Mythemes II

June 28, 2020 Category: History


It is no secret that the significance of THREE is ubiquitous in theology / mythology.  Buddhists exalt the “trikaya” (three aspects of the buddha, sometimes referred to as the three refuges; alt. three jewels): Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.  Sarvastivada Buddhists posit the three “yanas” [vehicles; paths]: Sravaka-yana, Pratyeka-Buddha-yana, and Bodhi-sattva-yana.  Jains posit three ways to Enlightenment (samyag-darsana, samyag-jnana, and samyag-caritra) as do Buddhists (Vajrayana, Sravakayana / Hinayana, and Mahayana).  Taoists pay tribute to the “Sanqing” (“Three Pure Ones”; alt. the three treasures); though the Tao itself is not worshipped (as it is not a deity).  Zoroastrianism posits three virtues: Humata (good thoughts), Hukhta (good words), and Huvarshta (good deeds).

The earliest instance of tripartite deification was the Sumerian / Assyrian triad of a solar deity, a lunar deity (typically represented by a crescent), and a deity associated with Venus (the evening star).  The sun god was Utu / Shamash, patron deity of Sippar and Larsa; who was associated with Truth and Justice.  (The Hurrian version was “Shimigi”.  The Semitic version was “Lugal-banda”, who was thought of as “the Shepherd”.)  The moon god was Nanna / Sin, patron deity of Harran and Ur; and came to be associated with Hubal, moon god of the Nabataeans and other pre-Islamic Arab peoples.  The goddess associated with Venus was Inanna / Ishtar, who was the patron deity of several major cities–notably: Uruk, Akkad, Ninevah, Nippur, Lagash, Shuruppak, and Zabala[m].

This triad was attested as far back as the 21st century B.C. on the Stele of Ur-Nammu.  It also occurred on the Kudurru of Meli Shipak [“son of the moon god”] from the 12th century B.C.  The Babylonians honored the triad in the 6th century B.C.–as attested on the Kudurru of Nabu-kudurri-ushur II [“first-born guardian of Nabu”; “Nebuchadnezzar”] and the Stele of Nabu-na’id [“Nabonidus”].

The motif of a triune godhead also goes back to Egypt in the 14th century B.C.  Pharaoh Amun-hotep IV (a.k.a. “Akhen-Aten”) fashioned himself as part of a holy trinity: with his queen, Nefertiti, and the sun-god, Aten.  (Aten was conceived in a quasi-monotheistic / heno-theistic manner.)  Insofar as the sun was worshipped as “Ra”, he was worshipped as a tripartite godhead: Kheper (dawn), Re-Horakhty (noon), and Atum (dusk).  Insofar as veneration of the Nile River went, there was an Elephantine triad of Khnum, Satet, and Anuket.

The Greeks posited the divine troika of the “Moirae” (the Fates; later rendered the “Parcae” by the Romans): Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.  They also posited three “Charites” (the Graces; later rendered the “Gratiae” by the Romans): Aglaea / Phaenna, Euphrosyne / Euthymia, and Thalia / Cleta.  (The Athenians named them Hegemone, Auxo, and Peitho.)  The Delians worshipped the divine triad: Leto, Artemis, and Apollo.  In Eleusinian Mystery cults, the divine triad of Demeter, Persephone, and Triptolemus was worshiped.  Later, the Romans incorporated this triad in the cult of Proserpina.

The Romans had two divine troikas, depending on which caste one belonged to: the Aventine triad (Ceres, Liber, and Libera) was for the plebeians; while the Capitoline triad (Juventas, Minerva, and Juno) was for the patricians.

There have been many instances of tripartite conceptions of divinity throughout history.  Here are more from the (pre-Christian) ancient world:

  • Sumerians (esp. in Nippur) worshipped a triad of father, mother, and son: Enlil, Ninlil, and Ninurta [alt. Enlil, An(u), and Ea].  The Akkadians worshipped Shamash (the sun), Sin (the moon), and Ishtar (the analogue of Venus) [derived from the Sumerian Utu, Nanna, and Innana respectively].
  • In Babylonian cosmology, a triad of beings gave rise to the gods: Apsu, Tiamat, and Mummu. {18}  The Babylonians also worshipped the divine troika: Nimrod (father; the sun), Semiramis (mother; the moon), and Dumuzid [a.k.a. “Tammuz”] (the anointed son; the shepherd). {9}
  • Canaanites worshipped an Assyrian-influenced triad of deities: Shahiru, Baal-Shamin, and Ishtar.  This was also rendered the divine troika: Tammuz, Baal, and Ashtoreth.  The Hellenic formulation–influenced by Egyptian mythology–was the triple goddess worship of Qetesh, Anat, and Astarte. {2}
  • Aramaeans worshipped the Mesopotamian godhead, Baal, in terms of a divine troika: Bel, Yarhibol, and Aglibol.
  • Elamites worshipped a divine troika: Humban, Kir[ir]isha [alt. “Kirrisi”; “Pinikir”], and Inshushinak.
  • Urartians (proto-Armenians) worshipped the patron-gods of the cities, Ardini[s] (the godhead, [k]Haldi), Kumenu (the storm /thunder-god, Theispas), and of Tushpa (the sun-god, Shivini).
  • Egyptians worshipped the divine troika: Isis, Osiris, and Horus.  Those in Memphis worshipped the triad: Ptah (father), Sekhmet (mother), and Nefertum (son).  Those in Waset [Thebes] worshipped the triad: Amun (father), Mut (mother), and Khonsu (son).
  • The Sabaeans / Hadhrami of southern Arabia (primarily at Qataban) worshipped a divine troika that seems to have been based on Semitic precursors: the moon-god, Amm; his consort, Athirat / Asherah (correlated with the Canaanite mother-goddess, As[h]toreth); and Yam. {2}
  • Zoroastrians worship Ahura Mazda trilaterally–in terms of the three Great Fires: Adur Burzen-Mihr [Burzin-Mitro], Adur Gushnasp, and Adur Farnbag.  Also, there are three divinities “yazatas” that pass judgement: “Mithra” [Covenant], “Rashnu” [Justice], and “Sraosha” [Obedience].
  • Armenians worshipped the divine troika: Vahagn [Vishapakagh], Aramazd, and Anahit.
  • Etruscans worshipped the divine troika: Mother (Uni), Father (Tinia), and Daughter (Menrva).
  • Greco-Roman Stoics posited a tripartite conception of the divine: the godhead or demiurge (“nous”; the Mind), the word (“logos”; the ordering principle of the cosmos), and the breath-of-life (“pneuma”; which permeates all things and serves as the animating life-force)–all as aspects of one thing.
  • The Norse (Vikings) worshipped the three sons of Borr: Odin, Vili, and Ve.
  • Ancient Celtic peoples worshipped the tripartite mother-goddess, “Brigid”: poetess, smith, and healer.
  • Ancient Slavic peoples worshipped the “Triglav”: Dazhbog [later, “Veles”], Svarog, and Perun [Rugian: “Sventovit”].
  • Hindus worship the “Trimurti”, the tripartite manifestation of Ishvar[a]: Brahma as the creator, concomitant with Vishnu and Shiv[a]. {10}

The phenomenon is global.  Here are more examples from different parts of the world:

  • In the Nordic regions: Saami (“Laplander”) myth posited a divine troika: T[h]iermes / Thoron, Storjunkare, and Baivre / Jumala.
  • In Europe: Ancient Prussian myth posited a divine troika: Perkunas (the celestial creative force), Patrimpas (the earthly creative force), and Velnias / Patulas (the destructive forces of nature).  In Baltic (esp. Lithuanian) paganism, centered around “Romuva”, these corresponded to the gods of thunder (Perkunas), spring (Patrimpas), and the underworld (Patulas).
  • In the Middle East: The Syriac “Hawran” worshipped a trinity, one of which was a god-man.  Meanwhile, the Yazidi trinity is Tawuse Melek (the godhead), Sheikh Adi, and Sultan Ezid.
  • In East Asia: Shinto (Japanese) myth posited the “Zoka Sanshin” [three kami of creation], the godhead of which was the uncreated “Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi[-no-Kami]” (the Heavenly omni-Father, and Creator of the Universe).  Later myth posited the divine troika of Amaterasu (sun-goddess), Tsukuyomi (moon-god), and Susa-no-O (storm-god)–all proceeding from the godhead, Izanagi-no-Mikoto [alt. “Izanagi-no-Okami”].  In Korea, there is the “Haneullim” triad: “Hwanin” (the Creator), “Hwanung” (the teacher), and “Hanbaegom” (the ruler; associated with the mythic king Dangun).  And in Tibet, Bön posits a trinity with the sky-god, King Pehar; his consort, Düza Minkar; as well as a human incarnation (sometimes associated with the fabled yidam, “Tapihritsa”).
  • In Africa: Bantu and Yoruba / Igbo myth (spec. in the Ifa Faith) posited three aspects of the one triune god: Olodumare, Olorun, and Olofi.  In South America, the Candomble and Umbanda (a syncretism of Roman Catholicism with their African antecedent) pay tribute to this same trinity.
  • In Meso-America: Aztecs posited a divine troika: Quetzalcoatl, Nahuatl, and Tlaloc.
  • In the South Pacific: Polynesians posited a divine troika: Kane [alt. Kanaloa], Lono, and Ku.

