by Hugo Lj. Odhner
The story of the peoples and lands of scripute and their spiritual significance as revealed in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1954)
THE HEBREW PERSPECTIVE
The inspired books which compose the Word ("The books of the Word are all those which have the internal sense; but those books which have not an internal sense are not the Word". The books of the Word are: Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the Psalms, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve Minor Prophets, the four Gospels and the book of Revelation [AC 10,325].) were written in different ages, and compiled from many sources. And therefore they contain several different styles. Some are poetical, in whole or in part. Some contain representative visions and historical predictions, or vague allusions to things yet to come. A great part is historical and biographical, depicting the actual events of Israelitish history from the time of Abram to that of the Lord's coming in the flesh.
The historical portion contains the true history of Israel as the eyes of Israelites saw it. Certainly no other nation has preserved so merciless a record of its own shortcomings. None the less, the data given in the Bible are those which were accepted by the prophetic writers as the facts, and no doubt the record contains exaggerations - here and there - which redounded to the greater glory of Israel, to the power of Jehovah, and to the shame of His enemies. Thus the Writings reveal that when the text records how the sun and the moon, by Joshua's command, stood still over the valley of Ajalon, this was the actual appearance to the Hebrews, although the earth did not stop revolving (AE 401:18). And whatever slight aberrations the sincere history of Israel contained, it was by permission of Providence for the sake of the internal sense - which was the inward secret purpose within the literary records of this unique race. More and more, however, modern archeology confirms the remarkable accuracy of the Bible, to the discomfiture of a whole generation of learned critics.
What is true of Hebrew history, also holds true of the geography and ethnology of the Bible. It was the natural world, with its people, its fauna and flora, as known to the Israelites, that was the ultimate for the spiritual sense of the Word: a world seen in a very different perspective from ours. From the factual side, it was very inadequate. For the simple Hebrews believed themselves to dwell on a habitable crust of earth which the Creator had literally "stretched out above the waters" (Psalm 136:6) or "established upon the floods" (Psalm 24:2). Beneath it He had "gathered the waters of the sea together as an heap" and "laid up the depth in storehouses" (Psalm 33:7).
THE HEBREW WORLD
According to G. Schiaparelli. Simplified drawing from illustration in Schiaparelli's Astronomy in the Old Testament (Fig. 1, page 38). Used by kind permission of the publishers, the Clarendon Press, Oxford.
ANCIENT SEMITIC CONCEPT OF THE COSMOS
According to Owen C. Whitehouse. Reproduced from Dr. James Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible (s. v. Cosmogony), by kind permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.
Thus beneath the earth were the 'fountains of the deep' which in the time of Noah had broken forth to flood the land. (Compare Proverbs, 8:27-29). And still further below lay the 'earth of lower things' - the pit, or Sheol - the underworld, the abode in which the dead were 'gathered to their fathers'. Above the world of the living, however, there stretched the vast firmament, which rested on the ranges of the 'everlasting hills' that surrounded the earth as a border. The transparent vault of the firmament, the 'Rakia', held the waters of heaven, having windows through which rain was released: and beyond the firmament shone the heavenly bodies, sun and moon and stars. And the winds were held in their storehouses at the four quarters of the earth.
It must be remembered that the ancients - although some of the wise amongst them may have had deeper insights into the nature of the cosmos - were unable to draw definite demarcations between the spiritual world and the natural. The two worlds fused into each other. Nature was, in a sense, alive, and gods walked with men. This led to the philosophy of pantheism, or at least to the idolatry of worshipping stocks and stones, and of raising men, animals, and even the sun and moon, into embodiments of Divinity. The Hebrews were regarded as materialists and iconoclasts when they condemned the making of graven images and the worship of local deities and ascribed all the forces of nature to the One God. Yet they inherited their ideas of the world from the dead letter of Ancient-Church tradition. And their account of Creation came directly from the Ancient Word, and was devoid of the polytheistic trappings which embellish the mythologies of other nations.
