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The Divine Allegory
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)

Nations of the Ancient Church


It might appear, therefore, that the remnants of the celestial race could in nowise take refuge in the spiritual church. The question then arises how it was that NoAH - or those meant by him - as a remnant of the Most Ancient Church, could have been saved and formed into a spiritual church.

But observe that Noah could be saved by a new mode because he was of the corrupted celestial church (AC 788, 1072e). This may sound like a contradiction; yet those called 'Noah' were of that posterity of the most ancient church whose hereditary will had become utterly corrupt, and who had become corporeal, - a condition which did not exist with the churches called 'Seth' or 'Enos' or with such remnants as the Hittites. The Noahtic peoples had no good left except some natural good, and their hope of salvation consisted in the formation of a new will, in the understanding; for they were still capable of perceiving some rational truth, as the Lord - in His foresight - had provided that their will should be separable from their understanding, and that their conscious life could be carried on in the understanding even apart from the will.

This was signified by the ark which Noah built and in which he was carried safely on the surface of the turbulent waters of phantasy which engulfed those who did not accept the Lord's proffered new way of salvation by rational self-compulsion, by artificial civilization - such as we see developing more and more in later races, when the truth of doctrine, from tradition and from Divine revelation, became the thing which shaped men's lives, kindled their religious perceptions, and subdued racial heredities.

Noah was thus "of another and entirely different" nature and genius than the churches which still had something of the celestial seed left in them. This first communion of a new, spiritual church was only "among a few We presume that it took root at first in the land of Canaan, - taking Canaan in its widest sense. But there are indications that it was not there that the Noahtic people found the soil for their missionary work. Their message was not acceptable to the dying race of Nephilim who were obsessed with their own supposed divinity and were a law unto themselves, governed by their own will and passion for self-worship. And neither was the mission of Noah meant for such good remnants of celestial type as the Hittites, some of whom remained in that land of the most ancient church.

For such it was. The definite statements of the Writings show that the Most Ancient Church - and, spiritually, the garden of Eden or the church called Adam - were in this land; and here also was the Ancient Church, the Hebrew, and the Christian. Truly it was the land of the Churches.

Archeology does not as yet assist us - its systematic search reaches only down to the age of the Hebrew kings. Old Stone Age implements have of course been found, and indeed paleolithic remains of Neanderthal type. It is known that untold ages later a Neolithic race - non-Semitic, of short stature, lived in Palestine, in caves or in huts of wood or stone, a race which sometimes cremated its dead, but which also buried the dead with food and drink for the after-life; and which had domestic animals and used flint weapons, grindstones and rough pottery. Several dolmen areas of great memorial stones remain also on both sides of the Jordan. But no conclusive traces of continuous occupation are as yet indicated before about 3000 B.C.

Yet when we examine what the Writings say of the spread of the Ancient Church, it seems rather as if this religion was reintroduced into Canaan, even though it probably had once originated there with those who are called 'Noah'. Noah, as already noted, was only among a few (AC 468, 788). Yet the religious gospel of that people spread widely. Shem, Ham, and Japheth - the spiritual sons of Noah - were the components of the vast religion of the Ancient Church, and "of them was the whole earth overspread These three 'sons' were of course not races, nor individual, separate churches, nor nations. But they represented the three ways in which the Noahtic gospel was received. Shem signifies the Church as interiorly received in charity and intelligent faith; Japheth represents the simple, but external reception of it among sincere people; Ham stands for an idolatrous, merely external and formal acceptance.

This does not mean that the Ancient Church cannot be recognized as having existed among definite nations and races, some of which are named in the Word and called the 'sons', or descendants, of either Shem, or Ham, or Japheth. The communion called Noah, however, disappears from history. It was the parent or seed, not the Ancient Church itself (AC 788).

