28 September 2015

A Note about Passion Week

Religious speaking, Passion Week, as it is officially called in the East, the week leading up to Easter, or Pascha, and with Pascha is the most important time of the Christian calendar, with all else centered upon it.


Passion Week is, of course, called Holy Week in the West, and is commonly referred to as ‘Great and Holy Week’ in the East as well.

Under the pre-1969 Roman calendar and in the Episcopal Church in the United States until 1979, Passion Week once meant (and still does in the Church of England and some other places in the Anglican Communion) the week beginning with what was then Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent.  In fact, under the older forms, the entire two-week period leading up to Easter was the season of Passiontide, which was comprised of Passion Week and Easter Week. 

In the Roman and Episcopal churches, the Sunday of Holy Week is called Palm Sunday: the Sunday of the Passion, and Holy Week is in some quarters referred to as Passion Week.  Some churches count Passion Week as separate from Lent, others as the last week of Lent.  The Eastern churches close out Lent with Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday.

Basic structure

In Eastern churches, Lazarus Saturday serves as the end-point for Lent and the dawn of the coming Passion Week.

Palm Sunday begins Passion Week proper.  The lessons and observances for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday vary. 

The fourth day of Passion Week is often called Spy Wednesday because since the Early Middle Ages, this was the day of the week of the Passion upon which Jesus was supposedly betrayed.

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and the Arrest.

Good Friday commemorates the Trial, the Crucifixion, and the Burial.

In the Hebrew calendar, the event of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday took place on the same day.

Holy Saturday, which the Copts call Joyous Saturday and Saturday of Lights and other Easterners call the Great Sabbath, is mostly a day of rest and of preparation for Pashca.

Developmental history

The Church had adopted the Lenten, or Quadragesima, fast in the second century, but not yet the Passion Week.  The Doctrina duodecim Apostolorum, the surviving church order from this century, mentioning only the ‘Day of the Passion’ and the ‘Day of the Resurrection’.

By the first half of the third century, Passion Week was firmly established, even what’s now called the Easter or Paschal Triduum, giving the names ‘Friday of the Passion’,  ‘Sabbath of the Annunciation’, and ‘Sunday of the Resurrection’.

Relation to Christmas and calendar

The designation for Saturday as the ‘Sabbath of the Annunciation’ means exactly what is sounds like; the day upon which the Annunciation took place.  In ancient Jewish tradition, great men were thought to have lived full years, dying on the same day they were born or conceived.  Thus, at least in third century Syria, the Annunciation was fixed on the day after the Passion. 

This was around the time that Pascha was fixed in much of Christendom on the first Sunday after the spring equinox, then 25 March rather than the current date.  That is why the feast of the Nativity, eclipsed for centuries by Epiphany, came to be on 25 December, and, coincidentally, the winter solstice, which then was 25 December instead of the 21st.

Passion Week itinerary, 3rd century

According to the Didascalia Apostolorum, an ancient church order of about 230 CE, in the third century the events of the original Passion Week, and this is the core subject here, followed a much different schedule than commonly believed in the twenty-first century.  The description is in Chapter 21.

Palm Sunday – Entry into Jerusalem
Passion Monday – Cleansing of the Temple, the Betrayal
Passion Tuesday – Passover; Last Supper Arrest on the Mount of Olives
Passion Wednesday – Imprisonment at the house of “Cepha the High Priest”
Passion Thursday – Imprisonment at Fortress Antonia
Friday of the Passion – Trial, Crucifixion, Death, Burial
Sabbath of the Annunciation
Sunday of the Resurrection

Significance and implications

The sequence and timing of events here is much different than that in the gospels as we have them today.  The proximity of the Arrest to the Cleansing of the Temple is much more likely than the timeline of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, which place the Entry and Cleansing on the first day, then have Jesus hanging out in the temple teaching the rest of the week unmolested.  The timing of the Cleansing given above follows the Gospel of Mark.

Assuming Jesus was indeed crucified, he suffered a death meted out only to non-citizen political rebels.  The company his suffered his fate among reinforce that, ‘lestai’ being a Greek word in the first century for what today we would call ‘terrorist’. 

The Cleansing of the Temple as described could only have taken place in the Royal Stoa, which was where the money-changers and animals sellers had their tables and booth; the Royal Stoa was also the meeting place of the Great Sanhedrin, which was presided over by the Nasi (not the High Priest), and since at this time overall supervision of the Temple compound came directly under the prefect Pontius Pilatus, an attack on the Royal Stoa was an attack on Rome.

Were it not for the riot which took place that the same feast that year, crucifixion may have been avoided.  Josephus writes that at the same feast, a large mob gathered outside Pilate’s Jerusalem headquarters to protest money having been taken from the Temple treasury to pay for building the new aqueduct (“give unto Caesar”).  The mob rioted, resulting in possibly scores or even hundreds of Jewish deaths along with a number of Roman soldiers.

Since this timeline does not sync up with that of the gospels as we have them today, some may dismiss it out-of-hand as made up by the compiler(s) of the Didascalia.  But since we know beyond the shadow of a doubt of  many words, phrases, and entire passages have been redacted or interpolated in all the books, it is possible that this is the original timeline.  I can cite several major interpolations right off the top of my head: (1) the Pericope Adulterae in the Gospel of John; (2) the nativity story at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, (3) the entire passages on the conceptions and births of both John the Baptist and Jesus Chrestos in the Gospel of Luke; (4) and (5), the fictional genealogies in Matthew and Luke; (6) the additional post-Resurrection encounters in John; (7) and the longer ending of Mark.  None of those passages exist in the earliest copies of any of the gospels.