Even in pre-Islamic Arabia, there existed a tendency to deify in trinitarian terms:

  • Bedouins of northern Arabia (e.g. the Kedarites and the Lakhmids) worshipped a divine troika that seems to have been inspired by the Assyrians: the sun-goddess, Nuha; the moon-god, Ruda; and the godhead, Atar-shama[y]in. 
  • Other Bedouins of northern Arabia, namely in Tema [now “Tayma”], worshipped a divine troika: Salm [of Mahram], Shingala, and Asherah (who was based the Ugaritic / Phoenician goddess).
  • Bedouins of southern Arabia worshipped a divine troika: the sun-god, Yam; the moon-god, Wadd [alt. Sin; Nanna]; and the goddess, Astarte (who was also based on the Ugaritic / Phoenician goddess).
  • Also popular throughout the Levant and Hijaz (e.g the Tanukhids) was the Nabataean troika: Al-Uzza, Allat, and Man[aw]at (derided in the Koran).

All of these peoples would have spoken Syriac.

It is difficult to say whether any of one of these triads is best described as tri-theism or as a divine trinity consummate with monotheism.  (In the latter case, each moniker would simply refer to an aspect of the divine unity.)

We even find triads in Judaic mysticism.  Kabbalists posit ten “sephirot” (each an emanation [“shefa”] of “[Ohr] Ayn Sof”) in the Tree of Life.  These ten proceed from the primary three: Ket[h]er, Binah, and [K]hokhmah–which represent the divine will (neuter), intuitive understanding (feminine), and wisdom (masculine).

The most well-known triune god-head is that of Nicene Christianity, which posits a trinitarian version of the Abrahamic deity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (per Matthew 28:19).  This represents the heavenly godhead, the Messiah [Greek: “Kristos”], and the divine spirit that pervades all things.  Once again, the idea is that a single entity can have several different aspects; but this was NOT the original version of the Christian trinity.

Originally, it was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Breath.  In the earliest Koine Greek version of the Gospel according to Matthew (which invoked the triad for baptism in 28:19), “patros” was used to mean figurehead and “uiou” was used to mean progeny.  Later, “agiou pneumatos” was rendered “holy spirit” (in the Vulgate edition, as the Greek “pneumatos” translated into the Latin “spiritus”).  But here’s the thing: The exhortation in this passage (to go out and baptize all nations) was a rhetorical flourish, not a description of Reality.  That is: The locution was liturgical in nature.

We might also note that The Word (“logos”) was equated with The Son.  The Word was interpreted as “the Word-made-flesh”; as Jesus of Nazareth was taken to be the corporeal embodiment of The Word.  It was idiom on top of idiom.  Combine this with the conflation of PROGENY (“uiou” in Greek) with SON, and the reification is complete.

This sacralized triad was conceptualized in the first letter of John (5:7-8) ORIGINALLY as “the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood” (“For there are three that testify”; ref. the codex Vaticanus from the 4th century).  This wording is corroborated in citations made by Clement of Alexandria.  Thus the “Patros” [“Father”], the “Logos” [“Word”], and the “agiou pneumatos” in the statement: “For there are three recorded in heaven.” 

It was not until later that the triad was altered, rendered “Father, Progeny / Son, and Holy Spirit”.  This emendation is referred to as the “Johannine Comma”.  In BOTH cases, we are dealing with an idiomatic expression.

In other words: The tripartite conceptualization was more a turn of phrase than it was a literal description.

Notably: The codex Vaticanus is the oldest copy of the New Testament available.  Tellingly, it does not have anything past verse 8 in the last chapter of Mark; as Mark 16:9-20 was not added until c. 400.  Thus: There was no resurrection in the original version of the Syncretic Gospels.

