Be Ye, Therefore, Wise As Serpents: A Genealogy Of Faith, by Christopher Johnson
[Note: This book was provided without charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Those who pay attention to my reading are well aware that I read a lot of self-published material , many of them which specifically deal with ancient history. Like many of those books, this is a book written by someone who clearly has a specific idea he has thought about and reflected on for a long time, maybe even decades, and is the result of someone who is very well read, with a specific interest in allegory, symbolism, and mystery religion. In fact, it may be said that this is a book which discusses and advocates a universalist mystery religion heavy in symbolism, one that has deep ties in Egypt (although, for some reason, it tends not to focus on Mesopotamia , and one which has deep sympathy with Gnosticism and contemporary societies like the Masons . This is not specifically a work of religious history, but rather is an appeal for the value of Hellenistic thought in Christianity, a strong hostility to any belief in “one true people” or the literal meaning of much of scripture, and even more than this it is an appeal for honoring the Egyptian mysteries and their formative if often unrecognized role in mathematics and philosophy.
In terms of its contents, this book is a short one and fairly straightforward, taking less than 180 pages and fourteen chapters to cover its chosen points, starting out with a very broad brush effort to define religion and categorize various faiths based on their origin and their content, looking at the major religions and their historicity, and then making a seeming detour into one of the real areas of the author’s deep interest, the area of symbolism and mysteries, along with tracing them back to Greece and then further back to Egypt (but not further back still to Babylon), before tying together a broad and nearly universal set of rules of conduct that are shared among many traditions of faith around the world along with the most sophisticated and elite of those religious traditions, rather than the straightforward and commonplace aspects of those tradition that take words and accounts literally and that view mysteries and secret elites with a great deal of mistrust. This is not an author who has any interest in any kind of religious or cultural populism, but clearly supports the restriction of teaching about the highest religious truths to a small group of elites. Presumably, those who read this book, and many of the books cited in its extensive bibliography, are considered to be at least sympathetic to such a view, if not ready to be initiated into the mysteries themselves.
It is likely that a book like this would have to be self-published, as it bears all the marks of someone who has read much, thought deeply, and considers themselves to be smarter than the average bear, and greatly mistrustful of religious hierarchy and the claims of authorities. As is often the case in self-published books of this nature, the author assumes a fair amount of hostility on the part of the reader and also has a fondness for pointing out “false flag” or conspiratorial elements, like the suppression of various Gnostic gospels. Here, more so than in most books, the title is of particular importance. There is no question that the writer values the wisdom of the serpent—indeed, elements of the importance of the serpent and the serpent-bearer throughout world religions are discussed frequently in this book. One thing the author makes clear is that there are a lot of parallels between Christianity and a wide variety of other religions relating to core moral principles of behavior (namely the last six commandments) as well as areas of symbolism and salvation, and that Hellenistic Christianity, with its pagan-derived holidays and its Trinity, has many more parallels with many heathen religions. Not everyone who has studied this phenomenon is troubled by it. C.S. Lewis, for example, commented that the fact that there were so many parallels between Christianity and paganism was not the worse for Christianity, but the better for paganism. It is unclear how many others would agree, but worth pondering nonetheless.
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