The Synoptics make the mistake, Matthew and Luke probably following Mark,  mistakenly equate the first day of Matzot with Pesach, which gives away their Diaspora origin.  Pesach, or Passover, was not the day on which the seder was eaten but the day on which the lambs were sacrificed, because under the Temple the day of the sacrifice was what was important.  John, in fact, in many respects, demonstrates much more knowledge of first century Palestine than all three of the others combined; for example, it does not make the mistake of combining the two separate observances as one.

In light of the witness from the Didascalia, Christians maybe ought to revise their observances of Passion Week, although jamming the most important events into just three days does make it liturgically more convenient, which may be the reason the gospels were written—or rewritten—the way that they are.


Of further interest is the name of the High Priest, the Cohen ha-Gadol, according to the Didasaclia (‘Cepha’), which also contradicts the testimony of all four gospels, each of which gives the name “Caiaphas”.  All four are incorrect; Jewish sources instead name Joseph ben Caiaphas as high priest at the time and have no record of a high priest named Caiaphas.  The second century church order Doctrina duodecim Apostolorum even claims that Joseph the son of High Priest Caiaphas was a secret disciple of Jesus post-Resurrection, clearly an impossibility.

The name given in the Didascalia for the high priest is also incorrect, but is nonetheless highly interesting as it is the Aramaic form of the name Peter.

26 September 2015

The Two Ways, of Light and of Darkness

With the upcoming release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakening, fans and popular culture are once again about to be immersed the world of The Force, with its Light Side and its Dark Side, not to mention the Living Force vis-à-vis the Unifying Force.  The latter two, of course, were only mentioned on-screen in the widely-panned Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace; it was left to the novels of the Expanded Universe to expand those concepts further, most extensively in the final novel of the New Jedi Order series, The Unifying Force.

Most Christians and Jews, even their theologians, are oblivious to the fact that late Temple era Judaism and early Christianity shared a similar tradition of Two Ways.  By the first century, these were more often termed the Way of Life and the Way of Death, but even in later works sometimes called by their original designations, the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness.

De doctrina Apostolorum, early 1st century CE (maybe earlier)

This work, possibly from as early as the first century BCE, opens with the lines, ‘There are two roads in the world, the Way of Life and the Way  of Death, the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness.  They have at their head two angels, one of good and one of evil.  But big is the difference between the Two Paths’.

The De doctrina Apostolorum does not name them, but the two angels at the head of the Two Ways can only be Michael and Beliar, the latter being the form of Belial late in the Temple era. 

The chapter concludes with defining the Way of Life/Light in terms of the Great Mitzvot, or Summary of the Torah, to which is appended the Golden Rule:

The way of life is this: first, you shall love the eternal God who made ​​you; second, your neighbor as yourself, and what you do not want to be done to you, do not do to another.’

Chapters II, III, and IV are an exposition of the Way of Life through moral proscriptions and prescriptions.  Chapter V expounds on the Way of Death.  Chapter VI warns the reader to stay on the correct path, then ends with the interpolated doxology.

While being just one of many, and one of the latest from the view of first century Judaism, this is the foundation of the Two Ways tradition in early Christianity, with all subsequent works that describe the Two Ways mostly comprising direct quotations or much-rephrased versions of this original document.

Zoroastrian influence

The religion of Zartosht, also known as Zarathustra and Zoroaster, not only influenced the Israelites of Samerina (Samaria), Yehud (Judea), and Egypt to eventually adopt monotheism, it also led many toward a dualistic view of reality.  To its adherents, the religion is Mazdayasna.

The Israelite colony in Egypt formed around 650 BCE after the Egyptians had kicked out their Nubian overlords.  Its most important and largest settlement was on the island of Yeb, which the Greek later called Elephantine, a military outpost on a hostile frontier.  There were five other large settlements throughout Egypt, including in the capital at Memphis.  These Israelites even had their own fully-functioning “House of Yahweh”, recognized in Shechem and Jerusalem, at their main settlement on Yeb.

Though the Israelite Samaritans and Jews may have first encountered Mazdayasna through trade, after the fall of the Chaldean Empire they did so on a massive scale, Mazdayasna then being the official religion of the court.  Along with monotheism, the Iranian religion brought Samerina and Yehud their first taste of well-defined dualism, which provided a working blueprint from which the two Israelite peoples could form their own monotheism and create their own dualism.

The Iranshahr (‘realm of the Aryans’) under the Achaemenids conquered the Chaldean Empire in 539 BCE, taking the entire Levant along with it.  Egypt fell in 525 BCE.

Very superficial basics of Mazdayasna

The Supreme Being of Mazdayasna is Ahura Mazda, or ‘Being Mind’ (Assara Mazas in Aramaic).  Ahura Mazda is the one uncreated being who creates everything and is the guardian of Asha, Truth.  Ahura Mazda creates and acts through six “divine sparks”, emanations of and of the same essence as himself, called Amesha Spentas (‘Immortals Bounteous’), who in turn act through spirits known as the Yazatas.  The Faravashis are the spirits who watch over individual humans.  The relationship of Amesha Spentas, Yazatas, and Faravashis corresponds roughly to archangels, angels, and guardian angels.

Opposite Ahura Mazda stands Angra Mainyu (‘Destructive Spirit’).  Angra Mainyu serves the principle of Druj, Falsehood, and is the source of evil, adversity, chaos, and untruth.  His servants are the Daevas, the chief six of whom are known as the Kamaligan Dewan and are the dark side counterparts of the light side Amesha Spentas.

Although chief opponent of Ahura Mazda, Angra Mainyu is not his equal.  Instead he is the equal of Ahura Mazda’s chief servant in the battle of good and evil, light and darkness, bounty and destruction, truth and lie, Spenta Mainyu (‘Bounteous Spirit’).  Spenta Mainyu is the emanation of Ahura Mazda acting first among equals among the Amesha Spentas.

