The Long History Of Sacred Texts

January 24, 2020 Category: Religion

For many, there is a claim that is too enticing to resist: “This is THE book.  All that you–or anyone–will ever need to know is contained herein.”  It is tempting to exalt that which one believes to be an authoritative compendium of eternal wisdom–especially if it seems to offer sagacious council on life’s most pressing matters.  A single source for all that?  What more could one possibly ask for?

It makes sense, then, that we encounter this mentality in so many places.  For those seeking answers (yet who do not want to go to the trouble of due diligence), this is an offer that is difficult to refuse.  For then, one can answer virtually any pressing question with a decisive answer in the form: “Just open THIS book and refer to page 11.”

And for those seeking to promulgate a certain doctrine, it is stupendously helpful to have ONE THING to which all takers may reference.  (After all, sacred creeds get much of their allure from claiming to be a one-stop-shop.)  Hence venerated texts often serve as the foundation for institutionalized dogmatic systems.  After all, it is easier to sanctify tenets if they are spelled out, in black and white.  When the explicit adumbration of a proposed credo is contained within a consecrated book, the “Refer to page 11” Syndrome takes over; and the rest is history.

In this respect, sacred texts are effectively blueprints for self-serving fantasy.  One might think of scripture as a self-serve dogmatic buffet, where one is invited to pick and choose whatever tantalizes one’s fancy.  The process yields an à la carte concatenation of beliefs that can be rationalized with a mere wave of the hand: “Just refer to page 11 in this book.”  Since it says so in THAT book, then it is to be considered unimpeachable.

In terms of social psychology, why does this work so well?  For those searching in desperation for something–ANYTHING–to hold onto, the enticing prospect that the ultimate source is now in one’s hands is not easy to dismiss.  Consequently, the utility of a sacred text for dogma-mongers is undeniable.  Whenever cult activity is afoot, it is standard operating procedure that some SINGULAR source is consecrated at the ultimate referent for True Believers.  It is surely exhilarating to be able to hold something in one’s hands and proclaim, “It’s all RIGHT HERE.”  All the secrets of the universe: FINALLY revealed in THIS source.  If all we’ll ever need to know can fit into a single volume (as if it were a kind of fool-proof “field-guide to the universe”), then why bother with the daunting task of trying to synthesize human knowledge from myriad sources?  (Who has the time?  I have laundry to do and dinner to cook!)  So we can’t help but find the prospect alluring.  There is undeniable appeal to being able to proclaim: “All the secrets of the universe are contained in these pages!”

That it is SACROSANCT means there is little cognitive work left to be done.  That it lends credence to the fantastical gives one license to indulge in whatever flights of fancy prove to be most gratifying; and to engage in delusive thinking that absolves one of all intellectual responsibility.  Indeed, one of the appeals of countenancing the “this is THE source” claim is that one is furnished with a sanction for Reality-denial–a validation for whatever delectable bit of farce happens to resonate.

As a bonus, one is given a free pass when it comes to intellectual obsequiousness.  For the supposition always has an implicit proviso: “No need to inquire any further.  The work has already been done.  It’s all RIGHT HERE.” {1}  The notion that the ultimate source is now in one’s hands is like cat-nip for those who are existentially-disoriented–groping around in the dark, fumbling for something that seems solid.  An instruction-manual for LIFE can be an efficacious palliative for existential vertigo.

Supply tends to meet demand.  So it is no wonder that we encounter the fabricated mysteriousness around various texts.  When it comes to X-fetishists’ obsession with the farcical nature of their holy book (where X is any sacred text), the same psychological mechanisms are operative.  As we’ll see, True Believers tend to see the absurdity in everyone else’s dogmatic system, but not in their own.

At the end of the day, we all want to be enchanted.  By what?  Well, by SOMETHING.  And when others in our midst seem to be fascinated, our interest is all-the-more piqued.  There is much to say about the social psychology of epidemic fascination (esp. as it pertains to collective delusion); a topic that goes beyond the scope of the present survey.  Suffice to say: Positive feedback loops are at play whenever mass-mania / mass-hysteria is afoot; and a blockbuster is a surefire way to stir things up.

Marketers seek to explain social trends with appeals to “hype”: our tendency to lend credence to whatever our peers seem to be buzzing about.  We are strongly inclined to do something because we perceive it to be “the thing to do”.  Popularity is often a self-fulfilling prophecy (which is why its possible to be famous for being famous).  Our predilection for bandwagons is based on a kind of neurosis.  We don’t want to “miss the boat”.  The ever-present fear-of-missing-out is a powerful motivator.

Why did you read this book, watch this movie, listen to this music, purchase this product, or support this politician?  “Well, because everyone else in my social circle seems to be doing so.”  Perspicacity–let alone a meticulous process of critical inquiry and patient deliberation–rarely accounts for our choices.  It’s why fashion exists: if it’s trendy, it will tend to catch on: a catch-22 of there ever was one.  Nothing succeeds like something that is perceived as a resounding success.

The intoxicating powers of a sanctified tract can be extremely seductive to those open to being seduced.  Even just the IDEA OF such a tract can hold sway.  In other words, a tract–somewhat like a mythical figure or legendary folk-hero–doesn’t even NEED TO EXIST in order to do the job.  So it should come as little surprise that, for generations, many were seduced by H.P. Lovecraft’s fabricated piece of esoterica: the Necronomicon.  Those taken in by this famed book’s mythos have even undertaken quixotic searches for the “original” text (that is: the earliest copy of a non-existent manuscript).  In other words, they are looking for the “authentic” version of a fictional book. {5}

Some people have even taken it upon themselves to create a version of the Necronomicon themselves…and then, of course, pass it off as the real thing.  (Ref. the “Simon” version, the Robert Turner version, and the Donald Tyson version.)  Unsurprisingly, in each case, the published hoax garnered a devoted following.  Thus acolytes swore to the bogus book’s authenticity.  After all, a hoax is not a hoax to those who are in its thrall.

The moral of the story here is simple: When it comes to sacred scripture, it is very easy to get swept up in the fervor…and eventually lose touch with Reality.  In this respect, the difference between the Bible or the Koran and the Necronomicon is largely a matter of degree.  The underlying psychology is the same.

The Necronomicon was not the only fetishized text that never existed.  In Ancient Greece, there was the “Heptamychos” by Pherecydes of Syros.  To the east, we find the farcical book of esoterica: the Tibetan “Book of Dzyan”.  Other sacred texts that may not have actually existed include:

  • The “Book of Yashar” [Book of the Upright One / of the Just Man; typically rendered the “Book of Jashar”] (referenced in the Second Book of Samuel 1:18, and the Book of Joshua 10:13)
  • The “Book of Ahikar” (referenced in the Book of Tobit)
  • The “Book of Noah” (referenced in the First Book of Enoch; as well as in the Book of Jubilees)

There are a slew of apocryphal books referenced in Second Chronicles–among them: the “Book of Shemaiah” (a.k.a. “The Story of the Prophet Iddo the Seer”) in 12:15; the “Book of Jehu ben Hanani” in 20:34; and the “Lamentations of Josiah” in 35:25.  Second Chronicles 9:29 alone mentions the “Prophecy of Ahijah”, the “Visions of Iddo the Seer”, and the “Book of Nathan”.  It doesn’t matter that such books may have never existed.  They beguile audiences nevertheless, because that is the power of delusive thinking.  And so it went with the apocryphal tales in the “Red Dragon” book–purportedly given to King Solomon by Satan; now being kept under lock and key by the Vatican.

Sometimes, cult movements are based on egregious MIS-readings.  That is, they proceed from farcical readings of ACTUAL texts–as with right-wing Christians with the synoptic Gospels (and so-called “Marxists” vis a vis Karl Marx’s writings).

One can partake in contrived enchantment with virtually anything; as the preternatural exists wherever one may long to find it.  Many are bedazzled by THE MERE PROSPECT that something might be magical (especially if is ostensibly supernatural).  Anything that may somehow be miraculous can’t help but capture our attention–and transfix us.  Such was the case with the “Necronomicon”.  But here’s the thing: In the event that a holy book happens to contain felicitous things, it is a salutary historical accident.  Serendipity is to thank; not the book PER SE.

