Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Esoteric Conception of Divinity in the Ancient World

The December issue of the Ritman Library Newsletter has published an article on the significance of the Assyrian Sacred Tree, which I wrote in late November 2015. It can be found at:

The Esoteric Conception of Divinity in the Ancient World.

Here are a some extracts:

The ideas of an ur-Reality in both Assyria, and in the writings of Plato, are strangely similar.

"....Plato’s Republic tells of the craft of passing from the contemplation of one Form to another, entirely intellectually, and without distraction, with the intention of eventually arriving at the contemplation of The Good. The man returning from this journey comes back with knowledge beyond the scope of any wisdom to be found on the Earth.

The Platonic discussion of the Forms is treated by modern scholars as a species of literary fiction. Meaning it has no detectable connections with cultural activity in Greece, or in any other part of the civilised world in the two millennia before the Common Era. But Plato is very clear that it is important to look to the ‘One Thing’, the ur-Reality which underpins the world of the here and now. So he is talking of a conception of God, which gives rise to all other things which may be understood by the mortal mind, though the ultimate abstract conception of Reality may lie forever beyond human understanding.

In Assyria, the excellence and perfection of the king’s skills, described in Ashurbanipal's Annals (late 7th century B.C.E.), and in letters to the king, were understood to place him in proximity to the god Ashur. He is thus at the limit of what a mortal may do and be; as Ashur is at the limit or zenith of Reality itself. Ashur is Reality itself. That the Sacred Tree may stand in for the king suggests that it was understood also as an esoteric and symbolic representation of the idea of limit, taken to the nth degree, and also of Reality itself."

The article suggests that both bodies of thought are rooted in the same concept of an ur-Reality.

The point? Philosophy is much older than we think it is, and its origins can be found in ancient divine cult. Divinity was a philosophical concept, rather than the product of human credulity. We can trace this concept in time by studying a technical aspect of the concept of the divine, which is the ancient preoccupation with limit. 

[Feb 7, 2016]


The Ritman Library is also known as the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, and is based in Amsterdam. 

Two relevant posts which might be of interest are available on this blog - the first is an extract from an article in The Sacred History of Being on the subject of the Assyrian Sacred Tree and its significance; the second is a discussion of the idea of limit in the Roman social and cultic context, The Divine and the Limit.

Thomas Yaeger, December 31, 2015.

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