According to some of the middle period Mazdayasna scriptures, the struggle between the champions of Asha and the servants of Druj will last ten thousand years.

Two Ways in the Tanakh

In Judaism, the Two Ways tradition goes back to several passages in the Tanakh, with the influence of Mazdayasna showing up in the Prophets and the Ketuvim, and even making itself felt in the Torah.

Deuteronomy, of course, is the fifth and latest book of the Torah.  If it did truly originate in the pre-Exile period in the reign of Josiah, then it was certainly edited in the late Temple period.  In fact, this probably took place in Alexandria when the Septuagint was first collected, that being the first time the Tanakh as such had been complied.

Speaking of the Septuagint, the order in these quotations are presented below is that of their books as they appear in that edition of the Tanakh.

Deuteronomy 30:15

‘See, I have set before you today Life and Good, Death and Evil.’

Without the mention of ‘way’ or ‘path’ or ‘road’, but juxtaposing the same antitheses nonetheless, so same result.

Psalm 1:6

‘Yahweh watches over the Way of the Righteous, but the Way of the Wicked will perish.’

A bit more explicit.

Proverbs 2:13

‘Those who forsake the Paths of Uprightness to walk in the Ways of Darkness.’


Proverbs 4:18-19

‘The Path of the Righteous is like the Light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.  The Way of the Wicked is like deep Darkness; they do not know what they stumble over.’

This defines the difference even more stark.

Proverbs 12:28

‘In the Path of Righteousness there is life, in walking its Path there is no Death.’

This sentence defines the one, and its counterpart also, but only in reflection.

Sirach 33:14-15, early 2nd century BCE

‘Good is the opposite of Evil, and Life the opposite of Death…Look at all the works of the Most High; they come in pairs, one the opposite of the other.’

A definite statement of dualistic monism.

Isaiah 45:7

‘I am Yahweh, the One True God, producer of light and creator of darkness, maker of bounty and creator of desolation; I, Yahweh, do all these things.’

The ultimate statement in the Tanakh of both dualistic monism and of absolute monotheism, and within one sentence.

Jeremiah 21:8

‘And to this people you shall say: Thus says Yahweh: See, I am setting before you the Way of Life and the Way of Death.’

Another explicit declaration of the principle of dualism.

Essenes and apocalypsists

The Two Ways, especially in the form of the Way of Light versus the Way of Darkness, played a major part in the doctrines of the movement based in Qumran, and also showed up in some of the apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic works from the turn of the era.

War Scroll, 2nd century BCE

Also known by the title The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, which is why people usually use the other name.  It was one of the most important works found at Qumran.  It is at the same time a history, a prophecy, and a manual of how to organize the Army of Light.

Here, the Army of Light is commanded by the angel Michael and supported by the Beni Levi, Beni Judah, and Beni Benjamin.  The Army of Darkness is commanded by the angel Beliar and composed of Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, Philistines, and Kittim of Asshur.

This entire work is prophecy, allegory, and apocalypse, taking the Two Ways concept out of the abstract into the concrete.

Community Rule, late 2nd century BCE

Originally known as the Manual of Discipline, the Community Rule is a Jewish forerunner of the early Christian “church orders” found with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The most relevant section of the Rule to the subject here is ‘Of the two spirits of humanity’, of which the following is excerpt:

‘God has created man to govern the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of his visitation: the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Falsehood.  Those born of Truth spring from a Fountain of Light, but those born of Falsehood spring from a Well of Darkness.  All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light [Michael] and walk in the Way of Light, but all the children of falsehood are ruled by the Angel of Darkness [Beliar] and walk in the Way of Darkness…For God created the Spirit of Light and the Spirit of Darkness and founded every action upon them and established every deed upon their ways. ‘ (3:17b-26a)

After this passage, the writer waxes on the results of “communion” with the Spirit of Truth versus that with the Spirit of Falsehood.  Truth and Falsehood are then presented as mutually antagonistic “inclinations”, exactly the same as Asha (Truth) and Druj (Falshood) are in Mazdayasna.

Qumran fragment 4Q473

…and he has placed before you Two Ways, one which is good and one which is evil. If you choose the Good Way, he will bless you.  But if you walk in the Evil Way, he will curse you ... and in your tents, and he will destroy you with ... and mildew, snow, ice and hail...

Qumran fragment 4Q186

Possibly an astrological treatise, this work talks about a House of Light and a House of Darkness.

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: Asher 1:3-6a, late 2nd century BCE

This pseudepigraphic, apocalyptic work from the latter decades of the second century BCE is framed as the last testaments of the twelve sons of Jacob.  The part named Testament of Asher opens with the following:

‘Two Ways has God given to the sons of men, and two Inclinations, and two kinds of action, and two modes (of action), and two issues. Therefore all things are by twos, one over against the other.  For there are two Ways, the Way of Good and the Way of Evil, and with these are the two Inclinations in our breasts discriminating them.’

The Two Ways contrasted again, along with the Two Inclinations, or ‘spirits’, as in Spenta Mainyu, ‘Bounteous Spirit’, and Angra Mainyu, ‘Destructive Spirit’.  The rabbis still teach this paradigm as the ‘yetzer ha-tov’ and the ‘yetzer ha-rah’, or the ‘good inclination’ vis-à-vis the ‘bad inclination’.  Only in their version, at least in modern times, both inclination reside inside of each human on Earth.

1 Enoch 91:18-19; 94:1-4

‘And now I tell you, my sons, and show you the Paths of Righteousness and the Paths of Iniquity.  Yea, I will show them to you again that ye may know what will come to pass.  And now, hearken unto me, my sons, and walk in the Paths of Righteousness, and walk not in the Paths of Iniquity; for all who walk in the Paths of Iniquity shall perish forever.’

