In my Father´s House there is a Bull

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here. This excerpt discusses Jesus saying “In my father’s house” in John 14:2.

One possible reference is to the Second Temple; in 2:16, for instance, Jesus speaks of the Temple as “my father’s house”. As noted before, the Levites associated with Temple operations had their living quarters around the Portico of Solomon. In this sense, Jesus could be saying that, when he is recognized as Messiah he will be able to uproot these Sadducees, priests, and Levites who are so badly managing the Temple (the “hired hands” as he refers to them in 10:12-13, and “slaves” as he says in 8:35), and then there will be rooms available for Jesus’s disciples and others who believe in him and live according to the Λογος. In this interpretation, that is why Jesus adds “if not,” if these quarters in the Temple are not available at present, then “I am going to prepare a place for you.”

Second, Jesus may have intended here a reference to himself, specifically to his body, as his father’s house. That level of meaning appears in 2:19,21. Jesus, as Messiah, as Messenger of God, is in effect a vessel containing a message from God, the presence of God, the Spirit of God. Indeed, Paul uses this very metaphor at I Corinthians 3:16-17.

Finally, Jesus may have been referring to the Æon theology that fills this gospel, as in 8:35-36. In that passage, by the word “house” Jesus is referring not merely to the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a mere finite, physical structure that was built by human hands and could be (and was, in 70 C.E.) destroyed by human hands, but moreover to the House of God, the House of the Æon; that is to say, the Λογος itself, God’s overarching plan and purpose and pattern for the entirety of creation, not just the κοσμος, this physical aspect of it. There is no “house” in that sacred realm, for God Him-Herself is its house, as the amanuensis explains in Revelation 21:22. In this house, which is infinite in time and space, there are indeed an infinity of abodes, and Jesus assures them that he is leaving this physical life for the heavenly realm to prepare their abodes for them. This interpretation of the verse is strengthened by Jesus’s several references in this final discourse to his imminent death.

My view is that all three meanings were intended, and that this is therefore a triple entendre.

The word for “house” in both Aramaic (ܒܝܬ) and Hebrew (תיב) is pronounced beyt. It is no coincidence that the name for the second letter in both alphabets is also called beyt; the orthographical symbol that represents the letter is (as are the entire alphabets of both languages) pictographic in its origin, and that symbol is beth glyph the depiction of a house with an open door in archaic Aramaic, coming from the Egyptian letter, identical in appearance, but with the sound of “h” – that is, an exhalation, the breath of God, the ruach of life. In effect, the letter is a circle or a spiral, representing infinity. Moreover, it is a spiritual labyrinth, drawing the spiritual pilgrim ever deeper into the house of God, into the presence, of God: the symbol tells us that to be lost in the labyrinth of God is to be truly found. This letter became ב in alphabetic Hebrew and ܒ in alphabetic Syriac Aramaic.

The word for “father” in Aramaic is ܐܒܐ, ABA (misspelled with two “b”s in English, “Abba”; it is certainly not, as some contend, the Aramaic way of saying “Daddy”). It should be instantly apparent that this is a palindrome, with A-B-A symmetry (literally!), also called inclusio; as such, the word is a verbal circle, again, a representation of infinity, like the Worm Ouroboros. Even if you do not read Aramaic, you can see one letter at the beginning and end of the word, on either side of the letter you know now is beth. The first-and-last letter is aleph, aleph glyphthe depiction of an ox head in early pictographic Aramaic; this became ܐ in alphabetic Syriac Aramaic, and א in alphabetic Hebrew, the first letter in the alphabet of both languages. The ox head can still be seen in the English letter A: especially if we invert it thus – ∀ – we can better see the head with the horns above.

Thus one semiotic image of ABA is a farmstead: a home with oxen grazing around it. Another is that of the sacred labyrinth with the God-bull within.

The classical religions of the Mediterranean region often spoke of their god as in the form of a sacred bull that loved in the middle of a labyrinth-temple. The most famous version is the Minotaur of Crete, supposedly slain by Theseus, which lived in a labyrinth-temple said to have been built by Dædalus. But this was a variation of the Egyptian Apis Bull, which was associated with the renewal of life after death, and was said to live in a labyrinth-temple dedicated to Ptah. Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny the Elder provide awed descriptions of that massive stone temple, said to contain some 1,500 chambers. Later versions of this tradition appear in the Mithraist religion, popular among the Roman military and known to Jesus.