One thing is notable. The flood came, and Noah is borne away in his ark. It subsides, and the ark lands on Mount Ararat, the mountain of 'first light'. Can it be that we have, here, a hint of the true history? Did that little colony of 'Noah' settle down in the highlands of Armenia, planting there the vineyard of the spiritual church? Was it there that they brought the precious 'book of Enoch' which was to serve as their primitive Word before prophets of their own arose? Did the religion of the Ancient Church spread forth from this region which was so close to the cross-roads of the world - looking East towards the fertile Asiatic plains across the Caspian, North upon the steppes of Russia, West towards Anatolia and the Danube valley, and South upon the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia and the lands connecting with the Nile valley and Africa, lands where the great oriental empires were later to arise? Let us quote the information given in the "Coronis":

"The Noahtic, or Ancient Church, was diffused (dispersa) through the whole of Asia, especially into Syria, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Chaldea, the land of Canaan and parts adjacent to it - Philistia, Egypt, Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh, and also into Arabia and Ethiopia, and in the course of time into great Tartary, and thence downward even to the Black Sea, and from this into all the districts of Africa . . ." (Coronis 39).

The 'dispersion' of the Ancient Church continued farther than is indicated by this statement. From the Syrian seashore and across the Aegean, the influences of the Ancient Church, in successive waves, may be traced into Greece and the Roman world; but the Ancient Church had already flourished and deteriorated (It was adulterated by innovators in various places [AC 1241].) before its full force was felt among the Greeks (SS 21, 117, AC 8944:2, 9011e). There was also an extension of the influence of the Ancient Church to the northern Europeans whose mythology was so kindred to that of the Greeks; and yet another extension into North and South America, probably by way of Tartary, or (who ,knows?) by way of the Atlantic!

Until scholars can, with some accuracy, trace the courses of the various migrations of the Neolithic and the prehistoric peoples from which the known nations have stemmed, it is perhaps vain to try to picture in any detail how the Ancient Church was propagated "from nation to nation", and especially how it could have been transferred - as if by a belated second effort, from Great Tartary downwards through the Black Sea region into all parts (Compare TCR 760: "partly in Africa".) of Africa, and thus independently of its spread into Africa from adjacent Palestine. 'Great Tartary' does not figure among the Bible lands. But it was there that the Ancient Word, such as it existed in the time of Moses, was apparently preserved until Swedenborg's own day (TCR 279, Coronis 39). Or did Swedenborg mean that it is preserved among the Tartars in the spiritual world?

* * * * *

The Ancient Church, it is particularly noted in the Writings, took color and quality from the genius and disposition of the nations. Each nation, each people, developed different rituals and doctrinals. Each nation also - by virtue of its native bents - came to live in a circumscribed and typical environment in which its qualities were best expressed. Each came to represent a spiritual faculty, or a state of the church. The ancient churches therefore were many. But certain common characteristics were present. They all had representative worship and made use of the science of correspondences to express spiritual things in natural symbols. They all had teachings about spiritual things, couched in the form of history or ritual.

Some of these nations remained primitive, their religion simple. All through the world we find the familiar remnants of their worship - great megaliths or "pillars" set in groups. In course of time, some of these heliolithic nations developed an intricate system of symbols and an elaborate mode of worship, which - by and by - made them take the external symbol for a power in itself, and place their faith in magic; the while the worship of the One God was lost in a pantheon of lesser deities which their philosophers and priests then sought in vain to reunite or reconcile. We find such nations in ancient Mexico and in India, in Druid Wales and in the isles of Greece. But in the Near East they stand in a close grouping - surrounding the land where the Bible was written. And those nations, whether simple or cultured, whether desert tribes or empires, whether good or evil, have a significance of deeper import than the rest. For they - in their time - played a role in shaping those events which brought salvation back to mankind. And even now, whenever

the Word is read in its letter, the spiritual states of these ancient nations - states which they consciously sought to represent each by its own symbolic rites, and states which they unconsciously represented by reason of their genius and potentialities or by reason of their external acts and political fate - are resurrected before angels and men to tell again the story of spiritual redemption and human regeneration.


