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Hidden Truths from Eden

Hidden Truths from Eden: Esoteric Readings of Genesis 1–3

Caroline Vander Stichele
Susanne Scholz
Series: Semeia Studies
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 298
  • Book Info
    Hidden Truths from Eden
    Book Description:

    Examine a rich history of spiritual interpretations from antiquity to the present

    Since the sixteenth century CE, the field of biblical studies has focused on the literal meaning of texts. This collection seeks to rectify this oversight by integrating the study of esoteric readings into academic discourse. Case studies focusing on the first three chapters of Genesis cover different periods and methods from early Christian discourse through zoharic, kabbalistic and alchemical literature to modern and post-postmodern approaches.


    Discussions, comparisons, and analyses of esoteric appropriations of Genesis 1-3Essays on creation myths, gender, fate and free will, the concepts of knowledge, wisdom, and gnosisRepsonses to papers that provide a range of view points

    eISBN: 978-1-62837-013-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Caroline Vander Stichele and Susanne Scholz

    Esoteric interpretations of the Bible are a largely neglected research area in biblical studies. With this volume we want to draw attention to the knowledge that remains hidden in what for many scholars and readers of the Bible still is aterra incognita. In that light it may well be appropriate to start with the opening chapters from the Bible. Undoubtedly, Gen 1–3 is a key text for Jews and Christians. It had an enormous impact on Western thought in terms of the emergence as well as the rejection of science, attitudes towards human nature, and constructions of sociopolitical...

  3. Part 1: Early Christian Explorations

    • Adam, Eve, and the Serpent in the Acts of Andrew
      (pp. 9-28)
      Anna Rebecca Solevåg

      How did early Christians understand and use the stories about the creation and fall of Adam and Eve? Different communities undoubtedly employed these stories in many different ways. Within one tradition (what eventually became dominant or orthodox Christianity), Eve was often depicted as weak and easily deceived and was used to subordinate women (see, e.g., 1 Tim 2:13–14; Tertullian,Cult. fem. 1.1.1–2). Traditions reflected in the Nag Hammadi texts show a different interpretation of the Genesis story, pointing to Eve as a revealer of knowledge and representing a higher principle than Adam (see, e.g., Orig. World 115–116;...

    • Imperial Propaganda in Paradise? Christ as Eagle in the Apocryphon of John
      (pp. 29-54)
      Tuomas Rasimus

      According to the classic gnostic¹ revelation treatise, the Apocryphon of John, Christ appeared to Adam and Eve in the guise of an eagle and influenced them to eat of the tree of knowledge to attain salvation:

      I appeared in the form of an eagle on the tree of knowledge, which is Reflection from the Providence of pure light, that I might teach them and awaken them out of the depth of the sleep. For they were both in a fallen state and they recognized their nakedness. (Ap. John 2, 23.26–33)²

      Although animal symbolism attached to Christ was fairly common...

    • A Fitting Portrait of God: Origen’s Interpretations of the “Garments of Skins” (Gen 3:21)
      (pp. 55-84)
      Peter W. Martens

      The opening chapters of Genesis captivated Origen’s scholarly attention throughout his literary career. His monumental thirteen volumeCommentary on Genesiswas his most ambitious philological study of Gen 1–3, although he also preached one homily on these chapters and dispersed brief exegetical notes on them throughout his voluminous writings.¹ Unfortunately, only scattered remains of theCommentary on Genesissurvive today, due in large measure to the sixth-century condemnations of Origen and his followers. Yet despite the fragmentary evidence, the picture emerging from this lacunose work is that Origen was convinced that the opening scenes in Genesis coded “certain mysteries”...

  4. Part 2: Zoharic, Kabbalistic, and Alchemical Speculations

    • Bifurcating the Androgyne and Engendering Sin: A Zoharic Reading of Gen 1–3
      (pp. 87-120)
      Elliot R. Wolfson

      The first three chapters of Genesis are overflowing with themes that have had a decisive impact on the formation of major theological and anthropological conceptions that have shaped Judaism and Christianity through the centuries. The kabbalistic tradition is no exception. In this essay, I will offer a modest reading that focuses on the construction of gender typologies that emerge from the narrative accounts of the creation of man and woman, the nature of sin, and the implicit sense of rectification, which may be elicited from Sefer Hazohar, the main compendium of Jewish mystical lore that began to circulate in fragmentary...

    • The Genesis of Christian Kabbalah: Early Modern Speculations on the Work of Creation
      (pp. 121-144)
      Peter J. Forshaw

      At the dawn of the European renaissance in the late fifteenth century, the Italian aristocrat and philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) became the first Christian by birth known to have studied authentic kabbalistic texts. Inspired by what he found, Pico propounded his own Christian form of kabbalah and provided material for generations of thinkers drawn to occult and esoteric philosophy. This essay discusses some continuities and differences between Jewish and Christiankabbalah iyyunitor “speculative kabbalah,” inspired by the Jewish exegetical techniques of gematria, notariqon, and temura. This essay first introduces Jewish uses of these techniques on the...