The Genesis story of Creation was originally not intended as a description of how the natural universe was formed. The Arcana states that "the creation of the universe is not there meant: for such things are there described as may be known from common sense not to have been so - as that there were days before the sun and moon. . . . It is plain that the historic narrative concerning the creation and concerning the first man and concerning paradise, is a history so framed as to contain within it heavenly and Divine things, and this according to the accepted manner [of writing] in the Ancient Churches. This style of writing extended thence also to many who were outside of that Church, who in like manner devised histories and involved arcana within them, as is clear from very ancient writers". The Ancients "thought more interiorly than men do at this day, and thus had communication with angels and found delight in weaving such things together" (AC 8891).
To force a modern meaning into such an ancient text is therefore a fruitless task. The world which the wise men of antiquity saw as "created" by God, was an essentially mental world - a spiritual environment which gradually took shape about them and which they pictured as the creation by God of a natural world. For their language lacked abstract terms and they resorted to the use of analogies, figures, and fables, even as children love to do. The six days of creation therefore really described the order of spiritual creation or regeneration; which begins as a dawn of spiritual light - the dawn of conscience - and then gradually manifests the powers and degrees of the soul; culminating in the formation, within man's body and natural mind, of the "image and likeness" of God, or of "Adam" - the truly human quality. In the spiritual world, also, an image of actual creation takes place about the angels, and they can even recognize their own particular affections and states in the correspondential creations about them (DLW 322f., TCR 78). The Hebrew idea of the cosmos, for all its crudities, was peculiarly adapted to the purposes of the Word; that is, for representing the state of the spiritual world as it was in the ages of the declining Ancient Churches. For in those times the spirits of men were indeed confined in the 'lower earth' - surrounded by the infesting hells in the antipodes of the world of spirits.
THE LOCATION OF PARADISE
The stories about Creation and Paradise describe the rise of spiritual life with the infant race. Yet this spiritual development was expressed in natural symbols. Its imagery was taken from things with which the sacred writers were familiar in the natural world. And we may therefore rightly expect to find a substratum of natural facts within the narrative, and even references to true history as handed down by tradition. Thus we find mention, in those earlier chapters of Genesis which were taken from the Ancient Word, of place-names which correspond to known localities.
The garden of Eden which the Lord planted "from the east" has no known equivalent. But out of it went. forth a river which "parted into four heads". One "head" was the PISHON, associated with the land of Havilah where there is gold and bdellium and the onyx stone. This land is mentioned elsewhere (Genesis 25:18) and seems to lie in the Syrian desert, bordering Babylonia. The next river, the Gihon, is associated with the land of Cush, which the Authorized Version calls 'Ethiopia', and is therefore supposed to mean the Nile; yet the land of Kas, in present Persia, was probably here meant by 'Cush' and the river would then be the Khoaspes. The third and fourth rivers, Hiddekel and Phrath, are the actual names for the Tigris and the Euphrates.
This brings, us no certainty that Eden was situated in what is now Iraq, or lower Mesopotamia. The sacred writer describes a state, not a place; even though, to him, these river deltas gave a worthy picture of the original paradise, the garden of 'Delight' into which Jehovah God introduced man as the master of all other creatures. But it indicates that it was here that the old Semitic creation-story was first molded into its inspired form.
The precise expressions of the text show that Jehovah God first formed man, then planted the garden, and then put the man into it: He "took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it". Even if we feel satisfied that we have located the habitat of the celestial church, this leaves untouched the broader question of the "locus" of man's first creation.
Our doctrine is quite definite, that the Church called Adam, or 'Man', was not the first form of human life here on earth. 'Adamic' man - whom the New Church does not hesitate to call 'Homo Sapiens' whatever anthropologists might do - was the product of generations of development and spiritual regeneration, and was preceded by 'pre-adamites' of lower type. The six days of creation and the descriptions of Adam and of Eve in Eden thus treat interiorly, "first, of those who lived like wild animals (ferae) but at length became spiritual men; then, of those who became celestial men and made up the Most Ancient Church, and later of those who fell away . . ." (AC 286). The character of the pre-adamites who were regenerated by the Lord, was disclosed to Swedenborg from ancient or modern examples in the spiritual world. They were not evil, but had very little of spiritual life within their externals (SD 3390).