In the tenth chapter of Genesis we find a genealogical table, entitled "The Generations of the Sons of Noah". This is written in a Style intermediate between makes the allegorical made-up history and that of true history. It makes allegorical use of the names of nations, civilizations, and churches as if they were the names of individual men who claim a common descent from Noah. A few actual individuals are also mentioned, e.g. Eber and his posterity. But this apart, the chapter, in its literal sense, is a list of nations which constituted the Ancient Church, and a description of their spiritual affinities. The list is of course not complete, for the Ancient Church spread, in some form or other, far beyond the peoples known by name to the Hebrews. But varieties complete in that it comprises all the main types of the Ancient Church; and this is all that is necessary to express the spiritual sense, in which the varieties of the cults and doctrinals of that dispensation are the sole subject matter.

The common character of this Church consisted in this, that all belonging to it were of a spiritual genius, as contrasted with those who had a remnant of "celestial seed", or of a will not totally perverted. The "spiritual" had to seek salvation through the understanding of truth; thus not by access to the 'tree of life', but by taking refuge in the 'ark' of doctrine. This is what made them, in a spiritual sense, the sons and descendants of Noah. They were no longer permitted to enjoy open intercourse with spirits or angels, although prophets, specially prepared, received Divine revelations in dreams or visions. The covenant of Noah was that of the "bow in the clouds" - signifying a conscience formed from doctrine (AC 1043).

But doctrine, as understood in the Ancient Church, was a markedly different thing from that abstract and definite body of knowledge which is now possessed by the New Church. The Ancients had no ready-made language of philosophy in which to convey their wisdom, any more than they had any sifted and checked science about the constitution of the natural world. The words necessary for conveying thought had to be invented and applied to things, and thus were long in forming (AC 8249). The beginnings of language are derived from the ultimates of nature. Doctrine, at first, had to be conveyed through symbols; that is, through ultimate objects and names with which spiritual ideas were associated and which thus suggested and recalled spiritual states. Both worship and life thus became charged through and through with "representatives". And the new spiritual church of the "Silver Age" became a representative church. For the Ancients sought to represent the ideal life of the lost celestial state by way of imitating the externals which the men of the Golden Age had spontaneously used to convey their love, their worship, and their perceptions. These externals - such as worship on mountains, contemplations in groves, the use of oil for anointing and blessing, and the raising of "pillars" for remembrance, - were transmitted to the Ancients through the books of Enoch which served as the first revelation to the spiritual church. And on this groundwork they gradually built up more elaborate representations, adapting them to the needs of their own more intellectual church. And in process of time, the various books of the Ancient Word were written by prophets and handed down to many peoples of antiquity. Portions of these sacred writings were preserved, other parts were adulterated, lost, and forgotten.

Each nation framed its own kind of worship, and its own sets of customs which symbolized the knowledge which their. prophets and seers had revealed concerning spiritual things, concerning the life of man after death, concerning the love and wisdom of God, and the omnipotent protection of Divine Providence. And the central aim within these representative customs was to perpetuate the ideals of charity. The doctrine of Charity - which taught how men might live together in amity and peace, and labor for the common good of their communities - was a unifying element in the great diversity which differing rituals brought about. So long as this was the central aim, the representations adopted by the various peoples were not regarded as anything but a means to a common end. If God was called by a different name, or pictured in a different aspect, by some other nation, this was not taken to imply a denial of their own idea of God: for what finite thing could possibly by itself define the manifold powers and attributes of God? Was it not better to combine these various efforts of representing the truth about the Divine - as Creator, or as Provider, or as Protector or Regenerator - and picture His Divine qualities in a variety of forms? To seek to perceive the qualities of Deity within such different forms became a matter of wisdom to the Ancients. Their minds delighted in mysteries - in the awe of discovering new phases of Divine power reflected in the many forces and forms of nature. Yet they also looked forward to the time when these symbols should become a language which would clearly teach the interior truths about communion with God and concerning the order of spiritual life here and hereafter.