The power of fetishized books to DELUDE cannot be overstated.  Funny enough, much of this requires people NOT REALLY KNOWING where they actually came from…or what’s actually in them.  For once people stop swooning and come to the material with sober eyes, the true nature of the fetishized text is often laid bare.  As Isaac Asimov once noted: “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”  Of course, he could have said this about most any holy book (and in place of “atheism”, he might have said “secularity”).  One could rephrase the quote thus: Honestly read, the [insert holy book here] is the most potent argument for free-thought.

We might also note the raft of pulp pertaining to Judaic mysticism (a.k.a. “Kabbalah”)…starting with Hekhalot pulp, which originated in the [c]Hassidei Ashkenaz traditions of the Rhineland during the late 12th century.  Oddly, that would later be incorporated into Knights Templar (and Masonic) traditions, replete with iconography like the seal of Solomon (later rendered the “mogen David” hexagram; a.k.a. the “star of David”).  God help anyone who has wasted their time trying to read even one of these tracts of mystical gobbledygook…let alone all ten:

  • The Book of Formation (“Sefer Yetzirah”)
  • The Book of Heavenly Palaces (a.k.a. the third book of Enoch; “Sefer Hekhalot”)
  • The Account of the Chariot (“Maaseh Merkabah”) {2}
  • The Radiance (“Zohar”) {3}
  • The Book of Illumination (“Sefer ha-Bahir”)
  • The Book of Raziel the Angel (“Sefer Raziel ha-Malakh”)
  • The Orchard of Pomegranates (“Pardes Rimonim”)
  • The Tree of Life (“Etz [c]Haim”)
  • The Eight Gates (“Shemona She’arim”)
  • The Spirit Of Life (“Nefesh Ha-[c]Haim”)

The first four may have originated in the late 2nd century A.D.  The next five were composed between 1100 and 1600.  The last was composed c. 1800. {4}  Much of it was derived from Gnostic theology…and eventually incorporated motifs from Neo-Platonism.  Case in point is the use of the Porphyrian Tree, named after Porphyry of Tyre (a commentator on Plotinus’ “Enneads” from the 3rd century A.D.)  The “Tree Of Life” cliche is as old as any cliche on record.

Man’s fascination with mystical hokum seems to know no bounds.  That which enthralled Jewish mystics in past ages is similar to what led tens of millions to become infatuated with, say, James Redfield’s “The Celestine Prophecy” in the 1990’s.  The same mechanisms are at play.  The most recent case of this: Rhonda Byrne’s obvious sham, “The Secret”,  If the product fits the bill, then–unfortunately–credulity is beside the point.

Humans have an unquenchable thirst for enchantment.  This has been abetted by humans’ innate tendency to be transfixed by the seemingly preternatural.  People enjoy being beguiled; and so are drawn to things that are fantastical and mysterious.  It’s why three of the best-selling books in the 1970’s were about the origins of human civilization coming from aliens (“Chariots Of The Gods?”), the inexplicable disappearance of things at sea (“The Bermuda Triangle”), and the impending End Times (“The Late, Great Planet Earth”).

“Everything I’ll ever need to know is RIGHT IN HERE?  Sweet!”  Invariably, zealotry follows from obsessive commitment.  Oftentimes, delusion isn’t very far behind.  Lovecraft’s “Necronomicon” and the Kabbalah canon: This only the tip of the iceberg.  The (eminently human) craving for mystification is concomitant with credulity and a propensity to become obsessed; and it has been the operating force behind bibliolatry for millennia.  The use of sacred texts goes back to the Bronze Age–most notably: the Egyptian “Book of The Dead”. {6}

Something–be it a book or a place or a person or an object–is only a “holy” as people make it.  (It is, as it were, sanctified by fiat–within a given community of believers.)  The present discussion is about fetishizing certain tracts.  This means more than merely sanctifying the text; it means reifying it and OBSESSING over it to the point where it takes on a life of its own. {7}

It easy to see everyone ELSE’S dogmatic blunders, but difficult to recognize it when it’s happening to oneself.  Dogmatism doesn’t like mirrors.  And neurosis rarely announces itself as neurosis.  One can easily see the dysfunction when its OTHERS’ brands, but when one is engaged in it oneself, it is somehow magically different.

What of Islam’s holy book?  It is instructive that in Classical Arabic, “kitab” has a twofold meaning: BOOK and LAW.  In other words, the Koran (qua book) is equated with god’s law.  Subsumed under this singular moniker, they are deemed one in the same.  In the same way that Pauline Christians claimed the Word became flesh, Mohammedans claimed the Word became text.  Just as the “Christos” is co-eternal with the Abrahamic deity, so the “Recitations” are co-eternal with the Abrahamic deity.  Both instantiations involve the divine being made corporeal: in one case as a person; in the other case as a book.  Each is deemed the greatest miracle in human history by its respective confessors.  The difference is that Jesus of Nazareth is seen as a manifestation of the godhead himself whereas the Koran is seen as a literal transcript of the godhead’s SPEECH. {8}

Note that the Koran is not the only holy book in Islam. {10}  Some precincts within Shiism posit any of three other sacred scriptures:

ONE: Some Shiites believe in the “Jami’ah” [alt. “Jam(i)a”], dictated by MoM to his cousin (and son-in-law via Fatima) Ali ibn Abu Talib.  As the legend goes, the book is currently hidden…awaiting the appearance of the Mahdi.

TWO: Much less talked about is called the Book of Jafar ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq.  Colloquially referred to simply as “Al-Jafr”, it is a mystical tract comprised of the “Haft wal-Azella” and the “Ketab al-Serat” (annotations of the secret / hidden meanings of the Koran) as well as copies of the ORIGINAL (now forever lost) Torah and Gospels.  Nobody has a copy of this fabled text; it is only ALLEGED to exist (in some ethereal way).  The primary source for its legend is the “Kitab al-Kafi” by the Persian hadith writer, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Ya’qub ibn Ishaq of Kulayn (c. 900).  Belief in the book plays a prominent role in the Alawi / Nosayri sect of Shiism.

THREE: In the 10th century that the infamous Muslim secret society, Ikhwan al-Safa [Brethren of Purity], operated out of Basra.  The fruits of its activities were adapted in what were called the Epistles–a collection of esoterica which influenced the thought of the Andalusian mystic, Ibn Arabi of Tayy (Murcia) in the late 12th / early 13th century (ref. his “Fusus al-Hakim”).  These letters came to be considered sacred texts in Isma’ili Shiism.

As I will try to show in the present essay, text-fetishization is a common phenomenon.  We might begin by noting that Islam’s holy book was not even the first mysterious tract that circulated in Arabia.  The so-called “Emerald Tablet” (a.k.a. “Tabula Smaragdina”), later entitled “Kitab sirr al-Haliqa” (“Book of the Secret of Creation”), was a work of Hermetica originally composed in Syriac (a variation of Nabataean) script by Balinas of Tyana (a writer from Anatolia). {9}  It dates back to the early 8th century–around the same time the Koran was being compiled.  This is a prototypical example people trumpeting the divine origin of a book–as it was attributed (by ancient Egyptian Hermeticists) to the quasi-mythical god-man “Hermes Trismegistus” of Memphis. 

The contents of the “Tabula Smaragdina” was eventually encapsulated in the “Kybalion” by Hermeticists.  (This originated the New Age idea of “vibration” and the notion that the mind has the power to influence Reality.)  The key was to shroud the book’s origins in bedazzling mystery.  It was the mysteriousness, rather than hard evidence, that induced aficionados to believe.

Some books are alleged to be the earthly reflections of eternal (divine) tables that exist in the heavens.  The Sumerians got the ball rolling by positing the three clay Tablets of Destiny (the “Dup Shimati”), believed to have inscribed upon them the divine law.  Another instance of the leitmotif was the eternal “Jade Books” from which (part of) the “Dao-zang” is purportedly derived (the canon on which the Taoist religion came to be based; not to be confused with the original Taoist philosophy–which was based on the writings of Lao Tzu).  The ancient Egyptians posited the mythical “Book of Thoth”–a celestial tract that boasted magical powers.  A more recent instance of the leitmotif: the so-called “Akashic records” attested by American mystic, Edgar Cayce.  On such tablets, we’re told, is inscribed timeless wisdom.  (The tablet itself is often seen as eternal.)  For Muslims, this should all sound oddly familiar.

