Review: Samuel Fohr’s Adam & Eve

A Review by Benton Rooks

Samuel D. Fohr’s book Adam & Eve: The Spiritual Symbolism of Genesis and Exodus is one of the few books to ever attempt the elucidation of the esoteric, non-dual metaphysical myths contained in the Bible. Because Fohr comes after a long line of similar Traditionalist writers who focus on esoterism, the ‘transcendent unity of religions’, and traditional metaphysics best represented by figures like Frtihjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and René Guénon (his father Henry Fohr is one of the main translators for the René Guénon series at Sophia Perennis Press)—the reader may be confident that the exegesis of this sacred text is of a very high order. Fohr makes constant reference to various Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Kabbalistic, and Greek myths alongside his arguments for the essential esoterism in the Bible, which lends the entire text a strong universal current in understanding the anagogic dimension. This, then, is necessarily to transcend both the literalist interpretation (everything in the Bible is literally and ‘historically’ true[1]) and the modern interpretation “which says the Bible is a collection of falsehoods (‘fairy tales’)” (p. 46)

Fohr’s careful and technical introduction situates the unique nature of the book after many thousands of years of Old Testament biblical commentary in the Western world. He makes a clear distinction between esoteric (inner) and exoteric (outer) approaches to the study of religion and sacred texts[2], as well as the differences between a natural and an artificial symbol. On the latter point, Fohr says:

“We can most easily divide symbols into two categories: natural and artificial, thought it is hard to know where to place numbers. Examples of the former…are men, women, fathers, mothers, children, siblings, heaven (sky), earth, atmosphere, rain, waters, mountains, caves, hearts, snakes, eggs, the sun and its rays…example(s) of the latter are words and pictures, although anything made by people can fall into this category…since God is present in all of His creation, everything created can function as a true symbol.” (pp. 34-35)

Taking this into account, Fohr situates certain symbols contained in the Bible that can lead one from the sensible to the trans-human realm of spiritual archetypes. This (as we have discussed above) would be the anagogic function of all mythology and sacred art generally speaking. However, Fohr is also careful to make note that symbolism cannot retain its proper function without particular dedication to a traditional form, for it is “only in the practice of a particular tradition will something carry a person’s consciousness from the mundane to the Divine…Things are symbols only within a particular tradition, and can eventually cease to be symbols in that tradition.” (p. 41)

The chapter called “The Meaning of Early Biblical History” gives a strong argument to the Bible containing an exposition of cyclical time of the Four Ages as it is contained in Hindu and Greek mythology (among other traditions).[3] This cyclical time is something like the winding down of a great clock which then goes through the four seasons (and metals, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron) to a slow devolution[4]. It is a great falling away from initial union with God and fellowship with all beings, though those in this Iron-Age are given special concession and grace to attain the primordial state again through traditional initiation if they so choose. The four-age doctrine would be opposed to the common notion of the Bible functioning as one of the first linear, historical, and progressive models of time particular to the West.[5] For example, Fohr makes note of the fact that in Genesis 5:3 “Adam lived 930 years”. (Fohr 55) There are clear depictions of the Golden Age when “everyone speaks one tongue, lives without laws, and is capable of a direct relationship with God…but there are also indications of progressive degeneration, such as the murdering of Abel by Cain” (ibid) Fohr is thus able to situate seemingly isolated events to depict a slow degeneration not only of years lived, but also of virtue, morals and general life conditions of human beings in relationship to the spiritual path—all of which is in perfect accord with the Hindu doctrine as found in the Puranas. In Genesis 25:7 Abraham only lives to 175 years[6] and in Genesis 6:3 we find note “God’s decision to limit peoples lives to 120 years”. (p. 57) Later in this chapter, we also find strong argument to the details of a spiritual chain of transmission in the Primordial Tradition (and the esoteric meaning of Baptism) from Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, through “spiritual genealogies found in the practice of blessing…this blessing…is the imparting of spiritual influence…divine wisdom handed down from generation to generation.” (p. 60) In general, while these rather radical interpretations of Biblical stories are rather far from what we might find at a modern Church, they are put forth with clear citations from Bible passages as well as backing from much of the worlds religious and spiritual scriptures—none of which is separate from the esoteric or orthodox Christian/Catholic view itself.

The next chapter “in the beginning” focuses broadly on cosmogony or “the process of creation, which can be considered temporally only from our point of view, as moving from the Void to the Oneness of Being to the Unity of Existence from which the universe proceeds.” (p. 65) Perhaps the most beautiful image found in Adam & Eve is the famous passage in Genesis 1:3 ‘Let there be light.’ Of which Fohr says is the initial impulse of the Divine Word or celestial Sound Current that is the “God-into-expression-power” of creation, as maintained by Kirpal Singh. “From this impulse comes the Celestial Ray which shines on the waters bringing form out of formlessness.” (p. 68) These then form the two archetypal poles (passive and active[7]) that contain the interplay of the Souls descent into the sensible realm and the ascent into the formless Re-Union with Spirit and God.