    • The Mystery of Mysterium Magnum: Paracelsus’s Alchemical Interpretation of Creation in Philosophia ad Atheniensis and Its Early Modern Commentators
      (pp. 145-166)
      Georgiana Hedesan

      In his highly influential bookThe Chemical Philosophy(1977), Allen G. Debus drew attention to the significance of the alchemical interpretation of creation, which had been a popular topic amongst the Paracelsian followers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Debus traced this trope back to Paracelsus’s treatisePhilosophia ad Atheniensis(“Philosophy Addressed to the Athenians”), which presented creation “as an essentially chemical process of separation” (Debus 1977, 56). Debus’s analysis generated a moderate interest in the subject of Paracelsian Genesis commentaries amongst scholars, being followed up by such articles as Michael T. Walton’s “Genesis and Chemistry in the Sixteenth Century”...

  5. Part 3: From Modern to Post-Postmodern (Re)Visions

    • Beyond Postmodernism? Esoteric Interpretations of Gen 1–3 by E. Swedenborg, R. Steiner, and S. D. Fohr
      (pp. 169-196)
      Susanne Scholz

      During the rise, heyday, and demise of the modern worldview, three esoteric interpretations of Gen 1–3 appeared. They were published in the eighteenth century c.e., the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century c.e., and toward the end of the twentieth century c.e. by Emanuel Swedenborg, Rudolph Steiner, and Samuel D. Fohr. In contrast to academic biblical studies ruled by an empiricist-scientific epistemology, these three readers rely on very different methodologies and assumptions than those advanced in biblical studies insofar as they interpreted Gen 1–3 with an esoteric hermeneutics. Consequently, their biblical exegetical works have been left...

    • Restoring a Broken Creation during Times of Apocalypse: An Essay on the Analogical Symbolism of Fall and Integrity in the Metaphysics of Béla Hamvas (1897–1968)
      (pp. 197-218)
      László-Attila Hubbes

      Béla Hamvas was author of dozens of volumes, but most of his writings had never been published during his lifetime. One of his volumes—actually printed in his life—bears the titleThe Invisible History([1943] 1988),² which, though not self-referencing, is adequately describing his life and activity. He studied philosophy, cultural history, cultural anthropology, music, arts and literature, and ancient and oriental languages on a lifelong quest to find and realize the lost normality of the human soul. In this essay I invoke him briefly through a narrow, though central issue of his opus: the nature of human integrity...

    • The Bible and Africana Esotericism: Toward an Architectonic for Interdisciplinary Study
      (pp. 219-234)
      Hugh R. Page Jr.

      The spectrum of themes, pivotal figures, and primary sources animating the study of the Western esoteric tradition, particularly those branches found in Europe and North America, has received considerable scholarly attention in recent years (e.g., Hanegraaff et al. 2005; Hanegraaff and Kripal 2008; Kripal 2010; Stuckrad 2005; Faivre and Rhone 2010; and Goodrick-Clarke 2008). Unfortunately, some of the distinct tributaries feeding this larger intellectual and religious stream, such as those originating in Africana (i.e., African and African Diaspora) milieus or typically navigated by peoples of African descent, have not been sufficiently studied. Moreover, the utilization of the Bible as a...

  6. Responses

    • Strategies of Esoteric Exegesis
      (pp. 237-246)
      Elaine Pagels

      Where did we come from? Who are we? How are we to live? The creation stories of Gen 1–3 show how some people have been asking—and seeking to answer—such questions for thousands of years, most likely for millennia. Yet the two stories most familiar to those influenced by Jewish and Christian tradition are themselves paradoxical. In the first place, gaps and unexplained leaps in both stories leave huge spaces in which the imagination may roam; thus each may open up for the hearer more questions than it claims to answer. Furthermore, since each of these stories is...

    • Esotericism and Biblical Interpretation
      (pp. 247-268)
      Samuel D. Fohr

      Like many words,esoterichas attracted a number of meanings over the centuries. And it could be argued that any one person’s understanding is just that and not entitled to any special importance. One could compare it to the wordscientism, which to me means the worship of science and/or technology and viewing the scientist as a kind of priest. But there are at least half a dozen understandings of this word, and I suppose it would be rather childish to insist on my meaning, even if I have good reason to prefer it as the most significant one. Then,...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 269-272)
  8. Index of Sources
    (pp. 273-280)
  9. Index of Authors
    (pp. 281-287)