The existence of a people which did not originate from Adam and Eve is seen by some to be suggested in the fact that Cain went forth into the land of Nod where he apparently married and built a city (TCR 466).
Swedenborg, as a young man of thirty, had dismissed this idea of a pre-adamite race. But he was most interested in the extent of the original Eden, and theorized that its bland climate may have embraced even his native Sweden, which he knew as being from olden times a center from which innumerable waves of migrating peoples had proceeded. In a little work on "The Motion and Position of the Earth ..." which he published in 1718, he speculates that Sweden was possibly inhabited before any other land. For in the infancy of the earth, he maintains, its days and nights, and its years also, were shorter, with the result that its climate was that of a perpetual spring. He suggests that America - in such a balmy epoch - might easily have been populated from Sweden, over the land-bridge of Greenland. And he confirms this theory - advanced only partly from patriotic bias - by various reasons from geology as well as from the Holy Writ.
Although we cannot defend this thesis of the youthful Swedenborg, we accept as good advice his own defense - which was in brief, that "where the truth cannot yet reach, surmise must fill in the gap"! The fact that the Word does not solve the conundrum of the first appearance of mankind - or that the Writings, in speaking of the pre-adamites, give no suggestion either of the time or the place of their existence - does not prevent our imaginations from wondering about our distant origins.
The time of man's advent on this planet is an open question. Research directed to the study of the earliest traces of human life has at least confirmed this negative truth, that the earlier chronology of the Biblical writers - with its scanty six thousand years since creation - cannot be accepted as factual; since recorded events in Egypt's secular history go far back of the traditional date for the Flood, and human remains have been found in stratified deposits which must have taken hundreds of thousands of years in forming. These conclusions do not disturb the mind of the New Churchman, who must have faith that human science will eventually be seen to yield magnificent confirmations of revealed truth, if these are patiently awaited. A director of the American School of Prehistoric Research recently stated that "Prehistory is not an exact science" (MacCurdy, Human Origins, vol. I, p. 430). And with this in mind, it may be of use briefly to describe a few of the general facts which geologists and paleontologists seem now to accept as bearing on the antiquity of man.
Their claim is that in Tertiary times-perhaps more than a million years ago, thus before the Glacial Period-a genial climate prevailed over the Eurasian continent. This was the age of luxuriant flora when the great mammals began to appear on earth. A relatively few examples of what is thought to be human remains, and roughly worked tools of stone, have been found in strata which are assigned to the close of this Tertiary period.
THEORETICAL LINES OF DESCENT of the chief Pre-Neolithic races discovered in western Europe. The Grimaldi and the northern Teutonic long-heads are omitted. (Reprinted from Men of the Old Stone Ageby Henry Fairfield Osborn; copyright 1915 by Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943 by A. Perry Osborn; used by permission of the publishers)
THE OLD STONE AGE
But to the next period are assigned a great many evidences of human existence. It began under mild climatic conditions, but the glaciers repeatedly marched in from the north, compelling those forms of life to give way which required warmer conditions. As the ice sheets - such as now cover Greenland - began in turn to retreat, southern flora and fauna sprang up. In one of the intervals between the ice-invasions, elephants and hippopotamuses found their way into England by a land bridge that is now severed. And in such intervals men-the men of the Old Stone Age - apparently followed the southern life back into Europe. One supposition is that they could come only by way of the land bridges then connecting Spain and Italy with North Africa - as "Europe appears to have been cut off from Asia by a continuous sea, which extended from the Black Sea to the Caspian and thence to the Arctic Ocean by way of the great Ural Gulf". ( Huntingdon, Character of Races, 1927, p. 42) This is at least one opinion. Some of these Paleolithic peoples were apparently Negroid in type, others were not. Several left rock paintings or carvings of artistic merit. There are signs of religious life, for they buried food and tools with their dead. But what is known of such primitive human stocks - the Heidelberg man, the Neanderthal race, the Cro-Magnons, the Grimaldi, the Aurignacians, and the Magdalenians, some of which must have met and mingled before they became extinct or before we lose trace of them in the maze of time - is not enough to answer the question which most entices us: Whence came they?