The notion of celestial tablets may go all the way back to the Sumerian “Dup Shimati”, but its long history continues to the present day.  Just as New Age occultists posit the so-called “Akashic Records” as the source of their earthly wisdom, early Muslims posited “eternal tablets” as the basis of the earthly Koran (85:22 stipulates that the book is uncreated, and has existed since the beginning of the universe in its celestial form).  In either case, the REAL “Recitations” are based on a celestial counterpart–sometimes referred to as the “Lawh al-Mahfuz”.  Same motif, different brands. {18}

For medieval Hijazis, the leitmotif of an eternal celestial tablet was likely inspired by the Book of Jubilees, in which the leitmotif plays a key role.  Proverbs 8:22 in the Hebrew Bible also invokes the idea.  Later, Joseph Smith would make use of this leitmotif in upstate New York (in his claims, the tablets THEMSELVES were delivered to him alone).

History offers myriad cases of fetishized books that purport to have been “divinely inspired”.  We might start our survey with the sacred texts of the Faith espoused by the Etruscans–who predated the founding of the Roman Republic.  Their primary holy book was the “Liber [Linteus] Zagrabiensis / Agramensis” (“Book of Zagreb / Agram”).  The other significant scripture of the Etruscan Faith was a corpus known as the “Etrusca Disciplina”.  From whence did the material come?  Sure enough: from purported revelations, delivered from on high.  The most notable part of this corpus was the “Libri Tagetici”: revelations of a prophet known as “Tages” (who hailed from Tarchuna). {12}

We seldom take pause and note the number of sacred texts that have played a role in human history.  The Book of Zagreb was not an isolated instance.  Behold thirty major examples, and see if you can discern a common thread:

  1. The “Agam[a]s”: Jainism {13}
  2. The dogmatic portions of the (Sanskrit) “Vedas” (esp. the Rig Veda; though other vedas include the Atharva-veda, Yajur-veda, and Sama-veda from c. 1200 B.C.); as well as the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Mantras / Samhita): nominal Hinduism
  3. The Devi “Mahatmya[m]” (a.k.a. “Durga Saptashati”), the “Devi-Bhagavata” Purana, and “Shakta” Upanishads: Shaktism
  4. The “Shveta-shvatara” Upanishads: Shaivism
  5. The Naalayira[m] [Tamil] “Divya Prabandha[m]”: Vaishnavism
  6. The “Kojiki”: Shinto
  7. The “Avesta” (e.g. the “Vendidad”, “Visperad”, and “Kordeh Avesta”) as well as the “Yasna” collections (e.g. the “Gathas”, “Yasna Haptanghaiti”, “Ahuna Vairya”, “Ashem Vohu”, “Ab-Zohr”, etc.): Zoroastrianism
  8. The “Menog-i Khrad” [alt. “Menok-i Xrat”]: Zurvanism
  9. The “Gandharan” texts and the (Pali) “T[r]i-pitaka” [three baskets: Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, and Adhidhamma Pitaka): Theravada Buddhism
  10. The (Ancient Chinese) “Sutras”: Mahayana Buddhism
  11. The “Kangyur” and “Tengyur”: Tibetan Buddhism {14}
  12. The “Tai-ping-jing” [Scriptures of the Great Peace]: religious Taoism {24}
  13. The Samaritan Torah: Samaritanism
  14. The Hebrew Torah (a.k.a. the “Pentateuch”; i.e. the five books of Moses; including the supplemental, “Book of Enoch”); as well as the “Nevi’im” and “Ketuvim” (collectively known as the “Mikra”, “T-N-K”, or Hebrew Bible): Judaism
  15. The Gospels and other Apocalypse writings pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth (canonical, Coptic, Syriac, and Gnostic): early Christianity [“the Way”] in its various forms (as with, say, the “Peshitta” for Nestorians)
  16. The letters of evangelism regarding “the Christ” by Saul of Tarsus, Ignatius of Antioch, and Clement of Rome [a.k.a. the “Epistles”]; John of Patmos’ “Book Of Revelation”: Pauline / Nicene Christianity (esp. as devised by Athanasius of Alexandria)
  17. The “Ginza R[ab]ba” [Great Treasury; a.k.a. “Book of Adam”]; “Drasha d-Yahya” [Book of John (the Baptist)]; and “Diwan Abatur” [Verses of Abatur]: Mandaeism
  18. Mani of Ctesiphon’s version of the “Evangelion”; as well has the “Shapur-agan” [Book of Shapur], “Arzhang” [alt. “Ertenk”; “Artha-Thanha”], and the (now lost) “Epistola Fundamenti”: Manichaeism
  19. The “Qur’an” [alt. “Koran”; “Recitations”] purportedly delivered by Mohammed of Mecca: Islam
  20. The “Mets’hafe Kufale” (a.k.a. “Lepto-Genesis”; “Ethiopic Book of Jubilees”) and the “Mek’abiyan” (a.k.a. “Ethiopic Maccabees”): Beta Israel {15}
  21. The “Guru Granth[a] Sahib” (updated and expanded from the original “Adi Granth[a]”): Sikhism
  22. The “Mundhum” (a.k.a. the “Kirat Veda”): Kiratism
  23. Al-Amir al-Sayyid Jamal al-Din Abdullah al-Tanukhi’s “Rasa’il al-Hikma” [Letters of Wisdom]: Druze
  24. Oyasama’s “Ofudesaki” [Tip of the Writing Brush]: Tenrikyo
  25. The “Phap-Chanh-Truyen”: Cao-Dai
  26. Baha’u’llah’s “Kitab-i Aqdas” [Most Holy Book] and the “Kitab-i Iqan” [Book of Certitude]: Baha’i
  27. “Ras” Tafari’s “Kebra Hagast” and “Holy Piby”: Rastafarianism
  28. The K’iche “Popol Vuh” [Book of the People]; the Yucatec “Chilam Balam”: Maya sacred scripture
  29. Joseph Smith’s “Book(s) of Mormon” and “Pearl Of Great Price”: Church of Latter-day Saints
  30. Sun Myung Moon’s “Wonli Ganglon” [alt. “Wolli Wonbon”; later re-named “Wolli Hesol”; a.k.a. “Exposition of the Divine Principle”]: Tongil-gyo (Church of Unification)

Every one of these scriptures is at the crux of some kind of cult activity.  For each, the underlying phenomenon is roughly the same.  That is: In each case, we observe a brotherhood that is transfixed by the alluring exposition and bedazzled by the provocative statements contained therein–and seduced by the tract’s author(s).   For each one, we can find sycophants who insist, “This, and this alone, is THE book!”  Of course, each of these books is sui generis IN CERTAIN WAYS; but it is the common thread with which we are concerned here. {16}

Needless to say, starting with Saul of Tarsus, every one of these authors was a fraud.  For example, note the Imamiyyah demagogue, Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi (a.k.a. the “Bab”; the “Gate”).  As luck would have it, he died before he could finish his magnum opus, the “Persian Bayan”.  Obviously, Providence was not behind his deeds.  Moreover, his desperate attempt to defend his lofty claims, the “Dala’il-i Sab’ih” (“Seven Proofs”) was little more than a compilation of specious apologia.

There are, of course, many sects that add to pre-existing texts–even in Islam.  Numerous Sufi Orders have become cults-in-themselves, and boast their own scriptures to compliment the Koran.  Such writings are typically treated as supplementary material to the extant scriptures (that is: they are proffered not to transplant, but to compliment).  The problem is, AS COMMENTARIES, their very existence belies the notion that the original scriptures were adequate, let alone perfectly articulated.  Many sects insist that their own commentaries are vital to understanding what came before–as if the received wisdom from days-of-yore required a didactic prosthesis in order to be cogent.  And so such commentaries are MORE than just helpful (that is: more than mere annotation for those hankering for clarifications and elaborations); they are vital scriptural adjuncts, and so REQUIRED for anyone who seeks full apprehension.

In the above list, the Ofudesaki is notable because–just like the Koran–it is comprised of verse purported to be DIRECTLY authored by the one true god (“Tenri-o-No-Mikoto”).  As with the Koran, it was transmitted to the world via a human mouth-piece.  The “messenger” was a Japanese woman named Nakayama Miki (a.k.a. “Oyasama”) from the 19th century.