‘And now I say unto you, my sons, love righteousness and walk therein; for the Paths of Righteousness are worthy of acceptation, but the Paths of Iniquity shall suddenly be destroyed and vanish.  And to certain men of a generation shall the Paths of Iniquity and of Death be revealed, and they shall hold themselves afar from them, and shall not follow them.  And now I say unto you the righteous: walk not in the Paths of Iniquity, nor in the Paths of Death, and draw not nigh to them, lest ye be destroyed.  But seek and choose for yourselves righteousness and an elect life, and walk in the Paths of Peace, and ye shall live and prosper.’

2 Enoch 30:13b-14, 1st century BCE

‘I called his name Adam, and showed him the Two Ways, the Light and the Darkness, and I told him:  This is good, and that bad, that I should learn whether he has love towards me, or hatred, that it be clear which in his race love me.’

The light side and the dark side, BCE-style.

Early Christian sources

Gospel of Matthew, 7:13-14, late 1st century CE

‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the Way easy that leads to Destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the Way hard that leads to Life, and there are few who find it.’

Out of the many passages in the New Testament which compare good and bad/evil, this is the only one which does so in terms like ‘Way of Destruction’ and ‘Way of Life’.

Didache, late 1st century CE

First six chapters are virtually identical with the six of De doctrina Apostolorum, but with additions of quotations from the gospels, mostly the Gospel of Matthew but some from the Gospel of Luke.

Those chapters outline the Two Ways once again, but leaves out mention of the two angels at the head of each.  It also includes a nearly identical Summary of the Torah with the Golden Rule at the beginning of the exposition of the Way of Life.

Shepherd of Hermas, Book II, Commands VI, mid-2nd century CE

From Chapter 1: ‘For the Path of Righteousness is straight, but the Path of Iniquity is crooked.  But walk in the straight and even Way, and mind not the crooked Way.’

From Chapter 2: ‘Every person has within them two angels, an Angel of Righteousness and an Angel of Iniquity.’

Epistle of Barnabas, late 2nd century CE

Chapter 18 opens with the Two Ways.  It brings back reference to angels standing at the head of each Way, though in a much more dualistic fashion, contrasting the “angels of God” with the “angels of Satan”.  The epistle lays out the Way of Light in chapter 19, giving both prescriptions of the Summary of the Torah but separated by several negative prescriptions on morality and behavior; the Golden Rule is absent.  The Way of Darkness is dealt with in chapter 20.

Didascalia Apostolorum, 230 CE

This third century work inserts the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which includes the Two Ways, into chapter III, covering more or less the same ground as the De doctrina Apostolorum and the first six chapters of the Didache, even closing with a mini-apocalypse.

Clementine Homilies, Homily 7, Chapter 7, 3rd century CE

‘I make known unto you as it were Two Paths, and I shall show you by which travellers are lost and by which they are saved, being guided of God.  The Path of the Lost, then, is broad and very smooth—it ruins them without troubling them; but the Path of the Saved is narrow, rugged, and in the end it saves, not without much toil, those who have journeyed through it.  And these two paths are presided over by unbelief and faith…’

Apostolic Church Order, 300 CE

Opens with the Two Ways, with the discussion by the apostles following more or less the pattern of the previous examples but only expounding on the Way of Life.  Begins that discussion with John giving the Summary of the Torah; Matthew follows with the Golden Rule.

Apostolic Constitutions, 375 CE

Book VII, Chapter II is based largely on the Didache, including the Two Ways, generally following its source, but heavily edited.  The exposition of the Way of Life begins with the Summary of the Torah and the Golden Rule.

Later, and today

In the Christian Church, the Two Ways faded into insignificance, then obscurity by the mid-fifth century.  In its place came a paradigm of ethereal, spiritual warfare with the forces of Heaven under God, chaired by Jesus Christ, and commanded by Michael on one side versus the forces of Hell under Satan, sometimes chaired and commanded by him directly, other times with authority delegated to lesser demons. 

As well as angelologies, medieval demonologies grew quite elaborate.  Sometimes Belial/Beliar equated with the Great Satan, sometimes not.  Eventually, some Western theologian with little understanding of what he was writing about pronounced that the “Lucifer” of Isaiah 14:12 was Satan before the Fall.  The Hebrew word translated ‘Luciphoros’ also means ‘light-bearer’ and refers specifically to the morning star, nicknamed ‘son of the morning’.  The passage is a polemic against an unnamed king of Babylon.

Much of the Church has backed off from such an infantile cosmic view, but there are still pockets that believe every word, particularly among fundamentalist Christians in the USA, the Christian Supremacist Right.

Judaism has never viewed Satan as a challenger of Yahweh.  Instead, he is Yahweh’s most loyal servant, taking up the unenviable task of testing humans to prove their faith.

Every year at the Hajj, Muslims throw stones at a pillar representing Iblis, their version of the Christian Satan.

In Part I of the Gulag Archipeligo, novelist, human rights activist, and devout Russian Orthodox believer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”.  Later in the book, he wrote that, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties, but through every human heart.”

On those words, every human should be able to agree, regardless of religion, lack of religion, philosophy, culture, or nationality.

24 September 2015

Who created darkness and evil?

“I am Yahuweh, and there is no other,” replied the God of Samaritans, Jews, Hypsistarians, Karaites, Christians, Mandaeans, Sabaeans, Muslims, Druze, Bahais, and Rastafarians in answer to the above question.  Whether he was being a stand-up kind of deity covering for his co-conspirators or just a glory-hog is a question never answered.