For they are presumed to have lived not only in Europe; traces of such early types have been found to have existed in widely separated lands, as in China, in South Africa, in Egypt, and in Palestine. No actual agreement exists among anthropologists as to the placing of these races into any order of descent. Professor Osborn (whose diagram we reproduce [above]) classifies them largely on the basis of cephalic indices. But Professor Franz Weidenreich, in his Apes, Giants, and Man (1946, page 108), maintains that the skull index cannot be used as an infallible standard for determining racial relationship. He offers evidence that the earliest "pre-human" races of which fossil remains have been found in Java and China were of gigantic size.
A relationship between these earliest types of man and the "pre-adamites" referred to in the Writings of Swedenborg, readily suggests itself. The stature of these people was usually not quite so erect and graceful as that of modern races, but their brains were capacious. It is interesting to note a statement in the Spiritual Diary, to the effect that "the erect attitude of the body is not natural, but artificial, and has been learnt by process of time, and adopted by custom". This is said with reference to the inhabitants of Jupiter, who do not walk in our proud modern way but assist themselves with the hands, as if hopping or springing, and stand with the knees sagging (SD 567). It is further said, that the people of our Most Ancient Church were "extremely similar" in type with these Jovians (SD 3488, cp. AC 8249). Anatomists agree that the upright posture is not natural. And Swedenborg provides additional comfort when he notes that "nature desires" that men should walk as the Jovians do, and that if this were customary it would also be accepted as becoming (SD 567). Every infant indeed begins by creeping like a quadruped, yet has the instinctive desire to turn his face heavenward and not to the ground. Why should the race in its infancy not have been marked by a trace of some such posture? (DP 275; compare "Worship and Love of God", n. 31)
Of the spiritual quality of the men of the Old Stone Age we know practically nothing, except that some of them undoubtedly believed in a life after this - a life which would somehow resemble that of earth. To describe the earliest "Dawn-men" - dating from before the Glacial Period - as kindred to pre-adamite man does not seem to me to be a very daring assumption. But to decide whether the later Paleolithic peoples were related to these pre-adamites in their upward struggles to become spiritual men - a struggle which answers to the first six days of "creation" - or whether they represented some of the debased branches which either deteriorated after reaching some stage in this regenerating process, or perhaps may include even some of the profane and degraded offspring of the Most Ancient Church - that is a far more difficult question.
This seems clear. Most of the men of the Old Stone Age, at least in Europe, became extinct, and - at the close of the Glacial Period - the direction of human progress was entrusted to other races which are represented by the species of man who now occupy the earth. These new races were of a different genius, and of a different appearance. Scientists - knowing nothing about the value of the celestial qualities which characterized the Most Ancient Church - call the new races "Homo Sapiens". But they were not wise, and should rather be called potentially 'intelligent'. They carried forward external civilization, and their appearance coincides with the beginning of the New Stone Age, or the Neolithic Period.
The Writings do not speak of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic races. But they definitely describe the Most Ancient Church, its forebears and descendants, as being of a celestial genius, having even physiological differences when compared with the peoples who succeeded it, - difference as to breathing and as to brain function. The succeeding dispensation, or the Ancient Church, was taken up only by a small remnant of that antediluvian stock, a remnant called Noah, which for special reasons was able to adjust itself to a new mode of spiritual and natural life; while the new culture of the "spiritual church", or that of the Silver Age, was spread mainly among new races, formerly of a more or less gentile way of life.
