The Bronze Age
The Pattern of Time IV
The Bronze Age; the 2nd Ancient Church; the Church of Heber, 'the later childhood of mankind'; a 'Spiritual/Natural' Age, when God was a Lawgiver. Approximately 3000 - 1500 BC.
A Different Social Structure
I have suggested that Golden Age society lived in camps and that Silver Age people developed villages; now with the Bronze Age one sees the development of towns or cities. But the differences here are not just those of size, a Neolithic village could well be bigger than a Bronze Age town.
The Palaeolithic community was the extended family. The Neolithic village was a group of such families, working together at the tasks of agriculture; even as farmers in England may still work together at harvest time. A few specialisation's, such as priests and soldiers, began in the Neolithic Age and older folk might concentrate on pottery and weaving, while unmarried girls with slim fingers were used as 'spinsters'. But in the Bronze Age community this specialisation went much further and everyone began to 'learn a trade'. Every one, that is, in the Bronze Age town; though alongside it, out in the countryside there were still Neolithic style villages, and away in the hills and forests perhaps Palaeolithic hunting communities. These other communities might nevertheless participate in the Bronze Age world by coining 'to market' to trade agricultural produce, or furs and skins.
In all this we can see the Lord's purposes being fulfilled, and our own childhood development mirrored, as we become interested in wider fields of uses. Also we become part of a larger community and the potential for 'neighbourly love' is given greater scope.
The Second ? Ancient Church
When Swedenborg began his exposition of Genesis and Exodus in the Arcana Caelestia, it seemed pretty clear that he intended to divide history into a neat symmetrical pattern of five ages, with a 'celestial, spiritual, natural, spiritual, celestial' pattern. When he reached paragraphs 1136-7, and later 1238, of the A C, commenting on the birth of the patriarch Heber (or Eber; ancestor of the Hebrews), however, he inserted a Second Ancient Church, a "Spiritual/Natural church', between his original Ancient and Jewish churches (see my first article in this series). You may wonder why?
fundamental change from the Silver or Neolithic Age and suggesting it is strictly a continuation of the earlier period. Bronze tools never replaced stone to the extent that iron did. Using the comparison with the stages of our personal development, it is a bit like the transfer from primary to secondary education. Do we actually change much then, or do schools force change upon us?
One may also doubt if there is a real difference between the civilisations of the Bronze and the succeeding Iron Age? We tend to think of the 'Old Kingdom' and 'New Kingdom' of Egypt, or the Minoans and Classical Greeks, as stages of the same cultures, but they were distinct in many ways, and divided from one another by a century or more of chaos and warfare. Separate Bronze and Iron Age phases are also apparent in the Mesopotamian empires such as Sumeria and Assyria, and similarly in India, China and Central and South America. The great monuments of the Bronze Age such as the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge have a sublime dignity superior to those of the Iron Age. The way of life of those who built the Palaces of Crete, or the highly sanitary baths and drainage systems of the Indus Valley culture, seem more civilised, closer to heaven, than the commerce and dirt of the towns of later times. The changes between the Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages were less momentous than those between the Golden and Silver Ages, but there were even so, significant changes, so that Swedenborg seems to have it right in sometimes grouping the later three as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Ancient Churches.
But for Swedenborg, concerned primarily with his 'churches', the significant change between his 1st and 2nd Ancient Churches was their approach to worship. He notes a shift to more external worship, later deteriorating into idolatry. The former spiritual ideas are still there, but veiled in symbolic form, especially in the offering of sacrifices. In the scenario of our own lives it is comparable with the change from the happy spontaneity of children, to the grudging obedience of early youth. It is also noteworthy that early youth is the time when, like the people of the Bronze Age, we are most liable worship 'idols' such as soccer and pop stars.
The Culture of Metallurgy
Culturally the Bronze Age was a complex of new features - urbanisation, metallurgy, crafts, writing, monarchy etc. - all of which added together amounted to the early forms of civilisation. Often, however, a culture only displayed one or two of the features of civilisation, yet was nevertheless classified as 'Bronze Age'. The Bronze Age periods of Britain, Spain or West Africa were primitive when compared with Egypt or Crete. Mexico had no bronze, yet a similar culture.
Though not essential, the development of metallurgy, including bronze of course, was a very significant milestone. Carpentry, pottery and weaving were still more essential, but through nails and pins etc., metallurgy extended their usefulness considerably. Gold and silver could be worked in their 'cold state' but copper must be worked in a 'molten' state. It was not until potters developed kilns, that the possibility of melting copper ore was discovered. But, being a softish metal, even copper has relatively few advantages over timber. Not until someone found that tin could be mixed with copper to form bronze, which is much harder than wood, were the real advantages of metals appreciated. Bronze heads could be added to ploughshares, spears and other tools, increasing their life and effectiveness. But copper and tin ores were not common, so bronze was expensive and few could afford it. Those who could afford it became more efficient or powerful and able to acquire yet more riches, thus bronze began to undermine the democratic equality of the Golden and Silver Ages.
