|Alvin Boyd Kuhn's Lost Key to the Scriptures: A Critique|
Within this work Kuhn professes to offer "the true esoteric elucidation of the lost meaning of the Scriptures of Christianity" though as we may expect, there is no credentialed scholarship in use to back up Kuhn's amazing revelations. (However, this is another work Harpur does not refer to in his bibliography.)
Kuhn begins with prefatory material declaring "totally untrue" traditional views of date, integrity, and authorship of Bible documents; and while he says this many different ways, arguments to the effect are quite lacking. It takes some time for Kuhn to settle down to his point, which is that "the Bible is a collection of dramas and allegories of the soul's life in body..." and a more specific point, that "death" in the Bible (and related words) have "borne a connotation different from the one commonly supposed to be their standard and established acceptation," and that this is supported by "the strength of tested scholarship" (though none is cited), and that "connotation" is that:
..."to die" means, for the soul, to live here on earth; "death" means the soul's life here in the flesh; and "the dead" is a term denoting those alive here in the mortal body!
Needless to say, this would be quite a shocker indeed to lexical authorities; but in one sense, Kuhn is quite right -- and is revealing nothing new. Actually, "death" is used as a metaphor in the Bible -- at times -- for the sentence of separation from God; but this no more erases the literal meaning than it does today to say, "I am dying of thirst."
There is nothing unusual about this, and Biblical scholars have long realized that when Paul says "the wages of sin is death" he means something more than (but also including, in the end) physical death of the body. As Morris notes in his commentary on Romans , death here is taken to mean "negation of absence of a life that is truly life," one without meaning or purpose or fulfillment. Thus Kuhn's entire edifice of fault is built upon straw to begin with, and he could have saved himself a great deal of work by consulting relevant commentaries rather than Massey.
But not having consulted germane scholarship, Kuhn proceeds to import rather into "death" a meaning claimed to be derived from "Greek Platonic, Pythagorean, Orphic and Neo-Platonic philosophies, and...the more ancient wisdom-knowledge of the Egyptians." We may let stand as clear the fallacy of supposing word-meaning to stay so consistent across ages and cultures, and while we are assured that "many students" have known of this (who they are is not named), it takes some time again to get to the point of actually trying to prove that this new meaning holds water.
It is quite true that certain trains of thought regarded the body as a prison. However, it is also quite true that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, this is not the case at all. Jewish thought regarded the body as a necessary component of a full person (what was called Semitic Totality), not as a prison or a tomb. Weak, yes. But not undesirable or imprisoning; just in need of the improvement that bodily resurrection would provide.
In service of his thesis, Kuhn reinterprets Christ's "death on the cross" as a metaphor for the Christ-spirit become incarnate; this would surely have been news to non-Christian historians who recorded the crucifixion as an actual event, but presumably Kuhn elsewhere has an answer ready for Josephus, Lucian and Tacitus.
Kuhn displays remarkable lack of understanding of the nature of the atonement (see here), supposing that it is absurd to think that two pints of blood can atone for the human race; one may as well say that one ounce of gold could never buy a Rolls Royce. But Kuhn never actually gets beyond midrashic exposition of his new doctrine and never gets to proving that the NT actually teaches this. What little is said of the NT is distorted, thus:
The doctrine has been lost because it appertains to the involutionary arc of the cycle of manifestation, which has been wholly dropped out of consideration through the purblindness that laid all stress upon the evolutionary arc. As St. Paul asks, how can it be that souls have ascended unless they had first descended into the bowels of the earth? If there is to be a resurrection from the "dead," the entity to be resurrected must first have gone down into a grave or tomb of "death."
No cite is offered for Paul, but Kuhn presumably refers to Eph. 4:9, "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?" which is the only passage in Paul that comes close to what Kuhn reports, and it does not refer to ALL souls, only to Jesus, and this as part of an exaltation Christology. Bits like these emerge rarely from Kuhn's commentary, as he is so busy telling us -- over and over again, and at great length -- how ignorant we have been that he forgets to tell us how he found all of this out. It is never explained how it is proven that the "cross of death" equals material embodiment. Quotes from Greek philosophers, while interesting, do not a NT exegesis make.