The only passage that explicitly refers to a triune conception of the divine occurs in chapter 5 in the first letter of John, verses 7-8 (the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; who, it says, “bear witness in heaven”).  The problem, though, is that this “Johannine comma” (which states that “these three are one”) was not added until the Latin Vulgate renderings of the New Testament at the end of the 4th century.  It did NOT exist in the earliest (Koine Greek) renderings.  The Dutch theologian, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam noticed this discrepancy at the beginning of the 16th century…to the consternation of church authorities.  As is often the case, the attempted cover-up is what most exposes the crime.  After all, if the matter were already clear, then why did unscrupulous scribes find the need to insert this (contrived) passage into the text?  Clearly, they recognized that the original text did not support the Trinitarian doctrine favored by the Catholic Church; so took measures to fudge the record.

We might also note that the earliest Abrahamic theology was not monotheistic; it was henotheistic (an example of monolatry, whereby one deity was seen as preeminent amongst all others).  The famous Mosaic commandment does NOT assert that “I am the only god” or “there is no other god”; it merely demands that people refrain from “worshipping other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6).  Meanwhile, Exodus 23:13 does not say that other god’s don’t EXIST; just that Yahweh doesn’t want anyone recognizing them.

(Ancillary Note: Abrahamic theology was not the first monotheism.  Zoroastrianism had Ahura Mazda before the Exilic period; Vedic theology had Vishvakarma[n] / Brahma[n] before that; and Egypt had Akhenaten’s Ra-worship even before that.  To this day, in Hinduism, Bhag(a)van represents the abstract concept of a universal god.)

There are various ways to rationalize the Messiah as son-of-god whilst retaining the claim of monotheism.  One way to reconcile the apparent disjunction is to simply reject the conventional trinitarian model, and view the Father-Son dichotomy as two MODES (of perception) of a single (ontological) entity.  Such modalism (a.k.a. “patri-passion-ism”) was propounded first by the Montanists in Late Antiquity, then by the Cathars in medieval Europe.  It was first codified by Libyan theologian, Sabellius in the early 3rd century (hence the moniker at the time, “Sabellianism”).

Mia-physit-ism (a.k.a. “heno-physit-ism”; found in Syriac Christian theology) contends that there is a divine nature and human nature united as a compound nature (“physis”) in the PERSON of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth (JoN), a Palestinian Jew from the Galilee.  A popular form of this was Eutychian-ism (named after the 4th-century theologian, Eutyches of Constantinople).

To resolve the apparent paradox involved the Trinitarian view, proponents of “Arianism” suggested that “the Christ” was subordinate to “the Father”.  Proponents of “Docetism” solved the ontological snafu by simply claiming JoN to have been an apparition–as attested in the Gospels Judas, Phillip, and Peter.

The monophysites (esp. those adhering to the Chalcedonian creed, as found in the Coptic and some Western Syriac traditions) subscribe to the unity of nature of Christ (mono-physis / mia-physis).  Thus mono-physitism / mia-physitism is a way to rationalize the trinity via the supposition that there are three “persons” yet one NATURE (a shared “physis”).

Others rationalized the trinity via homo-ousion: the contention that there are three “persons” yet one SUBSTANCE.  Such “con-substantiality” (homo-ousios) of the Father and the Son exists in the midst of three distinct “persons” (hypo-stasis).  This is more in keeping with “dyo-physis”, whereby it is contended that JoN had two natures / wills: human and divine.  The Nestorians subscribed to dyo-physitism; an Eastern Syriac doctrine that caught on further east–beyond the frontiers of imperial control.

Still others adopted a compromise: two ASPECTS to his nature (the “Chalcedonian” verdict, adopted by most mainstream Christians).  In any case, the idea is to posit different MANIFESTATIONS of a singular THING.

The Trinitarian doctrine as it came to exist under the Nicene Creed was an invention that post-dated the earliest following of JoN by many generations.  Notably, in the mid-2nd century, Theophilus of Antioch referred to the “trias” as dios, logos [the word], and sophia [wisdom].  This was the doctrine of choice for the imperial powers, and operated under the aegis of the Melkites.  Clement of Alexandria then seems to have articulated the triune conception of the divine c. 200.