It is not to be doubted that in the eyes of the angels every nation of the Ancient Church came to stand for some particular and essential aspect of the true church. But we do not now know precisely what nations constituted the Ancient Church at the time of its spiritual integrity. When the tenth chapter of Genesis was written among the Hebrews, many of these nations had already become spiritually decadent, and some had no doubt faded out of memory. Most of those that are mentioned had therefore already lost their original spiritual virtues, and by the introduction of destructive innovations had perverted their pristine graces (AC 1241). Indeed they had come - in the eyes of heaven - to represent perversions, evils and falsities of specific types. At times these evils and this opposite representation could be veiled over and hidden, by reason of the good qualities which they once possessed; but mostly, such nations as Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria stand in the Word to signify evil and false principles.


This decline is recounted, in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, in the story of the tower of Babel. This story is prefaced with the statement, "And the whole earth was of one lip, and their words were one". For as long as the Ancient Church was in mutual love, there was an essential agreement as to doctrine, despite varieties of cults and rituals. Charity made one church out of many, and a common understanding.

But "it came to pass when they journeyed from the east, that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there". They began to withdraw from the charity which springs from love to the Lord: they began to retreat from the mountain heights of pure internal worship, and turned down into the flood plains of natural life. The suggestion presented is that from a nomadic, primitive existence, they came to hanker for the ease and comfort of a more complex society in which the love of external possessions might be satisfied and the lust of dominion would have freer sway; a society in which the many were made to labor for the few, and the few bore rule over the many, not as leaders but as masters (AC 8118). They made them bricks for stone and, using bitumen for mortar, constructed a city with a tower whose head was to be in heaven - so that their name and fame would spread over the whole earth. Instead of the stones of Divinely revealed truth they used man-made opinions in the building of their church. Instead of the mortar of charity their social structure was held together by the sticky substitute of self-interest and inflammable jealousies. The rise of the ambition to stamp their own quality upon the church by persuasion and spiritual dominion is here seen. It was the attempt of self-love to steal the delights of others, depriving them of their freedom by infusing the fear that no one could be saved except by certain external modes which their leaders laid down as essential.

This was the beginning of idolatry and magic - which is a resort to externals without internals, and which is thus an abuse of the power that rightly lodges in what corresponds to and represents heavenly order. Yet in the "First Ancient Church" - the Writings reveal - this beginning of such a profane worship was not permitted to establish itself as a defined doctrine (AC 1324, 1327). The Lord confounded their tongues, so that they could not understand each other but left off building their city! And He scattered them upon the face of the earth!

This worship, called 'Babel', is one in which the love of self lurks within holy externals, and in which many begin to aspire to be worshipped - or to take precedence over others. "Such men in the church could not but be as a kind of ferment, or as a fire-brand which causes a conflagration" - introducing innovations which brought a peril of profaning holy things. But in the Lord's Providence "the state of the church then was changed, so that its internal worship perished" and was forgotten rather than profaned: and all that remained was the external forms of the worship which became empty and idolatrous.

The indications are that the decline here described did not affect the entire Ancient Church at once. Indeed, this corruption of it into an idolatrous and merely external worship seems to have taken place first with certain groups of nations - or possibly races - whom the Hebrew tradition called 'the sons of Ham'. These 'Hamitic' peoples were distinguished into four stocks: Cush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan. Of these four, only Mizraim can be identified with certainty, for Mizraim was the Hebrew name for Egypt. Cush is represented as the father of various tribes in Arabia and elsewhere; but it is added, "And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before Jehovah . . . And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur and builded Nineveh . . ." (Genesis 10:8-11).