The “Ofudesaki” (along with its addendum, the Osashizu”) serves as the foundational scripture of the “Tenrikyo” religion.  Its MILLIONS of followers insist that the eloquence and profundity of the verse is unsurpassed.  (Sound familiar?)  Since they believe the words were not authored by Oyasama herself, but were merely TRANSMITTED by her, and were actually the words of god, they are deemed infallible…and thus unassailable.

“It’s all RIGHT HERE.”  Such delusive thinking has to do with our fascination with preternatural–even divine–authorship.  This concept dates back to the Iron Age–as with the Vedic notion of “apauru-s[h]eya” (Sanskrit of “divine authorship”).  (I will explore this peculiar notion in the next section of this essay.)

For now, we might ask: What of a book that claims to be the transcript of the utterances of a great sage from a bygone era?  In the 12th century, Geoffrey Monmouth produced, “Prophetiae Merlini” (a.k.a. “Libellus Merlini”), a collection of the prophecies allegedly propounded by Ambrosius (a.k.a. “Merlinus”; now rendered: “Merlin”), the storied wizard from the early 6th century. {11}  The book was a big hit.  Even five centuries later, Merlin’s “prophesies” were still being treated as authoritative by many–as in the popular 17th-century tract, “The Whole Prophesie of Scotland”.

When people become obsessed with a particular sanctified tract, they often fail to realize how ubiquitous the phenomenon has been around the world, and throughout history.  Let’s survey forty other examples:

  1. Practitioners of Trika Yoga: the Shiva Sutras (purportedly composed by Vasu-gupta of Kashmir)
  2. Adherents of Ayyavazhi: Ayya Vaikundar’s “Akilattirattu Ammanai” [alt. “Akilam”; a.k.a. “Thiru Edu”] and the “Arul Nool”
  3. Adherents of Gnosticism: the Apocryphae of James, John, Allogenes, Marsanes, and Zostrianos; the Apocalypses of Adam, James, Paul, and Peter; the Gospels of Peter, Mary, Truth, Thomas, Philip, and “secret” Mark (as well as those of the Nazareans, the Ebionites, the Hebrews, and the Egyptians); the “Treatise on the Resurrection”, the “Tripartite Tractate”; the “Thought of Norea”; and the various Clementine literature.
  4. (Ethiopian / Eritrean) Orthodox Tewahedo Christians: the Garima Gospels, the “Didache”, and the “Meqabyan”.
  5. Sambian / Prussian paganism: the “Sudauer Büchlein” [“Sudovian Book”]
  6. Adherents of medieval Mazda-ism (a variant of Zoroastrianism): the (Pahlavi) “Denkard”
  7. Adherents of Lingayatism: the Telugu epic, “Basava Purana” (by the Shaiva sage, Palkuriki Somanatha)
  8. Adherents of Ravidassia:Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji” (by “Satguru” Ravi-das)
  9. Adherents of Vajrayana (esoteric / tantric Buddhism): the “Nyingma Gyubum”
  10. Adherents of Wu-wei-ism (a.k.a. “Luo-Taoism”): the “Scroll of Apprehending the Way Through Hard Work” (by Luo Menghong of Shangdong)
  11. Adherents of the “Way of the Celestial Masters” school of Taoism: the Xiang’er” and “Tai-ping Jing” [“scripture of the Great Peace”] {24}
  12. Adherents of Mohism: Mo-Di’s eponymous “Mo-zi”
  13. Shakyamuni (tantric) Buddhists: the Manjusri-Nama-Samgiti”
  14. Nyingma (Kagyu) Buddhists: the “Bar-do Thos-grol” [alt. “Bardo Thodol”; a.k.a. “Tibetan Book of the Dead”] (as revealed to the Vajrayana “terton”, Karma Lingpa in the 14th century)
  15. Dzogchen Buddhists [adherents of Atiyoga and of Bon]: “Dudjom” Lingpa’s “Dudjom Tersar”; the “Menngakde” canon (e.g “Vima[lamitra] Nyingthig” and “Dakini Nyingthig”); as well as Garab Dorje’s writings.
  16. Adherents of Bon: the “B-yang G-ter” (“Northern Treasure”), the “D-bus G-ter” (“Central Treasure”), the “lho G-ter” (“Southern Treasure”), and the m-D-zod P-hug” (“A Cavern of Treasures”). {25}
  17. Adherents of Yarsanism (“Ahl-e Haqq”; “People of Truth”): sultan Sahak’s “Kalam-i Saranjam” [“Discourse of Conclusion”]
  18. Yazidis: the “Meshefa Resh” [Black Book] and “Keteba Jelwe” [Book of Revelation / Illumination; a.k.a. “Kitab al-Jilwah”]
  19. Rosicrucians [a.k.a. Order / Fraternity of the Rose Cross]: Christian Rosenkreuz’s “Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis” [not to be confused with the (later) Order of the Rose-Croix, founded by Gerard Encausse (a.k.a. “Papus”); or with the Salon of the Rose-Croix, founded by Joséphin Péladan]
  20. Adherents of The New Church: Emanuel Swedenborg’s “The Heavenly Doctrine”
  21. Adherents of Babism (the precursor to Baha’i): the “Qayyumu’l-Asma” (“Maintainer of Divine Names”), the “Kitabu’l-Asma” (“Book of Divine Names”), and other writings of the “Bab”
  22. Adherents of Theosophy: Helena Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine”; later with Alice Bailey’s “Treatise on the Seven Rays” {27}
  23. Adherents of Thelema [and affiliates of the “Ordo Templi Orientis”]: the writings of Aleister Crowley–most notably: the “Liber AL vel Legis”
  24. Adherents of Ifa: the “Odu Ifa”
  25. Adherents of Satyananda Giri: “Swami” Sri Yukteswar Giri’s “The Holy Science”
  26. Adherents of the Agasha Temple of Wisdom: the writings of Richard Zenor (as well as James Crenshaw’s “Telephone Between Two Worlds”)
  27. Adherents of Hare Krishna: A.C. Bhaktivedanta “Swami” Prabhupada’s “Chaitanya Charitamrita” (allegedly based on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s “Shikshashtakam”)
  28. Ahmadi Muslims: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s “Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya”
  29. Davidian Seventh-day Adventists: Victor Houteff’s “The Shepherd’s Rod”
  30. Adherents of Falung Gong: Li Hongzhi’s “Zhuan Falun”
  31. Adherents of Orgone: the writings of Wilhelm Reich
  32. Adherents of Eckankar: the writings of Paul Twitchell
  33. Adherents of Kriya Yoga: Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi”
  34. Adherents of [non-Abrahamic] Spiritism: Allan Kardec’s pentateuch, known as the “Spiritist Codification” (most notably: “Le Livre des Esprits”)
  35. Adherents of [Abrahamic] Spiritism: John Ballou Newbrough’s “Oahspe”
  36. Adherents of Discordianism: the “Principia Discordia” {28}
  37. Adherents of Soka Gakkai: Daisaku Ikeda’s “The Human Revolution”
  38. Adherents of Church of Divine Science with Nona Lovell Brooks’ “Mysteries”
  39. Adherents of Hermeticism: the “Hermetica” [a.k.a. “Corpus Hermeticum”], the “Kybalion”, “The Golden Dawn” texts, the “Cipher” manuscripts, and Eliphas Levi’s “Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine & Ritual”
  40. Some adherents of American Millenarianism: William Miller’s “The Millennial Harp”

The list of people churning out artificially-sweetened hogwash seems endless.  We could go on and on and on.  More recently, we’ve seen New Age conspiracy theorists–as with the writings of David Icke.

The silliest example of fetishized text may be J.R. “Bob” Dobbs’ “Book of the Sub-Genius”–taken as gospel by members of the parody-cult, Church of the Sub-Genius.  (We still await the Pastafarians’ scripture attesting to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

That makes a slew of case studies of what turns out to be–at root–the same phenomenon.  How is it that this phenomenon has been so commonplace over the millennia?  The short explanation: People crave enchantment; and what better way to deliver it than in a discrete parcel?  Indeed, this was the case with all the works mentioned above.  This has ESPECIALLY been the case with the Koran.

All of the works listed above demonstrate a basic fact: If the book’s contents SEEM mysterious, people can quickly become intoxicated by it.  Themes tend to persevere over the ages.

“But wait,” comes an objection. “You can’t compare the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, or the Koran to Dianetics…or to any other wacky treatise written by some flakey mystic.” 