Before Swedenborg's time it was generally believed that the great deluge at the time of Noah was an actual event, and that Noah and his family alone survived. Therefore all the present races of mankind were supposed to have descended from his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and that "of them was the whole earth overspread" (Genesis 9:19). But the Writings do not sanction this view. Noah was only the spiritual father of those who were called his sons. Moreover, there were other survivors of the 'flood' than those who received the Ancient Church. It was only the utterly corrupt descendants of the celestial church - those who had profaned their high gifts - that became extinct. Other branches of the human race, stocks which had never been fully developed into a celestial church, still survived; and of these many - in widely separated parts of the globe - became variously affected by the influence of the new Ancient Church.
SURVEY of the dispersal of races from the central plateau lands of Asia at the close of the Glacial Period - based on opinions offered by various students - Gregory, Huntingdon, Leidy, Matthew, MacCurdy, Osborn and Andrews. The diagram does not take into account prior races of eolithic and Paleolithic types.
THE RACIAL MIGRATIONS
In approaching our subject of the peoples and lands of the Scriptures, we sought to point out that the symbolic history given in the early chapters of the book of Genesis was not intended as an account of the natural development of the human race, but as a record of its spiritual states; that is, not as an ethnological treatment of races and peoples, but as a history of churches or religions, and of their growth and decline, and their descent one from another.
Yet at certain points, true historicals are interwoven into the symbolic narrative. And the Writings open up a new aspect and a new set of problems when they definitely show that those men, who, by stages, developed into a celestial church, and who are described by Adam and some of his descendants, were possessed of certain physiological characteristics which marked them apart as a distinct race, albeit a race which was in process of evolution or change, capable of deterioration and also of new adjustments.
Human science knows nothing of the primeval celestial church. But it has unearthed a considerable amount of evidence that there were distinctive groups of races living before and during the Glacial Period. Most of these, it is considered, reached only the cultural level which is called the "early Paleolithic". They became extinct before history ever dawned, and scholars seem to agree that they are not the direct ancestors of any races now living.
Where they came from is unknown. The oldest human implements or artifacts found in the Near East up to 1932, may, according to Professor Breasted, date from the beginning of the European Ice Age, - when North Africa was turning into desert, while the Mediterranean was still a lake and had not yet broken the land connections which joined Africa to Europe. The inhabitants of North Africa then had the alternative of migrating into Europe or of moving into the valley of the primitive Nile, where they took up farming and herding.
Attempts have been made to prove that a race of "Dawn-men" lived comfortably in England before the Ice Age had well begun perhaps a million years ago! (Osborn, Man Rises to Parnassus, p. 35.) In Java, remains of far more primitive types have been unearthed. Throughout western Europe plentiful finds have been made of human bones and artifacts of the Neanderthal type, and in Palestine remains have been discovered of similar Paleolithic cave-men, while others have been found in Rhodesia. In Mongolia and China remains and implements of the Old Stone Age have been dug up in quantities and varieties great enough to convince many scholars that Asia was the homeland of these extinct races.
But whether this conclusion be accepted or not, anthropologists are willing to hazard a more definite opinion as to the ancestors of the present-day races. These, they say, should be looked for in the high plateaus of Asia, whence their descendants in successive surges, spread in all directions. Negroid types spread southward into India and Australia, and south-westward into tropical Africa. Mongolian types pressed eastward into China and eventually into America; and southward into Malaysia. The Caucasian types - Mediterraneans, Alpines, and Nordics - explored the West, at first mostly skirting the Mediterranean on the East and South. The Nordics are believed to have found their way to the Baltic through the Balkans. Most of those races which reached the Near East and Europe during the later intervals of the Glacial Period and after it, exhibit that culture which is called the Neolithic, or that of the New Stone Age, when flints were finely wrought.