The following is more about accurate and precise translation and studying one’s task thoroughly enough to render one that is true, and the truth.

Translation and bad grammar

This is about one of the most difficult and discomfortable passages in the Tanakh for religious believers over its assertion that Yahuweh, the deity worshipped by Jews and Christians, and by Muslims under the name Allah, creates both darkness and evil.

The passage in question is in found the book of Isaiah, verse 45:7, a verse comprised of three distinct clauses.  In transliterated Hebrew, this reads:

Yotzer ohr u-voreh hoshekh, oseh shalom u-voreh et ha-rah, ani Yahuweh oseh et kol eileh.

Without attempting to translate the putative object nouns (I’ll explain that in a bit), the way that passage is most often translated is:

I form ohr and create hoshekh, I make shalom and create rah; I, Yahuweh, do all these things. 

For the first two clauses, that is the exact translation found in the Orthodox Jewish Bible.  For the third clause, only a handful of translations include the actual name of God, the rest preferring to utilize some euphemism in its place.  None of those euphemisms, however, are translations but substitutions, and this is about translation.  That’s a subject for a whole other essay, so we’ll just leave the third clause there.

I left those object nouns in the original language because their proper translation into English is a matter of dispute and the afore-mentioned source of discomfort that is the main focus of this essay.  The subject at immediate hand is something I discovered researching this passage.

The first two clauses of Isaiah 45:7 are not, in truth, clauses at all, because their verbs are not actually verbs.  The purportedly object nouns of purportedly transitive verbs are in reality prepositional objects modifying subject complements.  The passage should actually read:

Producer of ohr and creator of hoshekh, maker of shalom and creator of ha-rah; I, Yahuweh, do all these things.

Since hanging phrases like that are like hanging chads in a Florida election, I offer the immediately preceding passage, Isaiah 45:6, or at least its part b:

I am Yahuweh, and there is none else.

The Geneva translators in 1560 who originated the current chapter-verse system of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures appended this onto the end of a clause belonging to the sentence in verse 45:5, so that the whole passage (45:5-7) reads, in the KJV:

I am Yahuweh, and there is none else; there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me.  I am Yahuweh, and there is none else.  I form ohr and create hoshekh, I make shalom and create rah; I, Yahuweh, do all these things.

Better grammar and sentence structure renders this passage as:

I am Yahuweh, and there is none else; there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me, that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the West, that there is none besides me.  I am Yahuweh, and there is none else; I form ohr and create hoshekh, I make shalom and create rah; I, Yahweh, do all these things.

Returning the afore-mentioned faux verbs to their original noun form renders the relevant sentence:

I am Yahuweh, and there is none other; producer of ohr and creator of hoshekh, maker of shalom and creator of rah; I, Yahuweh, do all these things.

Which now makes sense, grammatically speaking, more so than simply quoting Isaiah 45:7 by itself with its words in their proper forms of speech. 

One God to rule them all

An even better rendering of the above sentence, translating the exact meaning rather than the exact words, might be, and taking into account the clause ‘there is no God besides me’ in verse 45:5, this might be a better translation, particularly if standing alone:

I am Yahuweh, the One True God, producer of ohr and creator of hoshekh, maker of shalom and creator of rah; I, Yahuweh, do all these things.

This passage is one of the very, very few in the Tanakh, even the whole Christian Bible, which states there is only one God.  Even the Ten Devarim (or ‘Ten Statements’, the often misnamed “Ten Commandments”, so dubbed by the same Geneva translators who numbered the verses and split sentences) make no such statement.  Truly, as late a figure as Paul of Tarsus wrote in one of his letters that, in fact, other gods exist.

One could think such a statement would be proof of the pre-Exile monotheism of the Israelites in Samerina and Yehud to counter the Himalayas of evidence to the contrary.  However, this passage comes from the section known to scholars as Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), which dates no earlier than Exilic or post-Exilic times, and maybe both, given the probability of multiple editors. 

This chapter begins, “Thus saith Yahuweh to his Messiah, to Cyrus…”, as in Cyrus the Great, or Koroush Kabir, of the Achaemenid dynasty of Iran conquered the Chaldean Empire in 539 BCE, thus inheriting its western possessions which included Samerina and Yehud.  So it’s safe to say this passage is definitely not earlier than the latter sixth century BCE and is probably later.  Since this passage under discussion takes aim directly at dualism as well as any other theism but mono, it is most likely no earlier than the third century BCE.  It is not simply an expression of monotheism, but of dualistic monism as well.  More on that, and how this passage relates to dualism, below.

Yahuweh, creator of darkness and evil

Now that the appetizer, or ‘le entrée’ as they call it in France, is out of the way, we can start on the main course, or ‘le plat’ in France and ‘the entrée’ in America.

Every commentary I have read on this passage, from the Church Fathers through the twenty-first century, has taken pains to point out that the Hebrew word here for ‘create’, or rather ‘creator’, ‘voreh’, is the same that as in the beginning of Genesis, a sign that the writer thereby intends to link this statement with the Creation “in the beginning”.  This elevation also implicitly raises the importance of that which is created.

It is that which is created that causes so much discomfort and difficulty; in transliterated Hebrew, hoshekh and rah.  ‘I, Yahuweh, create darkness and evil’.

First, let’s look again at the translation of Isaiah 45:7, with those Hebrew words left untranslated, and for simplicity will leave the initial nouns as verbs:

Yotzer ohr u-voreh hoshekh, oseh shalom u-voreh et ha-rah, ani Yahuweh oseh et kol eileh.

I form ohr and create hoshekh, I make shalom and create rah; I, Yahuweh, do all these things.