Before leaving the subject of metals it is worth remembering their correspondence. Stones correspond to simple hard facts. Metals, however, are malleable and can be moulded to man's purpose and correspond to 'principles'. Once a principle is grasped in one field, one can modify and apply it elsewhere and so peoples' ideas and the variety of God's heaven could widen. A newly appreciated principle can be used creatively to good ends, though Bronze Age man was also tempted, when it suited him, to bend truths to his own purposes. Especially priests and kings would claim that the power and authority appropriate to God could be transferred to them and thus justify their less than Divine actions.
One could write at length about the increasing number of new vocations that people were offered as the Bronze Age developed, but for the moment let us concentrate on those that unified and controlled all the others; the priests and monarchs who were closely linked and might be the same man. Such persons might become so closely identified with the God they worshipped, and so powerful that, as Swedenborg notes, they became, by accident or intention, to be regarded as Gods themselves. The classic case of this was the Pharaohs of Egypt; Mesopotamian kings only claimed to be 'appointed' by their Gods. Swedenborg comments that ancestors came to be venerated in a similar way. Also that God was worshipped as the Sun or Moon, and that images originally made only to symbolise divine attributes of God, were later worshipped as independent Gods. This is well documented and I do not need to quote examples of such 'gods', but relatively few historians seem to realise that polygamous worship was the practice of decaying material cultures, who originally knew of the Lord's true unified nature.
Priests might have as much, or even more authority than Kings, which originally was exercised with due humility, when the priest only saw himself as the custodian of the law. Or they might, like those of Israel, be guided by inspiration from spirits - good or bad. They saw themselves as the fathers of their people, were looked up to and did their best to guide their people. But gradually the balance of what - as you will remember - Swedenborg calls a Spiritual/Natural Chinch, moved more and more towards the Natural and concentrated on acquiring wealth and exercising material power, rather than representing spiritual authority. They thought of God as an earthly king, and probably genuinely felt it was necessary to amass wealth to build an impressive temple suitable for him to dwell in. Certainly the magnificent temples of the greater cities of the Bronze Age show they held God in the highest esteem, even if they gradually adopted him as their own national patron god, rather than the creator of all mankind. But it was a material view. At best they now saw him as a just lawgiver and at worst just a provider of wealth.
Religion was still seen as an integral part of life, but the priests had rather taken it over and the ordinary citizen had become a mere spectator. The offering of sacrifices had become central and although the people might be expected to provide the sacrifice, it was offered by the priests, perhaps even in the secrecy of the temple, out of public view. It is not surprising that, parallel to the official faith, private religion was also developing and 'family gods' are often found in the corners of the rooms of the houses the archaeologists excavate. The ordinary people may well have felt a closer affinity with these 'gods' and, it has been suggested, that Yahweh chose to present himself to Abram as such a family god, rather than as the imposing deity living at the summit of the ziggurat in Ur, from which Abraham had come.
As far as official religion was concerned, the concept of a loving God was tending to fade. Other human and spiritual values were fading too. Slavery was developing. Marriage was still respected in the laws of Egypt and Mesopotamia, women had their rights; but though some might manage shops or be priestesses, it was becoming clear the place for most was 'in the home'. Women and children were still important in agriculture, but it was men who operated the increasingly important ploughs and bullocks who drew them. Generally it was Men who controlled the world outside the home and the benefits that came from the urban way of life.
The new urban way of life, with specialists providing goods and services for one another, was one that demanded records of who had provided what and how much. Notches on tally sticks worked for a time, but gradually the need for more flexible recording developed and writing evolved to fill the need. Writing was to revolutionise trade, science and literature and become an essential element of most civilisations, even though the Celtic and American cultures got along without it. But its greatest use, though it is not always recognised by historians, was for revelation. Pictogrammes had developed in China and Egypt but it was in the Middle East, close to Canaan, that the Sumerians developed 'cuneiform' and the Phoenicians the much more flexible alphabet.
Swedenborg says the availability of writing was the reason why the Lord chose to be born on our planet. As he writes in Arcana Caelestia 9351:
The main reason was for the sake of the Word, which was able on our planet to be set down in writing. Then, having been written, it could be disseminated to all parts of the planet and preserved for all future generations.
And so the Ancient Word which had been carried in people's minds during the Silver Age could now be written down. The memories of pre-literate people were infinitely more efficient than ours, but even so they would forget bits and with the best of intentions add inaccurate explanations. But a written word was much less liable to be altered and so a relatively 'faithful' record could be passed down the generations and, as Swedenborg noted, could be 'disseminated to all parts of the planet'; even if it needed translation.