Of course there are differences between these books; but it is the SIMILARITIES that are salient.  (There can be little doubt that the Hindu Vedas have more intellectual heft than the idiotic ramblings of Helena Blavatsky; but that’s not the point.)  Disparities in the merit of the material (i.e. variations in the degree of fatuousness) notwithstanding, the same underlying logic is at play in all the above cases.

It is no great feat to notice that the books listed above are quite different.  After all, they are different books–composed by different people in different places and different times with differing attitudes, agendas, and superstitions.  As intentions and beliefs varied, so too did the idiom in which scripture was couched (to accord with sensibilities and to address concerns).  The present aim is to reveal what such works have in common.  It is the COMMON THREAD that is instructive, not the differences.

Such discernment does not require us to pretend that there is equivalence where none exists.  It just requires us to use inductive logic.  That said, the contents of the Torah or the Koran is just as preposterous as the contents of, say, the “Book Of Revelation” or “The Millennial Harp”.

Various things can be adduced from this sample-set of sacred texts.  A memeplex becomes more attention-grabbing memorable and contagious (that is: “catchy” and “sticky” in the lingo of epidemiology) when it is codified in a sacred document.  (This is especially so if dogmas are conveyed and instantiated via a compelling / captivating narrative vehicle.)  For then the memeplex is concrete.  That is to say: The dogmatic system–which otherwise might prove to be too abstract for practical purposes–is captured by an object for the eyes to see and the hands to touch.  “It’s all right HERE,” I can say as I hold up the book like a talisman.  What is numinous thereby becomes TANGIBLE.  Followers have something to point to (as it were, to hold in their hands as well as their hearts).

By embodying it as SCRIPTURE, a memeplex is more readily sanctify-able–and much more amenable to faithful preservation.  BUT FOR the aforesaid psychological mechanisms, the Koran (initially just an orally-transmitted, amorphous conglomeration of recitations) could not have “caught on” in the way (or to the extent) that it did…nor could have the other books listed above. 

It is no wonder that, as with Constantine’s official canonization of approved (Nicene) doctrine, the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs employed the same strategy in order to consolidate political power…just as Iran’s Grand Ayatollahs have done with the politicization of Shia Islam and the Israeli government has done with the politicization of Revisionist Zionism. {23}  In any given case, that one of the tracts “won out” over other candidates is an accident of history.  Under alternate circumstances, it may well have been an alternate tract that prevailed.

When it comes to the genesis of the Mohammedan movement (i.e. proto-Islam): Had any of the so-called “Sahabah” been living in late 20th-century Los Angeles, they may well have become Scientologists…just as, had any Scientologists lived in early 7th-century Hijaz, they may well have become Mohammedans.  Why is that?  Dianetics and the Koran play similar roles in the lives of both kinds of religionist–satiating roughly the same hankerings.  Each supplicant sees his respective “go-to” book as the ultimate, unimpeachable source of insight (the explication of a profound Truth that can be found nowhere else).  Consequently, as far as they’re concerned, THEY have the answer in their hands; and that’s all there is to it.

This is how the devout Sikh sees the “Guru Granth Sahib” (seen as a literal embodiment of their saint) and how the fundamentalist Christian sees the “Book of Revelation” (seen as the ultimate prognostication of the apocalypse).  It’s how the strict Jain sees the Agam(a)s.  It’s how the Orthodox Jew sees the Mikra (Hebrew Bible).  It’s how the Christian Dominionist sees the New Testament (especially the Book of Revelation).  And it’s how the Salafi / Wahhabi sees the Koran and “sahih” Hadith.

As with the tendency to be tribalistic (and the predisposition to be dogmatic), this universal proclivity is an exaptation of our neurological makeup–a byproduct of human nature.  We are hard-wired for cult activity.  It is, as it were, the default setting for the operating system running on the brains of homo sapiens.

We all like to think–on some level–that there could exist a THING (a book, a person) that has celestial origins: a special source that is brimming with so much wisdom that it trumps everything else.  Accordingly, any cult in which bibliolatry plays a significant role thinks that THEIR book is THE ONE.  Ergo the different dogmatic systems that the above tracts yielded.  Whether Mormons or Moonies, the basic logic of the sham is the same.  As it turns out, it doesn’t matter whether the phenomenon occurs in Korea or in up-state New York; human nature is human nature.  The mentality is roughly the same in each one of the above cases: “Ah-ha!  This is THE book.”

Baruch-cum-Benedict Spinoza was one of the first to voice concerns about (the penchant for) bibliolatry in religious traditions.  Spinoza abjured people to emphasize the spirit behind the text–judiciously considered–rather than obsessing over some perceived need to hew to the text down to every last letter.  Instead of honoring “god’s word” (the logos), he noted, those who fetishize a given book end up worshipping “paper and ink”.  He connected scriptural literalism with religious fundamentalism–replete with delusive thinking.  Spinoza was particularly concerned about the dangers of “Doing God’s Work” syndrome.  He championed freedom of conscience, and touted the importance of free public discourse.

Of those who proffer the anointed tract, it can be said, “Finally!  Someone has access to the answers to, well, EVERYTHING.  The answers are here: IN THIS.”  Splendid.  The deliciously straight-forward notion is almost irresistible for some people–especially for those who don’t like to read a lot.  Indeed, most people are highly disinclined to engage in lengthy study that might involve reading MANY books (yikes!) and require prolonged cognitive exertion (no thanks!)  Consequently, the prospect of only having to read ONE book holds tremendous appeal.

It is tempting, therefore, to be able to point to a particular book as proclaim, “Yes!  THIS is the one!”  Eureka.  Unsurprisingly, that is exactly what many people are inclined to do when presented with the opportunity.  The prospects of doing so are hard to resist.

Amongst the sacred texts of history, there are a few notable exceptions to this trend–notably, the non-dogmatic portions of the Hindu scriptures: the Vedanta tradition of the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the collections of stories (the Panchatantra, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, etc.)  Other exceptions include the non-dogmatic portions of the Vedic literature and the Buddhist “T[r]i-pitaka”.

During the Axial Age, in China alone, there emerged myriad quasi-secular texts.  They mused on such things as:

  • The allegorical: Zhuang Zhou’s book of Taoist anecdotes, the “Zhuang-zi”
  • The economic and political: Mencius’ “Meng-zi” (alt. “Meng-Tzu”)
  • The cosmological: Fu Xi’s “I Ching”; the “Book of Changes”
  • The tactical: Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”
  • The spiritual: Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te-Ching”
  • The social: Confucius’ “Analects”

Such tracts admitted to not having all the answers–and were consequently less prone to fostering cult activity (which is to say: they were more amenable to free-thought).

Cognitive exertion?  Due diligence?  Humbug.  It is much easier to say be able to say, “It’s all here in this book.  For such-and-such query, just refer to page 11.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple?  Wouldn’t it be splendid if that’s how “wisdom” were gleaned?  To the question “Why?” on ANY MATTER, one always has an answer ready: “Because it says so HERE, in THIS BOOK, on page 11.”  Are we to suppose that the best way to live life can be gleaned from an instruction manual? {19}

The hypnotic effect of a book is not automatic.  One must first be primed to believe that the book-in-question is MEANT to hypnotize.  Fetishized books don’t themselves inculcate; but they are the blueprints for inculcation.  They effectively serve as guidebooks for indoctrination.  When a sycophant need only refer to page 11 in the designated scripture to determine what shall be done, it is beside the point WHAT page 11 says.  (It could conceivably say ANYTHING.)  Rather, it’s THAT it says what it says that counts.  Consequently, that it is THE ONLY valid way is taken as gospel…whatever it might be.  (Wouldn’t it be magnificently convenient if that were how the universe worked?)

In reality, of course, there is no “THE book”.  There are just books…written by fallible humans under various circumstances…some of them much more influential than others; some much better than others.  (The Agam[a]s and Vedas hold far more value than, say, “The Millennial Harp” and “The Shepherd’s Rod”.)  The degree to which a work accrues a following often depends on its capacity to ENCHANT.