The clause at the end of Isaiah 45:7 has never been a matter of dispute, so here we will just deal with the first two clauses, or phrases.  In fact, we will only be discussing the second or middle clause because there is no real dispute about the first either; every translator renders that clause in Hebrew, ‘Yotzer ohr u-voreh hoshekh’, as ‘I form light and create darkness’.  So strike that one from the discussion also.

That leaves us this: ‘I make shalom and create rah’, or ‘maker of shalom and creator of rah’, and this is where the problem lies.  Not so much the idea that Yahweh makes shalom as in that Yahweh creates rah, or ‘ha-rah’ to be exact.  One can see the problem from the translation in the King James Version:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I Yahuweh do all these things.

Other than transforming nouns into verbs and cutting up sentences where they shouldn’t be cut, the article before ‘light’ is not appropriate because it is not there in the Hebrew.  In the Hebrew, the only noun with the article ‘ha-‘ is the last modifying its subject complement, ‘ha-rah’. 

With the article there, the only translation for ‘rah’ is ‘evil’.  Of that, there is no equivocation; the only debatable point is what is meant here by the ‘evil’ that Yahweh creates.

Many Christian translators have chosen to translate ‘rah’, and often ‘shalom’ along with it, into some other noun with negative connotations that do not quite approach the affirmation that Yahweh created evil, that Yahweh created the dark side (even though they have little problem accepting that he created darkness). 

The rabbis who wrote the Orthodox siddur, or prayer book, dealt with this when composing the Birkat Yotzer Ohr benediction said before the Shema Yisrael at shacharit (morning, ideally at 9 am) prayers by changing the wording so that the prayer, in transliterated Hebrew, reads:

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, yotzer ohr u-voreh hoshekh, oseh shalom u-voreh et ha- kol.

Which is usually translated: ‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who form light and create darkness, who make peace and create all things’.

So now, instead of creating evil, Yahuweh creates ‘all things’; were this in the Isaiah original, concluding the sentence with ‘I, Yahuweh, do all these things’ would have been redundant.  That the rabbis felt it necessary to alter this for the Birkat Yotzer Ohr makes almost certain there is no other accurate translation.

So, ‘ha-rah’ is ‘evil’.  But what exactly does ‘evil’ in this context mean?

English translations by Christians

Before we answer that question, let’s take a gander at how Christian translators deal with their discomfort over the prospect that evil comes from Yahweh.

The Geneva and King James translators took the clause, ‘I make shalom and create rah’ and rendered it, ‘I make peace and create evil’.  In the sixteenth century, those two words as translated may have had the same or near meaning as their Hebrew counterparts. 

But language changes, such as the way that ‘comprehended’ as in Gospel of John 1:5’s ‘and the darkness comprehended it not’ meant ‘overcame’ in the early sixteenth century, but in the twenty-first century would have meant ‘understood’.  Such is the case with shalom/peace and rah/evil in Isaiah 45:7, or near so; they both have similar meaning, but not quite all the depth and connotations they once had.  Christian translators have tried in various ways to “correct” that:

I make prosperity and create doom
I make well-being, I create woe
I make happiness and create sorrow
I bring peace, and I cause trouble
I make well-being and create calamity
I make blessing and create disaster
I make success and create disaster
I make goodness and create disaster
I send good times and bad times
I make peace and create calamity
I bring prosperity and create disaster
I bring good and I make trouble
I make weal and create woe
I bring good times and create hard times
I make harmonies and create discords

There are just the published versions from “official” translations.  Those two Hebrew words have so many connotations, their meaning can be partially captured with a myriad of words.  Here are some of the ones I’ve come up with on the usual model:

‘I make/shape/bring
and create/cause/bring

Then I thought of a couple of possibilities if I disregarded the parts of speech of the words as they were written, just like the translators.  I got:

I make whole/complete and render void/dissolute.

Next I threw out the received sentence structure entirely and came up with:

I illumine and obscure, I complete and destroy, plus a few variations along those lines.


Pairs of opposites like this constitute a rhetorical device called ‘antitheses’, plural because each is the antithesis of the other.

Antitheses riddle the Bible because that was a favorite device of the writers of the Tanakh and of the New Testament.  In the opening scene of Genesis, you have the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, two antitheses.  Here, the two antitheses have a parallel function of including Everything, so that the name could be simply ‘Tree of All Knowledge’.

Other Biblical examples include the list of blessings followed by that of curses in Deuteronomy 28.  These are mirrored the Gospel of Luke  6:20-26, the list of blessing and curses upon which the Beatitudes passage in the Gospel of Matthew 5:3-11 is based.  The chapter Ecclesiastes 3 begins with the words, ‘To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’, after which follows pairs of antitheses juxatoposed against each other.

At Deuteronomy 30:15, we have another passage that some translators seem to be too squeamish about to do their job objectively.  The KJV has, ‘See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil’, and the RSV is virtually the same.  The NRSV and several other versions, however, felt it necessary to alter this to, ‘See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity’, to prevent even the whiff of evil tainting the divine.

For this passage, the OJB has ‘See, I have set before thee today ha-chayyim and ha-tov, and mavet and rah’, here ‘chayyim’ and ‘tov’ being without a doubt the words for ‘life’ and ‘good’, especially because of the article which anchors them thus.  Under the principle of antitheses, ‘mavet’ and ‘rah’ can therefore only mean ‘death’ and ‘evil’, the polar opposites of life and good, even though they lack the defining article.  When ‘tov’ and ‘rah’ are paired or juxtaposed, they always mean ‘good’ and ‘evil’.  Translating them any other way is not simply inaccurate, it is a lie.