It is to be noted that the Biblical stocks of Shem, Ham, and Japheth find no place in these modern classifications, as those from whom 'the whole earth was overspread'. For the earth which was filled by Noah's seed was the spiritual 'earth' of the Ancient Church. Nor should we, in an eagerness to give a factual basis to the Biblical account, try to identify the Glacial Period with the Flood of Noah! But we might nevertheless recognize that the Neolithic peoples who lived near the Mediterranean basin during one of the Glacial epochs, had plenty of occasion to regard a deluge as the symbol of utter catastrophe. For in such epochs - when the continent was subsiding and whole islands disappeared - the rising sea and the rivers and the torrential rains must have become man's legendary enemies, the scourge of God upon a corrupted race.
And it is strange to note that the geographical conditions of these long ages were such that the course of the migration into Europe of these new peoples was naturally directed mostly through the Levant - through those regions which we call the countries of the Bible: through Asia Minor and the Caucasus, through the present Iran and Iraq, through Syria and Palestine, Araby and Egypt, which as yet were not nations.
In an ethnological and geographical sense, this region was then more than ever the hub and crossroads of the world - the center of the greatest land-mass on the earth. Here Europe and Asia and Africa met. And if this region had any cultural gifts to offer, there could be no better market-place for spiritual trading. If this was the region where the Most Ancient Church grew into its quiet glory and found the secrets of truly human life and learned to read wisdom from the book of nature, then it must have transmitted at least a frail remnant of its passing intuitions to the transient populations which, millennium after millennium, moved from the Asiatic highlands down the fertile crescent of the Orient to the broad spaces of North Africa.
THE EXTENT OF THE "GOLDEN AGE"
But the celestial church declined into utter corruption. The Swedish name for Noah's Flood is "Syndafloden", the Flood of Sin. This expression unintentionally suggests the spiritual fact: for the deluge was of spiritual origin, but deadly none the less. The Arcana Coelestia relates that the race which attained the lofty character described by Adam in paradise, had preserved with themselves the endowment of a united mind. For they had been born in the order of creation and therefore had a perceptive understanding which was so closely conjoined to the will that if the will, through man's choice, became debased and evil, the whole mind would be obsessed with irresistible fantasies, by which man would excuse his wickedness as permissible. In fact, these antediluvians claimed that they were "sons of god" and could do no wrong. "Every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). No "remains" of good and of truth could be implanted in such a race (AC 562). To make matters even worse, these descendants of the most ancient church enjoyed a peculiar type of breathing - a tacit, or "internal respiration" (AC 607, 608, 805). This breathing was controlled involuntarily by their states of love or hate; and in consequence, when their evil passions rose beyond a certain limit, they would suffocate of their own accord, as if drowned in a flood of their own evils and profane persuasions (AC 563, 1120).
Thus the profane race perished from off the earth. But with some of that stock, an external type of breathing, more independent of their emotions, began to be cultivated. Our consciousness, our thinking, is dependent on our manner of breathing. If we can control our respiration, we can seek to understand even what opposes our impatient native passions. So, with the remnant called "Noah" - the parent church of the Ancient Church - the understanding became a new basis for salvation and regeneration (AC 530-535).
The Arcana seems to suggest the influence which the Most Ancient Church exerted upon races of different character when it mentions - as if by the way - that at the time of the. Flood, or when the Most Ancient Church had corrupted itself, there were "other churches also", besides the new Church which was called Noah (AC 640). Church 'Noah' is particularly stressed in the Word because it was so different from the Most Ancient Church. But before the time of Noah there had been other "new" churches which had sprung from the Most Ancient Church; such as that signified by Seth (Genesis 4:25), which is also described by Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain. Jabal is called 'the father of the dweller in tents, and of cattle', Jubal 'the father of everyone that playeth upon the harp and organ', and Tubal-cain 'an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron'. This church Seth signified a new faith by which charity might be restored; and after his son, Enos, had been born, we read, 'then began they to call upon the name of Jehovah' (Genesis 4:26). This was evidently a church of spiritual type and race, but one which received its religious influences directly from the Most Ancient Church. From it - it is permissible to imagine - might have come the peoples which in later ages became the pioneers in the use of bronze and later introduced the iron cultures in the Near East (AC 435, 439).