Fascination with the esoterica has been illustrated by a preponderance of mysterious tracts.  The phenomenon goes back to the Chaldean and Sibylline books–esoteric texts regarding Hellenistic sorcery (e.g. the notion of the “seven rays”) and oracular material from the early 6th century B.C. (purported to have originated on Mount Ida).  In Judaic lore, we find the “Book of the Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira[ch]” (a.k.a. the “Wisdom of Sira[ch]”; “Book of Ecclesiasticus”) and its acrostic derivative, the “Othijoth ben Sira[ch]”, which dates back to the 2nd century B.C.  The “Sefer ha-Bahir” [Book of Brightness] by Nehunya ben Ha-Kanah (c. 100 A.D.) is an example of early Judaic mysticism that eventually became known as the Kabbalah.

An early example of a magical book that was believed to bestow upon the reader special insights into the inner workings of the cosmos was the aforementioned (quasi-mythical) Ptolemaic “Book of Thoth”, first composed in Demotic script.

During the Middle Ages, myriad other books enjoyed on a beguiling aura of mystique.  We’ve already mentioned the canon of Kabbalah texts.  That was only the beginning.  The fascination with the mystical continued apace.  Twenty other notable examples of arcane texts that enthralled wide audiences:

  • The “Kitab al‐Mudkhal al‐Kabir” by Persian mystic, Abu Mashar of Balkh (a.k.a. “Abumasar”), the official astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad (c. 848)
  • The Turkic “Irk Bitig” [Book of Divination / Omens] (composed in Orkhon script] (9th century)
  • The “Oracles of Leo the Wise” were circulated in the Eastern Roman Empire at the end of the 9th century.
  • The Hermetic “Ghayat al-Hakim” [Goal of the Wise; Romanized to the “Picatrix”], originally composed in Arabic; probably somewhere in Andalusia (10th or 11th century)
  • “Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu-shu” by Japanese mystic, Honen of Nara [“Jodo” Pure Land Buddhism] (12th century)
  • The Old Norse “Havamal”, “Runatal”, and “Ljodatal” are compilations from the 13th century (though based on Norse verse dating back to the 9th century).
  • The Arabic book of theurgy, “Shams al-Ma’arif wa Lata’if al-Awarif” [Book of the Sun of Gnosis and Subtleties of Elevated Things] by the Maghrebi occultist, Ahmad ibn Ali of Bona [Annaba, Algeria] (a.k.a. “Ahmad al-Buni”) (13th century)
  • The “Smithfield Decretals” is a set of bizarre commentaries commissioned by Pope Gregory IX (early 13th century)
  • The mystical “Vaticinia de Summis Pontificibus” was a collection of prophecies about the Vatican (late 13th century)
  • The “Speculum Astronomiae” [Mirror of Astronomy; an attempt to reconcile astrology with Christianity] by Albertus Magnus (13th century)
  • The quasi-Judaic “Book of Abr[a]-Melin”, which purportedly originated in Egypt (14th century)
  • The “Cloud of Unknowing”, an esoteric treatise on Christian mysticism (14th century)
  • The Teutonic “Theologia Germanica”, a mystical tract likely inspired by “Meister” Eckhart von Hochheim of Thuringia (14th century)
  • The infamously inscrutable “Voynich” manuscript [named after the Polish book-dealer who was the book’s first custodian] (early 15th century)
  • The alchemistic writings (including accounts of the fabled philosopher’s stone) by English monk, George Ripley (15th century)
  • The “Arbatel De Magia Veterum” (16th century)
  • The “Prognosticon Theophrasti Paracelsi”, a collection of the Hermetic writings, replete with the prognostications of “Paracelsus” (16th century)
  • The “Book of Soyga” (a.k.a. the “Aldaraia”; alt. “Tractatus Astrologico Magicus”), a tract of abstruse incantations composed in Latin by John Dee–an occultist advisor to Queen Elizabeth who claimed to have transcribed the text from what had been given to the first man, Adam (16th century)
  • The so-called “Sibylline” books, kept by French Queen Catherine de Medici (16th century)
  • The quasi-Zoroastrian “Dasatir-i Asmani” by the Persian mystic, Azar Kayvan of Estakhr [Fars] (late 16th century)

Some fetishized books deal with what is colloquially dubbed “dark magic”–as with grimoires.  A dozen of the most notable instances composed during the Renaissance:

  • The “Liber Juratus Honorii” [Sworn Book of Honorius] by Honorius of Thebes (13th century)
  • The quasi-Christian “Heptameron” by Pietro of Abano (c. 1300)
  • The quasi-Judaic “Mafteah Shlomo” [“Key of Solomon”] (14th century)
  • The Roman Catholic-oriented “De Occulta Philosophia” trilogy [three Books of Occult Philosophy] by German occultist, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim [Cologne] (early 15th century)
  • The so-called “Munich Manuel” of Demonic Magic (15th century)
  • The pseudo-Solomonic grimoire, “Book of Spirits” (15th century)
  • “De Officiis Spirituum” [alt. “Liber Officiorum Spirituum”; Book of the Office of Spirits] (16th century)
  • “De Praestigiis Daemonum” [“On The Illusions of Demons”]–replete with the infamous “Pseudomonarchia Daemonum” [“Hierarchy of Demons”] by Dutch occultist, Johann Weyer (16th century)
  • The Books of Oberon and Razi-El (16th century)
  • The “Arbat-El de Magia Veterum” (late 16th century)
  • The Icelandic “Galdrabok” [Book of Magic] (c. 1600)

Also influential was the Germanic grimoire, “Svartebok[en]” [“Black Book”].  This occult book–essentially a catalogue of arcane spells–was also known as the “Cyprianus”, as it was purported to have originated with the legendary 3rd-century monk, Cyprian of Carthage.  It was later rebooted in the 17th century by John Fell of Oxford as the “Black Books of Elverum”.  The 17th century was also when the goëtia, “Clavicula Salomonis Regis” [the Lesser Key of King Solomon”] was composed…though it, too, claimed to be derived from more ancient material. {21}  The Codex Gigas also offers a case-study in medieval demonology.

A few of these books appeared of the Muslim world–reminding us that the fascination with mystical texts occurred in Dar al-Islam just as much as anywhere else.  Beguilement knows no geographical limitations; and the appeal of enchantment transcends culture.  Human susceptibility to entrancement is universal because human nature is universal.

Most of the esoteric tracts listed above are comprised primarily of recondite ramblings.  Even so, they have bewitched people for centuries–irrespective of ethnic background.  Once equipped with a full slate of superstitions, one is always primed to adopt new (otherwise unrelated) superstitions…should one find those superstitions sufficiently enticing.  Credulity knows no FORMAL bounds.  This is why it tends to be the more religiously-inclined taken in by pyramid schemes and other scams…and why many converts jump from one dogmatic system to another.  (Even some of the most doctrinal Jews / Christians / Muslims ended up being bamboozled by “The Secret”.)  Ardent religionists are fine with hewing to their creed even as they knock on wood, throw coins into water-fountains, and wish upon shooting stars with their fingers crossed.

Helena Blavatsky formed the Theosophical Society in 1875, thereby inaugurating a skein of occult publications.  Her magnum opus, “The Secret Doctrine” would be published in 1888.  American neo-pagan, Charles Godfrey Leland composed “Aradia” (a.k.a. “Gospel of the Witches”) in 1899–the purported transcript of an ancient Tuscan prophet named “Vangelo”.  The work has since been influential in Wicca.  Soon thereafter, Austrian mystic, Rudolf Steiner began churning out his esoterica.

By the turn of the century, a Siberian (Komi) Faith healer named Grigori Rasputin was feeding nonsensical Christian mysticism to the Russian Tsar.  Those hungry for enchantment in London were primed for “The Cosmic Tradition” by Polish Judaic occultist, Max Theon (who had founded the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in 1884).  In 1904, Aleister Crowley penned the aforementioned “Liber AL vel Legis”.  In 1908, there emerged the aforementioned “Kybalion” and–shortly thereafter–William Walker Atkinson’s “Thought Vibration” (a.k.a. “The Law Of Attraction In The Thought World”).  In 1920, Danish occultist, Michael Agerskov penned “Vandrer mod Lyset” [“Toward the Light”].