Much evidence supports the view that the ancient Israelite God was also often venerated in the form of a bull. For instance, Genesis 49:24, Psalm 132, and Isaiah 49:26 and 60:16 give an ancient epithet for God, לַאֲבִ֥יר יַעֲקֹֽב, usually rendered as “the Mighty One of Jacob” but more accurately translated as “the Bull of Jacob”, representing YHWH.

The Israelite sacred bull finds its origin in Egypt. During the Exodus (Exodus 32) the people made the famous idol עֵגֶּל הַזָהָב, called the Golden Calf in English, evidently modelling it on the Apis Bull of Egypt, which they had just left. A fourth-century Christian text, Apostolic Constitutions (vi:4), in fact, emphasizes that it was a representation of the Apis Bull.

The horns of the “Golden Calf” eventually became part of the sacrificial altar (Exodus 27:2) and incense altar (Exodus 30:1) in the First Temple, built by Solomon. The “Bull of Jacob”, the presence of God, was kept in the Temple built by Solomon, in the so-called “Holy of Holies”. This innermost chamber of the temple is called דְּבִיר (debir) in I Kings 6, a word whose pronunciation and exact meaning are modern guesswork. Giulia Sarullo, in her fine summary of recent paleographic studies on this matter (“The Cretan Labyrinth: Palace or Cave?”; Caerdroia 37, March 2008), says linguist Francesco Aspesi associates דְּבִיר with da-pu2-ri-to-jo, the Linear B script for the archaic genetive form of the Mycenaean word meaning “labyrinth”, which appears in three of the Linear B tablets found at Knossos. It is widely acknowledged that the nominative form of the same word, da-bu-ri-to, later developed into the word λαβύρινθος, meaning “labyrinth”. (The “d” and “l” sounds often shifted in classical Mediterranean languages, the most famous example being Odysseus/Ulysses.)

From such evidence it seems likely that Jerusalem’s First Temple was or contained a classical labyrinth to house the Bull of Jacob.

Rod Borghese points out that the first-and-last letter, א, aleph, has been since ancient times for classical Jewish mystics symbolic of the sacred Breath/Spirit/Wind of God that preceded even sound itself, the breath that existed before even the first Word was uttered, even before the Λογος came into being – since, the sages have observed, God had to breathe in first, before exhaling the Word that created light. I would add to Borghese’s point that what God breathed in was chaos, and what God breathed out was the Word, which so perfectly defines light that it is light. And that the fierce hot breath of the ox, who can drive the mill and plough the field, is associated with the power that makes creative things happen; thus it is that aleph represents power, breath, and creativity. This makes the ox equivalent to the חָכְמָה (Chokma, “Wisdom”), who Proverbs 8:23 says was the first of God’s creations, and his mainstay support in the act of creating the universe.

In this matter Jewish theology resembles Lakota theology. The latter speaks not of the Sacred Ox but the Sacred Buffalo, Tatanka, the first living creation of Wakantanka, the Great Mystery, whose first creation was not light (as in Judaism) but Tunka, stone. Buffalo and Creator are both often called Tunkashila, Grandfather. Note the homophony among these words. Read more in The Circle of Life.

The classic Jewish sages also note that the letter א (aleph) begins all three words in the most sacred name of God, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (“I Am What I Am”, but literally “I Shall Be What I Shall Be”).

Moreover, they taught, this primal letter א (aleph) symbolizes how God brings oneness to all creation, Heaven and earth. According to the Jewish mystics, the letter comprises an upper י (yud) representing the hidden ineffable deepest nature of God; a lower י (yud) representing the revealed presence of God in the world; and a ו (vav; “hook”) on a diagonal like a ladder or stairway uniting these two realms, the heavenly and earthly (“Jacob’s ladder”; cf. Genesis 28:12). Jesus speaks of himself in these very terms, as the emissary, the Messenger of God who goes back and forth between these two realms, like the angels on Jacob’s ladder (cf. John 1:51), and the Prologue to this gospel is very much built on the same imagery. Note also that yud and vav are the first and third letters in הוהי (YHWH), the Sacred Breath that is God’s Name, with a he, an exhalation, following each one. Note also that being a vav surrounded by two yuds, this letter is itself a palindrome, a symbol of infinity, as is the entire ABA word.