Context and balance are everything

Admittedly, by themselves the words ‘shalom’ and ‘rah’ each have a variety of meanings and connotations.  Rah can mean ‘evil’, as in moral evil, but it can also mean ‘distress’, ‘misery’, ‘injury’, ‘calamity’, ‘adversity’, ‘wrong’, or ‘bad’.

The root word for the noun shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is the adjective ‘shalem’ (שָׁלֵם), which also has a verb form, ‘shalam’ (שָׁלַם).  The core meaning of ‘shalem’ is ‘whole’, which can mean ‘complete’, ‘safe’, or ‘at peace’. 

‘Shalom’ can stand for ‘wholeness’, ‘peace’, ‘completion’, ‘soundness’, ‘welfare’, ‘safety’, ‘soundness’, ‘well-being’, ‘health’, ‘prosperity’, ‘tranquility’, ‘contentment’, or any combination thereof. 

The verb ‘shalam’ can mean ‘to make whole’, ‘to make peace’, ‘to make amends’, or, in certain contexts, ‘do justice’. 

If it has meaning, the words ‘Till Armageddon, no shalam, no shalom’ in the line from the Johnny Cash song, “The Man Comes Around” probably stand for ‘No Justice, No Peace’.

The word ‘rah’ likewise has many different meanings, including ‘evil’, ‘distress’, ‘misery’, ‘injury’, ‘calamity’, ‘adversity’, ‘wrong’, ‘bad’, or a combination of those.

In a previous essay, I posited that the best translation of the clause under discussion here was ‘I make good and create evil’.  However, I have to admit I was incorrect.  At least in how people usually interpret “good and evil”; good is another word with many shades of meaning.

In paired antitheses, the two opposites take their meaning from each other.  For example, juxtaposed against ‘milchamah’, or ‘war’, ‘shalom’ can only have the meaning into which is is most often translated, ‘peace’.  While war is very ‘rah’, though, ‘rah’ is not war. 

So, while ‘shalom’ and ‘rah’ can take on many of those alternate meanings of the “official” translations above, none of them balance with the other pair of antitheses with which they are linked, that of light against darkness.  For balance, the shalom-rah pair must mean something equally basic and archetypal.

Thus spake Zarathustra

To recover a picture of the context within which the anonymous editor interpolated this passage, this chapter, onto the prophecies of Isaiah, we turn to the antecedent of both the monotheism adopted by both Israelite peoples and of the dualism against which this passage speaks.  In other words, we turn to Iran, to the teachings of the prophet Zarathustra and the religion which sprang from them, Mazdayasna.

Enter Ahura Mazda

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, probably south of the Caspian Sea and north of the Alborz Mountains, that land later known as Media, then as Hyrcania to the Macedonians after the conquest by Alexander the Great, there lived a prophet.  This prophet’s name then was Zarathustra, and his name provided a title for a book by a Western existentialist philosopher who quoted this ancient Aryan as saying, “And once you are awake, you shall remain awake, eternally”.  To which Gautama the Buddha replied, “I am awake; I guess  this means that nirvana is samsara”.

The Macedonians and Greeks called Zarathustra by the name Zoroaster.  Modern Iranians call him Zartosht.  An Aryan is not, by the way, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed fascist from Germany but a native of the land once called “Iranshahr”, for ‘realm of the Aryans’.  Friedrich Nietzsche, a brown-haired, brown-eyed German philosopher, liked the original form of the name best.

Zarathustra had visions, dreamed dreams, and drank hallucinogenic potions, thus anticipating the Age of Aquarius (without Charlie Manson) by almost three millennia.  He wrote down what he saw in what started out as just his Gathas, and later morphed exponentially into an entire library called the Avesta, a vast collection of scriptures in a language recorded nowhere else.

Zarathustra’s visions led him to toss out the whole inherited Indo-Aryan pantheon and declare that there is only One True God.  The name of his One True God was/is Ahura Mazda (or Assura Mazas in the Aramaic official language of the empire).  Before this, there were only Zurvan (Time) and Thwasha (Space). 

As first conceived, Ahura Mazda possesses no human attributes, no anthropomorphic or anthropopathic qualities.  Mazdayansis never refer to Ahura Mazda with gender pronouns.  It is forbidden to attempt to illustrate him in any way.  In many ways, the original concept of Ahura Mazda was closer to that of the Dao or Daiji of the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu than to a deity.

More like emanations from Ahura Mazda than either creations or junior partners, and not yet personified, the spenta mainyu was the ‘bounteous spirit (or inclination)’ and the angra mainyu was ‘destructive spirit (or inclination)’.  In a few places in the older Gathas, the angra mainyu is referred to as the aka mainyu, or ‘evil spirit’.  But the two were in balance, and it was this which helped preserve the universe.

This theological principle, that all things, good and bad, come from the Deity, is what philosophers of religion call ‘dialectical monism’.

A couple of centuries after Zarathustra died, Angra Mainyu grew into the personified origin of destruction and evil.  Meanwhile, the equivalent opposite inclination, Spenta Mainyu, recessed into obscurity as a mere emanation of Mazda, due the growth in stature of its counterpart. The world view of Mazdayasna became divided into stark lines of light and dark, good and evil, life and death, with Ahura Mazda head of one side and Angra Mainyu the other.

Yahwism in transition

When we first have solid records of Israel in the ninth century, they remained polytheistic, sharing many of the same deities with their neighbors, the exception being their national deity, Yahweh.  At first, El, the father of the gods, the elohim, in the Canaanite pantheon, remained their chief god.  But he was too impersonal and distant, like a king above peasants.  They also worshipped and built shrines, even temples, to Baal Hadad, Anath, Asherah, Astarte, and Mot, among others.