Decade in and decade out, we see how marketable new material was.  There were always new audiences waiting to be entranced by, well, SOMETHING.  In the 1920’s, Ernest Holmes was hawking “The Science of Mind”.  In the 1930’s, Arthur Bell hawked “Mankind United” and Edgar Cayce hawked his psychic powers (harnessed, he insisted, from Atlantis).  In the 1940’s, the American rabbi, Joshua Loth Liebman pioneered religion-based self-help pablum with his “Peace of Mind”.  In the 1950’s, Gerald Gardner hawked the “Book Of Shadows” in England; Armenian mystic, Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff hawked “All and Everything” in Russia; and American science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard hawked “Dianetics” in the U.S.  In the 1960’s, Jane Roberts hawked her “Seth Material”.  In the 1970’s, Helen Shucman hawked “A Course In Miracles”; while Franklin Albert Jones (a.k.a. “Adi Da Samraj”) churned out his zany esoterica.

And so it has gone with the reams of “New Age” and “Self-Improvement” pablum churned out by motivational speakers–from inspirational speaker, Toni Robbins to self-help guru, Werner Erhard (of “Landmark Worldwide” fame).  In the 1990’s, uber-charlatan, Deepak Chopra peddled his New Age bunkum (with an enthusiastic push from Oprah Winfrey).  And by 2006, mass delusion was sufficiently severe that Rhonda Byrne’s risible “The Secret” sold 20 million copies (also with an enthusiastic push from Oprah Winfrey).   Whether it was Byrne’s “The Secret” or Dushkova’s “The Book Of Secret Wisdom”, the same psychical vulnerabilities were being exploited.

Even with the benefits of modern science and public education (at the turn of the 21st century), charlatanry was at a fever pitch.  Credulity was alive and well.

Over the generations, dogma-peddling has occurred in many contexts–from astrology to sham psychology.  The specious Myers-Briggs “personality test”–pre-eminent amongst cults of personality testing–is a reminder of how bone-headed fanciful thinking can be.  The gimmick is little other than a Zodiac with pseudo-scientific pretenses.  Alas, the commodification of personality traits has become a booming business.  Myers-Briggs took this to new heights.  This particular junk-science rests on fabricated either/or queries.  Myers-Briggs bases its profiles on false dichotomies, thus entirely misconstruing how human psychology works.  It determines one’s status in each of the four dualistic classifications (hence sixteen possible permutations); and does so by posing questions for which the answers are NEVER mutually exclusive.  Spectra are treated as binary categories–completely disregarding the malleability of personality.  Such pigeonholing flies in the face of all we know about psychical dynamics.  But no matter.  It’s simple, it’s catchy, and it’s seems plausible to the simple-minded people to whom it is targeted.

There is no reason to be mystified by any of this.  Esoterica can be tantalizing–even enrapturing.  But it’s all just snazzy balderdash.  Touting sibylline exposition as divinatory exploits the widespread tendency to misconstrue inscrutability as profundity.

Even narrative books can take on a mesmerizing patina of mystique.  Take, for instance, Ibn Tufail’s “Hayy ibn Yaqdhan” from the 12th century.  Rumi’s entrancing “Masnavi” has served as an anthology of spiritual guidance for Sufis since the 13the century.  Dante’s “Divine Comedy” has enthralled people in Christendom since it was composed in the early 14th century.  The “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” was an allegory composed in a cryptic language by Venetian author, Francesco Colonna at the end of the 15th century.  The “Prodigi Orum Ac Ostentorum Chronicon” was composed by a French writer named Conrad Lycosthenes in the 16th century.  The ability to bedazzle is often taken as the mark of prodigious sagacity.  This dates back to the enthralling tales of the Hebrews found in the Mikra…as well as the countless “sacred histories” around the world.

Meanwhile, there have been a slew of hoaxes that have transfixed wide audiences.  The so-called “Donation of Constantine” was used for centuries to justify the Pope’s sovereignty over worldly rulers.  Commissioned by the Vatican in the late 8th century, it held that Constantine the Great ceded of his power to Pope Sylvester (who had–it was purported–cured the Emperor’s leprosy).  Hence the Holy Roman Empire was afforded an air of legitimacy.

The ostentatiously enigmatic “Rohonc[zi]” Codex from Hungary was concocted in the late 18th century (in an imaginary language).  Only after many generations was it revealed to be a forgery.  The “Oera Linda” of the 19th century was a book of contrived esotericism composed in Old Frisian.  It claimed to be a historical record from Ancient Antiquity–replete with accounts of “Atlantis”.  (One of its biggest aficionados was Heinrich Himmler.)  In reality, the arcane tract was concocted in the late 19th century. 

Also from the late 19th century: the maudlin “Archko” documents (an attempt by William Dennes Mahan to provide historical documentation of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth) and “The Two Babylons” (an anti-Catholic tract composed by Alexander Hislop, a vehemently Protestant Scottish minister).

In Christianity, there has been a profusion of trash-pulp, from Augustine of Hippo’s “City of God” and his “Confessions” to Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle” and “Way of Perfection”.  The amount of pablum produced in Christendom alone could fill warehouses.

Note, though, that fetishized texts do not necessarily have to do with the occult or political ideology or sorcery.  Take, for instance, the ronin swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go Rin-no-Sho” [“The Book of Five Rings”] from c. 1645, a hallowed text on “kenjutsu” [Japanese martial arts; esp. sword fighting]–filled with existential insights.  The work is still hallowed to this day.

In recent times, quasi-cult followings have formed around various works that bewitch and bedazzle–from the “Urantia” Book to Carl Jung’s “Liber Novus” (a.k.a. the “Red Book”)–and a miscellany of other New Age rubbish.  The examples of such fetishized pulp are, of course, innumerable.  For almost every demagogue, one is sure to find some sort of hallowed document that articulates the doctrine on offer.  Listing every one would be as tedious as it would be pointless.  For very few have the prodigious gravitas that holy books command.

For the patrons of each of these publications, the impetus is the same as when ancient Egyptians were moved to countenance the material found in the Book of the Dead over three millennia ago.

Human nature hasn’t changed; just the packaging of dogmatic indulgences.  The universal craving for enchantment transcends epochs and cultures…as does the propensity for credulity.

The lesson to take home here is: People in every era are looking for an ultimate source of insight–wisdom that can be found nowhere else.  It’s why people today so vociferously buy so-called “self-help” books.  Thus, bibliolatry afflicts populations hungry for “ANSWERS”…who crave a solution to life’s woes that can be packaged in something tangible.  If the solutions to all that ails the world can LITERALLY be held in one’s hand, all the better.

In the event that a person is existentially disoriented, groping around in the dark for something–ANYTHING–solid to hold on to, then once he is given something that seems to “do the trick”, he will be apt to grasp it…and, thereafter, cling to it vociferously.  For some people, that thing might be “The Orchard of Pomegranates”.  For some Christians, it might be Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”.  For Muslims, it is usually the Koran.  And for Arthur Dent, it was the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Contagion theory (spec. the social-psychological arena of epidemiology) can help us understand how certain books “catch on” while others do not.  Much of it has to do with hype.  Hype, we should bear in mind, is categorically ameritocratic.  It should go without saying that quality and popularity tend not to coincide.  (Unfortunately, merit and consumption RARELY correlate.)  Every once in a while, the two metrics ARE concomitant (as with Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”); but more often than not, they do not (as with Mao’s Little Red Book).  The disparity, though, is gargantuan.  Unfortunately, for every “Theory of Justice”, there are a thousand copies of “The Purpose Driven Life” circulating.  Though the packaging is quite different, there is virtually no difference in merit between, say, the vacuous asseverations in the Kabbala and the vacuous asseverations of, say, Deepak Chopra.  The branding / marketing is adjusted according to the audience; so each author adds his own touch–simply putting a new twist on the same gimmick.

And so it has come to pass that it is a world drowning in exalted trash-pulp in which we find ourselves.

We all desperately want to believe in magic.  Being creatures hankering for a captivating narrative, we are all suckers for a good story.  So when people become obsessed with the “Toltec” Shamanic pontifications of Carlos Castaneda, the same psychological mechanisms are at work as when some people (the so-called “Mekubbal”) became enthralled by Kabbalistic drivel many centuries ago.

Not all cult activity has a holy book at its center.  Mithra-ism appears to not have had a sacred text; nor did Ashur-ism; nor did Tengri-ism; nor did the Faith of the Vikings or of the Druids.