Historians place no credence in the details of this Hebrew account. Yet they have verified that in the dawn of history there dwelt in the valley of the Euphrates and the Tigris - the valley of Shinar - a people not related to the later Semites; a people known as Sumerians, with a fairly advanced

civilization preserved in sculpture and buildings; with a strong priesthood and sacred traditions, some of which bear a remarkable similarity to those of the Hebrews. Their language, written in pictorial forms, was agglutinative and thus very different from the Semitic tongues. It is classed as Hamitic. They built their towns mostly of bricks and bitumen and indeed their temple-towers seem to suggest that this race came from the mountains on the East.

Apparently it was upon this people that the Hebrews placed the chief blame for the decadence of mankind - as a consequence of the irreverence which Ham had shown to his father Noah. Sumer is the Biblical 'Shinar'. The Sumerians very clearly were idolatrous and like Nimrod - 'mighty hunters before Jehovah', hunters of souls, seekers for spiritual dominion. And when, later, increasing waves of Semitic nomad peoples pressed into the fertile valley of the Euphrates to escape the droughts and dust-storms which were gradually swallowing up their pasture - grounds in the areas that were turning into the Arabian and Syrian deserts, the population of the plains of Shinar was transfused with the new blood of Semites who gradually gained the political power and virtually displaced the Sumerians; yet the spiritual conquest was on the part of the Sumerian civilization which absorbed the immigrants into itself. The religious lore of the shaven Sumerian priestly caste was adopted as a part of the religion of the rising Semitic elements. The incantations used in Sumer, the magical practices and the legends of the gods, were taken over almost without change, with a growing reverence for their great antiquity. And thus Nimrod laid new beginnings of his kingdom in Babel and Erech, in Accad and Calneh and some sons of Shem became the spiritual sons of Ham. And when a distinctly Semitic empire rose into prominence in northern Babylonia, it also inherited the culture of the south, so that it could be said that "out of that land", that is, out of Sumero-Accadia, "went forth Asshur and builded Nineveh". Yet Asshur was a son of Shem!


The sons of Shem - who are racially distinguished as Semites - are spoken of as the direct heirs of Noah's blessing. "Shem" means 'name' and signifies quality, the distinctive quality of the internal church in whom there is an intelligent faith from charity. Hardly any stress is laid in the Hebrew story upon the nations descended from Japheth, nations which were far away to the north of Syria, in Asia Minor, in Greece, and in the "isles of the gentiles"; nations who were in relative ignorance of the Divine covenant, but who nonetheless represent such as live in something of charity and in a certain external worship. It was however promised that "God would enlarge Japheth" who should eventually "dwell in the tents of Shem" - as if foreshadowing a time when the European nations would inherit the functions of the internal church.

Presumably there is something of historical truth in classing as the sons of Shem those nations which are called Elam, Asshur (Assyria), Arphaxad and Lud (both unknown peoples), and Aram (or Syria). In these nations, the traditions and the quality of the Ancient Church were long preserved, and the ancient wisdom was described by their names. Elam signified faith from charity; Asshur signified the rational intelligence that comes thence; Arphaxad stood for derivative science such as the science of correspondences and of discrete degrees; Lud represented knowledges of truth and Aram, knowledges of good.

That Aram (or Syria) signified knowledge about religious things is confirmed in the Writings by the fact that Jehovah was there known, even in Mosaic times; and that the wise men, who saw the star in the East at the time of the Lord's birth, came from (or through) Syria. And because in Syria the Ancient Church maintained something of its strength, and especially something of its moral and genuine natural good, therefore, when other Semitic nations had followed the sons of Ham into corruption, a "Second Ancient Church" took its beginning in Syria.


This new beginning - a revival of representative worship with something of a genuine internal - marks the time of the first historical personage that is mentioned in the Word. For the institutor of this "Second Ancient Church" was Eber who may be regarded as the father of the Hebrews. His name signifies 'transition' - and this church indeed constitutes a passing over from the pure worship of the Silver Age to the merely representative worship of the later church of Israel.