This, by the way, is the same theology of oneness expressed with different symbolism in the Revelation, probably written by the amanuensis John the Presbyter: in that book John uses 7 and 12 to speak of that oneness of Heaven and earth, since 3 = heavenly things (the triangle and pyramid were ancient symbols for God, and, to name but one among many examples, the Hindus had the त्रिमूर्तिः [Trimūrti] of Brahmā-Vishnu-Śiva long before the Christians invented the Trinity) and 4 = earthly things (the four winds, four directions, four seasons, etc.); 7 = 3 + 4 and 12 = 3 x 4.

The symbol א (aleph) has often represented infinity, in both mathematics and also in the symbolic work of Jorge Luis Borges. According to Borghese, “Infinity, nothingness, and continuity are concepts which have intrigued mathematicians, as well as Jewish scholars, throughout history. In many religions and philosophies it is believed that one must reduce one’s mind to a state which approaches ‘nothingness’ before one can begin to grasp the infinite knowledge and the divine connection between all things.” Borghese is right, and I find this to be a very Buddhist concept that Jesus may have picked up in the Himalayas if scholars like Holger Kersten and Suzanne Olssen are right that he spent his early adult years there – though he may have also encountered this concept among early Kabbalists.

As to the other letter in ABA, “father”, ב in Hebrew and ܒ in Aramaic (both pronounced beyt): Borghese points out that this, the second letter in both alphabets, originally referred not merely to “house” but to “container” or “vessel”. Again, we can see this pictographically in the fourth side open in order to take contents into the vessel. Thus, Borghese concludes, this name for God, ABA, shows us symbolically “the Infinite contained in the vessels, the Mystery of the Infinite contained within the Finite.” That is to say, all finite, created things in this universe contain in microcosm the Infinite, God. Again to add to Borghese’s point: This very Jewish philosophy has been around at least from Philo to Martin Buber; the latter writes eloquently of God playing hide-and-go-seek with us, begging us to seek and find the Sacred Presence hidden in every leaf and flower, and the Presence is saddened when human beings do not look for It, or look but fail to find It. Also and again this philosophy of immanence, the idea that the presence of God can be seen in and through every thing in creation, is very Buddhist and Taoist, as well as very Native American. In short, it is the ancient truth that the modern civilization of arrogation and greed has forgotten.

With this understanding in mind, we can see that Jesus meant “the house of my father” not only (as discussed above) to refer to the Second Temple or his body or to the Æon, but to how every created thing in this universe, though evanescent and ephemeral, still contains the Λογος, the glory of the presence of God, if only we would realize this! – and so too does each one of us.

James David Audlin (89 Posts)

Born in the Thousand Islands. Retired; after decades as a pastor, newspaper editor, university professor, caregiver, musician, editor. Most recently lived in southern France; now lives in rural mountainous Panama; married to a Spanish-speaking local lady. Two children in Vermont. Author of 18+ books, with a dozen more on the way.


2 thoughts on “In my Father´s House there is a Bull

  1. Yes, quite so, Rod; we are as always tilling in the same field. Elsewhere in the GOJ commentaries I talk about just this, the panentheistic views of Qabalistic Hasidism. I talk, for instance, about that lovely midrash that has G-d breathing in the light so there is room for creating the universe, then breathing out the light, which splinters and breaks and a bit of it is in every created thing….
    James David Audlin recently posted In my Father´s House there is a Bull.My Profile

  2. Very good article James. I study this further on my blog “Ein od Milvado” אין עוד מלבדו …. which means there is nothing other, nothing else” ….. every created thing in this universe, though evanescent and ephemeral, still contains the Λογος, the glory of the presence of God….. . The foundation-stone of Hasidism as laid by Baal Shem Tov is a strongly marked panentheistic conception of God. He declared the whole universe, mind and matter, to be a manifestation of the Divine Being; that this manifestation is not an emanation from God, as is the conception of the Kabbalah by Mitnagdim, for nothing can be separated from God: all things are rather forms in which God reveals Himself.
    Rod Borghese recently posted Lecha Dodi, Come my Beloved. O Bride, Shabbat Queen, now come !.My Profile

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