The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology is an enquiry into the links between the bible and ancient cosmology. By cosmology I mean the way in which biblical writers and their contemporaries viewed the universe and how that view affected their faith in God. Using a surprisingly sophisticated range of symbol, metaphor, analogy and philosophy, the ancient biblical writers presented a coherent model of the cosmos which has much to teach us today. Over the centuries, many aspects of it have been ignored or dangerously distorted by historical Christianity, which has tended to emphasise an inward looking, church centred understanding of religion rather than a creation centred, cosmic one, with potentially tragic consequences.
Over the past twenty years, in America in particular, there has been a strand of Christianity which not only ignores, but positively looks forward to the destruction of creation as a sign of the return of Christ. This form of apocalyptic Christianity teaches that the world will end, not with a whimper, but with a bang, ushering in the 1000 year reign of Christ and all the saints, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
Using an interpretation of biblical cosmology to be found in certain key books of the bible, such as Daniel, St Paul’s letters and Revelation, which read the signs of the times as heralds of catastrophe and judgement, this brand of apocalyptic Christianity has spread ominously over the whole of the USA and has become a very strong political force. It influences people in positions of immense power and responsibility including various Presidents and their advisors who use it to justify war, imperialism and environmental irresponsibility. One of Bush’s spiritual mentors, James Robison, for instance, denounced peace activists because: ‘any teaching of peace prior to Christ’s return is heresy… It’s against the Word of God; it’s Antichrist.’1
In a recent study of apocalyptic religion and American imperialism, called An Angel Directs the Storm, theologian Michael Northcott exposed the thinking behind President Bush as based on a faulty interpretation of certain passages of scripture, and an inflated sense of prophetic calling to save the world. In his inaugural address in 2001 “George Bush clearly articulated his belief in his own and America’s divine calling to lead the world in an apocalyptic struggle between the forces of good and evil.” 2 As far as the fundamentalists are concerned, Armageddon, that last great battle between good and evil is on its way – the signs of its imminent arrival are all around, from the creation of the Jewish State in 1948 to the destruction of the Twin Towers in 9/11.
There is no hope in this worldview – only disaster. It is at this point that I enter the debate with another very different cosmology. It is drawn, like the apocalyptic theology, from the Book of Revelation, but also from other more reliable scriptural writings. It has a very different message – one of hope and harmony.
The fundamentalists believe that the world will end soon with the battle of Armageddon, but it is my thesis that, according to the bible, it is not the world that will end, but only a Cosmic Age, i.e. one month of the Great Year. An unexpected ally in this thesis is the international best seller, The Da Vinci Code in which a clear distinction is drawn between the end of an age and the end of the world. According to the book the year 2000 AD marks a period of transition between the age of Pisces and the age of Aquarius. This time of transition is called the ‘End of Days.’ As Langdon, the main character says, the term “refers not to the end of the world, but rather the end of our current age – Pisces, which began at the time of Christ’s birth, spanned two thousand years and waned with the passing of the millennium.”3
The concept of the “End of Days” is common parlance in America, where between 60 and 100 million Christians believe that it means the end of the world and they can see signs of its approach in the rise of the anti-Christ in the shape of Islamic terrorists and the Axis of Evil. These forces will be pitched against the USA, Britain and Israel – the armies of Christ – and sooner or later they will meet in Israel on the plains of Megiddo at Armageddon as prophesied in Revelation 16:16.
I challenge this modern interpretation of Revelation by uncovering the hidden cosmology in the bible, using a very ancient method which, in various forms, was taken for granted from the early centuries of Christianity to the rise of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. Most modern biblical scholarship uses forms of interpretation derived from the eighteenth and nineteenth century enlightenment. These have led to a greater and greater degree of historical scepticism. The method of interpretation that I use is as symbolic as it is literal and as metaphorical as it is sceptical. It distinguishes between history, allegory, parable and myth. In its most definitive form it derived from Plato and Pythagoras and much of the bible is shot through with insights from it. In the Middle Ages it was known as the Quadrivium which, together with the Trivium, formed the Seven Liberal Arts. It formed the basic mindset of those who were responsible for the flowering of the Gothic Culture from the 12th to 15th centuries and also those who led the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Trivium consisted of grammar, logic and rhetoric. These were the ancient subjects by which literacy was taught. The Quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The distinction between science and the humanities was not so sharp in earlier times. This was not only because the sciences were not so highly developed as they are now, but also because during the many centuries in which the tradition of Plato and Pythagoras dominated, number was thought of as literal and symbolic. Every number was considered to be a quantity and also to have a quality. This applied equally to the bible. Those who take a creationist view of the genesis story for instance, insist that the world was created in six days literally, and that God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath. It is on this basis, taking each day as 1000 years that dispensationalists believe that the biblical date for the beginning of creation is 4004BC and so we are now entering the seventh millennium which heralds the 1000 year reign of Christ. Very few of these Christians realise the symbolic importance of the number six. But St Augustine and the early Church Fathers believed that God had to create the world in six days because six is a mathematically perfect number and he had to conform to his own rules!4 Likewise St Augustine saw the beauty of the Trinity in many created things which expressed the harmony of threeness.
For those who know little about the symbolism of the Bible, it will not be easy to understand that a symbol is always symbolic of something. It is never meaningless, arbitrary or fantastic. It always relates to an ancient tradition where the meaning has been generally accepted. It is always objective, never subjective. In the Pythagorean and Platonic Quadrivium, the qualities of numbers as distinct from their quantities were connected to geometric shapes. They were also connected to musical ratios, thus 1:1 represented unison, 1:2 the octave, 2:3 the fifth, 3:4 the fourth etc. These ratios were also embodied in sacred architecture which in all cultures in the ancient world were modelled on the harmonic resonances of music. The biblical structures of the New Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon were prime examples of this. The principles of symbolic number, sacred geometry, harmonic theory and cosmic orientation which they embody are what The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology is all about.
- Northcott, op cit, p67
- Northcott, op cit, p 3
- Brown, Dan, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday, New York, 2003, p268