Amongst the evidence that the trinitarian ideation of a later invention, the most incriminating is the insertion of a clause in the first letter of John (5:7-8) in the late 4th century: now referred to as the “Johannine comma”.  The clause reads: “There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one”…which was inserted prior to the line reading, “There are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood; and these three agree in one.”

The clause did not exist in earlier translations of the earliest Koine Greek manuscripts (e.g. the Codex Sinaiticus from the mid-4th century), which were primarily rendered in Aramaic and Syriac.  It did not even appear in the earliest Vulgate Bibles (the Codex Fuldensis from the mid-6th century).  The oldest codices to include the clause are the Codex Frisingensis and the Codex Legionensis a century later.  It seems that Frankish King Charlemagne, effectively the first Holy Roman Emperor, was most responsible for the success of the Johannine comma.  In his Trinitarian ardor, he championed its inclusion in the official version of scripture.

Tellingly, the notorious clause was NOT included in Desiderius Erasmus’ first edition of the “Novum Instrumentum Omne” (the first printed version of the Greek New Testament) c. 1516; yet it WAS included three years later, in the 2nd edition.  As it happens, this clause (in the first letter of John) is the closest one gets to any mention of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” in the New Testament.

To reiterate: Pace the Johannine comma, the Trinitarian model is not explicitly delineated in the New Testament.

The first EXPLICIT instantiation of the Trinitarian ideation was in the 3rd century, by the Berber theologian, Tertullian of Carthage.  Here, the divine was conceptualized as “treis hypostases, homo-ousios” [Greek for “three persons, one substance”; alt. “tres personae, una substantia” in Latin].  Yet Tertullian was a Montanist, a sect founded by the 2nd-century Phrygian prophet, Montanus (who seems to have had a background in the Cybelene cult; and who was himself inspired by a mystic known as Quadratus of Athens).  In a twist of irony, acolytes of Tertullian would eventually be rebuked by the Roman Catholic Church.  (Amongst other heresies, the Montanists believed the New Jerusalem to be in Phrygia.)

The New Testament makes sense of the Father (as the Judaic godhead, Yahweh / Jehovah), the Son (as the human incarnation: the Christos), and Holy Spirit (as the divine essence that permeates human existence) in terms of different relationships. {11}  Hence the wording in the New Testament: “unto” / “of” / “from” the Father; “by” / “through” the Son; and “in” / “with” the Holy Spirit.  We look to the godhead; we are redeemed / saved via the Messiah / Christos; and we are infused with the Holy Spirit.  Thus Each facet of the triune deity plays a role in the trinitarian theology. {12}

In perhaps the most cited verse of the New Testament (the Gospel according to “John”, 3:16), it is stated that god sent his only begotten son, the belief in whom secures eternal life.  The statement in John 14:6 that “nobody comes to the Father except through me” is plainly idiomatic–in keeping with similar declarations made by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita several centuries earlier.  When JoN is reputed to have said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, he was being idiomatic in the same way that Lao Tzu was when saying the same thing several centuries earlier.

Later, others would make use of this idiomatic expression–as when the Persian mystic, Mansur-i Hallaj of Fars proclaimed “I am the Truth” c. 900 A.D.  Thus, for any scriptural account, it is appropriate to read the statement idiomatically–as: “My teachings show–and thus I represent–the Way / the Truth / the Light / Life.” {13}

It might be noted that JoN never explicitly claimed himself to be divine.  In the Gospel of John, he refers to the godhead as “my father”–as in “what my Father has given me is greater than all else; and nobody can seize it from the Father’s hand” (10:29) and “my Father is greater than I” (14:28).  Jesus then elaborates on this point by invoking an overtly Buddhist idiom: “The Father and I are one” (10:30).  This is clearly intended as an idiomatic expression–in the sense of one’s “atman” (soul) being one with “Brahman” (the divine that pervades all existence).  This meaning is also articulated in 10:38 and 14:10/20 wherein Jesus states that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”.  Indeed, Jesus stated that his relation to the godhead was analogous to anyone else’s relation to the godhead–as when he told Mary Magdalene “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  Rather go to my brothers and say to them: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my god and your god’” (20:17).  This distinction is made clear on several occasions, when Jesus declaimed: “I of myself can do nothing [of my own accord; by my own devices]…for I speak not my own will, but the will of my Father” (5:19-23/30, 6:38, 14.24, 7:16-18, 8:15-16/28-29/38, 12:49, 15:15, and 17:7-8).  In 14:24, Jesus explicitly states: “The words you hear are not mine, but those of my Father who has sent me.”