The new Hebrew Church began in Syria. But at this time there were new racial movements on the part of the nomadic Semites who had already spread into lower Mesopotamia and now, in another wave, moved westward and south into Canaan and also into many other countries. It was among these newcomers, who became known to history as 'Amorites', that the "Hebrew Church" took root. The new worship was characterized by priestly offices, by the use of high places, "pillars", anointings, sacred groves, and, especially, by animal sacrifices. In the true Ancient Church, such sacrifices "had been unknown, except among some of the descendants of Ham and Canaan, who were idolaters, and with whom they were permitted in order to prevent them from sacrificing their sons and daughters" (AC 1241).

It may be permissible to surmise, from the archeological evidence before us, that the Hebrew immigration into Palestine took place about three thousand years before Christ, or about a thousand years before the time of Abraham. When they filtered into Palestine this land was peopled by a Neolithic race, short in stature and probably dark of skin, such as that which had spread itself over the shores of the Mediterranean; a people who lived from the flocks and herds which they had domesticated, and who were versed in primitive weaving and pottery; but who used only flint weapons and flint tools. (See L. W. King, History of Babylon, 1915, p. 125.) Their worship is indicated by the presence of sacred caves and huge monoliths, and the cremation of their dead. We must take it, I think, that these neolithic peoples were degraded descendants of the First Ancient Church. We do not know whether there may have been other races living in the land - as is suggested by the presence of so-called Hittites, and also of the Anakim, reputed as of the brood of the giants, the Nephilim or Rephaim. But it seems indicated that when the Hebrews - descendants of Eber - came into Canaan, they, as a taller and more vigorous race, probably advanced in the use of metal (copper and bronze), became dominant in Palestine; and when they finally intermixed with the original inhabitants, there arose those tribes, of Hebrew speech but of gross pagan habits, which were scattered in that region at the time of Abraham.

Thus the Hebrew Church - born in Syria and perhaps Northern Arabia - spread into Canaan. But it also extended elsewhere. For among the direct descendants of Eber, we find one family, that of Terah, established in the thriving city of UR in Chaldea, at the mouth of the Euphrates. It was a sacred city of importance, the seat of the Moon-god. The Word records that Terah and his family served other gods than Jehovah. Indeed, the very name of Jehovah had been forgotten, and Abram and his descendants for over four centuries knew God only as 'God Shaddai'.

Ur was the capital of a rich country, a trade center and a port. Polytheism with its magic and immorality was rife there. What was left of the traditions and the learning of the Ancient Church - such as the stories of Creation, the Fall, and the Flood had become overlaid by so gross an embellishment of legends about gods of monstrous type that their original truth could no longer be recognized.

Yet the family of Terah and his surviving sons, Abram and Nahor, knew of their Syrian origin. The call of their blood caused them to migrate to Haran in Mesopotamia - a five hundred mile journey. They were not going to any unknown land. For, somewhat more than 2000 years B.C., the conquests of the First Babylonian Empire had paved the way for a tide of commerce with the West and the Mediterranean shorelands. The Babylonian language, written in cuneiform on clay tablets, provided a medium for interchange between the countries of the "fertile crescent" of the Near East.

Thus it was that Abram came to settle at Haran in Syria. This country was mainly dominated by a branch of those almost forgotten peoples who are vaguely called Hittites (or "Khattu") which later established their brief empires there. These northern Hittites were apparently of different breed from those of the same name in Palestine. And their advanced civilization - dating as far back as 3000 &C. - reveals all the signs of their having been a nation of the Ancient Church. Their predominance in the Syria of Abram's time is thought by some to lend additional meaning to Ezekiel's statement concerning Jerusalem, "Thy father was an Amorite and thy mother a Hittite" (Ezekiel 16:3). Yet the Hebrews - who were nomadic and pastoral tribes - had kept by themselves, and thus we find Abram in tribal seclusion, living the life of a shepherd-king. And here in Haran in northern Syria, he hears the call of his God, Shaddai, bidding him to forsake the house of his father and his kinsfolk and promising him untold blessings and a great national future, if he would settle in the land of Canaan.

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