We are also told:
For Paul tells us that "the interests of the flesh meant death, the interests of the soul meant life and peace."
Once again, we are not given any citation; from one of Kuhn's other works, Sex as Symbol, he seems to think this is somewhere in Romans 7, but there is nothing close there.
The next is little better:
In the Enneads (I, lviii) of the great Plotinus, third century Neo-Platonist, there is found a straight presentment of the conception: "When the soul has descended into generation (from this first divine condition) she partakes of evil and is carried a great way into a state the opposite of her first purity and integrity, to be entirely merged in it . . . and death to her is, while baptized or immersed in the present body, to descend into matter and be wholly subjected to it. This is what is meant by the falling asleep in Hades of those who have come there."
Plotinus of course is still not helping us find this in the Bible, but a look at the source (see here) reveals no such quote, and I see none similar. Other websites use the quote with no better results (though one supposes Paul to have been aware of it, though Plotinus wrote 200 or more years after Paul died).
It seems the source for this is not Plotinus, but a work titled SKETCH FOR THE HISTORY OF THE DIONYSIAN ARTIFICERS: A FRAGMENT by one "Hippolyto Joseph da Costa, Esq." published in 1820. So much as well for Kuhn's commentary on this alleged passage.
And yet another:
Paul accentuates this idea also most directly when, speaking of Christ, he says that "we suffer death with him in his baptism," thus identifying death and baptism as the same one experience, and both meaning the incarnation.
I suspect Kuhn has in mind Rom. 6:4, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Not quite the same thing, and different enough so that Kuhn's reading is an error -- though even then, without any content to suggest that Paul is talking about the body as a tomb or prison or some such. Then:
To this may be added an excerpt from Pythagoras, who is claimed by many to have been the Greek progenitor of the whole Platonic system: "Whatever we see when awake is death; and when asleep a dream."
Pythagoras? No, not quite. The quote is right, but it comes from Heracleitos' though it appears that some "occult" sources online attribute it to "PYTHAGOREAN ETHICAL SENTENCES FROM STOBĂUS". In another work (Lost Light) Kuhn blames Clement for the attribution to Pythagoras, although he doesn't say what work of Clement this was in either.
So Kuhn hardly proves that we have here any sort of universal sentiment, much less a Biblical one; we have a hint that Paul was of Gnostic bent, but no actual analysis (as we do here) of texts. It gets no better; we are told, Plato himself said that "men are placed in the body as in a prison" but this appears rather to have been a comment of Proclus, some 800 years later, on Plato (see comment from here by someone using reputable sources).
So likewise a saying attributed to Virgil ("For souls are deadened by earthly forms and members subject to death."), without source, appears credited only in Kuhn's work and that of others using him online. Paul is credited with references to the "law of death" "which is in my members" and this is close enough to Romans 7, but while it would make sense summed up as Kuhn has it, "Flesh and body are at war with soul and spirit," indications are that Paul refers this to his state prior to being a Christian, and it must also be viewed in terms of the Jewish notion of unitive personality: flesh and spirit may indeed by in some disagreement, but the flesh is to be revitalized by God, and the spirit assisted by Him as well.
Next Kuhn digs for evidence of this idea of "death" in Egyptian sources, but we need not detain ourselves, even if he happens to be right, for Greco-Roman sources are far closer, and there is still nothing to make Egyptian thought Jewish; let it speak for itself, though, that Kuhn admits that Massey was one "scorned by the scholastics" and yet claims that Massey "missed by very little what all the other investigators had missed in toto" and "is the only Egyptologist (!) who has come close to descrying what the sage Egyptians were actually talking about under their astute hieroglyphic forms of representation. The others have missed it utterly and tragically."
Such assertive declaration of misplaced confidence is mirrored in modernity by Harpur, who cannot even conceive of the idea that credentialed scholars are to be taken as superior authorities to one like Massey who would never as much as come close to surviving peer review.