In 17:11, Jesus pleads with the godhead: “Holy Father, protect them in YOUR name, so that they may be one with you, as you and I are one.”  In other words, others can be “one with” god (that is: achieve communion with the godhead) in the same way that Jesus is “one with” god.  The point is reiterated in 17:21-23.

Acts 2:22 describes Jesus as “a man approved of god amongst you [the Children of Israel] by wonders and miracles which god did through him, to which you have born witness.”  Throughout the New Testament, JoN himself speaks of “the will of the Father” rather than “my will”–a peculiar phrasing if he was an incarnation of the godhead (e.g. Matthew 26:39).

This is all in keeping with the both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew.  JoN says to one seeking guidance: “Why do you call ME good?  There is none good but the Father” (Mark 10:18 and Matthew 19:16-17).  Another clue lies in the original Gospel (that of “Mark”), where JoN announces that nobody knows about the appointed day of the Last Judgment, not even “the Son”; but only “the Father” (13:32).  This comports with the portrayal of JoN in the rest of Mark, in which the only verse invoking the “son of god” trope (the opening verse) was inserted–along with the ending (16:9-19)–much later. {17}  It makes sense, then, that in Luke 1:35, it states that JoN will be CALLED “son of god” (rather than: he will BE the son of god).

The only tenable interpretation, then, is “Adoptionism”: The view that JoN was anointed by the Abrahamic deity (a “Messiah” in the literal sense), yet was not himself divine.  Lo and behold: This was the earliest version of Jesus’ following: “The Way”.

As it turns out, the prevailing Christology of the Nicene creed was derived not from the synoptic Gospels, but rather from the Pauline letters–which in no way purported to be historical documentation.  To wit: They were patently allegorical in nature.  Saul of Tarsus used such poignant articulation as a heuristic strategy.  Rather than an attempt to chronicle literal events, his letters consisted in idiomatic expression, employing the argot of the time so as to most effectively convey a theological point. {13}

Saul of Tarsus–a man who would have never met Jesus–wrote about Jesus as Christ qua savior of mankind.  In doing so, Saul intimated that Jesus was a sort of incarnation of the Abrahamic deity–as in his first letter to the Corinthians, in which he speaks of vicarious atonement for all mankind’s sins (15:14).  This redemptive language–replete with the “son of god” mytheme (which, as we saw in part one of this essay, was nothing new).

Also note that in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, during the fabled temptation of Jesus by Satan, the former rebuffs the latter by declaring that he will only to bow down to the godhead–a plea that would not make sense were he were himself an incarnation of the godhead.  The offer made by Satan to JoN also doesn’t make much sense; as the former offers the latter sovereignty over all the kingdoms of the world (an offer that would be pointless if JoN were god incarnate).  That fact that JoN saw himself as separate from the Father, which is also confirmed by the wording in John 20:17.

The only mention of a Christ-like figure in Palestine from a non-Christian source occurs in Tacitus–who referred to a group “popularly called Christians [who were] hated for their perversions.”  He noted: “The name’s source was a [purported] ‘Christos’, executed by the governor, Pontius Pilatus during Tiberius’ reign.”  That was all he felt was worth mentioning.  Nothing more about the Christ-figure–the eponym of the movement–seemed pertinent at the time.

The Mormon version of Jesus of Nazareth is a LITERAL son of god (as opposed to god incarnate).  Satan is his insolent brother.  According to Mormon lore, JoN had three wives, and by them sired many children–of whom Joseph Smith was a descendent.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses version of Jesus is a warrior-angel (spec. the arch-angel Michael), who was created by the godhead (Yahweh) like any other angel.  JoN and the Abrahamic deity are thus not one-in-the-same.

The Islamic position on the Trinitarian treatment of the Abrahamic deity is that, by identifying distinct facets of the whole, one undermines the principle of one-ness.  The point of the Mohammedan movement was, in part, to eschew “shirk” (the association of the godhead with other things).  This entailed rejecting what was seen as Christianity’s perversion of unreconstructed monotheism.  The trinitarian brand of the Abrahamic deity was a defilement; and needed to be rejected. {14}  In this sense, Islam sought to bring Abrahamic theology back to its Judaic origins (by rejecting Christology).  Such an explicit conceptualization of one-ness is often called “monarchianism”. 