The Ancient Word again
But where is this Ancient Word, what has happened to it you will ask? In True Christian Religion 275 Swedenborg tells us that it spread 'to the Indies and the adjacent islands, and by way of Egypt and Ethiopia to the Kingdoms of Africa; and from the coasts of Asia to Greece and so to Italy'.
Why is it we have never found a copy? In the last century New Churchmen were happy to accept Swedenborg's information that it was 'lost', but today when archaeologists have discovered so much literature from these times, this is rather difficult to swallow. I would suggest it has been lost only in the sense that its original text has been distorted. Also, as Swedenborg points out, it was written in 'correspondences'. Like the spiritual sense of the Hebrew Word, the Ancient Word was hidden in an inner allegorical sense. So just as we have difficulty finding the Spiritual Sense of Biblical passages without promptings from the Writings, similarly it would be difficult to spot whether an ancient legend contained revealed truth within its symbols or not. The somewhat distorted echoes of the Ancient Word can probably be found within the allegories in the mythology of Sumeria, Egypt, Greece and the other ancient cultures. Indeed Swedenborg frequently refers to Greek myths and practices, and C Th Odhner, in his books The Golden Age and The Mythology of the Greeks and Romans, shows how the Ancient Word could have 'spread from the coasts of Asia... to Italy'.
There is even a chance that we might find a less 'modified' version of the Ancient Word, for Swedenborg said in Apocalypse Revealed para. 11 that it was still 'preserved' in Great Tartary. But as Great Tartary was the contemporary name for the whole of northern Asia, a lot of searching may be necessary. As, however, all that is essential from it is contained in the Old Testament, this is no great tragedy. The main point we need to realise is that a form of the Word was available to people much earlier than our culture realises.
The Church of Heber
But even if its teachings did reach Great Tartary, did the Church of Heber? Did it like the Most Ancient and First Ancient churches spread over most of the Old World and probably the New? Its characteristics seem to me to be reflected in Early Greek, Indian and perhaps Chinese religious ceremony in the third millennium BC, though not in its original forms. Religion was becoming more complex and the time has come to think more carefully about Swedenborg' comments:
'..the Lord's church exists throughout the whole world, although it is specifically located where the Lord is acknowledged, and the Word is known.' New Jerusalem 244. or consider;
'The church is one thing and religion another. The church is called a church from doctrine; and religion is called religion from a life according to doctrine. Where there is doctrine, but no life, there is no church. (Apocalypse Revealed 923).
As the 'churches' become more natural or external, it is difficult to know to what extent the true church was alive among the people who built the great temples and monuments of the later Bronze Age.
Was the Second Ancient Church, as a Spiritual body more limited in its geographical spread than its predecessors? The Bible does not locate Heber. For reasons which are not clear Swedenborg initially locates this 'church' in Syria (AC 1137), but later says it 'spread far and wide' (AC 1238). There is a tendency to think of Syria as being on the Mediterranean coast, but most of Syria lies eastwards in the upper Euphrates valley; towards Chaldea in the lower part of that valley.
There are two points mentioned in Genesis that do suggest specific locations, the Tower of Babel story, which seems to be about the Ziggurats built in the Mesopotamian basin; and the information that Abram came from 'Ur of the Chaldees'. In Genesis the Babel story is thrown into the middle of the Ancient Church genealogical lists rather arbitrarily, so that it might appear to belong to either the first or second Ancient Churches. In A.C. 13272, however, Swedenborg says 'it is also clear that the kind of worship called Babel was not prevalent in the first Ancient Church but in those that followed when people started to be worshipped in place of gods, especially after they had died.' It seems therefore that Babel, be it Ur or any other archetypal Mesopotamian city, was symbolic of the Church of Heber. Babel is often equated with Babylon, but if Babel was intended to be Babylon, it is an anachronism, as Babylon was only a village at the apparent tune of the story (3000 - 2000 BC) (see also AC 1283).
To me, Sumeria seems a more likely birthplace for the Second Ancient Church than Syria. It is generally thought that Sumeria was the birthplace of civilisation and writing and so would fit the bill better than Syria.' Nevertheless, the culture of Sumeria was transported to the cities of Man and Ebla in Syria, which could also have been likely candidates for the cradle of this Church. Abram's journey from Ur to Syria and then to Canaan is probably a mythical recording of the quite slow movement of that Church to these areas. Neither the Bible or Swedenborg give us much information on this subject, but in time archaeology may offer more.
And so, we see a further step forward in the Divine Plan, a step downwards perhaps, but also outwards, one could say. Bronze brought variety, unproved technology and art forms, but it also brought better weapons and potential for class differentials and domination by individuals, factors which sadly we shall find developing yet further in the following Iron Age and the 'Natural' Church of the Jews.