Another 'new' church which sprang from the Most Ancient, also bore the same name of Seth (Genesis 5:3), but is described in the Arcana as 'not like the Most Ancient Church in respect to love and its derivative faith' but still somewhat similar, its quality being like that of the parent church before this had become celestial (AC 484). And this new church is described as the 'first posterity' of the declining Most Ancient Church (AC 435), which was becoming less and less celestial (AC 505), thus reverting to a lower state.
Here we must call attention to the fact that the impression given in the Writings of the Most Ancient Church appears somewhat ambiguous; and the ambiguity will not be removed unless we suppose that the Most Ancient Church - in one sense - was confined to a special race with special characteristics and perhaps living within a small area; and that - in another, broader sense - the name refers to a religious dispensation among peoples who had come into contact with that race and been imbued with its life and worship. This must have been the sense in which the Most Ancient Church (as well as the later Ancient Church) is called 'a true church of the gentiles' (AC 1259). Finally, in a still wider sense, we can apply the term 'golden age' and 'most ancient' to the infancy of many separate peoples - as do the classical writers.
As a race, the Most Ancient Church was characterized not only by what is called 'internal breathing', but, as a result, by a speech which took place without articulate words, and indeed mostly by gestures and facial expressions. "The first speech in any earth was speech by the face" (AC 8249). This therefore was retained in the stock which remained in the order of its creation and developed into a 'celestial man'. "Every one also may know", Swedenborg writes, "that the
most ancient people could not have had spoken words" or an articulate speech, "because the words formed by the tongue were not immediately inspired, but had to be invented and applied to things, and this could not have been accomplished except gradually in the course of time" (AC 8249). This racial church is described as living, each family by itself, in greatest innocence, a primitive life resembling that of the spirits of Jupiter (AC 8118, SD 3488). They cared nothing about external things beyond the necessities of the body and were able to consociate with angels in visions and dreams. (AC 243, 920, 69, 895, 1172, 1880) Despite their simplicity, they possessed the wisdom of life which springs from a love of God, whom they conceived as the Only Man.
Yet when Swedenborg describes his visits to the heavens of the Most Ancient Church, he does not tell of a people devoid of all the externals of civilization, although he infers that some of the celestials went about naked as in the tropics. Mostly they seem to be of the tent-dwelling, patriarchal type - nomadic shepherds, who also raised crops of grain (AE 799). Some of these, living in communities of thousands of tents, wore garments of wool and of linen, and had gems and jewelry of worked gold, and in their tabernacle they kept written tablets (CL 42, 75). The house of God, with some of the Most Ancient peoples, seems to have been constructed of wood (AC 3720, AE 1145:2).
All these descriptions indicate that the Most Ancient Church did not die out without leaving many remnants and side-branches which developed an external civilization. Some of these continued to advance possibly for ages, before their internal deterioration began. Some, on the other hand, were so evil and awe-inspiring that the Hebrews called them by the name Nephilim, the name of the so-called 'giants' before the Flood (AC 4454). Others were of a good disposition, like certain of the Hittites and Hivites who dwelt in the land of Canaan.
But it is unlikely that any of these were blood-descendants of the men of the celestial church called Adam - the special race which rose to the summit of their celestial potentiality and then profaned their high inheritance. The high state of culture which the descriptions of the Writings assign to some of the Most Ancient Church strongly suggest that this Church was propagated widely among the first Neolithic peoples who streamed past the region of the Near East in their migrations; and who at that time had not totally destroyed the order of creation with themselves, even though they had already lost the possibility of becoming fully celestial.
Such races - of a seed "less celestial", yet having "a voluntary not so much destroyed" as is the case with the spiritual (AC 505, SD 4719) - were still in the sixth day, or the fifth, of spiritual creation! and they, in their migrations, formed (we believe) the early 'golden age' of many a nation, to be recounted in later legends and sung by poets - a fading memory of a disappearing race of godlike, happy beings who first peopled the earth and once in a while are glimpsed in the early morning mists of history.
