the feast, lived long after the
Babylonish captivity, and is quite unknown.[44:1]
The writer of the seventeenth chapter of Matthew has made Jesus a
teacher of the doctrine of Transmigration.
The Lord had promised that he would send Elijah (Elias) the prophet,
"before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord,"[44:2] and
Jesus is made to say that he had already come, or, that his soul had
transmigrated unto the body of John the Baptist, and they knew it
And in Mark (viii. 27) we are told that Jesus asked his disciples,
saying unto them; "Whom do men say that I am?" whereupon they answer:
"Some say Elias; and others, one of the prophets;" or, in other words,
that the soul of Elias, or one of the prophets, had transmigrated into
the body of Jesus. In John (ix. 1, 2), we are told that Jesus and his
disciples seeing a man "which was blind from his birth," the disciples
asked him, saying; "Master, who did sin, this man (in some former
state) or his parents." Being born blind, how else could he sin,
unless in some former state? These passages result from the fact,
which we have already noticed, that some of the Jewish and Christian
sects believed in the doctrine of Metempsychosis.
According to some Jewish authors, Adam was re-produced in Noah,
Elijah, and other Bible celebrities.[44:4]
The Rev. Mr. Faber says:
"Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, might in outward appearance be
different men, but they were really the self-same divine
persons who had been promised as the seed of the woman,
successively animating various human bodies."[44:5]
We have stated as our belief that the vision which the writer of the
twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis has made Jacob to witness, was intended
to strengthen the belief in the doctrine of the Metempsychosis, that he
was simply seeing the souls of men ascending and descending from heaven
on a ladder, during their transmigrations.
We will now give our reasons for thinking so.
The learned Thomas Maurice tells us that:
The Indians had, in remote ages, in their system of theology, the
sidereal ladder of seven gates, which described, in a symbolical
manner, the ascending and descending of the souls of men.[45:1]
We are also informed by Origen that:
This descent (i. e., the descent of souls from heaven to
enter into some body), was described in a symbolical manner,
by a ladder which was represented as reaching from heaven to
earth, and divided into seven stages, at each of which was
figured a gate; the eighth gate was at the top of the ladder,
which belonged to the sphere of the celestial firmament.[45:2]
That souls dwell in the Galaxy was a thought familiar to the
Pythagoreans, who gave it on their master's word, that the souls that
crowd there, descend and appear to men as dreams.[45:3]
The fancy of the Manicheans also transferred pure souls to this column
of light, whence they could come down to earth and again return.[45:4]
Paintings representing a scene of this kind may be seen in works of art
illustrative of Indian Mythology.
Maurice speaks of one, in which he says:
"The souls of men are represented as ascending and descending
(on a ladder), according to the received opinion of the
sidereal Metempsychosis in Asia."[45:5]
Mons. Dupuis tells us that:
"Among the mysterious pictures of the Initiation, in the
cave of the Persian God Mithras, there was exposed to the view
the descent of the souls to the earth, and their return to
heaven, through the seven planetary spheres."[45:6]
And Count de Volney says:
"In the cave of Mithra was a ladder with seven steps,
representing the seven spheres of the planets by means of
which souls ascended and descended. This is precisely the
ladder of Jacob's vision. There is in the Royal Library (of
France) a superb volume of pictures of the Indian gods, in
which the ladder is represented with the souls of men
In several of the Egyptian sculptures also, the Transmigration of Souls
is represented by the ascending and descending of souls from heaven to
earth, on a flight of steps, and, as the souls of wicked men were
supposed to enter pigs and other animals, therefore pigs, monkeys, &c.,
are to be seen on the steps, descending from heaven.[45:8]
"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and
the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God
ascending and descending on it."
These are the words of the sacred text. Can anything be more
convincing? It continues thus:
"And Jacob awoke out of his sleep . . . and he was afraid, and
said . . . this is none other but the house of God, and this
is the gate of heaven."
Here we have "the gate of heaven," mentioned by Origen in describing the
According to the ancients, the top of this ladder was supposed to
reach the throne of the most high God. This corresponds exactly with
the vision of Jacob. The ladder which he is made to see reached unto
heaven, and the Lord stood above it.[46:1]
"And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone
that he had put for his pillow, and set it up for a pillar,
and poured oil upon the top of it."[46:2]
This concluding portion to the story has evidently an allusion to
Phallic[46:3] worship. There is scarcely a nation of antiquity which
did not set up these stones (as emblems of the reproductive power of
nature) and worship them. Dr. Oort, speaking of this, says:
Few forms of worship were so universal in ancient times as the homage
paid to sacred stones. In the history of the religion of even the most
civilized peoples, such as the Greeks, Romans, Hindoos, Arabs and
Germans, we find traces of this form of worship.[46:4] The ancient
Druids of Britain also worshiped sacred stones, which were set up on
Pausanias, an eminent Greek historian, says:
"The Hermiac statue, which they venerate in Cyllene above
other symbols, is an erect Phallus on a pedestal."[46:6]
This was nothing more than a smooth, oblong stone, set erect on a flat
The learned Dr. Ginsburg, in his "Life of Levita," alludes to the
ancient mode of worship offered to the heathen deity Hermes, or Mercury.