Gradually, for the Israelites, by this time divided into the realms of Samerina and Yehud, Yahweh assumed more and more the role of rival to Hadad formerly carried by the similar-named god Yam.  Soon he even replace El at the head of the pantheon, with Asherah as his consort.  But he had several forms: Yahuweh of Samaria, Yahuweh of Teman, Yahuweh of Dan, Yahuweh of Shiloh, Yahuweh of Hebron, etc., always with Asherah as his mate.

All of this we know from archaeology, from temples and shrines and papyri from the period that have been uncovered and deciphered.

With the overthrow of the Chaldeans, the Jews and Samaritans in the east gained the chance to return to Palestine, and also exposure to the monotheism of their new overlords.

Stage one on the Road to One True God was One True Yahweh.  That is the significance behind the declaration known to Jews and Samaritans as the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4): ‘Shema Yisrael, Yahuweh Eloheinu Yahuweh Ehad’. (‘Hear, O Israel, Yahuweh your God is one Yahuweh’).  So, no more Yahuweh of Samaria, of Teman, of Hebron, etc., just plain Yahuweh.

By early-to-mid fifth century BCE, monotheism, and iconoclasm, were the rule in both Samerina and Yehud, and near the end of the fifth century, even in the huge Israelite community in Egypt, centered on the colony at Elephantine and its temple.

The solidity of monotheism among the Israelites of Samerina, Yehud, and Egypt was reinforced by communication with the large communities of Jewish and Samaritan exiles in Hyrcania, Zarathrustra’s probably home and most fundamentalist center of Mazdayasna.

Two Ways

Though there are a few illusions to it in the Tanakh, dualism crept into and then flooded the religion of Yahuweh in the fourth century BCE.  The Essenes, who probably formed in the early third century, made the dichotomy one of their central theses, and it abounded in popular apocalyptic and eschatological works of the late Temple and early Roman period.  In these, which continued to be passed on even after the turn of the era and became quite popular among early Christians, there were Two Ways, the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness, sometimes called the Way of Life and the Way of Death.  In some versions, each Way had its own angel, Michael at the head of the Way of Light and Beliar at the head of the Way of Darkness.

In this cultural atmosphere, a scribe editing the prophecy of Isaiah interpolated the passage in question, the point of this particular part being that all things come from the One True God, not good things from a deity of light and evil things from a deity of darkness, but all things from One God and One God only.  That is why the editor was so specific about using the same word for ‘to create’ that was used in the beginning of Genesis.  It was like saying, ‘I, Yahuweh, create darkness and evil along with light and bounty; I alone and no one else’.

So why does everyone who translates this passage keep missing the point?  In a word, ideology.

Ideology is what religion becomes when its people forget the message and worship the creeds, when its adherents think it is more important to believe narrowly defined doctrine than to have faith.  Yahuweh, or God, is good, and everything about him is good, and there is no evil in him, evil cannot even approach him, or so goes the mantra. 

The creeds are more become important than the message.  So, like George Lucas declaring Vergere a Sith and asserting that the dark side and light side of the Force are absolutely separate entities with no gray areas between them, nothing between them at all, translators continually mistranslate the discomfortable and keeping passing out the opiate Kool-Aid.

Despite being unable to confess that evil comes from Yahuweh in their shacharit prayers, however, the rabbis still teach a doctrine inherited from their predecessors the scribes, who flourished in the late Temple period, that every human has within them from birth the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-ra.  Representing the ‘good inclination’ and ‘bad (or evil) inclination’, these mirror the spenta mainyu and angra mainyu that Zarathustra taught pervades the universe and each human in it.

The best translations

I have come up with three different version which I think best encapsulate the full meaning of both the words and their context.  There are four different versions because there are three different parts of speech into which the key words can be translated.

I am Yahuweh, the One True God; producer of light and creator of darkness, maker of bounty and creator of desolation: I, Yahweh, do all these things.’

The verb usually translated ‘form’ actually means to ‘bring forth’ or ‘produce’. 

The meaning may be archaic, but the word ‘bounty’, encapsulates the most connotations of ‘shalom’ of any English word I know, including most importantly goodness, abundance, and welfare.  Its most direct opposite is desolation, a near synonym for destruction that expresses the empting out of something as well as the devastation of that within it.  This translation parallels the Two Ways tradition as expressed by other vehicles dating from the period in which this section of Isaiah was probably written.

This also reflects the influence of Mazdayasna’s spenta mainyu and angra mainyu in their early, non-personified form.  One could even accurately translate the verse as ‘I am Yahweh, the One True God, producer of light and creator of darkness, maker of spenta mainyu and creator of angra mainyu; I, Yahweh, do all these things.’ 

The meaning would be more directly parallel were the translation ‘destruction’ rather than ‘desolation’ (‘angra mainyu’=‘destructive spirit’, remember), but in English the latter can also represent the chaos and void that existed before bounty in the same way that is the case with darkness and light.

That was the version with all its words in the same parts of speech as the Hebrew originals.  The second version mimics the English translations.

I am Yahuweh, the One True God; I produce light and create darkness, I make bounty and create desolation; I, Yahweh, do all these things.’

This version changes the second pair of nouns to adjectives.

I am Yahuweh, the One True God; I produce light and create dark, I make whole and render dissolute; I, Yahweh, do all these things.’

The verb ‘to make whole’ captures the core essence of ‘shalom’ and is an exact translation of its verb form, ‘shalam’.

The final version makes all the clauses into intransitive verbs.

I am Yahuweh, the One True God; I illumine and darken, I complete and destroy; I, Yahuweh, do all these things.’

Any one of these four versions surpasses all available translations of which I am aware, at least translations into English.

Translators, if your belief is more important than your faith, if the creeds are more important to you than the message, at least have enough respect for your craft not to falsify your work.