The chapter “In the Image of God” clearly demonstrates that our reflected divine image is our Soul (the formless Spirit as it is temporarily conditioned in the psycho-physical complex) which is also symbolized by Adam as the ‘androgynous man’ or the Universal Person without duality)–rather than simply the outer form or a literal anthropomorphic interpretation of God. Fohr notes that it is really when we come to our supreme spiritual Center that we know our essential identity as a spiritual spark of the All Consciousness that is God.[8] “…any human who has realized his identity with the Unmanifest—that is to say, any Perfect Man—is for all intents and purposes identical with the original Adam.” (p. 86)

Chapters “Adam & Eve” and “Cain & Able” each detail the supreme symbols and problems of duality as such. The archetypal Tree of Knowledge gives us dualistic consciousness proper as, “Once one experiences the world in terms of oneself and others, mine and thine, good and bad, the Fall has occurred.” (p. 98) With later chapters such as “Cain & Able”, the duality is focused more on reconciling the tensions between the upper desires of the unconditioned Spirit, and the lower tendencies of the conditioned Soul/Pyscho-physical complex when left to its own accord. Much of the latter portions of the book deal with the symbols of brothers, couples, or siblings in the esoteric implications of the “inner holy war”, or the conquering of the Mind by the Spirit—which is often outwardly illustrated through mythopoetic wars and battles of the above mentioned.

In a time rift with religious exclusivism, fundamentalism, and vast misunderstandings of the harmony in Eastern and Western traditions, Samuel D. Fohr’s Adam & Eve shines as a rare diamond to fill three incredibly important gaps in contemporary scholarship. The first is that it is a rare esoteric commentary on the Old Testament, which is at once universal and specific to a Traditional form. It also points to the mystical currents in Christianity at a time when this is still sometimes disputed.[9] The second is that it strives to achieve the vertical heights of metaphysical implications in mythology, and the third is that of comparative mythology in general—that we see universal themes across all of the great religious traditions in a scope and breadth that go beyond the limits of the more popular and limited psychological-based frameworks of both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell[10]. We have given only a brief glimpse at some of the ways Fohr retains the original and primordial meaning of the Bible, for the most one can do is to wet the appetite of the reader who wants to see the full ocean of dynamic meaning contained therein.

[1] A common example of the literalist fallacy would be that the world was created in 7 days, which of course has numerous metaphysical errors. Thankfully, Fohr locates the symbolism of the number 7 in a universal context which explains that it is “the only number neither divisible by any (giving a whole other than itself) nor divisible into any…7 is a perfect number to represent Being, that primal point from which the cosmos springs, the Principle of the active and passive poles of creation.” (p. 77)

[2] Thankfully, Fohr does not make the dualistic mistake that any “pure esoterism” can actually exist without an exoteric framework to support it, as others have.

[3] “In Hinduism, each cycle is called a manvantara or mahayuga, and fourteen of these (seven descending and seven ascending) are to make up a kalpa…within each cycle the ages last for a shorter and shorter time in the ratio 4-3-2-1, and this shortening is also reflected in the lives of humans within the ages.” (p. 52)

[4] “We have often called attention to the obvious equivalence of the four Yugas with the four ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron as they were known to Greco-Latin antiquity, in both cases, each period is marked by a degeneration in regard to the age that preceded it; and this, which is directly opposed to the idea of ‘progress’ as understood by the modern world, is very simply explained by the fact that every cyclical development, that is in sum every process of manifestation, quite truly constitutes a ‘descent’ since it necessarily implies a gradual distancing from the principle, and this is moreover the real meaning of the ‘fall’ in the Judeo-Christian tradition.” (Guénon p. 5)

[5] A view held by Thomas Cahill, among others.

[6] p. 56

[7] The active and passive poles in Hinduism are called Purusha-Prakriti. “Here Purusha corresponds to the wind and Prakriti to the waters…Purusha…is the Unmanifest, Being and one of the poles of Existence…Purusha must project Prakriti, the passive pole of manifestation…Prakriti is not merely the ‘mother’ of the physical world, but of the subtle and formless as well.” (Fohr 69)

[8] Though here too, we recognize that the use of the word consciousness is symbolic, as to place consciousness on God is to place limit or signify a “mind” of God—a metaphysical error.

[9] It is easier, for instance, to see esoterism in the Judaic tradition of the Kabbalah, but Fohr manages to penetrate deeper than that.

[10] This is not to downplay the contributions of these writers in myth studies per se, but only to point to the fact they rarely get beyond the ‘cavern of the human skull’, so to speak. Jung and Campbell often make the mistake of psychological reductionism, when we believe instead that certain realms of mythology detail worlds remaining mysteriously and wholly beyond the realm of Mind itself. One may refer to Henry Corbin’s concept of the “imaginal realm”.

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