And so it goes on, with Kuhn arbitrarily and with not a shred of evidence declaring the story of the resurrection an allegory for "the soul's eventual bursting the gates of this hell of imprisonment in the flesh and winging its way in the glory of celestial light back to its empyrean home..." Well, perhaps an ounce of contorted evidence, at that: Kuhn renders the whole of the crucifixion a fiction, on the basis of Revelation's comment: "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the city which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified."
But wasn't Jesus crucified in Jerusalem, Kuhn says; so he was, but that is why it says spiritually: Jerusalem is made out to be personas of its own most evil enemies in Jewish history, having the spiritual state of these two political entities which rejected YHWH.
That the city in mind is Jerusalem is shown in that the Temple of God in the city is measured (11:1), and that's only one city. There's no need to make out the thing to be "mortal consciousness" or any such Theosophist ideas as Kuhn imagines.
Kuhn goes on with a hint to an overread of the Peter vs. Paul situation (see here) and then we have this bit of linguistic exercise:
At about the same time there came one of the numberless correlations of meaning that continued to be revealed through the study of comparative philology, one indeed that supplied overwhelming corroboration to the discernment made through the reading of Massey's exegetics. Two English words of four letters each and differing in only one of them were seen to be alike because they esoterically connote the same thing. These two revealing words were "tomb" and "womb." If soul went to its "death" when it entered the body of a child, then that body must be actually its tomb, grave, sarcophagus, sepulcher and mummy case. But since also in that very tomb of "death" it was destined in the course of its cycle to have its rebirth or resurrection from "death," then also this body became in time its "womb" of new life. That vehicle which became its tomb of death, was also the conceiving mother-womb of its new birth!
This is yet again once of those occult acts of linguistic tenor; note of course that Kuhn has been selective in word choice, as there is no synonym of "womb" that looks like sarcophagus, for example. But worse yet, the derivations of these two words make a lack of connection clear. "Tomb" comes, according to dictionary.com, from Middle English, from Old French tombe, from Late Latin tumba, from Greek tumbos, while "womb" comes from Middle English wamb. One may as well suggest a connection between womb and bomb and create an occult theory that people are made out of TNT.
But it gets worse, as Kuhn argues for even stronger kinship of structure that united two Greek words, namely soma, body, and sema, tomb. There is no escaping the deduction that the Greek Sages saw the body as the tomb, as well as the womb of the soul. I consulted with an expert on Greek on this matter, and this is his reply:
Sema does not mean tomb, it means "marker" and sometimes "marker by which a grave is known," thus occasionally it is translated as "tomb." It refers to the marker of a site. It is the word from which the NT got "semeion," which means "sign" (used extensively in the Gospel of John).
The word is also used to refer to the "mark to show the cast of a quoit or javelin" or a "token (used to establish identity or credentials)". Our consultant concludes:
[Kuhn] is making a mistake which stems from "the lexical fallacy," which means looking at the root of a word instead of the usage. For that matter, he does not even understand the root or the usage. Sema comes from sama (Doric) which means mark, sign, or token and was originally used to mark horses so people would know who owned which horse.
So indeed is exposed Kuhn's methodology. And with this, we deign to close our critique of this particular work; partly because we know Kuhn gives more detail on certain points in other works we plan to examine, but also because Lost Key was not one of the works Harpur listed in his bibliography. What follows is yet more of Kuhn arbitrarily imposing his reading of "freeing of the divine spirit locked up in man's corporeal constitution from its bondage" upon the texts, without any semblance of proof. Interestingly he does appeal to verses often appealed to by Mormons; on those (such as 1 Peter 4:6) see here.
Let it speak for itself that Kuhn is reduced to hypothesizing that "conniving scribes" corrupted a text in such a way that it would no longer prove his assumed thesis, and that he resorts to such creative and unsubstantiated ideas as that "the Prodigal Son story in the New Testament is a beautiful allegory of the soul's descent into animal body..."
These are creative readings forced onto the text and nothing more.