And among some of these the art of writing developed, an art which enabled the communion called Enoch (the seventh from Adam) to collect the correspondences that were to serve a later church for its first instruction. In this labor, the men of Enoch used even earlier written records (SD 5999, AC 609, AE 728). They reduced to doctrine what in the Most Ancient Church had been matters of perception which was not for their own account, but for the use of a future church (AC 520, 521); since it was recognized that enlightenment was on the wane and that truth was threatened with destruction at the hands of the last and most evil posterity of the celestial church. These doctrines were thus preserved and guarded (AE 728).
How long ago this may have occurred, there is no way of knowing. (The Arcana, in discussing the ages of the patriarchs about the time of the Flood, shows that the years are not to be taken literally but in a symbolic sense, to picture the changes of state in the ancient churches; "but their ecclesiastical computation is now totally lost" [AC 575].) Yet we do know that even in the caves of the later Paleolithic peoples of the Magdalenian era - dated about 16,000 or 25,000 years ago - symbolic signs and what some take to be alphabetical inscriptions have been found, as well as beautiful rock paintings and decorations. (MacCurdy, Human Origins, I, page 286.)
Other remnants of the Most Ancient Church may have survived. For it was from "descendants of the most ancient church" that Moses had the things concerning creation, the garden of Eden, and down to the time of Abram" (AC 66); things which, in the meantime had been incorporated in the so-called 'Ancient Word', from which he copied them, presumably from the Hebrew version (AC 66, SS 102).
A great many traditions and customs were handed down from the most ancient church. The precepts of monogamic marriage were traced to the most ancients by certain peoples of the Copper Age who probably belonged to the Hebrew Church (CL 77). The custom of setting up stone pillars, or dolmens or megaliths, - a practice which has been considered as belonging to Neolithic times, is said in the Writings to have originated among the most ancient peoples (AC 3727, 4580:2). And finally, Swedenborg saw an angelic pair who had lived in the Golden Age, using a chariot with horses (CL 42) : a remarkable thing, since the horse was not domesticated before later Neolithic times and is taken as typical of the Ancient Church rather than of the Most Ancient. In the Near East it was introduced through the Northern Hittites and the Hyksos.
We conclude from all this that the Writings do not confine the Most Ancient Church to the farthest antiquity - or to so-called Paleolithic ages; but that it marked a prehistoric substratum of peoples whose voluntary faculty had not yet been completely destroyed by hereditary evils.
Even in the history of Israel do we meet with such peoples. For there were in Canaan, in the times of Abram and Jacob, certain tribes of Hittites and Hivites, who were, we read, "of the remains of the Most Ancient Church which was celestial" (AC 4431, 4489). (Indeed, in his early exegetical notes, Swedenborg, by a strange transference of ideas, sometimes calls them "descendants of Seth" (WE 1563).) They are contrasted with the Israelites, who had received the externals of their worship from the Hebrew or "Second Ancient" Church. These Hittites were a friendly people, "among the more upright of the nations in Canaan" (AC 3470, 2913), and "not so much in falsity and evil" as other tribes in the land. They still possessed a remainder of interior truth from the most ancient Divine stock - truth which was inscribed in the will as good of charity (4447, 4448). But when some of them, under Shechem their chief, consented to be circumcised and to adopt the Jewish type of merely external worship, they committed a grievous evil, for thereby their internals would be closed and their salvation made impossible. This is the hidden reason why they were permitted to be slain by the cruel and treacherous sons of Jacob (4493). For there is one mode of salvation for the celestial, and another for the spiritual. The celestial are reformed and regenerated through charity and are thus introduced into love to the Lord (AC 3122, 5113, 6296e, 6065). For such to recede and become a merely representative church, or seek a salvation by external and intellectual modes, would profane their nature and genius, and cause them to decline from the good and truth which they had, thus incurring a dreadful spiritual peril (AC 4493, 310)