In Islamic theology, the adamant emphasis on one-ness is captured by the conception of “tawhid”.  Be that as it may, the term technically means divine “unity” rather than “singularity”, thereby tacitly qualifying modalism, mono-physitism, and homo-ousion as viable ways to conceptualize divinity.

Perichoresis and hypostasis are other ways to reconcile unity with several distinct facets.  Outside of the Abrahamic tradition, we encounter what is sometimes called “monistic panentheism”–a conception of divinity embraced by many Hindus (where each “god” is but a facet of the unified “Brahma”).  Thus both perichoresis and hypostasis are compatible with “tawhid”, and thus with Islamic theology.

In sum: Insofar as monotheism is conceived in terms of “tawhid”, the positing of ASPECTS OF said unity is sensical.  Hence the traditional Islamic grievance with trinitarian monotheism (as “shirk”) is misguided. {15}

As we’ve seen, thinking of things in terms of triads is tempting.  After all, the triangle is the simplest polygon.  So it should come as little surprise that triangles / pyramids are such common didactic tools.  And it’s no wonder that three is the basis for so many mythemes–be it triune deities or triptychs.

In part III of my series on “The Empowerment Of Women”, I enumerated instances of the Earth Mother archetype.  As it happens, matriarchal deification often takes a tripartite form.  Such “diva triformis” may be conceptualized temporally (birth, death, and renewal) or spatially (heaven and hell, with earth in between).

Threesomes also crop up in narrative form.  Plot-points (three-act plays) and character groupings (three blind mice) often occur in triplicate.  The most famous instance of this is the three “magi” in the Christian nativity story.  These cynosures were said to have hailed from three fabled Eastern lands: Assyria (Balthazar), Persia (Melchior), and India (Caspar).  The idea, it seems, was to symbolize the accession of Babylonian, Zoroastrian, and Hindu Faiths to the NEW king; and thus to the new Faith. {25}

Three is a magical number not only for conceptual triads; but for pictorial triads as well.  The predominance of tripartite iconography is undeniable.  Variations include the “Pa Kua” trigrams in Taoism, the “Ankh” in ancient Egyptian iconography, the “triskelion” in Mycenaean (Greek) art, the “triskel” in Celtic paganism, the “triquetra” in Germanic paganism, the “valknut” in Norse mythology, and the “Gankyil” in Tibetan iconography (which represents a variety of different triunes, including the aforementioned “triratna”).  Meanwhile, the three Borromean rings provide a mystery that would make even M.C. Escher swoon. 

Most notably, Nicene Christianity has the three stations of the cross (which actually doesn’t make sense, as a cross has four parts). 

In also worth noting the significance of (the number) twelve.  This is likely due to the fact that there are approximately a dozen lunar cycles each year: a astronomical phenomenon that almost everyone on the planet experiences.  Let’s note 12 examples of this:

  • In Egyptian mythology: The resurrected savior-god, Horus had 12 disciples.
  • In Assyrian mythology: There was Tiamat with her eleven moons.
  • In Zoroastrian mythology: The godhead of the realm of light, Ohrmazd had 12 “Eyzads” (deputies).
  • In Greek mythology: There were 12 gods on mount Olympus.
  • In Norse mythology: Odin had 12 sons.
  • In Jain mythology: Time is divided into 12 segments–each with 24 teachers, the last of which had 12 disciples.  Also significant in Jain lore are multiples of 12 (esp. 72).
  • In Buddhist lore: There are 12 key stages of life.
  • In Sibylline lore: There were 12 oracles.
  • In Mithraic lore: There were 12 disciples.

Then there’s the Abrahamic tradition:

  • Judaic lore posits 12 major prophets (not to mention 12 tribes of “Israel”).
  • Christian lore posits 12 disciples.
  • Shia lore posits 12 imams.

And, of course, there are twelve “zodiac” signs in astrology–a system that has its origins in Mithra-ism.  Astrology dates back to the 17th century B.C in Babylon–though its earliest form did not seem to prize the number 12 (ref. the Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa).  This “zoidiakos kyklos” [cycle of animals] appeared in Zhou China (“sheng-xiao”; likely as an adjunct to “qimen dunjia” / “da liu ren”), India (ref. the “Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra”), and Chaldea during Classical Antiquity…and is still patronized today by those prone to superstition.  Such is the nature of universal resonance.

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