There are some religious traditions that have no surviving sacred texts–as with the Carvakas and the Ajivikas.  Any scriptures used the Ebionites are long-lost.  Clearly, not all cults need a holy book.  Pace the writings of George Payne, James Anderson, and Laurence Dermott, Freemasonry has no sanctified scriptures. {22}  Pace the writings of Johann Adam Weishaup, nor does the Illuminati.  Pace the writings of Eugen Grosche (a.k.a. Gregor A. Gregorius), nor does Fraternitas Saturni.  Nor do practitioners of Santeria.  Nor do the Shriners.  Nor did the denizens of Camp Chesterfield, the People’s Temple, or Heaven’s Gate.  Nor do Germanic Neo-pagans (e.g. Odinists / Wotanists, Theodists, Forn Sior, Asatru, etc.) or Reiki healers (followers of Mikao Usui).  Indeed, systematized superstition can subsist without reference to a specific (sacralized) text; but having such a text certainly doesn’t hurt.

Having a sanctified scripture (a singular source to which True Believers may refer) helps to formalize the memeplex (e.g. by codifying doctrine).  It also provides a template for hyper-dogmatic splurges–an opportunity that many are eager to seize.  Holy books indulge people’s yearning to explain everything about everything…even as the authors end up explaining almost nothing about anything (other than, of course, their own flights of fancy).  Sacred texts obscure Reality while revealing a lot about the psychological profile of the authors and their acolytes.  As is often the case, scripture says more about the authors and their readership than about what the book is purportedly written about.  Steeped in orgies of dogmatism, audiences are invited to participate in a collective delusion; lured by prospects of “being in the know”.  Everyone likes to think that they are getting the inside scoop.  (Such an enticement explains why tabloids and gossip mags sell so well.)  Holy books cater to these hankerings better than anything else.

Some cult movements–ranging from benign to malign–focus on a designated set of texts for inspiration, yet stop short of sanctifying them outright.  Confucians with the “Analects” is a prime example from Classical Antiquity.  More recently, we might note Christian fundamentalists with the writings of Hilaire Belloc, Francis A. Schaeffer, Gary North, G.K. Chesterton, et. al.; as well as the manifesto, “The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth” (ed. A.C. Dixon).  For a Middle-Eastern twist, we might refer to Armenian mystic, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s aforementioned “All & Everything”.  We also encounter oeuvres from cult leaders, such as believers in the prophecies of Pothuluru Veera-brahmendra with his “Kaala-Gnanam”.

We might also note dream interpreters obsession with Freud’s “Die Traumdeutung”, radical behaviorists with the writings of B.F. Skinner, homeopaths with the writings of C.F. Samuel Hahnemann, and Numerologists with the writings of Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, et. al. (later popularized by contemporary hacks like Michael Drosnin).  The examples of anodyne dogmatic systems inspired by trash-pulp are endless. {31}

But not all instances of the phenomenon are benign.  Ten marginally malign examples [followed by the cults that were spawned]:

  • Black Hebrew Israelites with the writings of Marcus Garvey and Wentworth Arthur Matthew [Nation of Yahweh, Commandment Keepers, and the ICGJC]
  • (Some) Sabbatarianists with the writings of Joseph Bates (as well as Ellen G. White’s “Inspiration”) [Seventh Day Adventism]
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses with Charles Taze Russell’s “Millennial Dawn” and Joseph Rutherford’s “The Finished Mystery” [Watchtower Society]
  • Christian Faith-healers with Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science & Health; with a Key to the Scriptures” [Christian Science]
  • (Some) black Exceptionalists with the writings of Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad [Nation of Islam]
  • Christian Millenarianists with Lewis Sperry Chafer’s “Systematic Theology”, Rousas John Rashdoony’s “The Institutions Of Biblical Law”, Elizabeth Dilling’s “The Red Network”, Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth”, and the writings of David Chilton [various apocalyptic Christian sects; Christian Re-constructionists; American Dominionists]
  • Free-market fundamentalists with the writings of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Robert LeFevre, Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner, Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer, James McGill Buchanan Jr., Jude Wanniski, Thomas E. Woods, Ed Crane, Ayn Rand, et. al. [right-wing “libertarianism” ; Objectivism; anarcho-capitalism] {32}
  • Plutocrats with the writings of Herbert Spencer; Justice Lewis Powell’s notorious 1971 memo [corporatism; Social Darwinism] {33}
  • Adherents of the (Japanese) Soto / Caodong-Rinzai / Linji hybridization of Zen Buddhism with Hakuun Yasutani’s “Zen Master Dogen & the Shushogi” (alt. “Treatise on Practice & Enlightenment”) [Sanbo Kyodan] {34}
  • Acolytes of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard with his corpus of recordings and writings (esp. “Dianetics” c.1950) [Scientology]

We might also note American right-wing ideologues with the writings of Leo Strauss, Walt Rostow, Irving Kristol, William F. Buckley Jr., Paul Johnson, David Horowitz, Claire Sterling, et. al.  The American cult of “Neo-conservatism” was spearheaded by the likes of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, and overseas by the likes of John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger.  The sacred texts of the American Cold War “hawks” were George Kennan’s “Mister X” (1947), the Pentagon’s NSC-68, and the “Gaither Report”.  The cult was comprised of apparatchiks of the military-industrial complex.

And so it goes: Even an official document by invidious government operatives can be seen as gospel (though NSC-68 had no “good news” to report; just the standard Messianic pablum of militarist American Exceptionalism and Cold War paranoia).

Some texts are simply the gibberish of demagogues attempting to be philosophical.  For fawning proselytes, such tracts end up being the objects of bibliolatry.  Examples of this in the political sphere would be Mao Tse-Tung’s “Quotations From Chairman Mao” (a.k.a. the “Little Red Book”) in China, Muammar Gaddafi’s “The Green Book” in Libya, and Saparmurat Niyazov’s “Ruh-nama” [“Book of the Soul”] in Turkmenistan…all of which are treated as de-facto holy books. {47}

The most malign examples of exalted trash-pulp include:

  • Bolsheviks (followed by Stalinists and subsequent Soviet apparatchiks) with the writings of Vladimir Lenin [Soviet Communist Party]
  • Nordicists and German “National Socialists” with Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s “The Foundations of the 19th Century”, Alfred Ernst Rosenberg’s “The Myth of the 20th Century”, Anton Drexler’s “My Political Awakening”, and–eventually–Adolph Hitler’s “My Jihad” [Nazism] {35}
  • North Korean citizens with the writings of Kim Il-Sung [Juche]
  • The nexus of fundamentalist Christians and American Exceptionalists with the writings of Josiah Strong and Charles Peter Wagner; and, later, the writings of R.J. Rushdoony, Paul Weyrich, and John Hagee [Christian Dominionism]
  • WASP-supremacists [i.e. Christian fascists] with Madison Grant’s “The Passing of the Great Race” as well as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” [Aryan Brotherhood; White nationalists; various other Neo-Nazi groups] {20}
  • Judeo-supremacists [i.e. Judeo-fascists] with a skein of deranged writings [Revisionist Zionism] {23}

It is a stretch to call the expositions in this last list “sacred texts”; but such sanctified tracts were–and, unfortunately, still are–revered to varying degrees by True Believers who sought to rationalize their deranged ideologies.  That is to say, many of these were DE FACTO holy books; as such doctrinal tracts as sources of propaganda.  They were fetishized to various degrees in various ways. {26}

In every case, we always come back to “THIS is the book.”  Those who succumb to bibliolatry suppose that this is a true statement, but only for the right book.  In other words: The claim seems plausible.  So the question becomes: Which book is it?

This pre-supposition is where problems begin.  Taking a broader view, we are confronted with two kinds of choices:

  1. The matter of choosing the right dogmas
  2. The matter of engaging in or rejecting dogmatism

The imperative to choose the right set of dogmas is based on a false choice.  Once one recognizes the errancy of this line of thinking, the matter of WHICH book is THE ONE ends up being rather beside the point.  For when one opts to make this false choice, one has committed to a one-way avenue that terminates in an epistemic cul-de-sac.  The catch to making such a commitment is the curtailment of further inquiry, as mandated by the claims the source makes about itself.  Hence bibliolatry is primarily about self-sabotage.

The lesson here is simple: We never even need to get to the point at which we’re asking which dogmas are the right ones.  It helps to bear in mind: enigma and seduction often go hand-in-hand.  So any text that manages to pass itself off as divinitory will have a powerful allure to those looking for grandiloquent answers and magical solutions.

Let’s now turn to the primary means by which the content of sacred texts is conjured: Revelations delivered to a specially-selected individual…when nobody else is looking.

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