A "Hermes" (i. e., a stone) was frequently set up on the road-side,
and each traveller, as he passed by, paid his homage to the deity by
either throwing a stone on the heap (which was thus collected), or by
anointing it. This "Hermes" was the symbol of Phallus.[46:8]
Now, when we find that this form of worship was very prevalent among
the Israelites,[47:1] that these sacred stones which were "set up,"
were called (by the heathen), BAETY-LI,[47:2] (which is not unlike
BETH-EL), and that they were anointed with oil,[47:3] I think we have
reasons for believing that the story of Jacob's setting up a stone,
pouring oil upon it, and calling the place Beth-el, "has evidently
an allusion to Phallic worship."[47:4]
The male and female powers of nature were denoted respectively by an
upright and an oval emblem, and the conjunction of the two furnished at
once the altar and the Ashera, or grove, against which the Hebrew
prophets lifted up their voices in earnest protest. In the kingdoms,
both of Judah and Israel, the rites connected with these emblems assumed
their most corrupting form. Even in the temple itself, stood the
Ashera, or the upright emblem, on the circular altar of Baal-Peor, the
Priapos of the Jews, thus reproducing the Linga, and Yoni of the
Hindu.[47:5] For this symbol, the women wove hangings, as the Athenian
maidens embroidered the sacred peplos for the ship presented to Athene,
at the great Dionysiac festival. This Ashera, which, in the authorized
English version of the Old Testament is translated "grove," was, in
fact, a pole, or stem of a tree. It is reproduced in our modern
"Maypole," around which maidens dance, as maidens did of yore.[47:6]
[42:1] See Chambers's Encyclo., art. "Transmigration."
[42:2] Chambers's Encyclo., art. "Transmigration." Prichard's Mythology,
p. 213, and Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 59.
[42:3] Ibid. Ernest de Bunsen says: "The first traces of the doctrine of
Transmigration of souls is to be found among the Brahmins and
Buddhists." (The Angel Messiah, pp. 63, 64.)
[42:4] Prichard's Mythology, pp. 213, 214.
[43:1] Gross: The Heathen Religion. Also Chambers's Encyclo., art.
[43:2] Ibid. Mallet's Northern Antiquities, p. 13; and Myths of the
British Druids, p. 15.
[43:3] Chambers's Encyclo.
[43:5] Ibid. See also Bunsen: The Angel-Messiah, pp. 63, 64. Dupuis, p.
357. Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, book xviii. ch. 13. Dunlap: Son of
the Man, p. 94; and Beal: Hist. Buddha.
[43:6] Chambers, art. "Transmigration."
[44:1] See The Religion of Israel, p. 18.
[44:2] Malachi iv. 5.
[44:3] Matthew xvii. 12, 13.
[44:4] See Bonwick: Egyptian Belief, p. 78.
[44:5] Faber: Orig. Pagan Idol, vol. iii. p. 612; in Anacalypsis, vol.
i. p. 210.
[45:1] Indian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 202.
[45:2] Contra Celsus, lib. vi. c. xxii.
[45:3] Tylor: Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 324.
[45:5] Indian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 262.
[45:6] Dupuis: Origin of Religious Beliefs, p. 344.
[45:7] Volney's Ruins, p. 147, note.
[45:8] See Child's Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. pp. 160, 162.
[46:1] Genesis xxviii. 12, 13.
[46:2] Genesis xxviii. 18, 19.
[46:3] "Phallic," from "Phallus," a representation of the male
generative organs. For further information on this subject, see the
works of R. Payne Knight, and Dr. Thomas Inman.
[46:4] Bible for Learners, vol. i. pp. 175, 276. See, also, Knight:
Ancient Art and Mythology; and Inman: Ancient Faiths, vol. i. and ii.
[46:5] See Myths of the British Druids, p. 300; and Higgins: Celtic
[46:6] Quoted by R. Payne Knight: Ancient Art and Mythology, p. 114,
[46:8] See Inman: Ancient Faiths, vol. i. pp. 543, 544.
[47:1] Bible for Learners, vol. i. pp. 177, 178, 317, 321, 322.
[47:2] Indian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 356.
[47:4] We read in Bell's "Pantheon of the Gods and Demi-Gods of
Antiquity," under the head of BAELYLION, BAELYLIA or BAETYLOS, that they
are "Anointed Stones, worshiped among the Greeks, Phrygians, and other
nations of the East;" that "these Baetylia were greatly venerated by the
ancient Heathen, many of their idols being no other;" and that, "in
reality no sort of idol was more common in the East, than that of oblong
stones erected, and hence termed by the Greeks pillars." The Rev.
Geo. W. Cox, in his Aryan Mythology (vol. ii. p. 113), says: "The
erection of these stone columns or pillars, the forms of which in most
cases tell their own story, are common throughout the East, some of the
most elaborate being found near Ghizni." And Mr. Wake (Phallism in
Ancient Religions, p. 60), says: "Kiyun, or Kivan, the name of the deity
said by Amos (v. 26), to have been worshiped in the wilderness by the
Hebrews, signifies GOD OF THE PILLAR."
[47:5] We find that there was nothing gross or immoral in the worship of
the male and female generative organs among the ancients, when the
subject is properly understood. Being the most intimately connected with
the reproduction of life on earth, the Linga became the symbol under
which the Sun, invoked with a thousand names, has been worshiped
throughout the world as the restorer of the powers of nature after the
long sleep or death of winter. But if the Linga is the Sun-god in his
majesty, the Yoni is the earth who yields her fruit under his
The Phallic tree is introduced into the narrative of the book of
Genesis: but it is here called a tree, not of life, but of the knowledge
of good and evil, that knowledge which dawns in the mind with the first
consciousness of difference between man and woman. In contrast with this
tree of carnal indulgence, tending to death, is the tree of life,
denoting the higher existence for which man was designed, and which
would bring with it the happiness and the freedom of the children of
God. In the brazen serpent of the Pentateuch, the two emblems of the
cross and serpent, the quiescent and energising Phallos, are united.
(See Cox: Aryan Mythology, vol. ii. pp. 113, 116, 118.)
[47:6] See Cox: Aryan Mytho., ii. 112, 113.
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